Archive for the ‘Movement’ Category

Balance – deep diving

Posted: September 6, 2019 in Movement
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It isn’t balance that’s static, but rather the mind that perceives it.

WARNING:  This will be technical!
Imagine if you will a person standing in line at the store. They are balanced, seemingly static and unmoving. Compare that to the balance of a parkour athlete who has just completed a jump of 8ft, to a handrail, that is only a few inches wide, 3ft above the ground. These two examples of balance are on the extreme sides of the spectrum, to be sure.

From the outside looking in one is fixed and simple while the other is dynamic and difficult.  I would like to argue, however, that the balance is the same.  The difference is that we practice one more than the other.  What you practice, you are capable of doing.

When we are balanced we are constantly in motion.  Whether we notice it or not.  Balance as an activity, is a never ending practice of minor and seemingly insignificant adjustments that the body makes to keep its center of gravity over an object.  Wait, what? Did I lose you?  Did you read it twice?  I did say it would get technical.

In the fitness paradigm called MovNat, developed by Erwan Le Corre, balance is defined this way: “Physical balance is the ability to control the placement of the body’s center of gravity in relation to its support base. “

I’m guessing that the above definition wasn’t  much more clear than what I wrote before it, but bear with me.  First, we have two key pieces of information, both of which are abstract in nature.

  1. Center of gravity which is the invisible vertical line from the body to the ground
  2. Base of support which is an abstract area between all of the body parts in contact with the ground.

— i.e. If you are standing on one foot the base of support is the space directly underneath that single foot (Figure A).  However, if you are on all fours (crawling) the base of support would be an imaginary area within the rectangle shape created by your hands and feet which are touching the ground (Figure B)

BoS 1                                     BoS 4

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Referring back to the MovNat description on physical balance we can now discuss how a person has the ability to control the placement of their body.

There are three primary systems that are in charge of balance. First and foremost is the vestibular system, located in the inner ear. This system not only coordinates the spatial awareness and equilibrium of linear and rotational movements (i.e. moving and turning), in a sense, acting like a level for the body. It also works with our vision to keep our focus clear while moving and turning. GoPro has nothing on the vestibular system. Best stabilizer ever! The next system in the body is the proprioceptive system, which allows the body to know where each of its parts are in space. A finger can locate the mouth even when the eyes are closed thanks to this system. Lastly we have the visual system that takes in our external environment. When these systems are in harmony and functioning at a high level balance can be maintained in both static and dynamic situations.

Summary:
Visual system– knowing our place in the external world
Vestibular system– located in the inner ear which coordinates spacial awareness and movement.
Proprioceptive system – awareness of where each part of the body is relative to the rest of the body.

When looking at the person standing in line at the store, the practice of balance looks, from the outside, like a very static thing. The body seems still. The person’s body weight is distributed between two feet which gives them a strong base. What has the effect of looking static, however, is actually an extremely complex interaction of  the three systems listed above.  These systems are making constant assessments and micro adjustments to keep the person balanced over their feet.

Need proof? Give this exercise a try.

Stand up, find your balance and then close your eyes and notice your feet and ankles twitching to keep your position. It’s not much but if you pay close attention you will feel it.  With your eyes closed turn your head or lift an arm. The systems inside the body are doing work to keep you centered on your feet.

Now, balance on one foot.

Notice, if you will, how well – or not – the vestibular and proprioceptive systems are working now that you have added a bit of complexity to the system.

Are you able to keep the same micro movements that balanced you over two feet, or are you now making bigger and bigger movements to maintain balance? How long before you fall? Open your eyes again and with your new awareness stand on one foot. How is your balance now? Using all 3 systems together makes for better balance.

Fine-tuning these systems requires that the body learn to negotiate more complex situations. Once the body is familiar with itself – knows where it’s center-of-gravity is in relations to a foot, feet, feet and hands, etc. over the ground – the body can adapt and adjust to any situation it comes in contact with. I was once at a park and I saw a boulder that I decided to run up to, jump on and then jump off of while continuing my run. This fluid balance has been a normal practice and my body is well aware and capable of the movements required. However, as I landed on the rock it moved in an unexpected way because it wasn’t actually a rock. It was a plastic, hollow, faux rock. Luckily, this object still supported my weight and I was able to instantly adjust to the unintended movement of the rock because my balance systems took over and corrected my movement to maintain center-of-gravity.

While physical balance can become a very complicated thing the systems that run it are simple and consistent. This consistency is what allows us to move though, an often, chaotic world.

That said, we can short-circuit our balance systems if we don’t allow them, to do their job on a regular basis. It’s very much an “if you don’t use it, you lose it” scenario. Much like a piano needs to be tuned so that it sounds good when played.  The systems that control balance need to be challenged to allow them to function optimally.

So while balance is an internal set of systems, the skill comes from using these systems in complex and unique environments, as often as possible.

Takeaway: if you want to minimize your chance of falling as you age, practice balancing EVERYWHERE, EVERYDAY!

Last year, while we were at the beach, my husband captured a photo of me resting after attempting to skim board.  That same day, before we went out in the morning, he kindly asked if I wanted a chair to sit on.  I declined stating “I practice what I preach so I’m going to sit on the sand.  All I need is a towel.”  Then he listened patiently while I started riffing about how it would be hypocritical of me to sit in a chair on the beach when I’m all about natural movement.

He laughed and then started his little rap song.

SQUAT
I practice what I preach
I squat on the beach
natural movement is within your reach!

Of course one verse just won’t do so, he added another with the things that make me, uniquely me;  Star Wars (specifically Jedi skills), Equine Coaching, MovNat, and of course I’m always thinking of silly things to do with and on my horses.

I took a lot of courses
I meditate on horses
I am a student of both the light and dark forces!

I love my husband for his sense of humor and rhyme!

newparadigmIt’s been awhile since I’ve posted anything and that’s mostly do to the self re-evaluations I’ve been up to.  I’ve finally slowed my role and I’m now interested in writing up what I’ve been working on and what I’ve been learning.  So the next few posts will be dedicated to this self discovery and experimentation.

Recently I read the book Natural Born Heroes by Christopher McDougall. This book tells two stories. One is a WWII story about how Cretan rebels and British officers kidnapped a Nazi General off of the, Nazi occupied, island of Crete. The second is an interlaced story about the importance of natural movements, like the ones the Cretans practiced and what made the kidnapping possible, and how modern exercise has lost it’s usefulness.

The books emphasizes the importance of the bodies ability to burn fat for fuel and in the later chapters I was fascinated by the idea of rewiring my body to burn fat instead of carbs as my main source of fuel.   The book and my curiosity led me to the Maffetone, 2-week carbohydrate intolerance, Test.

I’ve always stated that I NEED carbs. If I don’t get them my body feels weak and lethargic and I easily get low blood sugar and become a grouchy monster. So when I read that this TEST required me to drop carbs for 2 weeks I was skeptical, and I worried for my families sanity and safety. As I read more about the test and the method I became intrigued because the list of Carb intolerance symptoms were as follows:

Carbohydrate Intolerance Health Survey. (Some Common Signs and Symptoms):

  • Poor concentration or sleepiness after meals.
  • Increased intestinal gas or bloating after meals.
  • Frequently hungry.
  • Increasing abdominal fat or facial fat (especially cheeks).
  • Frequently fatigued or low energy.
  • Insomnia or sleep apnea.
  • Waist size increasing with age.
  • Fingers swollen/feeling “tight” after exercise.
  • Personal or family history of diabetes, kidney or gall stones, gout, high blood pressure, high cholesterol/low HDL, high triglycerides, heart disease, stroke, breast cancer.
  • Low meat, fish or egg intake.
  • Frequent cravings for sweets or caffeine.
  • Polycystic ovary (ovarian cysts) for women.

My first thought when reading this was, “whoa, wait!  This isn’t what I’m suppose to feel like after eating?” For me, these symptoms, were my normal relationship with food.  Well, with the exception of the cysts and part about diabetes and such.

I’ve never been one to play around with fad diets or extreme restrictions but I love the fact that Maffetone makes it very clear that the carbohydrate intolerance test is just that, A TEST! A person shouldn’t continue the restricted diet for more then 14 days and then after that each individual needs to pay attention to their body to create a healthy relationship with the level of carbs they can tolerate.  Maffetone also makes if very clear that the foods are restricted but a person should never let themselves be hungry.  If you’re hungry eat!

SIDE NOTE:  My mom is currently taking this test and she is having trouble letting go of our societies current model that one must be hungry and monitoring calories to be eating right and not over-indulging.

I’m all for experiential experiments so I chose a date and took the test. As of today, I finished the test and I’m in my first follow up week where I’m slowly adding carbs back into my diet.

 

Results:

OUTSTANDING!

With the exception of Day 2 (lightheaded when I would stand up) and day 3 (felt like I had lead weights in my shoes), where I was withdrawing from carbs I’ve felt amazing! Here is what I noticed:

  • I lost 5 total pounds in 2 weeks , some is water weight some is fat. I’m not a heavy person and I mostly carry vanity weight; the weight that is healthy but hides the great 6pack abs everyone wants.  I was pleasantly surprise at the change in my body composition
  • I’ve had a ton of energy that was and is consistent all day
  • No mood swings and no feelings of low blood sugar
  • No headaches, stomach cramps, or bloating
  • I was never hungry. I ate when I wanted and then didn’t think about food most of the day.

 

Downside for me:

  • Since the test removes processed foods completely there is a lot of cooking and cleanup. I’ve always been one that when I want food I want it now! My go to foods that are quick were gone (even my fruit snacks). I did find some quick foods though: cucumber, almonds, cashew, carrots, and cheese.
  • Can’t really eat out without breaking the test in some way.
  • A lot more shopping.   Fresh food means buying what you will eat within a few days
  • I wasn’t super creative with my meals so I got a bit bored with the foods and would stare at my sons cereal box longingly
  • One day I had crazy cravings for something sweet.  At one point I was eyeing my son’s Frosted Mini Wheats as if my life depended on eating them.  I held strong though.  If you have the option it’s helpful to clean out any food you can’t have.

 

What I’m learning:

That’s for next time…

 

If you are interesting in the idea of burning fat as fuel go to http://philmaffetone.com/what-is-the-maffetone-method/

There is a lot of information including fitness suggestions, recipes (for after the test) and the MAF TEST.

Or google “fat for fuel” and you will find a ton of triathlete sites that suggest this style.

I definitely recommend the test for anyone. The fact that it’s so short and simple (but not easy) to follow makes it a worthwhile reset for the body.

 

Unitl next time…

 

 

 

 

 

What does it mean to be fit?  If I were to poll a group of people would it be based on endurance, strength, asthetics?  My guess is that fitness would be directly linked to exercise, but it doesn’t have to be.  I would like to propose another way to think about fitness.

This is an experiential proposal.  Take a ride with me and see what you connect with and how it makes you feel.

Over the last year I have seen a few commercials that hint at fitness and I thought I would throw my perspective at them in the hopes that people may take a step back and re-evaluate their beliefs around fitness.

This first commercial has nothing to do with fitness but I was drawn in by the initial statement “Look at them.  Making moves that would put an adult in the emergency room.”  This off handed comment is stated as cold, hard fact.  It screams, “When you are an adult you can no longer play.  Deal with it. You are weak and fragile!”  After 5 seconds this commercial had lost me and I was stomping around my living room arguing with the t.v.  “People don’t believe this do they?” Are you kidding me?  What is this world coming to?!”  Later, I was still disturbed by the commercial but when I tried to find it I couldn’t remember what it was for. Turns out, it was a Cadillac car commercial.  They definitely weren’t marketing to me.

This next commercial I first saw on ESPN and to tell the truth, I think it’s great.  I found it Laugh Out Loud funny and although the focus is on exercise, the commercials presentation hits at our competitive spirit and might get people out the door and moving.  Still, for me, it’s message is exercise and that doesn’t quite resonate.

Props for the great satire, as I still laugh when I watch it.

The last of the commercials I want to present is a 180° turn from the first video.  It speaks to our child spirit.  The commercial talks about toys, building forts, playing on playground, staying out until after dark all the while showing pictures of adults climbing mountains, kayaking, and playing soccer.  It speaks to the need for movement and fitness in the form of play and usefulness.  This commercial sings to my heart and it makes me want to get out of my house and move.  Not for exercise. Not for competition. But for my mind, body and spirit.  In my opinion, this is why we have the ability to move.  We move so we can explore, create and enjoy our world.

horsesMy alarm seemed to go off very early this morning so I hit snooze.  Shortly there after my phone rang.  Turns out my horses decided that today would be the perfect morning to escape their field and storm around the countryside.

As I hurried out to collect them it occurred to me that whenever I spend time with my horses I learn something new about myself. Today, it was the knowledge that when I move with purpose, I move very easily.  In this particular case I had to run down the horses before they disappeared over the horizon!  I bounded over wood fences, dove under barbed-wire fences and sprinted across fields.    All the skills I practice in the park, and all the time I spend playing on the floor with my son has had the intended effect.  When I need a skill in the moment my body is prepared, fluid and capable.  Even more so then I sometimes realize.

When I finally caught up with my very winded herd, they looked at me and seemed to say “See! You CAN run like the wind!” This morning’s adventure made me so happy, it energized my day and gave me a new perspective on my skills and abilities. I so love my herd for that!

Ever since I had my son my mind and my body have not been on the same page.  My mind has been very judgmental of my body.

I hear myself thinking:

“Why does my back hurt? I didn’t have this issue last time I was getting myself in good shape.”

“What’s up with my knees? My ninja alter ego is severely impaired by the bubble wrap sound effects they keep making every time I squat.  Not to mention that random feeling of pliers pinching my left knee during deep knee bends.”   

“Why can’t I do a muscle up, again? Oh yeah, I’ve never been able to do that one.  Keep practicing silly.” 

Crashing

I was skim boarding. Really!

Yes, the years before I had my son I would get out of shape, start working out, my muscles would ache, I would love and hate it all at the same time, I would grow strong and that was that.  My body, however, has changed and my mind hasn’t been working with my “new” body to help it adjust.  Instead of honoring where I am, my mind has been judging where I SHOULD be.  Needless to say it’s been extremely hard to make any forward progress athletically.

It wasn’t until recently when I started to pay attention to this mind/body separation that any forward progress has been made.  First, I’ve had to acknowledge that there is a level of dysfunction throughout my body.  Structurally my body is out of alignment, my connective tissue is weak and I’ve been forcing movement patterns my body just isn’t ready for.   Secondly, I’ve had to let go of the way I trained when I was in my twenties.  I just don’t heal as fast or recover as quickly as I use to.  Lastly, I’ve realized that I actually have to practice with focus and purpose.  For me this means coming up with a program that has a progressive nature and not just running out the door and trying the hardest thing I can think of until it works.

So, you might think that I feel a bit discouraged about the current state of affairs, but in reality I feel free for the first time since my son’s birth.  I now know where I am and I can make steady progress and move forward from that place, and not from where I “think” I should be.  Basically I’ve taken my power back.  Before taking this personal self-assessment I felt as though I was settling and being weak if I didn’t push through.  Now I realize that I’m not settling.  I’m starting from where I really am.  The goals are still high, but the starting point is realistic.  Since I’ve done this self-assessment, I’ve been making marked progress and my perceived setbacks have been few and far between.  It’s great!

So what’s the lesson?

Before I started to pay attention to my body I allowed my mind to decide, based on the past, where my physical body was in this moment.  So, for me, the lesson is to create a practice where I listen to my body first.  Where I’m honest with my physical state of being and then, from that realistic starting point, I allow my mind to come up with my next steps to achieve my goals.  The funny thing is, the more I dedicate myself to this practice physically, the more I see how it applies to my whole life.

I watched this documentary trailer today and it made me want to take every child I know outside to play.  I believe children need more in their lives then video games, phones, TV, and electronics.  Take some time (Make that lots of time) and go for a hike, play in a park away from man made equipment, or just spend time in your own yard.  Look at bugs and leaves and life.  Explore and discover!