Have you ever had an experience where someone or something causes you to suddenly realize that what you thought was normal might not be at all? There is no question that we all get a bit too comfortable in our habits from time to time, especially when not exposed to other ideas. Often our greatest periods of personal growth and productivity are when we face a challenge, or have a shift in perspective.
This past week a friend provided just such a shift for myself and members of Elemental Fitness Lab. Cirque Du Soleil has been performing in Portland, and my friend Gana was hired to do a contortion and hand balancing piece in the second act. Now, I know when people hear the word contortion they think of someone with freaky joints and possibly abnormal genetics. This of course is not true. Just as any other athlete she has trained very hard for many years in order to reach this level. And to be perfectly honest though I’ve known her for a few years I didn’t know much about her approach to training. Being fortunate enough to learn a bit more I’ve come to realize that it was my perspective that needed changing in order to better understand her craft.
Gana was kind enough to come guest teach our mobility/flexibility class, and I wondered what people’s reaction would be, what her approach to teaching would be as our members come from a vastly different background than the dancers/gymnasts/acrobats she normally teaches. Not surprisingly Gana is a perceptive person, and was able to alter her usual structure in order to effectively provide us with some lessons. But the real lessons for me came later during conversation regarding what is normal from her persepctive in relation to what I see day to day.
She was quite honest in admitting that when she saw the flexibility and mobility levels of most people she was at a bit of a loss at what to do, since nobody could get into what she considers basic beginning stretches such as this. And to ‘fess up I can’t do that either!
From her perspective it is we, the ones not able to achieve full splits, are the abnormal people. After all, most toddlers can do the splits. If you think about one can walk into any gymnastic, dance, or martial arts school and you’ll see people of all ages who can do the splits. Hell, I’ve seen 400 pound Sumo wrestlers do perfect full splits, so none of us are too big. It’s simply a matter of practice, as with anything.
That’s when it hit me! I had gotten too used to my own flexibility limitations, and perhaps haven’t been advocating enough that our members work more on higher levels of flexibility, mobility, and overall movement abilities. This is all within reason of course. None of us will, or necessarily want to be contortionists. But the same applies to strength training too in that reaching elite levels in weightlifting, running, cycling etc… all have risks and downsides. If the goal is better general health and body composition then finding a good balance is important. Lift heavy all the time and your joints will pay a price. Only cycle or run and your joints, strength, and connective tissue will pay a price. Only do yoga or pilates and you will get weaker and lose fitness.
And though over the past few years I’ve come to realize that mobility/flexibility is crucial, Gana, her boyfriend, and other athletes I met at Cirque enlightened me to the fact that I was probably setting bar too low and not striking a better balance in some cases.
Yes it is true that all of the artists performing at Cirque are firmly in what strength coach Dan John calls quadrant four – which refers to the specialists and elite athletes. They all however started out in quadrants I and II by developing a broad range of skills and movement abilities. After all, the great majority of people that come into my gym with injuries or dysfunction developed those issues over long periods of time due to lifestyle which as resulted in considerable mobility and flexibility limitations. These people need to work on a fairly broad range of mobility, stability, flexibility, and strength all applied in the proper order to the proper places.
If a person has a history of back issues and cannot maintain good spinal and hip position through a range of motion then working on their strength at the expense of mobility will likely worsen the issue. It’s a hard pill for many to swallow at first, but as with anything persistence pays off. And this stuff takes time. Years perhaps, but what better to spend your time and effort on? If you are going to exercise you might as well do what produces real results?
And maybe what is considered “results” at 24 Hour Fitness or tabloid media is not all that healthy…..? Uh oh, there is that perspective thing again.
Of course, the perspective shift can be applied to just about anything, including nutrition. This program on NPR accompanies a new documentary on HBO concerning obesity and the many factors involved, and consequences of a slow shift to where being overweight is normal.
We all need wake up calls from time to time to remind us that our old comfortable normals may have slipped into unhealthy territory, or it could be our ideas were never really normal at all. And at the risk of sounding presumptuous it is better for us to realize it before ending up in the doctor’s office due to an issue that is completely under our control.
You are the only one that can decide to change your habits, so from time to time get out there and challenge yourself by being around others that are at a higher level in various aspects of health and personal growth.