Last week I sat down to write a post on some of what I learned from season one of the podcast... and it turned into a 3 parter. Brevity just isn't my gift. Sometimes there's just too much goodness to condense it into a short article. So this week is part 2 of 3, where I begin getting into my favorite moments from some of the episodes. Initially started as a "top 5" list, it's now 20 items long. Oops. One through ten are this week, the final ten will be up next week. Here are some of my favorite mind-blowing moments; the things that have stayed with me and continue to dart around my brain and body on a daily basis:
1. We are built more like foams than like buildings. “Essentially we are foams” according to Dr. Stephen Levin. Whaaaaa!? Mind. Blown. This talk is, as one of the listener’s who wrote me said, a “braingasm”. So if you want to get friendly with biotensegrity and the miracle of the omnidirectional icosahedron (I just wanted to see how many syllables I could fit into two words) and how its shape is our most fundamental building block from the cellular level on up, give it a listen.
2. Every step I take is a conversation I’m having with the planet. “This relationship of gravity and this force that the opposite force is called ground reaction force or the secondary force of gravity.It actually literally pushes everything off the planet toward the stars. A lot of people know about these forces but it’s how you maximize and optimize the use of pushing off the ground and relaxing into it to be weighted... it’s a dynamic recycling of gravity and ground reaction.” Thank you Judith Aston, you have forever changed my walks through the woods (or anywhere for that matter).
3. That whole core stability altar we’ve all been worshipping at for years (myself included)? Yeah, turns out that’s a wild misinterpretation and misapplication of the data. Dr. Eyal Lederman: “Basically there are no sub-systems in the body. There’s not a sub-system called core muscles. We’d like to believe there are muscle chains and some kind of system of core, global, muscles, and so on, but it just doesn’t exist in human movement.”
4. We have to take our whole lifestyle into consideration when we train, or we are at risk of injuring our neuro-endocrine system, and (let me tell you from experience) that’s a slow one to heal. Dr. Steve Gangemi, “I’ve done enough Ironmans in the past where you’re just running your health down just that little bit to exceed that little bit extra. It’s okay if you do that for a competition but you’ve got to be careful about doing that too much, too often because the next thing you know you don’t recover well or you end up with some chronic injury that you just can’t resolve and you can’t figure out. Because it’s due to an actual physical depletion of vitamins, minerals, hormones in your body and not just a straight out structural shin splint, shoulder problem or whatever type injury. It’s not local. It’s becomes more systemic.”
5. “The study of anatomy does bring us into a much deeper understanding of ourselves if we’ll let it.” Hallelujah Gil Hedley, hallelujah! I asked Gil how he feels the model of the body that we’re functioning from is determining our behavior towards our body, and he replied: “The thing is that anatomy is generally understood as this naming of things based on the cutting up of them. It generates a very abstract set of information and categories. I literally mean abstract meaning the levels of tissue have been drawn away from other levels of tissue. Abstraho literally means to draw away from, so we draw one thing away from another, and then we develop a mental conception of it. Every time you approach a body with an idea, and then execute that idea with a knife, you’re making up anatomy, because there is no such thing as a liver on a tray. There is no such thing as a skin unto itself, except through a process of dissection, and abstraction. Those aren’t realities. The reality is this whole flesh and blood pulsing experience that we’re all wandering around with.
Then we get our abstraction built, and then we say, “Oh, okay. There’s this muscle, rectus femoris, there this muscle adductor magnus, there’s this thing in our chest, the heart, and that’s a pump. The other one abducts and the other one adducts. We have all of these very abstract, conceptions. Then we approach with our techniques people, and we see them move, and we have that set of abstractions in our brain, and we say, “Well.” It’s like a math problem, and we add it up, and say, “Well, this should be doing that because of what they’re doing there. Then we apply our abstraction to the form, and try and make it emulate what our abstractions tell us it should be instead of taking in a given whole set of compensations and helping it to function better.
The actual functional person is always a gestalt of all the systems, and all of the hopes and dreams, and all of the life processes, and all of the trillions of cells streaming. In other words, that’s what’s happening in front of you, not, “Oh, we’re having difficulty abducting our x, y, z. Which would be cured by strengthening the a, b, c.” I don’t think we work that way.
I don’t think I’ve fallen too far from the Rolfian [Rolfing] tree in my aspirations along with you to transform culture. She was looking to cultivate a more mature human being, and I feel that I’m wanting to do the same, at least for my part. I feel that part of that maturity lies in an acceptance and learning from the body.”
6. Support and stability are not the same thing! It’s support we need more of, and our grasping at creating stability isn’t helping us to find it. Mary Bond, “I’d like to make a distinction between support and stabilization. Support is something we receive. We allow ourselves to be supported. Lots of times, that’s a problem.We can’t, for some reason or another because of habituation. It makes it difficult for us to trust that we could allow ourselves to be supported by the ground or by another human, by the table. Support is something that we take in and allow.
Stabilization is something that we do. We stabilize the core in order to push off from the ground and lean into the air, for example. We need stabilization, but in this culture of hyper-fitness, there’s too much emphasis on stabilization. I think it’s because we lack support and people don’t see that. They don’t see that distinction.”
7. Tissue damage does not correlate particularly well with pain. Todd Hargrove: “Pain is an unpleasant conscious experience and it is designed to protect you against what the brain perceives as a threat to the body to motivate you to do something about it. Pain is an output of the brain- it is something the brain creates to warn you of the situation.
The reason I make that clear is that sometimes we get confused about pain and tissue damage. Tissue damage is damage in the body. It results in a sensory signal, a nociceptive signal coming from that damaged area. That’s not pain yet. The damage is just damage, and the signal is just a signal. It goes up into the brain and then the brain decides what to do about it. It’s not going to create pain unless it decides, ‘This is a dangerous situation, we need to create pain to protect us from that potentially dangerous situation.’ It might decide, ‘I hear those nociceptive signals, but I don’t want to create pain right now because I don’t think that’s a good idea.’ For example, if you were a soldier, and a toe got cut off, it would surely activate nociceptors in the foot and send a signal, but the brain might not create pain, because the pain might not promote your survival very well. The brain might think, ‘We’re not going to create pain because we need to run across this field and to get out of this emergency situation.’ That’s why people often don’t feel pain in emergency situations.
On the other hand, there might be a relatively innocuous situation going on in the foot, and there is sensory information coming into the brain, and the brain for some reason interprets it as a very dangerous situation for the foot, and so can feel a lot of pain even though there is not a lot of tissue damage. That might be why tissue damage doesn’t correlate all that well with pain. It’s because the important decisions are being made in the brain by the neuromatrix. The brain can be confused. Something happens in the body, the sensory organs report it, and it’s like a big game of telephone. The spinal cord receives that information from the body, it can suppress that signal, it can amplify that signal, it can misinterpret that signal as it goes to the brain.”
8. When you give some love to the tissues, you can heal the issues. Jill Miller, “I put out a call when I started writing this book [The Roll Model Method] to ask folks who had been using the Yoga Tune Up® balls for their story and I expected to get a lot of stories about rotator cuff tears, knee stuff, back stuff… all these musculoskeletal things. I ended up getting all these stories from people with Lupus, or MS, or cancer recovery- there was this disease category. But the category that most surprised me and most filled my spirit are the stories of people who dealt with unbelievable emotional trauma.
I am a psychological runner- a runner from the family dynamics that were not supportive to my own expression of emotion. I shut down in my own way. I starved myself, I threw up, I used my body aggressively. A lot of people wouldn’t think yoga is aggressive but I literally stretched myself end to end and destabilized my body completely. I was that yogini that could do everything- I could do all kinds of crazy-town things. I was in a lot of denial about my own aches and pains, I was in denial about my compulsion to practice. It destroyed relationships, it affected friendships, it affected my job.
Addiction to food is really difficult to deal with. You need to eat to live. I did heal that part and then it transmuted into this other pie-piece of addiction which was an addiction to stretching. Stretching calms you down- that’s one of the great things about stretching. It turns off your stress switch. I was addicted to that because I was so freaked out on the inside.
I do think that in the exercise and fitness industry the dirty little secret is that there is a lot of body dysmorphia- there is a lot of intense dislike of the body. My goal is for everyone to live playfully and peacefully.”
9. Giving the prescription to "just move more" is missing whole universes of information about what we are truly lacking in our contemporary domesticated human environment. Katy Bowman: “The generalization of quantifying things- like saying an Orca swims in the ocean, so the Orca can swim in a tank, that way the “swimming” box is checked, therefore this [the floppy fin problem of Orcas in captivity] could not be disease of mechanotransduction.
You need to break down swimming into something more specific. You can call swimming a macronutrient, but if you look at the micronutrients the questions are: What were the distances covered by whales in the ocean? What are the speeds that are normal for a whale to swim? What about swimming in a circle, is that normal?
Where we are with movement is where we were with nutrition 40 years ago. We say, ‘Just move more!’ if a whale in captivity were to just swim more, it would make the flopped fin worse. Moving more might bring about even more of the forces that brought about the disease of mechanotransduction- in this case the flopped fin. It might make things worse.
At the end of the day swimming more wasn’t really the problem. If you walked in a circle everyday, you would notice that your body became shaped to that. Then you walk fast in that circle, it will highlight those diseases even faster.
When we say we need to move well or differently, often we say [in this example], ‘Walk in the circle in the other direction.’ You would offset some of the adaptations with that correction, but it’s still treating the symptom.
Corrective exercise is spot-treating these nutrient deficits by creating something novel instead of pulling back and asking what is the actual problem here? What are my actual movement requirements and how can I actually meet those instead of taking the vitamin or pill equivalent?”
10. Be aware (beware) of relying on momentum. Bo Forbes: “Familiarity and discomfort breed momentum. When we move very fast, and when we’re moving into yoga as exercise (which we know is beneficial, so I’m not saying it is a bad kind of practice), but we use momentum to repeat familiar patterns in the body, and to speed up transitions between poses. This is why things stay the same.
The transition between downward dog and lunge is a place where many of us put our bodies into a box that doesn’t fit them. 80% or so of people have a body whose proportions don’t make that shape well, so that in order to transition between those poses we have to do things- like moving fast- to accomplish the transition and we sacrifice the opportunity to not what might be going on that makes it hard to make that transition.
[When we don’t over-rely on momentum] We’re using our practice to awaken more as opposed to creating mastery. Mastery and mindfulness are almost on opposite ends of a spectrum. Where there is mastery usually by definition we have less neuroplasticity- less new learning- we feel very comfortable in those places. We’ve lost the opportunity to gain new neuroplasticity.
If we practice for many years, being able to tolerate that experience of awkwardness- or not mastery- and even seeking it out... If we start with interoception, we bring our awareness to our body and our breath, and the movement is funded from that place.
Momentum affects other parts of our lives- getting carried away with momentum to stay in that relationship you shouldn’t stay in, or that job you don’t want to be in… Our practice can allow us to colonize new areas of awareness in our lives. So if we get angry- and we have difficulty experiencing sadness- cultivating the time to notice that vulnerability underneath the anger can happen via interoception.”
Pure gorgeousness. I'm so grateful to all these people for the good work they are doing in the world. And next week I'll be back with ten more shiny golden nuggets of wisdom from season one.
image by Leo Reynolds