May 20

Include more, do less

This last few years, I have been working with a few people individually thinking about RSI, and other injuries and wanted to share a little of my thinking around this.

Often we put too much effort into the task we're doing, rather than thinking about how much force we actually need. Take a very simple example. When you're opening a jar that won't open, what do you do? (This happens to me a lot. I have a small hand span, and most jam jars aren't made with me in mind!)

Do you take a big breath and try again? Do you make some kind of noise of exertion? Do you grimace, as if that would help? Do you try and use lots of effort, without thinking about precisely where that effort needs to go?If those sound a little like options you choose, next time you do open a jar, try this instead.

Look at the lid and the jar- think only about the thin band of friction/stickiness that's preventing it from opening. Focus only on your hands, not the effort you need to make, not making a sound. Feel how in order to get strength you need in your hands, you need to also use your elbows, your shoulders, even your ribs and sternum as levers. Keep your face soft - you don't need effort in your face to work your hands, in fact, then you're taking away energy from the fingers, when you grimace. Feel if what you do with the breath helps your strength, or weakens it? Try pushing into the belly as you breathe in instead- does that give you a different feeling of support?

Everything that doesn't isn't part of the movement of opening the jar, the movement of the hands, diffuses the effort. It takes the force and focus away from where it's needed. And that's not to say that you shouldn't use your whole skeleton if you need to, include as much of you as you need. But rather focus the effort to just what you need.

Does it change something about how easy it is to open the jar? One of the main reasons for injuring ourselves is that we haven't worked on our skill of sensing the difference between the effort we use, and the force we need. As we age, we need this ability to calibrate to be better, to feel how we can support through ourself.

This doesn't matter if it's once in a while, but if we put too much force into what we're doing in everything- every move of a pen, tap of a keyboard, pressure of a finger- it adds up. Or if we use extra musculature that contradicts what we're trying to do: if it's most of the time, then we're wasting energy, and we're also adding compression. If the compression isn't adding to the movement you're making, it's compressing the joints- a little as if you had tightened a screw too much, so the surfaces in the joints touching each other will rub a little more than necessary. Over time, this mounts up, and one extra small amount of effort somewhere can be the final trigger to something that causes pain. 

So what effort in your fingers and hands could you take away this week? Whether you're holding a cup, a bottle, your steering wheel, a violin, or typing on a keyboard, can you reduce your effort a spoonful? When we reduce effort we gain in sensitivity. That increase of sensitivity allows us to sense ourselves in motion, move more efficiently, and can help us balance- our continuing theme for this week.

If you discover something interesting, do comment, I'd be pleased to hear from you.

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