The Mysteries of the Forces of Nature
Regarding yourself as an expression of a Force of Nature is an invitation that opens every Natural Running course and it has done so now for over 20 years. At first it seemed like a cool thing to say to begin a course exploring natural running and natural movement. Today however, the implications of the invitation to regard oneself as a Force of Nature have become much deeper and more meaningful.
I have come to think of the Force of Nature as representing all the things that are beyond human manipulation and control. The Force of Nature can fill us full of awe and wonder: in moments of birth and death, the breathtaking sunset, a wild weather storm. The aim of natural running is to run like the wind riffling over a mighty river!
I consider an expanding understanding of natural movement and running as like a laser pencil-spot of light on a darkened stage. Every time the circle of the light of understanding expands, then so also must expand the dark edge at the circumference of the circle. My reflection: it is in the very nature of self-discovery that the more you understand, the deeper immersed one becomes in the mystery. It’s awe-some – literally. One key motivation for me to continue with these Natural Running courses is to find out what happens next. It’s better than the best detective mystery!
If we seriously consider the whole of who we are, it soon becomes clear that by the greater proportion of the whole is represented by the “Force of Nature”: the things that are beyond our human manipulation and control. It is no coincidence that only a tiny proportion of the brain is conscious. Neuroscience experts vary in their estimates that between 5% and 0.1% of the brain is conscious. The rest: the 95% plus and its deep mysteries could usefully be regarded as a force of our human nature.
It is truly remarkable just how much neuro-processing (Non-doing) has taken place up to the moment just before muscle action (Doing) is engaged. I refer to this aspect of Non-doing as the pre-action.
To get a sense of proportion consider an iceberg, 95% of which is submerged under the Arctic Ocean. Only 5% of the iceberg sticks up above the surface water. To the Arctic Tern flying overhead, there is only a tiny island to be seen. In this analogy the surface waters lapping around the island represent the moment when a deliberate intended action becomes muscle action and goes out there – into the world. However 95% to 99% of the iceberg is below the surface water line. Bear in mind that the moment of deliberate action and beyond is then picked up consciously in order to oversee the ongoing progress and achievement of whatever it is that we are either moving away from or moving towards.
By far the greater proportion of the iceberg: 95% to 99% of the submerged edifice could be referred to as pre- active in nature. The pre-action is process-orientated and not end-product orientated and it takes in the cosmically complicated processing and it is what makes any deliberate action possible. We cannot know this complexity at least in any top-down sense that the conscious self understands as knowing, any more than it is possible for a gallon to be poured into a pint pot!
We could be truly in awe right now at the huge turbines turning in our brain to make possible the everyday movements of standing, walking and running. I have come to think of these subconscious mechanisms in our brain as representing neuro-power. This gives due weight, priority and importance to the neuro-side of the neuro-muscular partnership. I will gladly acknowledge that it is not easy but certainly it is possible for human beings to observe mental processes and to learn from the huge raft of subconscious processing that has been so intimately shaped and formed by our early evolution as hunter gatherers. Again, if you consider it: the forces that shaped our early evolution also fall into the category of Forces of Nature. They are ancient mysteries and they are still locked into the way that our living modern brains work.
It is a key axis of Natural Running to refer back to how we would have to lived, walked and run for most of our species history: when we survived as hunter gathering foragers. Interestingly, as in the conscious brain we find here a similar proportion: that for 95% to 99% of our existence as a single recognisable species we lived as hunter gatherers. Looking at how we think, move, walk and run through the ‘lens’ of our species history has created many radical challenges to the current contemporary cultural perspectives on fitness, healthy action and mental well-being. It has become a lens that offers so much more than just a source of insight: our continued survival as a species may well depend on urgently reconnecting to our evolutionary origins!
A re-connection to our origins
It is possible to reconnect to our evolutionary origins and it is possible to form a constructive working relationship with the 95% plus of subconscious processing that goes on in the brain. An important aspect to bear in mind here is the obvious sheer impossibility of putting a gallon into a pint pot! It may seem a crazy thing to attempt to do: to try and fit 95% into 5% but that is exactly what happens when we become fearfully self-conscious. The results, as I am sure that we have all at some point experienced, brings about a devastating dis-coordination and disconnection!
To regard oneself as a Force of Nature is a key way to begin to bring about a constructive re-connection to the greater proportion of the things that are beyond our capacity to manipulate and control. You simply cannot do or make these things happen, so we can usefully refer to them as Non-doing. While it remains true that you cannot make these things happen it is also important to realise that a crucial constructive conscious contribution happens when you set about undoing whatever is hampering or preventing the Non-doing elements from working efficiently!
Efforts of Attention, Non-Doing and Neuro-Power
To engage powerfully with the neuro-side of the neuro-muscular partnership is an important part of Natural Running explorations. Your brain is a 3 pounds-in-weight snarl of neural tissue and there are no muscles within the brain. Nonetheless it takes a whole lot of energy to run the brain – in fact about 25% of the total energy costs of running the whole body. This energy is not being consumed by muscle action. It is energy consumed by thought in preparation for action. This can help to expand our understanding of Non-doing. Doing energy can in this regard be usefully thought of as the energy that involves muscle engagement. The Doing realm concerns what you can manipulate, what you can do and what you can make happen. The Non-doing energy that exists on the neuro-side of the neuro-muscular partnership involves the neuro-power that enables these muscular events (the Doing) to happen. When we often talk about the psycho-physical, the mind-body connection or the neuro-muscular relationship, tacitly, we place the Non-doing aspects first and the Doing second. This represents a correct priority! When looking at how efficiently and economically we manage our energies in walking and running we need to get the first-thing-first and the second-thing second!
A Neuro effort of Attention
One of the trickiest challenges of a Natural Running workshop involves the effort of attention that is involved in immersing yourself in how your body supports and moves itself. An effort of attention is based squarely on the neuro-side of the mind-body connection. We face perhaps a special challenge here because our own particular culture tends not to support the notion of Non-doing at least not in the same way as for example, many eastern cultures do. The ancient Chinese YIN/YANG symbol offers an elegant simplicity in the way it can encapsulate the interplay between the Doing and the Non-doing.
Doing and Non-doing in a Figure/Ground Relationship
The symbol has two fishy like creatures intimately figure grounded against one another. Such interplay is such an intimate part of life itself.
The YIN/YANG symbol from ancient Taoist thought, also neatly captures the way that every moment of life involves some configuration of muscles that are contracting (Doing) against a backdrop of other muscles that are currently in the process of release and restoration (Non-doing),
The Battle between Grace and Muscleenni
For the neuro-muscular partnership to work harmoniously we want to encourage the Doing and the Non-doing to cooperate efficiently. They don’t always! Sometimes they battle against one another. I like to characterise this as the battle between Grace (Non-doing) and Muscleenni (Doing). It is simply impossible to make Grace happen – to do it. So if you want to bring more effortless grace into your running gait, the first thing and the top priority is to stop trying to do it -to make it all happen. No matter how much you drive, push and force: strive to try to make Muscleenni dominate Grace, Muscleenn can never win! The key message here is to stop forcing, striving, pushing and to engage your Non-doing efforts of attention to whatever is stopping Grace and litheness from entering into the action of your free-moving, walking, running, body. In that way we make a re-connection to our origins and potential as natural runners. Most of all however, it is where the joy and fun begins!!
Warming-up the Natural running way
As the invitation to regard yourself as a Force of Nature and some of its implications are presented you move and run on the spot. You are in a continuous gentle rhythmic movement. Your attention is drawn to the process of lifting one foot and then the other. You change support from one foot to the other. You are encouraged to immerse yourself in the sensations of this natural rhythmic action as you manage, support and balance your body while lifting and dropping your foot in a Walking/Running on-the-spot rhythm. Turbines turn in your brain of cosmic complexity and power. In many ways we tune-out the great complexities of the “Intel processor inside”. The conscious part of the human movement cortex selects only the end-product of muscle action. The cortex is a bit like a computer user interface. The conscious part primarily concerns itself with the arcs of movement you make through space and whether they take you effectively towards things that you are attracted to or away from the things that you do not like.
Top-down and Bottom-up processing and learning
While we are warming up in this way you are reminded about two different human learning modes. Ours has become a very top-down culture. We have become very proficient in taking in huge amounts of information in a top-down way. The Internet has facilitated this through an easy and instant access to information. Here we want to engage a quite different mode in which the learning comes from the bottom up and not from the top down. There is one very important implication: that if you already have within you all the tacit knowledge that comes from our early prehistory, then there is nothing that needs to come from the outside inwards in a top down way. If you wholeheartedly embrace that possibility then you could wise-up:let-go, free-up and relax and at least stop worrying that you never know enough!
One important part of this involves continually bringing your attention back to the sensations in your feet right now as you run on the spot. Your foot is a vital connecting link to the support of the floor. Later on we want to explore in some detail this link as it works through the foot and ankle to connect to the rest of the body above.
For the moment however, you are simply drawn back to the Efforts of Attention to restrain your mind from flipping back into a more familiar and abstract top-down mode. If this happens you will lose that present-centred emotion immersion into the sensations of lifting and dropping each foot. The demand to anchor your attention in this way is a Non-doing effort. What is being trained-up here is your capacity to maintain and sustain a focused attention to present moment sensations. As we said earlier an Effort of Attention does not burn muscle energy but neuro-energy. However your attention can be usefully likened to the way that a muscle strengthens or weakens according to how it is used. We live in an Age of Distraction that considerably weakens our ability to maintain a deep and focused attention. We need this focus, commitment and strength in order to reconnect with natural running and our evolutionary heritage. Often we use the familiar expression “to pay attention”. Any investment that you make to strengthen your attention in this way will pay rich dividends on your investment a little further down the line, and especially as we begin to delve more deeply into the economy and efficiency of your muscle action. It’s really about improving the neuro-muscle partnership by giving first priority and consideration to the neuro efforts! It’s not easy. It takes mentoring and discipline.
There is a second important practical implication to engaging your attention in this way. It underpins my second invitation for to you to resist the temptation to want to record – that is to write down, to make notes, sound or video recordings during the six hours of the course. This might seem an odd request to modern lifestyles. The main point is that when you do this it will slip you back into the more familiar top down mode. For the duration of the course try to resist the temptation. I simply think that in this way you will get more “bang for your buck”. It is also just possible that at some stage it might ”click” that we only began recording and writing things down 7000 years ago. 7000 years is an eye blink of evolutionary time. So for most of our species prehistory we have learnt from each other, communicated lived and thrived in a very different preliterate mindscape. Within that different mindscape we might well have thought, moved, walked and run very differently. Perhaps for most of our species history we stayed very closely connected to our origins and ancestry. Perhaps we have lost this ancestral connection to each other and to our surroundings? In Natural Running we want to rediscover this connection.
My part in this deal is to provide you with detailed feedback of the structure and content of the course after you have experienced it. So you don’t have to worry about taking it in, noting it down and recording. The hope is that in this way you can immerse yourself in a different Bottom-Up mode of learning in which you will reconnect to natural running and natural movement. To reaffirm once more the key natural running assumption is that you bring along with you all and everything that you require and need-to-know. We have forgotten and need to remember. All that is necessary is to re-connect to it!
Warming up for the challenges of the day
There is another literally more down-to-earth mission in this opening warm-up natural running session. We plan to round off the morning together with a spectacular wilderness journey in which we will cross the Duddon Estuary. There are very few trails or tracks. The under-foot terrain continuously changes. This will tax and challenge your ankle and foot. A special unexpected challenge comes from the innocuous looking sea-washed rippled wavy sand. It’s a real challenge for naked feet. In the past people have not heeded my warnings and have run hard on this terrain without warming up. It has surprised many Ironmen that they are injured the next day and cannot participate – broken by wiggly sand!
We are preparing in this session, trying to ensure that any unnecessary tight stiffness in the ankle and foot can become supple and responsive again. When we are engaged in the warm-up I am continuously invoking you to add variety so that the way that you change support is continuously and creatively changing. This is the way natural living people’s warm-up and to enjoy each other’s company. Chants, skipping rhyme, rock ’n’ roll all feature to free the diaphragm and in particular and to enjoy shared vibrations, stamping and voice. This is a very important natural running theme that can be summed up in the pithy phrase: “Variety is the spice of life”.
I suggest something strange – something that I’ve never considered before at this point: when later in the morning we run across the Duddon estuary I’m going to suggest that you try to imagine that you are running/stepping on the spot– very much as you doing now in the warm-up session. You can then imagine that the magnificent changing terrain underfoot is being pulled from beneath you like a giant treadmill. Every step will have to be different. Every step will have changing challenges and demands. Immerse yourself in these shifting and changing challenges and as well, allow yourself to merge with the outstanding beauty of the estuary and the surrounding Lakeland mountains. In this way it is possible that you might experience something of the alert, present-centred and responsive way our ancient prehistoric ancestors related to each other and their surroundings for many millions of years. Consider the span of time and the wild landscapes and surroundings that we moved through before we took to changing the world by creating uniform tarmac roads and footpaths. It has become an expression of a radical disconnection that we now need athletic tracks in order to: ”Run like a Machine”. This was trumpeted recently across the front of a ”Runners World” Magazine. As a natural runner I really cannot, not for the life me, understand the attraction of making and forcing myself to run like a machine! I am not a machine. I am a highly evolved human being. In my ancestry I survived because of an ability to run down game and a capacity to cooperate with other human beings in the planning and organizing of the process of hunting and gathering. What I am is so much more than a machine concerns Being and not Doing. A machine can certainly do but can never ever be a living presence in the world. After all that’s why we grace ourselves with the title human beings.
The key practical thing to notice in the warm-up is how your foot behaves when it lands under the centre of gravity of your body when running on the spot. We are simply playing with how the foot lifts off and drops it back to the floor. We explore lots of variety. You have no problem lifting your foot from the floor. We explore the subtle changes that happen to change from a step to a stamp. This forms the beginning of a whole sequence of explorations on the theme of heel and toe. Here we are literally working from the ground of support – Bottom up: from the floor or ground upwards. We key into the sensations coming from the actions of the feet. Attention is guided not to the fact that you can achieve lifting the foot from the floor but to the process or the way that this is happening.
This creates a complex shifting changing set of rhythms as we share a common sense of the vibrations from the support of the floor.
Poise and Integrity – The Natural Stride
The Natural Stride looks and is remarkably light easy and simple. Over 25 years it has been refined to become economical and energy-efficient because it is passed through a Non-doing prism. The “lens” separates the stride into a sequence of seven pre-active moments-of-not-quite-yet: that is the moment just before the next phase unfolds – just before the muscle action happens. Each of the seven phases generates a stand-alone Base-Move that forms the firm foundation upon which to build layer upon layer of progressive challenge. The unique process is based on poised integrity. The neuro-systems that create poise and integrity do so by the efficient management of weight that is organized by the ingenious use of opposing forces. This extraordinary level of complexity requires the whole brain and not just the cortex!
A summary of the Natural Stride demonstration:
The seven Phases:
1. Aligned support over the back-foot
2. Pre-action, transfer of weight forward and the preparation or lead up to change of support. (In this action the back foot rolls up lifting the heel up from the floor.)
3. Change of support. (This completes the action by raising the foot from off the floor as it moves from heel-to-rump.)
4. Forward lunge: in which the centre of gravity leads the hip joint and forward leg-swing
5. Leg swing
Each segment is processed through the Non-doing lens or prism in order to ensure that the freely available energy of gravity is fully used to achieve each phase of the action wherever possible.
The walking or running stance
The Natural Stride begins in the running or walking stance. One foot is set about a foot’s length ahead of the other. The feet are about hip-width apart and parallel to one another. Think of your head positioned at the start of the walking and running stance in such a way that it aligns directly over the support of your back foot. From the head to heel length of this starting point you can then move into Phase 2) – you ease off the “parking-brake”. This begins with a loosening around the head and neck as you start to move your weight forward. You release into this move because the body above the knee is arranged to be topple-heavy. Your topple-heavy head begins the process in a head-to-toe progression. It is like a toppling tower falling forward. This initiates Phase 2) of the seven segments of the natural stride.
Creating a key Base Move
Phases 1) and 2) create a Base Move which ends in a pose that most statues are posed in which:
•The weight is on the advancing leg.
•The rear leg is bent at the knee.
•The heel is raised and most of the foot has lifted from the floor.
I like to refer to this as the statue pose. In the statue pose the foot is poised on the ball of the foot preparatory to Phase 3) that will complete the action that lifts the foot off the floor. I reckon that a very high proportion of statues are created in his posture because it’s a position of poise and so it brings a sense of life to the stone or bronze statue.
The key importance of the foot knuckle or MTPJ in the foot is explored. This easy, poised and simple non-doing Base Move achieves the following:
•It allows the hip joint to remain centred as it swivels forward.
•It allows the knee to freely swing to catch up with the advancing knee without a push.
•It articulates the hinge of the ankle joint freely (dorsi-flexion).
•It engages the toes so that the forefoot becomes the broadest possible surface area as it spreads and lengthens out into a supportive rocker-like surface.
And all for virtually zero energy. And all completely dependent on the free articulation of the foot-knuckle!
What’s a-foot? Explorations in foot structure and function
We have now prepared your feet. They are limbered and softened up for the rest of the challenges of the morning’s activities.
At this point we take a look at some of the key features on the foot skeleton. We wonder in awe at how these slim and delicate bones can repeatedly carry the entire weight of the body!
The human foot as a peripatetic tripod
A tripod is a very stable structure. The human foot is very much a peripatetic tripod. It helps to understand exactly how this tripod is formed. In the simplest way of looking at it: you have the heel as the back “prong” of the tripod and the Little toe and Big toe form the front two “prongs”. The understanding of this tripod formation is much deepened when we appreciate that the exact location of the front part of the foot tripod is not exactly in the toes but in the joint just before the toes. To emphasise the similarity to a more familiar joint in your hand I like to refer to this as the Foot Knuckle joint. It is more technically the Meta-tarsal-phallangeal joint or MTPJ for short. For the foot tripod to work effectively the MTPJ has to lift the toes into extension in order to present the front two parts of the foot tripod. It is quite possible that your foot has never had a chance to develop this natural function at all – ever. Your clever brain has learnt adaptations and compensations for this loss. It is as well to bear in mind that your brain learns everything – even disastrous compensations perfectly!
We have already created a Base Move from Phases 1 and 2 of the Natural Stride. From this we can create a simple “Free the rusty hinge” Procedure. Invariably when I introduce this to someone for the first time the foot only does an habitual and very limited version of this action. In its compensated habitual form it doesn’t articulate very much. In this procedure you simply encourage it to free-up so that it can comfortably complete a full articulation and finish up comfortably on the ball of your foot.
It is very important to seriously examine any restrictions to this MTPJ articulation. Simply anything placed on the sole of the foot will restrict it, as will also any restriction that clamps the toes together – to say nothing of the lacing and bracing necessary to keep the shoes on the foot! Even I was surprised to learn that even the best minimalist shoes still take away 80% of the contact of a naked sole to the ground!
It is crucial to Natural running that we fully restore function to this joint. The MTPJ not only articulates passively, there is also an active function in which the toes lift into extension. This is what forms the front part of the foot tripod. Simply anything that restricts this function is your arch-enemy – literally! This lifting of the toes into extension is a natural function that your feet may never have been able to develop. The next procedure is the fast track way to restore this function. It is probably the most important “Takeaway” procedure from today’s workshop.
Before we explore this though, we look more closely at the foot skeleton and the remarkable tiny pea-shaped bones underneath the first metatarsal that leads up to the Big toe. Looked at in a certain way they look like Mickey Mouse’s ears. To an ancient Greek anatomist they looked like sesame seeds and perhaps that’s why they’re called the sesamoid bones. These important little bones are not attached to the metatarsal bone but to the tendon. This means they can move back and forth to create more mechanical advantage and enable a complex twisting pitch and roll gliding action at the propulsive toe-off part of the stride.
Foot Competence 1: Breaking up the adhesions
This next procedure is really ‘layered-up’ on top of the Base Move dropping-heel procedure, in which we experienced an eccentric contraction through the calf and leg. There is an important difference here however in that this procedure involves actively lifting the toes and maintaining a powerful toe lift, while pushing or driving the heel downwards. In the earlier procedure the heel was simply dropping, now it is been pushed downwards. This procedure works against the action that is lifting the toes. It is the toe-lift that ultimately fully forms the rocker like surface of the toes and springs the foot arches. The toes at this stage are held stiff and quite rigid. It is this kind of strength and support from the fully supinated foot that enables the MTPJ to repeatedly carry the weight of the body over its rocker-like surface with such ease.
Foot Competence 2:
Powerfully driving the heel down while maintaining a toe-lift, will actually pull both through the shin in front and through the calf muscles and tendons at the back of the lower leg. This may well create a “burn” effect as various adhesions are broken up through this procedure.
This procedure will be further explored in the afternoon.
Understanding aspects of Foot Incompetence
In the final indoor session of morning I demonstrated two of the main adaptations that the clever brain makes to restrictions on the MTPJ or knuckle joint. Taking these adaptations into account gives a very clear and coherent account of how modern feet become dysfunctional and tend to over-pronate or over-supinate. Even though the resulting adaptations leave us out of alignment, hobbled or not the brain still learns them perfectly! There are some very ancient survival mechanisms at work here. Whatever the compromised circumstances: in our evolutionary past you had to keep up with the pack. Your survival depended on such adaptations. In this section we look at some biomechanical consequences of the adaptations we have to make in order to keep going in spite of restricted protective footwear. It becomes clear how it is that leg and foot become so misaligned and track so inefficiently.
Great emphasis is put upon the restricted action of the Big toe. There are two main foot aberrations common among modern runners. In the over-pronating type the Big toe never gets to lift into extension on toe-off. In the over-supinating type sometimes referred to as Cavus Foot, the feet are jammed in a permanently stuck and rigid toe-raised position. Attempts to make a shoe more complicated to compensate only make the poor hapless foot less self-reliant, weaker and needier.
This session demonstrated the crucial link between the Big toe action and ankle dorsi-flexion. Re-establishing the synergy or cooperation between the Big toe and the ankle will eventually enable most of the compensatory adaptations in the upper body to reorganize themselves in a much more aligned and energy efficient way. In the final indoor session we explored some other ways to re-engage an active toe-lift into extension. This can be achieved by deliberately positioning the ankle in a dorsi-flexed position. This will put the toe-lift action at a considerable mechanical disadvantage. Placing the ball of the foot on a rolled up towel dorsiflexes the ankle and makes it difficult if not impossible to raise and lift the toes. The efforts to do so however will massively help to break up the adhesions that that build up due to disuse, especially in the shin area.
There are crucial alignment issues: when the shin and calf muscles are out of balance and tight it becomes impossible for the heels to stack vertically below the hip joint. Even a very small improvement in alignment makes a huge and significant difference to the feeling of support. You can feel significant difference when after this procedure you position yourself in the running stance. An improvement in alignment brings energy efficiency as you use gravity rather than your energy to support your structure.
This session finishes with a demonstration of how: only with the full cooperation or synergy of Big toe and ankle does it become possible for the shinbones to pass vertically upright over the ankle as the weight of the body passes over the support of the foot.
The strongest and best-built wall in the world is not going to stand up for long if its foundations are weak. Working to strengthen, coordinate links between the foot and leg are foundational in developing the Natural Stride!
A shake down run over the Duddon Estuary
Variety is the main theme of the run that ends in the morning. We encourage the running and walking steps to match to changing under foot terrain. We explored the smoothness of transitions from a walk to a run in the magnificent wilderness setting of the spectacular Duddon Estuary. We emphasise how listening to your feet is a great way of making a head to toe connection. We also explored the subtleties of moving at a pace at which we could maintain an expansive and spacious awareness of all that was around in the Estuary. When we drive the heart to work at a fight or flight pace there is a closing down of sensory awareness and an end-focused tunnel vision takes over. We aim to notice such important changes.
Trapped in the “10%” zoo-cage?
Recently I discovered a research project that compared the bodies and the lifestyles of natural living peoples to modern-living humans. The main conclusion of the research suggests that modern humans have settled into a limitation that engages only 10% of our natural living heritage. It makes me wonder if perhaps we have become like hand-reared zoo animals. We are fed, watered and safe and we are well looked after but we have lost 90% that alert wily-sinewed litheness and agility of our wild ancestors. This research suggests that compared to our natural living counterparts we now have on average, a limited 10% of the range of movement of key joints throughout the modern body. Many times I have suggested from my own area of expertise: that modern feet use under 10 percent of the full 100% capacity of a natural foot. Up until reading about this project I had not contemplated that this 10% figure went through the entire modern body like a stick of Blackpool Rock!
During the afternoon we explore the intriguing possibility of what we might need to let go of in order to enter into the relatively unexplored wilderness of the 90% of latent natural moving potential.
It makes total sense to begin with the foundation of the feet which forms the base for all of our standing walking activities. The base move that was introduced in morning is now used to go into some very great detail in order to discover how to engage the whole foot and spring it out of its 10% prison!
Using a golf ball and a step to free the full knuckle
A handy step and or a golf-ball can be used to bring ‘the string of pearls’ that
forms the MTPJ into the light of day.
Toe-push-ups on the Step
Placing the sharp edge of a step underneath this key MTPJ joint while giving a clear instruction to lift and then lower the toes while straight is quite revealing. You can relay a direction but your toes may have no idea how to achieve this! One
reason for this is that they are probably caught up in habitual flexion. Only when they break out of this habitual and limiting compensation can they begin to deliver an experience of the key articulation necessary for a natural stride.
The golf ball
The gold golf ball is particularly helpful in continuing to help to free each individual “Pearl” of the foot knuckle. At this stage we simply want to win back a freedom in a key joint that has become like a rusty hinge. There is much more to come as we build endurance, strength and agility on top of this freedom. We emphasized how the action that lifts the toes straight into extension is so important because it is the action that presents the front two prongs of the foot tripod.
The heel is of course the rear prong of the tripod. The conventional two-dimensions usually referred to as pronation and supination are really a part of a third spiral dimension. This magnificent double helically opposed spiral works to wind and
unwind the natural foot giving it an astonishing flexibility and the rigidity necessary to support the Big Toe (first metatarsal) as it carries our entire bodyweight.
The foot ABCD
This procedure begins at the point in the previous procedure where the toes have lifted and the heel has been driven down. When the heel contacts the floor you then experience the full engagement of the three “prongs” that constitute the. Foot Tripod. The raised toes will push the fifth and particularly the first metatarsal into the ground. Joints 2, 3 and 4 in “the string of pearls” that constitute the metatarsal joint are drawn up from the floor to form the Transverse arch. The foot maintains a flexible stiffness in this position. You then take a back step so that the foot with the toes raised is in front and you are ready to begin:
A) You lift the toes long and straight-up until the point that you feel the fifth metatarsal – the big toe joint, press into the ground.
B) In this phase you will raise the whole length of the foot while maintaining raised and straight toes. The foot pivots back on the heel.
C) Here you lower the raised toes slowly back down to the same point that they were at the end of A) with the first metatarsal/big toe joint pushing into the ground.
D) In this phase there is a slow, long lowering and straightening of your toes while maintaining a focused attention to maintaining the height and full integrity of the medial arch. This phase develops the important capacity to lower the toes without collapsing that medial arch.
Elastic Drill 1
Phase 4) of the Natural Stride Sequence
In this drill we awaken a sense of the centre of gravity by positioning a belt so that it catches the top of the hipbones. Then the belt-buckle will be approximately where the centre of gravity of your body lies that is 5 to 6 cm below the belly button. The great advantage of this configuration of elastic pull is that it will enable you to really slow down the Phase 4) of the natural stride in which the centre of gravity fractionally leads and goes ahead of the action of the legs and hip. The elastic is really helpful in the process of easing out of an ingrained patterns associated with a shod gait: that is the tendency to stick the leg out in front order to present the heel as the first point of contact. The elastic enables you to do it slowly enough for the brain to “nail” a new pattern.
If you repeat the procedure a few times then, after the elastic is removed there will be that brief re-adaptation phase. What an extraordinary turnaround of the way in which your energies are being used! Instead of your own energies being used in putting the leg out in front, the re-patterned version of this forward movement uses gravity. The centre of gravity now initiates the movement of the legs as it eases forward! In this way you begin to experience a movement towards the freedom of a natural stride.
Elastic Drill 2
In this procedure we used an ankle strap with the elastic attached to the front of the ankle. Now you go through the sequence of the natural stride and include the Phase 4: you actually lift your foot from off the floor. But now when you raise the foot the clever and adaptable proprioceptive sense has to work out how to achieve this, and at the same time counter the pull of the elastic. This will help to bring into your awareness the key muscles that pick the heel on its efficient continued arc up towards the rump. The hamstring muscles that attach to the seat bones are the key players in this action. Once you’re unhooked from the elastic and enter into the readjustment phase, you will appreciate how efficiently these muscles can work to organize the change of support phase in a really efficient natural stride.
The effect of the elastic drills is to make the running stride feel much more compact. A key change is the way it seems to work to tidy-up the running action. What is happening is now much more directly underneath you.
The final run of the day
We have been employing the exercise elastic as a highly effective form of kinaesthetic re-training. Once this retraining is complete we then progress to more effectively using the elastic as a way in order to progressively challenge and strengthen the body’s integrity and coordination in the walking and running movement.
In the final run of the day we “shook down” some of the focused elastic retraining by adding even more playful variety. In particular we explored lifting one leg slightly higher than the other. This creates somewhat uneven beat action and a “skippy” feel that is surprisingly exhilarating.
It helps just to focus attention on one leg. The sense of “nailing” a way to move the legs in such a way that the central gravity goes fractionally before the leg-swing brings about a much more erect, open and upright upper body.
Yet another natural movement transition: the run to crawl transition was briefly introduced.
Meditative Reflection on the Day
Where have we come from? Where are we going? Where are we now? Past, future, present are human mysteries that only deepen as they are probed and penetrated. They go along with another such a question: Who are we? As a natural runner and Teacher I stay open and curious about other cultures that may well occupy very different mindscapes than my own. Possibly they might ask these same questions but in a very different way. Recently I discovered an Australian aboriginal culture: the Kuuk Thaayore who live around the Western edge of Cape York. They have a very different framework of understanding of how they move through space. In their language they have no words to convey right and left.
Ours is a very ego-eccentric culture and language. This aboriginal culture and language is very different. This ancient aboriginal culture has an astonishing capacity to navigate as accurately as we do with the external aid of GPS. They seem to do his in the same way as other migratory creatures and just as well! At any moment, in terms of points-of-the-compass, they always know where they have come from and where they are going and exactly where they are in relation to the landscape. To ask someone from this culture to lift their left arm, you would have to ask them to lift their “North Northwest arm”, or “pass me the cup to the South-South West. If they swung around a half-turn you would then have to know how to ask an individual to now: “lift their South Southeast arm.” To say hello in their culture you ask “What is your heading”. Even if you were to ask: “How are you today”, you would get probably the answer: “West Southwest”. It would seem extremely strange if we were to drop into their mindscape, as indeed it would be if they were to drop into ours!
We are losing cultural and linguistic diversity as rapidly as we are losing plant and animal diversity. We currently lose one language each week. It is important that we locate ourselves on the points of the evolutionary compass: where we have come from, where we are and where we are heading. This requires a multiplicity of perspective, a tolerance and openness to radically different mindscapes. The Australian aboriginal culture is one of the oldest surviving subsistence human cultures. It has lasted for at least 30,000 years. Perhaps their survival success encompasses the way that they know – in a different way to us, the evolutionary points of the compass. In comparison to this ancient culture we live in a very egocentric universe in which we insistently place ourselves at the centre of the world. It may have the advantage that right remains right and left remains left as I spin around the points of the compass, but another very different culture may well move through space with a more definite sense of direction – but most of all: with a strong sense of connection and belonging to landscape. Perhaps we may have lost this connection. It requires a multiplicity of perspectives for us to be able to learn how to reconnect from the remaining rapidly dwindling natural living peoples left on the globe.
It does seem reasonable and highly likely that a key aspect of our early survival came from our unique ability to be able to walk and run for long distances: in fact beyond the point of exhaustion of other creatures who were our prey. That is perhaps one clue to the mystery of who we are. It’s not so much that our ancestors might have moved and run so very differently, it’s maybe more that they might have moved through space and landscapes with a radically different mindscape. Perhaps like the Australian aborigines our evolutionary ancestors might have been more connected, and more alert, more present to what’s around them than we are in our egocentric World.
What we can be sure about is that we survived – because we are present – here now. How it was that we achieved this success will be forever be somewhat speculative and cloaked in mystery.
I am about to suggest that there is another important legacy from our early survival and that is simply: kindness. After running these natural running courses for close to 30 years I cannot help but notice how quickly a small group of people running together form sense of kindred connection. I do not know whether this may happen because these courses support a more ancient evolutionary perspective on natural movement and running. It’s something of an intriguing mystery. Perhaps the rapid and enduring kindred bond that grows when people run and move together over a beautiful landscape is related to the mystery of how effortlessly we learn and function so well – when we simply love what we do!
These two inspiring elements: the ability to run and to be kind to others in the group are rather beautifully woven together in the true account of the New York marathon in 2009. An Ethiopian w oman athlete Derartu Tulu entered for the event after having nearly died three months earlier in childbirth. She was a world ranking athlete but had not won a marathon event for eight years. Derartu Tulu was the underdog’s underdog. The lineup of other elite women athletes was awesome and included the world record holder for the marathon distance Paula Radcliffe. Radcliffe’s time of two hours 10 minutes would’ve made her the fastest human being on the planet: a world champion of either sex when she was born. After some 20 miles of the race Derartu Tulu remained within striking distance of the leading pack of elite women runners when one of the runners up ahead stumbled and fell down. It happened to be Paula Radcliffe. Derartu Tulu stopped to help Paula. She got her up and on her feet. For a while they ran together. For the second time Paula went down, once again Derartu Tulu stopped to encourage her and to help. This time Paula Radcliffe said emphatically that she was done- her race was over. In a world of “Big Bucks” Marathon racing many athletes driven to win would happily have stepped over the leading contender to win the race. It is almost a storybook fictional ending that Derartu Tulu having helped her fellow athlete, stood herself up and then one by one picked off each of the elite women athletes ahead of her to win the race. There are two outstanding characteristics of the human heart: courage and loving kindness. Both are present in this heartening tale. There is yet another higher human capacity that is present in the story: the capacity to stop and to pull back from a high-level goal in this instance of winning a highly prestigious race. I wonder how Derartu Tulu would most like to be remembered: for her extraordinary athletic prowess and endurance or for her kindness. Either way it would be great to think that these qualities represent where we have come from as a species and where we might evolve toward in a more humane version of our human future.