What is Fitness?
When we think of fitness, many of us think of aerobic fitness. For instance: how far can I run without falling over exhausted? Some think in terms of physical strength. Others focus on how slim they are. Many of us strive for flat stomachs and six packs. Appearance is often a sign of fitness. Carrying excess weight is therefore seen as unfit. And yet I have lost count of the number of my clients who have expressed their frustration to me about how unfair it is that such and such a person “is fat and does nothing and yet has no pain while I am slim and fit and have constant back pain”. This is usually because of a misunderstanding of why the pain is there. It is also very common for my new students (regardless of age) to tell me how they need to strengthen their muscles (usually their back or stomach muscles) in order to overcome their difficulties. Where does this belief come from? In many cases a doctor or physiotherapist has told them this and it has become a kind of mantra for all ailments. Strengthen the muscles! And in fact the reason they have come to me is because this strategy is not working for them. So then, what is the right strategy?
Take a look at infants and young children. We don’t judge them for their excess fat. We find their sticking-out bellies cute. We don’t think of them as strong because in absolute terms they can’t lift anywhere near what we as adults are able to. And yet relative to their size, most of them are stronger than most of us. I still remember my younger daughter carrying around her elder sister (who was twice as big) with ease. And never did she complain of back pain. Yet many of us as adults have much firmer stomach muscles than a young child. So what is it that provides this strength?
Similarly we are no longer capable of lying on our stomachs and holding our heads up so easily as young children. Can it be that the same dynamic is at work here? In this instance we might call it flexibility. And indeed a small child is usually more flexible then an adult. But if we turn the conversation to flexibility, then most of us think, “oh, I need to do more stretching to become more flexible”. This is the other mantra that pervades the fitness industry.
What I propose is that we focus more on the connections of the body to improve our flexibility and our strength and ultimately our understanding of fitness. If we for example explore how the movement of the pelvis can make our necks freer .... or how the ability to soften the stomach muscles can release the spine to perform its tasks ... or how rediscovering the sit bones can improve posture and reduce back pain ... (I could go on and on - the explorations are seemingly endless as can be seen in the volume and richness of lessons available through the Feldenkrais method), then I would wager that our movements and by extension our fitness would also improve.
And yes, it does require slowing down to a pace at which we can listen to our body and sense differences and changes as they occur. And for some people this ability to slow down and pay attention to the body is not easy. Yet in my experience, those who find it the most frustrating are those who usually need it the most.
And just because we slow down and focus on our body and our breathing and just because my website talks of “Joy In Movement”, this doesn’t mean that this is some kind of spiritual or ethereal practice. Moshe Feldenkrais was a scientist and engineer with a black belt in judo. He was very matter of fact. An often impatient man with a temper, (though with children you could see his tender side) who grew frustrated with what he saw as an ineptitude of certain parts of the medical fraternity to understand the simplicity of his method during the years he was developing it. And after all, why shouldn't we experience a sense of joy in how our bodies move through life??
It is this combination Moshe Feldenkrais displayed of using one's intellect and being curious, while at the same redeveloping the sensitivity we had as young children, that is important to relearning how to make our bodies fit for living.
If you fall into the category of people who tend to put their bodies constantly under stress in order to achieve physical fitness, take some time to find the connections in your body. Come join a class or sign up fpr a private. You’ll find all the other activities in life become easier and more joyful when your whole body is in sync with itself.
Wishing you a healthy and fit 2021,
(January 1, 2021)