Recently while visiting my grandma's house I noticed a squirrel running across the street. The first thing that caught my attention was that the squirrel only had half of it's tail. It wasn't until later that I realized that it was also missing one of its rear legs. This amazed me in that this animal was able to compensate and still move naturally and gracefully enough that I didn't even notice it's missing leg.
When I have any injury or a bit of stiffness in my joints, my body mechanics tend to change and become more rigid and less graceful. This opened my eyes a bit that I could make more of a conscious effort to move more fluidly in my daily life, concentrating on the areas that felt good, instead of the ones that ached or were stiff. I had been doing this for a bit during the conditioning portion of rugby practice, and noticed my body warmed up much faster.
This led me to think of the role of grace in athletics and longevity. When I was younger, I was bristling with energy. I was driven to push myself and run, jump, play and frolic as much as possible. It seemed though, that society at the time wanted me planted firmly on the sidelines, to be the cheerleader instead of the athlete on the playing field. The first time I can remember noticing this was when it came to wearing skirts and dresses to school in first grade. Initially I had no problem wearing skirts, not until I was told that I couldn't hang upside down on the monkey bars like the other kids, for fear of flashing my little bloomers to the whole school yard. In later years it began to seem that women's clothing prized form over function to the point where it was almost a conspiracy to hobble and hamstring function. The clothes were made out of lightweight, delicate frilly fabrics that couldn't stand up to the lightest bit of use. Heaven forbid that women's winter clothing would have enough fabric to actually keep a person warm, that would ruin the cute little cut of the garment. I tolerated the ballet lessons my parents enrolled me in so that I could take the more fun tap lessons. Then of course, there was the worse offender of all, the high heel. Here was something that was unstable, would use the person's body weight to force their toes into a painful little point at the end of the shoe, not to mention would lead to foot, hip and back problems later in life. None of that seemed like a good trade off, yet this is what society expected of me. That didn't sit too well with me. I began to focus solely on function, seeing any effort put into form and thereby gracefulness, as a waste of energy that could have been put into strength and speed.
Now, later in life, I'm seeing how form and function don't have to detract from each other, but can actually work together to create an incredible synergy. Grace is smooth, coordinated movement, which is inherently faster, stronger and beautiful. The book and DVD series "Kettlebells from the Ground Up" explained that the word calisthenics is derived from the Greek "Kalos Sthenos," meaning "beautiful strength." The ancient Greeks, who were some of the fittest athletes around, realized the need for gracefulness in their practice. As I played volleyball, I eventually unintentionally found a level of grace through practicing and refining my function. Now I'm curious as I take up a new sport, rugby, how putting a strong emphasis on grace from the beginning will affect my game. In order to do this, I've incorporated work with kettlebells, in particular the ballistic swinging movements, as well as indian clubs. Another option would be to take up dance. In a Time.com interview, football player Lynn Swann stated that his years of dance lessons in tap, jazz, and ballet had greatly helped his sense of balance, body control, rhythm and timing. Who would have thought all those years ago that sporting a frilly little tutu might actually help with my rugby game.