Archive for pleasant mind

Effective Exercise

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?

Effective Exercise

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)

Yoga Asana–Chakrasana

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
  • Twisting
  • 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.

Whew

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.

Strong Posture

Stability in Movement

Ability to maintain your structure in balance with ease and grace.  Look at the picture of a Mountain woman.  See the ease of alignment in this snapshot of posture.  Note that the posture is not static.  It allows for efficient organization for a task–whether it be active or passive in nature.

Posture is not holding a position.  Posture is a recognition of stability that can be expressed statically or in movement. The different factors that go into posture can be easily perceived from first looking at a static arrangement.  A posture that is easeful, graceful and efficient is strong.

Elements of a Strong Posture

  • Proper alignment of the structure
  • A balance of weight and forces efficiently throughout the structural arrangement
  • Balance of the facilitation and inhibition of the neuromusculoskeletal system
  • Allows for ease of multi-directional movements
  • Breathing
  • Leads towards a pleasant mindedness

Proper Alignment

There are many excellent models to demonstrate this integration of the structure in space.  The body can be looked at as an assembly of parts that we place in a certain relationship with the adjacent part.  This reduction of the structure to parts has advantages for ease of learning.  One of it’s main disadvantages is one is often left with trying to do and hold a particular alignment.  Again not always bad, just incomplete if one stops with the postural process at this point.

So keep all the parts aligned–OK.  Well first of all we all are a bit different.  Our structures have limitations in range of motion or flexibility.  So keeping your head with chin tucked and your chest up can be a problem for some.  If you have a flexed thoracic or chest spine that is rounded forward, you attempt to move the chest UP, can lead to increasing your lower back to thoraco-lumbar backward bending curve.

This pattern of our individual differences can and does lead to increased mal-alignment vs improved alignment.   These compensations we all make are often unnoticed.  They are silent in our sense of our posture.  If we have an experienced practitioner with us they can point this out.  Sometimes a telling view of (unknown) tagged photo, reveals these postural mis-alignments.

Our ability to feel is often more limited to our ability to see.  (Not true for all).  So seeing it helps.  Having a skillful eye give us feedback can be very revealing.

Also training our sensory positional and movement feedback system becomes integral.  One way to aid in this training is to start appreciating where you feel weight throughout the different areas of the body.

Balance of Weight and Force

Actually we start with developing a feeling sense of where the body is aligned.  The above sense of alignment is based on seeing our alignment usually.  This next aspect is complimentary and uses not the visual sense but this ability to sense weight and pressure.

Often we can start at the feet.  Always start with a question also.

Where do you feel the weight on your feet as are standing?

Do you feel more weight on the front or back of the foot–or is it even feeling?

Now for background on this section–it is important to notice that the question is on what you FEEL, not on what you Think you feel or just notice what your mind in your head would estimate, etc.  This discrimination of feeling vs thinking/knowing, can be actually hard for some people to distinguish.  They haven’t paid attention to what they feel in weight or pressure or force for a long time.  Their response is on what they think it should be.

Also when someone says they feel the weight evenly on their feet–you might observe that they are leaning backwards more and have more weight on their heels and very little on the front of their feet.  Are they wrong in what they said?

Absolutely not!  That is important to understand.  The question asked above was based on what they felt.  It was not based on what they are doing.  Do you see the difference here?  Intellectually I am sure you do.  As we work together I find that many do not really “get” the difference.  It is important to understand this distinction between knowing and feeling of weight when we are trying to develop greater and broader ways of sensing.

Remember doing is based on feeling/sensing information.  You can not button your clothing or zip your zipper if your finger tips have been numbed from the freezing cold.  Do you remember how fumbling your actions were then?

OK.  This training of posture is more than just standing tall or lengthening, etc.  There is as much training here as with any skill acquisition.  It can be made simple at first.  In relearning it doesn’t have to become laborious.  But in teaching it well you would be served well by knowing and feeling all these aspects that underlie sensing, learning and doing for creating strong yet dynamic postures.

Balance of Neuromuscular Facilitation and Inhibition

This can be a very long section.  Let me give a simple example of what I mean here.  In classes I teach, I will look for someone who stands in a classic sway back and has more of their weight obviously on their rear foot.  We will go through the above section of feeling weight, etc.

Next I will simple muscle test their elbow flexors as a group in standing.  Their elbow flexors 99/100 times test weak in their sway back and back weighted position.  Then simple manually help them stand in an easy neutral.  So there isn’t an extension pattern bias in their posture.  Retesting their elbow flexion results in demonstrably stronger elbow flexors.  Wow it seems like magic.  It is amazing every time.  The flexors are suddenly stronger.  Why?  I propose that the extension pattern in their first stance was inhibiting their flexors.  Simply balancing out this inhibition of the flexors through postural readjustment allowed more normal function of these same flexors.  No weeks of strength training needed.

This balancing of facilitation and inhibition patterns exist throughout posture and movement.  A lot of positive training changes can be accounted for from this model and this type of work.

Ease of Movement in Multiple Planes

When working to improve posture we must look at how it functions in movement.  Often when I just correct someones posture, they do it by holding something more.  They are trying to just do it better.  Standing better in the above example often is demonstrated by being stiff in ones posture.

If posture is looked at as a transition between movements, then we can become less stiff quickly.  If we have a forward head position.  Say we just correct it my doing that popular turtle movement of retracting the head and neck.  Well there are many things to feel in this relationship.  We will not cover the method of helping someone with a forward head posture per se at this time.

The idea is not in the simplistic and isolated cue of correction.  I want you to focus on how easy it can be to make these corrections if thinking about movement.  Now you have simply placed the head more over the upper back.  (I know this is artificial without addressing the other relationships–but bear with me, thanks).  Ask them to move the head by turning to look left and right.  Again work on this isolated cue of correcting the posture, but just add movement and then posture.  Repeat the posture with the movement.  Slowly or quickly sometimes the posture will become more easily repositioned without the previous stiffness.

There are many other ways of working with posture and movement together.  It becomes more dynamic.  I’m sure many are doing this combination.  It just can be refined more and more with all of these points together.

Breathing

This is a key in life.  Right?  Not only because if you don’t–then you can’t (continue life).  But breath here helps coordinate all the aspects of the bodies reflex mechanisms with the voluntary mechanisms.  There is much to say about breath.   The most important is to establish normal diaphragmatic breathing rhythms in the new postures.  If you can breath well you can do well.  You will even be more sensitive in what you are aware of in posture and movement.

Breath is key not only for life itself, but in living of this life

Notice when someone stops breathing.  They stop feeling.  They become stiffer.  Posture implies movement.  Breath is the support of this movement.  Stop the breath or breathe shallowly and your posture and movement becomes shallow and imbalanced.

Pleasant Mindedness

Oh, this is so important.  In training, especially posture we not only hold our bodies but our emotions and mental focus.  Non of this is bad.  Just simply try encouraging:

Have a pleasant mind or

Are you enjoying?

Immediately I find them smiling and relaxing and enjoying.  Wow, this is also magic.  Having a pleasant mind while training is like breathing.  It makes all the difference in learning and acquiring new skills.

Now find out about your posture and work with some of these aspects.  Include those that may not be as familiar or used as much.  If there is any way I can help, just let me know.  If you are in the Northern California area, please consider a consult at one of my offices.

3 Observations in Yoga

In yoga class and in physical training, we often advise paying attention, doing it “right”, and make sure you are breathing–“Don’t hold your breath!”  Remember.

We can look at this advise/coaching/key points as 3 essential observations

3 Observations

  • Body
  • Breath
  • Mind

Body

There are many ways to organize the observation of the body.  We could look at it from what is moving or the qualities of the movement, or both.  (There are even more ways of course we will just limit it now)

Try observing the movement of the body from three key areas

  • Shoulder Girdle
  • Trunk/Spine
  • Pelvic Girdle

These areas will help guide your attention and organize your discoveries.  These three places represent keys and key links or relationships.

Breath

Breathing is a key in all activities.  It can be approached from the gross to fairly subtle aspects.  One of the great gifts of yoga is this emphasis on the breath.  Their approach starts at the subtle breath which then organizes the gross breath.  We can more easily start at the gross breath and it’s characteristics first.  The breath is the link between the body and mind.  This is a main point so well described by one of the great Saints of India, Swami Rama of the Himalayas

6 Main Qualities of the breath

  • Nostril vs mouth
  • Diaphragmatic and lower chest vs upper chest
  • Smooth
  • Deep
  • Noiseless
  • Continuous

Mind

So much can be written and has been written on this mind.  Do we mind?  That is the real question–what are we minding.  Observations of the gross mind can be divided into:

  • Sensing mind
  • Thinking mind
  • Pleasant mind

This last observation of the pleasant mind is a question I find missing.  Well not the question as much as the pleasant mindedness.  Whenever I think of this observation, an image of my teacher, Swami Veda comes to mind.  He has spoken so eloquently of this aspect of the mind.   Also he is able to demonstrate it under conditions most of us would never entertain such a pleasant state.

Well–paying attention and what and how we pay attention is key.  Otherwise we will have to pay for not.