Archive for January, 2012

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The Changing Face of Man

January 27, 2012

I watched a film the other day, ‘Captain Horatio Hornblower’, an old 1950’s swashbuckler starring Gregory Peck. However, it wasn’t the lead role that interested me, but the support actors. The crew of the ship with their big strapping chests and tight waists. The film was made in an era when men still tied their trousers up around their waists (the thin portion of the body between the pelvis and the rib cage), but as we move forward through the years of cinema we see not only the fashions changing, but also the shape of the actors themselves. By the 70’s the strapping chests tend to have gone and bodies are much slender, but still well formed with volume to the buttocks. Jeans still have high waistlines, but are tight fitting and hug the buttocks. Jumping forward to the present day, actors are obsessed with muscles and the gym induced six-pack, but such misguided approach to fitness comes at the cost of a strong foundation and the icons of today tend to be lacking a little in intrinsic capacity. Heads are often craned forward and chests low in volume. Waists have all but disappeared; pelvic development is poor and buttocks missing. No wonder jeans these days have to hang off the hips. Even the big muscle men are not immune. Those that manage the big strapping chests rarely have tight waists; more often they have bulging abdomens. I may be exaggerating, but the changing nature of man’s bodies is clearly evident and this is not confined to the icons of the day. If we look at old footage of the general public we see that, to a great degree, these actors do reflect the population at large.

Going back around five hundred years, we can see in the sculptures and paintings of the renaissance period a much more developed figure with enormous intrinsic capacity or inner volume. There is also strong definition between portions of the body. The head and neck rarely blend into each other, but in the portrayals of great men of the time the chest, lumbar and pelvic regions are also strongly defined as separate entities. In antiquity, women too are portrayed with a much fuller figure and this is not the case of being overweight or fat rather than thin, but the case of being extremely well developed. You could argue that even in antiquity, fashion played a part in how people were portrayed and that proportions were exaggerated to elevate the status of heroes, but the evidence is there to suggest that man’s bodies have changed to a considerable degree over the years.

It is true that over recent decades the general fitness of populations has declined, particularly in western countries, and this has resulted in the so-called obesity crisis of today. ‘So called’ because I believe that many of the thin people are as lacking in quality as the fat people and that the crisis is one of underdevelopment and not weight. It is also true that allowing yourself to get out of shape is nothing new. Pictures of Henry VIII tell a story of overeating and declining exercise, but, generally speaking, the neglect of the human form to the extremes that we see around us today is a very modern phenomenon, only really taking off in the eighties.

For centuries our working lives have played a large part in shaping our bodies, but that way seems to have come to an end to a great degree. I remember, as a child, the old man who worked in the post office and was hunched over from years of working, stooped over the same counter. I remember, until he retired only a couple of years ago, my coalman whose wiry body was shaped by that single job of lifting sacks of coal off of the lorry and tipping them in the bunker. These days working lives tend to be far more sedentary than they were in the past and even manual labour is often not the vigorous or strenuous exercise that it used to be. So our bodies today are shaped more by our inactivity than our activity, but before we despair too much, I would like to examine another angle on this subject.

It is easy to see that he or she who takes up the shot put would not become a high jumper, one requires a bulky muscular body and the other a slender agile body, and so what we choose to do in life could be influenced by the body we possess. However, if we look at another example it is not so clear-cut. If you gave me a group of men who were either ballet dancers, football players or rugby players, I would be fairly confident of identifying who pursued which profession from their physical appearance, but do they choose to pursue the profession because they have the body for it or is it that the sort of person who follows the path of a ballet dancer develops the necessary physique, he who fits in with the rugby crowd develops the strong solid frame necessary to take the bruising and he who is fanatical about football develops the rather lanky body that seems to be more and more prominent in football players, quite possibly from growing up through years of fancy footwork.

I’m sure that every baby is born different and that the type of person we become, be it tall and slender or short and stocky, is already defined in us the day we are born, but the diversity of the human form is far more obvious in the adult population than in young children and as for babies, well, to the untrained eye they all look the same, so I would suggest that we are all born close to the archetypal human form and that as we develop we diverge from that form to become the wide variety of shapes and sizes.

It is common to see someone’s mother or father in them and physical traits often run in families. The geneticist would suggest that the shape of our bodies are predetermined by the genes passed on from our mother and father, but I would suggest that although the building blocks are defined by genetics, the manner in which those building blocks are fashioned to form our bodies is determined by other factors. The way of life in the era we are born into has an affect. Our character and the life it leads us to pursue has an affect, as does the work we do. In the past the lives we lived were far more predetermined by the position we were born into and the physical nature of life led to a far more natural development of our bodies. These days we are all much freer to choose our own path and as a consequence of this freedom of the individual we have to become more responsible than ever for the development of our own bodies.

Never before in the history of mankind have we struggled so much with our human form. Never before have we seen so many out of shape and poorly formed bodies. I would suggest that our bodies are far more malleable than we tend to think and if we are to address the health problems of our time we must become far more aware of the development of our bodies and of how the characteristics of who we are as individual human beings, and the lives that we live, affect that development.

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Recreation

January 2, 2012

When I was a young child my mother used to take us to the playground in town. It was in an area with a duck pond and a cricket pitch, an area known as the ‘rec’. I soon discovered that ‘rec’ was short for ‘recreation ground’ and that ‘recreation’ was playtime, but somehow over the years the meaning of the word has become altered, as, I would suggest, has its pronunciation. Surely it should not be pronounced ‘wreck-reation’ but ‘ree-creation’. Maybe as religious devotion began to give way to sport on a Sunday, so the notion of rest and relaxation gave way to the notion of play.

Re-creation is important for body, mind and soul. I’ll leave the soul for another day and when it comes to the mind, I’m sure we’ve all got bogged down with a problem to which we’ve applied our mind and found that the best thing to do is to switch off, leave the problem to one side for a while and go back to it afresh. What we’ve done is given our minds time to re-create our ideas. However it is the body that I’m interested in here.

Traditionally the Sabbath is a day of rest when we allow our bodies (together with mind and soul) to recuperate after a hard week’s work and it is a concept that I very much follow, despite not having a regular nine to five job. Monday to Friday I dedicate the best part of my days to therapy, usually mornings with one of the ladies who work with me and evenings doing my own therapy work, which leaves the afternoons for daily duties with animals, Cheshire Home business or jobs at the kids’ home. Saturdays I work for myself and then Sundays I do my best to keep free for rest and relaxation, socialising and drinking (in moderation of course). I certainly don’t stick religiously to such a timetable and I still don’t always manage to observe the Sabbath as much as I’d like, but the more I pursue Advanced Bio-Mechanical Rehabilitation therapy the more I appreciate the need for re-creation time for the body. It is when I sit down and switch off from the business of my life that I notice the changes occurring in my body. We can spend all week, or more likely weeks, delivering an input into the body without really noticing any effect and then all of a sudden during a day of rest a change will manifest itself. It is worth appreciating here the subtleness of the changes. This is a therapy program that I have been pursuing for many years and although the change over that period has been staggering, the subtle week to week changes are not so much about improved use of the legs as slight increases in volume in a certain area resulting in an incremental reorientation of the elements of the trunk; structural improvements that in due course lead to functional improvements.

Christmas is a time when I enjoy a whole week of re-creation time. With my birthday in between Christmas and New Year I tend to do very little work, if any, and switch off for an entire week. As I am writing this we have now come to the end of that week and it has been very interesting to note the change in my body over that time. Just lately we have been making enormous progress in rebuilding the missing volume to my back and have exposed deep-seated weaknesses in the very core of my trunk. Despite the terrible damage to my spine, for years I had no back ache what so ever, but lately I have been experiencing much aches and pains in my back, particularly on getting out of bed in the morning, as we open the body up and expose the weaknesses. During the last week I have become aware of improvements in the thoracic spine, giving better anchorage of the shoulder blades, resulting in a greater ability to push a wheelchair with true strength coming from the trunk (another small step in an ongoing process). On first noticing this change, I also noticed how delicate this new situation was. The improvements resulting in the change also expose the next level of weakness that has lain buried for years. Without any attempt to exploit this newfound strength I found that I had developed intense aching in my spine, centred around the fourth thoracic vertebrae, which prevented me from turning my head to look over my shoulder and made my whole body quite fragile in pushing a wheelchair. I had to have a day of total rest and recuperation while the weakness, exposed by the improvements in structure, had a chance to get to grips with having to play a role in bodily function after remaining dormant for years. Such a process doesn’t take long and I’m now starting to enjoy this latest stage of improvement and its knock on affect in the continuing welling of life in my legs and this time, for some reason, particularly my ankles.

Getting back to the issue and importance of re-creation time, it is interesting to note how this entire process of change took place during a week when therapeutic input was virtually non-existent. The mechanical input resulting in the change had been put in during the preceding weeks and months. The forces necessary to ‘create’ this change were entered into the system and then during a following period of rest the body ‘re-created’ itself. Obviously it would do us no good to sit around resting week after week and it could be argued that this change would have happened just the same had I embarked upon a full week of therapy rather than a Christmas break, but I would argue that a certain amount of ‘re-creation’ time is of the utmost importance.

With all this in mind I will do my best to observe the Sabbath each week, to take a week’s mid winter break and a week’s summer adventure. The rest of the time I will endeavour to deliver many hours of therapy each week while pursuing a way of life that allows the process of ‘creation’ and ‘re-creation’ to flourish.