Monday, April 30, 2007

28 (thousand) days later

According to the statisticians at the Census Bureau, God is giving most of us about 28,000 days to live. It’s becoming increasingly common to see people moving about, living healthy lives even after having already lived thirty thousand days. What got me thinking about that was one of Feldenkrais’ movement principles, “There is no limit to improvement.”
How can that be? We see limitations and diminishing returns all the time. Well, consider where Feldenkrais was coming from. What if we were to spend five minutes per day diligently working to improve some particular thing in our lives. In an average lifetime, we’d accumulate more than 2300 hours of practice at that one thing. What if we spent 1.5 hours two or three times per week working on improving ourselves? That works out to 12-18 thousand practice hours.
According to Feldenkrais, the vast majority of people stop developing physical skills and abilities at around puberty. At this point we settle into our habitual (unthinking, senseless) modes of action. However, some few of us are able to continue to develop ourselves physically for years after this. These people tend to be celebrated athletes or dancers or perhaps actors.
Even if we start with a third of our life spent, we still easily have the potential equal to 8-12 thousand hours practice. Even with 2/3 of a life already spent, one would have between four and six thousand hours to get your act together! That’s a lot of potential, considering that people can achieve shichidan (7th degree black belt) in aikido or judo with just over 4000 practice hours!
Not only are we living longer, but we are dying longer. It used to be that people generally lived an active life followed by a short period of illness and then death. Now people may be inactive and invalid for years – perhaps even a quarter of their lives. Several of the problems that are endemic in our older population are related to poor posture, including back pain, thoracic kyphosis, osteoporosis and related fractures, sciatica, and restrictive lung problems. What if we spent just a few minutes per week working on our posture? This is why activities like aikido and tai chi have proven so beneficial for adult fitness. I think, in this sense, there is no limit to the potential for improvement.

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