Saturday, June 20, 2009


I've explored hundreds of of bodies with my hands, now. The bodies under my hands have gestated, given birth, recovered; breasts have filled and emptied. They have had strokes and recovered from them, or not recovered from them. They have nerve damage, diabetes, fibromyalgia, epilepsy, Reynaud's, HIV. Innumerable pulled backs, twisted knees, turned ankles.

What stands out to me, over and over, is how plastic the body is, how rapidly it changes. It wastes away alarmingly when confined to bed, and recovers tone incredibly fast when it becomes active again. People who move a lot are flexible, toned, and young: sedentary people are stiff, flaccid, and old. Blindfold me and give me sixty seconds to knead someone's shoulders, and I won't be able to tell you how old they are, but I'll be able to tell you with fair accuracy how much they move every day. People who do yoga, or varied physical work, have bodies that are twenty years younger than people who mostly sit. They move easily, relax readily. There aren't the glitches -- skips -- snags -- that you get in sedentary bodies.

I don't ask people much about how they eat, but of course people tell you things. I don't notice that eating properly makes a lot of difference, not compared to moving around. People who eat dreadfully can be in great shape, and people who eat well can be a mess. Fat doesn't make much difference either: people can have a hundred extra pounds of adipose tissue and have lovely, flexible, toned muscles, and a body that serves them well. The common equivalence drawn between skinny and healthy is not something my hands confirm. Some lean bodies feel healthy and some don't: some fat bodies feel healthy and some don't. But no sedentary bodies feel healthy.

I can tell if people are sick. I don't know how: or rather, I don't know how you'd pick up what I perceive on mechanical instruments. I'm pretty sure it could be done. The imagery in which my brain registers it is all of currents, flowing air or water: people feeling the same things I feel in ancient China thought of them as air, and called them "winds," in medieval Europe they thought of them as fluids, and called them "humors." Anyway, you lay your hands on someone and you feel them running through their body, whatever they are. Like you can take hold of a bit of plumbing and feel the water running through it. It can be rapid, sluggish, strong, weak; it can pulse regularly or irregularly. It can be warm or cold; it can be different colors. In someone who's sick with a virus it's sticky and erratic, dim and yellowish. Sort of staticky.

I've said it before, I'm sure I'll say it again: if you want to be young and healthy, move. Work out, or run, or swim, if you like those things. Or just wriggle and roll around. Improvised movement probably gives you more bang for the buck than repetitive movement. But whatever. Just move. Take five minutes to just inhabit your flesh and feel it breathing and pulsing, brewing and percolating. If you check in -- right now -- you'll find there's something it really really wants to do. The legs want to stretch, or the shoulders want to stretch, or the face wants to grimace. Just do that. It won't take a moment.


kate in Mi said...

YES! I am a cuddler, a roller, and a shimmy-er. I like to dance to the music in my head (I'm a musician, so there's always something playing in the stereo in my brain).

I like to FEEL what I'm feeling. I take a moment and feel my clothes on my body, my hair on my head, and the air in my nose. And then I usually want to move so I feel it all differently.

Cara Bereck Levy said...

Great post. Thanks.