Most of us are afraid of falling, especially as we get older. Why is that? Of course, we don’t want to get hurt, and many of us either know someone or have heard of someone falling and experiencing long term injuries. But it doesn’t have to be that way.
As babies and small children, we lived, played and crawled on the floor. As we grew, we continued to frequently get down on the floor. The occasional spills we experienced were no big deal, and we would bounce back up and be off on our next adventure. But as adults, we keep ourselves upright. We stand, walk, sit in chairs and lose our intimate relationship with the ground. As a result, we develop a fear and distrust of the ground, of our ability to fall safely (yes, there is such a thing) and gracefully get back up.
My last hiking trip to the mountains included maneuvering through glacier fields. It was a challenge going up, and in the back of my mind I was a little concerned about the trip down, knowing that it would be a slippery descent. I, myself, have never been a huge fan of falling and used to avoid it at all costs. Oh, well. I was already pretty far up the trail, so I knew I would have to figure a way to get down.
It was interesting to observe some of the other hikers and the strategies that they were choosing to get down the mountain. One group of teenagers took a running start and then slid down the glaciers as if they were skiing on their sneakers. An interesting technique, considering the huge rocks, large trees, sharp drops into the canyon as well as the fact that most of them were carrying large, pointed sticks for balance. I envisioned a few trips to the ER.
One woman chose to walk behind her husband, holding onto his waist for support. She was bent forward with her center of gravity behind her base of support, staring at the ground, tentatively and cautiously placing her foot on the snow with each shaky step. I watched her fall twice, once with her husband hanging on to her arm. I was more concerned about him dislocating her shoulder as he tried to “help” her than her injuring herself with the fall. Another family had 2 small girls that looked terrified as their Dad tied a rope around their waists. Yikes! What if Dad was the one to fall and take the little ones down with him?
Without even thinking, I found my strategy. I set my weight down into my pelvis, lowered my center of gravity directly over my base of support, kept my upper body flexible and shifted my weight side to side. I quickly and confidently scampered down the mountain. Even if I did fall, I intuitively knew that I would not get hurt. My center of gravity was so low and close to the ground that I didn’t have far to fall. Of course, I have the advantage of having studied a martial art where we learn how to fall. I also have the advantage of spending a great deal of time on the floor with my Feldenkrais practice. As a result, I am no longer afraid of falling, and am able to trust my instincts to know how to land without getting hurt.
The physical therapist, Feldenkrais practitioner, teacher and ultimate caretaker in me was tempted to teach the other hikers how to safely get down the mountain. But the truth is, we all fall; literally and figuratively. Life often pulls the rug out from underneath us and we go tumbling down. It’s up to each one of us to develop a strategy that not only allows us to fall safely, but also to be able to get back up again. We can hold onto someone else, and hope that they can support us as we fall, without causing more damage than the actual fall itself. We can tie ourselves to someone else, and hope that they themselves don’t fall and take us crashing down with them. We can throw ourselves down a slippery slope littered with dangerous obstacles and hope for the best, and that somehow we will survive. Or, we can figure out a safe way to fall, take care of ourselves, and get back up again.
Recently someone asked me “Who catches you when you fall?” My answer was immediate and honest: “No one. I learned how to fall so I don’t get hurt”.
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP