ProprioSTEPtion

Picture you’re crossing a crosswalk, taking broad confident New York strides. The sidewalk curb up ahead is a full foot above the road, so you fix your eye on it and prepare to take that step up, knowing that failure to plan ahead will cause you to trip and look like a fool in front of all the taxis and tourists at a busy intersection. You’re only about 10 feet away now. Just a few more strides. Suddenly it clicks in your mind: left foot. Your left foot is going to be the one making the step up. The certainty causes your left leg to tingle. And surely enough, three strides from that first sensation, your left foot steps up onto the curb.

How does your body know so far in advance which foot will land on the curb? It’s all due to proprioception– the sense your body has of its own parts, especially while those parts are in motion. The more you use your body, walk around, and cross intersections, and particularly once you stop growing physically (at the end of puberty), your body settles into this constant awareness which includes not only its own appendages, but also an invisible sphere spreading out from your body. Your body seems to know a lot of useful measurements within that sphere using its own body, such as how many steps to that thing over there, how far will my feet hang off the side of this bed if I lie down, even how loud to speak so that person over there will hear. Is this a leftover from pre-civilization when we had to remain constantly aware of our surroundings, how far this bush was, how close that cave was, how many strides you’d have to take before leaping over that ravine? These are all measurements that your own body is calculating constantly.

Los Angeles enchanted me from the beginning because of the majestic scale of its urban sprawl. It wasn’t all quite as filthy as Blade Runner made me believe- many parts of it are beautiful mini-valleys and desert stretches which gave me an impression of a city much more collided with the natural landscape than I imagined. I took full advantage of this by visiting (that is, driving) to the Sepulveda Wildlife Recreation Area in Van Nuys, and doing something of a dérive with a 21st century twist. The bizarre hybrid of a lake too-perfectly-curved, barren ballfields, shanty-settlement underpasses, and golf clubs gave the whole landscape a surprising sense of resilience- the feeling that it could endure for another 100 years no matter what global changes will come about. After once chance turn I found myself walking on a long, long, long, straight, straight, straight dirt road that was caught right between the LA River and the Balboa Golf Course. Some way along that road I encountered a golf ball that someone had struck over the fence. Since no one was watching (let along even nearby for hundreds of feet), my childish instincts took over strong, and I approached it with strong strides and kicked it with all my might.

And I remember that, within three strides, my left leg started to tingle, signaling to me that I will strike the ball with that foot. As I continued to kick the ball along the road, my body guessed every time which foot would be the striking foot.

Proprioception, introspection, execution!