Most of our ‘domesticated’ movement is habitual. It’s easy to get into movement ‘ruts’. It may feel as though we are great exercisers, we may even love exercise, and yet we still have areas of our body that are sticky, tight, or painful. No matter how much we exercise, if it’s always the same kinds of exercise, then we always move the same body parts through the same planes and loads. Anything we do repetitively tends to become fairly mindless. It’s easy to develop unconscious patterns of avoidance, or simply go through the motions. This kind of movement plan can lead to a false sense of security. We feel fit but then throw out our back bending over to pick something up off the floor, for example.
Culturally, we tend to spend very little time doing things that require us to work on our balance. The saying ‘if you don’t use it you lose it’ is doubly true of our balance control. We talk about this all the time in our Parkour class. Even Parkour athletes admit that balance is something they work on all the time. If they don’t, they lose it too. Maybe you do a lot of Yoga or something where you work on static balance or balance from one position to another. Great! But, every type of movement, and every surface we work on recruits different muscles and requires new proprioceptive pathways.
You may have great balance on a yoga mat and discover you have terrible balance while in motion, say, walking next to your horse. Balance in motion is different and requires a whole different skill set than static balance. Balance on a horse is different from the balance required to walk next them doing in hand work. It’s important to incorporate as much variety as possible into your daily movement. Rather than simply exercise for an hour I find it helpful to seek out things I can do while I feed the horses, while I’m watching TV, even while I work at my computer. The more often I move, and the more variety I inject into my moving life, the more capably I adapt to whatever the world throws at me.
Why does balance matter in the context of interacting with my horses?
When I learn to control my balance on the ground, out of the saddle and away from my horse, my body accesses all the small muscle groups that help me hold myself up independently. Ever try dancing with someone who has not spent time developing their own balance? Steve will be the first to tell you, it is NO fun trying to move someone who leans on you! It’s way too easy to use our horses to help us balance if we have not worked on this skill independently.
I hope last week’s blog inspired you to get out and find things to balance on. I know I had fun finding more ways to explore developing my balance at home!
One of the things my horses taught me when I started asking them to show me how to move and interact in ways that work better for them is that they LOVE following someone who has good balance. The more I have control over my own balance the more I can support my horse to carry themselves in relation to me. Horses communicate through body language as their primary language. By carrying myself well my horse automatically works to carry himself better. Horses follow our ‘body language lead’ whether we are aware of it or not. The more refined we become in our balance and movement, the more refined our horse becomes in relation to us.
This week I want to expand on the concept of balance by talking about our feet. Our feet that spend gobs of time encased in protective shoes or shoes that look pretty but don’t really help our biomechanics. Think about how much time and energy we put into the care of our horse’s feet and the footing we work them on. We all know how important balanced feet are to a horse’s movement and longevity. They won’t stay sound very long if we work them hard on bad footing or unbalanced feet. We ought to put as much energy into our own feet!
My feet have had some problems over the last few years. I’m not willing to say I am now an expert on feet, but I am becoming an expert on my own feet! Those who know me know that I like to find non-medical solutions to my issues whenever possible. When I developed plantar fasciitis in my right foot it sent me on a mission. What I am finally learning is that by encasing my feet in cushy, thick-soled, heavily protective footwear all the time, it’s the equivalent of putting my feet in casts. The skin on our feet is designed to be in contact with the ground, gathering information from the surfaces we walk on that help us adapt our body to the terrain. All of the joints in our feet and ankles are designed to move over varied terrain, our toes giving us ten little fingers that feel around and help us with balance and proprioception.
When I first started dancing I was taught that the high-heeled shoes help us dance better by keeping us on our toes more. What I did not know is how important it is to build strength in your feet independent of the shoes before you start wearing the heels. Man my feet and ankles suffered for that!
MY feet were pretty sticky and not very mobile. Working toward having more mobile, agile, functional feet is a process. The longer we have had our feet stuck in shoes the longer it takes for them to wake back up and become mobile again. I cannot say the process of strengthening and enlivening my feet has been a cake walk. My feet get really, really sore. But it’s the kind of stiff and sore any muscles get when they are being used in novel ways. And the joint pain and plantar fascia pain are all but gone. In fact, my plantar fasciitis pain resolved in just one day of addressing a few postural things for just a few minutes a few times during the day, while continuing to work on my balance.
Your feet are a key component to your ability to balance well. How are your feet?
Here’s a short video showing you how I’m working on my own feet, and by extension, my balance:
And here are some additional resources I’ve been exploring:
Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement by Katy Bowman
Extra stuff on feet and shoes on Katy Bowman’s website: nutritionmovement.com