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Mark Twain said the only exercise he got was carrying the coffins of friends who used to take exercise. Frank Wildman would be sympathetic to this point of view. He sees many of the repetitive and punitive routines of modern practice as mindless and leading to long term physical damage – ligaments over stretched, joints weakened, muscles torn. He is proposing going back to the beginning and unlearning some of our life long bodily habits, concentrating more on the quality of our movements rather than their quantity when we exercise, with the bonus of regaining flexibility and ease of movement and thus giving the lie to our chronological age. "We cannot achieve greater quality of movement by stretching or strengthening muscle groups alone," says Wildman.(p xvii)
Wildman is a disciple of Moshe Feldenkrais and has taught and developed his methods over a forty year period. Wildman's major premise is that we all learn to move through trial and error from our earliest years. As babies,starting on our back s, we learn to roll over, to lift our heads, to crawl, to stand, to walk. Over the years we develop our postural signature -- the characteristic way we respond physically to the typical situations we encounter. In other words, we all have a limited range of movements which we use unconsciously. However, as the years go by our movements become even more limited, as age takes its toll.
The secret to exercising properly is to engage the brain, says Wildman. "If you want to keep improving as you age, vigorous routine exercise will not be as effective as using your brain to learn how to move in new ways, just as you did when you were a child...Learning to become an adult often means learning to perform dull, repetitive routines instead of holding on to the active curiosity and exploratory movements of our youth." (p2)
Change Your Age incorporates the latest findings of neuroscience making the brain's plasticity and ongoing ability to grow new brain cells a central reason for acquiring new complex patterns of behaviour. Exercise combined with cognitively stimulating movements results in optimal aging is the central message of the book.
The main section of the book is devoted to thirty movement lessons with added advanced variations, sequenced according to the five core positions of human movement - lying down, sitting, kneeling, crouching and standing, which reflect the stages in which our childhood learning takes place . Thus the first nine exercises and variations take place lying down on the floor.
Wildman points out that we often learn to move visually by watching and mimicking other people. In other words, we are learning to move but without bodily awareness, without originality. At the core of his program, is the need to become aware of how we move and so there is a built-in novelty to the moves that form the program with their unfamiliarity making us more conscious of the role of our various bodily parts.
Under Wildman's expert tuition you will find yourself exploring the effects of bodily positions outside one's normal range. You will also find you become more aware of the number of muscles and joints you bring into play in performing an act as simple, say, as lifting your head, especially with some of his floor positioning.
Wildman calls the floor a mirror because it reflects your bodily state in the way you lie. By lying on the floor you become aware of posture. Posture is different from position. There is continuity in posture, says Wildman, no matter what position you are in. " Your postural habits have been set in your bones, muscles and brain and reproduce themselves, regardless of your position..." (p22) Lying on the floor is the best way to become more aware of your posture, something that's impossible when we are absorbed in our day to day activities. "You will learn to observe the previously unobservable." (p22)
Who is this book aimed at? Wildman says that originally his movement education program was developed with senior citizens in mind. But in addressing the movement difficulties of older adults, it became apparent that if middle-aged adults re-adjusted their habits, they could enter their later years with a much sounder approach to their movements. Although he doesn't exclude older adults, he says his book is specifically suited to a generation of mid-life baby boomers.
It would also be suitable for those who have reached a point in life where a person abandons any thought of regular exercise out of a sense of despair over making any palpable progress due to those forces in our lives such as our sedentary existence, time poor routines and other social pressures. In creeps a fatalism and resentment as our bodies escape our command.
These lessons can re- acquaint ourselves with our bodies, probably for the first time since youth. Working my way through the lessons and the sensory tools they provide, I have found myself becoming aware of my own postural signature and how limited I have become in many of my movements. They have given me hope that with this advanced awareness and with patience, I will increase my functionality and preserve my independence for a long time to come. I have already incorporated them into my daily routine and I will be recommending others to do so.
© 2010 Chris Vaughan
Chris Vaughan writes about himself: I live in Birmingham, England. I am now retired after a career in the pharma industry and am very much involved in community activities. I am a board member of the Birmingham Environmental Partnership and chair a local patient network. I have written a book on the British Health Service and I currently write for a health website. I am very interested in the mind-body.