Picture the standard old-person shuffle that we have come to assume is the norm. Why do we assume this is what happens to a body over time? What are the beginnings of these patterns and how can we catch them in their early stages? And, of course, how can we avoid them?
Valerie Berg talks about the precursor signs, symptoms, and outcomes of structural aging, and how it can begin to happen at any age (and more and more is happening at young ages). We get into how a gradually increasing fear of movement contributes to this, what the most common symptoms are to show up first as the structure begins to age, how visual perception affects everything, and how we can get more multi-planar movement into our daily lives.
“Structural Aging” is a breakdown of the structure that looks and feels like aging, but you can see this in a teenager, or in a 30 year old.
We can all talk about the computer age and what’s happening with looking at smartphones and computers, but we can also look at footwear. Those gigantic padded shoes that turn the foot into a concrete block instead of a juicy paw, and that changes the whole structure.
We lost the ground. Serge Gracovetsky is a mathematician who tried to figure out how our spine works, and he set up these transitions of movement that start with the foot and the toe hinge. The spine has these beautiful movements, but the foot is the engine for that.
Walk around and lock your ankle and feel what happens. There’s no fuel for the rest of the spirals which happen in every part of the body.
The loss of that joy of movement and feeling good moving is what I call structural aging, it’s not an inevitable thing.
When any body worker is looking at someone moving we are also looking at what their approach is psychologically to the world, because our attitude affects how we move.
Much of this is from a loss of movement- jumping, leaping, etc. Valerie begins each class she teaches by asking students to envision the movements they made as a child, and asks them when was the last time they jumped, or even took their arms up really high overhead?
With those losses fascia starts to harden and to restrict the whole constellation of movements in the body.
We need to move in all planes. And the fear of falling is one of the things that freezes us up, and that can happen young from actually falling, and from not feeling our feet on the ground.
There is a study by Stephanie Studenski in the Journal of the American Medical Associationl (in resources) that gait speed and variability can predict mortality. When we’re watching people as body workers we intuitively know that- we see how adaptable they are.
The classical sagittal plane, single-planar movement is the bent over shuffling person. This is not about how old you are, this is about a posture. A lot of times someone will have an accident or get hurt and they will take on that posture because it’s in the nervous system now- there is a lot of fear and trauma.
The other study I looked at (in resources) is the loss of the ability to have strength in the lateral line of the body, and the lateral side of the hip joint stabilizing us, and that goes all the way up to peripheral vision.
The ankle joint is not meant to handle impact higher up, because it is meant to flex and extend. So if you get hit higher up, it’s the hips that stabilize you, so we need strength and stability there.
The loss of peripheral vision happens to people who aren’t looking at their screens too. They are looking down and becoming eye-focused. So again if they can’t feel their feet on the ground as supportive and stable, there’s a grasping with the eyes to know where they are.
Have people close their eyes and stand near a wall and begin to sense through the ear, and the eyes.
The loss of peripheral vision goes straight to the nervous system. That orienting response is pretty primitive, so if we can’t orient and check out our environment we go back into that fear posture.
In the animal world an animal who isn’t in fear has wide vision moves with these beautiful undulating movements.
We know this from trauma, Peter Levine’s trauma work (in resources) shows us that when there is trauma or fear vision narrows and focuses, the body narrows it’s movements and freezes.
Common patterns of structural aging:
Pronation, knock-kneed and belly drop (especially in women)
Toes start to hammer. When I see that it’s the flexors and extensors of the foot imbalanced, someone who is not sure where they are in space so they are grabbing at the ground.
More frequent plantar fasciitis.
Little toes and the lateral edge of the foot curling under.
The lateral sides of the body stop expanding out.
Shoulder pain because people stop taking their arms above their head. Years ago I had my kitchen redone and I had them make the cabinets really high, so every day I have to reach really high to get bowls and things.
Rounding forward of the ribcage. If there is too much of a kyphosis you can’t get a shoulder to come up and extend back.
Femurs that lose rotational options- both internal and external.
I talk about how I’m seeing more hammer toes in younger and younger people in my practice.
Valerie and I hatch a scheme to develop Peripheral Walks in the Woods with Brooke and Valerie (it’s going to be big!) ; )
If you walk really slowly and just feel what’s happening when we step forward you realize how many planes of movement happen to get us forward, we have to use all planes of movement.
I talk about Valerie’s talk at the European Rolfing Association’s Annual Conference where she had us walking around exaggerating one plane of movement to create various silly-walks. Then I say the supermodel walk is an abduction exaggerated walk and I got it wrong (The horror! I hate getting a direction of movement wrong, but c’est la vie). Adduction exaggerated is the supermodel walk, abduction exaggerated is the staggering from vertigo walk. Try it! Good times.
There’s a beautiful quote from Luigi Stecco’s book Fascial Manipulation that blew me away- it says that every muscle and fiber in our body has the ability of spiraling in every direction.
If the multi-planar movement is a solution to not going into the downward spiral of aging, what are some thing people can do at home?
Valerie has therabands wrapped around many things at home. She doesn’t’ think of it like “exercising”, and instead uses them to move in varied planes.
A great Feldenkrais exercise- turning your head in one direction and looking the other direction to uncouple the eyes from the neck and head.
Any balancing with your eyes closed.
Walking backwards changes your eye focus- you’re’ really sensing the feet, and it forces your pelvis to do the spirals in case you’re not, so you walk backwards for a bit and then turn around.
Also walking sideways- step left and right leg goes in front. Think of any kid movement, changing direction quickly. So it’s not working on this for 20 minutes a day, it’s all throughout the day adding these movements in.
We also don’t get enough extension, we shouldn’t have an intense kyphotic thoracic spine, but it’s a really hard place to get people to move in. But playing in small movements with the ribcage extending back can help.
Valerie has recent taken up aerial yoga and is playing with inversions and hanging upside down. Not everyone is going to want to hang upside down, but it’s just about finding the range of movements, changing perspective.
Try playing with your peripheral vision by going for a walk and seeing how much you can see with your peripheral vision as you move forward. This is a way to take the “blinders” of tunnel vision off and broaden your vision, and therefore your movement.