Understanding how we use ourselves and the impact that has on who we become is an important focus of mine. We are indeed our own best or worst sculptor.
You might be thinking: Sure, of course if I work out I get better muscles. Or, if I have obsessive thoughts it doesn’t make for a very nice person. But you may not be aware that you are also shaping your bones. The way you walk is literally feeding into the shape, size and health of each bone. More than just bone density, you are shaping your joints based on the way you stand on each leg, and that filters up through the skeleton at every level. There are thousands of ways to take a step. This is why I am crazy in love with gait. Some ways of stepping lead to dis-ease while others leads to health.
How much impact do we have? It is hard to overestimate it, frankly. Let’s take a look at the picture from Dr. Stuart Houston. On the left, we see a normal child’s leg with a shin bone (tibia) and a fibula. Notice the difference in shape and size between these two bones. The fibula is slender and doesn’t look weight worthy, while the tibia is thick and sturdy. A fibula you can learn to do without, but a tibia you must have for the ability to stand.
The middle picture shows what it looks like when a child who was born without a tibia (shin bone) has surgery to move the slender fibula over to spot where the tibia should have been. It looks kind of small doesn’t it? Is that really going to hold her weight?
But wait. The magic of human functioning shows that within a couple of years of learning to walk, the bone changes dramatically. Looking at the picture on the far right, we see that it no longer looks like a fibula. It has now turned into a sturdy, reliable tibia. This is radical! Are you taking this in?
You are molding your skeleton with every step you take because your brain is paying attention and making key decisions on how to feed your system through the quality of your steps. One could say it takes work to develop osteoarthritis. It takes work to need a knee replacement or a hip replacement. You must walk many, many, many hundreds of miles in a certain way to create conditions that are just right.
Well, this is all hunky dory. None of us intentionally walks around poorly. No one wants to be trying out for Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks. Related to walking, you will do most of the habit acquisition by age seven. After that it is mostly on auto pilot. And it is only when a need arises that walking, the most fundamental of movements, is reexamined.
A three-part Feldenkrais(R) process:
1) Recognize a need to grow or change. This usually takes the form of pain or injury but it could be motivated by new knowledge or even curiosity. For example, I just provided you with some information about how human beings work. This information may motivate you to learn more about how you walk and how it could be improved.
2) Becoming aware of how you do what you do. This is rarely taught in our culture. Instead, if you go to a physical therapist or a personal trainer, you will most likely be told what was wrong and be given a set of exercises for strengthening. Very little time will be put towards discovery of what you do and what the other options might be. At the heart of all somatic education approaches, such as the Feldenkrais Method(R), is self-discovery. You can be sure, the child from the x-ray wasn’t told how to walk but engaged in self-discovery instead; finding her way to use her new leg bone. The child is becoming aware and making choices. This feels good, this doesn’t. This gets me what I want, this doesn’t. This is fun, this isn’t. Sometimes a child will really surprise me with the level of their awareness. I remember a nine year old that told me she had a pulling hand and a writing hand. She was very aware that one hand was being used for strength and the other for fine motor dexterity. There are many adults who don’t know this.
3) Gain the tools for improving how you do something. In the Feldenkrais Method, we take it to the next level. Even if you don’t know there is room to advance, there always is. Instead of settling for good enough, we help you advance by learning to ask what if questions. What if I tried this? What if my eyes have something to do with how I reach? What if my shoulder moved back as I step forward? I think walking is a really good place to invest because it not only impacts overall health, it can impact every emotional, physical and spiritual challenge you have. It is the way we are wired.
“Above all, do not lose your desire to walk. Every day, I walk myself into a state of well-being & walk away from every illness. I have walked myself into my best thoughts, and I know of no thought so burdensome that one cannot walk away from it. ” Søren Kierkegaard
This process of gradual improvement is why people seek out the Feldenkrais Method. They have usually tried a cookie cutter exercise approach without much success. Or, they may have gotten injured while doing the exercises, because time was needed to sense and become aware of what he/she was doing along with exploring options for doing it even better.
Now that we know we are sculptors of our lives physically as well as emotionally and spiritually, perhaps we will chose to create a more elegant sculpture. One that leads to more health than dis-ease. And with more than just luck will require fewer surgeries and medications down the road.