Friday 26 November 2004

Ragdoll physics

"Squeeze your buttocks. Good. Now relax to 50%. Good. 75%. Good. 25%. Excellent."

In an attempt to correct knee pain picked up during an arduous summer of half-marathons, 100km walks and Alpine mountaineering, I have engaged a physio to prod and embarrass me on a weekly basis. Alison is making me work on my core muscles to provide better support for my knock-kneed pipe-cleaner legs with their tendency to let my feet over-pronate, my knees roll inwards and me generally run like a girl.

"OK, now just tense your left buttock. No, not both, just the one."

I can't, it's either all buttocks or none, not some mix of the two. How can this be? I'm a master at graceful movement through the virtual domains of my work and leisure hours, as at ease piloting the Master Chief around the battlefields of Halo 2 as I am at vaulting along the main highways and quieter backwaters of the internet. I can make my PC sing and could tell within a moment if it had sprained a RAM chip. If I had cyber-buttocks my control would be total, but in this body I've owned for 31 years I find I can't even do a simple thing like clench a single cheek.

"And as I push back on your leg, tell me where you feel the stretch".

An accurate answer is impossible; I can feel a stretch somewhere, perhaps it's in the upper leg, maybe the lower. The depth of my ignorance of my own body is staggering me. Despite being reflexively, acutely, mentally self-aware (cf. this entire blog), I've gone this far through life without turning the analytic lens on my own body. Jules once took me through some Pilates and as I watched her move elegantly through the poses and postures, I was a tumbling toddler awestruck by a graceful adult gymnast. She was fully fluent in a physical language I could only speak in pidgin.

I'm not obviously gawky, but I do not properly understand how to use the primary tool I was born with. Surely there were exams I should have taken before being allowed to run loose with an 80 kilo sack of flesh and bone. Maybe there were, but the consequences of failing or missing those exams are felt on a longer timescale than failing an end of year maths test at 14. It's taken thirty years from my first steps to discovering that the muscles in my upper thigh are mistiming when it comes to stopping my knee veering inwards as I step downwards.

Fortunately, Alison, with her calming, knowledgeable voice and seemingly boundless ways of making my various muscles strain against their currently overly-restricted limits, is optimistic that, provided I am diligent in following her instructions, my knees will improve fairly soon. And, in time, I'll learn to clench each cheek individually too.

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