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3 Ideas that will Change the Way You See Your Body

September 30, 2013 5 min read

3 Ideas that will Change the Way you See Your Body

It has been a fun couple of weeks, hasn't it? We all got a chance to knock fitspo down a peg and reestablish our own individual health and well being as being central to the concept of, well, health and wellbeing. So, what now? Well, the opposite of "no pain, no gain" culture is not inactivity, any more than the opposite of talking nonsense is not talking. Let's move, but move like intelligent, self-respecting adults; let's keep talking and just stop saying nonsense. And most importantly, let's learn some really cool stuff about bodies! Here are some concepts that will help you see—and move—your body in a whole new way.

#1. Dude, where's my body?

Proprioception is your internal sense of where you are in space or, more academically, "a sense or perception, usually at a subconscious level, of the movements and position of the body and especially its limbs, independent of vision." [1] Basically, it's what a drunk guy doesn't have during a field sobriety test.
"Nah, ossifer, I have great propio... porpioo... proop . . . Eh screw it, take me in."
  It's one of those things you'd think would be pretty hard to get mixed up about. We're all pretty sure that, at any given time, no matter what else we may have gotten wrong or messed up on today, we know where our limbs are. The truth is, you probably don't have a perfectly accurate sense of how you stand or move. If you're one of those folks for whom little aches and pains keep you from moving—or if you've plateaued in your workout—these inaccuracies may be to blame. Here's how it got that way:
we about to get some science up in here, sucka
We about to get some science up in here, sucka.
  Your brain, like the rest of your body, gets good at whatever you use it for. Each of your muscles contains specialized proprioceptor organs that generate information about every movement you make; patterns that repeat frequently start to stand out, like biological mile markers. Those markers contribute to a kind of mental map that allows your brain to do a little less grunt work when it comes to spatial analysis. Without it, processing even the simplest movements would be like running Microsoft Office on an abacus. It's the reason newborns are calmed by swaddling: their little half-baked brains get exhausted trying to constantly integrate where they hell they are in perceivable space. Swaddling delivers an overload of tactile information telling them they're not floating off into the unknown.
yeah, there's a reason your brain doesn't let you remember being a baby.
yeah, there's a reason your brain doesn't let you remember being a baby.
So let's say you are genetically predisposed to right-handedness, and over your lifetime you've thrown a ball with that dominant hand several thousand times. Your proprioceptive map for right-handed throwing is like a satellite-guided, smooth-talking GPS system: so nuanced and detailed that following it requires almost no mental processing at all. Now let's say you've tried a left-handed throw twice. Your map for this action looks more like something you scribbled on a cocktail napkin with eyeliner. Throwing lefty would require your somatic nervous system to cross-reference a deluge of information coming from your skin, muscles, tendons, ligaments, inner-ear and visual field; If neuroscience has taught us anything, it's that your stingy, corner-cutting brain doesn't want to do any of that crap and would rather just use the side with the better map. And you know what? That's ok! In fact, it's more than ok: Your side-dominance is an evolutionary gift: a survival technique that saves you from having to constantly recalculate your body's position when what you should be doing is not getting eaten. But there is a catch. If you throw a ball with your right hand several times a day, every day, and that's all you ever do, that evolutionary gift becomes a Trojan horse. You have access to an awesome variety of movements, yet studies repeatedly show that we spend most of our modern lives doing a whole lot of not moving. When we do exercise, we pick a sport or activity, maybe two. Ignoring big chunks of the movement available to you makes for a proprioceptive map about as accurate as an American tween's best guess at the geography of Central Asia.
"So, Italy is the boot, right? Which one's the boot?"
  It also means that joints become boxed in, performing only the movements for which they do have a halfway-decent map. As those motions wear out from inevitable overuse, the available range of motion gets smaller and smaller. Once you're on that track, it's only a matter of time before bad things happen.
 . . . um, I actually meant, like, a sprain or something.
. . . um, I actually meant, like, a sprain or something.
The good news is, improving your proprioception is actually pretty fun:

1. Think variety, not intensity.

Your proprioceptor organs light up no matter what you're doing; doing it harder isn't necessarily doing it better. Put the weights down and just experiment with movements you've never done before. You don't need a bosu ball, you don't need a wobble cushion, you don't need a Power Plate. (Let's be serious: no one needs a Power Plate.) Remember, you're drawing a map: use a pencil, not a jackhammer. Example: Brush your teeth with your non-dominant hand. Do cartwheels in the "other" direction. Got kids? Take them to a playground, follow them around for fifteen minutes and do whatever they do. Seriously. That last one will blow your mind.

2. Think bone, not muscle.

If there's one thing you learn from the Reembody blog, let it be this: muscles don't create movement patterns; they respond to them. While you're experimenting with new movements, don't try to contract specific muscles. Just move your bones. Example: Find the pointiest part of your hipbones and press fingers into both sides. Now look in a mirror. Are they both the same height? Is one further forward than the other? Do you suppose that has an impact on the way you move? (Answer: YES.) If you change the relative positions of those bony bits, do different muscles turn on?

3. Don't compartmentalize, integrate.

One of the great myths of modern culture is that you need special tools, training or clothing to use your body. You do not need a gym membership to move, you just need a body. (Oh look, you have a body!) Example: Walk to the grocery store. On the way there, toss a rock back and forth between your left and right hand. On your way back, force yourself to take the last 20 steps to your door at a measure of four seconds per step (this will seem really slow). Is it harder to slow down one leg than the other? How's your balance? Have fun with this and be inventive! And hey, share your experiences below!

Next week: #2. Pulling Levers

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