Maintaining Ageless Agility: A Return to Before Age, Injury & Stress Interfered
Oct 31, 2016 01:24PM
By Bonnie Kissam, M.A., Feldenkrais Practitioner®
In the fitness world, flexibility is a popular topic. There is a huge market for flexibility, or exercises that stretch a muscle with the promise that someday you’ll touch your toes and execute the yoga postures you witness people younger and more pliable than you perform. Today, many people strive to become more flexible, so and we’re surprised and concerned when our joints begin to stiffen, and our range-of-motion is reduced. This creates a conundrum: Do we move less because we’ve become stiffer? Or do we become stiffer because we move less? Is it flexibility or “agility” that we truly desire?
As a physical educator in the early ‘70s, I administered the President's Fitness Test which measured strength, flexibility, endurance and agility. During the agility test, participants were required to move a block from one line on the floor to another, then quickly return to their starting point within a given time limit. Being measured as strong or flexible in other fitness tests did not predict how adeptly someone might perform on the agility test. This assessment demanded rapid and coordinated actions.
In the study of kinesiology (i.e. movement), there is a principal called reciprocal innervation. This describes a neurological process that stimulates one muscle group (i.e. agonists) to contract. Automatically, that same stimulation inhibits the opposite group (i.e. antagonist) from contracting. For example, your biceps contract when you flex your arms, and your triceps conversely relax. If they didn’t respond this way, the bicep would be forced to work overtime.
In a movement action, when the antagonist does not receive the message to stop contracting, the synergistic relationship is interrupted, either causing excessive resistance, which stops the action prematurely, or twice the amount of effort exerted on the agonists. When this pattern continues, movements become increasingly more limited, and your body begins to feel stiff, tight and inflexible.
This naturally designed relationship between the muscles (i.e. elongating and contracting) allows for easy bending, flexing and freedom of movement. Agility is not about stretching or being flexible. It’s about moving in a coordinated and natural way that is not bound with excessive muscle holding or flexibility. Agility allows people to move swiftly––both physically and mentally––in a balanced state.
The Feldenkrais Method® helps to pinpoint habitual patterns of action are not harmonious with the intention you’re attempting to perform. Once you recognize actions that interfere with agile actions, you can participate in a process that identifies easier and more natural ways of moving. When being agile is once again natural, you’ll experience more enjoyment and fewer injuries throughout your everyday movement.
Classes and workshops in The Feldenkrais Method® can be described as “movement awareness” laboratories. Either individual lessons (i.e. the practitioner moves you) or group classes (i.e. you learn to move yourself) are available to teach participants to identify variations for specific actions, using minimal effort so the brain can sense the difference. In fact, participants are continuously surprised at their abilities to reestablish lifestyle patterns they knew before age, injury and stress interfered.
Bonnie Kissam holds a Master’s Degree in physical education and dance from University of Michigan, and she has also studied with Moshe Feldenkrais, D.Sc. She currently offers workshops in Sarasota for professionals, as well as ongoing classes and individual lessons. Her audio recording of the Effortless Swing® approach workshop is available to download on MP3. In addition, she works with children who have developmental delays. Kissam will be offering a two-day workshop on November 18–20, 9:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. “Regaining, Maintaining Ageless Agility,” at Ionie’s in downtown Sarasota. In addition, a “Release Your Jaw, Your Voice” workshop is scheduled for March 24–26. To register, call 941-360-2248 or 941-587-4535. For more information, visit FeldenkraisInSarasota.com.