making friends with gravity

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

unpolished thoughts 3/20/19

“Self-organization.”

That phrase wouldn’t have meant that much to me a few years ago.

Does the phrase sound meaningful to you? If you’ve never heard before, I’m sure you could still take a guess.

You might start with two obvious questions:

What is the self? And what does it mean to organize?

In the Feldenkrais Training Academy where I’ve been a student since last October, we have been looking at question of self-organization from three angles: biomechanical, psychological/emotional, and biological.

That last category is like the combination of the other two categories, a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

There’s this amazing song by the Talking Heads called Wild Gravity. (click to listen!)

Fooled around enough with numbers
Let’s not be ourselves today
Is it my imagination
Is it just someone’s face
Pleasantly out of proportion
It’s hard to hold on to the ground
Now I didn’t come to run, and this is everything
And gravity lets you down.

That actually really gets to the heart of it.

But I admit, it helps if you happen to love the Talking Heads, and you were already thinking about biological self-organization – and you misheard the last line!

Until I just looked it up, I thought that David Byrne was singing “gravity gets you down.”

But either way – if you are willing to go along with me – he definitely makes reference to some of the ways we can become disconnected to gravity and ourselves. We see things through distorted lenses and don’t feel our bodies clearly enough to catch the internal and environmental signals we need.

We live in gravity – but it’s up to us how we organize to live. Do we do so in such a way that we can be biomechanically and emotionally upright?

Or does gravity get us down?

To think of this metaphor on the biological level, think of evolution. What traits get passed on?

The traits that most contribute to survival, of course. Not every organism successfully arrives to the day when it is capable of procreation.

Can you imagine how a person who knows how to maintain their skeleton upright and has enough emotional control to put a positive internal spin on most things is better fit than the others for survival?

David Byrne can!

And I get up, climbing out
How did I get home?
I’ll survive the situation
Somebody shut the door
Beautiful, beautiful
Climbing up the wall
I get by on automatic
No surprise at all

Making your heart as strong as steel and cultivating the ability to move as if gravity wasn’t a factor will definitely help you find your home in this ever-changing changing world more easily.

Let’s get more specific though.

In terms of biomechanics, the question really comes down to your skeletal organization. This isn’t simply a question of “alignment” (the hips go here, the shoulders go here, the head goes here, etc.), although that’s part of it.

How do we actually create the particular arrangement of our bones that we call “posture”?

With the muscles, of course.

Some of our muscles are specifically designed for this – for example the extensor muscles along the length of the spine and the jaw muscles that keep us from walking around with our mouths hanging open. Think of those muscles as the “anti-gravity” muscles.

Then there are all the muscles that we use for voluntary action – swinging the arms, kicking, shaking our hips – whatever you like. All those actions are crucial to our biological fitness, but they aren’t about holding us upright in gravity.

Not directly anyways.

Efficiency means doing something with the least necessary effort. Inefficiency means using more effort than you really need. In this case, when your skeletal organization is such that you are using the voluntary musculature in order to keep yourself upright in gravity, it is inefficient.

This kind of inefficiency is unavoidable however, anytime that you are falling – and by falling, I don’t mean that you have to fall flat on your face.

It’s sufficient just to move your head off the center of the base of support of your spine (for example, what you probably do when you check notifications on your phone). The deep non-verbal intelligence of your body immediately senses, “Uh oh, I’m falling!”

When the head “falls off the spine” this way, your biology automatically works to bring your eyes back to the horizon. That’s just a basic survival thing – because if you can’t survey your environment, you’re screwed!

But now, the because the enormous weight of the head is too far forward, voluntary muscles in the back – that are supposed to be reserved for actions like turning or tilting the head – are called into action to carry the head.

That’s too much damn weight for your neck, but that’s how many people deal with this problem. They just don’t turn or tilt their head that much (or they only do it on one side) and their neck is full of knives most of the time.

That’s why I often say to my clients:

“Think of your tail bone as “the bottom of your neck.” 

So what’s the opposite of the situation where “gravity gets you down?” How can we make it so “gravity don’t mean a thing”?!

What we need for this is an understanding of how to use ground forces to our advantage. If you imagine that the ground is a trampoline, you have the basic idea.

Say you’ve been walking on gravel for a while. That first step onto more stable ground will give you a good hint. Do you notice how you suddenly pop up a bit? The ground changed, and it changed you.

But you can learn how to use ground forces intentionally as well.

You already know that while trampolines make it easier for all of us to jump high, you can get more skilled at using what they offer you to jump even higher.

The same thing is true with the ground.

We’re getting pretty technical about this at the Feldenkrais Training Academy, but the most important place to start is by feeling what this means. Once you’ve felt the lift of ground forces you will know what you’re looking for and can begin to practice with more specificity.

Below is a video I made today.

It was fairly spontaneous, just me playing around. But what I’ve learned about ground forces so far has given me an understanding of what things are useful to play with and what things to pay attention to when I do.

You’ll find a breakdown of what I was playing with and thinking about in the caption below the video. I encourage you to try what I outline in the video for yourself – with this same attitude of playing around.

I don’t mean you aren’t trying to learn and improve something. What I mean is, you aren’t trying to correct something. Perhaps the most important part of the process is listening to the first moment of how you make each movement, especially when you try the movement for the first time.

Not caring about “doing it right” frees you up to notice more specifically what your spontaneous unrehearsed imperfection looks and feels like. Nor do you need to curse yourself when you figure out what’s happening. Instead, you can smile at this confirmation of your humanity.

But I promise you, if you just play with it you will feel something different afterwards because some of the voluntary musculature you’ve been using for the losing battle with gravity will let go. Somewhere deep inside you quickly recognizes the unnecessary things you do and then decides to stop fighting gravity. You begin to make friends with it instead, by taking more advantage of ground forces.

Although I haven’t written much about emotional weightlessness today (the other aspect of what combines with good biomechanics for ideal biological self-organization) I have done so on many other occasions.

For example: 

weighty questions     reimagining ourselves      ¡emotional superpowers!     mood reversibility

All the same, before and after you play around with ground forces, you might take a moment to check in with yourself on a different level than what you might think of as “postural.”

Ask yourself:

How am I really doing right now? What are the voices in my head? Is my internal feeling right now the way I want my life to feel all the time?

It could be interesting to see if a taste of ground forces and more biomechanical efficiency also might lift your spirits, so to speak.

Sometimes I think of that as having levity in gravity.     

I bet you can do it if you don’t take things too seriously.

Then you might have a different experience than what David Byrne was singing about. You might experience that when you make friends with it, gravity doesn’t “let you down.”

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Would you like to make “levity in gravity” more of the norm of what your everyday life feels like?

That’s what my 2019 online program ¡Reimagine Yourself! is all about: 

How to make your movement practice into a vehicle for rewriting the story of how you move through the world.

Module 1, “Tapping Deep Body Wisdom” starts next Monday, March 25.

To learn more about ¡Reimagine Yourself!, click here

To participate in a free Awareness Through Movement class on Thursday March 21 at 2pm EST, click here

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