â€œYour hand opens and closes, opens and closes. If it were always a fist or always stretched open, you would be paralysed. Your deepest presence is in every small contracting and expanding, the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated as birds’ wings.â€ Rumi
Sometimes it’s easy to forget that being alive means that the body is in a constant state of flux. In today’s western word of ‘doing’ everything faster and bigger, socially we are trained to literally flex out into the world with muscles blazing full force. We do this in response to our fast-paced environment and the conditioning we have received from the media and the world around us; the majority of people learn to have a competitive edge, and measure success based on their ability to get ahead, both figuratively and literally. No matter how smart we are in our jobs or how fast we run the race, we are led to believe by society that someone will always be either right in front of us or on our heels. Eat, or be eaten.
To maintain the frenetic pace of the cultural norm, we employ our phasic muscles, the large superficial muscles of the body that get us from point A to point B. In this state we are not traveling to enjoy the journey, and in fact, if over developed enough, the sensing, deep muscles of the body go untrained. We lose a sense of ourselves interacting with the rich and delicate landscapes alive with subtle hues of colour and depth. Instead, our large spanning muscles take over with the intention to get us there like a bullet train. Some of us think that’s a small price to pay for winning the race, however, the smaller, deeper muscles of the body are not just about the refinement of the senses. These ‘tonic’ muscles help us to be uplifted at the world and at ease with gravity. When concerned with longevity in the space between the earth and the sky, the tonic muscles are pivotal in our ability to be two-legged, adaptable beings that are both autonomous and connected to the world around us. Interestingly, the phasic and tonic musclescan also be seen as global and local muscles. In a sense then, our physical development has begun to mirror societal trends towards globalisation.
If you’ve read Fast Food Nation, you will know that I the first half of the twentieth century, the US had local railways and trolley cars that enabled short and longer distance travel which both brought people together and curtailed the need for a family automobile. For the most part, people ate locally grown foods that supported local farmers and the local economy, and what was brought inland from the coasts, such as seafood, was done so via the railways. In the 1950s, however, the increase in companies with their eyes on the global market such as McDonalds, Walt Disney and the burgeoning car industry changed not only the transport infrastructure and the US government’s political agenda, but ultimately the way people use their bodies, consume food, information and products on a global scale. These were companies with deep pockets. (see also The Oiling of America, below).
Today, people from all over the world are as likely to eat food from their own back yard that has been shipped halfway around the world for processing and packaging and back again for consumption, as they are to eat food from a dozen different continents in one day. The global economy doesn’t stop with food; local dialects, subtleties of culture and tradition are also facing extinction, lost like the tonic muscles in many people’s physique.
One of the ways doctors test the brain’s function levels is through one’s ability to isolate and utilise local muscles like those found in the pads of the fingers, toes and deep vertebral column. These muscles are also essential to our proprioception, understanding where our bodies are in on a spacial plane. If we don’t nurture the tonic form, our brain becomes less sensitive to the potential of the local muscles and being upright in the world, and eventually they are overridden by the phasic, global muscles (think of Popeye- would his fingers have been able to sense the difference between a spinach leaf and Swiss chard?) The rise of back, shoulder and neck pain all indicate that as humans, its time to get back to our local roots, to retrain the body and to act locally. When we become aware of the reawakening of the subtle body and its tonic function, we not only gain a sense of directionality in our physical form, but our brains are also being stimulated, nourished and expanded with the rest of the body. It brings a whole new meaning to the phrase “Think Local, Act Global”. Before we act global, I challenge you to act local, starting in your own body. Go out and soften your fingers onto a piece of spinach or swiss chard. Double points for taking it from your own backyard.