Arriving at Spindle Fitness in Chicago, participants were greeted by hostess Suzanne Ko and made their way to the waivers, coffee, and doughnuts. Hugs and handshakes from Dr. Perry Nickelston and Dr. Mark Cheng made for a friendly reunion. After a warm welcome by Dr. Mark Cheng, we dove into a whole day of seamless back-and-forth between two doctors, sharing anecdotes and wisdom interspersed with hilariously bawdy jokes. The main objective was clear: “We are going to have fun today and learn some deeply important things along the way.” The discussion, which could have easily been dense presentation on topics like sensory input, motor control, and compensations, was made digestible by simple postural tests and hands on experimentation.
Doc Cheng led off by asking us to make some distinctions about the word “fitness.” Would we be talking about cosmetics or quality of life? Should we consider training different than testing? Is health different than sport? Cheng offered that training is setting up a learning environment for improvement of some quality, while testing gives one feedback. That critical distinction of an external environment influencing our internal environment led us into the freestyle “jam” between the doctors. The dual presentation was an organic framework injected with the doctors’ insights, dovetailed together effortlessly and coherently.
Cheng offered tidbits about the clinician/trainer’s professional role in the client’s life, asking us to consider how we educate the client and get their “buy-in.” Perhaps personal, many of Cheng’s insights were threaded with a theme of responsibility and ownership: “own the movement,” “make the difficult look easy,” and develop control of your person through extremes like tension and relaxation. He often implied a hierarchy exists from foundational work through high order [complexity] movements as a rationale for slowing a client down. While demonstrating the beauty of moving more slowly, he cited efficiency as being at the heart of a regression: fundamental movement provides a point of access to help make learning efficient. Nickleston offered gems about pain’s insidious distortions on our perception and tended to emphasize the body’s non-linear and mysterious connections through nerves, lymph, and important points on the body worth exploring or “hacking.” Nickleston also reminded us that our emotions ought to be considered as part of both our humanity and a variable in our learning environment. “People don’t want to feel judgment or humiliation,” he said as he instructed us to look for subtle markers of the body responding as if threatened.
We explored a foundational movement, breathing, by feeling nuances in abdominal engagement in a balloon-blowing exercise led by Ko. Sometimes abdominal tone was evident visually; other times palpating our partners’ bellies offered a chance to feel how different areas of the abdomen engaged in a non-simultaneous fashion. Nickleston asked us to feel for these timing differences among our partners and asked if timing might play a role in perception of pain or strength? This was just one question that preceded the chorus-like rejoinder, “Context!” All of this information we experienced was couched in different scenarios and positions. How well we breath while lying on our back could be informed by changing the context: breathing in sphinx position. How good we feel in sphinx position might change after chopping our neck muscles and rubbing our intercostals. The play between the doctors provided many ways to think about and feel the developmental positions that were strongly central to both doctors’ approaches.
Cheng briefly touched on Ed Thomas’ Three Common and Uncommon Postures and three foot positions as possible movement lenses through which to look at the body. He briefly introduced his 5 postures he presents in his DVD Prehab-Rehab 101, and took us to through the first two, ground-lying and sphinx [belly down supported on forearms]. We took careful note of our vision, breath, and spinal articulation in these two positions when Nickleston picked up the conversation by delving into an unsung hero of the body, the lymph/nodes. He used palpation and mobility tools to pointedly implore us to consider how the body’s fluids and waste can produce massive alterations to our well-being and movement quality.
After a second round of sharing take-aways from the afternoon, our posterior chains “juiced,” and vitalness accessed with simple postural exploration, we conclude day one.