Thursday, 16 August 2012

Taking Responsibility for my Movement

Guest Post by Carina Huggins

Corrective exercise is about rebuilding and strengthening connections.

It is all about taking active responsibility for your movement.  It is so much more than listening to cues from a coach and correcting them during a WoD.  It is so much more than letting your mind fade and body take over.  

A few months back, I participated in a low back pain research study.  During the study, I was able to observe my multifudus and transverse abdominus muscles on an ultrasound screen.  A key component of the study was building the patient’s awareness of the mind-body connection.  The clinical researcher asked me to imagine my TrA contracting.  I did, with some skepticism, and was shocked to see a tiny grey band of muscles on the ultrasound screen flinch in response:  My transverse abdominus, were moving in response to a thought.  Not even an active attempt at a movement.  Just a visualization!  It was in that moment that I really began to understand the mind-body connection.

The last few months have been about re-routing the energy that passes between the brain, nervous system and skeletal system. It is a deeply transformational practice that involves immersing yourself completely in sensation, yet at the same time, keeping your mind active and aware. The nervous system is quite a dynamic system. If you observe nerves under a microscope, you can see that they are like strange little star fish - alive, moving and constantly forming new connections.  

Somewhere in the middle of struggling up out of a squat, with a weighted bar on my back, I take note of what my body wants to do, and how it wants to get the bar up there.  Before, I would have just carried on that path upward toward the rack, my mind absent and in the “zone.”  It is SO much easier to just let go mentally, and let your body take over, with the habits and patterns that it knows.

 This detached “zone” state - or sticking with your current patterned movement is common.  Even if you see people responding to corrective cues, at some point it slips and they revert back to what their body has patterned.  It is so much easier to just go with what you body feels is "normal" to it.  Even if your "normal" isn't what is "right."

CrossFit lit up my nervous system; new movements and activities resulted in a surge of activity in my muscular and nervous systems.  Those connections took place in the context of acute pain, dysfunctional movement and imbalance.  After thousands of reps at another CrossFit box, bad patterns were deeply ingrained and compensatory patterns were well developed (the only way I kept up with some movements despite my clear limitations was through compensation.)

Unsurprisingly, acute pain was established.  Unfortunately your muscles do not speak English.  They only speak in the language of pain.  And in emitting these pain signals up to the brain, they really, really hope (and pray) you have the sense to figure things out.  Because they really, really hope (and pray) that you have good connections between your mind and body. 

Training at CrossFit MOST, I have to be aware.  No more detaching during a workout into a muddled place called “the zone.”  

I need to go deep inside myself to feel which muscles are priming themselves to fire. In a split second, I have to shake off the physical sensations of my muscles burning and reconnect my mind with my body.  I focus on my body is supposed to do, and think about activating the right muscles to make that movement.  

Doing it right sometimes feels unnatural:  Strange and unfamiliar territory.  Just like a squat felt the first time you ever did one with a bar. Just like a wallball felt, the first time you threw it and caught it with your face!
It may be subtle (nobody is going to guess from your pain-face that all this crazy shit above, is going on in your mind!) but it is very, very effective.  

With time and repetitions the connections are being forged and strengthened.  Many corrective movements do not feel alien anymore.  Inside, my nervous system is responding and the right muscles are developing.

In the space of half a second, I have gone through this profound process on the inside.  On the outside, my coach is observing my squat and complementing me on it.  It has begun to take on the form it should, and I am rising up to the bar.

Repatterning movements through corrective exercise involves internal intelligence. 

To improve mind-body connections, you must have a bridge.  That bridge is coaching and the development of deep internal awareness.  Coaches help us with both - they bring to us that awareness of our patterns and behavior, tapping into the knowledge base that the body has already developed.  Then, they help us reformulate everything that we’ve learnt up to that point: Through explanation, demonstration and touch.  

Much of the rest of it is up to you.  For deep, fundamental change you must get away from passive WoD-brain.  You must focus in on bodily sensation and the internal experience.  Sometimes you want to throw off those cues and do it the easier way, the way your body has programmed.  But you cannot.  You have to summon willpower and take in the cues and start forging those new connections.

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