What Is Courage?

Out of all of the characters in the Wizard of Oz, my absolute favorite is the Cowardly Lion. Except for Toto, of course. Okay, that makes Lion my absolute second favorite. But, it’s funny how the big, strong Lion was always running away from danger and little Toto was always running towards it. So, which one had courage? In my ninja-driven way of thinking, I have the perfect answer. They both did.

How is that possible? Because, what is the definition of courage? Most people would say it is the absence of fear. But, in reality, it is action in the presence of fear.

We’ve all experienced fear. There are several ways we can respond to it. We can run (flight) like the Lion did by removing himself from the threat to keep himself safe. It’s actually a really smart choice, even though it hardly seems appropriate fro the King of the Forest. Or, we can fight like the fierce warrior Toto did, to defeat his opponents and bring them to their knees. It’s an option for those who truly embody the spirit of a warrior. But when you consider that your chances of being the victor are about 50-50 (at best), it might not be the best choice unless you are cornered.

There is a third option. You can freeze like a deer in the headlights. Absolutely THE worst possible choice you can make. But, it’s not your fault, because it really isn’t a conscious choice. Our brain automatically shifts into our sympathetic nervous system when we are threatened, which is part of our built-in survival mechanism. Unfortunately, when we freeze we haven’t got even a slim chance of surviving an attack.

Taking some self-defense classes, sharpening our awareness and observation skills, practicing avoiding and evading a threatening situation is a great start to prevent against freezing, and learning how to take action in the presence of fear. And that, my friends, is the definition of courage.

Flexibility….For Life!

Do you ever feel like the Tin Man from the Wizard of Oz? Like you are so stiff and inflexible that you were left out in the cold, damp forest for so long that you can’t move your joints and you’re screaming for your oil can? Or, have you ever tried stretching your tight muscles only to feel even worse afterwards? It’s not just you. There is a physiological reason for it, and it is basically quite simple.

Before I get all geeky about physiology, let me assure you that losing flexibility is NOT a “normal” part of the “aging process.” Who came up with that idea, anyway? If you find out, let me know. I’d like to smack ’em upside the head for spreading stuff like that! The truth is, that we do not have to lose flexibility as we get older. Even more good news is that we have our own internal oil can, which lubricates and nourishes our joints to keep them healthy and mobile during the entire course of our lifetime.

So, how do we access this internal oil can? By gently moving and mobilizing our joints in the full range of motion that they were made to do to help us perform at our best. I’ll use the hip joint as an example. It is a lovely joint that is made to move in a circular manner called circumduction. Unfortunately, we have a tendency to use it as a hinge joint, moving only forward and backward. Sitting, walking, climbing stairs are an example. As a result, the soft tissue that supports that magnificent joint gets tighter and tighter. Oww. So, we stretch.

One of the functions of the soft tissue is to protect the joint. It is rich with nerve endings that talk to the brain and let it know how things are going. When we try and stretch, those nerve endings send signals to the brain that say STOP!! You’re going to damage the joint. The brain replies by saying OK, and tightens up the soft tissue even more to protect the joint. Ooops.

Instead of stretching, try gently mobilizing your hip joint in its socket with gentle, circular movements. Do not force it, just let it relax into the movement. Remember that less is more. really listen to your body and the signals it is sending you. It does take some extra time, and you do have to slow yourself down. But, in the end, it sure is worth it.