Muscle Memory

**This is a guest post from my dear friend and writing coach, Glenny Brock.**

Pain is a signal. If ever knew that, I’d forgotten. What I remembered was Brush-Knee-Push-Step, Repulse the Monkey and Wave Hands Like Clouds — three of the 24 moves in the Yang Short-Form Tai Chi. Last Saturday morning, for the first time in about 10 years, I found myself standing behind Dave Hall, doing my damnedest to mimic and mirror him as we went through the form. I marveled that I remembered the slow dance of it all — when to “empty” my legs and feet, where to hold my arms and hands, how to open my palms toward the sky then curl my fingers into fists. I did most of the moves without thinking, as if my muscles had spent a decade studying a map inside my mind that I didn’t even know about. I surprised myself at every step.

But back to the signal of pain. The Tai Chi didn’t hurt at all. What hurt was the 40-minute, seven-exercise circuit that preceded it: Before I Opened the Window to See the Moon or Grasped Needle at Sea Bottom, I had gone through a sequence of lifting sandbags, swinging ropes, jumping on one tire and waving another around my waist (not simultaneously but in that order), hurling a medicine ball at the concrete floor and squatting and grasping an 18-lb. kettlebell to heave it between my knees repeatedly. The final exercise and the source of my greatest humiliation was a maneuver that Dave called “Dog Crawlers.” Properly executed, this activity is supposed to look like some kind of fast-motion, yogic, aerobic tribute to man’s best friend. What I did more closely resembled the action of one of those collapsing farm-animal toys.

Close your eyes and imagine an erstwhile “Husky” department veteran aged to a plump, mid-30s proto-hipster. Now imagine that girl-woman struggling to simultaneously hold herself up on twig arms and avoid a wardrobe malfunction. I imagined coming out of my sports bra as the worst possible thing that could happen; I considered lying down on the floor and just weeping while I watched everyone else work out. Boot camp, I thought to myself with a snort. The mythological ordeal that has struck fear into the hearts of draftees since time immemorial, and I get up to do it for fun?

The timer sounded, indicating that another 45-second eternity had ended and it was time to move on to the next thing. I glowered at my old friend, but Dave just grinned back at me. I noticed for the first time that there was a searing heat in the front of my thighs, a hurt so vivid I could almost hear it. I looked at the white-board where the sequence of exercises was written and noticed for the first time it also said, “Be comfortable being uncomfortable.” I walked back to the tire that lay flat on the floor, stepped onto it and started jumping again, paying close attention to how the rubbery ring — reliably, relentlessly — kept bouncing back into shape.

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Filed under Fitness, Motivation, Movement, Personal Development, Personal Training, Strength, Strength Training, Tai Chi Chuan

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