Consider for a moment the difference between what are good tools for assessment, and what are good tools for treatment. And when those two are synonymous, and when they’re not.
(Often, this assessment/treatment schema is a bit of a false dichotomy but, if you would, let’s just play along.)
An example: if you can’t touch your toes, will attempting to touch your toes on a regular basis help you, eventually, touch your toes?
There’s an obviousness, a tried-and-true wisdom feeling to it, that says “of course.” In this case, we call it stretching, or yoga or whatever you happen to be doing. Does it work? There are a trillion variables in answering that but we could say: yeah, to varying degrees, it does*
If you lack strength in your arms, conventional wisdom says you do things that someone with strong arms would do: i.e. you lift weights, or do pushups or whatever.
The basic formula: work backwards from where you want to be, keep leaning that direction and it’ll happen.
But how about: if you’re not a nice person, will attempting to be a nice person on a regular basis help you, eventually, be a nice person? (And in this example, we might add: if so, at what cost to your vitality?)
Will trying to balance on your toes help you balance on your toes? Will trying to teach well help you teach well? If so for either of these, is that the best method, or are there better ways to do this?
Will trying to be a great architect help you be a great architect?
For that last one, most overtly: probably not. Or rather, it is not the most essential ingredient by far. There are innumerable foundational skills that you’ll need first.
These are all examples of reverse engineering.
And it works beautifully sometimes. Sometimes, it misses the mark entirely.
You make a building that looks like a well-built building but isn’t, and it’ll fail sooner.
You’ll miss the unseen.
You “try to act nice” for too long and, god willing, you’ll snap before it gets too far down that road of faked niceties.
You try to help someone who’s nervous by saying “relax,” or someone with low confidence by saying “believe in yourself.”
And sometimes it works well. And sometimes, this reverse engineering decidedly does not work. The raw ingredients aren’t there.
So, consider the very tense person. We could tell them to “relax.” We could also 1. assume that this person’s systemic response to reality is right on point, and 2. decide where to go from there, perhaps about changing that “reality” which has nothing to do with “relaxing” or not.
Same with someone who wants strength. Or the architect. Or the rich person.
Before we start trying to just be something else — yes, it can work, but if it doesn’t — what is the fundamental ground we’re standing on? What’s that like, and how is my current body – mind – whatever else right now actually in perfect response to reality, right now?
Not in theory, but actual you — the person reading this — and me — right now?
I have failed at this innumerable times as a teacher. I have said stuff like “just try to feel this” when the building blocks for feeling were not in a person’s system (as best as I could tell). It was too much too soon. I have failed at this innumerable times as a person. I tried to “be nice” or “be happy” when the building blocks for these byproducts of liberation weren’t there. (Please know I’m using “failed” here lightly. I’m not upset about it, so don’t you be either, please. Otherwise I say stuff like this and some of y’all’s very kind hearts start consoling via comments;))
Food for our collective convo and good morning.
*yes, I’m aware of the current literature which says static stretching doesn’t actually change myofascial length; the focus in those studies has been wonky, I think, ignoring a fundamental fact: YOU DON’T HAVE HAMSTRINGS.
You don’t have a femur. You don’t have a biceps brachii or kidneys or a falx cerebri.
I mean, of course you do, but really, like really outside of cutting up a dead body, there is absolutely nothing in your body, brain, mind, whatever, outside of a concept, that is comprised solely of bundles of muscle fibers in the posterior leg, attaching up high and splitting down low, called “hamstrings.” It’s just not there unless we cut it out.
You are an ecosystem immeasurably linked to itself and everything outside of itself. That’s just the facts.
And so, a stretch where someone’s lying on their backs getting stretched, i.e. passive stretching — which is the format for many of these studies — is vastly different in my eyes than someone doing their own “active” (still passive, though) stretch.
Call it intent or or awareness or neurobiology, they’re different acts.