Four-legged walking and defaulting to a new “centre”

As soon as I watched the short video on the Nordic walking technique, I knew I’d found something important for me. (Perhaps because doing so is part of my skillset as a mirror synesthete) I didn’t just watch the guy making the movements, I internalised them and, in that moment, felt them as me. It was a revelation that rocked me to the core…feeling, as it did, deeply familiar, like I was a long-legged yet uber lithe creature on four legs, striding along in a way that twisted the body beautifully, rhythmically, on a centre point I’d forgotten I had. I was more animal than human and the feeling was like coming home, a sigh of relief that rocked my system and jumped me into decisive actions that aren’t typical for me.

By the end, I’d already made my mind up this had legs for me; had contacted two instructors in my local area, one of whom was familiar to me as I’d been passing her in my local area, where I walk my dog, for years. Always a bright and smiley face, her character matched the packaging when she phoned me back for what turned out to be a full hour’s chat. I was braced for the usual awkwardness around admitting my particular health foibles…the usual non-compute or air of “its in your head” or “you’re clearly a hypochondriac with a weird obsessive hobby” but no, she was more than familiar with fibromyalgia from years of teaching students and could think of at least 4 people with EDS off the top of her head. Within moments, she was brainstorming ideas at me…people she could put me in contact with and things I might want to look up or try.

We left it that I would meet her for a half hour intro session and then consider joining her outdoor Norwegian circuits session once a week (very early in the morning for me…) where I could build up my stamina and she could assess my capabilities as her walks are at least an hour and a half long and, thus, more demanding than my daily 45 minute “amble” with my dog. Unless there is someone who could pick me up half way round the circuit if I needed, I had to be ready, even for this gentle level session (which has people of all ages doing it). Its a good idea. This time around, I intend to be realistic about my capabilities…not like when I suddenly took up cycling last summer before a 3-month health collapse, or signed up for an entire yin yoga workshop I couldn’t finish before that, the qi gong that had me crawling on the floor and where my main problem was that I always forced myself to keep up with the entire hour-long class when I should have sat some of it out or left early, or the time I threw myself into the vigorous dance routines of Nia only to have to give up feeling so much worse 6 weeks later (you get the picture). The difference is, this time I know about the unpredictably weak ligaments, tendons, fascias and other connective tissues in EDS whereas, back then, I thought I was “just” in recovery from fibromyalgia.

Which is why I’m seeking some kind of new exercise…something I could stick to, enjoy and, hopefully, meet some people through and which could see me through the next few years of my life. When you look for exercises suitable for EDS, there really aren’t many suggestions and swimming (the obvious one) doesn’t suit me due to my reactions to chlorine. Something instinctively drew me to Norwegian walking, not least because I already walk every day and like being out in nature, only this would walk me harder than my elderly dog currently does and allow me to get some blood flowing again. I miss the days of striding out with a younger dog, which saw me though some of my worst physical years, and I sense the need to regain, or replace, that level of activity is quite pressing now. Though I’m not generally overweight due to my healthy vegan diet, my waistline has thickened up horribly in just the last year (I feel like a square on slim legs) and I know I need to waylay that as much as possible for good health and to keep mobile if the next decades aren’t going to become harder still.

Anyway, back to my main point here…as its very early days so I don’t have too much to impart about the progress this new activity could afford me (though, as you can tell, I’m thoroughly optimistic). One thing I didn’t confess to this potential new coach (as I was embarrassed to…) is that I had, rather over-zealously, bought a pair of Norwegian walking poles (rather like ski poles) the moment I stopped watching that YouTube video…I just had to, to make it real! They had already arrived and I was planning to take them out for their first walk that day …which I did, just after the call. And oh…the feeling of it…this is what I want to write about, this is where my excitement comes from. As someone who doesn’t get into my body all that often, I can tell you, this really got my attention!

It was just like I sensed from the video. I loved the motion of using those sticks from the very first walk…as though it clicked into place in some deep part of me that had been waiting for it…and then it unpacked in my subconscious, for all the hours afterwards and in my dreams. When I woke up in the morning, it was still there so that I still feel like I am doing the movement right now, as I sit here in an arm chair writing (as I normally do); this head stuck to a body…only, all the time, my body is in this beautifully rhythmic motion between four quadrants of my body, almost like swimming without water. You know how the motion of being on a boat can stay with you for many hours afterwards? Well, this body’s memory is holding onto this  four-legged walking feeling in exactly the same way, making me long to get back to it (which I will, once I’ve finished writing this); like when you’re a kid and can’t wait to get back to some new activity from the day before…riding your new bike or picking up your skipping rope again; its not head driven, its the body shouting out “more, more, more”…well, its just like that.

That thing that I just said is it; that’s the very thing. It’s is about the four quadrants of the body all being engaged at once…and it’s about the sense of being carried, like on water, as is the case when you share the body’s load across your whole physique in equal proportions. And, of course, the clue is in the word; it’s about feeling whole again. I haven’t cerebralised what I’m about to say; this isn’t a “nice Idea” I just had….I just know this is how we (humans) started out, as sea creatures, balanced in all four quadrants of the body, moving as though weightless and then we got curious and so we belly flopped out onto the shore and started to use those four quadrants to crawl and then to prop ourselves up and then to move again, now on dry land…and, oh, we so elegantly moved when we did that, as we have all seen jaguars and leopards cover ground in no time, and angle into corners, effortlessly, leaping, adapting, slinking through the terrain of a variable planet. Imagine, countless eons of being like that, then taking to trees and varying our motion from side to side to up and down…..but then what?

We found our heads. So we got into our heads and they told us to stand on our back legs, which was great, we could innovate….but at some desperate point we moved it all to our heads and we started from there, with everything, right from the beginning of our lives from now on (or, as soon as we left the water tanks in our mother’s bellies). Instead of mimicking the journey from sea to shore and re-discovering the sensations in all our limbs from scratch, we are wedged into trendy micro-sized trainers and outfits, handed our first smart phone and forced to cerebralise everything as modern humans….but this is no more than has been happening for eons now. All of our tasks, from that point, were to be orchestrated from the single operating centre in the head. When I even think about how all that feels true for me, I realise how out-of-place and top-heavy I have felt for years; how, since I was a teenager, I have felt clumsy in my body as though the part of me below the neck is some unfathomable attachment, my limbs such a long way away from “me” and this isn’t because I’m tall (I’m not); it iss because a certain set of priorities got coached into me, by life, and I believed I had to specialise in them to survive in this world…by being good at what is most prized my society.

So, we all got to the point where all our furniture and most treasured belongings, literally everything were were about, was stored up inside that tree house above the shoulders and we never came down again, as a species. Some people live much more fully in their bodies than I’m describing, I can see that; athletes, dancers, skaters…Ive always been awed and a little bit envious of them yet never felt I could be one of them (I tried to skate, to ride, as a teenager and adult…those activities scared me rigid in the end); because I always had to think too hard about every movement, which made me slow, clumsy and borderland dangerous to be let out. Instead, I’ve spent most of my life trying desperately to be like the vast majority of people, who live almost entirely in their heads (and the advent of technology isn’t helping that). As a species, a separation has taken place from our bodies and that has, simultaneously, disconnected us from Nature and the Earth.

I can tell you almost the exact point when it happened for me; that moment of separation since, looking back through the new eyes of recent realisations regarding my life patterns (see my last post), I don’t think I was born so very cut off…but I cut myself off the more I assimilated to “norms” all around me (and, being me, I took the task of separation to heart and did it very thoroughly). It was around the mid 1970s, prior to which I can still recall the feeling of enjoying my body as an escape from circumstances where I didn’t fit in so easily around others…so I spent my happy time free wheeling out on my scooter and bike, or running around, pirouetting, skipping, being outside in all weathers exploring things, playing in soil and with leaves and trees, moving all the time, which was my freedom. It was an intuitive things…I just “was” when I used my body for my play thing…but I was not a typical child and I preferred to spend time alone, doing things my own way and listening to the subtle cues of Nature. But at that point in the mid ’70s, which turned out to be a transitional time for me, coinciding with some shocks to my system relating to family and school circumstances (which also happened to coincide with the solar minimum of sun Cycle 20…and to get the importance of that reference, you will again need to read my last post) I realised that to survive these existential shocks in a world that now looked much more threatening and uncertain to me than it did before (I was about 8 years old), I needed to be much more like other people, thus prepared to work really hard to fit in and to “make” my reality the way it would have to be, from now on, to protect me. I could no longer trust to my welfare being organically taken care of, it seems, so I would have to take a hand in it…like everyone else seemed to do.

Before that age, life at home was a respite from the troubling environment of school but now it all seemed to be equally uncertain (my dad had had a serious heart attack and I think I overheard talk of him almost dying and things becoming very different for us all if he did; there was a lot of fear at large in my household relating to finances and so on). Combined with an intense phase of being bullied at school, it seemed the world was closing in on me and I had to adapt to survive. So I examined my strengths and realised that mimicking neurotypical behaviours and using my intellect were my only tickets to that survival, thus I applied myself to learning the “popularity and assimilation” game (I began bartering my way into friendships using my art skills) and trying really hard to do well at school (I became a teacher’s favourite and turned into a geek). It paid off…gradually…to the point where I began to merge in, at last, as the girl who had at east a handful of friends who accepted her and who did well in her exams a few years later but, somewhere along the way, I surrendered my feel for the body. Perhaps it was part of my Asperger’s profile that I couldn’t keep both things going at once, having to focus fully on one task at a time; so I made the trade-off and my body lost the draw. By the time I got to secondary school, I was clumsy and chaotic in sports lessons and everything started to hurt when I tried to run or do anything at all athletic. My central point moved to the middle of my head and my body began to feel superfluous or, at best, like a sort of clothes horse I enjoyed dressing up for a few years.

That could be about to change. This morning, from that one walk with Norwegian poles which work your arms and shoulders, your chest, your breathing as much as your legs, I feel as though I can pinpoint my body’s centre; can literally place my digit to the spot where those four quadrants of my body meet, like the centre of a cross; “X’ marks the spot. It’s not all that far below my heart and it surprises me how close the centre of the human body is to the heart given we all make such a thing about the brain. You would think our control centre was naturally “up there”, above the clouds, somewhere between our ears, but when we are fully in our physical vehicles, that is very far from the case.

I also can’t quite take in how worked-out I feel today; just adding those two lightweight sticks into my normal route has given me a very different workout to standard walking! It feels really lovely, like back in the days when I could still do a gym circuit, not because I liked going to a gym (yurgh!) but because I loved the feeling afterwards. I feel taller, much more lithe and yes, more energised and fluid, already.

The thing is, when you have had chronic illness for years and years, it’s because you have lost touch with your body…so you forget there is even any enjoyment to be had! Somewhere down the line, you became disconnected or you surrendered it for some other reason, as I have described. You let yourself forget its exquisite pleasures and swopped them for intellectual (or at least ruminatory) ones, which I have most certainly done. Yet, in recent months (the source of my recent frustration and a relentless itch to change things all over again…classic new solar cycle feelings!) I have started to feel like a piece of dead meat with a brain attached. I move said meat from one chair to the next and I set up a computer ready to do my stuff, then I drag its heavy load around on walks that hardly get the blood flowing any faster because my dog is now a totterer due to bad hips. I engage with Nature on those walks and I meditate and I feel all sorts of sensory peculiarities but, mostly, those sensations feel like that are a cry for attention to something else..but what? I barely remember but I suspect its far bigger than I “think”!

Now I realise how I’ve longed for that four legged feeling, for the grace and elegance that comes with a whole package that communicates with all four corners of itself, linking up at the very centre, and for coordination and self-confidence as a human, not just an abstract deluge of thoughts I throw out into blogs as though, if I write enough words, I could build a persona made up out of readership stats. I NEED desperately to get back into the physical form that I lost along the way (a loss that only deepened during the two years I was sat at a corporate desk in a hermetically sealed office beneath rows of fluorescent lights…) in order to commit to staying here for the second half of my life. This is why I took the radical step with the Nordic coaching (which is way out of my comfort zone, being amongst groups of people who chat the whole time they are walking) and its why I feel the unmistakable excitement of a universal affirmative which says “don’t think it, just do it”.

So tomorrow I go to an Introduction to Nordic Walking session with the second coach I contacted and, between the two people, offering different locations and styles I can try out, I plan to give this a go as well as using the sticks on my dog walks, if not all the time (they really work you out much more than just walking) than at least some of the time. The fact I know this is “a go-er” however the sessions work out is important to me since I can take what I learn and use it anyway, going for walks on my own as and when I want to but making those walks into something more engaging for my body than they have ever been. By the time we go to Snowdon in late spring, I envision myself striding out across those Welsh hills….but (as ever with me) I have to remind myself not to run before I can walk. Overdoing things is always my foible but now, with EDS awareness behind me, I know not to do that…that I must do this steadily and at my own body-dictated pace or the price is too high (another lesson in listening to the body; which is all it has ever been trying to deliver to me these last 15 years). Slowly but surely, getting that feeling of four balanced quadrants back into the consciousness of my body is going to be the biggest thing; my dream time can run with it and open up memories that lie deep in my cellular memory, itching to be let out in order to have the leg-room to truly run with life again. I feel like some sort of prairie dog that is being let out of a dark shed after being locked in there for years; I just want to get out there and feel the expansiveness of it all, if not immediately in my physical domain than at least giving it free rein in my cellular imagination, where all healing takes place.

For the record, I believe the intensity of the experiences I describe so far are a “thing” about autism” and also to do with being an empath (which I do not believe autistics lack; rather, I sense they shut it down due to finding their particular version of it has such little currency in the neurotypical way of things). The more I read into these topics, and the deeper I go within my own innate understanding, the more I am picking up on ways that spectrum types seem to connected to an earlier permeation of human being that lived much more closely amongst animals and in Nature, and even with animal themselves (since those early people did not feel the same disconnect with other species that modern humans do) rather than to the currently dominant neurotypical strain of human that has largely disconnected from Nature. In our extrasensory abilities, as in an ability to sense many things that we can’t “just” pick up with our conventional five senses (to the exactingly detailed standards we prefer…), our ability to preview how something will feel in advance by tuning into the experiences of others (as I have just done), plus our trends of mixing up and crossing over those senses, as in the way of synesthesia, and of using visual images as memory and information rather than “ideas” (famous autistic woman, Temple Grandin has written about this copiously; she used her ability to “visualise what animals experience” to create her award-winning designs used in agriculture), I sense this link. In the way our bodies seem to connect with and respond to circadian and other natural cycles more than most people, I sense that link. In my case, the way I work, quite compulsively and intuitively, with symbology and complex metaphor feels as though it harks back to an earlier format of human that lived deeply immersed in Nature and took all sources of data, logical or otherwise, as clues leading towards a fuller sense of meaning. In our joined-up way of processing, and our deep frustration with systems built to serve social ideas of human behaviour, prescribed largely to serve ideas of lack, profit and control (but which make no sense in the broadest sense or supporting life for all and which fail to take care of the “bigger picture”of our world) I feel like some sort of honorary member of the animal kingdom shaking their head in dismay at the way the world has been turned over for personal gain.

All of this feels like a crucial part of being an Earth empath, as written about in my last post: where I feel these experiences as though I am directly having them. Being a four-legged animal, or a bird, or the Earth itself is part of that kaleidoscope of my accessible experience…and I have reason to believe our forebears experienced the world much more like this than modern humans can even imagine. They would have empathed their experiences freely between themselves and “other” species in order to share the planet with them; yes, even when hunting them, there would have been respect and it would have been conducted on an as-needed bases, not as wholesale slaughter motivated by cruelty and greed.

Yet, those of us who are high functioning (disliking that phrase though I do) and who have, thus, tried to make our lives work of “trying to blend in” to the norm (becoming extremely accomplished at this in many cases…) may well have made this sacrifice of body in the name of head, subverting our “weirdly” unconventional body skills (which includes our sensory abilities) to more acceptable “mental” skills to fit in with the majority, thus “survive”, as we saw it. If this leaves us feeling handicapped in our bodies then is there any wonder but it doesn’t have to be so in any case where we can perceive how and when the trade-off occurred and rewind it somewhat (which, I realise, is a tall order in many cases).  This feels like me; and thus, in the objective of reuniting with the body, in balance and with a new centre point starting to emerge that I can begin to default to (instead of to my head…) I sense a much broader healing lies waiting for me…to do with much more than “just” supporting my physical fitness for the second half of my life.

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