Thursday, June 7, 2012

Falling, Yes, I Am Falling......

Feel a song coming on?  Yeah.  Me too.  Good times :o)

My colleagues and I have put a lot of time and effort into studying how to achieve perfect alignment (because one's muscles think it is SO FUN). We observe ourselves and our clients before mirrors seeing a great many things:  there are so many different ways to hold unnecessary tension in the body and only ONE way to absolutely relax (and I'm not talking about vodka).

Being in natural alignment means you are not having to grip anything much at all:  everything's in it's natural placement and ready for you to make your next move.  And few of us (in affluent cultures) are there or anywhere near where you could see it with field glasses.

So you've read the book (and if you haven't, it's time) click here, you're stretching your calves and everything else that's tight and that's GREAT.  You rock :o)  Looking in the mirror:  weight's in my heels, check. Pelvis, shoulders, and head backed up and all stacked up perfectly.  Yay!  I've finally made it!  Whoo Hoo.  Too bad you're stuck in front of the mirror, cause when you get your shoes on (your minimalist shoes on) and take your act on the road, the tension's back. "I'm back :o)"

Let this be an amusement to you, but all this alignment study and stretching is pointing toward you being able to arrange yourself naturally and move through life that way.  Which may be a whole lot different from being able to arrange yourself successfully before a mirror....

We often hear reports that the old AND feeble complain their balance isn't good and they're afraid they're going to fall down.   I'd like to give them a shout out to validate their awareness of themselves and what's going on in their universe, because they are falling down.  What's different is they don't catch themselves as reliably as they once did.

Everywhere there's gravity, the act of walking [forward] is driven by posterior leg muscles.  (equal and opposite reaction, right?)  The same all over.  In Venice, the gondolier generates force back to move you forward. 
Paddling your own canoe, you push your paddle back to move you forward.  Well, walking is no different.  You stick your straight leg down on the ground and push back to move you forward.  Oh, no, wait.  You don't walk that way:  you kick your foot out in front of you and you fall on it AND your knee's bent when you hit .  Well, it gets us down the road, but at the expense of our delicate tissues.

If you were very clever, you'd stop falling and start locomoting.  For this to happen, you put your pole (leg) down on the ground and "pole back."  This moves all of you ahead where the inactive leg is dangling (ever so briefly) right beneath you.  You receive your body's weight on that straight leg which is at a right angle to the pull of gravity and you repeat the process on the other side.  Neither foot ever gets out in front of you and you are not at any time in the process, falling down.  This is especially because you swing the passive side's arm back to balance you out. (one day soon: link to a little movie right here)

This process depends on none of you getting ahead of any other part of you, which means for 'fallers' [like you]: quit leaning into it, get your weight back over the front of the heels (right where the bony bump on your ankle is-- which is why you want your weight there, btw) and for maximum enjoyment, supporting the body's weight on straight legs.  You think your legs are straight.  They're not.

If you were all aligned and un-grippy (well, BEING aligned means that all of you is un-grippy) you could walk across the Bering Straits, or the Iberian Peninsula, or a really long way (and our ancestors certainly did).  You'd maximize your output as you'd use your body as the designer intended.  You wouldn't dream of hauling composting cow manure in this, would you?

Or pee here:
Of course you wouldn't.  :o)

So now that you know it's un-clever to be falling instead of locomoting (and/or tooling around in your Tesla roadster), it's time to straighten up and fly right (& I don't mean in an air-chaise like in WALL-E).  

There's a long list of tissue damage that occurs when one's falling which doesn't occur when one's locomoting.  I was keenly aware  my knees weren't happy with me anymore as I had been falling-not-walking for six decades.  In the year or so I've been working on walking-not-falling through life I can testify that my body is a whole lot happier with my ever more natural alignment.  It might be an easier trip for you, but even if it's longer and more arduous, the reward will be the same:  a healthy body ready to respond to whatever your next move is....  tap dancing, anyone?
Betcha Ginger did a LOT of calf-stretching in her time....

Monday, June 4, 2012

For Princesses of all ages :o)

a true story

Princess Feet

A good friend introduced me to Katy Bowman's work on biomechanics and body alignment a couple of months ago, and I've found her work to be fascinating and incredibly helpful, not just for my own issues, but as a healthcare provider. Many of her posts on the importance of healthy body alignment and the effects of one part on the entire system compliment my own interest in the importance of  breathing technique and body position in working with issues such as pain, anxiety and decreased oxygenation, especially during recovery and physiological stress.

One of the subjects which Bowman talks about frequently is the importance of walking, squatting and the cascade of problems which positive heeled shoes can cause. I was never a big fan of heels, and have been carefully considering the angle of my shoes ever since. But my fashion sense has always been decidedly...unfashionable. I cannot say the same for Anya, and preschool girls have some very particular ideas about what to wear.

The Princess Years
Yesterday morning, my 4-year old daughter wobbled into the room wearing a princess tutu, a princess tiara and one of the 6 pairs of cheap plastic princess heels she was given for Christmas last year. I had thought she forgot about them when I buried them in the costume box, quarantining them from the real shoes. I have socio-political issues with girls and princess culture. My kids know that I hate princesses, know that I dislike that princesses rarely save themselves in stories, are considered special simply by the circumstances of their birth or because of their beauty. When I explained the problems of a monarchy vs. a democracy, Anya was the first to chime in that the people should decide who the leaders are. And yet. The princess culture in the preschool set is overwhelming, infectious, and all-consuming. The fixation with prettiness is problematic but workable; the conflation of "pretty" and "fancy" with "princess", and "princess" with the requirement of pretty above all else!!!1!- that is the spiral of death by pink for me.

When Anya wobbled in in that outfit, all smiles and pride in how pretty she was, I knew I had to pick my battle; all out War, Mom vs Princess was asking for an epic loss. I told her how beautiful the dress was, how impressed I was that she had created a whole costume for herself, and how beautiful she was when she was pretending to be a princess AND when she was being regular Anya. She asked what I thought of the shoes. I told her that I didn't like high heel shoes because the heels were no good for running and no good for the muscles, bones and the whole body.

She twirled for me a couple of times, then wobbled her way out.

Be free!
A minute later she wobbled back in and said, "Why are my pretty shoes not good for my body?" I know what to do with that kind of soft pitch! I leapt up and showed her where her hamstrings are, showed her how to feel them stretch, pointed out where they attached to the skeleton- we did a great activity using a little movable guy with rubber bands attached to his bones to represent muscles and how they move bone, which I'm just realizing I never blogged about- and she was fascinated. Then we lay down and held up our legs to look at the angle of our feet and how a pointed toe shortened the length of our hamstrings. I talked to her about how walking like that and never stretching them out would make the muscles get tighter and shorter, till it was so bad that our feet couldn't even get into a neutral position without some effort on the part of our muscles. And, by the way, our lesson on simple machines has totally come in handy- the kids now often differentiate between things that take work from our muscles and things that don't!

Next, I did some silly poses to try to show her how the whole body has to compensate for the forward lean of the body standing on heels. Katy Bowman's illustrations are better than my clowning around, but when your audience is 4, a little mama slapstick goes a long way towards remembering a complex lesson!

Anya wobbled back out to the living room, then returned, without the heels and said, in the most woeful voice ever, "But how can I have princess shoes if they are bad for my body?" I took her out to examine her shoe collection and tried to push the hot pink, turquoise glittered light up sneakers as sufficiently fancy for a princess. Anya was not impressed.

Then I had an awesome idea.

Princess Feet

"I think that princess FEET are even cooler than princess shoes, don't you?" She looked doubtfully at her feet. "I can make your feet extra fancy and special!"

I collected up red, pink and purple markers, a washable glue stick, gold glitter, and two colors of nail polish. I painted her nails and drew suns, hearts, flowers and swirls all over the tops of her feet, then rubbed some glue stick over the top and went to town with the glitter. She was beyond thrilled.

We went outside to test out her new princess feet. It turns out that not only are princess feet cool-looking and fun to create, but you can run in them way better than in high heeled princess shoes.

 We also did some careful scientific tests of climbing, playing, skipping and hammock pushing. Princess feet outshone princess high heels in all the categories!