Thursday, June 24, 2010

'Cause you gotta have heart!

the human heart...
Rafa and friend doing the splits

the amazing thoroughbred, Secretariat

What does it mean to have "heart"? What's it take to go through life exhilarated by what you do every day? To truly live? To feel truly alive?

For the answer we turn to two reliable worlds of of time honored wisdom:
animals and baseball.

There's a lot we can learn from animals once we stop to pay attention, to tune in. Some people tune in to animals automatically and extend that to the world at large, while some restrict their "tuning in" to animals only (esp. pets), and dull their antennae (their "sensibility" if you will) when dealing with other human beings and life in general. Some avoid animals altogether. (This crowd has a long way to go.) Really tuning takes practice in a busy world full of tempting distractions and threats to your sanity. You need to be still enough to hear what's going on, inside and outside. But tuning in is just the beginning. Once you manage that, what does it take to truly be, to feel, fully alive? the kind of "alive" that's contagious.

When I was out at the VeeBar in Wyoming this month, I heard a story about a great horse. Most folks who follow horse racing at all agree that Secretariat was the greatest race horse that ever lived. His story is the stuff of legends. And his greatness (I mean he beat other horses by as much as 31 lengths in one race!) is, at least in part, attributed to the discovery after his death, when they autopsied him, that his heart was three times the size of a normal thoroughbred's. We are talking a 22 pound heart in an arena of great horses whose hearts generally weigh in at 8 or 9 pounds.

That's a lotta heart!

This is apparently a genetic thing, handed down on the equine female side (of course lots of heart would be a female gene.)

So Secretariat can teach us a lot about what it takes to be fully alive. To go for it every day. "You gotta have heart" , as the old song goes. * "Miles, and miles, and m i i iles of heart!" Hopefully a healthy one. But what else?

The photo above is a diagram of what horse racing calls the Stride Angle of a horse, in this case Secretariat's.

The stride angle is the maximum opening between the front and rear legs, usually occurring at push off from the rear foot. We have found that for every degree you increase the stride angle, you increase the stride length by 2%. This means that if you increase the stride angle just 10°, you will cover 20% more ground with each stride.

A 20% advantage is hard to beat! Was he born with that stride potential? Probably. But you can bet he'd never have perfected it, elongated it, without his trainer putting him through the paces every day. And just look at that stretch! Wide open to LIFE! How's your "Stride Angle"? How far are you willing to stretch?

Having tremendous "heart" is a good start. But what's really important is how that "heart" gets translated into action... or not. We waste a lot of good intentioned energy on sitting around without direction, in ouw own little restricted world, unfocused, without the physical ability to translate our "heart" into action wondering what we should do, afraid to stretch out, when our heart is right there, raising its hand wildly like the classroom geek and trying to get our attention to get us moving. My mom's (God bless her big heart) favorite saying was always "Mood Follows Action!" She believed in this with a zeal that was inspiring. It got me off my ass more times than I can remember. It literally saved me on occasion. Action engenders endorphins, real exhilaration, a sense of fulfillment, of fully living. Most of all, it puts you in motion, and unless you're walking backwards, it reminds you you're always moving forward. I'm not talking about running races, I'm talking about getting off our asses and staying alert and physically vital enough to get out there and do something that comes from the heart. Whatever it is.

So, to summarize: Heart + action =stamina = living fully, a good life

Here's some help to get you started:

When you feel like you just aren't gonna make it, sing along with this little tune from the Broadway musical Damn Yankees from the 50s about the heart you need to be a baseball lover. Throw your arms open wide and dance while you're singing it. And let the spirit move you.

"You've gotta have heart
All you really need is heart
When the odds are sayin' you'll never win
That's when the grin should start
You've gotta have hope
Mustn't sit around and mope
Nothin's half as bad as it may appear
Wait'll next year and hope
When your luck is battin' zero
Get your chin up off the floor
Mister you can be a hero
You can open any door, there's nothin' to it but to do it
You've gotta have heart
Miles 'n miles n' miles of heart
Oh, it's fine to be a genius of course
But keep that old horse
Before the cart
First you've gotta have heart"

*(Song by Richard Adler and Jerry Ross, from the original broadway musical Damn Yankees.)

You can also buy the song on (Itunes doesn't have it) for 99 cents, and it might be one of the best 99 cents you ever spent. Just slap it on your iPod and listen any time you have the blues. Guaranteed to give you happy feet or I will personally give you your 99 cents back! And all you guys out there (and anyone who know me knows I mean MALES when I use the word "guys"), yeah, the ones who "never listen to the words"? Listen this time. I mean, I've got em right there for ya!

And do check out the Stride Angles of these other great race horses for inspiration, then think about the last time you managed to do the splits. If you'd like to be able to do them, see this and this. When's the last time you tried? Never? Too old? No way. Well what are you waiting for?

later, my dears, thanks for tuning in..

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