05 October, 2006

Walk, Ubu, walk!

I've never believed in the expression "You can't teach an old dog new tricks." John Audubon was in his middle age before he became a naturalist and started work on Birds of North America. And it doesn't even hold true for actual dogs. So I'm confident that it doesn't apply to me, either. Even if I'm talking about adjusting something I learned at the age of eight months.

I was walking early. I've always been annoyingly precocious, and I started toddling around before my body was ready for it. My bones weren't strong enough to support my weight yet, and the result was that I developed severe bow-leggedness. My mum used to call me "the McDonald's Arch", because I would wander around in a pair of yellow pajamas (which I presumably held up with one hand because I had no ass to do the job for me). I had to be fitted with a set of corrective orthopedic braces.*

All of this is to say, I still have a slight bow-leg, and all my limbs have always hyperextended slightly at their full extension.

Lately I've been obsessing about my posture. I've slouched my whole life. As a habitual sloucher, I've gotten used to bending a certain way, too. I bend at the lower three lumbar vertebrae to do everything, including touching my toes, etc. Observation of other people indicates that this is definitely not the norm - most people bend at the hips. So I'm usually not in the habit of supporting my weight with my lower back, meaning those muscles are weaker.

This in turn affects the way I stand. Because I bow my back out all the time in order to slouch, I usually stand with my knees locked, flexed backwards. I can do this without using any muscles at all, exploiting my deformity and the strength of leg tendon to support me. I think this has left my knees weaker, as well.

I'm working on correcting these things, which mostly involves paying attention to how I walk, making sure I bend my knees instead of keeping them locked, and not standing with my legs flexed or my lower back bowed. This is really bizarre. It seems strange to be almost at the end of my third decade of life and still be working on fundamentals. Makes you pine for the opportunity to converse with your younger self and correct all these things. "Self," I would say, "you really ought to stop slouching now. Otherwise, when you go insane in your mid-twenties, you'll have a much harder time of it. It's better to go insane about worthwhile things, self, like developing a crushing need to paint schizophrenic landscapes on the asphalt in traffic intersections, rather than boring things like walking. It's unfortunate that you don't realize how much there is to learn and grow, so you waste your life playing. Believe me, you'll find it much more fulfilling to be able to play, with all you've learned, in your adulthood than it ever could be at your age."

"Also, don't spend so much time posting crap on Usenet in your teens," I would add. "There's this thing you've never heard of called Google Cache that will haunt you for the rest of your life."

"(Scream of terror)," I would reply, trying to punch myself ineffectually.

"Cut that out, self," I would say, deflecting my strikes off-handedly. "I've learned kung-fu in the interim."

I suppose this is why people have kids.

* Which were apparently very painful as they readjusted my bones; I would wake up nights screaming and crying.

I seem to have become fanatical about self-improvement somewhere along the way. Hopefully this won't develop into some sort of pathological condition.

Being tall is inconvenient in many ways. For example, eating is much more difficult for tall people. The journey from the plate to your mouth can begin to feel like a transatlantic shipping route if you don't lean over. And greater height means more splatter if you accidentally drop a bit of food. These sorts of pressures add up and subtly encourage you to correct your height towards the median, usually by slouching or self-mutilation.


try race-walking. there's lots of good advice on how to do it waiting for you out there and it could fix up your posture pretty fast. 

Posted by hibiscus

I used to stomp instead of walking, remember? I realized the other day that I no longer stomp. I attribute this to years of Bharat Natyam, which, ironically, emphasizes stomping. So presumably, Kung-Fu and Capoeira should be helping your posture somewhat. Weight-training that focuses on your lower back and abs should help too.

Papa would recommend Yoga, natch.

Or you could develop a spinal condition and need corrective surgery. That'd cure you of slouching pretty quickly. 

Posted by DearDarlingDidi

Physical therapy. I swear by it. 

Posted by Mist 1

DearDarlingSaurabh'sDidi---I recently realized I shuffle my feet in the office in the shoes, the exact opposite of picking up one's feet and landing gracefully on the heal, Bharat Natyam style. And I too used to stomp about the house before I took Bharat Natyam!

Saurabh--try Aikido? Same logic as your sister's, but also a lot of awareness of your center and core muscles, and of posture. Not as crazy intense as Kung Fu, I guess? B/c it seems like you also need to learn how to relax properly. And yoga would drive me insane, so Aikido was a good other thing. 

Posted by Saheli

The problem with martial arts is - you're imminently aware of your posture DURING the thing, but once you're done, you revert to conventional form. Just like dancing - what you do in one mode of action is different than another. I'm not ALWAYS preparing to dodge a kick or punch someone in the face, thank god.

Anyway, as usual I wrote mostly about posture but was interested in what it illustrated, and no one else noticed. I'ma go cry in my milk now. 

Posted by saurabh

don't cry. i mentioned race walking because that was how my incredibly similar and not yet cured bout with hyperkinesthesia manifested itself about a year ago. since then i switched to tennis because i kept finding different oddly-developed muscles that were the trouble and when i play tennis i just jump around, so i figured, maybe everything'll just work if i jump around enough.

mainly all i seem to have done is forgotten how not to think about how i walk. it's incredibly distressing. 

Posted by hibiscus

As far as changes in body movement go, I've noticed that subtle changes are much more difficult than drastic ones -- I can do Bhangra or Ballroom, but not Oddisi; my body can't adjust to the slight differences between stances. So I don't think powerwalking would help much, because it's so close to regular walking, your muscles would still want you to slouch.

Saheli -- I shuffle too! Is this a former Bharat Natyam dancer thing? We should take a survey... 

Posted by DearDarlingDidi

Dude - I second the recommendation of trip to a good physical therapist and lots of careful work on the abs, front and rear. Personally, I wish I could go back in time and tell myself that the advice I got about walking when I was 15 was exactly correct if very poorly phrased. A couple decades later and I think I finally have that posture stuff down pat.

What was it this illustrated? Whether old dogs can learn? Are you a dog? They can learn. My walk has shifted a lot in the past 3 years, once a Pilates instructor-slash-girlfriend spent enough time telling me all the ways I was wrong in how I stood, did situps, rode my bike, whatever.

Speaking of which, when you ride your bike, keep your back straight. That's a great way to build your abs while teaching your lumbar spine to stay straight and to instead bend at the hip. At first you'll have less power but very quickly you'll find that it's the most energetic way to ride. 

Posted by hedgegod

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?