Have you ever wondered why repetition makes a difficult task easier? Actions such as riding a bike or skiing down a mountain go from what is called a cortical level (the cortex of the brain or higher centers) to a less conscious level of the nervous system through repetition.1 1 Thank goodness, or it would take hours to get dressed every morning! When we realize that movement experiences shape our body that should be our clue to connect riding a bike, walking, jumping and skipping with bending at the sink to shave, getting out of a car or carrying out the trash: they are reflex and voluntary. Postural response is shaped by experience.
Daily movements are important since they require skill much as a great tennis serve or the freestyle performed by an Olympic swimmer requires skill. The trick is to get movement to stick so that it’s a “no brainer.” We do that by writing a motor engram, a template that takes us from frustration to freedom by saving a move in our long-term memory.2 We write the engram by practice, by repetition. Consider this. It takes 5,000 to 6,000 repetitions to retrain the muscles of our body to coordinate as they did when we were a child.3
Before you give up, realize that in one day you probably bend forward hundreds of times. In one day! This is what repetition brings:4 To net a basketball from any angle takes 1 million throws to reach peak skill. It takes 1.5 million stitches to be a fine hand knitter.
A baseball pitcher needs 1.6 million throws to be a Clayton Kershaw.
So what’s a few thousand bends? It’s all in your perspective. However, if you’re going to take the time to do your thousand repetitions, make sure you are tuned in to how you are bending to get the best results.
1 E. Kandel, J.H. Schwartz, and T.M. Jessell, Principles of Neutral Science, Appleton & Lange, Connecticut, 1991, p. 534
3 O. Holten, H. P. Faugli, Medisink Treningsterapi, Illniversitetsforlaaet. 0608 Olso, Norway
4 F. J. Kottke, D. Halpern, J. K. M. Easton, A. T. Ozel, C. A. Burrill, The training coordination. Archives of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation, 1978, 59: 567-572. M. Trew and T. Everett (eds.), Human Movement, Churchill Livingstone Inc., New York, 1997, p. 43
Image 1 credit to Framepool. Image found at http://footage.framepool.com/en/shot/778815322-weeding-bending-paddy-field-cultivation-of-rice
An important way to prevent injury is to be more aware of basic physical stuff like standing, sitting, bending and “hanging out.” We often think back and knee pain etc. come “out of nowhere!” Rarely is that the way it actually happens. We just don’t notice small signs because these little interruptions of discomfort don’t hurt. They’re just annoying. But this is when we should take notice.
We are more conditioned to pay attention and remain attracted to the intensity of a movement. We think the more intense, the more is happening. These simpler movements don’t seem interesting and get pushed aside because we’re into more intense stimuli. The paradox is the subtleties like shifting your hips to be more centered when sitting or relaxing your chest and belly and stretching up from the back of you spine — ALL can have a great impact and grow to be not so subtle. There is less of the need to go out and seek more stimuli when you begin to feel or become more aware of the subtle movements inside of you. You become more comfortable. The seeking for more dramatic results needs to chill a little. Your awareness is being heightened when you become more sensitive to movements that can keep you from moving wrong over and over again. The McCall Method is built on this idea of noticing and increasing awareness around your daily movements and postures. The results are surprisingly satisfying. The more you pay attention to the small stuff the greater your chances of not being injured.
I like the article, Previously Untold Yoga History Sheds New Light, not only because it points out the difference between ancient and modern yoga, but it’s also a reminder to just be present in “your” yoga.
There is a facade around ancient yoga being practiced today and it’s contributing to injuries. We’re focusing in the wrong direction. Instead of concentrating on your connection to your body during yoga, we look too closely at the pose itself. First, many poses are unnatural and can force the spine and other joints out of their natural alignment. So why do those poses? That’s a great question we should ask ourselves. People often come to me feeling like they have failed because they can’t do certain poses. This is crazy thinking unless you want to star in Cirque Du Soleil. The question to ask is “Am I benefiting from this pose?” If you are, rest in it and feel its purpose. If not, just breathe and rest in another pose that helps you feel grounded.
It’s not easy to notice what is working and not working in your body as well as how to be present. So it’s easy and tempting to look at the teacher and others around us and try to be in their pose. As this article so wisely says “True yoga is found not in texts, but in the heart of the practitioner.”
If asked, most of us will say we’re mobile. But when it’s time to get down on the ground to play with our little ones or pets, mobility may be a touch more challenging. Even just sitting on the floor may require a little more stretching and we may just hear a groan here or there as we move (especially when we get UP.) Below are two videos that demonstrate how to easily get down on the floor and how to lift yourself back up.
My (almost 91-year-old) mother complained recently her balance has gotten worse, and at the same time her legs felt ‘heavy.’ She (correctly) saw the correlation between the two. She asked me how she can get up and down from the floor efficiently. Walking her (and all of you) through the process, the hips become the focus; think of them as a hinge. Sticking your butt out, not curving the spine and using the hands and arms more as balancing tools helped her quickly find comfort in the movement. After a few “down and back up” drills, she said her balance was better AND her legs were not heavy! That’s what I call real success.
If you feel your legs get tired quickly when walking it maybe you’re more “out of balance” than weak. Watch me getting down and back up, then try it with me a few times. I’m betting you’ll see and feel improvement in your body, just like my mom did.
How many texts do you think are sent out every day, hour, even every minute!? I have to admit, texting can present our bodies with some real challenges. But what exactly is the problem? Looking down? No. It’s the whole body that’s curving over the phone. That’s the bad news, but the good news is you can text all you want without trashing your body. Forget the C-curve body.
Think ‘angles.’“Angles” are your joints. We are designed to move very specifically from our joints but when you are texting while you’re slumped over and your butt is tucked in, you are hanging and straining soft tissue like the muscles and ligaments in your neck and back. This creates all sorts of discomfort and damage to both soft tissue and joints.
Start with the hips. Sit or stand with your crotch directly under you. Yes, your butt probably will feel a little bit like it’s sticking out. Don’t strain your back, let the back and belly go. Just get your crotch or pubic bone directly under you. Now we can stack the spine and head so that looking down at your phone is easy on the body. When you look down at your phone you are designed to move from the base of your neck. You will feel like you are hinging from that bony bump at the base of your neck. That is the spinous process of C7. It will feel like a hinging type of motion. Don’t roll your shoulders forward as your face goes down toward your chest.
When you roll or curve your spine, you’re hanging out on your soft tissue and straining it. When you focus specifically on moving from your joints, you’ll become so much more comfortable and relaxed. At first, these changes will feel strange. You’ve probably lost some range of motion, especially in the back of your neck, so when you switch from slumped to stacked, stretching could feel uncomfortable until you get used to your new posture. Each joint in our body has its own specific muscles and ligaments designed to take and move a load. But slumping and not stacking overloads certain joints with too much strain. Your focus always needs to be on relaxing and moving your bones so these muscles can do their job without injury.
Don’t treat your body like a hammock, but like a chair. Let it sit you up.
Often people come to me with back pain and they realize after a few sessions (or maybe even sooner) that the way that they are moving in the day is creating much of their back pain. This is the problem and the answer. It can be exciting at first knowing by moving better there is a way out of this boxed in lifestyle of limited movement and pain. Also the idea of possible freedom that comes with letting go of the fear of the back “breaking down” i.e. riding on planes or in cars or sitting in meetings and the excitement of being back in the game of golf. Then there is the realization that re-learning how to move is a big lifestyle change. For some who are born disciplinarians this is an easy task but for many it looks dreadfully daunting.
Sharon Salzberg*, a mediation teacher uses a wonderful phrase when she teaches meditation to help when the mind wonders off to “begin again”, bringing the mind back to the breath or what ever was the focus. This begin again is the secret to really enjoying the process of learning. By seeing that we are not “failing” when we have to start over again and again, but we are in the process and in the moment. This perspective can help with gaining the ability to focus, relax and enjoy the process of change.
Where to start:
If you take small steps and realize that by changing one movement, like sitting, will automatically begin to change the way you stand- which will change the way you bend- and change the way you walk.For further instruction or assistance with this and other pain relieving movements, give me a call or send me an email and we can connect and move forward together.
*I was recently introduced to Sharon Salzberg’s work and thoughts through my new favorite app, 10% Happier with Dan Harris. Sharon is the New York Times best-selling author of Real Happiness, along with eight other inspiring books. She is among some of the most respected meditation teachers and speakers in the United States. For more mediation teachings and inspiration check out 10% Happier.
Winter is not over here in Bend. Friday night a good bit of snow fell so it is time to get the blower and shovel out. I realized I really enjoy doing things most people think are inconvenient. Clearing the driveway of snow is one of those things. I have forgotten what it’s like to be uncomfortable or to even hurt when doing daily chores. I spend a lot of time helping people out of pain so that these “inconveniences “ are not a problem. But I never really tell them how comfortable and enjoyable simple tasks can be when your body moves well. It’s really comfortable for me to bend over and pick up the laundry, and pushing the blower up my steep driveway is a fun challenge because in those little moments I am really in my body and not in my head.
We spend so much time looking forward to things like skiing, running and working out but “check out” when going from sitting to standing or walking across the room or standing in line at the grocery store. This ignoring creates tension that we don’t even know is there except for a sense of tightness in the shoulders or hips which becomes our new normal. Sometimes these discomforts lead to an injury but often it just becomes labeled as “old age” or blamed on an old sports injury. I can remember when I first felt a huge relief of tension in my body with sitting. I learned how to lean back in a chair (Recline is Devine in my book). There was a comfort level I cannot describe. I had not felt that relaxed sitting since I was a child, my neck felt free of tension. This was the beginning of a journey to a “new normal” that was without tension and based in relaxation. We have become a society that wants to eliminate or “hire out” these fundamental activities or inconveniences. We want to get them out of the way so we can get to better or more important things. I have found the opposite is true. The “being in the moment” cliche has real meaning and truth when it comes to the health of our body. It’s our minds that are in rebellion to this fact. What I have learned from my own body and helping others for so many years is that these simple movements and daily chores we do all the time are the foundation to feeling relaxed, grounded, and strong.
One look at these two pictures and you instantly see what a comfortable, upright posture is and isn’t.
The girl on the left is upright and relaxed. Her bones are stacked, eliminating potentially harmful stress on her spine. She is sitting in the center of her pelvis. The is the pubic bone area, we usually call it the crotch At first when you practice this you may feel more ”tipped forward” than usual. There will be a soft arch in your back but it will feel much more like a big arch because it is so new to your body. As you relax into this posture your spine will balance over your pelvis — which means less “working” of the muscles to hold you up.
The girl on the right has a tucked buttocks which automatically causes her head and shoulders to come forward. The crossing of her legs keeps her stable and from rolling backwards but, over time, could create numerous hip and spine problems.
With the Olympics winding down we all have had a chance to see amazing ice-skating the past 2 weeks.
If you look closely you will notice that ice skaters have a very distinct posture. Since I’m always looking at how people move I wanted to share some small but really important things to look at that may be different than what you think and do for “good posture”.
Observe how they accelerate from the way their legs dramatically extend behind them without tucking the buttocks under, or tightening and pulling in their abdominal area. There’s openness in the front of their body, especially the hip area, which is key to maintaining great balance. That is also one of the reasons they look so relaxed but strong.
It takes GREAT posture to balance well on ice and really great posture to do it at the level these people do.
Next time you go to the gym to work out look at the postures around you and what people are doing to be healthy and strong. Do they have postures like the ice -skaters you saw this past week? Relaxed, open, upright and strong?
Image Credit: usfigureskating.org and i.pinimg.com
The McCall Method heals people through their own everyday movements. It draws upon your body’s own inner wisdom to feel good.