Friday, May 31, 2013

Digesting Information

Just as we eat, digest and assimilate food and nutrients into our own physical bodies; so we take in information from our senses, and into our minds (via reading; watching; contemplating; etc).  Something I have been watching and playing with in my own life, is the idea of the digestion of knowledge - and also, of the idea that we can get information indigestion and information constipation

For myself, I most definitely have a bad habit of trying to learn from multiple fields at once.  This works poorly for me, as I only digest the trivia and superficial knowledge - the deeper aspects elude me, somewhat, in this mode.

The classic sign that I have fallen back into this habit (the desperate trying to learn everything at once for fear of not-knowing; and the over-fascination with book knowledge in general) are having more than 5 books 'going' at the same time, on different topics (In the past I have had up to twelve part-finished books - most definitely information constipation).

So whilst I love expert generalism, this trying to do everything at once style learning (and I believe it applies to physical knowledge and skills, too) is not efficient or effective (two of my primary lenses). 

Much better to focus on one (or two related) areas for a period of time (I'm still tweaking this aspect, and would love to hear from other via PM or post, if you've tried similar learning strategies), say 12 weeks (a bit arbitrary - but easier than saying 'until you know the area well' or 'until you have reached the next stage, or are getting diminishing returns on time/energy put in), then move on to a new topic (or activity, if body-knowledge). 

This also brings me to another aspect of knowledge I have been pondering - is it better to re-read a classic, than read, say ten, new books than are good to very good?  Or, as Gurdjieff puts it at the beginning of one of his books : 

 "I find it necessary on the first page of this book, quite ready for publication, to give the following advice: 'Read each of my written expositions thrice:

Firstly- at least as you have already become mechanized to read all your contemporary books and newspapers.

Secondly - as if you were reading aloud to another person.

And only thirdly - try and fathom the gist of my writings."

 Friendly Advice, (written upon handing the finished manuscript to the printer, Beelzebub's Tales to His Grandson, G.I.Gurdjieff.

I must say I hedge my bets a bit in this, but lean toward the re-reading of the classics (and cult-classics) and my personal favorites of different genres. I've read Job's Body - Deane Juhan (3rd edition) twice (as well as countless browsing of different sections), and will definitely re-read again this year. Having slightly less general knowledge/trivia, for a deeper understanding of fields that are 'core', to you, is the better option (IMHO). 

You also need space around gathering and digesting information.  Just as you need rest and recovery from physical training to progress, so too, I feel, do you need a clear 'don't-know mind' to digest information and the things we've learned. 

This can be done many different ways, from simply going and doing something physical that you enjoy (if it's mental digestion you need to do); going out in Nature, or more formal practices. 

One practical thing I do (besides checking how many books I have on the boil at one time, and finishing, or discarding, some if I have too many) is to feel my body via keeping a second attention when I am gathering information from books or videos.  Any feelings of sub-clinical irritation, or subtle tension build up and I put it down, and go and do something more practical. 

In this 'Information Age' where we are constantly having all sorts of information (lights; colours; sounds; text; video) bombard our nervous systems, taking a mental dump to clear this indigestion/constipation will become increasingly more needed. 

Evolutionary Movement

Check out this CLIP of Ido moving his way through evolution.  I really liked to beginning crawling; going to have to up my volume of creepin' and crawlin' movements, so I can get that smooth!


The Psoas @ Body Divine Yoga

Nice article HERE; about the psoas from a number of perspectives.  Having hit the psoas nicely on Wednesday I enjoyed this article thoroughly. 


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Deepening my Stretch Therapy practice

Yesterday I had an amazing stretch sesh in Cherie's Advanced class (thanks Cher!); it was definitely in my top two stretches of the year(!); with the other contender happening last Wednesday.  Highlight was a 'long cycle' modified advanced external rotator stretch off a bolster and a psoas-specific unwinding stretch.  What this all adds up to for me, is the possibility that I've come to a new level of practice with Stretch Therapy/Stretching Mindfully style work.

This is cool, as I have had most of my other breakthrough's, or 'level jumps', within a partner stretching class/workshop setup - whilst this time I have made my breakthrough with solo stretching.  I definitely think the previous partner stretching work has allowed me to get to this latest deepening of the work.

I'm hoping to get some of the 'long cycle' slow, simmering style solo stretching variations I've created up soon (am looking at the camera I will film with right now). Cherie has some great variants, too.  This being said, I'm having a great time, and getting great effects from working in some 2-partner soft tissue re-modelling variations in my classes  - so partner and solo stretching obviously both have great benefits; why not use both of them?

The primary things that have lead to this recent advance for me are very much internal things (tiny changes of movement; breathing; Intention and body awareness shifts - and really focusing on my state of consciousness in the position).

I've stated elsewhere that one goal I have is to gain decent/full mobility in every joint that has movement available to it in the human body, in this lifetime (and the supple soft tissues to go along with that joint mobility) - mainly just for my own amusement and to see if it is possible (and what it feels like).

I know a lot of people talk about having mobility and stability in different areas, and this is very valid advice for most people - what I'm aiming at doing, I do not recommend other people to try (unless you feel the need) - it's a personal, if somewhat odd, quest of mine, is all. 

Man I feel good today, though.  The majority hip work has really opening up my ribs and neck - and the sensations of aliveness in my legs today were fantastic!  Ch'eeeeah!

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Exercise Ecology pt 3

A couple more points have popped into my mind overnight, regarding what I am calling Exercise Ecology

The first idea is of creating communities of people, doing exercise in the form of useful labor for society as the bulk of the work-out(side) - finished off with some more conventional exercises to balance out the movement patterns of the labour; specifically strengthen certain muscles/patterns of movement, and/or add a 'finisher' of sufficient intensity for those who like that type of thing. 

One possibility for this would be working on constructing permaculture or urban agriculture structures.  You and a group of mates get together, work for a designated period (practicing body-mindfulness the whole time, of course), then finish with a 20 minute strength workout and/or some stretching/mobility/yoga/qigong/meditation. 

Alternatively, you could have a timer set for every 5 minutes or so; when the timer goes off you do 2 minutes of continues lizard crawls; or a set of chin-ups, or 3 minutes of kettlebell swings - you get the picture..   Finish up with recovery work and lunch (I know Simon and the 'peaceful warrior' group do a similar format to classes, down Melbourne-way. This is so cool to see; the communal aspect to exercise, which is not new, but fulfills some primal urge). 

The human body can get a lot of work (manual labor) done on fairly little food, so a lot of positive work could get done for the good of society.  Think about how many units of human energy are 'wasted' on treadmills through-out the country each day!  IF you put that energy into good old fashioned activities, you could provide massive benefits to society whilst shedding unwanted kilos.

Body-mindful outdoor work also feels extremely goodly in the body.  Chopping wood; digging wholes; carrying bags and wheeling wheel barrows are all awesome strength and movement patterning exercises - when done with awareness and sound technique. Plus you get vitamin D and fresh air, and could grow your own organic food instead of paying shiteloads for it!

More on ecology; gym equipment and lighting/heating for gyms uses a large amount of non-renewable energy.  Working out outside, using natural objects, or bodyweight (or things like kettlebells and chin-up bars that, whilst energy intensive, last a fairly long time), does not have the same ecological footprint.  Minimalist equipment (no equipment) and natural movement really more on a 'knowledge economy', or, as Steve Maxwell's site used to read - 'high-minded simplicity' (I love that phrase). 

Doing useful work (ala 'Be strong to be useful') also provides cultural-body medicine whilst doing wonderous things for your own, personal physical body.  The re-directing of the massive amount of human-potential energy away from hamster-wheel style self-serving exercise, towards communal projects (and, sure, add some high intensity work in there for strength & conditioning or fat-loss) would achieve the same personal goals, but with the added ripple on effect to society. 

Being stuck in the body-as-machine, personal-focused reductionist style exercise blinds people (somewhat) to possibilities of this ecological, communal exercise; though I would say that even people who are working out to get in shape personally are doing good that will positively effect the whole.  Exercise in groups seems to be on the rise (people are feeling the lack of community/isolation of cities, perhaps).

It makes sense to me from an efficiency perspective; if you're going to exercise and lift things (for general health and fitness - specialize training is somewhat different), why not move useful objects into their correct place (beams into position; dirt into garden beds; etc), rather than just lift piece of iron or steel around?  Again, this is hypothetical, as I do personally lift bits of metal around to get in shape - and as I said, you could do a hybrid workout and communal work thing. 

Someone probably is already doing this.. if you are (or want to), and are in Sydney, let me know.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Exercise Ecology pt 2

In part one of 'Exercise Ecology' I talked about the idea/concept of viewing the body from a systems science (ecological) viewpoint, and about how this effects how we view training and select exercises.

Today, I want to muse a brief primer to something that I find fascinating, and will no doubt be re-exploring many times in coming years.  That is, what type of physical training best prepares us for the rigors of the Information Age (or other future)? This is a general outline and musing, please feel free to post anything you think needs to be added, or is interesting. 

Well, firstly, I am thinking of a hedged bets style training, in case of long decline towards a salvage society and Ecotechical future. (Not reading the ArchDruid Report?? Why not?! One of the best blogs on the internet, IMHO).

So, training for salvage society via hunter-gather style natural movement training, and, training to buffer stress, enhance creativity and engender positive bodymind states.  This is cool, as I find all the natural movement/outdoor training; re-wilding and survivalist stuff fun! Training this way also engenders a certain degree of adaptability and general skill on a physical level, which by my reckoning carries over very well to mental adaptability.  

Training for mental agility and neuroplastic effects definitely makes my short-list of goals for training (for either Ecotechnical style future or Information age future).  Having a solid base strength, flexibility, agility and graceful (smooth, controlled movement) strikes me as a good foundation - then add in all types of skill and movement patterns from martial arts; yoga; athletics; climbing; hunting; sneaking about being quiet; archery/throwing; using small boats (canoe/kayaks); swimming; juggling; etc.  Keep at a skill long enough to get an improvement, notice when you are flagging in skill acquisition, and cycle on to a new skill - or have a strategic break and re-focus.  Play to strengths, but work on weaknesses. Nice expert generalism theme to all this (which I love!).

Exercising for nootropic effect goes well with physical training strategies for neuroplasticity, and teamed up hopefully buffer all the sights/sounds/things assaulting our nervous systems all day long.  Basically, using strength & conditioning; sleep; diet; lifestyle and bodymind practices in a sensible, and pragmatic way that avoids over-training and other un-healthy outcomes of training incorrectly, or too much, and aims to engender positive effects on neurochemistry and neurotransmitter balance in preference to very high levels of strength or fitness/conditioning. Principles of 'minimum effective dose' apply here.

Tom Myers, in his brilliant Kinesthetic Dystonia pt 2 article (which is on my 'essential reading' list, for sure), talks about a lot of what I've mentioned already (plus other cools things, such as how our PE system formed; the 'warrior-hero' ideal and agricultural society; and fills in some the back-story (if you haven't done that yourself already).  Do try to get a copy and read it.

He also mentions physical training to enhance creativity; embodiment (he refers to as somatization) and the need to move away from repetitive exercise in schooling, towards creative, explorative movements. Cool. 

I definitely agree with the movement training to enhance creativity aspect, and would put that as one of my primary categories for this topic.  Not just having regular 'movement breaks' away from the computer, or whatever project - but just moving; playing, being and feeling alive; moving about and exploring in an intuitive manner, and digesting information gathered mentally, whilst resting the cognitive aspects of the bodymind. 

The use of restorative methods and using lighter, more yin training types (qi gong/soft yoga/joint mobility/etc) for recovery from training sessions (and recovery from life in general - it can be draining just getting the groceries in the larger cities), and for their other positive effects on the bodymind. Also to buffer the increased speed and stress of this world of 7 billion and counting humans. 

If you don't have a sport or activity to train for, it might be worth considering an 'ecological' mindset for you physical training.  Most articles you read in popular media are touting on the industrial era 'body-as-machine' mantra, but me thinks that era is going the way of the dodo.  Why not start to think of structuring you training to help you with whatever else you do in these chaotic, speeding up times?

Monday, May 27, 2013

Dodging in Crowds (Body-mindfulness in action)

So.. being mindful of the body, and its sensations whilst standing relatively still; or in a pose or lying or sitting, is all well and good, but most of us have to move around at some time throughout the day - getting to trains/buses, going to the shops, etc. Sometimes we need to move quite quickly. 

One thing I like to do is make a game of movement whilst in a large group of fast moving people.  Practicing 'dodging', or moving through large groups of fast moving, and chaotic, people rushing to get places is a great game and applied body-mindfulness.  Great places to practice are busy train stations; foot-paths of major roads in the CBD in peak hour, and exiting major sporting or music events in stadiums. 

Basics are: Move quickly (no running), smoothly and unrelentingly. Keep you body 'light' and ready for sudden changes of direction; 'morphing' your body to fit spaces in between people, and keeping smooth relaxed breathing going throughout.  Bonus points for cool changes in direction laterally between people; pulling of a sweet 'morphing' through a tiny space between fast moving people without 'clipping' anyone, and maintaining a smiling face the whole time. 

Throughout the dodging, you have your Awareness in the body (whole body with emphasis on soles of feet is a good one) as fully as you can; and a second attention on spatial awareness of moving humans around you.  This trains you to watch the momentum, movement quality and subtle body language cues of other people at an before-thinking level.  Plus it is heaps of fun (when done right)! You kind of feel like your in a chase seen from an action/thriller movie if you get it correct.  Great spatial awareness training and fun! 

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Resist Mediocrity

Today I'm completing a post I've had saved as a draft for a couple of weeks.  On the back cover of the (revised) 4th Edition of Overcome Neck & Back Pain, Kit (Laughlin) is sporting a t-shirt, that if you look closely, reads 'Resist Mediocrity'.  I cracked up the first time I saw this.

But, it raises an interesting point.. the t-shirt, to the best of my knowledge, was about resisting shite coffee (which is wise) - but I choose to take those two words more generally.  Resist mediocrity is a practice for life. In fact, it reminded me of one of the pivotal quotes I read, that changed my life, when I was in high school. No, it wasn't from Catcher in the Rye; Great Gatsby, or any of the other standard English class texts - it was from the holy tome of Fight Club (well actually the movie)

"I see in the fight club the strongest and smartest men who've ever lived. I see all this potential and I see squandering. God damn it, an entire generation pumping gas, waiting tables, slaves with white collars, advertising has us chasing cars and clothes, working jobs we hate so we can buy shit we don't need. We're the middle children of the history man, no purpose or place, we have no Great war, no Great depression, our great war is a spiritual war, our great depression is our lives.." Fight Club, Chuck Palahnuik (I have bolded the line that was seared into my adolescent mind):

Looking around at the faces of a large number of people walking by, absorbed in whatever they are worrying about, I can't help but be reminded about the truth in this quote. Oftentimes people, when questioned, will put on some makeshift defence about how their job 'isn't that bad', and that it does make a difference, and maybe it does, but there's still an awkwardness of underlying dissonance. It's like Paulo Ceolho says in The Alchemist 'you can tell someone who is following their Personal Legend'..and you can tell someone who is not.  

Now this is not everybody!  I have (luckily) met a fair number of people who are doing their dharma.  And a larger number of people who work to fund doing the things they do love.  That still leaves a fair amount of people who are on the scale from apathetic to loathing of their occupation (which can be the place the spend the majority of lives).  This is far from 'self-actualization', as Maslow puts it..

I actually think this is one of the deeper, socio-cultural factors involved in the diseases of civilization; especially stress-related ones (and that's a lot of them).  How many people struggle through a life of work they detest; get the golden hand-shake (or not), and promptly die of cancer or heart disease a few years later (I would actually be interested in these figures.. I may poke around a bit for them)? Or have their sympathetic nervous systems constantly being spiked via unrelenting low-moderate grade tension and stress (which, I read recently, is more likely to give you something nasty than infrequent strong stress).

I think something like a yearly mini-retirement, of 3 months minimum (ala The 4hr Work Week - Tim Ferriss), would be a good health practice and preventative medicine measure for anybody who does a job they don't love completely (and as a redundancy plan for if they carked it straight after retirement).  Now, this would get you fired most times - as for some reason this society pays people to stay in one place for a set number of hours, rather than by what they get done (?!)..

So to all out there who want something different.  Who want to 'Resist Mediocrity' and do something they love (that helps All Beings), I salute you.  The power of the happiness and creativity that someone who is doing their Personal Legend (for want of a better term..actually that term is perfect) radiates is of benefit to all who come into contact with them.  You know, butterfly beats it's wings and shit like that.. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Cooking for Sensory Enhancement

So, I confess - for most of my life I have hated cooking (and even more so washing up), and will pretty much eat for survival (not pleasure).

For a while now I have been working on my washing up mindfulness, and creating a game of wrist mobility and body-awareness when I do it, too! 

Recently I have decided to get better at cooking, as well - for a number of reasons; one of which is as a way of practicing to use, and hopefully enhance, my senses of smell and taste (which are the least developed of my senses).

Training to improve the various special senses has appealed to me for a long while, plus cooking will give me the added bonus of something to eat. (Hhmm; maybe 'Cooking for Cranial Nerve I Enhancement™' would have been a better title..)

There's a great little graph of the bottom of page 23 of Tim Ferriss' The 4hr Chef book (adapted from Culinary Artistry - Dornenberg and Page), that shows three types/stages of chef/cook - Trade (survival cooking); Craftsman (Enjoyment) & Artist (Entertainment).  I am most definitely a survival level cook, so my goal is to reach the craftsman level by the end of the year.  (I'm digging the book too - might review it when I'm done) 

I must say, now I decided to get better at this skill, that I have already been viewing cooking in a different light.  There's something alchemical about it.. 

As for the sense enhancement, I found my friend Yogamanas' comment in my Manual Taste Enhancement blog (about Antar Mauna and working with less dominant senses) especially interesting in regards to dominant and less dominant senses 'hiding stuff' behind them... especially seeing as though I'd put off learning to cook for so long..Hhhmmm.

For me, seeking balance, I have to seek out and address the weaker aspects.  Just as weaker, less co-ordinated movement pattens need to be improved to help the functional of the body - so too the senses, it seems. 

At any rate, it is fun to be at the beginning stages (and I mean rank beginner!) of something! 

As an aside, I feel that working on enhancing the function of the special sense and their associated cranial nerve pathways will be a part of my Physical Alchemy syllabus.  I have more than a few ideas about this already, and have seen/spoken to others who've got some cool exercises for this. As I mentioned last post - It's all part of the re-enchantment of the body. 

Friday, May 24, 2013

Out of the Crucible (The Evolution of Stretch Therapy)

The last two posts by my fellow 90 day blog challengee (Kit); Stretching Mindfully PART 1 and PART 2 have been (along with the previous posts on mindfulness in general, at the same location), in my personal opinion, quite possibly a watershed moment in the evolution of Stretch Therapy. That's a big call, but hear me out. 

I think the explicit inclusion of the mindfulness and Buddhist aspects, which have always been in the system covertly/implicitly (if you know Kit they are obvious), front and centre marks the beginning of a new era - Stretching Mindfully.  This also makes sense in regards to the title change - what do you do when you've 'Overcome Neck and Back Pain'?  You continue onwards - to grace and ease in the body, and using the system for body-mindfulness (Stretching Mindfully) (and/or get cat-like via Monkey Gym methods).   

A while back I helped Kit clean and re-organize his library of books. In this eclectic collection there were many, many books on anatomy, philosophy, human ecology, logic and systems science from Kit's academic days; a large number of books of various types of body work and somatics; various camera and technical books; a vast collection of Dharma books from a wide range of spiritual traditions; training manuals for exercise science, nutrition and biochemistry; various classics of miscellaneous topics, and lots of booklets from different workshops that Kit had attended. A true expert generalists bookshelf!   

A nice collection indeed, but one that doesn't come through in the references of Kit's books, fully.  It's quite often only at workshops that Kit will, in the moment, remember some fascinating point, or useful detail, from his philosophy days, or from his rich practical and experiential background.

Now, it seems, with Kit's recent work and experience with the Theraveda Buddhist tradition; and his teaching of Stretch Therapy™ methods alongside Vipassana style meditation retreats - the time is ripe for a second flowering (as a lot of these ideas have been growing 'underground' for quite a while).  A quick quote from his blog today: 

"So now to the deep reason for the book title, Stretching Mindfully. Simply, the body is the primary instrument of insight. The standard opening instruction in all meditation retreats is, “Bring your attention to the breath.” As soon as you do this, there is only sensations—until the awareness is captured by a thought and taken away from the present. Being aware of this capturing process is mindfulness. The sensations of stretching are, for most people, even stronger than the sensations of breathing. My experience of working with many people on meditation retreats is that connecting the meditator to the body via stretching and movement brings the person into the present and keeps them in the present extremely effectively. As well,  gaining a closer contact and understanding of the physical structure you live in will enhance the sensations of breathing, digestion, and existing very, very effectively. Enhancement of the sensations of being alive is another way of helping us stay in the present." Kit Laughlin, Stretching Mindfully part 2

Now, for me personally that last line prickled the hair of my skin.  What I am doing with Physical Alchemy is creating a system based upon just this; enhancing the sensations of being alive, or as I like to put it - The Re-enchantment of the Body.  A large part of me writing these blogs (and doing the 90 day challenge) was to start accelerating the process of this creation (writing Physical Alchemy into existence, so to speak).  There are other aspects that are involved (and lots of scope for change and incorporation of new things), and I will write a 'What is this thing called Physical Alchemy' post at some stage soon.   

What I think is fascinating is how these living systems grow and spawn.  Stretch Therapy was created via Kit's experience and study in Japan, and later academically in Australia (whilst simultaneously doing all types of practical knowledge and skill acquisition) - tested and refined in the crucible of 25 years of classes (and lots of teachers) at the Australian National University; and many national and international workshops during this time.

Now, it seems that the original system has enough momentum to give rise to new forms of expression; new branches on the tree - Stretching Mindfully and Physical Alchemy.  This is not to say that Stretch Therapy itself will not keep growing (and to say it is separate is not quite true, anyhow).

In this era of web 2.0 and heightened information sharing, the process of evolution for this type of thing is increasingly quick - which is good, because things are increasingly dire in the world.  As Kit said on the phone yesterday, Indra's net is closing.  The ease with which you can link together like-minded people in the same, and different, fields of inquiry is one of the best things about this era.

There are others out there, doing similar body-mindfulness style training via yoga, or martial arts, or whatever.  Lots of them have great techniques and insights that would be useful to share. For me this is so exciting!  Continuing to learn other systems, whilst deepening the body-knowledge I've acquired via years of practice with the Stretching Mindfully/Stretch Therapy system.

The important thing is that more people get into this type of thing; really get it, at a deep physical, experiential level.  It changes you. It transmutes you into a more alive, higher functioning, more compassionate and mindful being.  The name of the system doesn't matter, just the results.  The epidemic of lack of body awareness (body-mindfulness) needs skillful and expedient methods to do something about it Now.  Anyone who practices this type of things, or teaches others to do this, under any art, method or style, is totally cool and deserves much 'fruit' to come their way. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

Stretching Mindfully

Kit did a fantastic blog this morning about Stretching Mindfully.  (HERE)  Pop over and enjoy! 

Kinesthetic Education pt 2 - Continuum Concepts

To continue on kinesthetic education, the great book The Continuum Concept - Jean Liedloff offers some different insights into the raising of children in a tribal society - where kids get a whole host of formative experiences, especially of a kinesthetic nature, that are missing from most of our child-rearing practices in the West. (Thanks, again, to Simon - who lent me this book just before the birth of my daughter. You should read this book, even if you don't have any kids)

The author draws some fascinating correlations between the tribal way of raising children and the happiness and fulfillment that is natural to adults of the tribe, but missing in a lot (most?) adults in this culture.

One of the cool things mentioned, about the tribe the author stayed with for a period of time, was that they dip their infants in running water from a very early age.  Starting with the feet in very slow water, and eventually moving to fully immersed in fast moving water - which creates an enormous amount of sensory and proprioceptive feedback from the nervous system, all before the child learns to walk!  The members of this tribe go on to become some of the best white water canoeists around; many of their skills at reading and feeling rapids and water are developed exceptionally young, from this process.

The in-arms phase of the tribal life, differs significantly from the isolatory practices often seen in the West (with some change happening):

"From birth, continuum infants are taken everywhere. Before the umbilicus comes off, the infant's life is already full of action. He is asleep most of the time, but even as he sleeps he is becoming accustomed to the voices of his people, to the sounds of their activities, to the bumpings, jostlings, and moves without warning, to stops without warning, to lifts and pressures on various parts of his body as his caretaker shifts him about to accommodate her work or her comfort, and to the rhythms of day and night, the changes of texture and temperature on his skin, and the safe, right feel of being held to a living body." The Continuum Concept, Jean Liedloff, p 49-50.

I'll leave it there for now.  I'm definitely going to review this book, as it is essential reading, IMHO.  Especially if you're expecting a child sometime in the near future. I'll re-read it first, before reviewing.  What the hell; one final quote:

" The basic condition of being in arms has been met, so the infant is free to be stimulated and enriched by whatever he senses.  Happenings that would frighten an unprepared adult are barely noticed by an infant in arms. Figures suddenly loom close above their eyes, treetops spin high overhead.  Things go dark or light without warning. Thunder and lightning, barking dogs, deafing roars of waterfalls, splitting trees, flaring fires, surprise dousings in rain or river water do not perturb him. Given the conditions in which his species evolved, silence or a prolonged lack of change in sensory stimuli would be alarming" The Continuum Concept, Jean Liedloff, p 55

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Sequential Stretching

As I sit here and write this, I feel amazing in my physical body; definitely possessing heightened grace and ease, as Kit often refers to the primary objective of Stretch Therapy - due to the stretches I did this evening (and more importantly, the style in which I did the stretching this evening).

The primary thing that lead to this state in my body (besides the stretching itself!) was a desire to test, explore and play with something I've been contemplating for quite some time - sequencing.  More specifically sequencing of Stretch Therapy style tissue re-modelling and brain re-mapping stretches; strengthen exercises and neural re-patterning techniques - (hopefully) leading to positive plasticity and permanent unlocking of restricted and unaware areas. 

My general questions are as follows:
• How to increase the regularity of 'breakthrough sessions' without lowering the safety aspect of the system?
 • How to use the stretches and strength/re-patterning work to permanently unlock certain common/uncommon tension patterns in the body.
 • Which stretches follow on well from each other (so pose counter-pose is common; but I'm thinking longer chains of stretches and stretches followed by strength or preceeded by mobility, etc.,)?
 • Use of 'enhancers' --> Breathing enhancers; spiral enhancers; partners; bolsters; other aids; etc.
 • Sequencing moves to induce group relaxation (when teaching classes) or group excitation - and playing with that balance to help with the first point (increase the incidence of 'peak' stretching experiences within the parameters of safety, efficiency and effectiveness).

I have two 'chain-stretches', or sequences of stretches and PNF contractions, that I used tonight that are primarily responsible for my current deep well-being state (In-joke for Kit). (This is somewhat similar to vinyasa style asana practice).  

I am going to film both of them, soon.  I'll describe one full sequence now (just in case someone reading this is familiar with the Stretch Therapy system, or know what I'm talking about and wants to try).

Chain-Stretch Lunge I 
• Start in a basic lunge position; both hands inside of the front knee.  Some basic limbering (exploring hip flexor tension of the day, moving partially into a TFL stretch position).

• Now, from the basic lunge position; do a contract-relax style contraction with the front leg - trying to claw the heel and mid-foot through the earth, like a chicken clawing at the ground (hamstrings/adductors/glutes do work).  Medium intensity, concentrating on getting the tightest band of tissue to contract, more than on max intensity. ~ 10 seconds.

• Press the knee of the bent from leg out into the arm (hug knee to provide resistance) ~10 seconds.  Block knee with arm (two positions available..too hard to describe one, will video) ~ 10seconds.

• Standard Hip Flexor contraction - at your desired intensity for about 10 - 20 seconds.  I suggest medium, but focused 20 second C/R. 

• 'Opening up the arm to the roof' - so, if the left leg is back, you will balance on the left arm and the right arm will reach up to the ceiling as you turn the trunk to the right.  Elevate back knee ~ 1-3 inches, then contract-relax the front leg (again like a chicken) through the floor.  Do a stronger and longer contraction this time. Change from natural (nasal belly) breathing, to reverse breathing (abs in on inhale; breathe up into ribcage, slowly and strongly).  Rotate further around a few times.  The go back to basic, but deeper, lunge position.

• Fold down to your elbows in the lunge (or forehead on ground, if you can).  Do a final, strong front leg clawing (extending..well, knee flexion + hip extension) contraction between 10 and 25 seconds.  Hold the final position for 5 - 8 breaths done natural breathing method as slow as you can.

Should take 8-10 minutes.  Done at a slow, deliberate simmer

The second chain stretch I did was a modified alchemical version of the advanced piriformis exercise from the Stretch Therapy syllabus.

I'm really looking forward to getting these out there in video format, for people to play around with and report back.  Hopefully you end up feeling as good as I do now.  I'm off to float to bed, now.  (Stretching may or may not grant power of levitation).  

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Kinesthetic Education

A couple of things caught my eye in the last two days, that made me want to write about this topic today.  One was a billboard at Wynyard station (for St Vincents, I believe) talking about helping children get their self-esteem back (something I think movement and somatic education can help facilitate in some cases; and in a fun way, too); and an article I read about ADHD.

A while back I read Tom Myers 'Kinesthetic dystonia' series of articles (found in the 'Structural Integration' bound booklet of articles) and they had a profound effect on me.  You know when you read something, and it ties together a number of different topics you've been contemplating; describes fully and clearly what you've been observing, but haven't quite put your finger on enough to label it yet, and fires you up with a passion to do something for the world with what you've studied and are interested in. A nice taster: 

"It is this general lack of attention to the kinesthetic sense which has produced what we are calling 'kinesthetic dystonia', an epidemic of unnecessary parasitic muscle tension and structural pain, early degeneration due to dis- or misuse of body parts, alienation from purpose and free emotional expression, and a reliance on what can be seen and heard over what can be felt" Tom Myers, Kinesthetic Dystonia: what bodywork can offer a new physical education  (from Structural Integration, p 13).

This series did just this for me in regards to the need to increase kinesthetic (body awareness) education, broadly and rapidly, across the whole of society - but, of highest importance, in our kids.  (If you haven't read the articles, I highly recommend them to you.  In fact, the Kinesthetic Quotient [KQ] idea, which I also picked up off Tom, is highly influential on how I work and think. )

So much of what I found pointless to learn, back when I was in school, was, in retrospect now - pointless.  I could have easily done without large amounts of the information I was taught, and detested learning at the time.  There seems to be a fair amount of debate on education reform, from what little research I've done  (THIS VIDEO of Ken Robinson has been send to me multiple times - and has a healthy 10 million views!). 

"Every country on earth, at the moment, is reforming public education... The problem is they are trying to meet the future by doing what they did in the past. And on the way they are alienating millions of kids who don't see any purpose in going to school.  People say we should raise standards, and of course we should. The problem is the current system of Education was designed and conceived in a different age- in the intellectual culture of the Enlightenment and in the Economic circumstances of the Industrial revolution." Ken Robinson (from the above linked video). 

This is presicely it - kids should learn stuff that is actually useful to their lives; they should learn things that help for this era; they should learn to use all their faculties (IQ; EQ & KQ). In fact, there should probably be different streams of schooling for people with certain preferences and abilities in these broad categories.   Children should want to go to school - it should be so fun that they want to get up and go.  And for fucks sake get rid of those posture destroying chairs!  There should be benches and cushions and mats, so people can move around as they learn.  Outside classes for at least a third of the day would be something I would like to see, too (if not more time than that. Yes, I know, the kids will get distracted by all the stuff out there. That's the point..learning from nature).

Whilst we have 'PE' (Physical Education), this is mainly just sports based/motor learning stuff, which is great, but it misses the yin aspect; the introspective; the visceroceptive; the propriceptive - learning to feel our inner landscape and become more embodied - allowing us to be comfortable in our being.   

Also, how about learning to deeply relax physically and emotionally via a lying yoga nidra, or similar practice?  We actually used to lay on the ground for a while in kindergarten (I had an amazing teacher first year of school) and relax after lunch, sometimes to music.  I still remember this, though very little else of what we did. 

Having just become a father myself; and being interesting in all things movement, health and KQ - I find it far more rewarding to watch my daughter picking up movement patterns well than being able to speak.  It's actually fun to use gestures and body-language alone to get her to do something.  She gets it too.  There's a definite non-verbal understanding about babies and young kids that is amazing and fun to be around. 

Monday, May 20, 2013

Body-mindfulness for injury prevention

Kit's blog for today (SEE HERE) on mindfulness, raises some interesting points about mindfulness and the body (a favorite topic of mine).  The one I want to briefly expand upon is the one regarding lack of mindfulness and injuring the body. 

As Kit mentions, most of the time when I've injured myself it's via not 'being there' fully in that moment; and more specifically, not having body-mindfulness in that moment.  I've found that some of my worst injuries came doing simple tasks, whilst not paying attention.  Other times I've avoided what should have been a nasty injury via having enough body-awareness to have my body move out of the compromised position.

I once tore my knee ligament quite badly getting out of a chair to check on an essay I'd just printed.  It was about 3am and the essay was due the next day (or the previous day..) at Uni.  My foot got stuck on the bottom of the roller chair as I got up and that was that.  It turned out being a more long-running injury than most, if not all, of the ones I had doing martial arts or strength training. 

This is one reason why developing a second attention, as Kit mentions, that is in the body is so cool.  I personally practice different sites of secondary attention throughout the day - or feel the whole body moving whilst listening to distant and near sounds; or focusing on as many other sensations that I can. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Exercise and 'Nootropic' supplementation pt 1

In the post two days ago I looked at what exercise can do to de-rail the neuroendocrine system in two forms of over-training; today, I thought I would look into the how exercise can enhance the same system, and the area of nootropics more generally.

Firstly, to the burgeoning area of use of nootropic supplementation, 'smart drugs' & nutraceuticals for brain health and enhancement (aka. Overclocking the Walnut). Interestingly, the term nootropic seems to be a combination of two greek words 'nous trepein'; or, 'mind' and 'to bend' - so quite literally mind-bending.

Daniel Reid, in his book The Complete Book of Chinese Health & Healing: Guarding the Three Treasures, calls Nootropics 'The New Alchemy' - which is a title that has great appeal to me!
Despite smart drugs being 'new'; both Ayuvedic and Classical Chinese Medicine have long, long histories with experimenting with the nootropic effects of herbs and minerals (from a lore and self-experimention perspective, not double-blind as some would like - but still an amazingly rich source of information). 

A fair number of which, like brahmi, via its possible aid in Alzheimer's disease treatment; are getting some decent research attention and funding at the moment.

Anyhow, the basic premise behind nootropics is that via ingesting the drug/supplement/herb, an altering in the amount of oxygen, blood, lipids, nutrients, enzymes and hormonal precursor substances reaching the brain occurs.  This influences the rate of production, metabolic activity and speed of transmission of various neurotransmitters, and hormones, within the brain; neural glands and the central nervous system.

This then leads to (hopefully) improved memory functioning; cognitive enhancement; neuroprotective effects and induction of neurogenesis (nerve/neuron growth). A lot of the nootropic research is aimed at the grey matter (neuronal) side of the equation; fair enough, though enhancing the blood and oxygen flow should also effect the white matter (as the white matter helps facilitate this..if my calculations are correct). But, what about substances that target the white matter?

What about enhancing the production, regeneration and function of neuroglia cells; of providing optimal amount of the substances used to generate and protect the architecture of the brain, and it's support systems?  Some degenerative disease of the brain target the white matter (MS; Alzheimer's), so finding out how to encourage regeneration of this neural tissue will be very helpful.(see Brahmi, above)

Musing about what else is actually in the cranial cavity; cerebrospinal fluid is produced in the choroid plexus of the brain, and provides buoyancy, cushioning and is involved with the immune system within the brain and central nervous system.  Can it too be modified/enhanced? Via exercises, like the spinal wave, as well as supplementation and/or dietary change? 

And when I say enhanced, does it have to be via exogenous nootropic substances added to the body?  The body possesses a marvelous supply of its own mind-bending and regenerative substances (including DMT and endo-opioids); some of which (all?) are capable of some degree of control via bodymind practices, that it produces via the food we ingest.  Just stop and think how cool that is for a second. 

I find the exogenous (outside supplementation) nootropic stuff fascinating, but the self-production side of things is cooler still.  And how would we best use exercise and bodymind practices to produce a nootropic effect?  This is a very good question. 

Can you get the same (or better) effects via skillfully using exercise; in combination with smart dieting (and possibly some cheaper substances like Fish Oils; Vitamin D (or get more sunlight) and herbal supplementation), than just using smart drugs and supplements - that will probably end up being quite costly?

I believe so. And I see myself turning a fair amount of my attention to this very topic in the coming years, what with the increasing rates of nervous system problems and the like Physical Alchemy is about regeneration and enhancement of all tissues of the body! 

If you take the more powerful supplements and drugs, but don't address other problems in your body and lifestyle - you'll just be giving a confused, stress and unhealthy system some more, strong, chemicals to deal with - which may or may not work well. Or might help one aspect, whilst hindering others. Certainly the smart drugs do look very useful for people with more severe neurodegenrative conditions. 

The use of powerful supplements and drugs echoes the 'heroic medicine' ideal; where we are 'fighting a war' against something 'out there', in this case neural degeneration - but this metaphor is just part of that 'Taker Mythology' (if you read Ishmael, which I reviewed a while back).  The idea that we are at war with natural ecosystems - both the one 'outside', and the one on the inside, is not a particularly useful standpoint.. especially in regards to this thing we walk around in. What is involved in this degeneration occuring in the first place?  Can that be prevented?  How? 

Using these substances, or approaching the nootropic selection of exercise, will work best from an ecological, systems theory perspective.  It's not, necessarily, more of a certain compound or compounds - but an complex, multifaceted interaction of exogenous compounds with endogenous (and molecules somewhere in the conversion between the two) that produces the best outcome (regeneration); via optimal homeostasis across multiple systems.  I think Kit's idea of Supervenience may prove useful in this regards.

More on my contemplations of using exercise to produce nootropic effects in part II! I'm off to get some powerful nootropic effects via sleeping.  Zzzzz..

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Little Notebooks are Awesome (as are pants/shorts with lots of pockets to put them in)!

Little notebooks (roughly pen length or smaller) are awesome(!!).  I've been using them for perhaps the last 3 or 4 years now, and they have proven their value many times over.  Sure, you can type stuff into 'notes' on your iPhone, or whatever, but nothing beats the good old notepad and pen.. plus, I want to still be able to write by hand, so this lends me the opportunity to practice this skill.  

Ideally, the size of the notebook is that of about the length of a pen (give or take ~15mm), to fit into the (mandatory) side, or cargo, pocket of your trousers (or shorts).  I don't think I can wear a pair of shorts that doesn't have above 5 pockets (two front or side; two back and minimum 1 side or cargo pocket).  Notepad in back pockets get crushed or bent; front pocket the pen stabs you when you're rolling about on the ground or climbing; side pocket it falls out when you are inverted or climbing.  Cargo pocket for the win (zipped or buttoned).  My Patagonia 'Rockcraft' pants pictured.

More pockets means more cool stuff you can bring home from your daily adventures!  My wife once came out of the laundry with a 'What the fuck?!!' look on her face, having found two corks in the side cargo pockets of my shorts (along with the usual assortment of rubber bands; coins; feathers and tissues). 

Kit put me on to the 'Field Notes' notebooks a while back; and kindly gave me some he wasn't using.  Field Notes notebooks come with a ruler drawn onto the inside of the back cover (+1).  The field notes brand notepad comes in 'writing', 'drawing or blank' and 'graph' styles - or in a 3-pack that has one of each.  That nerd from Mythbusters even uses them, as you'll see on the video from at website.  I like the idea of 'EDC' - Every Day Carry  aka. the shit you have in your pockets most of the time.  (Feather not included; corks sold separately)

The yellow and orange 'extra small' notebooks are via Moleskine brand, and are small enough to fit into most pockets. Bonus points for being orange and golden yellow coloured.  On thing that I don't like about the Moleskine extra smalls, is that the pages are pullout.  I preferred fixed pages, personally.  Moleskine are pretty good quality normally, though.  Plus I think they were Hemingway's favorite; so points for that too, I suppose. 

I use my notepad and pen (standard Parker metal pen.. which I have got through about 40 different airport checks, yet they didn't let me bring fingernail clippers once?? Anyway..) almost every day - to write down interesting ideas; draw; note down things I pick up in conversation, or references for books/articles that I find out in my travels. 

Embrace the solar flare and EMP proof cutting edge technology of pen and notepad today! :) 

Friday, May 17, 2013

The Yin and Yang of Overtraining

"Chronic flaws in training may lead to an adverse cumulative effect - overtraining" Science of Sports Training: how to plan and control training for peak performance - Thomas Kurz, p321. 

When physical training is above the bodies ability to recovery from, symptoms of overtraining start to manifest.  If you've trained seriously for any length of time, you've probably experienced this to some degree.  Using a systems theory approach to training, all stresses acting upon the body have to be taken into account when training 'physically'. 

Interestingly, there are actually two types of over-training: basedowic and addisonic types.  Basedowic overtraining involves an over-activation of the sympathic nervous system at rest; whilst Addisonic involves and over-activation of the parasympathetic nervous system at rest (and also during activity).  

The two types of overtraining have some overlap: fatigue; loss of performance; diminishing gains; etc., but there are large differences in the development, progression and treatment between the two.  

Basedowic over-training usually results from an overload of excessively intense exercise; such as someone who engages in high-intensity protocols without a solid foundational conditioning.  High levels of emotional and mental stress (along with the physical) are often involved.  This type of over-training involves adverse affects the thyroid gland. (See HERE) People with this type normally get picked up earlier because of weight change; sleep and behavior change, and changes in cardiovascular function. 

Addisonic over-training is more of the 'classic' view of overtaining; where too much volume over time leads to stagnation, platuae, and eventually loss of performance.  This type of overtraining can be 'silent' for the first one or two stages, i.e not much is noticed in terms of effects, other than tiredness and/or poor progress.  This type of overtraining is named after Addisons disease, of which it shares some characteristics.  The HPA axis (hypothalamus; pituitary and adrenal glands) are effected during this type of overtraining, leading to adrenal fatigue.  

The book Science of Sports Training - Thomas Kurz (author of the more famous 'Stretching Scientifically' - which is excellent) is one of my favorite training books!  It was probably the first place I saw over-training broken down into these two types..  The chapter on over-training details about 20, or so, signs and symptoms for each types; recognizing the 3 stages of each of these types; and details the treatment of these types. It's worth picking up, if you can find a copy. 

It's been suggested (and I agree) that part of over-training comes from the bodymind becoming addicted to its own endogenous pharmacopeia of endorphins and other neurotransmitters, produced via exercise - getting high on your own supply, so to speak.  Though this is the adverse side of these effects, I'm personally expecting the 'nootropic' uses of exercise to become more and more popular (above people training for 'fitness') for many people in the coming years.. this is a topic I'll blog about soon. 

Tim Feriss (4hr work week) on Self-Experimentation

HERE is a blog by Tim Ferriss (author of the 4hr Work Week; 4hr Body & 4hr Chef), from around 2010, on the value of self-experimentation - of which I am also a big fan (for some of the reasons he states).

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Working the Feet

Today, in my morning class, I did a small series of foot stretching that I haven't done for a while - and was rewarded by great feeling feet and enhanced proprioception all day.  It reminded me of the first time I did the 'foot wringing out' in a Posture & Flexibility class at the ANU, in Canberra. 

Most adults find it weird to stretch/play with their feet, so whenever you teach foot stretching you often observe some puzzled looks.. then grimaces as people realize how tight and restricted their feet are (from shoes and other things). 

People are often just plain baffled by their feet, which they never pay the time of day to - which is odd, if you think about what people pay attention to.  Yes, the feet can be far away from the eyes and head (if you are sufficiently tall), but they are still part of the body.  Yet another hallmark of that silent epidemic: the epidemic of lack of body awareness.  Sit on a bench some time, coffee in hand (for 30 minutes), and watch people walk by.. and tell me it's not an epidemic! 

The basic foot sequence I did consisted of: The foot 'towel wringing'; PNF contractions for the 4 smaller toes in flexion and extension (lightly, and with some traction); PNF for the Big Toe (again in both flexion and extension).  We also did some sitting-on-the-heels in the warm-up. 

I used to have restricted and painful feet doing a number of the joint mobility and stretching exercises that expose such things, but through significant effort this changed (slowly and not too painfully) - and now I am rewarded with being able to do most foot exercises pain-free, and as such have much stronger, more mobile and more aware feet. 

Yes, today had foot and lower leg feel to it.  I filmed an exercise I created that really gets the deep posterior compartment muscles working, that I will post up as soon as it is edited.  I'm really excited to get it up and have others report back with sensations/findings. 

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Zero coffee day

Today was the first day in a very long time that I consumed zero coffee.  Originally I was seeing if I could make it until 1pm, then decided to continue it once I saw it was not going to be too hard.  I've been hovering up around the 4-5 strong cups of coffee, recently, and had decided I wanted to bring my consumption back down again to 1-2 cups per day, for the winter. 

I'm going to continue for a few days to see how I feel.  I like the test of willpower of stopping cold turkey.  ..seems like I get off much better than most people I know who've tried this (no headaches; or irritability yet).  All I noticed was a sleepiness around 1pm - 2pm, that disappeared as after that.

It will be interesting to see if it helps with lucid dreaming tonight.. speaking of which, it's time for bed.   

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Deconstructing Last Workout

On Sunday, around lunchtime, I had one of (if not the) best workouts of the year(!).  The workout was as follows:

A1) Deadhang weighted Chin-ups w 20kg KB:  3 sets x 7, 7, 6.
A2) One-leg Squat 10 second eccentrics w 20kg: 3 sets (alternating legs) - 3, 3, 3
A3) Turkish Get-Ups w 20kg (overhead squat style): 3 x 3 reps each side

B1) Bent Press w 20kg: 3 x 3 reps each side
B2) Swing Complex w 20kg: 10 x 2-hand; 10 x L; 10 x R; Side swings 5 x each side. [3 cycles]  

The workout went about double the time I've been taking this year - ~45 minutes.  I had about 4 minutes rest between each 'A' cycle..walking around the park, enjoying the sun.   

A few notes: 
• Dead hang (slow and enjoying) Chin-ups with weight are such an awesome exercise.  So much of the body gets involved.  I've said it before and I'll say it again.  I'm also liking doing pull-up ladders in my other workout.  

•  Eccentric only weighted pistols (one legged squats) are a really good external hip rotator; glute medius (yes it externally rotators too); adductor and pelvic floor stabilization exercise - besides the quad/glute/hamstring work. Actually, the dynamic interplay between the stabilization muscles and the prime movers is one of the great things about this exercise.  

• Bent presses are awesome!  The novel stabilization effect of the lats; teres group; serratus anterior; QL; etc. - feels really 'healthy'. They actually feel better on my shoulders than military presses. 

• Getting back into Turkish Get-ups was fantastic.  20kg is lighter than I would normally do, but it was decently heavy, and still light enough to play around with psoas and transverse abdominus activation stuff on the way up, and do a weighted spinal wave on the way down.  

I actually think what makes TGU's so awesome is you can do them light as a conditioning exercise (timed sets); Heavy 'Tonic' workout primer; Medium weight movement exploration and activation/body-awareness with some time under tension work.  Awesome movement pattern. 

• Side swings are still a bit un-co with them.  More practice is necessary. 

The day after (Monday) I was 'virtuously' sore in all the right places.  Today (Tuesday), I had some glutes and hamstring DOMS kick in (and used it during walking today).  

If anyone gives the workout a go, PM me and let me know how it feels in your body.  

I'm going to try it again this Sunday, and see if it has the same awesome effect. 

"Be Water" - Remix

This remix of the classic Bruce Lee interview is GOLD!! :D 


Monday, May 13, 2013

Lucid dreaming

Haha! I was going to write about this two days back, and now, today, Kit has written about Chuang Tzu's 'Butterfly' dream in a post on sleeping and meditation. See HERE

I was introduced to lucid dreaming (becoming aware you are dreaming in a dream, and gaining some control over said dream) in about year 11 (if I recall correctly..), by my best friend; who had found out about it via the Internet, or a book.  I had an instant excitement about it (as many have), and played around with it on and off for a while.  I bought a read the classic Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming - Stephen LaBerge. As well as trawling the internet forums (as you do). 

There's a sense of adventure when two friends are working towards getting lucidity in the dream state, that makes everyday life more interesting (especially when you're testing for dream signs and the like). 

I vividly remember my first real lucid dream; one where I had full awareness and a large amount of dream control.  I flew down a big grassy hill, that dropped off a massive plateau onto a plain that was hundreds of kilometres wide.  The sky above the plain was the most incredible thunderstorm with orange lighting.  Everything was so crisp and sharp.  Blue-ray and 3D movies have nothing near it! 

Besides the shear awesomeness of flying, and the hyper-vividness of the dream, I was struck by the fact that this was perhaps the most real experience (where I had felt most alive) I had had in my whole life (or at least top 5).  It had a profound effect upon me. 

So, besides flying around (which is easily reason enough), why learn to lucid dream? Well, as I said, if you've not done it before, it can make things in everyday life much more exciting and adventurous.  You can also do things you find hard in daily life; get better at public speaking, or whatever.  Having more fluidity than the 'real world', I dare say that practicing with lucid dreaming may have an effect of enhancing creativity and problem solving. 

If you've never practiced becoming lucid in a dream (or if this is the first time you've heard of it, if you missed Inception or something) - you should seriously give it a go!!  I am putting some energy into it again at the moment.  Why not?

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Exercise Ecology

Today I am going to start a blog about something I have been contemplating for quite some time - sparked into action by my fellow 90-day blog challengee(?), Kit.  (See HERE)

What this topic is, is the viewing of the body in physical culture and exercise as either a machine or a microcosm - or, from either a Newtonian-Cartesian (reductionist), classical physics, fundamental building block paradigm vs using a post-modern science, self-organizing systems (systems theory), cybernetic paradigm - and what affect/effect, implicitly or explicitly, adopting these world-views has on how we approach our training.

As Kit says in his books, there can be reasons for adopting either in particular circumstances, for efficiency and effectiveness, as he mentions in the 'Supervenience' blog post above.  I've seen this topic has been debated in philosophy of science and philosophy of medicine, but I have not seen too much in terms of exercise and physical training (highly likely it is out there, just that I haven't had contact with it).  

Much of the language and metaphor of physical training today, especially that of athletics, is that of a machine (Newtonian-Cartesian paradigm): we fuel our bodies; program our brains with skills, or our bodies 'break down'. But is this a useful image? 

What if we view our body as an ecosystem (or a microcosm as in the Daoist paradigm)? There is a lot of fascinating evidence from the mulch-disciplinary branches of science, that this could be more like the way the body works - gut bacterial ecology; psychoneuromimmunology; medical anthropology; human ecology, and so on..

What happens to an ecological body when it works out?  Well, firstly, this view allows us to see impact of an exercise session more generally; as Kit said today: "in complex systems, there can be no change at one level without a corresponding change in the subvening levels".

So exercise and movement will have effects upon the immune system, the nervous system and brain; the cardiovascular system; the myofascial system; the lymphatic and cerebrospinal fluid systems; and organ systems. 

On a practical level, I've been contemplating this from both perspectives, when viewing foam rolling and using balls and sticks to work with the soft tissues.

So, we may choose to view our body as a machine (a somewhat recalcitrant machine), that is broken and need 'fixing', or is not functioning optimally/as desired (in a somewhat schizophrenic starting point); and choose to do light, medium or aggressive repair on the un-perfect machine - the recalcitrance justifying the use of maximum pressure on the tissues(?).  This can certainly work well at a practical level (i.e the tissue changes state)!

In the ecological body model, we are trying to contact/dialogue with a highly complex, responsive and sensuous network of interlocking systems (our own biosphere); that responds well to low - medium pressures, and re-organizes at 'subvening levels, as well as the local tissue change, inflammation and resultant metabolic clean-up.  High pressure on the soft tissues can result in other systems being effective in a negative way - SNS response from the autonomic nervous system; limbic system and endocrine system interactions.

For me, the ecological/microcosm model is where it's at when I do soft tissue work with balls, rollers and sticks.  When you practice full body-mindfulness at the same time as doing the local rolling, you feel all types of interesting things happening all over the place. It's totally cool!  Again, this is obviously subjective; but you should seriously checking it out.  

I personally found that when I relax and use a medium level of object pressure on the soft tissues; wait and listen for the tissue absorbing/allowing the object it, and focused on slow, belly breathing and body-mindfulness - that I actually got superior results for less effort (and probably much less inflammation).  I also got a nice, relaxed parasympathetic feel and heightened body awareness afterwards - rather than feeling abused and sore.  Results get better and better with practice - as body skill increases. 

This doesn't mean not training hard (in strength and conditioning), obviously.  For me, it seems like a perfect yin-yang relationship.  You hit the strength work intensely (when you need to, but not every session or in a stupid, injurious way), and you chill the fuck out and roll your body in a smooth, relaxed and interoceptive way.  You don't need to pin your psoas with a 20-plate (there are intestines in there, too), or grind your tendons out of existence.  There are a lot of people who think you have to always train everything as hard as possible (insert proverb about brittle stick snapping and bamboo bending in the wind). 

It's a simple mode shift. Hard and soft in their correct places and correct doses.

Nice Stretch Therapy Interview

HERE's a nice interview that Kit did with Jade (of Stretch Therapy Spain), in regards to how she got involved with Stretch Therapy™in the first place.  Cool story!

Fantastic to hear Jade talking about her being 'the strongest and most agile she's been in 20 years'; and regeneration a 'black disc' injury to her back via the use of Stretch Therapy and Inversion techniques.  The plasticity of the body when the right stimulus (and rest and rejuvenation) is applied to it, is truly awe-inspiring.

And to think of the time/energy people focus on other trivial and non-useful external things, instead of spending time being introspective and contemplative of their bodies.  It is very interesting, no? 

Regardless of the system, I always find it so heartening to hear of people around the world breaking the 'myth' of the type of biological aging that pervades most of the Western world. 

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Biphasic Sleep Experimentation

So, I've decided to try biphasic sleeping (see HERE). The main reasons are: 1) I want to get some hours of sleep in before midnight (not happening much at the moment); 2) I want some time for creativity, and often had creative periods between 11pm - 2am in the past (especially with essays at Uni) and 3) I'm just curious as to what will happen.  Three good reasons = good enough reason to try.

I've got up the last two nights in a row, for about 90 minutes each.  Nothing super technical yet, just getting used to going to bed, then getting up again in the dark.  The experiments in the link above suggest a nap from 6:00 - 7:30pm, then the core sleep cycling between 12:30pm and 5:30am.  I'm wanting something more like Sleep 9pm - 11:30pm, then 1:30 - 5:30am - I'll have to see how it works..

One good thing to come out of it already, was that on Thursday night I got up around 1am, and was going to read; but decided to have a spontaneous stretching and movement session in our library, instead.  I actually created two new (to me at least) variants of old favorites, that I am hoping to film tomorrow and get up on the web.  One of them really gets into the quadratus lumborum and iliocostalis lumborum muscles and associated fascia.  Awesome slow style 'yin' stretching session.  Felt great the next day. 

I think this stretch and lizard crawling are going to pair up really nicely..  Speaking of biphasic sleep; I'mma go git some sleep, right now. 

Friday, May 10, 2013

Physical Relaxation & Sleep Enhancement

Learning to bring deep relaxation to the physical body was one of the best investments I have ever made. Relaxing the body's muscles, soft tissue webbing and organs (and I swear it feels like bones, too!) simply feels amazing.  There are a number of benefits associated with this, from increased sleep quality; to the whole cascade of rejuvenating processes associated the activation of the parasympathetic nervous system branch of the autonomic nervous system (relaxation response), to other neural and neuromuscular benefits. 

Being able to relax physically (with mental and emotional relaxation happening too, sometimes..) is a body skill, and can be cultivated - with disciplined practice. What I observed in my own body, and by watching others, is that often when people talk about relaxing, they do drop the tension levels in their bodies - but it's from a very high to a medium-high level - they don't actually deeply relax, IMHO (looking at body signs and breathing patterns), as they don't actually have the experience of what being deeply related physically feels like.

Relaxation training, post the initial 'irritation/agitation' phase of learning, simply feels amazing.  It's also a more or less free form of very powerful health promotion and disease prevention; especially stress related illness, of which the list of associated conditions is constantly growing.  The experiential dimension is so different and so much better than reading about the interesting anatomy and physiology of the responses in the books (which I also like to do). But you have to do it; you have to practice.

The practice that helped me the most with sleep quality was the fantastic yoga nidra practice.  Before I learned this practice (in the short running Deep Well Being class, taught by Kit Laughlin in Canberra circa 2007), I would wake up between 3 - 10 times a night on average - often not able to get back to sleep for a long time.  The two most useful things, in terms of sleep quality, that the practice taught me were:  deep physical relaxation and to change my perceptions of hearing 'noises' to hearing 'sounds'.

The process of rotating awareness between different environmental sounds, whilst in a profoundly relaxed state; focusing on each sound individually, but not labeling them mentally (thus creating 'noise' - and all the irritation, thinking, tension and sympathetic nervous system stuff that goes with that) - was critical to my sleep improving. 

Sleep enhancement is such a great health aid, on so many levels; with memory improvement, immune and hormonal system benefits being just the beginning.  Good sleep obviously helps you optimize the physical training you do, too.

Kit has kindly put up a number of lying relaxation (yoga nidra) practices as follow along audio files, HERE.  Kit is quite the 'gear head' with camera and audio technology, and his latest top-of-the-line audio recorder looks like it fell out of a passing UFO!

Now go practice!

Spirals & Running

HERE'S an interesting men's health article (thanks to Simon & Craig! Who both posted this today).  Spirals; Fascia; PNF & Sprinting..  Men's Health articles seem to be getting better than when I last flicked through one.

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Amazing Balance and Body Control clip

Thanks to Olivia for sending me the AMAZING clip of a 52 year old women with amazing body mastery and internal balance whilst performing a breath-taking balancing act.  Totally cool!

The ability she has to keep a certain pattern of muscles tensed, whilst relaxing and moving smoothly with other muscle groups is a body-control attribute I have been working on in my own stretching and body exploration practices.

From a stretching perspective, with this type of tension-control you can play muscles off against each other and create a solid bracing sensation that oftens allows recalcitrant structures to relax more than they otherwise would.

"Be strong to be useful"

"Être fort pour être utile"- Georges Hébert. 

Which in English translates to "be strong to be useful".  Georges was a French physical culture innovator, whose Natural Method is seen as a precursor to things like Le Parkour, Free-running and Natural Movement style fitness systems, like MovNat

Craig, who is a MovNat Instructor (currently in Canberra, with workshops later this year around Aus), posted THIS clip on facebook this morning.  Natural Movement classes in ACT region are detailed in the link. 

The majority of my own physical training is outdoors at the moment, which I am finding really enjoyable.  The nice weather helps, of course; though there's something virtuous about a man/women who goes out in the rain to do a workout..  the lizard crawling and tree climbing shown in the MovNat clip are really fun, and feel great for the body (when done correctly).

I also think there are some interesting socio-cultural shifts happening that the popularity of Natural Movment style exercise systems are part of..  not going to go any further into that now, however. 

What is this thing called Stretching?

HERE is a great video, just posted today, about some of the deeper and most useful aspects to stretching in the way advocated within the Stretch Therapy™ system (but not limited to this system, of course). 

Here are a few choice quotes to tempt you to watch it:

"A deep knowledge of what's going on inside your body can be made available to you, if you do some stretching from time to time." - Kit Laughlin

" rep four or five you're thinking about lunch, dinner, or your girlfriend" - Kit Laughlin

"..when you do become familiar with moving your own body, at some point there will be this momentary experience of this simple pleasure; the joy of movement and the joy of fully experiencing the sensations that are coming to us in huge amounts, every minute of every day, but because so many of us are locked up in what our head is doing; what our mind is doing, more explicitly.." - Kit Laughlin

Kit also did a detailed BLOG here; so you can do further reading, if you like. 

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Book Review: Imagery in Healing - shamanism and modern medicine.

Imagery in Healing: shamanism and modern medicine by Jeanne Achterberg, is a great book on the history and philosophy behind the branch of health science commonly known as psychoneuroimmunology - or, basically, how mind & emotions impact upon the nervous and immune systems.  The book could be considered a 'core' text for Stretch Therapy modality I practice, having been part of the recommended reading since the early days.  

Although a few years old now, this text provides a fascinating introduction to the use of healing imagery throught-out history, and gives insight into the (then) current scientific research into how some of these practices and techniques are processed in the body.

Starting with shamanic techniques of altering consciousness for healing; through Asclepian dream therapy in Greece; the use of the imagination in the Middle Ages; then on to the 'dark ages' of this type of healing, which has been from the Renaissance until fairly recently - and finally offering new uses and new/old hybrid research ideas.

This book contains some seriously fascinating and essential information on health.  I can remember this being one of the first non-fiction books I actually enjoyed reading.  The book is worth buying/borrowing for its discussion on placebo and nocebo alone - and the case studies that go with it.

The research into the context of healing, illness and imagination across cultures has some very interesting implications; some of which can be adopted quite easily and beneficially by lay-people who have enough creativity and pro-activity.  I'll leave you with a tantalizing quote:

"Further evidence for the role of the imagination in disease comes from studies showing that those that cannot comprehend the messages conveyed by society and its medicine die of different causes than those who can." Imagery in Healing, Jeanne Achterberg, page 79.