Move Your DNA is the latest book I’ve read in order to try to understand how to move / position my body in a healthy manner, and it’s quite interesting in a way that, I think relates to Kegan’s stages of understanding. Because the main point of the book are that your body, even when it is doing things you don’t like (e.g. causing pain because of bulging lower back disks!), is responding as best it can to the circumstances you put it in. And, as a corollary, doing any one thing (taking an action, being in a position) over and over again, almost no matter what that one thing is, isn’t going to maximize health, since your body will be over-adapted to the forces that that context creates. (Again, my lower back problems, which I suspect were a result of my body’s attempt to deal with the amount of sitting that I did and the particular posture I used while sitting.)

And that’s all well and good, and it certainly makes sense. But it’s a sort of making sense that can easily lead in a Stage 3 direction: without the guiderails of Stage 4 systematicity, it’s too easy to interpret whatever sort of common sense actions you’re engaging in as an appropriate amount and type of shaking things up, without really understanding what’s going on. And, of course, it’s an answer that raises questions about the wisdom of following Stage 4 answers: if you’re not careful, those can end up warping your body in different ways!


For example: how much does Move Your DNA suggest that I should worry about the Gokhale method being bad because it instills new habits which could cause their own damage if followed regularly? I’m honestly not sure what the answer is to that; right now, though, I’m not too worried. Bowman isn’t agnostic about different positions, either, there are some that she likes more than others; and it feels to me like Gokhale’s idea of a desired neutral body position (which I have found very useful) matches reasonably well with Bowman’s starting points?

I’m less sure about some of Gokhale’s other recommendations, the ones that are designed to stretch your lower back in particular. They feel like they replace one set of external forces that our anatomy isn’t well adapted to with another set of forces that doesn’t match anything that would have been regularly encountered in the evolutionary environment, and that seems potentially dangerous if taken to an extreme. But the flip side is that, done appropriately, they feel to me like therapeutic exercises rather than something you’re supposed to stay in regularly for long stretches of time, and in that context they’re probably fine / good?

And certainly some of what the Gokhale method has revealed to me matches some of Bowman’s major points. E.g. Gokhale has some techniques to alter your shoulder positioning; they have definitely had an impact on my shoulder positioning, in a way that feels helpful to me, but more than that they have revealed to me how much I (and other people I see as I look around) have been trained to hunch and to position shoulders and rotate arms towards the front of their possible range of motion, which does feel off. And it’s actually still the case that, now that I’m aware of my shoulder positioning, my two shoulders don’t feel symmetrical; I assume that that’s a consequence of differential arm use. (Though who knows: I spend an awful lot of time typing, and there my positioning is symmetrical! At least I think it is…)


The other body positioning and exercise regimen that I have to compare Bowman against is, of course, Tai Chi. Bowman is a proponent of exercise, but she also cautions repeatedly that repetitive exercise (e.g. lots of running; especially on treadmills, but also on flat roads, though she likes it quite a bit more if you run on varied terrain) doesn’t bring the benefits that you’d hope. It conditions your body to expect the repeated context that that exercise provides, and while having a second repeated context added in isn’t a bad idea, it still leaves out a whole range of potential forces that your body could be adapted to.

I’d like to think that Tai Chi provides a large enough range of movements and forces on your body that it’s less susceptible to Bowman’s critique than some other forms of exercise, but who knows. The (Chen Lao Jia) first form has 75 parts to it; there’s a lot of repetition in there, but still, it’s asking you to a reasonable range of different things with your body? And the weapon sets add still more forces (e.g. the Dao with its forcing you to respond to the inertia that comes from its weight), and I’m finally experienced enough to be able to start learning the second form, which adds still more into the mix.

Though the flip side is that Tai Chi does have its repetitive practices; and, in fact, it sometimes takes those practices to extremes. (Which is the Chi part of the name: it’s a character 極 that means extreme!). For example, standing meditation, where you stand in place for, say, 20 minutes at a time, is something that my teacher recommends.

Arguably, though, Bowman’s book sheds an interesting light on standing meditation: being in one position for 20 minutes is going to have an effect on your body, but if you’re spending that 20 minutes focused on something else (typing away, say), then you’re not going to be paying attention to those physical affects or trying to shape them in a way that’s helpful instead of harmful. Whereas, with standing meditation, your physical positioning and understanding your body’s reaction to that is part of the goal, as is tweaking your positioning as your understanding develops so that you can guide your body into a positioning that helps you.


Hard to say; I don’t have nearly a deep enough understanding of the consequences of what Bowman is saying to be able to use it to seriously analyze other activities at a more-than-superficial level. And, while I’m curious about the book, it’s rich enough that really diving into it would take quite a bit of time; and I’m choosing to only budget so much time to that sort of physical experimentation; right now, Tai Chi is eating up (and, actually, slightly expanding) that budget.

But I do think that Move Your DNA is potentially a pretty interesting / important book? And it’s definitely good to get some encouragement to try opportunistically moving in different ways: I wrote a bit of this post while squatting instead of sitting in a chair, and I’m straying off of sidewalks a bit more. And one concrete effect that the book has had is that it’s had me notice my feet, and the signals coming through the soles of my feet more. I’m sure it’s really a culmination of the Gokhale book and Tai Chi, but when Move Your DNA started talking about feet as highly flexible and able to sense quite a lot if you let them, I realized that, actually, if I paid attention to my feet, I really could feel quite a lot through them and have them in a range of positions even inside my shoes.

Which wasn’t so much the case a few years back when I was experimenting with lightweight shoes: back then, I had a hard time really feeling like my feet were responding to the environment, and if I went too far in the lightweight direction, I felt like I was impacting my body in unfortunate ways. Maybe it’s time to give that a try again? Bowman actually has written a couple of books on that subject, too…

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