If you have the opportunity as I have over the past five years to watch babies develop, you will see Functional Movement in action. (When my children were babies, I was too busy to really study them as I am able with my grandchildren.) They go through a day-long workout every day, prepping their little bodies to rollover, situp, stand, and eventually walk.
As babies do natually, I try to adhere to Gray Cook’s maxim. First move well, then move often. For most adults good teachers and coaches are essential to moving well. Although almost all of us start off with good, balanced, symmetrical movement, life tends to alter us. We suffer injuries, we put ourselves in bad positions for hours at a time, we get old. Our once perfect motions become flawed. Then, our bodies compensate for weaknesses and our movements become worse, but in ways we do not notice.
Yoga encompasses most of the fundamental patterns of Functional Movement: squat, lunge, hinge, push, pull, twist. Only gait is lacking. The most important thing I have learned in the few years I have taken classes is to honor my body and current abilities.
I did not know this essential when I had my first experience. Several of the people I was sharing a house with on our annual training session at Killington decided to attend the early morning yoga session. I joined them, and made the typical beginner’s mistake of attempting to copy the poses those around me were doing, without knowing how to properly get into them. It was painful, but compelling.
When I got home, I signed up for an Adult Ed course. Billed not only as ‘beginning’ but also ‘gentle’ and ‘for the older or injured,’ it provided exactly the level of training and intensity that I needed for a good introduction. From the start, I was a convert. Because from the start I could feel changes in my body.
Yoga is deceptively strenuous. Because you move slowly and hold positions for extended periods, it looks easy. However, as in ballet, you are balancing your body in various positions that sometimes require defying gravity, and doing very interesting things with your joints. One of my early favorite motions was extending the forearm forward from the elbow while moving the upper arm back from the elbow. To an observer there is nothing visible except a slight straightening of the elbow. Internally, you feel all the muscles tightening, yet at the same time your arm seems relaxed. I almost always reach my arm in this fashion, now, rather than extending from the shoulder and upper back as I used to do.
My health club offers yoga classes every day. For several months I took one at least four mornings a week. Each instructor has her own style, and, while I like them all, my favorite is Vi who occasionally admonishes, “The forward fold is all about the lower back,not about a fight with your hamstrings.”
Therefore, we should bend our knees as much as necessary. Before this announcement, I had usually needed to bend my knees at the beginning of classes while we were doing forward folds, but tried to straighten them as quickly as I could manage. After Vi’s message, I stopped thinking about straightening my legs, and just concentrated on allowing my spine to lengthen as it relaxed.
Now, on a daily basis, even if there is no time for a full stretch routine, I do several forward folds until I can touch my upper body to my legs. I can feel my back muscles incrementally give way as my head lowers towards the floor.
If I could go back in time, I would start yoga decades ago. Still, it is gratifying to feel the difference since I began practicing just a few years ago.