Movement as Grace

This week I came across an amazing quote,

Although we are intelligent, sensitive beings, we often think of ourselves as objects that need to be fixed.”

It comes from an article  in Pilates Style by well-known Pilates teacher, Wendy LeBlanc-Arbuckle, who has been an inspiration to me for many years.  The article is on the esoteric side, dealing with an “insider” controversy in Pilates.  But you don’t have to understand that controversy to resonate with some of her quotes.  Here are a few more:

“What ‘conversation’ are you having with your body? Are you ‘partnering with’ or ‘fighting’ gravity? Are you treating yourself as a biointelligent organism who knows how to self-regulate, adapt and self-heal, or a biomechanical machine that needs to be repaired and serviced?”

“we need to remove the mask of the ‘ideal’ body to reveal our ‘real’ body.”

“How can movement be nourishing and enlivening, rather than ‘I should do it this way’ (body schema) or ‘how I should look’ (body image)? This calls for real body awareness, for discovering our true self.”

“What can begin to inform our movement awareness is knowing that we are constantly in a state of flux throughout life, ‘shaping ourselves,’ physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually. From this potent place, we have an opportunity to embody ‘core’ as a coordinated relationship with gravity, ourselves, one another and our environment. We develop a way of being in life that is grounded, curious and empathetic—way beyond movement as a ‘thing to do.’ “

There is so much packed in to each of these quotes that I will just let you, dear reader, interpret as you will.  But one thing I would especially like to highlight is the reference to the “state of flux throughout life”.  A recurring theme throughout this blog is that all of life, including we humans, are constantly changing.  Despite the frequency with which I hear the phrase “I hate change”, it cannot be avoided.  It’s happening all the time – like it or not!

Furthermore, everything is always moving forward in time.  We can’t go back.  We might have some misguided thoughts that somehow things were better at some mythical time in the past.  But memory is faulty.  And even if that were true, it doesn’t matter.  What is real is the here and now.  And that includes our bodies.  Even if we don’t notice changes, they are happening within us and all around us.  So we can “‘partner with gravity’ (release tension) or ‘fight gravity’ (create tension)”.  Substitute the word “change” for “gravity” and you can see that there is a broader meaning here.

It seems to me that there is enough tension in the world and in our everyday lives without adding to that by fighting with our bodies.  No matter what your current status, your body is a miraculous manifestation.  You can choose to focus on your limitations, or you can recognize all of the things you are capable of.  If you are reading this, that’s just one of them!  The ability to move and breathe in any capacity is worth celebrating.  And also worth maintaining.  It is now well-known in the medical community that movement is an essential component to good health.  Move what you can move while you can move it.  It’s never too late to start and once you start you can always improve.  Things will change over time, but if you stay in “conversation” with your body, you will learn to adapt.  Here is one final quote:

“[W]hen we learn to listen to and be guided by our body wisdom, in relationship with gravity and spatial orientation, body schema begins to support our body image. We learn to embody our true selves. . . . we discover the inherent wisdom and intelligence within every cell of our body . . . we connect with the natural healing energy of the earth, and realign with our primal nature and relationship with the natural world”.

Move with that in mind and you just might be able to make peace with who you are and what you can do.

Preventing Falls

Some new recommendations regarding fall prevention (meaning “falling down” rather than the season Fall) have recently been published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).  This has been a topic of previous blog posts here and elsewhere, but new guidelines were issued in April 2018 by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) so it seems worth revisiting.  The USPSTF is a group of nationally recognized experts on evidence-based medicine and primary care appointed by the government’s Agency for Health Care Research and Quality (AHRQ).

The USPSTF conducted a review of 62 studies evaluating various interventions among older adults at risk for falls.  They found that of the interventions studied, exercise tops the list by “significantly reducing the risk for experiencing a fall”.  Although specific types of exercise were not highlighted, group exercise was included in the majority of the studies reviewed.  According to the review, “initial, exploratory analyses suggest that group-based exercise (vs individual-based exercise), [including] multiple exercise components (vs single exercise component), and . . . strength or resistance exercises . . . were more likely to be associated with a greater reduction in falls and number of persons experiencing a fall.”

The reason for the effectiveness seems to be the strengthening effects of exercise.  But I would add some additional possibilities, particularly relevant to yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and other practices which focus on connecting mind to body.   These include an emphasis on training your mind as well as your body to pay attention to what’s happening right now in this moment.  Practitioners are encouraged to learn how their bodies work and to gain greater awareness of their surroundings as they move through space.  We call that “proprioception.” Balance training is also inherent in all of these practices in addition to strength training.  Also, group exercise has the added benefit of a social component.  This may seem like it would not be relevant to fall prevention, but I would contend that it has an impact on all aspects of one’s life, including continued mobility both physical and mental.

Falls are something we all worry about, especially as we age, but they can be devastating at any age.  According to USPSTF

“Falls are the leading cause of injury-related morbidity and mortality among older adults in the United States. In 2014, nearly 29% of community-dwelling adults 65 and older reported falling, for a total of 29 million falls. Of these, more than one-third necessitated medical treatment or restricted activity. There were an estimated 33,000 fall-related deaths in 2015”

Anything we can do to strengthen our resources against this danger is certainly worthy of our attention.  This provides just another piece of evidence to recommend regular exercise for everyone.  It’s never too late to start.  No matter how inflexible or out-of-shape you think you are, if you can move and breathe, there is some form of exercise that you can do.  Starting is the hardest part.  That requires a decision.  Every journey begins with the first step.  Take that first step and then add to it.  Gradually.  Start slowly and keep moving.  You’ll improve if you stick with it.  You might still experience a fall, but by building your strength, you may also find that you recover that much more quickly.  That’s certainly worth the effort.