Monday, 24 October 2016

Are you relaxing as well as contracting?

A fascinating post by Joanne Elphinston brings up the issue of muscle control and relaxation. For the body to move efficiently and beautifully there needs to be coordinated muscle control including appropriate relaxation. Without this, muscles can only partially release resulting in inhibited movement and eventually fatigue. To observe this for yourself try comparing extending your leg behind you with your quadriceps contracted then again with them relaxed; or rotating your trunk with your abdominal muscles first tensed, then relaxed.How far can you go each time? 

Often the person affected will read this as tightness and will try to address the problem by stretching - but of course this is futile if the muscle can't relax to allow the movement. Aggressive stretching can end up being counter productive as it may trigger the stretch reflex in self protection.

One answer is to practice self awareness by consciously contracting and then releasing different muscles in turn, maybe beginning at the neck and then working down towards the toes. This is a common relaxation exercise but you can practice with individual muscle groups whenever you like. Another is to practice seeing how minimal an effort and how few muscles can be used for a movement such as turning the wrist, raising the arm or rotating a leg. Practice the movement, observe which muscles you are activating, think if you really need all of them and then try again. An example is raising your arm up to shoulder height in front of you; are your shoulders remaining relaxed or are you hoisting with your whole shoulder? Practice the movement slowly and observe any changes as you focus on allowing smooth, relaxed movement.

Joanne observes the importance of rapid and effective release of muscle tension in generating power and preventing injury; just as important as rapid and appropriate muscle recruitment. I have observed in my own clinic practice that there is more often an issue around 'letting go' of muscles rather than the ability to recruit.

Thursday, 13 October 2016

Mia's Memorial Campaign

I met Mia Ayliffe-Chung ten years ago, when she was ten and I used to climb with her mother, Rosie. Mia came to the crag with us and was a funny, confident, astute girl with a lovely personality. I also noticed that she was an excellent listener who would very likely be quick to pick up on nuances of conversation and spot what it revealed about the speakers. All my friends who met Mia remember her as tremendous fun to spend time with.

I only saw her once as an adult, at Rosie's 50th birthday celebration; she had grown up into a striking and stylish young woman, still confident and evidently enjoying life enormously. I hadn't met up with Rosie much in the intervening years after I stopped climbing and life got significantly busier, but we'd kept in touch through Facebook and I enjoyed her posts on what Mia was up to. 

   On the morning of Wednesday 24th August I switched on my tablet to catch up with Facebook before work. I am selective with what I allow on my newsfeed and this is normally a pleasant way to begin the day, seeing what friends are up to and looking up interesting articles and other items that they recommend. I noticed that Rosie had posted and assumed it would be another update on Mia's travels; she had just begun unpaid work on an Australian farm in order to extend her Visa. It was an update, but a truly shocking one to inform us before we saw it on the news that Mia had been murdered in a brutal attack by a fellow worker at the farm she was staying on. Although I didn't know Mia well, I felt overwhelmed by a profound sense that a bright presence that enriched the world was gone. I could not begin to imagine the pain and devastation that Rosie was enduring.

As Rosie found out more she shared it with us. When Mia first arrived on the farm four days before the attack Rosie had become aware that things were not right and that her daughter was worried about conditions there. Rosie is a strong woman and since Mia's death she has channelled this strength into finding out more and taking action. On travelling out to Australia she realised just how exploitative the labour for Visas system is, and she set up a campaign in Mia's name to raise awareness and bring about regulation and better, safer conditions for foreign workers. Rosie is extremely intelligent and articulate, and you may have heard her speaking on the radio about Mia's life, death and the campaign for regulation or read her articles for the Independent newspaper. Rosie's dignity, compassion and strength whilst in the public eye has been inspirational. 

Rosie set up a petition asking the Australian government to implement regulation of obligatory farmwork service. It so far has more than 4000 signatures but this is not enough. Below is a link to the petition, together with Rosie's own words explaining why this regulation is imperative.

If you scroll down, you can find updates on the campaign. 

We will never know if regulation would have saved Mia's life, but it could make the lives of many other young people travelling and working in Australia much safer.       

There is now a campaign called Tom and Mia's Legacy, dedicated to improving conditions for migrant workers.