My childhood involved a lot of climbing, jumping and moving, a fair amount of watching Monkey Magic, and slightly later on (~8 years old) a fair amount of looking at the art of M.C. Escher and reading Bruce Lee books. The art of Maurits Cornelius Escher had a deep affect upon me, and I spent many, many hours gazing at his drawings. I may be wrong about this, but I think my first introduction to his work was the first time my parents ever let me watch a movie at nighttime. The movie was Labyrinth*, and the Escher-esque final scene was burnt into my mind. Later, my mum and dad bought me Eschers 'Visions of Symmetry' - one of the best presents I have ever received!
Fast-forward a few decades, I recently have had a number of epiphanies in regard to this thing called Physical Alchemy. Firstly, Physical Alchemy is an art of re-patterning. And that 'art' in a number of forms is a big part of this.
Secondly, that one of the main methods I use, partner based stretching and re-patterning work (drawn from my studies in Stretch Therapy) is actually (especially in multiple person partner work) a form of Body Tessellation. You are arranging humans in an artistic, anatomical way to enhance the re-patterning effect-affect in the person being stretched.
Googlepaedia tells me a Tessellation is: 'the process or art of tessellating a surface, or the state of being tessellated - an arrangement of shapes closely fitted together, especially of polygons in a repeated pattern without gaps or overlapping'.
When we assist in partner stretching, we use our hands, bodies and limbs to fit into the gaps in the shapes made by the stretching humans body. This is a proprioceptive-kinesthetic aid and enhancer which provides increased sense of one's body in space and time. It decreases the 'apprehension reflex', as Kit dubbed the fear experienced whilst having strong stretching sensations occur in a novel and/or complex arrangement of the physical body.
The assistance of other humans seems to often extend the duration that a person can hold a stretch for and, somewhat paradoxically, also the intensity of stretching sensation their bodymind can tolerate whilst keeping in the desired state (interiority and slow, deep breathing). It also increases comfort, which is always a good thing when re-patterning. One of Kit's greatest lessons to me was the use of a soft, but unmovable force when aiding people in stretching. A simple phrase, but a life-time's practice in that one line!
One of the ideas I am playing with in regards to this type of stretching, and how it increases flexibility and body awareness in the way it does, is that it is not simply the additional load on the stretching tissues (the person does add mass - and it's a warm, responsive mass, not a cold, inert mass) but the fact that it allows for increased duration and quality of new impressions in the re-patterning phase of the stretch (the stillness of the post-contraction 'simmering', kinethetic-sense dominant phase before movement patterns initiated to begin the slow withdrawal from the position) via the comfort, support and enhanced feedback aspects. This provides high quality 'movement food' for digestion via the relaxed state with strong sensations-impressions, 'cooking' the person in their own juices (fava beans and fine chianti not provided).
Multiple partner-assisted stretching is something from the Stretch Therapy workshops and old P&F Advanced Class syllabus (it is not shown too much in Kit's Stretching & Flexibility book, but is very much part of the system) that I am really picking up and running with at Physical Alchemy - with a number of new stretches and novel variants already created.
It can be especially effective to stretch in this manner for people who already have a high degree of body awareness and movement quality. The multiple, spiraling force vectors allow for tissue wringing of a different order of magnitude than normal, and the tractioning forces can feel amazing (and allow things to unlock that would not have otherwise).
Add into this the increased quanta of effort available to work with one's breath (if that skill-set is present in the individual) and you can create a truly interesting stew of forces and proprioceptive information that can have some quite powerful and novel effect-affects. It's also great fun, and there's something cool about working in a group to do this type of thing. It is a supportive and human thing to do.
Just last Friday I had one of the top three stretching sessions of my life in terms of the re-patterning effect**. It was actually quite profound, and something that normally is reserved only for post-workshop stretching (i.e it normally occurs after 7-8hrs of stretching, but I have somehow bridged the gap and got the same thing in a much quicker time-frame). This is very exciting for me! I am certain it is the ability of multiple partner stretching to raise the amount and quality of sensations and impressions whilst preserving the ability to deeply breathing and remain silent inside that does it, but more tinkering is necessary (and desirable).
Talking with my wife the next day, I was again struck by the profoundity of this - as the only equipment necessary was a staff made out of Tasmanian Oak, a couple of cushions and a bolster. The key ingredients are the practical method and techniques, and the two other human beings who want to work on themselves. How beautiful is that?!
So, unlike my strength work which I like to keep rather ‘meat and potatoes’, my stretching and soft body skill work is a spice-filled, well-cooked jungle curry. A whole host of postures, movement exercises, stretches, body tessellations and awareness practices are brought together to challenge, shock and expose the body, brain and mind to new impressions for digestion.
Generally the pace of this is much slower than strength work, with higher awareness and relatively smaller (in relation to one's absolute strength) external resistances involved. This is blended with heightened interiority and an intention to unlock and re-pattern the bodymind.
This is not the only effective way to stretch, it is simple how I like to stretch. Other methods have been and will be trialled. I have found multiple partner assistance done properly to be up there with the most effective physical training I have ever done.
A final note, as my mentor Kit has mentioned on his blog (http://kitlaughlin.wordpress.com/), stretching is a great locus for awareness training more generally done via through the body. The heightened sensations of stretching greatly increase the ability to peer within, provided the awareness can be maintained. The combination of strong stretch sensation (note: strong enough); control of the nervous system via breathing and focusing of the awareness is, IMHO, truly an alchemical art when done correctly.
Please join the Physical Alchemy Facebook group if you enjoyed this article, or check out the website @ http://physicalalchemy.com.au.
Some examples of Body-Tessellation level stretches:
Video: 2-Partner Assist 'Bamboo Staff' Pancake Stretch
Video: 2- Partner Staff Chest Opener
(To come as soon as I update iPhoto)
*Yes, the movie starring David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly. An aside, I spent a large part of my kindergarten year fully convinced that clocks had 13hrs on them - a fact I rigorously argued with my mum. I remember the day I spent the whole afternoon looking at the clock and counting the hours endlessly. My mother informs me that I came home, crestfallen, and admitted that there were indeed only 12hrs on the clock. Years later I re-watched Labyrinth and saw where this had come from, the clock has 13 hours on it in the film!
** I may describe my take on the re-patterning effect in a later post, though far more useful is to experience it yourself and draw your own conclusions.