Wednesday, November 24, 2010

If I Only Had a Brain

Recently, I held a human brain in my hands. It seemed... strangely empty. And rubbery, definitely rubbery, though that might've been the formaldehyde. My son and I got to spend a couple of hours in a cadaver lab as part of a homeschooling excursion (don't we homeschoolers do the funnest stuff?) and that's how I came to be holding brains (as well as hearts and other assorted organs).

Which brings me to the body part I'm most thankful for today: my brain. Specifically, as it relates to exercise, the parts of my brain that hook up to the parts of my body and make them move right. Most of us take this for granted, right? I want to move my right arm in a certain way and voila! My right arm moves. I don't even have to think about it, it just miraculously happens. But that's not the case for everyone.

My son was born with some real brain-body connection problems. They were more or less summed up under the umbrella term "Sensory Processing Disorder" but one of the things this meant is that he couldn't cross the center line of his body with either hand. His left brain-to-right-hand connection wasn't quite wired up right. Ever tried to dress yourself without crossing your center line? How about cutting up something on your plate? He even drew pictures by drawing one half of a boat or person on one half of the page, then switching the crayon to the other hand to draw on the other half of the page. It took years of motor skill therapy and vision therapy to get everything working more or less correctly. That's one reason my smile is so huge when I watch him do karate now. For him to be able to coordinate moves fluidly, quickly, and powerfully is not something to take for granted.

So on this second day of body thankfulness, I'm going to be thankful for my brain and all of those little nerves and wires and stuff that connect it to my muscles. They all work! I can move my body the way I want to (unless I try to put on some hip hop moves, in which case they aren't really quite up to the task). As I coach people, I can readily see that people have widely varying motor skills. For some people, all you have to do is say "move your left hand more this way" and they can do it. Bam! Their brain-body connection is strong and they have good mental control over their muscles. For others, it can take months of drills and concentration just to change their hand position by a few microns. It's not something to take for granted if you're reasonably coordinated.

It just hit me yesterday that I've always tended to be drawn to sports where coordination is a big part of competence. Swimming, karate, volleyball, these are things that I can do well in. Sports that just take the body with very little brain, well they're not usually my forte. If I could get better at running by using my brain more, I might just be a better runner. But sadly it seems to be mostly the legs that count when you're running, and mine aren't ever going to be particularly fast. So for today, I'll be grateful that I have a brain, and unlike the one in the cadaver lab, it's still humming along nicely inside my skull where it belongs.


Jason said...

Robin - I will have to say that your brain is a HUGE part of running. While moving your legs faster will obviously get you faster, if you believe you can get faster you will. If you believe that you can go that extra mile even if jogging you will get there faster than if you walked that mile.

So you can get faster....believe you can and you will

Robin said...

Jason, that's true. I definitely think that you can improve your running both by working on technique and by implementing a positive outlook (both brain-based). That's one reason I'm a big fan of Chi Running, Pose running, etc.

That being said, compared to a technique-intensive sport like swimming, running is much more limited by physical factors and has a smaller brain-based component overall. Someone built like me with big shoulders and lots of upper-body muscle mass is not going to be as fast a runner as someone built like a cheetah. My friend Anne and I are both 5'7" and both about 19% body fat. She's 132lbs and I'm 160 lbs. Guess which one is a faster runner? Extra muscle mass penalizes a runner (esp. upper body). Now in the pool, on the C2 rower, or with a set of kettlebells, it's a different story! I don't think my brain will ever help me beat Anne in a 10k, LOL. Gravity is against me.

juliejulie said...

Take me next time. I want to hold a brain.