Series Part One: Getting On and Off the Floor
Most of the people I know are afraid to fall.
They are afraid, first, because it is often a surprise: an experience of starting off in one position in space and suddenly finding themselves in a new position with no clear awareness of how the transition was made.
Second, they are afraid to fall because of the potential for injury and/or not being able to stand back up.
With these two factors in the mix – fear and uncertainty – it is logical to create a strategy of avoidance. Because they do not want to be harmed by falling, they will simply avoid doing it.
Certainly, we should all be aware of our surroundings and capabilities so that we can select tools to assist us when we need them. I wear cleats when strolling around in the winter on icy terrain. I put a hand onto a rock or a tree at various times when I’m hiking. There are lots of options available to us. Avoiding falling is not one of them.
Because sometime, you will fall. And this shouldn’t come as a surprise! Think about a kid learning to ride a bike. All of the adults looking on expect them to fall at some point while learning a new skill. There’s no need to be afraid.
Getting on and off the floor is the first of the movement vital signs and a primal survival skill for any human. If we can get on and off the floor, then we can fall and rise again without significant harm. It simply takes practice.
Practice is planning. Practice is developing awareness and technique. Practice is getting stronger because you are becoming more organized. Practice leads to quality movement.
Don’t worry, I don’t expect you to start throwing yourself onto the floor just yet. First, we need to find out, can you get on and off the floor now?
If you answered no or I’m not really sure, then the first step is to find out why not, and from there, to start a practice to help you develop the skill to do so.
If you answered yes, that is excellent! I have another question for you, how many different ways do you have to get off the floor?
This might be a harder question to answer. Ideally, we will have multiple strategies to get on and off the floor. This is important because someday when we fall, we might find ourselves in a circumstance where our single strategy cannot work. We need to have other options.
After we have practiced simply getting on and off the floor and developed the skills to do so in multiple ways, then we should begin to practice falling. When you do, you might be surprised to find out just how similar the two practices are! And how much control we can exercise during a fall. This comes later though.
All of this will take time and lots of practice. As Robin Gray, a movement specialist and contributor to this article, says: strength is what happens when you are practicing technique; injury is what happens when you are not.
Your technique for getting on and off the floor is a vital sign for how well you will fall.
How do you feel when you fall?
Series Part Two: Standing on One Leg
Walking, at its most basic, is simply swinging repeatedly and successfully from one foot to the next, step by step. Taking us anywhere we want to go, these swings are one of the easiest and most efficient forms of movement available to the human body.
If we consider the lives of our hunter-gatherer ancestors, walking was a full-time job; we walked as many hours in a day as the average contemporary human sits in front of a screen or behind a steering wheel.
Even in our modern lives where we can tap our phones a few times and receive a box of groceries within two hours, walking is still required. Someone has to answer the door when the delivery person rings the bell. Someone has to carry the box into the kitchen. And, someone will need to take the trash out later. The human body is made for walking.
But, maybe you are asking, then why does walking hurt my knees? (Or my foot? Or my back?)
Before I answer that, first let me ask, can you stand on one leg without using your hands for support?
If you answered no or I’m not really sure, then, like with getting on and off the floor, the first step is to find out why not, and from there, to start a practice to help you develop the skill to do so.
If you answered yes, well done! Now, how long can you stand on one foot without reaching for support? Can you move your arms into a different position while standing on one foot? Can you put your shoes on without sitting down?
The ability to stand on one leg is the second movement vital sign because it reflects our level of preparation for a very important skill. Being able to move our bodies effectively from point A to point B requires organization and is another primal survival skill for any human being. If we can stand on one leg, unaided by our hands, then we are organized and prepared enough to walk easily and well (without pain, either during or residual).
Think of a small child beginning to toddle. In any family, this is a momentous and celebrated occasion! Usually, before they begin swinging from one foot to the next, there is a moment of stillness, of getting ready. They rise from the floor, they stand erect on their feet and then: they’re off! While they are not standing on one leg, in their standing stillness, they are organizing themselves. And, as we said in Part One, organization requires planning and practice.
The simple practice of standing on one leg allows us to develop the organization we need to walk without pain. Start where you are. Tree pose from hatha yoga could be a good beginning for some. If you need to hold onto a walker, or a stick to begin, please do. Maybe you need to keep both feet on the ground and begin the practice by simply shifting your weight from one foot to the next without actually lifting one away.
Walking in place is both a remedial drill and an important training exercise in many movement traditions — it is the bridge between skilled standing and and a key motor skill: walking.
How do you feel when you walk?
Series Part Three: Jumping
by Jessica Dafni, LMT & CYT with contributor, Robin Gray, PT & DPT