Book reviews

Book Review: Movement Matters

Title: Movement Matters

Author: Katy Bowman

Anyone who follows the Pilates Book Review and Discussion Club forum (all ten of you 😉) knows that we are big fans of Katy Bowman.  We have reviewed four of her seven books, Alignment Matters, Whole Body Barefoot, Move your DNA,  and Diastasis Recti.  She has also written Don’t Just Sit There and Simple Steps to Foot Pain Relief.  Her new book, Dynamic Aging, is on my wish list- it is not yet available in France.  A biomechanist by training, Bowman writes a popular blog, Katy Says, and has a podcast of the same name, directs and teaches at the Nutritious Movement Center Washington, and travels internationally to give movement workshops.  Nutritious Movement is also a facebook forum.

Movement Matters is somewhat different from Bowman’s other books, perhaps closest in nature to Alignment Matters, which is a compilation of blogs.  Movement is a collection of essays on movement written by Bowman over five years, not just movement as in moving an arm and a leg, or even moving one’s body, but of movement in general – small movements, big movements, bigger movements, how the movement of one affects the movement of all, how the movement of man affects movement of the world.  “I believe the expansion to an ecological model in human bod science- considering society’s impact when we investigate human movement – is necessary for scientific clarity,” Bowman states.

The back cover describes the book as a “groundbreaking investigation of the mechanics of our sedentary culture and the profound potential of human movement….”   Seems a daunting task to initiate such an investigation in only 225 pages, but one of Bowman’s strongest points is her ability to take complicated concepts and explain them so clearly, so simply, that it seems almost impossible that we ever believed otherwise or that the concepts never occurred to us before.  That is not to say that the book is superficial, rather that its simplicity is deceiving.  Each read reveals new insights.  It is not a book of facts from which to learn, although learn you will, nor is it a how-to.  It is more aptly described as a series of reflections that “invites us to consider our personal relationship with sedentarism, privilege and nature.”  I found myself going over some of the chapters again and again, not because I did not understand them but because I wanted to mentally revisit the ideas within.

In lieu of a traditional review, I will mention my favorite parts and how they affected my thinking as both a Pilates teacher and (normal?? 😉 )person, and then render my overall impression.  In the introduction, I came upon this sentence: “For many, the publication of a research article in a peer-reviewed journal was the equivalent of truth and not a single data point in a much larger library of information.“ This statement and in fact the entire chapter one, Science Moves, is highly relevant to the Pilates community, specifically in relation to the two major debates dividing the community, the neutral spine and the “is flexion bad for you” debates.  Both arguments begin similarly, something along the lines of-  “science has changed so much from when Joe was alive.  We have now learned from science that Pilates as Joe taught it was unsafe.  Because Joe was an innovator, he would have evolved his teaching to reflect the latest scientific research.”    Funnily, the same people who cite “science” generally only cite one researcher, Stuart McGill, or worse, they have not even read McGill, but cite someone else who cites McGill, without ever seeking direct answers themselves.  Even those that have read a McGill article or two generally have not read his books nor have they explored in greater the studies McGill describes, exactly how the studies were conducted, their limitations (every study has limitations), whether other studies contradict or at least limit their relevance or the reach of their conclusions.  Does anyone else see the contradiction?  On the one hand, the people making these arguments insist that science has evolved and that this evolution substantiates their thinking.  On the other hand, they refuse to submit to the idea that science is STILL evolving, and accept as gospel what they have been taught without probing more deeply.

I truly cannot overstate my enthusiasm for the Science Moves chapter.  As tempting as it is to go into more detail and describe each of the different subchapters, to do so would be way beyond the scope of a review and would not come close to doing Bowman‘s arguments justice.  I will instead list the subchapters and some of what I deemed the more important sentences to give an idea of the content. The subchapters are: Muscle: A simple Model, Expand Your Muscle Model, You’re More Than (Two of Your Parts, Proof, Putting all Your Eggs in One Comment Basket, Don’t be A Stupid, Sometimes Science is Sedentary, and Dear Katy.  The following are some of the statements within the chapter that most resonated with me.  :

“Research titles shouldn’t read like magazine headlines; every study presents just a tiny aspect of something…. a conclusion drawn from a single research paper might change when compared to one drawn from a more robust literature review.”

“My assumption is that if you’re interested in evidence, you’re interested in all of it.  And that if you use a scientific publication to support your behavior, you are extensively reviewing the literature yourself, and that a new idea sparks a surge in research in reading, and not only in online commenting.”

“Being certain about “how certain things work when your certainty is based on a limited perspective can leave you many avenues unexplored.”

I will say something about how this relates to my experience first as a Pilates student, then as an apprentice and now as a teacher.  I believe that Pilates teachers should always ask questions. and should always seek answers, continually, eternally.  No matter how wonderful your teacher or mentor or that workshop presenter or blog writer is, no matter how talented, no matter that his or her list of credentials is as long as my arm, he or she does not know everything.  There is no reason for you to accept everything he or she says as the gospel.  Think for yourselves.  Seek your own truths.   Disagreeing with someone is not a sign of disrespect and someone who discourages questions is likely not entirely confident in the veracity of his assertions, or else is just an arrogant ass – I know a few.    When I was going through my Pilates certification, I asked questions because that it how I am wired. (My second grade teacher told my parents to buy me a book about reproduction because I was, it seems, asking “questions” in class.)  But asking questions during my certification was highly discouraged and some people were frankly unpleasant about it.  But then, a lot of people in that program were jerks – that is a story for another time and possibly petty, but truthful 😉.   It just wasn’t done to ever question what we were taught.  This was in stark contrast to my training as a lawyer, where students were encouraged to ask questions and even to disagree with our professors if their arguments were well presented.

Following the Science Moves chapter are Nature Moves, Food Moves, and Just Move.  Just Move was also a favorite chapter of mine.  Those who read my review of Bowman’s book, Whole Body Barefoot may (but probably don’t) recall that I expressed my astonishment as Bowman’s ability to write so many books, teach, and run an education center, while at the same time maintaining the healthy outdoor lifestyle she espouses and spending quality time with her kids.  She must have read my mind because in Movement Matters, she explains just how she does it.  It seems that what I do, multi-tasking (answering emails while brushing my teeth and listening to my ten year recite her poetry lesson) is not the answer.  The answer is something called stacking.  Instead of doing four things (not very well) at the same time, you do one activity that fulfills four objectives.  For example, Bowman goes foraging for fruit with her kids – in one fell, she spends quality time with her kids, she educates them, she climbs trees, working her muscles and bones, she and her family get the fresh air and vitamin D they need and she sources healthy food for her family.  Sounds like a brilliant idea.  Unfortunately, when I suggest to my kids that they join me in foraging for food, they barely look up from whatever electronic device in which they are engrossed to scowl at me and remind me that their idea of fruit are gelatin candies in a fruit form.  Well, uh, that went well.

I have to say that while I thoroughly enjoyed Movement, it did make me painfully aware of my own shortcomings as a mom, as a “healthy, active, sporty” person and as an environmentalist (which I really don’t claim to be although I do recycle and use those long-lasting, low-energy lightbulbs).  My shortcomings as a mom because I don’t send my kids to nature school and I let them drink sugary drinks (only one a day) and ruin their eyesight and dull their intelligence with computer games.  My shortcomings as a healthy sporty person – just as I am reading about how Bowman loves research and questions and is continually seeking answers and I think that we must be soulmates and how are surely destined to be BFFs, then I read some brilliant statement about how we humans today constantly outsource our movement and use exercise the way we take vitamins, to fulfill what we should be getting and doing in our everyday activities but are not.  This outsourcing has consequences on a personal and a global level.  As I nod enthusiastically in agreement, and think that I need to note this down, I take a photo of the page with my IPhone because I can’t be bothered to get up and find a pen and paper.  Then, slowly, it dawns on me that Katy (I would get to call her Katy as her new BFF) would not want to be BFFs with a lazy bum like me – in fact, she would probably hate me….  ☹

Happily, my sadness is short-lived.  At the end of each chapter, Bowman includes a question and answer section entitled Dear Katy.  In the Dear Katy section of the Just Move chapter is a letter from someone who read an advance copy of the book and like me, is “freaking out” and feeling guilty because although she thought she was a good human being, she has realized that “just by living in a peaceful manner”, she could actually be “contributing to all the world’s problems”.  No worries, says non-judgey Katy (whom I again am convinced will be my new BFF), and she proceeds to assuage our/my guilt by stating that there are numerous ways that we can contribute to making the world a better place.  Ok, I can do this – hmm – turning the car key instead of clicking on the automatic key – no, I don’t like that one (I love my automatic sliding door); sourcing raw ingredients – um, no; spending some time on a local farm, squatting to weed or harvest – no, no and no!; using loose tea instead of teabags – ok, I can get on board;  and buying (I am good at buying) handmade items from those making a living from making them and under conditions I deem acceptable – does buying fair-trade chocolate count?

In conclusion, Movement Matters is a must-buy.  You will read it again and again.  Hopefully, it will motivate you to, like me, “question everything, including what you’re doing right this moment and what has made what you’re doing possible.”  And if you conclude that you should and could be doing more, then hopefully it will help you take at least baby steps to get you started.  And at least you will be off facebook if you read a book.  Although – if you are reading this review on facebook, then kudos – you are stacking!!