December 14, 2012

Moving Happily

This is an interesting article, about some research into mortality rates and the ability to stand up easily:

I haven't had a chance to look at the research itself, but the simplicity of this test appeals to me, as compared to the tests that are more favored by medical people. Controlling your blood lipids or your blood pressure or your heart rate is tricky, a bit difficult for the layman to measure properly, and generally discouraging. But trying to keep, or regain, your ability to get up off the floor without using your hands, elbows, or knees? That's pretty straightforward and cuts a lot of crap.

I don't link to this because I'm perfect myself at it! I'd score eight out ten on their test: I can rise confidently from sitting on the floor without using my hands or elbows, but I can't even imagine doing it without one knee. Not without losing fifty pounds, anyway. I don't know what I weigh (I haven't weighed myself in years), but I imagine it's 220 pounds. or so. I can't figure out how to get my center of gravity up that first foot or so without rocking up onto a knee. But I can do that, fluidly and easily, and from there, it's a piece of cake.

Now it is. In my forties, I couldn't have done it without at least one hand, and probably two knees. I'm much stronger now than I was then, more flexible, and my balance is better. I intend to keep all these capacities as long as I can, and never to relinquish the firm friendship I now have with the floor. I take to the floor almost any time I have a chance, without looking too odd. I really do not want to become one of those people who totters along in perpetual vertical, perching on high chairs, unable to get up and down. I love the ground, to go easily into a deep squat, to roll readily and smoothly onto my stomach or my back. And I don't do weights or training or formal yoga or anything; the closest thing I do to what modern people call “exercise” is ride my bicycle into my breakfast place, or into work, a few times a week.

But I do what kids do: I try stuff. I challenge myself all the time, silly challenges. Can I crawl over the couch without using my arms? Can I hop up the short steps to the basement on one foot? When I'm riding the train, and hanging onto those rails I hang my bike from – and which are so enchantingly like monkey bars – can I haul myself up, surreptitiously, so that my feet are dangling, without anyone noticing? When you weigh as much as I do, this is no mean feat.

The thing about all my silly challenges is, that they actually have to do with moving myself around, in ways that I might actually need to do, sometime. If you like lifting weights and doing stuff with machines, that's great, but the real point of exercise is being able to move yourself, even if you're injured or stuck or thrown into some terribly awkward position. And if you're willing to be silly, your own body has all the weight and resistance you could ever want, even if you're not as hefty as I am.

The other day a client told me, “I'm so grateful for your advice last time.” I couldn't remember what I'd said, so she filled me in: “you said, 'find some way to move during the day that makes you happy.' That's just been so important to me.”

This body. It's such a marvelous thing, and the more battered and time-worn the more wonderful, really. You can always try things. You don't need to be an athlete, or a yogi, or a gym rat. You can just crawl happily around the house, dance on any limbs that still work, see if you can step on every third flower on the carpet. Scuttle like a crab. Roll over in bed without using your arms. Whatever. What I don't like about the American Way of Exercise is its damned grimness, repetitiveness, and solemnity, and its emphasis on trying to make your body and yourself be like some ideal. Forget that. Get on the floor with the kids and just horse around. Put on some music and dance. Move happily. Treat your body like the wonderful, unexpected, and delightful gift that it is.


  1. thank you for this beautiful post :)
    there is one beautiful quote from Thich Nhat Hanh - "People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is to walk on earth."

    btw, for moving my body for my enjoyment I know nothing better than dancing :)

  2. Dancing is the best! My most frequent "prescription." People ask me to give them stretches or exercises to do, but usually I say, "I think what you need is to dance a couple times a week."