Saturday, March 14, 2009

Untie Your Inner Octopus

The human physical form is more flexible than most other animals, and it is flexible for a particular purpose. The human abilities to wriggle, twist, scratch, and slap let us use our flexibility to defend our own skin.

Humans don’t need scales or fur to cover our bodies mainly because we have hands. If you have the normal flexibility of a human, you can reach every spot on the surface of your body with your hands. You can use this ability to wash yourself off in the shower, and in the same way, you can defend your skin from insects in a way that few other animals can.

Just the ability to access essentially the full area of your skin is a trait only a few animals can match. The cat, octopus, opossum, and a few others have a similar ability to change shape, but none quite match what a human can do.

We tend to take hands for granted, but if you take a fresh look at your hands, what makes them so useful is not just their strength, but their ability to take on so many shapes at will, combined with the arms’ ability to position the hands almost anywhere. The shapes and movements a hand can create are more than words can describe. It takes a whole book to catalog all the hand positions I use — just to play guitar!

Hands may be the fastest part of the body, but almost the whole human body has this kind of flexibility built into it. The neck bends from side to side not just to give you a different point of view, but also so you can duck quickly out of the way of a moving object. You can twist and squirm to get untangled or to avoid a collision with something near the middle of your body. You can squat, stand, crouch, stand, or stretch to change the length of your body. And I could go on and on describing how easily the human body changes shape, in comparison to most animals.

In spite of the innate human ability to change shape, more than half of adults are walking around showing about as much flexibility as a crocodile: shoulders rigid, legs moving only a little and only directly forward, no core body movement at all except when bending to sit in a chair. Much of the clothing of “polite society” severely restricts arm and leg movements. It is, of course, still possible to look dignified while moving slowly and stiffly, using a limited range of movement, but it is not possible to look healthy, suave, sexy, influential, or magical without showing some of the distinctive flexibility of the human form. Nor can you get much done in a material sense without flexibility of movement. Anyone who teaches adults any form of dance has to go to considerable trouble just to get her students to loosen up.

In my opinion, it is a fear of the magical implications of flexibility that lead people to leave their flexibility behind when they become adults. They are afraid that if they allow themselves the flexibility that humans naturally possess, they will embarrass themselves by doing something magical and disruptive. Yet, by the time we are 26 years old, most of us wouldn’t mind having lives that were a little more magical and disruptive — more changeable than they are.

Change your shape, change your life. A human with arms and legs that move only a little and an abdomen that has lost the ability to bend and twist is like a octopus that has tied itself in knots. This is something that only seems to happen to adults. Look at children and you will see a much more natural representation of the shapes of the human body.

If you have become a rigid adult with a regimented life, that can all change. Untie your inner octopus and rediscover how flexible your body, and your life, can be. There is no secret to regaining flexibility. Just act as if you can smoothly and gracefully take on any shape at all. Do this for ten seconds, one minute, five minutes. Bit by bit, the attitude of flexibility will begin to reflect itself in your physical form.

Rediscovering your flexibility means embracing your humanity. Flexibility is one of the special qualities of the human form, and when you experience this flexibility on a daily basis, it is a way of saying, “I am proud to be human — I am proud to be me.” At the same time, flexibility will make you feel more confident. This makes sense when you remember that as a human, you depend on flexibility to defend yourself. With more flexibility, you feel less vulnerable, and it is easier to simply go where you are going and do what you are doing.