Car tune up

Not having read the above article in full before writing my response to Diane Bruni’s post a few days ago, I’m now adding part two to it. And if you’re wondering about the photo, it isn’t a mistake.

My original impression about Diane’s post was that it was looking for ways to connect with the abdominal muscles, much like “a punch in the stomach,” hence my reference to the Graham contraction, which could be described in a similar way. Now that I’ve read the whole of Cassie Dionne’s article, there’s more to say. 

First, kudos to Cassie for questioning the (apparently) accepted “hollowing of the abdomen.” It’s refreshing to have someone from within an organizations initiating inquiry about its established beliefs and practices, which in the past has often presented a barrier to communication.

The question asked, “Just because something has always been done a certain way, does that mean it’s the best way?” is one that can be asked in so many different situations. More than that, it’s an open invitation to discussion. So, thank you for the opportunity for discussion here.

In this instance I strongly agree with the thought behind the question. That, however, is where my agreement ends and my opinion differs.

My first comment is regarding the desirability of a stiff body for core stability. Do we really want to develop a stiff body? Surely the reason we work on flexibility is so our body is lithe and moves easily, fluidly and without restrictions. Stiffness is what we see in older people who haven’t put time through their earlier years into stretching and working their bodies a way that keeps them freely mobile. Maybe it’s just a bad choice of words but I straight out disagree with the idea of a stiff body being a good thing. Mobility is life. Even the single-celled amoeba pulsates as it breathes life into itself. Deny movement and you deny life.

My second point is in relation to working muscles in isolation. The human body is made up of different components, all of which need to work their best in order for the body as a whole to function at ITS best.

For that to happen, you need to do what you do to fix anything that is made up of separate parts: you take it apart and fix the part that isn’t working. Then you can put it back together so it works properly. As one of my students has phrased it, “You’ve helped me take my body apart and put it back together again. Paramount work!”

This was my argument about the concept of ‘fitness’ that was promoted in the aerobic era of the 80s. The whole idea back then was about being active; people were jumping into their “favourite activity” without being fit FOR what they were doing and it resulted in a lot of injuries.

Like the parts of a car, which are checked and worked on separately so the car can be driven safely and pleasurably, the parts of our bodies need the same kind of attention so our bodies in total work as well as they possibly can and with a minimum of injuries.

This approach not only throws a spotlight on troublesome or vulnerable areas so they can be given proper attention, but it also changes the perception of the body from being “all of a piece,” like a hand in a mitten, to a hand in a glove, each part working independently yet harmoniously in sync with all of the other parts.

Without this kind of care, we’re using our bodies in an “as is” condition. Sooner or later, the part that was not brought up to its best condition will begin to affect the body as a whole, simply because everything inside of it is so very interconnected.

The lack of preparing the body for physical activity is what caused the many injuries in aerobics. And the same pattern has been occurring in latter years with yoga. Fortunately, the yoga community has started to question the way yoga is being taught, while many websites are now showing how to do exercises that work body parts selectively.

This is not thing a new thing. Since the early 20th century there has been a growing “somatic” movement that has focused attention on the inner workings of the body, and it’s this approach to physical wellness that prepares the body for its safe and optimal use.

This is also what develops a high degree of body awareness and puts control of the body into the hands of each individual, making them the “driver” of their body instead of the “passenger,” able to steer themselves into the right tracks and, barring unavoidable accidents, away from injury.

And this is where I differ in relation to engaging the deeper core muscles; that “focusing on single muscles actually creates dysfunction in spines.” Perhaps that’s true if the isolated muscle is left with no connection to the rest of the body, but we’re talking about “taking the body apart and putting it back together” as the full process. This gives each part its own strength and at the same time, adds to the strength of the whole body when all parts work in harmony with each other.

Each era has something to learn from the past and something to offer to the future, and it seems to me that the present time offers a great opportunity for both. The questioning from both the physical therapy and yoga communities opens the door to discussions like this, helping to dislodge outmoded concepts and replace them with more updated and relevant ones.

I welcome further discussion on the subject.