Which spiral?

To this day, if I realize I’m in a downward spiral I bring my attention to my next decision. (“Realize” being the important word there. I am too often actually in a downward spiral without realizing it is so.) Left foot, or right foot next? Take a nap, or continue what I’m doing? What’s the smallest next thing I can do, which would be a positive? Maybe the best thing I can do is to simply cease everything and pause.

Bodies start to hurt when they aren’t moved enough, but also because when they are moved, some parts aren’t moving with ease. This then makes it harder to move enough, and our movements get more diminished, immobility and pain arises, and we think it’s all inevitable.

~ Katy Bowman from, https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/get-ready-to-rethink-your-position/

I find it empowering to know that making small, simple decisions about movement can profoundly affect my overall health and mobility. I’m not taking Bowman’s word for it though (she does have lots of great things to say about movement) I’ve simply taken note of what happens. Sometimes (often?) the better, small choice is the slightly more difficult now option. As Jerzy Gregorek put it, “easy choices, hard life. Hard choices, easy life.” Choose wisely.

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A form of movement

If you do not have a movement practice or access to a good movement teacher, then finding a physical practice that you enjoy and makes you feel empowered is a good place to start.

~ Soisci Porchetta from, https://www.humanpatterns.net/blog/2018/10/3/why-we-should-all-have-a-form-of-movement-practice

You already love moving, (or nothing I write is going to convince you.) The only question then is where are you in your journey? Are you in the age of roots, fire, water or air? It’s very important to realize there are going to be major transitions in one’s journey through life. I consider myself typical in that movement played a huge role when I was young. There was a significant period in my 30’s where I lost the plot. I was lucky that I didn’t lose touch with movement for too long. Looking back from 20 years on, I believe that I was trying to hold onto an identity.

At the time, what I was doing was a big part of who I saw myself as. I didn’t understand that who I am, was going to change—is supposed to change! Naive, I denied the feelings which were suggesting I change. As I said, it turns out I was lucky.

As is often the case: No takeaway. Just food for thought.

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Movement

The future of functional fitness is an evolution into functional movement.

We see this already in the explosion of more complex movement practices like parkour happening all over the world and being adopted slowly by the mainstream fitness world. Organisms are not machines, and the era of training them like machines will give way to an age of treating them like organisms, leading to longer health-spans, fewer injuries and even greater potential.

~ Dan Edwardes from, https://danedwardes.com/2022/05/28/the-future-of-functional-fitness/

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Thanks, Dan! Thanks for the teaching, for the training, for conversation, for asking good questions, and for just being the sort of person who keeps showing up. Showing up publicly, sure. More importantly though, showing up to do the hard work of self-improvement. And for showing your work.

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It’s the simple things

Every time I’ve had a low-back problem on the road, it was because I jumped right into a bend and twist activity (moving luggage, picking up a kid, once it was dragging a vacuum) without being mindful of the mechanical situation my body had just been through the last few hours. The body needs a transition zone—just a little time to remind it of all the other positions it might have forgotten it could assume after repeating a single shape or pattern for an extended period of time.

~ Katy Bowman from, https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/travel-well-do-this-for-your-low-back-once-you-arrive/

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In addition to some wonderful movements you’ll find therein, there’re endless movements you can find on your own. Movement to be found in a chair, or standing by a table, or with a lacrosse ball that you manipulate on the floor with your feet… Movement to be found hanging, or leaning, or endless inspiration in yoga and tai chi… There are so many ways you can move, but it seems to be too rare that people set aside time to experiment. “What if I laid on the floor and tried… ?” or “What if I took my shoes off…” “What if I stood on one leg while…” There are just so many things to try.

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The balance

Ultimately, there was a part of me that wanted to express my physicality and I wasn’t ever going to be able to do that through the robotic, linear approach to fitness. I realized that only through circularity can one truly express themselves through movement.

~ Galo Narajo from, https://motusmade.substack.com/p/issue-48-circularity-and-interconnectivity

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This is taken from Narajo’s Motus Made publication over on Substack. If you’re interested generally in movement, I recommend subscribing, and there’s also an episode of Movers Mindset, Philosophy – with Galo Alfredo Naranjo. This issue of Motus Made reminded me of a conversation I heard recently (a podcast episode, The Process with Dan Gaucher from Life’s Tee Time) where two golfers discussed the balance between mechanistic and holistic approaches to coaching and learning advanced golf. In the earliest days, sure, mechanistic is necessary, but beyond beginner levels, the holistic approach has to be addressed. The balance question (they were discussing) is whether you can go all-in on the holistic? …can you ever be advanced to a point where a mechanistic approach—as a learner, or as a coach—is definitely no longer useful. I’m not sure they reached a conclusion.

And so that discussion, and question, came to mind as I was reading Naranjo’s comments.

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How did this get lost?

I have taken as my province to restore to the light the art of exercise, once so highly esteemed, and now plunged into deepest obscurity and utterly perished… Why no one else has taken this on, I dare not say. I know only that this is a task of both maximum utility and enormous labor.

~ Girolamo Mercuriale from, https://www.themarginalian.org/2022/05/10/sweat-bill-hayes/

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That straight–up sounds like the opening of an Edgar Allan Poe novel about a man whose previously unheard of uncle bequeaths him a map to a dark continent . . . No wait. Giro there is talking about exercise. Enlightening installment from Popova, as usual.

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Beginnings

The situation is even worse if you have no designs on getting ripped and instead just want to build a baseline of capability, whether that’s for hoisting your toddler, shaking off the stiffness of a desk job, or living independently as you age.

~ Amanda Mull from, https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2022/04/hampton-liu-working-out-pe-exercise/629696/

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Back in 2011 or so, when I stumbled into parkour and Art du Déplacement, it was a weekly opportunity for movement and play. There was no goal. There was no larger point to anything that we were doing. We weren’t trying to get ripped or beat our best time running or win at anything in particular. It was simply a merry band of people getting together to play and move, and it was challenging and fun. I (and everyone else) had good days and bad days. We laughed a lot, sometimes someone cried and not too frequently there was just enough blood to demonstrate we were serious. We each faced our fears. We pushed our boundaries and were challenged and supported (figuratively and literally) at the same time. I had never experienced anything like it. Countless times I’ve had similar experiences now—no two days are exactly alike, of course—and it always surprises me just how special it can be to move and play with like-minded people.

If I’m being honest, it’s very rare that I get those experiences these days. Once a month, if I’m lucky, is about the rate. Perhaps. And just this morning we were talking about making some fresh space in our not-actually-really-that-busy lives— a bit of prioritization as it were. I should definitely follow through with that.

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The real mover

There was, however, a big difference between what he did and what we “real movers” were doing. The baseball player did not perform this moment just to perform it. The player did it to solve the problem of having to catch a screeching line drive, probably traveling over 100 mph. He then rapidly returned to a strong throwing position and volleyed that ball to first base. His movement solved a problem, and a very difficult one at that.

~ Rafe Kelley from, https://www.evolvemoveplay.com/the-4-primary-movement-problems/

A blog post from Kelley is more rare than his Evolve Move Play podcast. He’s definitely someone whose ideas resonate with me. His through-line, not just in this article but in all of his more recent work, is definitely the right way to look at things. I like the phrase “fit for purpose” and that’s a line of enquiry Kelley is often chasing down.

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Models models everywhere

Building models is a fundamental part of trying to understand the world in any systematic or organized way. The world has too many details and complexities to be taken in all at once. In order to really understand a particular phenomenon, we need to focus on certain essential details while ignoring others.

~ Todd Hargrove from, https://www.bettermovement.org/blog/2016/are-models-of-pain-accurate

I often remind myself that all models are wrong, but some models are useful. Maps, metaphors, similes, and even some storytelling are all models.

Two things top of mind: Why oh why!? doesn’t similes pluralize via -ies? (Say the singular and plural forms of smile and simile… wth English?) And second, I use a related-to-models test for what I mean by, “I always tell the truth.” (To tell the truth, I always say the thing which helps the other person build an accurate model of reality.)

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Movement

We all have a duty to look after our physical health. The body is your vehicle through which your mind and spirit travel in and act through, throughout your life. We’re lucky to have abundant information, resources, and teachers to help us for caring for our body, but without personal responsibility and action, progress is left to chance. Ancient medicine taught us to be active participants of our own health, modern medicine encourages us to be passive recipients of health. We can make the best of both by placing more attention and energy on observing our body, environment, and taking daily action to create energetic surplus through moderating stress, practicing movement, good nutrition and quality rest.

~ Soisci Porchetta from, https://www.humanpatterns.net/blog/2018/6/22/what-is-movement-practice

I suspect that a lot of people reading my musings are already steeped in the wisdom of movement generally. It’s simply nice to find things like this on the big ‘ol Internet; A large article written by someone who’s clearly thought a lot, moved a lot, and thought a lot about moving. There’s a wonderful quote that feels parallel to this article’s sentiments:

No citizen has a right to be an amateur in the matter of physical training … what a disgrace it is for a man to grow old without ever seeing the beauty and strength of which is body is capable.

~ Socrates

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Growth versus competition

With every government initiative in education there are unforeseen consequences. The current drive to build character through sport (and other activities) is having, in my opinion, an unforeseen negative impact on curriculum PE. Staffing, finances, facilities and time are being redistributed from PE provision to school sport provision. Now this might not necessarily be a bad thing, but it has to be provision beyond the current narrowness of school sport which tends to be traditional team games focused on winning competitions for the purpose of bringing prestige to the school. This reduction in PE which focuses on movement for all in favour of school sport which focuses on competition for some worries me.

~ “Sporticus” from, https://drowningintheshallow.wordpress.com/2019/06/16/the-physically-educated-person/

It’s always nice to see someone else talking about sport as a subset of movement. “PE” is so entrenched as a thing; does anyone still wonder what should physical education even be? Apparently, fortunately, the answer is “yes.”

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The why

People think of that complexity as an expression of our capacity for abstract thought. We believe our brains are so complex because of the wonders we can build in our minds. Make no mistake, we can build wonders in our minds but what we have neglected is that those wonders are boot strapped on top of motor control. The first purpose of the brain is to guide movement.

~ Rafe Kelley from, https://www.evolvemoveplay.com/the-why-of-movement-practice/

And the second purpose it to solve problems in the physical world. (How do I go over there? How do I avoid that danger? How do I get food?) To solve problems you need to be able to define what the problem is. You define any problem by imagining some desired state (I am over there. I have avoided that danger by running. I have eaten that food.) and then looking for options that can get you from the current state, to the desired state. So it turns out that the better your imagination is, the better you can be at solving problems. Faced with endless options, you mind turns out to be really good at heuristics—making estimations in advance with limited knowledge (prejudice can be a good thing; assuming snakes are not friendly is an excellent heuristic.) All of which makes possible the beauty and diversity of our lives. Fortunately, we have a capacity for reason atop all of that which enables us to make choices so the possibility of beauty and diversity can be our a reality. I digress.

Back to Kelley’s point, if the entire edifice of our minds is built upon that first purpose, what happens if we starve the mind of the physical engagement?

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Somatic movement

A somatic approach to movement can help us get reacquainted with ourselves. This is our home base after all. It’s our guts and tissues, our thoughts and perceptions. It’s our subjective experience of life. […] When we cultivate self-awareness through movement, we come up against the boundary of self and other. We recognize that we don’t live in a vacuum.

~ Chandler Stevens from, http://chandlerstevens.com/blog/2016/11/9/connection-relation-and-somatic-ecology

The word “reacquainted” leapt out at me. Every time I truly pause to pay attention, I’m immediately confronted by my physical self. There’s the inevitable settling towards senescence, and frankly that doesn’t bother me. I enjoy looking back at the things I was once capable of and thinking, well, that was nice! No, the confrontation I’m talking about is the stuff that I know is my fault… and I’m not going to list physical metrics. Suffice to say: All I’d have to do it remove the stress and everything else would settle back to a wonderful baseline that I’d love to return to.

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Take a seat

A simple way to start moving your body more is to swap your sedentary seat for “active sitting.” How much of your body’s work are you giving to the chair? If the back of the chair disappeared, what would happen? Would you collapse backwards? If yes, then the chair-back is doing the work of your core musculature. And obviously, if the bottom of a chair dropped out we’d fall straight down because the chair is also doing the work of the legs.

~ Katy Bowman from, https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/53-ways-to-take-a-seat/

This is a terrific example of Bowman’s way of looking into human movement. A huge amount of what I do involves computers. Even though have all the various physical types of computer, sedentary is still sedentary. Short of abandoning my entire lifestyle, the best I can do is to change things frequently through my day and this delightful little article has “a few” variations.

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Geometry of thought

It’s really structure that I keep circling back to (note that word: circle). How do we structure our moving, changing thoughts and how do we structure the world we design and move and act in?

~ Barbara Tversky from, https://www.edge.org/conversation/barbara_tversky-the-geometry-of-thought

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This article is a delightful deep dive into how movement and thought are interrelated. This is a topic near and dear to my heart. I once had the sublime experience of having a podcast guest say that he used to think to figure out how to move, but now he moves in order to think.

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Bonding through movement

Today, a growing percentage of people find themselves alienated from any particular community, without strong bonds to any discernible group. Loneliness is on the rise. More people live alone, remain single or childless, move to new geographical locations on a regular basis, and otherwise fail to develop close ties. This is a shift that is unprecedented in human history.

~ Shane Parrish from, https://fs.blog/2020/04/muscular-bonding/

My pull-quote feels pretty obvious. What’s interesting is where Parrish goes in this article. There’s a lot of research and discussion around what happens to us—mentally and physically—when we move together. It’s not simply, “hey that was fun.” There’s a durable bonding that happens when humans move together.

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There may be something to this

Research now demonstrates that neuronal sensory integration actually happens much earlier in the sensory processing pathway and is actually optimized or heightened with multi-sensory stimulation, or what we call sensory stacking.

Sensory stacking is to bring in as many sensory input systems during an exercise or movement for the purpose of enhancing cortical stimulation and neuronal pathways.

~ Emily Splichal from, https://barefootstrongblog.com/2021/05/06/sensory-stacking-the-integration-of-tactile-visual-and-auditory-input/

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Our entire schtick—whether you self-identify with Art du Déplacement, Parkour or Freerunning, or whatever—is moving in a visually complex environment. That turns out to have a physiological, brain altering affect.

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Connecting through movement

Even, a lot of times, those people who you’re not connecting with on a conversational level, you start moving together though— And you find a very deep connection. And now you’re moving in their world or they’re moving in yours, or whatever it is, but you found this other way to connect with somebody that you would have never known if you just worked with them or whatever the case may be.

~ Jonny Hart

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Sedantarism

Right now, “sedentary culture” is part of the broader, overarching culture, but subcultures—including our individual culture—can also be sedentary. These sedentary subcultures end up reinforcing the overarching culture, so what can we do? I’m (obviously) interested in working on sedentarism at the broadest cultural level, but I recognize that the most immediate benefits can be found by changing our personal culture. I’ve made working on sedentarism at this level part of my work as well.

~ Katy Bowman from, https://www.nutritiousmovement.com/changing-a-sedentary-culture/

Overall, the amount of activity [for Americans] has gone up slightly since the 1970s. The big issue is that our diet is killing us. Becoming more active alone isn’t enough—and Bowman’s take is nuanced, I’m not disagreeing with her article. But the first-order thing is diet. (I don’t mean “restriction” or “reduction” per se, I mean what specifically are you eating? That, “diet.”) That said, “eat better stuff” and “move around” is the prescription.

I’m reminded of, that room we all euphemistically call a living room: Would I call it my sedentary entertainment room, if I were honest? I realized that I should call it that, and so I rearranged the entire room, and got rid of the dedicated “tv” device. I still consume entertainment, but now it’s just one thing I can do in that room, rather than what the room is designed to be used for. We’ve done this, and continue to redo this occassionally, for every space inside and outside our home. For example: We don’t have a “second bedroom” nor “guest room”; We have [what we call] the “middle room”… and it’s got foam mats on the floor and random exercise, self-care, movement stuff… a finger-board over the door, a full-length mirror, a pull-up bar bolted into the ceiling, a chalk-board wall for tracking and notes… space for books. And the room also has a folding frame, air mattress, and bedding for the extremely rare guests who visit.

Frankly, there isn’t much in the way of “sedentary” left that I can trim out of my life. The vast majority of what I do is mental work. So I’m reading, writing and computing a lot. What’s left for me is to develop a healthy relationship to food. I get mental—over think, extreme thinking, stuck in my head… that sort of thing—and the way I’ve learned is the easiest escape is to run to entertainment. And to eat while being entertained. But, I’ve only learned that as being the easiest. There are a number of other things that also work to “fix” my thinking: Reading, writing, and physical activity can all work too. The hard part is changing my learned behavior. For me, it’s a matter of crafting my environment to encourage me to do things other than seek entertainment. (Learning to not mentally stress myself out would be even better, and I’m working on that too.)

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Is movement an integral part of my life?

It certainly is an integral part of life, in general. But the vast majority of my life does not involve movement. I probably move more than the average American my age. I certainly moved a lot more in my 20s when I had a job that involved doing things. (Make this, move that, go over there, etc.) But today, movement is something that—I don’t quite have to make time for it, but I definitely have to be mindful of it. I generally plan to do something every day. Usually that’s a multi-mile walk, a leisurely bike ride, an hour wrestling with firewood, etc..

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