Cami and me exploring sensation through our feet!
We all do no end of feeling, and we mistake it for thinking. –Mark Twain
It is a rare day, indeed, that I disagree with my idol Mark Twain. And while I know he is referring to feeling in a different context than what we perceive and sense in the world around us, I’m not sure we stop and feel enough. And it may just be our ability to feel that keeps us thinking.
It may surprise you to learn that one of my favorite birthday presents this year was a box of rocks. My partner-in-movement, Cate Vallone, from Evolution Pilates and her daughter painted a bunch of small rocks for me. They painted bees, strawberries, little hearts, random colors It was utterly unexpected which made it grand.
The goal is to stand, walk across and just exist in different positions on the rocks to enhance proprioception—the art of feeling. Cate knows I’m not a great feeler. It’s been a running joke between us. I’ll happily foam roll or run half marathons. She thinks those activities are painful and perhaps pointless for functional movement and a happy body. I have gotten her to run with me though. And it’s only fair because Cate gets all the credit for getting me to feel. I couldn’t tell you what I felt in my body when I did an exercise before I met Cate. My hamstrings? Forget about it. I knew where they were, but I’d never felt them work before. It took years of paying attention. Becoming aware hasn’t always been pleasant. I think when I first felt my hamstrings it was more like a cramp than rushing feeling of joy, but it has been getting my hamstrings to fire properly that reduced pain in my knees from all my running. Ultimately, Cate’s feeling keeps me running.
She gave me a box of rocks to keep feeling, keep adjusting, keep sensing what is happening in and to my body. And I love it. Feeling feels great, even when it doesn’t. Matt, my beau, thinks the rocks are agonizing, but that doesn’t mean it wouldn’t benefit for him to continue experimenting with less pressure or less rocks.
When my mom was diagnosed with vertigo about a year ago, the doctor told her to rebuild her balance she needed to walk on different surfaces. Against certain obstacles, we can retrain ourselves and find new nerves to fire where old nerves are lacking. A box of rocks would be a perfect gift for her. (Guess what she’s getting for Mother’s Day?) Because, you see, all day long there are so many movements and senses that our body picks up on that we dismiss or at least ignore. The body is constantly getting signals, and often falling into patterns. To alter patterns for better performance, reduced pain or superior health sometimes we need to hone in on the signals and make tiny tweaks.
That’s what a box of rocks can do. That’s what paying attention can do. That’s what walking barefoot on different surfaces—grass, tile, carpet, or wood—can do. Providing the body different sensations to feel is what triggers it to respond, react and move. The body will respond without you knowing it. But if you notice, you unleash potential in movement and healing that I think we are just beginning to understand. You can steer the car instead of running on automatic. Learning to feel, with practice and patience, can provide a sense of control.
I say it about Pilates (originally named Contrology, by the way) all the time. If you come to class and you want to zone out, you will get a good workout. The movements Joe Pilates created are sound and beneficial for a strong core and healthy body. But, if you come and focus on the moves and what you are engaging, you get so much more from the class. You learn about your body; you learn what feels good and what doesn’t; you learn where your deep strength is; you learn where you have weakness. You have to notice all that before you can make a change. You have to notice.
I was watching Joe Versus the Volcano recently. It’s one of Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan’s greatest movies. In it one of Meg Ryan’s many characters, in a rambling speech about her frustrations, says: “My father says that almost the whole world is asleep. Everybody you know. Everybody you see. Everybody you talk to. He says that only a few people are awake and they live in a state of constant total amazement.”
Cate taught me how to observe my body. And that’s why a box of rocks—a seemingly simple gift—is one of my favorites. It makes me feel so much, and that makes me lucky. I’m still learning to feel. Today, can you stop and notice one simple thing you take for granted each day? Maybe it’s the sunrise. Or maybe it’s your ability to pour yourself a cup of coffee without thinking about it. Today take stock in what you feel while pouring that cup or watching that sun rise. How much do you feel all day that your body takes in and processes, as memories, as passing moments, as opinions? Have you ever seen a baby amazed by her own hand? It is amazing. We’ve just gotten so accustomed to opposable thumbs we don’t wake up in awe anymore. Be amazed. Because, truly, your ability to feel is awe-inspiring. And someday, it might just be the very thing that saves your life. Chances are it already has.