Calibrating your Meat Suit: Episode 4
Updated: Aug 4, 2021
If you haven’t read Episode 1, have a skim of it here. This series of blog posts is to give you some ideas on how to improve and calibrate your senses to better serve your training and movement. There is a section focused on each sense, with suggestions for games or drills to calibrate that sense, or even just a framework for bringing attention and awareness to it. By no means exhaustive, so if you have more suggestions, please comment on this blog post, or send us an email.
Sense of Hearing
Now, I’m not the best person to be writing this, having mistreated my eardrums through years of punk gigs, but I’ll give it a shot anyway.
One of the more obvious ways we engage with our sense of hearing in parkour training is through landings. It’s a common refrain, a quiet landing is a good landing. So, always listen to your landings, and compare that with how they feel. And then try to land quieter next time!
We’ve got two ears for a reason—well, probably for several reasons—so we can hear in stereo. We have binaural hearing, which helps to situate the sounds we hear in space through (unconscious) comparison of inputs from either side of the head. Spatial hearing also takes into account echoes and reverberations that give us information about the environment around us. This helps us move and react, situate ourselves in space and in relation to events within earshot, and may have effects on posture, too.
While improving the mechanics of spatial hearing itself may not be possible, we can always improve the level of attention we bring to it.
You can also bring awareness to your own ‘Cone of Confusion’ - “A cone-shaped set of points, radiating outwards from a location midway between an organism's ears,” within which your brain may not be able to work out where a sound is coming from - and how you can overcome it (Sometimes by tilting your head like a doggo :D)
Many of us use music while we train, to help feel a sense of flow or rhythm, or sometimes to distract the mind from conditioning or jogging. I’m not going to make a value judgement about that (although I might about your playlist :D). What I would like to gently suggest is that whether you do use music or you don’t; have a go at the opposite.
I used to listen to music while running, all the time. To the point that if my phone or headphones were out of batteries I wouldn’t go running. Then, once, really craving a run despite my phone’s lack of batteries, I decided to go running music-less. It was so much easier. Not at first, for the first 10 minutes I was very grumpy. But, after I found my rhythm, I realised that my use of music had often overwritten and overruled my natural running cadence. It had also distracted me from feeling grounded and entirely in a flow state as I ran.
On the flip side, if you’re training a particular set of movements, putting on some music can help you switch into a different mindset. Approaching a flow, route or line as if it were a dance can be a fantastic (and helpful) change of perspective.
This one’s a little more esoteric, and also a generic idea that fits under each sense in this series. The sounds of the city you live in can provide you with a lot of information, if you tune into them.
Can you recognise birdsong around you? Do you know the name of the bird that sings it? Are there other animals that live in your city and do you know what they sound like? Do you recognise the sounds of traffic lights, or of emergency vehicles?
If you feel safe and comfortable enough, try a listening meditation at your favourite training spots. You might be surprised at some of the things you notice. Or, if meditation ain't your jam, you can try blindfold training, like Siobhan here :D
Image description: A woman moving through chrome bike racks, wearing a blindfold.
Sense of Touch
This is a weird one, because what we call ‘touch’ is sort of like several senses standing on each others’ shoulders and wearing a trench coat. So here, I’ll just be talking about sensory input through the skin, and other senses (such as sense of temperature, pressure or proprioception) that often get lumped together under a touch umbrella will be covered later.
Some of the most important touch information you’ll get in parkour training is through your feet. How the ground feels and how much grip you have on it, the force with which you’ve hit the ground or where you’re positioned on a bar while balancing.
There are loads of ways to improve this including:
Wear shoes that allow that information to come through, ie, ones with the thinnest, most flexible soles.
Aim for shoes with a wide toe-box. Our toes are meant to spread wider than the knuckle, not smush to a pointed shape. If they do, touch, balance and strength all improve.
Train without shoes when you can (be sure to start small, and build up the strength and conditioning of your feet)
Regularly stretch, massage and strengthen your feet. This will improve EVERYTHING to do with your training, not just touch.
Improve your connection with and control of your feet with simple drills (Look up Toe-ga). Can you move your big toe without moving other toes? What about your little toe?
Image description: A close up of two bare feet, in mid stride from one metal bollard to another.
Sometimes your senses can combine to give you an advantage that neither could give you alone. A touch library is a combination of sight and touch that allows us to know what a surface might feel like even if we haven’t touched it before. Your touch library lets you see a marble tabletop and know it’s going to feel smooth to the touch, see a rounded edge and know it’s going to be hard to keep your grip on it.
Adding to your touch library is something that you’ll do unconsciously over time, but you can also make additions to the catalogue consciously. I try to include it in a warm up period as part of training at a new spot (or in new conditions, like if it’s wet). It’s a simple operation: Just walk or jog around, looking at all the surfaces; have a guess at what they will feel like, then testing that guess with a kick/ small landing/ grab.
A touch library is helpful to keep in mind during your training because you’ll have more information about each environment you train in, stored away for next time. You’ll know that particular bench is a lot slippier than it looks, or that type of stone is actually pretty grippy in the wet. It’ll also improve your guesses at what surfaces will feel like without a test jump too!
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