Fatigue, psychophysical optimisation games, and Lao Tzu

Since I’ve missed out on writing yesterday, let’s see if I can get two random topics together today. Yesterday I couldn’t write because I tired myself out too much with a long hike and having woken up in the early morning (too little sleep).

I then started writing a post about fatigue, and how I’ve occasionally used fatigue as a game / incentive to optimise biomechanics. I think probably only people who have experience with thing like the Alexander technique, Feldenkrais, or other somatic education methods will make sense of this – and/or perhaps the martial artists.

The point was that while I don’t think it’s generally smart to practice anything to exhaustion (I take John Douillard’s arguments in Mind, Body, and Sport for that), if you are into somatic explorations, fatigue can still be interesting.

For example, long mountain hikes – in combination with some somatic arts background (that one I took specifically from Atsushi Takenouchi, a butoh teacher whose workshop I was taking, no idea where he took it from) – made me adapt my walking technique in such a way that I got rid of the knee pain I’d had since adolescence (actually that happened because for some weird reason I decided to hike a mountain down barefoot, don’t ask me for details). In any case, when there’s limited energy, there’s a motivation to optimise, do things with less energy wastage.

For me, in the case of walking or other repetitive physical activities, at this point a nice trick is turning fatigue into a game – so with how much ease can I do this? How much work can I let gravity do? What about inertia, what about the body’s in-built biomechanics? How lazy and relaxed can I be and still get the next step done? How can I use the momentum of the previous step to make the next one easier?

Again, here I bow to my dance & martial arts teacher, she has given me enough material to explore for many, many, many kilometres of hikes 😀

This isn’t good material for a blog post, because it’s hard to describe.

But such were my thoughts yesterday. Because I felt (Alexander technique nerds would be excited about this) another shift in walking technique that allows me to walk even longer on concrete (bleh, but what can I do living in a city) without tiredness and strain.

While that in itself isn’t necessarily exciting (well, to me after a decade in somatics, of course it is), what I have found really is is that biomechanical and physiological optimisation principles seem to be highly generalisable – whenever I discover a new observation about walking, it can often be mapped to other movements, and often also to mental practices (I’ve written about this a bit, in a somewhat stereotypical fashion, in my last eyesight post).

Working with the eyes, as I’ve been doing for about a month now, generalises like crazy especially to the mind – but also to other types of psychophysical training. It gives me lots, lots of ideas.

For example, focusing on movement in the peripheral visual field (off-center, edges) for some reason sets off a reflex that sharpens the entire visual field, especially the centre. The movement can be self-generated (e.g. walking, rocking, moving the head, whatever). Since I’ve figured this out and learnt to do it better (again see Mark’s website on this), I’ve thought lots about how this is a profound truth worthy of Lao Tzu.

Why? Because you kind of have to do the opposite. Focusing intently on the detail I want to see more sharply often has the opposite effect – tenses up the entire system, results in tunnel vision, locked muscles – no progress. Forgetting about that detail and focusing on the far edges of the visual field and how they play together in space to create my experience of a 3-dimensional movement and expanse – then cursorily looking at the detail, and it becomes clearer. I’m sure there’s an apt quote about that somewhere in the Tao Te Ching.

To move forward, you move backward; or to align stuff, you just turn everything upside down. I have no idea; but this is food for thought. My observation is that psychophysical principles, experienced repeatedly through attentive observation, are often the best food for thought.

As is other nature contemplation in general, I’d say.

Because the nice thing is that the thought gains a more full-bodied, grounded, 3D character – it stops being flimsy, airy, and basically naked. It becomes more grounded in / integrated with bodily feeling, with sensation and sense in general, and that, I dare say, is good.

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