Sunday, September 18, 2011

Where Are Your Legs?

My son is just learning to walk.  Every step he takes is a conscious effort.  He thinks very carefully about how he lifts his leg, where he places it, when he moves his muscles.  As adults, we don't think about these things anymore.  Our brains have already learned what to do and now we walk, jog and run without any mental effort at all.  Through years of practice, we have built up a "muscle memory".

That's how our brains work.  We build up memories of motions we repeat often, until eventually we don't really have to think about them anymore.  Our bodies simply "know" what to do without us consciously telling them what to do.

Unfortunately, sometimes our memories are not as accurate as they should be.  If we learn a skill incorrectly, our muscle memories will also be incorrect.  We will repeat the incorrect movement ad nauseum and our brains will resist changing it, until the correct movement feels awkward and incorrect.  Even if we are trained correctly, we can still screw it up.  In the case of injury, we subconsciously guard our weak points, which causes the rest of our bodies to fall out of alignment.  In my case, I know I hunch my shoulders to guard the herniated discs in my neck.  I have herniated discs in my neck because I look down when I walk.  I look down when I walk because I have nerve damage in my left leg from another injury and I feel the need to look down so I don't trip.  It's a ridiculous downward spiral of crap-tacularness.

Most riders I know have some problem like this.  The problem itself varies: straight arms, gripping thighs, hunched shoulders, chair seat....  But, no matter the bad habit, the source is an incorrect muscle memory.  We have inadvertently trained ourselves to ride that way. 

In the last few weeks I have been trying to get rid of my bad habits, my incorrect muscle memories.  I have been trying to correct my posture both in and out of the saddle.  To that end, I have taken a cue from my son.  I am trying to be very conscious of using my muscles properly.  I am thinking very hard about where I place my body and why. 

As I watch my son walk, I realize that he takes a very proper stance: his head is balanced perfectly above his shoulders, his shoulders balance above his hips, his hips are balanced above his heels.  He is young, and is as yet unaffected by the many cares that life will put on him.  He has no aches and pains, he has no chores to do, and so he delights in his new found skill.  His delight reminds me of Xenophon's words:  "If one induces the horse to assume that carriage which it would adopt of its own accord when displaying its beauty, then one directs the horse to appear joyous and magnificent, proud and remarkable for having been ridden."

It seems I must induce myself to assume that carriage which I would adopt if I were displaying my beauty, just as my little son does.   


  1. Love the philosphical rambling and the fresh light that kids throw on the ordinary... nice notion, so hard to do but I am all game for giving it a go....right after I stop slouching over the laptop on the sofa ;)

  2. ToCatchAPony- I literally laughed out loud at your comment, because I was slouched over my laptop on my sofa when I read it! Gotta work on that!

  3. Relearning to walk with my new knees makes me relate to this post. Mostly now, the muscle memory is fine, but the new straightness in my knee joints is offering protest. Luckily, my balance is good, so I am not too "tippy" so far. But many people in the rehab center had to relearn all kinds of motor skills. Makes you appreciate what you can do.

  4. 21 days it is for learning a new habbit. I guess for your brain to form the new synaptic connections for a new skills.

    I have a sepcial cushion for sitting in front of the computer otherwise I looked like a lizzard climbing a tree. Left hip forward, right shoulder, head tilted to the left. Scoliosis, me? No !!! ^-^

    Good luck, I am working on the same. I am working on keeping my knees bent and straight when riding, instead of hyper-extended and turned in ...

  5. Great post. I love the analogy to a child learning to walk. I'm trying to correct my not always lowered heels and rounded shoulders right now. When they're fixed it will be something else :)

  6. Nice to hear someone addressing raising their level of awareness... We (humans) tend to lose that skill the older we get...

  7. Great post! And a good reminder to watch our posture. :)


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