Strong Mind and Body
Do we get the best results from our exercise selections? How do we select which exercise to perform? Besides matching the proper exercise for the problem we have, what else is important?
Is being effective due to:
- The proper selection of the correct exercise? or
- How we do that exercise/movement?
First we must congratulate ourselves because we are doing exercises. Next we have usually identified some reason for putting down the remote and/or getting out of bed. Now let’s move quickly on to someone who wants to perform their particular task or skilled movement better. It could be that they want to jump higher, cut quicker on the field, get into better shape/condition or simple perform a yoga posture that is particularly challenging. Let’s take the latter case to illustrate several of these points on how to effectively exercise. (We are expanding the definition of exercise and bending the definition of yoga asana here to make some points, knowing that the purists may start off disagreeing too early here)
This is not a complete description of how to do Chakrasana. We are using this posture/asana as an example of some one who wishes to do an exercise or asana effectively. (This example could be extrapolated into many of the “corrective exercises” being given and performed today.
Let’s start with looking at a typical example of someone wanting to be more flexible. They have taken up Yoga asanas in a class. At some point the teacher has progressed to this pose called Chakrasana or wheel. It is fairly vigorous for many, as can be seen by the picture above. Again this could be an example of someone wanting to jump higher and get stronger in their legs who at some point starts doing one leg squats. It really doesn’t matter the movement activity by itself. It is again looking at how to exercise effectively.
Truly in exercise/movements it would be best if we knew ourselves well. (Know thyself–OK, end of philosophy).
- Where do we move well–actually where and in which directions do we have ease and dis-ease
- What movements are strong/stable/powerful and have endurance (both in mobility and in stability)
- Which tasks and/or skills do we prefer and which ones do we stay away from
- Do we move smoothly and in a coordinated fashion
- Do we breathe or frequently hold the breath with frequent efforting
- Can we stay focused and pleasant in our mind or just the opposite
These are just some of the aspects or questions to ask in order to get to know HOW we move and therefore better know ourselves. Knowing ourselves better will allow us to move better. We can take full advantage then of the exercises or movements being selected.
Maybe Chakrasana (or single leg squats) are not the best exercise at the moment. Maybe the way in which we do them is not allowing the benefits of those movements to create the tremendous results that await us.
Where (location and direction) and how do we move well (and where/how we don’t)
We need to look at large patterns of movement. We want to see and feel how the body moves in all directions from the major areas of the body while performing a variety of movement patterns/tasks/skills.
- Bending and reaching
- Pushing and pulling
- Squatting and kneeling
- Rolling and crawling
- Sitting and standing
- Walking, running, hopping and jumping
Where in the body do we move a lot and where are we stiffer. Often this inquiry stops here. It is insufficient. The shoulders may be tight in lifting them above our head but have a lot of movement in the opposite direction. Especially important is to notice difference from side to side and up to down. Maybe our hips are able to extend (backward bend) well but our shoulders cannot open in that same direction. Maybe one shoulder does more opening that the other–do you see that in Chakrasana then you would create a rotation of the trunk.
Look at the picture again and you see that the hips are opening well in backward bending. The lower back spine is bending a lot. The rib spine or thoracic spine is not backward bending at all in the mid to upper back. The shoulders are also tight in this same direction.
Isn’t it interesting to note that this person is doing the general direction of this Wheel pose. It is just HOW they are doing it that is of note here. Therefore they will be over using hips and low back (and neck) and under using shoulders and mid-upper back (and wrists).
What if we knew where we moved and didn’t. This might totally change what we do and how we do it. Of course the results would be vastly different. Our learning then and what we pay attention to would be expanded. The changes across many different systems could be facilitated (musculoskeletal, fascial, nervous system, respiratory, immune, etc)
What movements are strong/stable/powerful
Again looking at this picture, we can ask several questions. I know it would be better if we actually had a video. Then truly we could appreciate the movement qualities better. This picture and discussion will at least highlight the points of this article.
Looking at the two ends of this Wheel pose–which end, the leg or arm end, looks most stable? You can see how the weight of the body is carried behind the arms. Are the shoulders weak or only stiff? or both? Address whatever is involved with a more appropriate regression of this pose first. Identify weakness and lack of stability of the shoulder complex with the arm above the shoulder level. There are many ways of doing these tests/movement regressions. We will not go into that detail here.
Looking at the middle of the body and seeing how the front of the lower back (the belly) over lengthens. The lower back over shortens. How much of this over extension of the low back is a mobility problem of the thoracic spine in extension? (or/and does it involve lack of stabilization of the anterior belly region.)
First you would have to decrease the challenge of this activity. Take them out of trying to do this asana. Place them on the floor and have them roll from belly to back with only the arms and head. Do they activate their belly enough to transmit the rolling through the trunk from the arms. Could their shoulders and thoracic spine be so stiff as to even impede this movement. Further investigation would be warranted. This again is just to highlight a perspective of looking and asking questions.
By looking at more of these larger movement patterns, it will become clearer.
Which tasks and/or skills do we prefer and which ones do we stay away from
I wonder if this person loves to do backward bending movements where the shoulders are not flexed near their end ranges (that is over head position, above shoulder level). So let’s make up a scenario that I see frequently in the clinic. They would do easily cobra or lying on their stomachs with arms by their sides. Even Camel pose (tall kneeling and bending backwards to place hands on heels) would be available. Any superman type position or boat pose would be done with substitution and difficulty. They would never practice hand stand as it is too tiring.
If this lack of using the extremities over the head (in Chakrasana) causes such stress, then it may need to be regressed or made easier.
This easier movement may allow the proper awareness and adjustments to overusing and underusing that is being outlined here.
Do we move smoothly and in a coordinated fashion
This examination of coordination and agility reinforces many of the above observations. Again whatever we move well and strongly, those are things we do. We always use what we have even when trying to do something else.
Let me digress from this example to talk more of our preferences and avoidance’s in general movement. We use the same patterns of movements and habits even in opposite directions. It is not unusual to see someone who is trying to sit on the floor and has a lot of left knee pain (for example–in a cross leg, sukhasana pose). Sometimes in looking at them you see their weight shifted to their left hip, although they are leaning a bit to their right. You find they are in right sidebending of their trunk. When you ask them to sit on a chair and turn right and left they still have most of their weight on their left sit bone. In other words they do their movements of rotation and still maintain their right side bending of their trunk. Their coordination remains dysfunctional even though you would give them a movement to change it.
This latter dysfunction a very important point to discover. Our movement habits often remain and don’t change just because we are doing some corrective asana or exercise. The WAY we move becomes also very important.
Do we breathe or frequently hold the breath
OK, breathing is so important. It is a barometer of our mind and nervous system. Sure at the beginning one may fine this breath rhythm disturbed. The habitual and repetitive nature of an interrupted breath is very detrimental to our learning and proper response to the exercise. A jerky breath relates to a jerky focus of the mind and all the other negative effects in all systems.
Try moving only so far as the breath can flow well. This does not mean that you can’t cause strain. That is ridiculous. As one continues to do repetitions or hold the pose, the breath should be noted to start to flow well. Otherwise there is not practice. One is just violently stimulating the system. Of course you have some changes even with the breath always being strained. This abnormal breath rhythm though is very limiting and over the long term is detrimental to health and well being.
Can we stay focused and pleasant in our mind
Alright, take off the music headphones. Pay attention to what you are doing and what you are feeling. A good barometer like the breath is to ask whether you are pleasant in your mind. GEEZ, you mean we have to be smiling all the time. OK, less drama here. Just note what happens to your overall sense of tensing and effort when you notice that your mind is not pleasant. Whenever I ask this question in class or to individuals, I never fail to see an easing of tension, even a : o )
Also when the mind is more pleasant–often you will notice an ease in the movements. Try it just like you would try breathing with more awareness and ease.
So now when you exercise, you can ask more questions. Effective exercise is creating the proper effect you want and/or that is available in the stimulation of the movement done well. Effective exercise involves BOTH the selection of the right exercise the proper way of moving–
- The Body
- The Breath
- The Mind
So before and during your next exercise session, take time to pay attention. Use the movements to create opportunities to sense and breath. Train hard up to your capacities. To know your capacities, you must practice a lot. You would benefit by coaching or skilled guidance. Try using these principles–pick one, like having a pleasant mind. Then go find a skilled coach/teacher and get some quality feedback.
Best of luck in your effective exercise.
Feel free to comment or contact me directly for a consultation.