Six Steps to An Integrated Anatomy

Our anatomy is, paradoxically, both enormously complicated—volumes of scientific journals continue to pour out with newly discovered information about neurology, sports-related injuries, cardiology, how the brain works, the role of the pancreas, on and on and on—and very simple. It’s simple in the sense that if we as humans tend to do basic ancient human stuff, like moving around in simple ways like walking, that tends to alleviate if not solve a lot of modern human maladies.

We ended the class on the note of simple: a few thoughts for you to take through your life to help support an innately thriving structure and function. In other words, keep this in mind, or even better in your body, to drop further into the simple, ancient truth of who you are.

I called it the Functional Anatomy Integration Process (no trademark … yet ;))

1. Break the trance.

Step one is probably both the most simple and the most difficult. Step one is to just stop, fully, what you’re doing. This gets more difficult as the trance gets deeper, like when you’ve been sitting at a computer for four hours straight.

It might even help if you expect breaking the trance to be difficult, to encounter some resistance (like “I can’t stop; I’ve got to get this done asap and can’t spare two minutes”). Acknowledge that resistance and, unless you actually can’t stop, do it anyway.

It takes less than no time, and now you’re ready for step two.

2. As best you can, feel your whole body.

We spent a fair amount of class time on the ability to feel your body from the inside out (perhaps as opposed to seeing it, from the outside). Taking some time to feel the sensation in your whole body can be a very powerful exercise in itself, and is even more so when coupled with a movement practice.

Interesting anatomy tidbit: for every one nerve fiber that’s about your brain telling your body what to do (called efferent fibers), there are 10 coming back in, or communicating amongst each other, about the feeling and positional states of your body (afferent fibers and free nerve endings; for more on this, read my article on Interoception).

This can take from two seconds to several hours, depending on your schedule and desires. 45 seconds or so is a good workday dose.

3. Walk, and other ancestral clues.

Good movement is just as much a process of unlearning than it is learning in most cases. One of the best ways to remember your innate, healthy movement is simple activities that humans have been doing for a long time. Walking is definitely one of my favorites. Other examples would be sitting in a comfortable squat-like position, opening up your arms and chest like you were about to throw a ball … the list goes on. But, remember, keeping it simple is best.

Also, notice the difference between walking on a treadmill while on your cell phone, and walking without distractions—without also doing something else—in a quiet neighborhood or park if you have the luxury.

4. Enjoy. Don’t wait until it’s time “exercise” or even “play.”

One of my teachers said he doesn’t wait to call something exercise to take care of his body. I really like that. Exercise is to healthy movement as dieting is to healthy eating: it may be necessary, and even really fun (I love going to the gym), but we’re not seeing the whole picture if we don’t also carry that gentle, careful attention to how we move into our daily lives. At worst, this full-time awareness can be suppressing and neurotic. At best, though, it’s an expression of your care for your body, for the dying art of attention to detail like a fine craftsman, a reverence for life itself.

[These last two are more about big-picture thinking about your body and movement, less “throughout the day” and more “guidelines for what you might choose to do with your time.”]

5. Regarding exercise, fitness, movement of any intentional sort: If you’re unsure, give it a try.

This gets into potentially dangerous territory that’s hard to make a general rule for. To the question “Is running good or bad?” I would ask “For whom?”

I’m not suggesting that if someone’s unsure about running, they try it by hitting the pavement for eight miles. That said, it’s potentially just as dangerous to not try a yoga class because you’re not sure if yin or vinyasa would be best. And who’s the better instructor, Kelly or Jim? And I’ll be five minutes late, so …  It’s a pretty common tendency to stay on the fence much longer than we need to, wanting to get all the pros and cons and for all the studies to come out, before we decide. To cut through this Gordian knot of indecision, try the sword of “Yes, let’s give this a go, maintain my bodily awareness throughout, and see what it’s like.”

The same goes for overtraining. Think you’re running too much, and maybe less would be better? Give it a try.

Lastly, I’ve found the following an extremely helpful little trick to cut through the noise of decision making: notice how you naturally frame the question to yourself. Remove the question mark, and there’s your answer to try out. Say these two sentences aloud: “Should I just go to CrossFit tonight?” and “Should I not go to CrossFit tonight and just rest?” They have a different feel, no? In the first one, going to class would be the result of the exercise; in the latter, not going would be.

Of course, you need to notice how you’d naturally say it; if you want to fool yourself to produce a particular result, there are more direct ways than going through this process.

6. Remember, regarding any workout, rehabilitative exercise, guided movement practice, yogic mantra, map of the Chinese energy meridians, etc etc etc: Someone made all of this up.

Chances are, if a system has more than a few followers and has been around for a few years, i.e. has market value, it has some good truth in it. It will be enormously helpful for some people, and pretty helpful for a lot of people.

And it’s not the whole truth of good movement. So, what is? As the golf legend Ben Hogan said when asked how an aspiring golfer might create his own optimal swing, “You’ll need to do what I did: dig it up from the dirt.”

Happy gardening to all of us 🙂

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