First impulse answers. Go.
- Left or right?
- Thumbs or fingers?
- Push or pull?
- Bottom or top?
Routine has its benefits, I will admit. There are some decisions we just don’t want to have to think about. Apart from the health and diet aspect, imagine standing in the cereal aisle and needing to whittle down your options having considered every cereal on offer. You’d be there an hour, at least. Who has time for that? Go with what you know, and move on.
This is why President Obama apparently only wears grey or blue suits. When you’re Leader of the Free World, there are enough things on your plate. Asking yourself, Do these colors go? is really not where you want to be spending your time and energy.
That said, we can take routine to very unhealthy extremes. And I’m not only talking about the supermarket circuit of easy, ready-made meals which put you on the fast track to easy, ready-made heart disease and sugar dependency. I’m also talking about a complete lack of understanding of how your body operates.
I’ll give you the simplest example and proof of what I mean…
Go brush your teeth. With your other hand.
If you’re a righty, you probably don’t even realise what you’re doing most of the time. You start the process and brush while you read a magazine article or listen to the radio or think about tomorrow’s to-do list. Maybe you straighten a couple items in the medicine cabinet. All the while, your shoulder, elbow, forearm, wrist, hand and fingers are engaged in a wonderfully familiar exercise routine of budda-bing! brushing your teeth. Job done.
Switch it up and it comes to a crashing halt. The entire left side of your body is trying to get in on the action and has no idea how to do it. The shoulder seizes and tries to make the micro movements of brushing those little teeth by repeatedly bouncing your entire arm up and down. You can’t read an article. The medicine cabinet is all whatever. The to-do list is somewhere in the distant future. And the radio is totally drowned out by the confounded voice in your head swearing at you, asking How the hell do you DO this?
If you’re feeling really brave, try chopping an onion with the other hand. (Just know that I am hereby denying any responsibility for your decision to do so. You lose a finger, it’s on your own time…)
Why give yourself such frustration? Because for most of us, those little routines we are no longer even aware of are a significant source of our pain and discomfort. Just lift a coffee cup with your other hand and you will see that the muscles you engage are not familiar with the task. This is imbalance, pure and simple.
But the issue isn’t just your coffee. It’s everything you do all day long.
One client drives a truck. In and out of the cab all day long, employing the exact same motion which he has developed out of routine efficiency. Countless times, he steps up with the same leg on the tire. Reaches with the same arm into the cab. Pulls and hoists through the same motion. And suffers debilitating back pain because his spine is totally out of whack.
Change it up.
This is an trick I use in acting, but the principle works perfectly to help develop a sense of kinesthetic awareness, as well. If I’m rehearsing a scene and something’s just not working, I’ll try a version changing the lines so the meaning stays the same but the words are different. What is the effect? How does that feel different and what does the difference tell me about what the author wants my character to do, think, feel, say, and act?
Learn how your body works, what it is trying to do, what support and strength it needs, by breaking out of the routine. Pay attention and try to make a movement – soothly and efficiently – backwards.
Cross your legs a different way. Feel that stretch?
Stop yourself from closing the trunk in the normal fashion, and feel yourself reach for the lid. What muscles reach out? Which ones pull down to close it? And which ones got in on the action just because they were confused?
In the kitchen, before you risk it with the onion, just pay attention to how you reach for the pots and pans. Which arm lifts the milk out of the fridge? Turn that around and pay attention to the way you are trying to compensate for muscles that don’t have routine to tell them what to do.
As for the bedroom, I’ll leave interpretation to you…
Last note: always come back to center in the core.
You will almost certainly attempt to overcompensate using the ‘wrong’ muscles. Center yourself. This is a paying-attention exercise. Because you will be feeling muscles you have never noticed, this is your opportunity to feel your core engage and to extend that engagement and awareness outward from the core to the extremity.
It’s an opportunity to notice what is getting used properly, and what’s just coming along for the ride. Efficiency has no hangers-on. Why are your shoulders hunched just because you are trying to text with your fingers instead of your thumbs?
You have to learn how your body works in order to use it properly. No soldier goes into battle without understanding all the components of his weapon. No driver is going to pass the test if they are trying to shift gears by yanking the turn signal up and down. Understand what is going on in your own body so that you can start using it better, making you a stronger, fitter you.