Nothing I say today is meant to diminish the value of setting a goal and accomplishing it. I just want to share with you a different perspective, one that I’ve cultivated over many years standing in the front of the fitness room teaching. Because the clients who get me most excited aren’t the ones who are setting the records, personal or otherwise.
Let me explain.
When our bodies set out to accomplish a goal, they are hard-wired to do it in the easiest way possible. “But I’m working hard when I run,” you may reply, and you are. But your subconscious doesn’t want you to be working so hard.
Your body is an efficient machine, and it’s designed to minimize the expenditure of calories. It’s designed to say, “How can I make this movement happen?” instead of “How can I perform this task fully, using a complete range of motion and firing all the necessary muscles at the right time?”
Your body just wants to “git ‘er done.”
Your body wants to lift that weight off the floor, raise that bar over your head, or put that foot in front of the other in whatever way it can, with the least energy expended.
Trouble is, our modern life has so mangled our bodies that often the least energetic way to accomplish a task recruits muscles and other tissues that don’t need to be a part of that activity at all.
Let me give you a concrete, personal example.
I danced for thirteen years. Ballet is not a natural activity. It is not an activity that is based on biomechanics but rather the aesthetic. In other words, the questions it asks are not, “What does the body do?” but rather, “How can we make the body look the way we want it to look?” And, the answer to that latter question involves turning the feet out (external rotation) and tucking the bum under (posterior tilt in the pelvis.)
Because I did these activities so frequently and at a young, developmental age, my body grew to think of them as “normal.” So, it started using different muscles and tissues when I accomplished my every day activities – like walking – not just when I was in the dance studio.
All that external rotation meant that when I walked, I failed to properly recruit my glute muscles, and instead relied on my psoas muscles. The posterior tip in my pelvis compounded the problem because my core wasn’t aligned properly, and thus those muscles couldn’t fire when they were meant to fire during my stride either.
(See that picture up there? That’s what my feet want to reflexively do. That right foot wants to externally rotate, alignment be damned. I am constantly self-correcting to get it straight.)
Fast forward to adulthood and two babies, spaced a mere sixteen months apart, and holy guacamole was I in pain. Years of walking with my psoas instead of extending my hip and firing my glutes, then running (more hip flexion!) a lot, spinning (even more hip flexion!), and otherwise participating in unnatural, non-aligned activities all caused compensation patterns tin my body that suddenly caused me tremendous pain and disability.
It was in the middle of that crisis, and eighteen months of physical therapy, that I found the work of Katy Bowman. Once I started focusing on my alignment, and I started to use my body as it was meant to be used, my tissues were able to heal. It’s taken nearly three years of dedicated restorative exercise, but I am starting to feel normal again.
Enough about me and back to my clients. I can see their bodies trying to do the same thing my body was doing. My superhero psoas was all, “Oh, hey, this whole walking thing’s tough for you? Let me step in,” and, just like any office where “work arounds” are prevalent, things got all messed up. For some clients, it’s their psoas being “psuperheroic.” (Haha!) But for almost all, it’s their back that wants to step in and do the “heavy lifting.”
Pretty much everyone walking around these days is tight in the backside. We’ve got tight hamstrings and tight calves, and all that tightness just cyclically gets worse with all our sitting, driving, running, stair-mastering, etc. Accordingly, when I’ve got folks in a position to lengthen their back bodies, almost always, they flex at the lumbar spine. They lose their natural lumbar curve, and they tuck their bum under.
But I’ve gotten really, really vocal with my alignment cues lately. (Read: I’ve become quite the nag in class.) Most of my correction involves stopping a movement when the body pops out of alignment. So, in the example above, I ask them to stop stretching forward at the point that they lose their lumbar curve.
What happens? By honoring these alignment cues, we’re not letting our bodies cheat. And that’s where the real magic begins. That’s where we start to actually stretch the muscles we’ve thought we were stretching for years or engaging the muscles we thought we were working but had really only been recruiting fifty-percent.
So while you’re not going to see someone post to Facebook, “Great class! I only stretched half as far down as usual today!” with likes, accolades and shouts of “You go girl!” to follow, I AM CHEERING THEM ON. Because what I see from the front of the room is a person who is self-aware enough to know her body’s present limitations, wise enough to value them, and humble enough to honor them.
And from where I sit, that beats a fast 5K any day of the week.