Monday, November 24, 2014

Body Tessellations

 Body Tessellations

Dave Wardman

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.

Recently, I have started a secret, experimental 'Physical Alchemy' class with a couple of high quality human beings who are studying with me and a lot of the benefits I received from partner stretching in the past have amplified significantly.  

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 (, 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 @


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.  

Monday, October 13, 2014

Floreio Art Resources

Check out THIS compliation of Ido Portal's Floreio Art resources compiled by Antranik ( 

Sunday, September 28, 2014

10 Most Influential Books List [circa 2014]


ST Forum member Tris nominated me for a 'Post the 10 most influential books in your life' style challenge, which is a cool idea.  Here's my list circa 2014.  A number of other people in the Physical Alchemy Facebook group have posted theirs, too.  Feel free to join the group and post.  D

Friday, August 15, 2014

Deep Physical Relaxation

Deep Physical Relaxation
Dave Wardman

In my 30, or so, short years on this planet, I have borne witness to quite the acceleration of events and speed of activity in the day-to-day lives of the people around me, as well as in my own activities.  In the pursuit of 'progress' many have not questioned whether this is actually a good thing, or not. I think it is more likely to contain both good and bad elements. I posit that the 21st Century will require the ability to exert some control over the nervous system, breathing and relaxation - to buffer the increasing rate of information bombardment and complexity (madness) of life. 

The ability to bring about deep relaxation in the body is not a given in this culture, regrettably. But it can be trained. Firstly though; one has to come to an honest conclusion that one is, in fact, not relaxed - and don't know how to go about attaining this elusive state (at least not at will or without chemical assistance).

There is much confusion here, in part coming from the experience people sometimes have of an illusion of difference "relaxation" in their lives; that is, they go from highly stressed to moderately stressed and the difference in stress levels feels remarkably relieving (no doubt) - but they have not actually (physiologically) activated the relaxation response in the parasympathetic branch of their autonomic nervous systems, and thus are not relaxed at any great degree.

I remember one day early 2008, walking around the campus of the Australian National University with Kit (probably after a coffee), and discussing relaxation (yes, coffee and relaxation - I know, I know!) and the yoga nidra practice - when he said something fascinating, that I have not forgotten.

He said: "Dave, out of all the chapters in my book (Overcome Neck and Back Pain) the most important chapter is the last (on relaxation); and nobody ever reads that one!".

Now, Kit wasn't actually saying that absolutely nobody reads that chapter, but he was merely using poetic license to comment that the amount of people who read the last chapter is small, and the number who implement it, is even smaller still.

What is fascinating about this is relaxation costs virtually nothing (other than the time taken to hone the skill-set), can be done in one's own home and is far more comfortable and pleasant than stretching or working out(!). Plus it has a whole host of health and life benefits to it (see below). This absence of interest is truly fascinating, and I believe it is linked with our culture's obsession with progress; meaning that things that are in the not-doing category, like relaxation, are shunned subconsciously.  

Just a few weeks before this conversation, I had begun Kit's short-lived (but excellent) Deep Well Being course of which the yoga nidra relaxation and awareness exercise was a core practice.  Having just collapsed numerous systems of my body via long term prajnaparadha I was unable to train any of my usual yang methods (and was generally a mess), and was searching for restorative (yin) methods to rejuvenate my body and for something to take the place of my now missing training. The Deep Well Being course offered just what I needed, and arrived at a most auspicious moment!

From my experiences during the Deep Well Being course, of actually feeling profound embodied relaxation, deep physical relaxation has become a core aspect of the Physical Alchemy method.
The yoga nidra and other lying relaxation and tension release exercises (Steve Maxwell had some great ones at his Mobility Conditioning Seminars) are fantastic practices to incorporate into your training and life. 

As I have said elsewhere, I believe these types of practices will offer increased survival value in the unfolding complexity of the 21st century.

One major aspect of this silent epidemic of lack of body awareness and embodied presence (I need a shorter way of saying this!) we are in, is that people do not possess the ability to deeply relax the body and mind, giving them that sub-verbal itch (broken Continuum*) that manifests as not feeling content or at home within their very own flesh, muscle and bone. I believe this to be linked with the stress and anxiety levels of the populace (among many other inauspicious things).

For me personally, the ability to cultivate relaxation and the practice of yoga nidra were a revelation.  There were many profound benefits to this training; a few of which I will make mention. 

Firstly, it changed my relationship between noise and sound.  This, as a youth who would wake up between 5 and 15 times a night, was no small thing - as it radically altered, for the better, my sleep quality and restoration.

Entering the state described as yogic sleep, which is a deep bodily relaxation with mental awareness still intact, I used what is sometimes described as a rotational awareness focus. I would focus on one particular sound, and just hear it.  No labeling; just experiencing the sound, and feeling as if the sound were traveling through me.  Then, moving onto the next distinct sound that I found within the sound-scape.  In the Deep Well Being course it helped that classes were held adjacent a sports hall, so there were shoes screeching; basketballs bouncing; talking; air-conditioning; people snoring next to me; etc. Cycling between focusing on breath, and focusing on sound, totally re-patterned my relationship to external sounds and eliminated noise (which I define as the mind negatively (or positively) reacting and commenting on sounds occurring).

Secondly, the physical dimension of training deep relaxation has a number of benefits upon the soft tissues and tension patterns of the body. One of the primary Stretch Therapy dictum is: no unnecessary tension. My spinal curves which in the beginning were moderately uncomfortable (my spine was quite straight to begin with) and raised from the floor, relaxed so that my whole spine (more or less) was on the floor when I practiced, and now, following practice and re-patterning, its default position of floor based relaxation is all vertebrae touching the floor (which the brain interprets as non-apprehensive and thus relaxes the para-vertebral muscles much more profoundly than if there is daylight under the cervical and lumbar curves). 

Thirdly, breathing and the muscles that co-ordinate breathing relax and expand, allowing more air to stimulate the parasympathetic receptors found within the deeper recesses of the lower lobes of the lungs, leading to further relaxation and activation of the relaxation response .

There is also increase sensory awareness of the internal movements that make up the breath. The increased effectiveness of 'belly breathing' has flow on effects (affects) in the visceral and digestive organs, and other branches of the nervous system. The enhanced interiority lends itself to feeling the various pulsations of the body in more detail. There are some additional things I do in the the yogic sleep state for breathing that I will elaborate on in a future post.

This list doesn't really do justice to having these experiences (especially for the first time), and as you practice regularly other cooler things happen, too.

Once you have regularly had the experience of actually being deeply physically relaxed (mental and emotional relaxation often follow suit when the body relaxes) whilst lying stationary on the ground, rugged up and in an environment conducive to learning to relax, it may become possible for you to bring this state into other postures, and into doing slow movements; and then, perhaps eventually, maintaining being deeply relaxed in daily life.

Further, and linked to my last blog, I see both the experience of letting go and being able to deeply relax physically as being crucial elements in moving from 'stretching' to stretching (aka. Stretching to Stretching 2.0).

There are other elements to this, but these two are primary experiential elements of this evolutionary jump. The lying relaxation (yogic posture shavasana 'Corpse Pose') offers a great entry point for beginners, and is also useful in re-training adults to be comfortably and relaxed on the floor again. 

Traditionally, the yoga nidra practice is classified as pratyahara (sense withdrawal) the 5th limb within the framework of The Yogasutra of Patanjali and aims to induce the practitioner into a state of consciousness somewhere between the normal waking state and the dreaming state (yogic sleep).

The book itself (Yoga Nidra - Swami Satyananda) goes on to list many other benefits (aside from the ones I have mentioned) flowing from continued, regular practice, such as:  release of three-fold tensions (muscular, emotional and mental); increased creativity; re-patterning of the sensory-motor homunculus; as well as many other health and more esoteric benefits.  It should be noted that similar techniques are found elsewhere, and are used for preparation for various trance-work and lucid dreaming practices. 

It is also interesting to speculate about the endogenous auto-alchemy of neurotransmitter substances, brought about by gaining some control over the autonomic nervous system ('Getting high on your own supply'). But, besides all this theory and conjecture, the simple experiential sensations of being deeply relaxed are worth the (very) low price of admission.

These simple practices can be programmed in a number of ways, but first you need to learn the basics of the skill-set (see Notes below). Once you learn to bring about the experience of relaxation more regularly, you may notice that you can observe, more easily, the tension and stress saturating everyone's bodies. It's sort of a 'be relaxed to see relaxed (or not)' type of thing.

Do yourself a massive favor and learn the simple art of deep physical relaxation.  If you're truly interested in all things physical cultivation it is a necessity to learn these techniques.  Active recovery and restoration is an entry level benefit, but deep relaxation flows into all aspects of your life and begins to untie the knots restraining full expression of the human being. 

Please join up to the Physical Alchemy Facebook group, and/or get in contact!  


p.s  Check out the notes section for a link to some free yoga nidra/lying relaxation Mp3's recorded by Kit whilst teaching workshops.  They are high quality (Kit's voice-recorder looks like it fell outta a UFO! I'll see if I can get a photo of it..) and free**.

*The Continuum Concept - Jean Liedloff is an amazing little book that my good mate Simon (Ancestral Movement) suggested for me during my wife's pregnancy.  Not just for people who are about to have little humans to look after (but I highly suggest you read it if you are procreating), this book looks at the differences in imprinting between people of industrial nations and tribal peoples of the South American region - giving some startling insights that are very congruent with the Physical Alchemy methodology.  Many of the methods employed within Physical Alchemy could well be said to be aimed at 'restoring Continuum' to poorly imprinted adult humans of the industrialized cultures. 

**[Kit has recorded a number of free audio recordings of these practices HERE for download in mp3 format]

[*] The two books I read around this era, that were useful are:
Yoga Nidra - Swami Satyananda 
Imagery in Healing: Shamanism and Modern Medicine - Jeanne Achterberg

Others books somewhat related I have read since then that may be of interest:
Why Zebra's Don't Get Ulcers - Robert Sapolsky  (great book on Stress and the bodymind)
Yoga and Ayuveda - David Frawley
Soma in Yoga and Ayurveda - David Frawley

Monday, June 30, 2014

The Experience of Letting Go (in Stretching)

The Experience of Letting Go (in Stretching)

Dave Wardman
Last week, on the Stretch Therapy forums (ST Forums), forum member Tris posted a topic entitled 'Great Insight While Stretching'.  The post is talking about the experiential dimension of a 'big release' in a stretch; and of the somewhat illusory nature of the sensations presenting immediately prior to the relaxation and re-patterning.

This made me think of the first time I really, tangibly had this experience - and as it was quite a profound experience for me, I thought I would tell my story..

It was probably 6 months, or so, into my joining the Advanced Posture & Flexibility class, at the ANU in Canberra.  Originally I thought nothing much of stretching, and being of above average flexibility for a male human I couldn't see too much benefit in it 'other than as a warm-down' after martial arts practice. I was eventually convinced to attend a Posture & Flexibility course by a combination of my martial arts teacher's (Chris) recommendation that it might increase the speed and power my striking; by the fact that Jen (Chris's partner) was a teacher and I had talked to her about the classes, and from reading the introduction to Kit's Stretching & Flexibility book - which offered other reasonably interesting reasons for doing flexibility training.  I think, perhaps, that martial arts and strength training had put me 'into my body' enough so I was actually getting very intrigued by physical training of all sorts. So I enrolled. 

I had done a beginner's course (with Jen), after which I was invited to the Advanced class instead of Intermediate.  I had found out that the classes were actually fun (who would have thought..)! I had found that, although my spine and shoulder flexibility was high, my hip flexibility had much work to do (and it's always the spots that are tight for you that give the widest re-patterning).

It was around this stage (circa ~2007) that Kit was on his 'Hip flexor stretching answers the Great Riddle of Life and Death; cures all diseases and adds two inches to your...height' phase - i.e we did unrelenting hip flexors, hip flexor partials and warm-up for more hip flexor stretching for about 18 months. 

I had already experienced that interesting physical sensation that when you contract a muscle on stretch, the Golgi Tendon Organs over-ride the stretch reflex in the muscle spindles and produce, seemingly miraculously, an increase in range of motion (and sometimes a decreased "pain/stretch" sensation).  I had got used to this sensation, and was stretching how most people who use PNF methods do (i.e minor/moderate change in range of movement; few breaths and come out - nothing too profound).

Now, sometime very shortly after my arrival in the Advanced Class, Kit decided my purpose for being there was as his new guinea pig (aka 'training partner').  This was actually a fantastic experience for me, as the way Kit stretched himself was different again from how the other teacher's in the class stretched(the class was like a mini-workshop, in that everyone there was a teacher or had long experience with the method; and/or did other physical training) - and I got to digest this kinesthetic food, and my stretching practice was greatly nourished from it.

One class I was doing a stronger version of THIS hip flexor stretch (it looks kind of odd when you walk in on a room full of people doing this, if you've never seen it before), and was in a very strong stretch position, and starting to get the 'it's time to get the fuck outta here' sensations building up.

Kit, sensing this, turned his head around and said something along the lines of  "I know you want to come out right now, and I will certainly let you out at a moments notice, but if you have any energy left, do another contraction  -and then 5 more deep, slow breaths".  Now, I am not sure if I said anything back, but for the stories sake let's say I said "Are you fucking crazy, fool!?  My fucking hip flexor will snap off, motherfucker!!" - as this was precisely my thoughts towards the suggestion to contract again instead of abandoning ship. 

It was, also, precisely the sensations coming from my body.  It felt like there was no way in hell I could go deeper without snapping my hip flexor clean off.  Now, as a brief aside, I will mention that I have never actually injured myself stretching.  IF you have insufficient body awareness and experience with stretching in the way that we do with the Stretch Therapy method, the potential is there. Also, Kit knew fair well that I had sufficient body awareness to do another contraction without risk of injury, and would definitely have let me out at a moment's notice if I had asked (it is the person in the stretch who controls the stretch, in ST).

And then..  and then, the oddest thing happened.  I decided to see what would actually happen if I contracted.  I slowly and with full awareness contracted again, then with a deep breath and a massive sigh, let go and focused on deep breathing.  The effect was a turning point for me, both physically and conceptually.  I immediately dropped 1.5-2 inches (which felt like 6 in the moment), which was shocking enough, but more interestingly all the strong sensations (largely emotional and nervous system freak out, in retrospect - but felt 'physical' at the time) evaporated*.

I then, in partial euphoria, easily completed the 5 full breaths, before coming to another barrier of resistance much further down, and deciding to call it quits for that go.  Walking around afterwards my entire bodymind was re-patterning, with sensations rushing around all over the place (especially spine, and obviously hip complex).

I have had many such experiences since then, but that marked, for me, the beginning of my ability to do stretching.  Before I had just done 'stretching'.  They use the same postures, but occur in different universes. 

One of the primary things I took away with me from this experience was that sensation can be illusory.  Every thing of that magnitude I had felt in my body in my life up until that point I had taken as 100% accurate.  Having the sensation evaporate in a moment whilst actually going into a deeper position was a real mindfuck for me, at that stage.  "This throws my whole view of Reality into question!".  If that had seemed so real, and disappeared like that, maybe there were other such things of equal illusion in the body (the answer is 'yes!' and 'lots!')?

Along similar lines, I found, as have others, that people with low embodiment and body awareness label any strong sensation as 'pain'.  Part of the process in using stretching in this specific manner is to heighten the embodied awareness of the person (this, for me, is a higher benefit than achieving extreme postures and range of movement - which is also fine to work on, obviously).  Via increasing one's vocabulary in the language of the body (sensations), with awareness one can get a far more accurate assessment of what is 'real pain' and what is a 'strong stretching sensation'  - and there are many, many finer layers of sensation than this.  It is also possible to separate out what is an emotional barrier or fear (apprehension) barrier, and safely work on these. 

Some links to Kit's recent blogs on like topics: 
'What use is stretching?'
Where does tension come from? Revision I
Principles of Stretch Therapy

*picture that scene in the Simpsons, where the Head of the Stonecutter's sacrificially burns Homer's officical Stonecutter™ underwear as he is being excommunicated from the group - and all the evil spirits howl and fly off in a cloud of smoke. 

Monday, June 9, 2014

90 Day Video Challenge

So; I have been challenged to a '90 days of Video' Challenge (by Stretch Therapy forum member Adurst) - and I have accepted!

This should be interesting.  Things I am hoping to get out of this are:

1) Reform my upwardly inflecting voice patterning during speech in videos
2) Learn to use iMovie, instead of just 'one taking' everything
3) Learn how to use my new camera more effectively

I am counting the challenge on June 6th 2014. 

Here are the videos I've posted so far..

Agility - Precision Rail Jump 1

Agility - Precision Rail Jump 2

Tree Climbing - horizontal under branch

Pseudo-Archer Chin-up pt1

Pseudo-Archer Chin-up pt2

Stay tuned! 

p.s I have about 10 large-ish blogs in partial completion.  Hopefully I will get the time-energy to get these out soon. 

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Grip Strength and Various Health and Aging Correlates

HERE is a brief, but interesting, article on the health and healthy aging correlates of having a 'powerful handshake' (aka. grip strength).  The research of most interest is the million or so Swedish military recruits, who have their grip measured - then are followed throughout life.  Not too definitive, but interesting none-the-less. 


Saturday, May 17, 2014

Guest Blog #2 - Craig Mallet [ARCtraining] on Zhan Zhuang [Standing Meditation] practice

Guest Blog #2 - Craig Mallet [ARCtraining] on Zhan Zhuang [Standing Meditation] practice

About a thousand years ago I was having a conversation with my good friend Dave about my standing meditation practice. I don’t entirely remember what we talked about specifically, but I do remember saying that I’d write an article on the subject for Dave to use as a guest post on his website.  Despite best intentions, I promptly forgot about it for a long time and ended up writing a bunch of other articles and guest posts for other people and left Dave crying himself to sleep every night (at least I like to think that’s what happened). Dry your imagined tears Dave, it’s time for me to finally make good on my promise!

Standing meditation appears in quite a number of traditions. Yoga, Buddhism, Zen, Daoism and I’m sure many other traditions that I am not so educated on, contain variations of meditation practices; typically some variety of lying, seated, standing and walking/moving meditations.  

Each method and tradition has different purposes and different outcomes. My particular practice is drawn from the arts of Xin Yi Liu He, Yang Tai Ji, Cha Quan and Qi Gong, all of which for the most part are built on philosophies drawn from Daoism (with a hint of Buddhist). From what I’ve seen, the Chinese traditions seem to have a lot more detail in the standing practice compared to other traditions, although this is more than likely just a case of the details of the other traditions not being as readily available, or that I haven’t learned them yet.

At any rate, I’m going to keep this article reasonably confined to the methods I have learned from the Chinese martial arts. Let’s start with some terminology. In mandarin, standing meditation is called zhàn zhuāng. Zhàn means to be stationed or to stand and 樁 zhuāng is a post, stump, stake or pole, so common translations are usually “standing like a post” or “standing like a pole”. It is often shortened to standing post or standing pole. The idea is not only that you are standing, but that you are fixed in the ground like a stake or stump. Often imagery of being buried up to the waist line is used during practise to invoke this feeling of sturdiness.

Zhàn zhuāng acts as the core of most of the internal Chinese traditions, and is considered fundamental to proper understanding of internal skills. It is such an effective practice, that there is an entire style that practises zhàn zhuāng almost exclusively to great effect, called Yì Quán (意拳 - ‘Intent Boxing). It might be important now to note that there is more than one standing posture, each which has a slightly different focus.  

One posture might be used for general health; others help with generation of whipping power, and others again that cultivate the feeling of   There are endless variations, as basically any posture that you move through in any of the forms or movement practices can also be practiced as a post.

The most common zhuāng that is practiced and generally found across all of the styles, is called hún yuán zhuāng (圓樁 completely circular post, often also called embracing post, or embracing the tree post. NB: different characters appear to be used by different people, sometimes the second character used is yuán 元, which would make the meaning something like complete primary/basic post). There are other common stances too, such as sān tǐ shì (三體勢) and jí zhuāng (無極), but I’m not going to go into any detail on those specific practises in this article.  Instead, I will simply provide some global queues that can be used across all standing practises. If you are a beginner and wish to try this for the first time, use the hún yuán zhuāng.

To set up:
  • Stand with the feet shoulder width apart and the knees softly bent (nb: foot position might be different for other zhuāngs).
  • Lift the crown of the head and sink the hips.  My favourite imagery for this is imagining the head is a helium balloon, the pelvis is a weight, and the spine is a string connecting the two. So the head is floating up, the pelvis is sinking downwards and spine is drawn into a lengthened position. You can also imagine that this causes a gap between each vertebrae to form, as if the spine were a slinky being pulled apart. It is important to note here that for the spine to get longer and the vertebrae in the neck to separate, the chin must tuck in; pointing the chin towards the sky will actually compress the neck.
  • Let everything else soften and hang from the lengthened spine structure.  Even the spine itself is soft and pliable just like the string connecting the balloon and the weight.
  • Relax and soften the point between the eyebrows, inducing a feeling of the eyebrows moving further away from each other, and the wrinkles in the forehead and the bridge of the nose flatten out.
  • Let this feeling of softening and relaxation cascade backwards into the face. First the eyes, then the eye sockets and superficial muscles in the face, next the sinuses above and below the eye sockets, and then the top back of the nasal passage, the back of the throat, then softening the deeper tissues of the head and neck, where the top of the spine meets the base of the skull.
  • Continue cascading the softening and relaxation down through the shoulders, arms, hands, ribcage, waistline, hips, upper legs, lower legs, ankles and feet.
  • Imagine that a rope is connected to the end of each finger tip, and is being drawn away from the arms in the same direction as the fingers are pointing creating a feeling that the hands are being suspended and therefore don’t need to be held up by the shoulders. Let the shoulders relax and sink, as if they could go totally limp without affecting the position of the hands.
  • As the hips soften, they should open up, as if they were a set of jaws swallowing the torso whole, or as if they were a sack that was being opened to envelope the torso.
  • The knees should not feel like they are holding any weight. They should feel like a load transferring joint, rather than a load bearing joint, simply directing the weight through the lower legs and feet and into the ground.
  • The centre of the bottom of the feet should feel like they are the centre of a suction pad, being drawn or sucked up into the legs.
  • Finally, take notice of the fact that you are 80% water, invoking the feeling of all of the bones, muscles and organs suspended and floating in liquid wrapped in a semi permeable membrane.

Points of attention after set up:
  • The most basic thing to do once the set up is complete is to simply continually return to the first point and scan your way down through the body again, re-cuing everything that was queued initially in the same order as above.  Often you will find that as you return to the crown, for example, it is no longer lifted and you need to do it again, or that you can somehow find a deeper level of softness. This can be continued for the full length of practice and I highly recommend beginners stick to this method for at least a few months before experimenting with anything else below. This will ensure that the structure is strong and stable.
  • Once the structure is reasonably secure, you can bring your attention and awareness to the abdominal region between the belly button and the spine (called the Lower dān tián). Simply see if you can be aware of all the happenings down here.  After time you may start experiencing strong feelings of buzzing and warmth, as well as a deep and strong feeling of relaxation that starts to radiate outwards from this area.  Simply stay with this feeling, without trying to force it.  If it’s not there, just watch what is there.
  • You could also explore single pointed attention.  See if you can keep your attention on one particular point for extended periods of time such as the tip of the nose. Any point will work here, and it doesn't matter which point you use so long as you can keep the attention there.
  • Finally, in any meditation, exploration of the breath is always a fantastic idea [See Here:]

Before I wrap this article up, I want to mention a very important point in this practice.  There is some variety of cascading effect that happens when you practice standing pole every day that allows progress not available to those who do not practice daily. It’s as if you build up a particular momentum doing daily practice, and if you stop, you must then expend more energy to build it up again.  My teacher would always say “miss one day, and you will need three days to catch up”.  In fact I’m reasonably certain this is a paraphrase of one or more of the classical texts surrounding these topics. At any rate, I have definitely found it to be the case, as it appears all of the fun exploration parts of the practice are only accessible to me after 2 - 4 weeks of constant practise, despite my 10 years of experience. 

It’s also probably a good time to mention now that initial practice is very uncomfortable. To begin with, your body is going to tell you where your problem areas.  It will tell you this by making them become incredibly uncomfortable, possibly by trembling and shaking, and more than likely by burning.  You are going to want to give up, and your mind will make up every excuse in the world as to why you should.  Here’s the interesting bit, you’re not in any real danger, and the body is more than capable of continuing (with the only exception being the knees, do not go too far into a deep posture unless you are definitely totally relaxed in the legs and hips!). It will be an exercise in persistence for quite some time until eventually, those points will relax and open up and become very comfortable. Sooner or later, the entire body will be engulfed in this feeling of deep relaxation and it will eventually get so comfortable that you won’t want to get up - a very different experience to pushing through discomfort to some preconceived end point.  If you don’t persist, or practice consistently, this will never happen.

Finally, I would like to finish this article with a link to some very classical views on this kind of practise.  If you read these and they don’t make sense, then perhaps its time to do some serious practise.  You can read them HERE and HERE.   Happy practice!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Great Steve Maxwell Clip - Reflecting on his method and life

Check out this CLIP of Steve Maxwell, featuring a lot of footage from Steve at the place I train Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (Jiu Jitsu Kingdom)  - from Steve's most recent trip to Australia.  The clip is a snapshot of Steve and his methods as they stand at the moment, and a bit of a trip down memory lane it terms of the methods and systems that have been most influential to the formulation of his approach.

The clip is a refreshingly honest look at a man in his 60's and still loving Life (maybe even more than ever..); and contains some quotes on the simplicity needed for happiness through life.  I class Steve as one of my primary mentors in the physical cultivation methods I employ, and this clip showcases (again) a number of the reasons I like his approach so much.  Steve is truly one of the happiest humans I have met.

You might also want to check out Steve being Steve on the Joe Rogan Experience Podcast recently:

I recently attended two of Steve's Mobility Conditioning Workshops - and highly recommend anyone interested in physical cultivation and movement to check them out. 

There are a number of great quotes from the clip (and a nice soundtrack), including this one: 

"I guess if there is a secret to youth; it's play" Steve Maxwell. 

The whole clip very much reminds me of another great quote:

"Happiness is not achieved by the conscious pursuit of happiness; it is generally the by-product of other activities." Aldous Huxley

I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Monday, April 28, 2014

3 Hypertrophy Articles

Here are three relatively interesting hypertrophy articles sent to me by my friend Vijay: 

Strength Training: Overloading to Increase Muscle Mass

Serious Strength Requires Serious Training:

The Mechanisms of Muscle Hypertrophy and Their Application to Resistance Training:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Article: Shock-absorbing 'goo' discovered in bones

 Here's a brief article about a recent discovery, that bones have a water-and-chemical-citrate 'goo' substance that seems in between the crystalline matrix of the bone. This is very interesting for a bone-plasticity point of view..  the living bone-matrix is a very alive and changeable thing - as I have blogged about HERE, before. 

See HERE for the mini-article summary. 

And HERE for the scholarly article. 

Article: Embodied knowledge and bodyweight training

I read this short article the other day.. great little piece with some similar themes to the ones I discuss on this blog.  See HERE


Saturday, April 5, 2014

Physical Alchemy: Basic Strength Training (Structural, Constituitional and Fundamental factors)

Physical Alchemy: Basic Strength Training
 Dave Wardman

People utilize many different strength training methods for a lot of different reasons and goals.  This article is mainly concerned with how Basic Strength Training is used within the Physical Alchemy method.  This is a general 'strategic' outline, it will not be concerned with specifics in terms of programming parameters and such details (that will be later). 

Strength training is a strong (somatic) medicine for our bodily un-aware culture. Not many people view it as such, but my observation and research over the passed decade and a bit (the last 7 years in particular) have lead me to view this as being very much the case.   It is more than just 'getting stronger', 'bulking up' or 'getting ripped'; and so on. 

When used well it can have a very powerfully positive effect upon the bodymind.  When abused, it can have an equally powerful, inverse effect.  The mistake is in the viewing of physical training as just 'going to the gym/getting fit'; and as being somehow separate and unrelated to the totality of ones' life, more generally.

Putting on muscle, getting fit or losing body fat is no problem (having an aesthetic or fitness primary objective); is often great, in fact - it is just somewhat wasteful of something that can do this (easily) and much more (physical cultivation primary objective); if you are skillful in the implementation and programming.   

Many of the common primary goals people have for their use of strength training are not primary objectives for Physical Alchemy: aesthetics; performance (in sport or physical activity and/or towards advanced strength work); fitness (general).  

[ Further see also 'Dynamic Health' and 'Demonstrating Strength vs Building Strength' by Steve Maxwell ]

Basic Strength Training from a Physical Cultivation perspective

Basic Strength Training in the Physical Alchemy method is largely for structural (correcting imbalances of strength, contraction coordination and activation); constitutional (using methods to improve health in preference to fitness or performance - unless there is a good reason to preference differently) and fundamental (providing the base strength levels and patterns needed to work on higher level complex movements) benefits.

Two of these categories (Structural and Constitutional) fall into health cultivation and longevity (both quality of movement and vitality into old age; and length of lifespan).  For people who are not performance based athletes, these two aspects can make up the bulk of the 'why and what' to train for.
The illusion that athletes (because they visually appear as fit/muscular specimens of humanity, and fit certain cultural ideals) are healthy is something that needs to be stated.  Performance passed a certain level is depleting upon the vitality of the body (except, apparently, in swimmers  - where it confers added lifespan.  That tidbit I picked up off Steve Maxwell, and it is interesting to contemplate the mechanisms behind this..) 

Fundamental strength work facilitates quality of movement learning and adaptation in chosen complex movement patterns (movement arts, martial arts, sport, games, play); as well as providing resilience/injury proofing and reducing physical demands of some activities.  This can also be explained in reverse; if you lack basic strength-awareness (generally and/or in specific key areas and patterns) your body will find a dysfunctional way to complete the movement pattern you are asking it to learn. Various injuries, dysfunction and tissue damage result. You see this all the time; it is almost the rule, rather than the exception to it (sadly). 

Using strength work in harmonious combination with the practice of complex movement patterns (movement arts), soft body skills and flexibility work is the primary goal at Physical Alchemy.  The emphasis here is on basic.  Many of the strength exercises popular at the moment have a moderate to high degree of strength-skill attached to them, and their transferability quotient is debatable (and IS debated, endlessly, across the Internet).

[*] Diminishing Returns 
This raises the concept of Diminishing Returns.  At what point does the amount of time-energy put into Basic Strength Training reach a point of diminishing returns in relation to health and skill increase in chosen complex movement patterns (i.e resources could be siphoned off into more skill training for the chosen complex movement art)?

There are many factors to this question: the individual's constitutional and genetic-biological makeup; the training age of the person; the complex movement pattern(s) being studied; the totality of stressors (physical; mental-emotional; environmental; viral; economic; temporal; etc) effecting the bodymind; the attributes already present (where they are with strength, flexibility and agility); whether the person is emotionally dependent on physical training; and on and on. 

IF strength training is not an end in itself for the person (and it can be, which is what I would call 'Advanced' or 'Specialized' strength training); how much energy should you devote to it to maximize gains in terms of health and foundational aspects to aid other movement studies?

My answer.. you don't need so much, if you are doing it skillfully (balancing weakness; strengthening basic patterns; programming to aid the other movement activities).  Then again, strength training is fun in and of itself - so I can see why people specialize in it (which is no problem; unless it is a problem).  Problems creep in when people try to specialize at strength work at the same time as working on multiple complex movement patterns/arts (and working a day job; and having a relationship; etc)...

Classic signs of this occurring are the symptoms of over-training manifesting in the bodymind of the trainee.  And I must say I totally understand how this occurs, and have done this myself, when I was younger.   Strength training can be really fun and rewarding - especially when you start to get how it works well (training age and skill increases); it is mood-enhancing, confidence increasing - you get the increased somatic feeling of strength (the altered body-image from training) etc.. Also, complex movement patterns are great fun... so you end up in the gym 3-5 times a week; training for martial arts or whatever is 3 nights a week (sometimes more), and nobody's paying you to work out (unless you're lucky!) so you need a job; etc.

The body, more or less, takes all these stress as combined.  The view that the whole of your life situation is somehow separate from your training is the downfall of many.  The Stress of Life (as Hans Selye put it) is digested whole. 

For some decent information on over-training, there is a section in Science of Sports Training on this that goes into much more detail than normal (Science of Sports Training - Thomas Kurz) - especially in regards to the differences between basedowic and addisonic overtraining; and strategies to overcome these.   I did a brief overview of these 'yin and yang' types of over-training HERE.

Expanding the Structural, Constitutional and Fundamental factors a bit more: 

[*]  Structural
This refers to the use of strength training methods (in combination with Soft Body Skills (Flexibility; Stretching; Deep Physical Relaxation; RollStretch; etc) within a Spatial medicine (Structural Integration/Osteopathic/Daoist fusion) approach the the structural health of the bodymind.

One of the major things I seek to do with basic strength training is balance any imbalances in the soft tissues of the body (muscles, fascia, nerves): Left-Right; Back-Front; Upper-Lower; Rotational and Spiral Patterns. 

In the Physical Alchemy method we utilize both classical-reductionist (especially Janda's work) and more pattern-based (Anatomy Trains/Myofascial Meridian; Chinese Meridian-organ channels and a few other perspectives) anatomy in the application and theory.

Using a combination of reductionist isolation work with integrative work is a useful thing to do, IMHO.  Some muscular structures appear to perform a 'keystone' function and confer wide benefits upon the organism from their awakening (sensory awareness), strengthening and activation.  

There is a fair bit out now about this type of thing.. I really like(d) Tom Myers  (Anatomy Trains (KMI) & Fascial Fitness) take on this, in his Spatial Medicine concept - mentioned above (there was a great article on the old AT site, but it no longer works..alas).

Ido's (Portal) facebook page had a great little diagram (See HERE) showing:  Isolation --> Integration --> Improvisation.  This is a great way to look at it.

This aspect concerns, not just range of movement available (and other quantitative physical measurements), but also the texture, tone-responsiveness and 'health' of the soft tissues of the body.

What we are after is Optimal Responsive Tonus - a myofascial (soft-tissue) matrix that has lines of tension balanced; is relaxed when at rest (reduced 'parasitic tension' in the body), and is neurally responsive (so that you can leap into action at any given time and from any given posture - then return to rest). 

[*] Constitutional
As I said, I utilize basic strength sessions in a Spatial Medicine way, as well as (more conventionally) for hormonal (neuro-endocrine) health; health of the fluid systems (taken generally to all fluid systems - and the prevention of stagnation in these systems - not just the heavily focused upon (and obviously important!) arterial and venous systems; but the lymph and cerebrospinal fluid too (what does strength and movement work do to the CSF, anyway?!); interactions and movements within organ-systems; lean muscle mass and the (re)-ignition of the Radical Plasticity of the body.

Training is a stress on the body. By intelligently programming our training in various ways we can (hopefully) force adaptation in a desired direction via supercompensation (if adequate food; rest; rejuvenation; etc..).  If we focus on purely numbers (making 'x' reps) or competition, we often lose awareness and quality for sake of quantity and 'glory'.  Training should make the body adapt in a favorable direction in terms of health.  Performing thousands (tens of thousands..) of repetitions of faulty, low quality repetitions is giving the brain a lot a poor quality 'neural-movement food' to digest.

[*]  Fundamental
Many people are far too weak.  Too weak for the activities they undertake. Too weak for the activities of daily life, in some cases.  What I mean by this is they have to compensate in a posturally poor, mal-adapted way to a given movement; due to lack of strength and/or poor basic locomotion and movement patterns.

Many of these people want to go out and take on complex movement patterns that are beyond their current capacity.  This is where basic strength training comes in, and it is one of the best uses for basic strength training (and you'll likely put on some lean muscle mass, too).

Basic Strength Training is just this; the basic strength attributes to lay the foundation for complex movement patterns (even simple movement patterns!).  It provides:

• Basic Strength and Lean Muscle Mass
• Basic Human Movement Patterns 
• Sensory-motor Basics:  Contraction (muscular) awareness; activation pattern and sequencing; basic muscle group and movement pattern awareness.  

Other common primary goals for strength training not emphasized in the Physical Alchemy method. 

[*]  Aesthetics
Whilst having this as primary outcome for training can have a certain narcissism to it, the isolation work and seeking a balanced symmetry in musculature is not without some merit (I refer here more to the golden age of bodybuilding).

As mentioned above, certain specific activation-hypertrophy-strengthening of key 'asleep' muscles groups can be a wonderous thing - if brought to life by re-intergration into larger, more global movement patterns.  Common spots for this are:  forearm and hand muscles; feet and foreleg; neck training; deep anterior spine muscles; glutes; and a few other areas.

Aesthetics should flow out of correct Basic Strength Training in a Physical Cultivation configuration (and a certain degree of non-attachment present in this).

[*]  Performance
Just to things clear, the Physical Alchemy method of Basic Strength Training is not about pure performance enhancement (especially competition training for sports), but is the use of strength work within a physical cultivation parameter.

Performance will definitely improve (to a point) from training to improve the Structural, Consitutional and Fundamental aspects mentioned above - but at the higher levels performance will eat in to your health.

And there is no problem with this if your passion in life is to perform at a competition level in whatever movement activity you chose (some activities being less effecting of health; some more).  We all gotta go sometime; no point living to 100 having never really lived with aliveness.

There are many examples of great people who burned quick and bright, and positively influence thousands (or millions) with their legacy (on of my favorites being Bruce Lee (of course)).  [ See Kit Laughlins blog HERE for more insights on this ]

I have a preference for certain modes of training (as do most trainers).  I will steer clear of too much 'one true way' methodology, in terms of 'best' methods.  I personally love minimalist training because it is practical, fun and has an 'agile-lifestyle' vibe about it.  It's also effective for my non-elite performance physical cultivation training framework - and easy to give to people to do at home (without them spending a mint on equipment that gathers dust in the corner).  

I utilize largely exercises from the Monkey Gym Syllabus (which I helped create); the methods of Steve Maxwell; Stretch Therapy methods; physical conditioning methods from martial arts (especially Chinese and South East Asian martial arts) and various other exercises I have created.  

Exercise is a large part body-weight; with some kettle-bell lifts (especially the strength-stretch and multi-plane movements: TGU; Side press; Windmill; etc) and gymnastic holds; some clubs and band work, too.  I have nothing against other methods (barbell; strongman; etc), I just do not personally specialize in them and would rather refine what I already do.  

As I have been mentioning throughout this piece; the strength work is kept basic in Physical Alchemy, so that there is high remaining energy to work on complex movement patterns from movement arts - because these are much more fun; offer higher level benefits and are more life-enhancing in my opinion.

* Ok; so maybe the Farnese-Hercules image at the top is not 'Basic' strength training - but it is a great statue.