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Functional Fitness

socks on socks off girl putting on socksEvery morning, I plop down on the floor next to my bed and shimmy my feet into socks. I can hear him in my head. Carlos, my teacher, in his heavily Mexico-City-accented English, “Get on the floor to put on your socks and shoes.”

The movement of children, Carlos argued, was a view into health. Watch a five- or six-year-old for even a couple minutes and you’ll see them move fast and slow, big and small, around and down and up off the floor without missing a beat. Unless directed by a grown-up, they aren’t likely to sit demurely on a bench or chair to put on their shoes. One way to improve fitness, Carlos suggests, is to do the shoes and socks thing like a kid.

In yoga, Standing Forehead to Knee pose confounds me. The idea is to balance on a fully-engaged leg, extend the opposite leg straight out in front and place the forehead delicately in the center of the knee. That’s the idea, anyway. It’s possible. I’ve seen people do it. But I’ve been practicing 17 months and I’ve yet to even get the strong standing leg part.

socks on socks off standinghead-to-knee

I’m all Zen and unattached about my utter inability to do the guldarn thing, of course. Oh yeah, all kinds of Zen.

Lately, when I’ve been taking my socks off, I do a little practice for my nemesis pose: I lift one leg up to 90 degrees, engage my core muscles, lean over and peel my sock off my foot. Then I do it on the other side. It’s kind of fun and I feel like I’m getting a tiny bit of yoga practice in before my shower.

Functional fitness is an approach that structures movement in the gym or studio to increase the ease and reduce the risk of injury in everyday movement. Functional fitness training focuses on increasing balance, range of motion, strength and flexibility to improve the body’s ability to walk, stand, reach and carry. Moving the body high, middle and low, for example, (Nia Principle 7 calls it the three planes of movement) conditions the cardiovascular system and the body to move more easily up and down off the floor. Since my ability to get myself up off the floor determines my independence, that’s a damn fine thing to condition my body to do.

As I get on the floor to put my socks on and do a little standing head to knee to take my socks off, I realize that functional fitness works both ways. What we do in our everyday movements can enhance and improve our practice.

In The Karate Kid (1984 version, of course), Mr. Miyagi’s famous “Wax on, wax off” exercise trained Daniel to execute crisp, precise blocks. (If you haven’t seen it in a while, watch it here. It’s such a great scene.) Daniel had been spending all day doing chores using movements that conditioned his body to do karate. Presumably, his karate practice also allowed him to do every day work with more ease.

The body loves to move and the brain loves to make meaning. Functional fitness can be a matter of framing the meaning of our movement choices. When I’m looking over my shoulder to back the car out of the drive, I can say to myself, “I’m practicing spinal twist.” In Nia class, when I’m sinking and rising from my core and legs, I can say, “I’m conditioning my body to play with my nieces and nephew.”

What do you want to do with your body? Whatever it is, find ways of practicing it that can help you do more of what you love. And for fun you can say to yourself, “Socks on, socks off.”

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