Friday, February 22, 2013

Moving, Thinking

More riding home tonight, thinking about sitting, shifting my focus from my butt/pelvis to my back muscles, and using them to absorb shock...that seems to work.  It seems almost silly to be thinking so hard about my body and how it's sitting during the 1.5 mile ride home.  But in some ways, this is my cross to bear, fairly integral to how I interact with the world. 

From a young age, I was breathtaking clumsy in my movements, unable to coordinate sensory input with the movements of my rapidly lengthening extremities.  The doctors called it a deficit in fine and gross motor skills, prescribing years of occupational therapy to try to train into me skills that other children acquire unconsciously from a young age.  The OT helped, but my parents went beyond that, enrolling me in piano and tap dancing lessons to help further train my arms and legs, hands and feet to be able to move with some semblance of rhythm, fluidity, and coordination. 

It all worked, to the extent that I can move around fairly well without embarrassing myself too much, but I often get the sense that I'm wired differently than other people when it comes to moving my body through space.  I don't take to new sports or physical games quickly, especially ones that involve new motor skills.  Ball sports and gym class were always difficult for me, and never really held much interest anyways.  With the things that I had enough interest to stick with a long time, a basic level of functionality always came with much difficulty and repetition, until I had built up enough muscle memory to do the required movements more or less automatically.  If I don't have muscle memory yet for something, I need to take things slowly and pay extremely close attention to what I'm doing, or else things quickly snowball out of control.  Perhaps this is why I stick with the same active hobbies year after year--new things don't come easily to me. 

It makes sense that I took to road bicycling quickly, since on the whole it actually requires fairly little coordination and motor planning skills.  You plant your butt on the seat and your feet on the pedals, put your hands on the bars, and off you go.  The structure of the bicycle keeps everything in coordination.  Of course, being graceful, and developing the handling skills to change direction quickly, such as might be required for off-road riding, takes some time, but the fundamentals of moving a bicycle through space don't require that much coordination. 

So you'd think, after almost 11 years (!) of cycling regularly,  you'd think that I have most of the motor skills required for riding locked into muscle memory by now.  But as I'm learning with bike fit, part of it is setting up the bicycle so that the bicycle matches your contact points, but part of it is training your body to sit on that bicycle and match those contact points.  Of the last few years I've played around a lot with contact points, moving them up and down, forward and back, making them narrower or wider.  Each time, I throw my body for a new loop, and the adjustment process can take a long time.  During that more or less constant process, things which might be autonomic functions for other cyclists--like using your back muscles to absorb shock, for instance--are part of conscious thought for me.  I don't necessarily remember to do them if I'm not thinking about it.  Grace doesn't come easily, but is a process. 

As I think through this process, think about how to match the bicycle to my body and the body to my bicycle, I constantly hear voices.  I hear the voice of my mother, as I try to move too fast down the steep and rocky mountain trail that we're hiking together.  The voice of my piano teacher, as my fingers trip over themselves playing a particularly complicated few bars.  The voice of my tap dancing teacher, as I struggle to make my feet and my body match the rhythm of a step. As they reminded that clumsy little kid so many years before, it's about slowing down.  Taking things one step, one note, one beat at a time.  Think--really think--about where you're putting your hands, your feet, your fingers.  Watch your balance and your center of gravity.  Breathe. 

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