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Getting Down and Up With Ease As We Age

To be able to get up and down from the floor with ease becomes more difficult for many as we age. This happens almost without us noticing and begins at a much younger age than we might think. When we were young we had no difficulty doing this but didn’t observe that even then we were using a lot of unnecessary effort relying purely on strong youthful muscles. But if we keep doing something with unnecessary work for long enough our body begins to feel the effect of this and we gradually lose the ability to do it with ease. Eventually we find it cannot be done at all or not without a lot of felt effort.

Easy and elegant coming down to the floor and rising back up to uprightness is actually a highly complex action that requires a considerable degree of attention and awareness of what we are doing. It is not well understood that efficient and effective human movement in all activities involves a spiralling action through the centre of our body. Good walking that can be maintained throughout our lives into extreme old age requires this and is very similar to the truly functional way of getting up and down from the floor.

To spiral as we walk requires a counter rotation of the upper body (chest and shoulders) and the lower part (pelvis and hips). This in turn requires constant shifting of weight from one side to the other. There is also involved subtle side bending and flexion and extension through the spine from base of neck to tail bone. The brain has to coordinate all of this without our conscious awareness (habitually) once we have learnt to walk properly. You could say walking is as complex an activity as any we carry out in life. Every physical part is involved in coordinated movement, or it should be for easy effective walking.

Getting up and down is similar. You cannot maintain effortless getting down to and rising up from the floor or ground if you do not observe the same principles of easy walking movement. For example, it is very common for some who find themselves lying on the floor to attempt to get up by simply bending forward to sit bolt upright and from there, with obvious effort, to stand straight up. All done in a straight-line frontwards movement. This is not natural movement; it is learnt and habitual. It demonstrates a lack of awareness of efficient action and is extremely taxing on the body and more so as we age.

What good movement up and down requires is a coordination of your entire skeletal structure (your bones) in order to spiral, whether going down or coming up. You only have to observe someone following this principle to “feel” the difference: light easy balanced movement with no sign of effort from the effect of “fighting” gravity – the mark of efficient action in movement. Learning to execute this highly complex activity of going down to, and rising up from the floor, has many benefits. A major benefit for anyone, but especially the older we become, is that falling becomes a much safer event even when it happens by accident. The learnt habit of going to the ground safely kicks in when the accident happens and reduces the risk of serious damage. Learning to spiral properly also carries over to other activities such as lifting heavy weights. I have discovered that when I lift heavy tables out of the way to prepare a room for a movement class, I can do this with minimum effort by spiralling throughout the activity – from picking up the table until I have re-positioned it.

Another very important principle of efficient movement is reversibility. The mark of efficient action is the ability to reverse the movement at any point in the action. So, in getting up and down, if you learn to reverse the action fluidly without break or effort, in either direction, you are doing it in the most efficient way possible.

In my classes you will learn to do this by doing these movements slowly while paying attention to each phase of the action in both directions. First, I will help you to find the way to get up from lying to sitting to standing, effortlessly. Then you will learn to reverse the movement from standing to sitting – repeating with full attention to what you are doing so it becomes fluid and effortless.

All the lessons that I teach in this coming term will contribute to making this getting down and up easy along with all of the activities that you engage in on a daily basis.

More about kinaesthetic learning and aging in my next post.

– Alan Cameron ©