Comparisons in Class If you’re human, you’ve probably made a sideways glance at someone else during an exercise class and felt a degree of envy and covetousness at their abilities. Shame on you! Envy has long been associated directly with the devil! Indeed Wisdom 2:24 states: “the envy of the devil brought death to the world.” Stop it at once!
Grief or envy at another’s prosperity (or flexibility!) is normal enough though. Most of us would like to be better than we are in many of our endeavours. In a stretching studio though, while comparisons to other participants may not bring death to the world, they are as pointless as comparing apples and oranges. In “Biochemical Individuality” Roger Williams tells us why: “Every human being is a deviate in some respect. There is no normal and no abnormal, only you in all your uniqueness, and this uniqueness will determine what, of all of life’s offerings is available for you to partake in, and what you should, with wisdom, leave on the plate.” Williams goes on to list just some of the common differences found between us: “blood chemistry, personality, diet, lifestyle, body shape, height, weight, blood pressure, length of arms relative to spine, genes, tendon to muscle length, organ weights, blood, amount of curvature of leg bones, depth of hip sockets.” In stretching sessions, variation in bone shape and length, and in the structure of joints in particular can make a huge difference in what you can and cannot do, and in what you feel during a stretch. It’s also the reason why calling out general alignment cues to large groups of students can lead to confusion and frustration.
Take the hip joint Variation in the shape, depth and orientation of the hip joint or acetabulum and the femur which articulates with it will create very large differences in your ability to abduct (to take away from the center, as in the side splits) your leg. Comparing yourself to the person next to you, who’s bone structure and personal history is nothing like yours, is plain silly. The images below, taken from my book “the Pilates Splits” illustrate the differences. Bone structure is a combination of genetic inheritance and adaption to the stressors experienced by those structures during their formative years of zero to around 16. Unless you have the same parents and did exactly the same things on a daily basis as the guy next to you, you can’t expect to have the same abilities. As the saying goes, “your body is its past,” and your past is like no one else’s.
The takeaway? Don’t spend much time looking around the room unless it’s to marvel at the variation in our planetary life, even within species. Better to spend your time focusing on how you feel and the sensations that are arising. They will alert you to what you should and shouldn’t do far more usefully than the person beside you. I’ll leave you with a quote from my book “Stretching on the Pilates Reformer”: “Each of you are a unique mix of psychosocial, biochemical and biomechanical influences. You appear in class as a personal adaptive configuration of these influences superimposed on your unique inherited characteristics. These are the differences that we have to work with.”
Some common differences in femoral bones
Differences in acetabulum angles