Saturday, 16 April 2016

She's got legs...

But does she know how to use them?

Those of us lucky enough to have an above average number of legs; pretty much take them for granted.

But we expect them to carry us about in our daily lives; and sometimes on longer  excursions. So it might seem sensible to pay some attention to how they; and the rest of the body could work more efficiently; and comfortably; whilst we are out and about.

This week I shared a 'jumping about' session with some young people who are preparing for a longish two day walk on  Dartmoor.

 It was a yoga class; but one specifically aimed at considering all of the above.

Excuse me 'school system' ...... I have a bone to pick with you...You appear to have bent some of our youth into some proper odd shapes. Thirteen years of being forced to sit, in a badly designed chair, hasn't done them many favours posturewise.

But hey; at the same time; I guess I'll never be out of a job.... 

Busily employed in trying to sort out the slightly older folks who turn up at class needing some help. 
Not because they want to have 'deep yogic thoughts' installed; but usually because things are starting to physically hurt in some way...

Modern life seems almost to be designed to make us uncomfortable.

I know, we can all have accidents, illnesses, genetic predispositions; circumstances not in our favour, and so on.... 
 Any of these things, mean we can't always take optimum care of ourselves.

I do know that.
 More than once I have temporarily knackered my back, by over doing things on the field work front, or hurt some other bits by falling off my bike...

 But luckily I have some tools and knowledge, to hand to get most things back to where they need to be....

And now I fully risk being smote bythe ire of 'Smaug' the Dragon; that may yet shove me off a precipice to a sorry end for being such a clever clogs....

But my job as a teacher is about passing on hard won knowledge, the years; in the case of yoga thousands of years; of collective experience. 
But also asking questions; or asking people to ask themselves questions about what might be going on; or perhaps going wrong with their own internal structure.

 And then showing them some ideas and techniques for working a little differently.

Yoga is a practical 'show and tell and do' subject. Difficult to get over; just via words on a page. 
So really best done alongside some practical instruction..
But some of this might help; even those who don't get to go to a classy class.

When preparing for a long walk, in remote country, there is, quite rightly, a lot of effort put into navigation training; and very detailed  discussions around the kit that is required on an expedition.

For sure; it totally makes sense to keep your backpacking gear as lightweight and efficient as possible.

But what about that primary piece of kit that can't be left behind?

What about your corporeal body; that which you're asking to do all the work, show you fine scenery. carry all your kit, but not grumble in the slightest. 

Thankfully; walking is one of the most natural forms of exercise that us humans can do. 
And perhaps if we only walked, at a non urgent pace most of the time, occasionally breaking into a sprint to catch a meaty dinner; or even; now and then; ran a bit faster to avoid being someone elses' meaty dinner.

 Then squatted down to eat the nuts, berries, and other foragables we had gathered along the way, and used same action to effect elimination later on.

Later laid down to rest somewhere reasonably comfortable, got up the morn and repeated, pretty much all the time, we wouldn't run into a lot of trouble.

But we don't.... 
Our lives generally look very different to that.

But who would go back to 'caveman' days? 
No; me neither.

We can pick from a range of the 'best of both worlds'....
 I for one; am not giving up custard anytime soon...

Feet 'sandal ready' spread those toes out...the forefoot should also possess a slightly springy 'we have lift off' arch to it to....
And 26 bones in each foot!

Anyway; in our session we considered many things in the allotted
 hour and a half of 'fun' (mostly fun when it stops....? )

I'll mention a few points here; but perhaps return with some more ideas another time.

Starting with the feet..Noting first just how vital it is that the nail polish matches the leggings...

We have to start with the feet - basic physics tells us that in order for something to lift up; something else has to press down. 
It's interesting that our feet contain twenty six bones each? A quarter of all the bones in the body.

That's in addition to all the connecting tendons, ligaments and muscles that animate them. And what do we do with this fine piece of engineering?? 

We shove them into shoes, without a second thought and expect them to get on with it, without complaint..

 Fallen arches, are a commonly encountered problem, where the foot has been  
 Orthotics can help counteract immediate problems, but it might be a better idea to 'reboot' that foot as far as is possible so the arches are springy, less prone to injury? 
 Standing, in bare feet, with your inner heels joined and inner ankles too, then joining as much of your inner leg as possible starts the process, by making the inner leg muscles do the work they've been shirking..

Can both feet be made to press down the same amount?
Does one leg work harder than the other? Apparently this can be the cause of walking round in circles, if lost in a desert...
Look at the wear on the soles of your shoes, or the impression of your feet in wet sand, that will give you some clues as how you use your feet.

You can, if you so choose; within reasonable limits rebuild your body, over time. The cells ... Apart from the central nervous system, fully regenerate over the course of every seven years. 

So deliberate repeated action, will reform things along more helpful lines.
That is effectively what any half decent form of bodywork should be doing for you.
I used to be able to stand with my feet inner feet a good four inches apart and my inner knees would already be touching, (knock kneed).
But now; after some years practice; I wouldn't say my legs are totally perfect but they're a damn sight straighter than they were...

And whilst you're walking; and standing; your feet should point forwards... Its far more efficient tracking - wise; gives better engagement of the femur in the hip socket; and helps avoid the narrowing in the lower back that can lead to the evil scatica. 
A deeply unpleasant leg pain that is referred from the sacro-iliac joint on the back of your pelvis, its horrible, avoid it if you can...

And then there's stride length; there is perhaps a plausible shoe leather saving argument for taking longer strides, with properly extended legs. Fewer strikes per mile; longer lasting boots or shoes? And of course with longer strides you will cover more miles. 
 But there comes a point where excessive stride extension could start to have a deleterious effect on various parts; such as knees, groins, hips, and lower back. Particularly if the body hasn't been conditioned to make such a reach.

All these adjustments need to made gradually, mindfully, with some knowledge of technique, so as not to traumatise or damage the body..
As with all important journeys ; it's also about how you go; not just how far you go...

For the chin to go to the shin; the legs have to do some serious lifting 'leg work' front and back... The front edge of the spine hast to stay long....All in good time...
As we get older (and please message me urgently if you've found the non terminal antidote to that one) our frontal groins have a tendency to tighten up. 

Even the least observant amongst us, will have noticed that some of the very aged tend to have a bent forward aspect to them... This is often because the dorsal spine; or upper back has a tendency to hunch over; not surprising really given that most of what we do is in front of us, and slightly down there.
Makes me wonder if we're going to see an increase in neck problems in years to come. As we all seem to go about these days, staring down into the beloved faces of whatever tech gadget we favour...

 Perhaps there should be a free kite given away with every smart phone to counteract the effect. 

And the back rounding is furthered if we give into the effects of gravity, rather than using it for some bone density enhancing, resistance training...
Such as jumping about..

Plus the tendons and ligaments that attach the top of the legs to the abdomen get shorter.  Sitting down a lot doesn't help..... Stand up, for your back.

 Wouldn't it be a shame to end up so bent over; that one day you could no longer enjoy the sky?

Bending over backwards; to please; as ever...
Frontal groins fairly well open; dorsal spine going in; but  please don't try this at home; or in the hills; or even the valleys; until you've spent a while (several years perhaps) building up to it......

Once your legs are as straight as they are going to get; then we can think about the levelling of the pelvis. And particularly; but not exclusively for the girls here, make a point of lifting the front of the pelvis up. So your lumber spine isn't dipped in like a ballet dancers'... They tend to end up with dreadful lower back pain in later life... Talk about 'suffering for your art'.

Then the spine can start to grow tall; space can be made between the vertebrae.

And glory of glories your chest can open and spread 

Because what is contained within your rib cage? Only your lungs; only the oxygen tanks that are going to supply some energy to those hard working muscles as they get you up that last hill to a higher pitch so you can wake if you're lucky to an awe inducing sunrise; or if you are truly blessed; and high enough an inversion.

This inversion Sirsasana strengthens almost every thing, and has a beneficial effect on the circulation and digestion...Also handy around the house for locating long lost items under furniture....

This kind of inversion might just give you a 'moment'... Both sorts require some kind of effort to attain.

A note of the largest possible denomination was inserted under my models rucksack chest strap; to illustrate an incentive to lift that area. 
Imagine that note is the only thing you have to proffer should you ever reach civilisation in the shape of a bar. 
Lift your chest, it literally lifts your heart too*

And shoulders down of course ..First rule of pack fitting is; as everyone knows;  that the weight is carried on the hips. Shoulder straps are for stability, not so much load carrying. Move your shoulders away from your ears. Most peoples cervical spines are far longer than they think, and your neck will love you for it.

Learning to work your arms like this; is great not only for shoulder mobility; but also makes reaching things out of your side pockets just that little bit easier...

And then last; maybe not quite least; but certainly not as important as it would like to think it is; the head.

Even if your noggin is merely filled with faerie dust; and unicorns' kisses. 
It is still a very heavy thing. So why adopt that "Here comes my cranium, my body will be along later stance"?    It makes you look like you want to fight someone.... Maybe you do?

But mostly you're just creating your very own 'pain in the neck' to follow you around.... Your neck structure is quite delicate; but the skull will balance quite happily up there if you position it correctly...And will even port several kilos of water over many miles, if one happens to live far from a fresh water source.

I've often wondered what those girls and women, would think if they could see what we in the west actually do; in that sparkling fresh; delivered purified to our homes water...Before we flush it away....

A lot of headaches result from neck tension; and a fair amount of that is caused by how the head is carried, and by the shoulders hunching up in that 'protective' posture....Fear not; there is unlikely to be a tiger; ready to pounce...

And finally ; and sublimely; after all that effort; have a break, lie down and take it easy. 
When we train, or exercise, or use our bodies vigorously in any way for pleasure or work, we are actually damaging them.

When we rest; the body repairs; builds fitness;  and re-forms; hopefully along the lines that you have consciously redrawn. 
So if you throw yourself down on the sofa, or wherever without a thought; immediately after you've worked hard; then that is the shape your body will take...

 But there's nearly always a floor; or firm mat of some sort available to lie down on, in a straight line. Having the knees bent up; is sometimes more cheering for your lower back.... You never know your body might even grow to like you for it...


* I mentioned to my group of mainly older teens that I had spend most of my early youth hiding from the world: posture and body language wise: in a state of painfully shy embarrassment at having grown so tall so quickly; or even at the frightful cheek of taking up any space in the world at all.
 I don't think it's an altogether uncommon state of mind; for young or old....

I suspect that very few of them actually believed me; given the slightly over exuberant person that was exhorting them to undergo this process.

Lift and spread your tractor....

But it was the case; it took a lot of self-training. But once you discover; and start living the fact; that others' response to you; almost directly mirrors your approach to them; it all starts to fall into place......

 If your body language says 'uninterested, nervous, unfriendly, or withdrawn', literally turned in on yourself, then that will, unless people are willing to persist, most likely be reflected back at you.

 Not because people are inherently mean; but mainly because many of us are  struggling with the same; 'worried about what people will think*' stuff. so for a while you have to 'act confident' until the results come in, and then it becomes an ingrained 'positive feedback' habit. It doesn't mean that the self doubt goes away, it just makes the world overall, a friendlier place to operate in...

And anyway Most of them are far too busy thinking about their own presentation to give you a moments thought .

Or as this quote allegedly attributable to Churchill puts it...

"Once you reach forty, you give up worrying what others think of you; but once you reach sixty; you realise that no one was thinking about you at all"

And finally a few thoughts about walking companions; should you be so lucky to have options.....
 In my experience the best people to walk with; if you don't choose just to accompany your own self in glorious solitude; are those who would also; quite as cheerfully go by themselves. 

For a few reasons.....They don't need a constant stream of verbal entertainment to keep them occupied or distracted. Although of course the natural pace of walking can lend itself to the stimulation and investigation of topics many and various. 

Solo walkers; solo cyclists; solo anythingerers; i.e. folks happy enough in their own company; are usually just that because they have enough going on in their own heads to make themselves, reasonably interesting company to themselves.

 And they may, perchance, have had a bit of time to think; or chew over an idea or two, of their own. 
They may even; if you are interested enough; be prepared to share some of those ideas with you. 

Yes naturally there are some; who; for their own reasons just don't like people at all; or may find us as individuals insufferable...

And that is of course ok too; there's no need to force our company on anyone... 

But hopefully your self sufficient; but friendly enough companion will in addition have cultivated the art of noticing stuff.

 Not just the fine long views; marvelous though they can be. 
But also the smaller details; leaves, rocks, an interesting bit of vernacular fence work, silly signs, rodent skulls, inonimate brown birds the moniker of which they may know, or cumulus clouds building in the West.... Whatever.

But equally valuably; these folks; do also know the value of; and how to do; a companionable silence. There is an art to knowing when to shut up...

For sure; I'm am still working on that one too; but as with all things; we are always on a journey towards the ideal; works in progress; we rarely really know where we're headed til we get there. ..

But silence; and or solitude; is where the light gets in; its where the 'moments' happen. Where we sometimes get to meet ourselves.

Where we feel the inexpressible; perhaps are struck by; even if only for a moment; the luck of being alive right now; on this; for all it's flaws; pretty awesome planet.

 And that; whatever the state of your legs; is a fine thing indeed.

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