Archive for December, 2009

The most prized possession?

December 30th, 2009 No comments

daveroberts-rrshowOccasionally, the Globe and Mail runs little photo features consisting of sound bites (print bites?) and party shots of fascinating and glamorous people with whom I’m totally unfamiliar.

A recent one featured a gaggle of fashionistas who were asked the question “what is your most prized possession?” In the midst of declarations of love for various articles of clothing, one response, from a designer stood out:

“… my mind.”

Interesting fellow, at least for thinking differently. But he started me thinking. What is my most prized possession? How does that value affect my life? Is there a difference between what I value and what actually affects my life the most? And how do I define “possession”? Where do “I” stop and “my” possessions begin?

After some reflection and blogging, I came to a conclusion. If you’ve read this blog, you can probably guess what my most prized possession has become. But it was not always thus. In fact, after looking around, I’m starting to find that the most prized possession of most people is not their mind, their body, their car, house, photo of late father (that’s Dad on the left) or Franklin Delano Roosevelt action figure. (Yes, I have one of those, too.)

No, a person’s most prized possession influences his or her entire life. It creates the world. It predicts his or her actions. It can determine his or her lifespan.

It’s his or her world view.

Try it on for size: I’m fat. I’m weak. I’m not good at math. I’m shy. I’m a people pleaser. Look out for number one. Life is hard. Nobody’s interested in what I have to say. It’s my lot in life. Relationships don’t last. Marriage is a bad idea. I can never let my guard down. Don’t trust anybody. People are basically good. Science is always right. All politicians are crooks. I must protect myself from discomfort. It’s really important for me to believe I’m right. I deserve happiness. I don’t deserve happiness.

We all have beliefs and attachments that we cling to as if they were our most prized possession, as if we would cease to exist if we lost those beliefs. Our world would cease to exist.

Or so we think.

What’s your most prized possession?

Categories: modern life, philosophy Tags:

Mind if I go Wii?

December 27th, 2009 No comments

My brother-in-law owns a Wii system with one of those balance boards. I’m not a videogame player, but I thought I’d try it out. Though the calories burned during a session don’t add up to much in my opinion (25 calories! Woo-hoo!), the thing was kind of fun in a Mario Brothers kind of way. Sure, there are some yoga-like programs and pushup/plank exercises available, but it’s really not that strenuous. I’d rather do some serious exercise to lose weight, and I wouldn’t say that this is serious exercise.

However, the balance board is pretty sensitive. I played a Wii game that required me to be perfectly balanced on the board so my little avatar could balance on a big ball and juggle. The problem was … whenever I thought I was perfectly balanced, I actually had more weight on my left foot, so the poor little avatar kept rolling off the stage. Huh. I knew that I habitually stood with more weight on my left side, but thought I had fixed it. Guess not. This might explain why I still have minor aches and pains in my left hip and knee.

I like the way the balance board required me to focus inwardly, to make tiny corrections to my posture. This is necessary training for the internal fixes of tai chi and zhan zhuang, and maybe digital feedback can help us understand just how small the necessary corrections are, at least until we can do it on our own.

(I don’t think a traditional balance board would highlight the imbalance, because I might have my whole body off to one side of the fulcrum to compensate, and I’d be too busy trying not to fall off the thing to make tiny adjustments to my balance.)

I was eventually able to balance on the Wii board by relaxing down and sort of vibrating the pressure between left and right foot, but it might have been a little too … active. Hm. I might just buy the silly thing, just for the balance games … and for the game where you flap your arms like a chicken.

Categories: fitness Tags:

Secrets of youth #11: relax

December 17th, 2009 No comments

Are these secrets? They are to some. Will they make you younger? Nope. That’s impossible. Is “secrets of youth” a catchy title? I hope so. But … I dare you to argue with me on these. Try ’em first, seriously, then argue with me.

I’ve been lucky that most of the aches and pains I’ve accumulated over the years have been reduced or eliminated through the removal of excess tension, and the adopting of more efficient movements and postures to prevent the return of that tension. It’s not perfect, but it’s kept the chiropractor away.

So. Here’s the secret:

Learn to relax your body parts.

Learn to relax your shoulders. Your arms hang from above. They won’t fall off if you relax your neck and shoulders. Relax your lower back — let your tailbone find a neutral point between forward and back, which is probably slightly more forward and lower than it is now. Do you make fists a lot? Clench your jaw? Keep your butt tight? Furrow your brow? Keep your eyebrows raised all the time? (I saw somebody doing this in a conversation — it almost gave me a headache.)

I’m not asking you to collapse into a heap on the floor. Start small, pick a part (or pair of parts) … ones that won’t make you fall down … and let them relax a bit. If relaxing one thing causes you to tense the opposite thing, try to relax them both. Go lightly — this is about investigating your body right now. Relax, check in. Relax, check in. There’s a lot more to it, but I think the first step is removing tension from your body parts.

And keep breathing. Nice ‘n’ easy. See what happens.

Categories: secrets of youth Tags:

I got it! I got it! No … I lost it.

December 8th, 2009 No comments

Last week in Chau Sifu’s class we did some push hands. This means that in the way we do it, two people face each other, link hands at the wrists and basically make an eggbeater as you stand there. It looks pointless, but isn’t: you lead the partner with one hand, and follow with the other. By “follow”, I mean “stick”. It trains you to listen to your partner, and as a bonus, any discontinuity or lack of connection in your body becomes apparent. One hand feels weak, or you feel clumsy, or you feel like a disconnected bunch of bones.

This was how I felt with Wally, a nice young fellow. We noticed that my right arm was weak as I lost contact repeatedly, while my left arm felt strong and connected to Wally’s strong right arm. That side felt good. Wally then asked me to avoid moving my shoulders, but the let my body sway with the motion. For some reason, I hunkered down a little more and there it was. We were completely in sync, completely connected, and we felt not weak, not hard, but … thick. That’s the best word I can use. There was no danger of losing connection, and we felt unified. Strangely enough, I sensed that he was unified too.

And then I lost it. But this time the other side went weak. Go figure.

More practice? More practice.

Categories: Yiquan Tags:

Relax! Now!

December 8th, 2009 No comments

Occasionally I get friends asking me to teach them some tai chi to help a problem they have. When the question is asked with a certain amount of agitation, I get some idea of where this is going to go. At first, I tried to figure out an exercise that would get them quick results, but I’ve found that to be impossible. They’re very nice people, but they’re just going too fast. In my opinion, any exercise that involves relaxation needs to be done slowly enough to feel the tiny incremental gains offered by the exercise, and tai chi is certainly no exception.

So here’s the first action necessary to get benefits from a Tai Chi (or Alexander) exercise: stop.

Then go slow. Do the exercise. Listen to your body. Go slow. Listen to your body. Refine and Repeat.

If you find you want to speed up, stop … then repeat the above.

I like moving quickly and efficiently through my day.  Occasionally stopping and slowing down allows me to continue doing that, smoothly, with less stress and agitation. I stop pretty often to just check in, relax, sink, root, whatever … then I move on.

Categories: repetition, shorts Tags:

Another description of Yiquan

December 7th, 2009 No comments

While surfing the web, I found this concise explanation of Yiquan (yee-chwan) at the Little Idea Wing Chun site:

“Yi Quan, also called for a short period of time “Da Cheng Quan” is a result of the founder’s intention to focus on the inner qualities that characterize good Kung-fu. It is therefore based heavily on illuminating underlying principles, and the training routines aim at giving the student experience and showing the “right path” to attain these qualities.”

Anything that illuminates underlying principles works for me. Thanks to Thor Legvold at Little Idea.

Categories: Yiquan Tags:

Alexander’s I.T. band

December 3rd, 2009 No comments

Alexander Technique , to me at least, seems to be based on the idea that we often do unhealthy stuff without knowing it. We may think we’re standing, walking or running efficiently, but when we stop to analyze it, we find we’re out of balance, working inefficiently or causing ourselves pain.

Here’s Caprice’s experience with Alexander and running:

“I have been running for a relatively short time, four years this February. Every year is a little different. I have a feeling this year will be significantly different.

When I started my pilates teacher training in 2003, I was fortunate enough to be working with a teacher who is also an Alexander Technique teacher. She incorporated Alexander Technique into our pilates teacher training so that we would be able to work with ourselves and not injure ourselves while we are teaching. This was the beginning of a very important change.

Alexander Technique was developed by F.M. Alexander, an Australian actor, who identified that he (and we) have a “debauched” kinesthetic awareness. We think we’re doing all the right things with our bodies, and that we know where our bodies are at any given moment as we move through space, accomplishing any task. Really, we’re not. We started moving around as soon as we entered this world, and we developed movement patterns and habits that are what we consider “normal” for us. This version of “normal” could really mean that we have tense jaw muscles, shoulders that are up around our ears, a poor breathing pattern, an aching lower back, tight hips, sore knees, toes that grip the inside of our shoes… the list could go on and on. Alexander Technique helps us become aware of these things that we do and gives us the opportunity to divest ourselves of these habits, even if only for a few seconds. Long enough for our neurological system to realize that things could be different. Long enough for our bodies to be sent into a slight state of flux while it processes the new inputs our brain is receiving.

During my almost four years of running, I have had a number of injuries surface that I have had to address with Alexander Technique, massage therapy, pilates and rest. My last period of rest lasted about three months, and concluded when I started running regularly again at the end of August.

In September, I started taking an Alexander Teacher Training course. Most of the course is very experiential, though there is a lot of discussion of the theory behind the work. My running has already changed. For example, I noticed some time ago that when I run, my left foot and my right foot do not land the same way. My left hip and my right hip do not feel the same. My upper body does not feel like it is rotating equally to the left and right with every step. This past Sunday, I was out for a 12k run. I had some aching in my left knee for the last two or three kilometres, but it didn’t feel signficantly different from the occasional aching I get when I’m running on a day when I’m feeling a little “off.” By Sunday night, I was limping, taking Advil, and icing my left knee. I rested Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. I was fortunate enough to have scheduled an Alexander Technique session with my teacher on Wednesday, and during that session, I experienced a significant change that made me feel two things: my midline felt like it moved way over to the right, and my left footfall changed such that I supinated less when I walked.

Optimistic, I headed out for a run this morning.

I have to say, this morning was a near-perfect running experience. Not only was it completely pain-free, but I experienced changes in my gait while I was running. I kept reminding myself to let go of muscular tension that was unnecessary, to keep my hips free, think though my whole foot, allow my ankles to free so that my feet could roll underneath my tibiae. It was really great. AND I had a negative split without even trying.

My Alexander Teacher has explained to me that while I’m going through my Alexander Teacher Training, my body will be in a state of flux. This means, while my neurological system is adjusting to all the new inputs it is receiving, it is quite possible that more aches and pains will show up that will have to be addressed. My hope is that when my training is finished, in July of 2012, that my kinesthetic sense will be significantly less “debauched.””

Okay, so the post title’s a stretch. – SR

Categories: fitness, interdisciplinary Tags: