This article, written in 1985, is discussing fitness from a biomechanical and structural viewpoint as opposed to an aerobic fitness perspective.
The potential for the ideal body condition depends, of course, on a number of factors: your innate body make-up; existing physical condition and age; the desire, or will, to improve one’s condition and sufficient available time to do the required work. Also relevant are your lifestyle needs: If your workday is fairly sedentary, or you engage only in moderate recreational activities, you need only work toward getting as close to a comfortable working condition and the ideal of postural alignment as possible, for wellbeing will increase with even slight changes in the right direction. It may be reassuring to know that a perfectly satisfactory level of fitness can be maintained with only Somatic Stretch® or other bodywork exercises if done on a regular basis and supplemented by normal daily activities and moderately active exercise, such as walking, bicycling, or swimming.
At the other end of the scale is the professional athlete or performer who requires a great deal more flexibility, strength and control. For such people, bodywork exercise is an inestimable boon. It not only lessens the danger of injury, but it can produce that degree of finesse that sets the outstanding performer above all others. This indescribable quality is what thrills the sports viewer and awes a theatre audience. While it seems that a lucky few have it naturally, it can be nurtured and developed through the sensitivity that comes from internal sensory awareness.
While everyone can thus benefit from bodywork, expecting an older body that has become set in its structure to noticeably change, or to regain all, or even most, of its former flexibility is not realistic; the time required for slow, gradual improvement is no longer available. This is not to say, though, that the fitness condition of a person past the mid years can’t be improved; Somatic Stretch® exercises can be done more gently by people in the older age group, who should focus less on the ultimate goal of postural correction and more on releasing tension, developing sufficient resilience to minimize the possibility of injury, and strengthening the support muscles to relieve compression of muscles and joints. Getting an early start on the latter is especially important in that relieving compression can help reduce the damaging effects of degenerative joint diseases such as osteoporosis.
From the foregoing, it should be apparent that bodywork is not gender-oriented. Stiffness is not confined to women–if anything, it’s more common in men–and it exacts an equal price on both male and female bodies with the same aches and pains and lack of mobility. Tension and gravity, too, do not differentiate between the sexes, nor do injuries. So while somatic bodywork may be psychologically less appealing to men because of its relative lack of movement and the more inward aspect of the work, the male species ought not to turn its back on this “gentler” form of exercise. However simple and undemanding it appears to be, its rewards are won only through confrontation and challenge of one’s existing limitations of flexibility and skeletal orderliness.
Children’s need for bodywork is especially important, for when stiffness is allowed to settle in–and it does so surprisingly early on–body development is thrown off its proper course. By early adulthood, body structure becomes progressively more difficult to alter, setting the stage for physical and health problems in later years. By implementing programs that emphasize suppleness and correct body mechanics (that is, by offering “physical education” in its true sense) all children, whether or not they make the hockey or football team, can reap the constructive and energizing benefits of “fit”-ness exercise–the kind of exercise that makes the body “fit for use”–and so have a means of controlling the quality of their lives throughout their adult years.
Lets hope, then, that our educational institutions will pay attention to this need for an internal kind of exercise before more valuable time is lost.