Updated: Oct 31, 2020
This morning I took a yoga class from one of my favorite teachers. I unfolded my mat in the front row and off to the side, where I usually do. (I try to have as few people in my eye-line as possible so I can focus on my own practice and limit my distracting, uncontrollable urge to give my fellow students adjustments. #foreveraPilatesinstructor 😬 ) We were flipped in downward dog with our right leg lifted, hips squared so the right toes were pointing down towards the earth. With my head dangling free, my focus was on the row of people behind me, including a woman likely in her 60s. I looked at her foot hanging in the air and was completely mesmerized...her toes looked like they hadn't spread apart in years. They were pulled together, bunion stubbornly jutting out, as if they'd just emerged from a decade in one pair of too-small shoes. Her foot looked dead.
It was a horrible thought to have, especially considering the lovely, non-judgmental space I was in, but the observation passed through my brain and as soon as it did, I couldn't un-think it. I wiggled my own toes, flexed and circled my ankle. I thought to myself, I hope I never let any part of my body die before I'm dead.
Walking to my car after class, I thought about the definition of death: the lack of life. How do we measure life? We check for a pulse, a sign that the heart is beating. We check for breath passing in and out of the lungs. We're checking for signs of movement. It's not a stretch, then, to say that:
We measure life and death by the presence or absence of movement.
I thought about the woman's feet again. Say someone hasn't moved her feet in years—I mean moved them enough to strengthen the muscles, lubricate the joints, and get the blood flowing. Wouldn't they by definition, be kind of...dead?
Sure, they would technically have blood flow and muscles would have to be active if the person stood and walked. But by the definition of life that depends on movement, they certainly wouldn't be 100% alive. The muscles and tendons connecting the 26 bones in each foot wouldn't be getting stretched or strengthened, which would cause them to shorten and tighten. This lack of movement would cause less blood to flow through the foot. Responding to the shortened and tightened muscles, the joints would lose mobility and strength. Over time, the muscles would atrophy, weakening the joint further and further until it was unstable and incapable of bearing weight.
For someone who has lost mobility in a body part because of injury or illness, this process (at least in part) may be inevitable. But for someone like me who is young and healthy, the "death" of a body part is completely avoidable.
Want to know the magical formula for keeping it alive? Movement.
That's literally it. No surgery, no medication, no fancy equipment. Just moving the muscles, ligaments, tendons, and bones to increase blood flow and maintain range of motion. It doesn't have to be a whole ordeal of putting on expensive workout gear and going to the gym. No fancy shoes necessary. No shoes necessary at all! Just moving the body in a way that feels good.
By moving our entire body in a way that feels amazing every single day, we're keeping ourself alive.
Personally, I can't think of anything more motivating.