Stretching and – For a Change – Getting Sore
I’ve always been very movement-oriented and since I started studying with Anat Baniel my previously conceived notions about movement have changed dramatically. They continue to change all the time.
I recently spoke to a community of runners in San Francisco about the brain and mobility. I combined a mini-lecture on the pedagogy of motor learning with a short demonstration of a different way to gain mobility. In 5 minutes the participants gained significant flexibility in a simple “bend down, touch your toes” exercise. Over the hour that followed a lot of runners came to me and asked about the “magic trick” or about how they had changed so rapidly! It was great fun!
I was taught by my running coaches in high school to stretch before and after exercise. My coaches, well intentioned and compassionate as they were, taught us a lot of what they themselves had been taught over the course of their running careers. I took those lessons to heart and always warmed up and cooled down with stretching. When my physical career took a turn toward circus and dance I learned even more the importance of stretching to increase mobility and protect against injury.
Over the last few years my physical training has been somewhat spontaneous and very eclectic. I don’t regularly go for 6-10 mile runs anymore; I don’t follow any discipline in a regimented way. I also haven’t been sore in years. There is a deep, bone wear and contented sore that I used to experience after a good race in high school and after a circus performance in college. I associated it with “working good.” Over the last few years I’ve condemned that feeling of sore to “damage.” It is a fact that soreness in muscles is caused by damage. (There is a wide range of research that shows that DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness equals damage to musculature.) There is contention among the scientific communities that study such issues whether that damage is also beneficial. (The argument goes that through the course of building the muscles back up they become stronger, bigger, more mobile, more integrated, etc.)
After my talk at Sports Basement I went for 7.5 mile run. This in itself isn’t entirely unusual for me in recent years. However, when I run solo I stop and walk, I chat with passers by, I admire the view, and I always stop, even just briefly, when I feel my body aching. On the Sports Basement FunRun I pushed myself harder than I usually do, in part because I was enjoying the community and conversation of the other runners. (The other part, of course, was my own competitive streak!) As a result, I was sore at the end of the run. Very sore! For two days after I felt a lot of tension in my calves everywhere I went – running and walking. What surprised me in this was how much I enjoyed being sore. The endorphin release the day of and the day after the run were really really pleasant, but I already know how much I like my endorphins! What I didn’t expect was that same feeling of ease and quiet and comfort through the course of my own soreness. Wherever I walked – for days after the FunRun – I ached and I enjoyed it! How could it be that I’ve damaged my muscles, they are day-after-a-race kind of sore, and I loved it?
I don’t have a satisfactory explanation to this question. I enjoy not aching more than I enjoy being sore. I don’t believe that an aching muscle is well organized and I am dedicated to increasing efficient organization (my own and others). And I enjoyed the ache! I’ve entering a new layer of the conversation and really quite excited to see where it leads!