Did you know that as an embryo your arms developed before your legs did? Or that your heart was beating and developing before your brain was even on the horizon?
I didn't until I studied this video the other week. It's fascinating stuff. Have a look!
It gave me a new perspective on movement and my interest in bringing our own patterns back to the essence of who we are.
The arms essentially originate from the heart, and come straight out of the body and around it. It looks like a big hug to me! A huge big hug from the heart saying "Here I am world". This really interested me as I thought about how we use, or don't use, our arms to express our heart.
Arms are a tremendous source of our expression. When I see someone talking passionately I often notice the use of their arms to add more vigour and depth to their subject. As they get more involved in their subject the gesticulations can get bigger, involving the whole of their arms, the space around them and eventually the whole of their body. I see it as a real symbol of talking from the heart. I often admire this sight as I 'found' my arms quite late in life. I never crawled, so never developed the full function of weight bearing on them. That coupled with being a shy, unconfident and fearful child meant that I either kept my arms by my side, or hanging onto my mother's hand for reassurance. Even during my pilates training I hated learning the upper body exercises with the group as I felt so exposed and vulnerable. Rationally I knew this was ridiculous, but emotionally it was very real for me.
I think that in some ways many of us have lost the full expression of our arms. We spend a lot of time with little gadgets in our hands, working away with great finger dexterity, but keeping our arms quite close in to our body and expressing through our gadgets rather than with our body. Very often I hear people telling me that their shoulders or arms are weak. My feeling is that arms and shoulders are often restricted from movement, natural movement, and simply moving them more to begin with starts to unlock some of the strength within, which can then be channelled into more specific movements and activities as they start to find some freedom.*
For me, an 'arm-shy' mover, I took things slowly to begin with and I became curious to the movement. I pushed things and I pulled things. I tried swinging my arms more when I walked and using them a little more when explaining things. I also threw them about a bit in the privacy of my own room while playing music (I believe it's called dancing!).
What I did discover is that moving my arms gave me a real sense of joy. Give me a down dog in yoga and I'm a happy bunny. Let me hug those I love and I sigh with bliss. When I exercise my arms now I have a sense of strength that my legs have never given me.
What I love more than anything about this embryology video therefore is the very real and original connection that our arms have with our heart. The arms' movement comes from the heart, both literally and metaphorically. And when I close my eyes and imagine my movement as an embryo, discovering and then extending my arms from my centre, before I was even conscious of it, I can't help but feel a deep sense of internal power, growth and potential. It connects me deeply with my essence and taps into a part of me that I very rarely consider. I find that exciting!
If you're arm-shy in any sense, close your eyes and picture yourself as this embryo (you WERE an embryo once!), feel your arms developing and giving you form. Feel them growing from your heart and your essence. What do those arms say? What do you want them to do? Where are they being restricted?
You may come up with some amazing new insights about yourself! I know I did!
CT :-) x
* certain shoulder pathologies may need more formal and individualised guidance to movement
As I was massaging my breasts this morning I realised that it was one of the most valuable things that I've ever been advised to do and I need to share it.
Every morning after my shower, I use an organic body butter or coconut oil and I massage my breasts. I concentrate particulalry on the outer sides of them and into the arm pit and I massage towards the centre of my chest.. i use smooth strokes and am gentle but purposeful in my intention. Im aiming to smooth out any 'grissly' / lumpy bits. As I'm doing it I'm really feeling my breast. By that I mean that I'm taking in how it feels and getting to know what it's like each day.
Why does this matter?
This is stimulating the lymph nodes in the breast where the body can store a lot of toxins. These can manifest as sore, painful, swollen and / or lumpy breasts. Stimulating the lymphatic system like this stops the fluid stagnating helping your breast health. It can potentially prevent breast cancer. Massaging daily allows you to get to know your breasts and understand what is normal and what's not. Before I started doing this I was very poor at checking my breasts as I didn't have a routine to it, now I know them inside out.
When I first started this it was quite painful as I tended to suffer from painful and swollen breasts. I took it gently and over a week or so the pain dissipated and now doesn't bother me.
Let's have some fun today....! Start every step that you take up stairs to day with the foot that you wouldn't normally use! Catch yourself the first time you go up a step today, see which leg starts, and then for the rest of the day make a point of starting with the OTHER leg.
It's a really interesting insight into your movement habits and also how easy (or not) you find it to change them.
Why does it matter?
Doing this exercise matters for two main reasons (other than just pure self awareness). Firstly, if we always use the same foot to start a step up then we have a deeply ingrained pattern of one leg leading a lifting movement and one leg following it. It means that this side of our pelvis is unconsciously 'more ready' and ever so slightly forward of the other, meaning imbalance. If you never do anything to address this (stretching, yoga, pilates, balance work etc) then this repetitive pattern may be what leads to niggles, pain, injury etc in the future. Consciously changing it every so often can be enough to reboot things.
At another level, by asking your brain to do something different (which you are doing because movement ultimately originates in the brain), you are connecting into a different area of it from the normal habitual section. This opens the brain up to the possibility that things can change and can be different. So while you are focusing on 'just' changing the habitual lead leg, your brain is unconsciously realising that ingrained habits can be broken (so increasing the possibility of those new fitness, health, lifestyle habits becoming part of your new routine)
When have you felt at your strongest before? What was happening at that time that gave you that feeling. What were you doing physically that helped you feel strong. It may have been regular walking, it may have been yoga, pilates, running, weight training... It may have been a period of your life where you had to find emotional or mental strength. We are all different and I believe strength can be found in many different places and activities (not just 'strength training').
Personally, I find that when I feel strong physically, I feel an overall sense of strength elsewhere. I'm more confident within myself and I feel that I can take on whatever comes my way. Conversely, when I feel strong mentally and emotionally I also feel like superwoman physically. Infact the best strength training I ever did was when I climbed regularly because I completely integrated mind and body. I faced my fears on the climbing wall, strengthening my mind, and my body had all over strength like I've never felt before.
What does strength mean to you?
I have a question:
Are you being the health that you want to be?
It's January 23rd 2015, and, TODAY, are you walking that health dialogue that you want for yourself...(or are you just talking it?)?
I ask this because this is when new year resolutions start to wane, or any that haven't been actioned yet get completely forgotten (until next new year). It's the week when it feel much easier for many to just return to old habits.... Weather, money, time and so on and so on can sound like reasons not to put talk into action. Or we can put things off until the weather gets warmer, until we get paid, until this stressful period is over etc etc etc.
If you are not actively working on your health and wellbeing then you are not being your health and wellbeing.
This can mean many things to different people: daily meditation, regular aerobic exercise, daily stretching, eating organically, training for a specific event, dealing with pains and niggles or illness.....
Whatever it is that you want for yourself do something about meeting that goal today. Even if it is just something small, do something.
If daily meditation was your goal but you haven't done any today or don't know here you'll get the time, do 1 minute. It's still meditating today. 1 minute today, tomorrow, the next is 3 minutes more than aiming for 30 mins every day and doing none.
If daily stretching was your goal, pick 1 stretch and do it today. Pick another tomorrow.
If it was yoga three times a week, can you go today, if not then plan when you will.
You get the idea :-)
Me? I'm hauling myself outside today for a run because I've not been outside as much as I need to be to feel happy and healthy. I might walk / run it if it's a bit icy or my legs get a shock from being off the treadmill, but I'm getting out there and getting on with it or it'll just feel even harder the next time....
What do you do to keep your goals and intentions to the forefront of your mind?
Goals can be something we desire to achieve or reach in the future. Intentions can be something that we intend for ourself. When we are doing something active about our goals and intentions then they are in our mind, but what about when we aren't actually working on them in that moment. For example, when I am running I'm in it, I'm on it and all the reasons that I want to bring my running back into my life are right there in my mind body and soul. But on the days that I'm not running I do find it easy to forget why I need it back in my life. Other stuff takes over and I can forget to make time for it during the week.
There are many things that you can do to keep these important things for you in your attention. Some example are: meditation, diary planning, placing notes in visible places, buying something that motivates and reminds (eg new running kit), getting friends or family on board with support (be careful with this one, make sure they are fully on board and only have your interests at heart).
I do two things: I take a piece of a4 paper, write 3-4 bullet points on it, and stick it to the mirror in my bedroom where I dry my hair every morning. I also make a visual collage of my aims, dreams and desired life balance. The first works really well for me for short term quick reminders. The latter keeps me in tune with the overall balance of my life.
The mirror reminders have been working really well for me this last couple of weeks. I'm long overdue in making a collage though, so that's what I'll be doing this week smile emoticon
Let's today celebrate all the wonderful things that our body can do, and where and how it moves well.
It can become all too easy to focus on what isn't 'working', what feels weak, where we have issues, what we don't like about our body, or focusing on what we feel we need to be improved.
Our bodies ARE wonderful. They take us through life, they tell us exactly what we need and they store our memories and emotions.
Our body is always trying to return to an optimal level of health, a homeostasis. Some of our aches, pains, ailments and issues are the signals that it trying to do this, and it is the body's way of communicating that it needs some changes to be made. The signals can be loud, and for some all consuming at times. Sometimes we can get frustrated by how our body looks and it perhaps doesn't seem to represent how we feel inside. Or we discover that we don't seem to have the strength we thought when we try new moves or activities.
But there is always something good to find in our body. There is always somewhere that we can be grateful for within our body. Just knowing that what you are feeling is your body's signals to you, can change the way you look at them. Look for some positive signals, even if that is just it telling you it needs to sleep, eat, stand up, sit down..... It's there. If there is part of your body that you don't like then find somewhere in it that you do - you will.
In my job I often hear people say that they feel their body has let them down, or they wish they'd done something about xyz earlier, or that they are discovering where they are weak. In actual fact, your body always wants to support you and help you to be the best it can be. You are with your body for life, so let it love you and let yourself love it.
Start today with something positive smile emoticon
This quote has been floating around my head this week. It often does when I know I'm ready to action something new that I've been wanting to do but where it's just fear and a lack of confidence in myself that is holding me back. It is the phrase that builds the energy and positivity in me to get me on and doing it.
A client of mine (who is happy for me to share this with you) came in yesterday and was in a similar space. She has been wanting to move forward with a few things but wasn't sure if her previously frozen shoulder was ready or not and feared that she might set herself back or dent her growing confidence with it. She had been watching some of the holocaust documentaries on last week and her mantra struck her loud and clear 'one life, live it well'. She got herself to the swimming pool and discovered that far from being an issue her shoulder actually flourished from the swim and her confidence got more than just a wee boost!
So whether you have your own internal quote, or you wish to borrow either of ours, ask yourself what you might be holding yourself back from due to fear of moving forward.
Because, if NOT now, then when?
Running gets a bad name. An unfair bad name as far as I'm concerned.
I often hear, as i'm sure you do too, that 'running is bad for you'. If we hear it enough, and we certainly do hear it a lot, then we can start to believe it. But guess what? RUNNING IS NOT THE BAD GUY! Running is just the place that highlights our issues, and rather than deal with THEM, it's easier to blame running FOR our issues.
Running is a whole body activity that requires an amazingly co-ordinated effort to take it forward at a pace faster than one we usually move at while interacting with and against gravity. Unlike walking we never have both feet on the ground at the same time when we run. Instead we swap between the two, taking both feet off the ground in between. Our heart and lungs work hard to make this happen so we require more oxygen than usual which we do by breathing quicker. Our joints absorb the landing of each step (yes, it's often this that we specifically hear about "it's not good for the joints" (but then we're also told its good for your bones, so who do we believe..).
A lack of a 'good enough'* foundation of stability (try standing on one leg to check how stable you feel), then continually swapping legs in the air when we run (try it now hopping from one to the other) is going to massively challenge the whole co-ordination. Any restrictions we may already have to our breathing (try breathing in slowly for 3 counts and out for 3 to see how yours is) is going to restrict the amount of oxygen that we can get into and transport around our body when we ask it to run. If we don't have a 'good enough'* alignment then the impact of each step isn't distributed around the whole body's system of joints in order to neutralise its effect.
Here's what are actually some of the bad guys:
Sitting all day, moulding ourselves into a flexed sitting position, then expecting our bodies to happily open up straight, agile and ready to go
Getting wound up and stressed by a hellish day, inhibiting our breathing and then expecting oxygen on demand.
Spending an evening in 2" heels shortening our calves, then not stretching them, yet asking them to work full length for x number of miles / minutes.
Twisting an ankle but deciding it doesn't matter that its swollen up and hurting (Eh, tell me that's a stable ankle!).
Running 5 days in a row when we haven't run for months before that
Running with the wrong intent; to keep someone else company when we'd rather be doing something else, to burn calories even though we actually loathe running, because we need to prove something to ourself......
Your body is going to tell you it isn't too happy about any of them when you run. But don't shoot the messenger. It can't speak English, that's all.
I'm not saying you can't ever again get stressed, sit at work, wear heels, do clumsy things or go for a run for the wrong reason. I'm just asking that you recognise it, respect your body and where you can alter your running for that day or period of your life or do something to transition you into a better place for running. Question WHY you are running, and what it really is that you need from it. And respect the answers to those questions, even if they surprise you. Go with that intent into your running and perhaps you'll discover a better alignment all round.
But please don't NOT run because someone has told you it's bad for you. YOU decide if it is or isn't for you by recognising why you run, or want to run, and listening to the signals your body gives you when you do. Respect them. It may well require working at a way to match your mind's intent with your body's needs but it can be done. Remember the para-olympics? Enough said. There are very many good reasons for running: socialising, time alone, being outside, sense of achievement, building self esteem, having fun, focusing on the present moment, to name a few. So don't make running the bad guy. Please :-)
I am Caroline Toshack. Movement is my passion, my mirror, my creative source and outlet. I am a teacher, educator, writer and coach.