Muscle memory; body magic

From the moment I crack an eyelid open at dawn, I am aware of my muscles. Some much more so than others. There are a couple I wish I’d never hear from again, but I’m guessing if you remove one, it’s a bit like pulling on a thread from an intricately woven blanket.

Part of the awareness has come from pain. Okay, initially much of it has come from pain. But thereafter, I found a subtle shift in regards to my cognizance—which turned into quite a seismic shift, and is now part of my every day, my every hour, and occasionally, my every minute mindfulness campaign.

Not having the money, I could not employ a parade full of PR people to follow me around and point out the miracles of muscles 24/7, so I had to go it alone and blow my own horn section.

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The effortless shift of muscle over bone, the smooth and fluid motion of movement is an occurrence I wish for, aim for, and relish. And although there are hundreds of muscles in the human body, all expertly doing their thang with little coaching from me, it’s an easy trap to fall into–barking at the one or two that are acting crankily without recognizing and praising the other bazillion that are following nature’s blueprints.

But it’s not just my muscles that I’m keenly aware of first thing in the morning, but those of my animals as well. Even before setting a toe onto the floor, I pull knees to chest and attempt to test the temperature of whatever waters my back muscles will be floating in today. As I do this, the cat joins in beside me and demonstrates what it would be like to live with a member of Cirque du Soleil. I stick out my tongue, roll out of bed and attempt to erase her morning routine from my mind. Instead I lower myself to the floor next to my hound and give his belly a good morning greeting. In sleepy response, his body elongates to three times its original form and I am in awe, again, as to somebody else’s muscular structure and granted request.

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Faces are washed—we each do our own—and a quick assessment is made in the mirror to measure soap and water’s ability to snap facial muscles back into shape. Everyone agrees it’s a bonus to have fur around your eyes and mouth. There is absolutely no need for wrinkle cream.

I’m the only one who chooses to brush the teeth I own, but while I do so, I start my morning yoga. Adding an extra mental challenge to the task, I fling a sock-covered foot onto the rim of the super-slippery porcelain tub. I attempt a few warrior poses and high lunges to open up my tightly bound hip-flexors in preparation for the day’s demanding task of sitting at my desk, or in my car.

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As I work on my canines, my feline uses the same thin, slick edge to pirouette upon, prance above, and vault from in yet another attempt to flaunt the wide gap between our talents.

She is such a braggart.

I move to an area where I feel my talents surpass hers: the keyboard.

It is here I am reminded of just how fascinating fingers can be. It goes like this:

I think.

Synapses snap.

Fingers fly.

Words are written.

I pause and look at my hands. I wiggle my fingers above the waiting jumble of plastic keys. I mentally applaud the collection of muscles in charge, as I don’t want them to have to generate the effort to praise themselves for the efforts they make.

This repeated pattern that I practice thousands of times a day is nothing compared with the bewildering curiosity that occurs when I take a brain break and slide onto the piano’s bench for a minute or two of ebony and ivory exercise. But it’s not really exercise. It’s more like a pit stop at my personal Ripley’s Believe it or not exhibition. I call it my Magical Manifestation of Muscle Memory. It is a stunt meant only to amuse me, but reminds me just how little I know about the complex world of physiology.

I crack open a dusty volume of Chopin’s Waltzes. I look at the delicate lines of nimble quick notes. I try to read, process and move my hands across the rows of keys. I stumble. I plunk. I make sour mistakes.

I close the book.

I close my eyes.

I disengage brain and let go of the handle bars.

Fingers fly. They know where to go—they need no help from me. Whether it’s a Rachmaninoff piece that requires an extra two fingers to manage a blackened page full of orchestral chords, or the slim, sylph-like melodies of delicate Debussy, if I learned it way back then, I know it still today.

It doesn’t matter if it’s walking, running, skipping, jumping, turning a page, or signing my name, stirring a pot, or stroking the dog, embracing my child or brushing my hair, all those bits that flex and extend amaze and astound me.

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The magic of muscles.

I prize them and praise them.


**Gotta Have a Gott**

In January, Rob and I announced that his sketches will be available toward the end of the year in the form of a 2015 calendar! And our readers would get to be the judges and voters for which doodles they’d like to see selected for each month. We’ll reveal the winners one by one, and come November, If you’ve Gotta have a GOTT, you can place your order. Click here to see the cartoons in competition and to cast your vote.

Don’t forget to check out what we’re cookin’ in the Scullery and what we all talked about down in the pub. Plus, you can see more of Robin Gott‘s humor–all from the only pen carved from a human funny bone.

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47 thoughts on “Muscle memory; body magic

  1. How did you know what my biceps have become since living here in Oz?? I would just love to be able to stretch like a cat and not immediately regret it. It just looks like it should feel so much better than it does! Fun post, Shelley, I bow to your verbal flexibility and scrape to your mental gymnastics! xx

    • Good heavens, Ardys, your compliments have totally made my day! Thank you, thank you.

      And I’ve come to realize that you know you’re growing old when a 2-3 second yawn becomes a 2-3 week sprain. Ouch.

  2. Great post, I started Sunday with a chuckle. Love Rob’s cartoons, especially the Catrobatics.
    You’re so right about dogs extending to three times their original length and fur faces having no need for anti wrinkle creams!

    • Incredibly smart thinking! Maybe if we continue to swap places with folks in the opposite hemisphere every six months or so, we may get some muscular balance. And perhaps a lot of frequent flyer miles.

      So glad you stopped by today. Hope there’s something delicious in your oven (your food is always capable of making my smile muscles go into overdrive. 😉 )

  3. I play the piano too…”magical manifestation” is a great term for it! It’s amazing how your fingers can fly when you let your mind go. I so adore this feeling. My personal favourite is Beethoven. 🙂 Now if only the rest of my muscles would cooperate!

    • I totally agree, Sue. Why is it my body can’t snap up at go to work at my simple request of a couple of back handsprings across the lawn? Used to be so easy …
      And I’m a huge Beethoven fan as well–Sonata Pathetique in particular. 😀

      • You made me lunge back into my earlier travel journals Shelley. I heard Daniel Barenboim play Beethoven’s Sonata No. 8 Op. 13 Pathetique while in Berlin when I had a tour break from the park. Hadn’t a clue to who he was but the concert was amazing.

        So many agruements as to if it’s Beethoven’s best Sonata or a personal spoiler. Either way, who cares. Great and challenging music for the piano regardless. One I know Shelley, you could pull off.

        S 🙂

  4. Happy Memorial Sunday Shelley,

    Again, a wonderfully entertaining article, and yes, I too agree Sir Rob’s cartoons are magical. Having just begun Vinyasa Yoga (as a newbie I was told this would be easy… ah, I believe the person on the other side of the line was reading the description for chair yoga). Rob, love the three legged cat pose. I digress.

    I concur, the natural coordination and memory of the body’s muscle and brain synapses (of Greek origin) is amazing. As much as one believes that we as humans are in control of our own actions, our daily survival, in reality, we have so little control of what actually occurs to keep us “here”.

    Mind you, outside of the obvious fractures of one’s personal life’s mistakes one makes (choices we either make ourselves or other’s unwanted happenstance one place upon us) which shorten our life span, it is the wonderment or awe of which God, Spirit, your higher power… call it what you may, that has given us life from birth and given our body, mind and soul the natural ability to sustain life. As if we are magically run. Completely different from a conscious choice or directive we give ourselves I’d guess. How do we survive when we sleep? It’s all taken care of, right?

    Ok, too long, sorry. I very much enjoy reading all the wonderful responses you receive from your readers. Such an eclectic group. Keep writing!

    Much love,

    Stoshu 🙂

    • Such sage and thoughtful words, Stosh. It’s clear your own mindfulness campaign is totally in “drive” mode. I’m happy for you.

      And yes, I love this posse of readers and commentators. They are a brilliant, thoughtful, and incredibly kind bunch–many of whom have brilliant, thoughtful and incredibly delightful words to share on their own blogs.

      Be well, Sweets!

  5. Ah, what a lovely post in exaltation of the muscles! I might have to try your routine in the morning–a bit of yoga and stretching. As it is I roll out of bed, stumble over to the alarm clock to turn the blasted thing off, and then proceed to move around as though I’m wading through mud. If I don’t keep an eye on the time, I’ll spend too long sitting with my bowl of cereal, eyes glazed over as I wonder, “How can it be morning again? I just went to bed!” I appreciate my body and all it does, but you know how they say you’re only as old as you feel? Well, I’m really really old.

    • As much as I enjoy the yoga and stretching routine in the morning, Miranda, I think I’ve got a better suggestion we should try to help us feel younger: let’s switch to massage and champagne. That way, somebody works on getting our muscles ready for us before we even crack an eyelid, and the champagne can be a nice change up from the regular old corn flakes, eh? I think if we make this a habit, the years will slough away.
      Okay, our bank accounts may follow suit, but I’m no rocket surgeon. I can manage one dilemma at a time.

      • I bet that would turn back the clock! Of course, with the money I’d spend, I’ll be working till I’m dead. Oh, wait–I’ll probably be doing that anyway. 😛

      • Massage and champagne is definitely a lifestyle I could get fully behind. My muscles are feeling particularly cranky at the moment as there have been a couple of days without rain so I’ve been trying to clear weeds from the garden. If I ever move house then I’m choosing location by soil type. Too many years gardening on heavy clay have left me hankering for an easily-worked loam.

        • That is an amazing idea, Laura! House hunting via soil type. I can only imagine the billions of gardeners out there in the world who would be thrilled at having this idea tossed into their laps–or weed buckets. Brilliant!

  6. I think it’s the fingers that always amaze me the most. They work so tirelessly, pounding away on keys, holding pens, accentuating the interesting bits of our conversations with gestures. And yet, they dance and plod about on the “back” of the poor wrist, who must take the brunt of their labor until it aches like an old man and cries for a break… But the fingers never get tired… never…

    • Wasn’t it a famous musician who said that “A pianist should play with arms of spaghetti and fingers of steel!” ? Substitute the word “pianist” for writer/artist/baker/whatever. Yep, the fingers have a tough time 🙂

      • I wouldn’t doubt it! After the fingers, I don’t know. I guess the jaw? Toes? Probably a muscle we don’t give much credit.

      • You need strong fingers for rock climbing too – although strong everything helps with that, I suppose. Anyhow, I’ve always attributed rock climbing in my teens to my ability to open jam jars even the big strong men in my household fail at. 😉

        • Ha! In truth I was referring to the second half of your comment – the part about living things plodding about on the back of something else, taking the brunt of someone else’s labor until the cries for, “Hault! please stop! I beg of you, please!” ring through the halls … Children are relentless.

  7. i occasionally have this, uh, not quite a ‘nightmare’ (more like a sleepy-moment semi-dreamland anxiety approach) where i dread, i suspect, sometimes i think I KNOW that some morning i’ll wake up AND FEEL REALLY REALLY GOOD! and yes, i’ll know “it” (whatever it is, or isn’t, rite then) will be over.

  8. Beautiful! It’s always a pleasure to read your words.

    I commiserate as well, while surrounded by four felines that make it all look easy.

    “Open the book” is another great back stretch before climbing out of bed.

  9. Cats have the gift of natural yoga–they practice it from birth, and daily. Whereas I will sit hunched over a computer for hours without the sense to get up and stretch. Lately my muscles have complained so much in the morning that I am seriously considering a massage and champagne regime…

    • Well, thank you from the tips of my toes! I look forward to wandering through more of your lush blog posts and now, discovering a slew of new bloggers who I’m sure will provide a wealth of words. Cheers to you, Aquileana!

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