Ever since I was introduced to the word ‘motility’, I have felt fondly of it. Possibly it is the slight alliterative quality is has when it rolls off the tongue. Possibly it is because it is for a concept often subtly hidden beneath the prominence its more well known cousin ‘mobility’. For, I was introduced to the word as meaning something like ‘movement that is inherent’ – the ebb and flow motion of natural breath, or the subtler flow of cerebro-spinal fluid up and down the spine. So, motility is the movement that already exists, and mobility the movement that we then create.

I like having this concept of motility, in contrast with mobility, in my teaching – though I won’t often impart it overtly. However, in preparing for a particular class, I thought I’d look it up and get a little more officially acquainted. An online dictionary search of ‘motility/motile’ turned up some of the following:

  • Motility is a biological term which refers to the ability to move spontaneously and independently. It can apply to either single-celled or multicellular organisms.
  • 1. Biology. Moving or having the power to move spontaneously: motile spores.
    2. Psychology. Of or relating to mental imagery that arises primarily from sensations of bodily movement and position rather than from visual or auditory sensations.
  • Having spontaneous but not conscious or volitional movement.

After reading these definitions, i felt a little nonplussed as they certainly didn’t point to that subtly rich experiential feeling of inherent movement i could notice in my body, and often tried to cultivate. These definitions were pointing to spontaneity and independence, which somehow lacked the deep sense of connectedness I felt when resting in the awareness of my inherent movement. Whilst the psychological one talks of ‘sensations of bodily movement and position’, it is a categorisation of a learning style. In this last definition I could sense an aspect of the distinction from mobility, when it said not ‘volitional’, but one great aspect of this inherent movement experience is the ability to be ‘conscious’ of it.

So, I not sure what to do. I really like the term ‘motility’ and I really like the concept of ‘inherent motion’ that we can experience, but technically they don’t totally match. Maybe I’ll just stick with using my own definition of the word and then in some years time we could see an entry in an online dictionary that includes:

3. Contact Improvisation. The inherent motion that can be sensed in a body.

Or maybe I’ll have to keep playing with my definition of motility to see what else it can comfortably accommodate. Maybe ‘having the power to move spontaneously’ comes with the ability to rest in the deep sensory experience of inherent movement and follow its flow wherever it takes you.


~ by Joey Lehrer on June 2, 2010.

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