Movement for Life

All of life is movement. The moment we’re born we’re wriggling, pandiculating, breathing, and finding our way through space. We explore and thereby learn to master our movements. Or we struggle, and the body, miraculous organism that it is, finds a way to overcome our limitations. It’s those patterns that we then habituate.

And then one day, our bodies start to change and we wonder why it is suddnely too hard to do the things we’ve always done. Maybe we’re just exhausted, or maybe we lift something or sleep funny or fall and suddenly, something hurts, be it our back or a shoulder or knee. We do our usual workout and suddenly discover our bones ache. We think “arthritis” or worse. The panic sets in and we wonder how badly we might have hurt ourselves and what we need to do to about it: ignore it and hope it goes away, see a doctor, self-treat?

Aside from the decision about what to do about our injured part and assuming we haven’t broken anything, we have two basic choices thereafter. We can either stop moving to ensure that we don’t risk further pain or injury, or we can continue to move in safe ways so our body stays limber and fluid.

Sadly, many of us choose to stop moving. We fear the discomfort, pain or effort, so we hold back. We rest, thinking we’re doing ourselves a favor. Trouble is, when we stop moving, it gets harder to move. When it gets harder to move, we move even less. When we stop moving, we rather suddenly age. We lose the freedom that movement brings. We stop doing the things we enjoy.

The better choice, the important choice, is to keep moving. Maybe we have to make changes. Maybe that mile run needs to turn into laps in the pool. Maybe the Ashtanga yoga practice needs to become more restorative. The important thing is to keep the body moving to keep it young and to fully enjoy life.

We used to look at the body as a set of individual parts…the knee bone’s connected to the thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the hip bone, etc. The latest science of movement has revealed that the body isn’t just a bunch of isolated parts. It’s a unified whole tied together by tension lines called fascia.

Fascia needs movement to stay healthy. When we injure a “part”, the fascia is what knits together to protect the injury. This tissue then becomes less flexible. The problem is, the fascia is connected from head to toe. It’s all one. So if one part of the fascia is tight, it impacts the entire body.

It’s the resistance that makes us say, “It’s too hard!” But if we stop moving, that body-wide tension becomes habit and ages us before our time.  We see it in bodies that are bent over, hunched, and  crooked — signs of a body doing its utmost to guard the still-tender wounds of life.  We need movement to break this rigidity that can settle both deep in the body and eventually the mind.

When people who don’t practice yoga look at yoga, they think, “Oh, I can’t do that!” But what’s important is not some twisted up, contortionist posture. What IS important is movement. Just keep moving — as much or as little as your body allows and preferably in ways that free you from habits. Practicing sports can be great for well-being, but they can also be great at reinforcing imbalance. Certain muscle groups are built up (as necessary to engage in the sport) and others are forsaken. That’s why exploratory yoga and improvisational forms of dance are so wonderful. Practiced with a sense of curiosity and adventure, you’re more likely to discover new ways to move and bring enjoyment and liberation to your body.

 

 

 

The Journey from Machine to Organism

Some say science is outpacing our ability to know what to do with it. Just look at the frontier of artifical intelligence. So many questions abound about how to create more and more intelligent machines.

I am far more fascinated with the under-discovered realms of the intelligent systems already in existence…our own bodies.

I remember years ago, (in another life, it seems), when I worked at the most loved amusement park in the world. I played the role of various cartoon characters that were “in my height range”, dancing in parades and shows. It didn’t take long for the heat, costume weight, and shoddy footwear to wear my 20-year-old body down into chronic pain. It seemed I, unlike the “animatronics” or life-like robots on display at this same amusement park, was not meant to endure such a regular pounding. A lifelong dancer, I felt betrayed by my body which began its very long road to recovery.

Though they are often treated as such, our bodies are not machines. Machines are merely an assemblage of parts that function together, without any intelligence or communication. The body, however, well, that is a whole different level of miracle.The body is a highly intelligent, interconnected universe.

Unfortunately, I like most people was taught that the body was there to serve the mind. I was the master who could bend it to her will, overriding the messages it was sending me such as “stop and feel”, “find another path”, or “danger!”. I treated the body like a machine instead of the intelligent system it is. I bypassed it’s communication until it was too late and the damage was done.

Lucky for me, the body isn’t just a machine. Lucky for me it is an organism with the ability to heal.

We tend to learn about and think of our bodies in terms of its respective parts, isolated, each with their separate function. But in truth, every cell of our bodies is connected to every other cell via a liquid highway of connective tissue called fascia. It is the fascia that responds quickly to emotional and physical trauma. It is the fascia that locks down and knits tight when we are injured to protect us from further injury.  It is the fascia and its history that we see in haggard, bent bodies, it’s substance loyal to the last, despite being ignored for a lifetime.

It astounds me on a daily basis that it has taken me a 30-year-journey since my work injuries to finally feel as through I am able to listen to the conversation my body has been trying to have with me all these years. It brings me no end of delight to help others discover this communication too, to have them try something and discover how absolutely delicious it feels to move in ways that are harmonious with the body’s innate smarts.

Most of us are quite practiced at abusing the body, getting it to conform to our wishes. Why do we find it surprising when it breaks down?  Anything (and anyone) would given the same treatment. Why have we never been taught how to enjoy, care for, and love our bodies? Why are we so far removed from our senses and feelings,  always backing away from the intensity of living, disconnecting ourselves in some way from the very thing that allows the miracle of movement?

Thankfully, it’s never too late to slow down, listen, and get to know what’s there.

Try this. Lay on your back on the floor, legs out straight and arms comfortably resting at your sides, palms up or down. Feel where your body is in contact with the floor. Scan from the feet, up the legs, along the backside of the buttocks, hips, and lower back, up the spine and neck to the head. Just feel.

Now, begin to press the heels into the floor gently and use that slight pressure to begin to rock the body back and forth toward and away from the feet. Notice how this action, originating at the foot, moves up the body, creating a chain-reactional pulse, pulling the entire body with it.

Maybe you’re not sure. Maybe it is difficult to feel. Maybe everything feels more like one massive rusted adhesion, all stuck together, and less like the flowing river of honey it should be. Give it time.

This isn’t a dissociated flexing and unflexing at the ankle. Stay with it. See if you can literally connect. Slow down and feel how this one action in one area of the body runs up the legs to the skull. You are feeling your fascia, the connective tissue of the body. You are feeling “one”.

You can and will awaken the waters within you. Slowly, softly, the body’s singing will make its way into your awareness. Then the healing begins.