Archive for fitness

Feeling Stuck in Our Bodies

Are We Stuck in Our Bodies

Some days and some times we all get that feeling of:  OMG I’m not going to get better.  Maybe we are overweight, out of shape, have chronic aches and pain, or are feeling caught somewhere in life.This pain or this situation is just what I have to live with from now on.  Fear starts to have a bigger say in our mind.  We not longer are in touch with that more reasonable (laughing Wisdom) character.  Now we are controlled by these emotional winds that blow from different corners of our mind moment to moment.

Pause and Breathe

What to do?  First hang out a bit.  This pausing before doing is a bit difficult.  Often we’d rather rush to make a change.  Totally reasonable for this emotional self.  Totally unreasonable for growth and change.  This hanging out literally involves dealing with a tension we just are too uncomfortable with.  So as with much of life’s stress and strains we can often refer to our breathing.

There is nothing magical in this first part.  We have heard it all before.  So what is the problem often for us.  It is the lack of implementation for a long enough time in a systematic way in order to appreciate change.  This first part is a slowing down on the outside so that we can get a view from the inside.  This interior view must include the stresses but the view is a bit broader if we let breath take us to a calmer place.  This calmer place takes some time and some work.  It is worth it.

For some of us there will be a lot of work just at this initial stage.  It can be very unfamiliar and seemingly stressful to not initially do something to alleviate the discomfort/pain.  Please note if there are acute problems one may need to take immediate action (breathing, not leaking, etc)

Talking to Ourselves

Once we have established the breath AND feel a bit more calm, we can have a brief inner dialogue.  Nothing like a complete Soap Opera–just a way to have the rational self chat with the emotional self or whoever is answering inside at the moment.  Ask ourselves:  What do we really want?  Not just pie in the sky kind of thing.  But what is it that would serve in our best interest.  Our best interest will also serve and fit well in the interest of the family/community that we reside in.

Again as you respond to this inquiry, check in with your breathing and inner perspective.  The inner perspective feels a calming sensation and you start to tap into your own interior wisdom/intuition.  It may be a very soft inner voice.  So all the noise of fear and stress makes it difficult to hear.  This is why taking the time to properly prepare is absolutely critical.

You will know it when you feel a shift from this furtive questioning that leads nowhere.  You start to feel a quieting that causes a release of held tension.  You will feel it in the body as relaxation and the breath automatically becomes deeper.  You may even start to feel more tired or periods of greater energy.  Stay with what ever you are experiencing and repeat this initial process of breathing and paying attention.

Next Steps

All these steps subsequently are predicated on one’s desire for change.  We might want change, but we need to define what that change really looks and feels like.  This means having a goal or goals.  Nothing too fancy or high-sounding.  The more practical and measurable you can make it the better you will know when you have achieved it.

Now lots of us have goals but we never reach them.  Here a goal would be that something or aspect that you could not live without.  Kind of like breathing when you are under water and run out of air.  Boy you know how much you want to breathe-NOW and you are driven literally to the surface again.  This is a burning goal that successfully drives us.  We literally stop doing all the other things that naturally sabotage our efforts or take us away from the direction we need to be moving towards.

This power of ones will in the above example is the type of fuel that take you to your goal.  This will power is critical to develop for many of us.  Often we start out on this journey of change and end up quitting too early.  As soon as it becomes inconvenient or too difficult we find we don’t really want it anymore in that way.  We would like it delivered and all ready to be consumed.  The work of changing ourselves becomes a bigger effort than the effort we are willing to make to create the change.

We lose sight of our goal.  We become again disillusioned and loathing of ourselves.  We once again settle back into this comfortable yet uncomfortable lifestyle.

Why Change

One must have a good reason to have this goal.  It must be based on a deep inner desire.  We have to make a connection from the inside.  This connection inside will show us and bring us to a clearer understanding of ourselves.  This goal will resonate deeply in a way that we begin to feel better.  This better feeling needs to be nurtured by lifestyle changes and proper practices.  This process then continues on it’s own accord and we end up following a deeper calling.  This automatically directed process can easily get side tracked at the beginning (the first several years or decades!).  So of course our exterior effort of pushing towards as we feel the pull from the interior is all part of this dynamic dialectic.

We just don’t take the time to develop this interior appreciation.  This interior life can join with our exterior life and this becomes our great goal.  The movement towards this goal becomes our practice.  First we might need to spend a good amount of time in once again, paying attention and developing this full deep diaphragmatic breath.

How to Change

Go ahead and read the classic wisdom texts for guidelines.  Develop a relationship with like minded seekers.  Nurture your inner spirit/intuition.

Also develop a basic practice.  Choose maybe one thing–two things for a busy minded person.  Remember how to climb a mountain?  One step at a time.  Running up and take leaps and bounds doesn’t really do ANYTHING in the long run.

Basic Practices to support your Philosophy of Life (Goal)

  • Diet and Nutrition
  • Lifestyle
  • Exercise
  • Environmental Considerations
  • Healthy Close Relationships

Maybe start with just avoiding some problems and poor habits.

  • Stop staying up late with your computer or videos
  • Skip a breakfast and get use to hunger and just eating a normal next meal
  • Stop talking or checking Facebook, or email or phone messages all the time
  • Take a break from an unhealthy relationship (person or thing or habit)

Come home

  • Lie down after work: Relax and Breathe for 10-20 minutes
  • Get up and do 15 minutes of exercise
  • Prepare a simple stir fry meal of veggies and a protein source
  • Read something inspiring
  • Go to bed

Don’t make it too complicated.  The complexity is there and it will evolve over time.

Get ready for your new day

Stick with your plan for 4-6 weeks before you change it.  Just get in a good month of training.  Then reassess by again going inside and listen as your relax and breathe.

Remember Dude:  We can all still change.

Stop Neck and Back Pain

What is Going On?

Things were much simpler when we were younger–do you know what I mean.  Now days we are looking for the cure of our ailments and troubles of the world.  Well stop right now and open a different book or URL than what you are reading at this moment.

What we can do here?   We can look beyond what we are noticing as far as the pain.  Pain in a chronic area of the neck and/or back is poor prognosticator of the problems location.  Always consider the adjacent body areas in figuring out what to address in correcting and alleviating this common problem.

Basic Anatomy

Our spine is an interesting and integrated structure composed of three primary curves.  Most people who have neck (cervical) pain or lower back (lumbar) pain do not think of the thoracic spine.  This thoracic spine is conveniently “surrounded” by the neck and lower back spine.  This arrangement of the anatomy is a key in addressing these pains.

Remember the spine operates as an integrated structure.  This means that each area is functionally related to the others.  You must not just think that the anatomical structure as the cause of the pain–follow the connections.

Advice for Stopping Chronic Neck and Lower Back Pain

Let’s be practical here.  First you should have had a thorough medical and movement assessment.  This means that if you are having chronic pain (longer than 3 months) you should get medically cleared by your doctor.  Next it would be great to have a qualified Physical Therapist or movement expert screen and assess how your structure is moving and working.

Often in my practice I find that the thoracic area is really neglected.  It becomes stiff and a poor transmitter of spinal forces.  The areas of the cervical and lumbar are performing way too much work (many times this is in one or two directions though).  Remember the place that is complaining is certainly not the only place that should be looked at.  A myopic view of pain often distorts the larger view of functional relationships of important adjacent regions.

Exercise Approach

One simple set of exercise you can immediately start is shown below.  Here you are using sidelying to work on moving and mobilizing the thoracic spine in a variety of directions.  During these movements you are learning much more than might be evident.  A primary direction of movement is in rotation or twisting.  During this twisting of the chest you are learning to stabilize the lumbar area.  Over time you will get a very good sense of how much we over rotate the thoraco-lumbar to lumbar area.  Therefore you can appreciate how under used the thoracic are becomes.

Also you can use a foam roller very nicely for this thoracic area.  The below video emphasizes thoracic extension.  There are many variations.  One not shown is just to use the roller to massage the back muscles here.  Most people find it very useful.



There You Have It

Try these ideas for a chronic problem with your neck or lower back.  Go slowly as with anything different or new.  Don’t try to perform the exercise.  Rather use these as movements to explore your own body and what you are noticing.  Your job here (should you accept this “Mission”) is to make a change by feeling something you haven’t felt before.  This work should be in the direction of making you more comfortable and more freely moving.  So use these movements as guidelines and not just a prescription of “exactly” what to do.  That being said, please try it out this way for several weeks before you become too creative.

Remember to work with your breath once you have the basic movements.  Stay in this sidelying position for awhile–you will be greatly benefited by putting in 15-30 minutes.  These longer times really benefit from proper diaphragmatic breathing–this type of breath is not the belly expansion but the sides and all around the lower rib cage.  There is an extremely important relationship with the breathing and the thoracic spine.  It is a much more detailed topic than will be covered here.  It is one of the keys to unlocking chronic pain.


Train and practice daily.  Go and try out these movements.  Write to me what you have learned.

Ouch! My Back

Geez My Back Hurts (again)

Low back pain can be very frustrating.  Make sure you rule out any medical condition that may be underlying these symptoms.  The next issue is to get a proper mechanical evaluation.  Sounds practical but a lot of us are not getting the proper evaluation.  So the help offered becomes anecdotal and lucky at best.  Does this treatment or that treatment work best?  What should I do to get better?  Nothing seems to work, Egads!

Evaluate the problem

We often start with some type of complaint.  In this case–my low back is hurting.  If it is a chronic problem make sure you have looked at more than just mechanical problems.  As said before, get clearance from your medical practitioner at some point.  Also life style plays an enormous role here.  Do not under value things like proper sleep and nutrition.  Much more could be said on this but it will have to wait till later.

Mechanical evaluation

Here I am thinking about movement of the body through space.  Specifically we pay attention to the pain most of the time (and sometime all the time).  We need to also look at what movements and/or postures worsen and lessen the symptoms.  This question of what (movements) make it worse and better are critical to evaluating and then re-evaluating this type of condition.

Simple categories can give practically anyone some guidelines to finding ways to change this condition.  One of the most popular underlying reasons for Low Back Pain is related to flexion problems of the spine.  I will try to keep it fairly simple here or make it as easy for myself to explain one of the popular scenarios we see today.

Flexion problems mean forward bending and sitting that causes an increase in the low back symptoms.  In this post, that means that the opposite direction of extension or straightening of the spine does not cause pain and/or alleviates it.  So one will usually notice that they are worse during or after sitting or when they lean forward to write/shave/clip toe nails, etc.  Often they are better if they walk around or lie down flat.  There are many variations to this problem and a good evaluation will figure it all out.

A good test that I include in my evaluation is a standing flexion and extension test (among many others).  For this example, let’s say that in standing, you try to bend forward keeping your knees straight.  Notice how far you bend before you first feel an aggravation of your symptoms.  Note the distance down the leg you are able to reach and remember it.  Repeat it a few times just to see if movement and symptoms  improve, worsen or stay the same.

Again to keep it simple, let’s say that when you bent forward you were limited to reaching 4 inches below your knees before you said, “Ouch” (meaning it worsened your symptoms and you didn’t want to reach any farther).  Now you have a movement paired with your symptoms.  This is very important.  This will become your simple re-test when you decide on a treatment.

A proper evaluation will include more movements to better determine what to do and what to not do.  Again the evaluation is critical and the first step.

Strategic Perspective

Now if you find yourself seeking treatment before you have done a proper evaluation, you will do yourself a disservice.  Do not ask what exercise should I be doing until you have enough information related to movement.  Exercise is not magic.  It is movement based to help alleviate the stresses and strains of both pre-existing and current problems.

It is interesting to note that many pre-existing conditions (i.e. in this case a movement dysfunction) can go undetected for years without seemingly causing any problems.  Once you have symptoms, especially chronic ones, you need to deal with many of these pre-existing conditions and patterns.  That’s why it is so important to have a regular program of practice where you are always working with yourself and making discoveries and changes along this route of your movement in life.  Otherwise we get caught at these stressful times of our lives without the proper tools or even the time to work on these multi-layered problems and movement dysfunctions.


So if in this case let us say we have someone who is flexion intolerant.  This means as said above, that bending forward activities or postures aggravate their symptoms.  So one approach would be to do backward bending activities.  This makes a lot of sense.  This simple advise would also include to stop doing or curtail/lessen the flexion activities and postures.  Also one would find it very difficult to stop sitting all together.  Then another strategy would be to do things that neutralized the effects of the flexion pattern many times throughout the day.  One can use a combination of many of these strategies.  They don’t all have to be used all the time.  Many of us find a limited amount of time and focus for these practices.  So be practical.  Some days rotate in the things you were not able to get to on the previous day.  Always do something everyday.  Just modify it.  Your retesting will show you if you are doing enough, too much or something needs to change.

Now in this case the evaluation showed some adjacent areas of mechanical dysfunction in the chest or thoracic spine.  Also there were movement dysfunctions in the frontal plane (side to side movements vs the sagittal plane–forward/backward movement as described previously) of the hips and lumbar through thoracic spine.

An interesting note is that sometimes you do not want to start movement exercises  in the place of the reported symptoms.  It could be that a person is too irritable.   It could be that greater movement dysfunctions exist in adjacent areas.  It could be that through experience in certain cases one has found it better to start in these non-traditional areas.  For a variety of reasons, we will be starting at increasing mobility of the adjacent areas (i.e. the thoracic/chest spine) and increasing the stability in the local and symptomatic area (i.e. the lumbar to hip area).

We will work at the start in the sagittal/front to back plane.

Here in the below video we start with prone lying on the belly/chest area first.  In asana work this position is called Makarasana (crocodile pose).  It is an excellent rest/restore and recovery position.  The position in this case eases the symptoms and the diaphragmatic breath is just an excellent support for healing.

Next when one props up on the elbows, there is a further exaggeration of the backward bending nature of the spine.  Remember that this position of backward bending does not aggravate the symptoms.  But look in the video and note that the person finds it a bit uncomfortable.  We do not eliminate the posture but just modify it with supportive pillows based on his symptoms.  We always have to be ready to listen and modify based on movement and symptoms.

Next we work in the  frontal and transverse (rotational)  plane (exercises shown in side lying).  Quickly we will using all the planes as it will be part of the demands of some of the movement re-education patterns/exercises.

Here in the below video is an interesting way that seems to be very helpful for a variety of mobility problems in the thoracic area.  I have used this position for neck, shoulder and back symptomatic problems as they relate to movement dysfunctions of this chest/thoracic area.

As you watch the example of the below video keep in mind some of the above information.  It is only one approach.  There are many ways to start.  My point here is that they should be based on an appropriate evaluation and constant retesting.

Sagittal Plane and Frontal/Transverse Plane Movement Training Video

The next two video are dealing with hip flexion (forward movement) and hip abduction (outward movement).  Here the emphasis is on creating activation of the leg in the direction of limitation while the spine remains extended and stable.  Quite a bit of stabilization training of the trunk, pelvis and lower extremity are emphasized in these next two videos.

Hip Flexion with 40 inch Band Video

Hip Abduction with 40 inch Band Video


The “ouch” of the pain usually cannot exist when you improve dysfunctional movement patterns.  Remember one of the keys is to identify what movements and postures have set us up for these problems.  Have a way of noting a movement or movements that correlate with worsening and improving your symptoms.  Then use these as a way of retesting as you explore better ways of moving through life.

Moving in these ways described above is a good start.  Let it be only a start.  Start identifying lifestyle issues that mirror the same problems.  All of this takes us on a journey deeper within ourselves.  You can stop at any time or continue.  A continued journey becomes an expanded practice.  Discoveries that lead us to ourselves at deeper levels become an awakening of the richness of our true lives.

Good luck in wherever you practice leads you.

Strong Back and Improved Posture

Proper Posture and Strength

You need to have sufficient strength in order to have good posture.  Many people put the cart before the horse.  Here I am referring to thinking that you just need to work on your posture.  How many times have you seen people (most of us) just try to sit better and in seconds to minutes find ourselves back to a comfortable slouch.  Ouch!  On the other end of the spectrum there are many who are really strong and their posture is abysmal.

We need to work on this from many perspectives.  Here we will start with assuming that you want to improve your ability to sit better and longer (with less pain and discomfort–looking beautiful, etc).  Alright, once you have a goal that will allow you to train this aspect, we can start.


  • We complain of back pain when sitting
  • We often do not have the muscular strength and endurance to sit properly.
  • We often over correct at the thoraco-lumbar region (the area where the rib spine meets the lower back)
  • We don’t have the proper guidance for proper sitting
  • We do not practice regularly

One of the biggest problems and complaints that I hear regularly about sitting–is the discomfort one gets from trying to maintain the proper position.  This is certainly true for those doing sitting meditations.  This group of folks usually know that proper sitting will allow them to breath properly with the diaphragm.  Good, deep diaphragmatic breaths will allow the body and mind to begin to settle down.  Good posture definitely facilitates this diaphragmatic style of  breathing.

Those not meditating can still benefit greatly by taking a very similar approach.  If the spine is erect and the shoulder and pelvic girdles and associated limbs are positioned well, it is much easier to have a sense of ease in this position.  You will find that the better that your body alignment is the better and more comfortably you can sit.

We can find out how to sit better.  There are many pictures of the ideal out there.  But sitting is a very dynamic activity.  The body that cannot sustain the activity returns back to it’s default posture of usually being slumped.  Then we often try to correct our sitting by straightening our spine from the mid to low back region.  This over activates the back extensor muscles that many complain of during their good intended corrections.

Strengthening the Upper Back

There is a video below that will go into a bit of the detail to help with strengthening this upper back area.  I often teach someone to work with a pivot prone or candelabra position or simple called the New York position.

This exercise with a mini-band is quite helpful.  The one thing that is good here, is that the mini-band can travel easily with you in a pocket, bag or purse.  Frequent use of it is helpful in retraining the movement pattern.  What I have found is that people still are way too weak in the upper back area to help in postural retraining.  The following video is another way.  I also have been using these 40 inch long and 1/2 inch wide cords for a pretty good test of the upper back.  It allows me to standardize what I expect now with most people.

In the video you will see this pulling apart motion of the band.  Watch carefully the testing protocol.  It is simple, but do not re-grab the band in a different way.  It is the wrapping of the band around the thumb and hand that really asks for a lot of external rotation and scapular stabilization.  This position is with the arms away from the body.  I am finding so many people are extremely weak in this pulling motion.  They all are so much stronger in the pulling motions that mimic a row.  Rowing strength does not seem to be a correlate for proper upper back strength in posture.  Remember the the lats are internal rotators of the arm.  If you row, you get better at rowing type movements.  Proper posture of the upper back requires external rotation of the upper arm and strong and enduring scapular stabilization.  This means the mid and lower trapezius fibers and rotator cuff must be activated in a particular manner and direction.

Also for you folks who do mainly asanas for your exercise, you really lack pulling strength.  There is an overabundance of forward pressure with the upper body in asanas.  There is an absolute lack of pulling strength in asanas.  (so much for balance, heh)

Of course proper mobilization of the thoracic or rib spine into extension is quite helpful.  Also evaluating for an improper head and neck position is critical.  There is much work to be done.  Remember that strengthening has to be coupled with proper retraining of ones postural habits.  Postural habits can be influence by a large number of other factors to include:  psycho-social, cultural, medical and other biomechanical issues.  Our work has just begun.

Video of Strengthening the Upper Back and Improving Posture


Go have some fun training this upper back area.

I have used many companies to purchase bands from–below is a listing of the three most popular ones I use:

  1.—-You should see the Superbands listed–I’d buy 1/2 and 1 inch sizes

Start your training and let me know how strong you get.  Now if you practice your posture, do you find it much easier to sustain it?   Now that’s skillful training.

Best of efforts–peter

Restoring Movement to the Neck

The Neck

The neck is about one of our most used connections of the spine (and well used in our lexicon)  It is designed to be mobile and capable of great feats of movement and stability.  Just remember the days you’ve arisen out of bed–even before getting up–you notice how stiff you became over night.   Sometimes we say life is a pain in the neck.  Some folks even still neck around a little.

The neck is just not an anatomical structure to be described of bones and soft tissues.  It is a highly functioning arm of the nervous system and ourselves.  Here I am concerned with looking at how to restore movement in the lower neck (in a particular direction).

Mechanical problems

In my practice of Physical Therapy, many people who come in with shoulder and neck problems usually have a problem in moving their lower neck and upper back spine.  This area seems to become easily rigid.  We often see degenerative changes of the spinal segments at the segments just above this juncture of neck and upper back.  We often label seven neck segments with the top one starting as number one.  So the fifth and sixth segment are very popular in showing these degenerative changes.  To me this means that the area below is not participating in allowing movement to continue through these lower segments.  By the way, we don’t just move our necks.  Our bodies don’t move the neck.  Our movements take place in the spine.  Our patho-anatomical  medical approach (getting a diagnosis of a problem based soley on the anatomy that has a dis-ease vs including a functional evaluation or how it is working in daily usage) can distort our perspective of how we look at how what is going on ie the problem.

Of course, the  direction of mobility problem can be different for different causes and different people.  Here I wish to share my observations of the problem at moving through this juncture of the neck (cervical spine) and upper back (upper thoracic spine).  This junction is easily referred to as the cervical-thoracic junction or C/T junction.

What I find is that many people do not have very good side bending of the lower neck.  They often over move in the segments above.  Also when you observe those with pain and dysfunction of the neck and shoulder complex, it is worth evaluating how well they are side bending at this lower neck to C/T area.

Of course there are problems of stability in the mid neck and also upper neck.  There are sometimes mobility problems of the upper cervical region as well.  Note the junctional areas of the spine are very important in transmitting forces THROUGH the area (versus into the area).

Example of Moving the Lower Neck Spine

Here is a short video I did in working with someone.  I hope it will explain a bit about how you might start to work on learning to move this area.  Note it spends most of the time trying to coach one to move the lower area while learning to stabilize the above area.  It seems un-natural for many who have a movement deficit in this area.

Remember the learning is not just about correcting and moving better.  Ideally one must spend a good amount of time feeling and practicing these directions.  Often it takes some coaching.  A mirror can be invaluable in this type of training.


Enjoy the practice.  Those who don’t move this lower neck area well will be rewarded with proper practice.  You will find that once you can create some movement here sometimes your shoulder and neck problems become less.

Try it out and let me know what you find.

Spartan Training Regimen Using Yogic Breathing Technique

In July of 2011, I attended a yoga retreat in St. Paul, Minnesota, at the University of St. Thomas.  It was an opportunity to reconnect with friends, meet new people and experience multiple treasures from the Himalayan Tradition.  One of the interesting things I learned was from a friend (CW) who had discovered how to use Ujjayi Pranayama in treating his painful chronically swollen glands underneath the jaw.  This account completely captivated my attention.  It is an amazing account of diligent practice assiduously applied over a nine month period.  At the end, autoregulation of the his heart rate rhythm was mastered.  The accomplishment is quite laudable.  The great lesson to be learned is about what was done, not about who did it.  The great lesson was doing a practice with an iron determination that bore such amazing fruit.  It is a path of practice that is open to many of us.  It was such an amazing systematic effort made day after day over many months  that impressed me greatly.  I think once again, that it is the strengthening of ones will to focus ones effort at arriving at a place that is talked about, but few examples are given in today’s communities.  Here is one such example that invites us all to re-focus our efforts in our practice.

I remember Swami Rama of the Himalayas speaking about the Science of Breath.  He stated that there were basically two ways to have conscious control over our autonomic nervous system.  One way was to control the motion of the lungs.  The other was through our will power.  The following contains an example that combines both methods.

This gentleman is a long time yoga practitioner who is quite active.  Stating that he is active is a slight understatement.  There is a daily  30 mile (total) bicycle trip to and from work over a rigorous Mountain range.  He hikes and mountain climbs (above 6000 feet) on the weekends.  Also he works as a Mountain Rescue Team Leader with high levels of peak stresses.  The large manufacturing company where he is a senior manager keeps him away from his family a bit too.

Over a year ago he noticed that his glands underneath his jaw would become swollen and painful.  He found no exertional trigger that would set off his symptoms.  There were times that certain foods and periods of increased stress would be associated with more swelling.  Otherwise it did not seem to be clear what was causing this condition.

CW did consult with his regular local medical doctor.  A follow up blood panel revealed elevated cortisol levels.  It was recommended that he try a course of oral steroids.

Later he looked into finding an Ayurvedic doctor, as his travels to India made this a knowable option.  The following is a description of his Ayurvedic (USA) evaluation and subsequent very interesting and intense training regimen.

His initial Ayurvedic appointment consisted of evaluation and instructions in a specific protocol to deal with these elevated cortisol levels.  His doctor started with a pulse diagnosis for two minutes.  No other verbal interview was conducted before this reading.  His doctor then proceeded to write a two page list of notes that quite accurately described many of his habits and preferences.  These included food preference, when he arose in the morning, his sleep habits, etc.  He was also able to accurately relate much of his prior medical history with only this pulse diagnosis.  This is amazing but they say not atypical for a good Ayurvedic practitioner.

The doctor then listened to his athletic history as described above.  This person was using a Polar wrist Heart Rate (HR) monitor often.  He often used 2:1 breathing during his training.  This pattern is breathing twice as long on the exhalation as on the inhalation.

They then went outside for a simple walking course of about a 1/2 mile.  He wore a HR monitor to record his rate and rhythm.  During this time, CW was instructed to keep his heart rate as level as possible during a normal pace of walk.

Returning back to the clinic, the HR monitor information was downloaded into a computer program for simple analysis.  The graphic analysis showed that his HR was around 180 beats per minute (bpm), without any unnecessary exertion.  The doctor mentioned that this is typically seen in overtrained athletes.

Next, time was taken to teach him a particular breathing pattern called Ujjayi.  Ujjayi breath here was done very vigorously both on the inhale and exhale phase.  If CW had not been accomplished in diaphragmatic breathing, he would have needed several weeks to train it first.  Please follow the above hyperlink for more detailed information on this “pranayama” or breath regulation method of the Yoga Tradition

Then they repeated the same monitored walking course of a 1/2 mile.  During this time he was instructed to maintain a steady 1:1 breathing pattern and use the Ujjayi technique.  A repeated analysis of the graphic HR rhythm showed his HR was at 130 now.  Pretty impressive change with this traditional yogic method of breathing!

His doctor briefly explained that his adrenals had become overactive.  They were producing excessive cortisol.  The body can become fixated at these higher levels of cortisol production during an abnormal stress response.  If he could train during his physical activity with this Ujjayi technique, he would be able to retrain his system.  He would learn how to autoregulate his HR under physical stress.  (Even emotional stressors that elevated his HR would be controlled subsequently).  WOW!  The following  will describe an outline of his training regimen from the first month to his final Ayurvedic consult in the ninth month.

First and Second Month:
His normal bicycle route was elevating his HR too quickly with the hills.  Therefore a 15 minute warmup period on the flats while doing Ujjayi was initiated.  Then continue on his route with slightly less hills.  This new route added 60 minutes/day to his previous time of commute.  Therefore he had to arise 30 minutes earlier every day (4:30 am, whew!)

He had to try to maintain his HR always at 120 or less during the ride.  A Polar HR monitor was used daily.  The first week of doing this very strong and forceful Ujjayi made his throat very sore and raw feeling.  There were lots of episodes of choking, coughing and breaks in the technique while continuing to pedal to work.  Just try it yourself right now for those who have an idea of the technique–remember it is “vigorous”.   Ok, once you stop coughing, please continue reading.

Also during this exertional effort of riding and restricted breathing style there were other strong symptoms.  One feels as though they are deprived of oxygen.  When you just don’t feel you are getting enough oxygen it can be fairly alarming.  Oh, I’m suppose to relax also during this physical effort–oh, oh the ole HR is hitting above 120 again.  Ok just try to do the Ujjayi, keep pedaling and stay here.  Many times the thought of quitting crossed his mind this first week.  Egads this sounds like tremendous focus and dedication at these challenging times.

The second week was a little better.  He was getting used to the Ujjayi and the sore throat problem was subsiding.  Still this tremendous fear of not be able to breathe was right there.  Thoughts of quitting were never far from his mind.

By the third week he was able to perform the Ujjayi breath 100% of the time, except not in the hills.  He was not in Nirvana to say the least.  It was an effort still but doable.

Third and Fourth Month:
He now returned to his original mountain route.  A five minute warmup on the flats were his only preparation.  The Ujjayi was full and loud.  He still had to maintain the HR of 120, but only on the flats.  During the hills he was no longer restricted to maintain the 120 bpm.  He was just to observe the HR response during the hill work.  It was noted that he wasn’t hitting his previous peak of 180 bpm as quickly as before.

It was still a struggle to do 1:1 Ujjayi breathing in the hills.  Occasionally he would have to slow the pace.  Realize that his work load was so high and his breathing so restrictive that he noted symptoms of exertional intolerance.  He referred to these symptoms as spinnies and stars.  (equilibrium and visual disturbances).   In this third month, the hill work frequently interrupted the Ujjayi breathing simply because of ventilatory insufficiency (lack of oxygen).  He therefore had to reduce the speed of his ride.  Therefore again he extended his commute time.  (Oh boy, gotta love those early mornings).

It might be hard for us mere mortals to imagine this type of effort.  Certainly the discipline of this level of training could be unknown to many of us.  Remember that he is actually operating at a high level of athletic function.  Even several high level athletes that tried this regimen, still ended up stopping before completion.  His level of sankalpa (resolution) was demonstrated day after every day.  Both his mind and his body were being strengthened.

By the beginning of the fourth month he was able to breathe with Ujjayi 100% of the time in the hills.  Realize too that he was hiking and mountain climbing on weekends above 6250 feet, still using the Ujjayi breath.  Again it was done with great difficulty and tremendous discipline.  He had his ole familiar symptoms of spinnies and stars for company.

Fifth and Sixth Month:

During the fifth and sixth month he now consciously tried to not let his HR peak above 120.  His focus now was to relax and do the Ujjayi breathing.  During this time, he would internally focus on keeping the HR steady and eliminate the prior peaks.

His cycling pace had to be slowed down the first couple weeks of this training period.  Again his focus was not to be thinking about the mechanics of pushing and pulling on the pedals, etc.  His focus was breathing and internally making the HR steady without any accelerations of this internal rhythm.  He kept relaxing and doing the Ujjayi breath.  This feedback of his internal state was the regulator of his training work load.  He became very connected internally to the sensations of what it felt like when his heart rate would elevate.  He built up both conscious and subconscious feedback for the auto regulation of his pulse during high levels of exertion.

By the end of the 6th month he was able to maintain his HR below 120.  There was much less effort needed to do the Ujjayi and maintain his HR at his prescribed target.  Still there were times during the strenuous ride when his heart rate would peak above 140 bpm.  At these times he was able to easily restore it to the proper training levels.

He was noting in general that over these past six months of training, he was feeling progressively less fatigued.  Realize that during this time he was still quite busy in the organizational and administrative duties of his job and avocational pursuits.  Remember he continued to pursue vigorous hill and mountain work/rescue activities while still practicing the above regimen.

Seventh and Eighth Month:

Now he was gradually reducing his use of the Ujjayi breathing.  This means it was less vigorous and less loud.  Within the 7th month, he introduced only doing the Ujjayi on exhalation, not on the inhalation phase.  He still practiced on consciously maintaining his HR at or below his 120 bpm target during exertion.  He stated that he was now finding it much easier to do this autoregulation of the HR without needing to use the Ujjayi breath.

At the end of his 8th month, he was able to completely stop the use of Ujjayi and still consciously and proficiently autoregulate his HR response.  He was now using his original bicycle commuter route of 30 miles round trip.

Ninth Month:

He was now scheduled to have his final check in with his Ayurvedic doctor.  During these previous months he had phone consults with this doctor.  They were just progress checks.  No real changes in his program were made at these times.

Now he and his doctor noticed several improvements.  There were no longer any tender swollen glands.  There had been a gradual reduction of these signs over the first 6 months.   He could not say that he had any real increase in energy, as he was always energetic.  The bicycle commute though was made with less exertion and effort now.  He now had to reduce his caloric intake because he was much more calorically efficient.   Fats and starchy carbohydrates were reduced at this time.

Also at this time he started using a single speed bicycle (geared at 42/18).  Starting this single speed bike on the hills and mountain passes was tremendously difficult even now.  He had not turned into Superman yet.  You have no idea how difficult it is to pedal a single geared bike over mountain passes.  Tears fill your eyes, not because of emotions but because of shear severe maximal efforts required here.  He just felt that his prior rigorous training made it doable.

Now listen closely to this next sentence.  He was able to still keep his HR at 120 even when initially adapting in the first couple of months to this new endeavor.  This response is just a demonstration of an amazing adaptive capacity that is trainable.

He found that he could mentally regulate his heart rate under many conditions of physical and emotional stressors.  Listening to his inner sense of his cardiac function became second nature.  He was able to accurately sense and autoregulate it’s rate under biking, hiking, climbing, kayaking and skiing.  As mentioned before, even under emotionally stressful situations, he could sense an elevation in his HR and again begin to autoregulate it,  thereby modulating his emotional response in these situations.

It has been a year now after the intense training period.  He still finds the effects of sensing and autoregulation to be an intimate part of the way he lives.  Everything that he did has been done by others.  Of course some who have attempted it have dropped out.  As you can see it is a rigorous training regimen.

Realize what you want.  Design a proper program.  Engage in it and shape your mind with your determination.  The body will follow.  Realize that there are no short cuts.  It is a lot of work if you wish to achieve something other than the ordinary.  You can be extraordinary through such as is encouraged here.  Now go and train.

Fitness is a Lie

The Great Lie

  • Get fit and loose fat
  • Fitness improves your health
  • Increase your longevity with exercise

Give Me a Break

We put our hopes and dreams into ideas.  Fitness can become just an idea.  These supposed lies of fitness could be true as well as not.  There are parts to each of the above that are true and other parts that are misconstrued.  Let’s take a break from whether it is true.  The discussion is specious.  Does this mean we shouldn’t strive to be fit.  Again there is this aspect of talking about it vs getting it done.   The key at this moment is “go” not talk about it.  (now before you leave for your workout…)

Next Step

Best thing to do is stop discussing this idea and start practicing it.  There is a ton of information out there on different programs to help you achieve your goals in becoming better at moving.  This is what fitness does.  It helps you move better.

Everything in our physiology is movement related.  We send signals of back and forth within our body, both chemical, electrical and mechanical.  We push and pull air and fluids throughout our vessels and channels.  We move things inside and outside.  Our thoughts and emotions move into and out of our awareness.  We are a constant complex marvel of an internal and external ballet of choreographed movements.

All this internal movement is summoned up in our expression and dance of movement with our outside ecology.  These exercises we do and the functions we perform in our daily lives and the kinds of relationships we have or don’t have are the final expressions of our symphony of movements.

Fitness Guidelines

  1. Start a regular practice involving large body movements.
    1. Spinal movements
    2. Shoulder girdle movements including the whole shoulder complex
    3. Hip girdle movements including the lower extremities
  2. Include a systematic variety of different types of movements
    1. Endurance both aerobic and anaerobic forms
    2. Stability and strength
    3. Flexible and fluid
    4. Power
    5. Agility and balance
    6. Coordination and motor control
    7. Skill and FUN aspects
  3. Yoga
    1. Develop a philosophy of life
    2. Live both the life of the inner worlds WITH the life of the outer worlds
    3. Be truly happy and know yourself
    4. Skill set of practices
      1. Meditation and concentration practices
      2. Breath training
      3. Internal dialogue
  4. Diet and nutrition
    1. Develop regular eating habits
    2. Proper food selection and supplementation
    3. Proper elimination
  5. Sleep
    1. Regular
    2. Sufficient amount
  6. Sex
    1. Healthy expression
    2. Significant indicator of hormonal balance
  7. Etc
    1. In case I left out anything, please add here

Now What

Do some of you remember Jim Fixx.  Back in 1984, he was on the popular front of running and getting fit.  He had a 2 pack/day cigarette habit and was out of shape.  He stopped smoking, ate better and took up running.  He was the iconic symbol of a fit man when suddenly he died of a heart attack while jogging.  I remember this incident well.  I had bought his book and thought what a great thing for fitness that he was doing.   After his death there was a whip lash effect on this fitness craze of the day.  Some of course used this sad story to incorrectly label the efforts of fitness.

Being fit does not protect you from disease or life.  It does allow you to move better through life, no matter what you have to deal with.  The key again is movement.  Fitness isn’t something that you can hold in your hand as this or that.  But if you have done your practices regularly, then you will be able to live above most that do not.

We all will have some of today’s diseases for a variety of reasons.  Some of us will be heavier.  Some us will be skinnier.  Etc.  Being able to move our minds and bodies well will allow recovery and return to our lives with greater ease.

Look closely at what you want in your life.  Develop a practice to reach those goals.

What you can train, you can attain!

If you are involved in training, congratulations!  Consider reviewing your program.  Look at the above guidelines.  Which areas are you doing well in.  Are there areas that you leave out?  Maybe you don’t even consider them.  It would be another article to speak more directly about using some of these guidelines that may be under utilized (or mis-used) by some in the fitness arena.  Leave a comment about this topic.

If you haven’t started training regularly, then re-evaluate where you are in relation to your goals.  Maybe get some goals and/or redefine them.  Start with a simple plan and then take action on it.

Expect to train and practice for a long time.   Many fitness gurus and research speak of short term training programs.  There is value to including short term effects.   The real value in practice and training is over the long term.  It is always surprising to me how much change happens from year to year.  Most are familiar with the change of degradation from year to year.  The changes I find that are most sustainable and profound actually take place over many, many years.

Now for some, a longer view is a kin to a prison sentence, at least emotionally.  OK, that isn’t uncommon.  It is just unproductive.  This evaluation of the value of long term training actually allows for all of us to attain whatever it is that we are training.  This statement kind of reminds me of a money back guarantee.

Just don’t be planting carrot seeds and expecting apple blossoms.  I’m not kidding.  Many people say this type of training just doesn’t work.  Often these critics do not even participate.  They are the arm chair quarterbacks or the box seat critics.  You have to be moving and doing (before you re-hang around being).

But again the main point is that what ever we do, what ever we eat, what ever we think/feel becomes what we are.  If we have a particular result, it is due to all that we have done or not done that leads up to this result.  Again this can become a challenge to survive/manage/overcome or an obstacle that seems insurmountable.

Develop the fitness of the mind and body.  Engage fully in life.  Practice!

Best of the best in your endeavors–peter