Monday, February 17, 2014

Physical Alchemy Schemata Diagram I

This (above) is a diagram I have been playing around with (in my mind) for a while, but haven't put pen to paper (whiteboard) on; until today.. 

This is the bones of the method; in diagram form.  I am sure this diagram will go through a number of changes, but as it stands I a quite happy with it.  Remember, this is just my take on movment and awareness training (Physical Alchemy style).  Take whatever is useful for you, and discard the rest.

I use some categories from my Physical Alchemy statement of Intent in this post - see HERE.  I suggest you read that one before this one..

Basic Strength Training (Tiger Body - Strength & Flexibility)
In the Physical Alchemy approach to strength training, the exercises are picked to improve the structural health of an individual, and to provide a solid foundation for the complex movements that the individual has picked to work on in the Complex Movement category.  

The health (hormone profile; structural health; soft tissue quality; etc) aspects are emphasized above the performance aspects, unless there is a good reason to preference performance (the person wants to compete in a competitive activity that they love).

For this reason there is little emphasis on general conditioning, other than walking and mobility conditioning style work (putting movement and mobility drills, that are done for their Radical Plasticity, joint opening and health benefits; into a circuit for some ambient cardiovascular effect of a low-medium level). 

People are encourage to do specific conditioning work (which can have a general conditioning micro- or meso-cycle) for the Complex Movement art(s) they have chosen to work on as the primary conditioning they do. 

Why?  For most normal individuals, doing an inordinate amount of strength training normally leads to over-training and injury, and quickly reaches a diminishing returns point.  Sure, if you love it and it's your passion, or favored movement activity, no problem (i.e Olympic lifting).
Also, specific conditioning drills (boxing; wrestling/grappling; martial arts; Parkour and Free-running; dancing) are normally much more fun than general conditioning drills, so why not do them instead (especially if you are not competing professionally)? 

My personal preference is to keep strength training sessions to two or three times a week (depending upon other activities undertaken); and keep my energy for skill work (which often has a strength-skill component, anyhow).
A lot of times people, rightly or wrongly, go for making exercises too advanced too quickly - or picking exercise that don't transfer particularly well to other endeavors (see Steve Maxwell's post on this HERE). 

The Basic Strength Training work each week is constitutional and soft tissue quality training.  The motor patterns are kept reasonably simple to keep quality and form to a high level.  Resistance is (obviously) one variable that is increased to keep improving, but in the Physical Alchemy approach a high degree of emphasis is placed upon improving bodily awareness and strength-control in an exercise (without resistance going up; which works well with body weight exercise) and working on different, increasingly difficult ways of breathing (or retaining breath) during movements.  More on this in a later post.

Advanced Stretching & Soft Body Skills (Tiger Body - Flexibility; The Re-Enchantment of the Body)
In contrast to the strength training, I like to use a lot of advanced stretching, limbering, suppleness, mobility and soft body skills work in my training - programmed in a way so I do something every day, but do not do the strongest methods more than twice a week (This too, will be a detail later post).

As I mentioned in my what is Physical Alchemy piece (HERE) - I am of the strong belief that there are many (some recognized, some not) health (from Daoist, osteopathic and structural integration perspectives on health), aliveness and awareness benefits gained from this type of work (on top of the useful, but more mundane improved flexibility and movement capacity) - and so I preference this type of work very highly, and specialize in it because of this. 

Complex Movement arts (Tiger Body - Agility; Strength; Flexibility; Play & Movement Lexicon)
My opinion is that it is here, not in strength training (again, unless it is your passion), that you should chase after complexity, high skill exercises and playfulness - once you have a sufficient foundational capacity of strength, flexibility and agility to do said activity (this depends upon the individual and the activity/art).

These activities have life-long learning benefits, creativity enhancement and creative expression aspects, and offer a sense of community/tribe. Master a few, and learn an instrument, and you're on your way to becoming a Renaissance man or women..! 

Examples: Martial arts; dancing; Parkour and Free-running; sports; even just joint mobility and movement patterning do for fun and health.

The Re-Enchantment of the Body
This is all things body awareness, kinesthetic intelligence and sensitivity.  This includes stand alone body awareness exercises, as well as awareness exercises that can be added to Basic Strength and Advanced Stretching and Soft Body Skill exercises.

It also includes specific exercises for Freeing the Breath and learning to bring Deep Physical Relaxation to the body (both, also, later detailed posts).

For me, some of the deep appeal of this type of thing is the creativity enhancement and character armour dissolving qualities.  

Qi Gong Skill-set
Flowing on nicely from The Re-Enchantment of the Body are more specific Daoist Qi Gong (Tao yin) exercises, that I am only just beginning to practice recently.  Already I can see that they will fit into Physical Alchemy very nicely, hence the addition.  Many potential health, awareness and aliveness benefits here, I feel..

Zen/Ch'an (Awareness; Intent) 
As a lay practitioner of Zen/Ch'an, all of the above categories are also ways of practicing, for me.  I do not do this for health or performance benefits, even if these come of it.  I simply practice Zen, and also love movement and having fun doing all things Physical Alchemy.

One of my teachers, Kit, once said to me:

 "All these things (health; stretching; movement/martial arts; strength training; etc) - simply give you the longevity that you are probably going to need to get over your own ignorance and attain your True Nature" KL (Paraphrased - this was the gist of it).  

This is pretty much the approach I take; other practices to aid Zen (and for enjoyment), rather than doing meditation to aid other practices -  though I do find that making movement a practice is very rewarding.

Having some base contemplative/Dharmic practice is a personal thing, and not essential to enjoy, or gain benefits from, the other categories. But, if you do find something that works for you - it does add an extra something (or maybe takes something away..) to all the rest. The increase Awareness seeps into everything and

The practice of Zen Buddhism (or any other method/path - Vipassana; Tibetan Buddhism; Daoism; yoga; tantra; etc.etc.) is also an 'end' in itself - hence the arrow pointing off into the Void.  

The Arrows of Influence  

Basic Strength --> Advanced Flexibility (Stretching) & Soft Body Skills:  a solid foundational strength aids a lot of the stronger stretching postures, and also aids the ability of muscular contraction, sequencing, bracing and un-coupling of movements.  Essentially we are after 'optimal responsive tonus' - muscles that are strong and supple, and that stay relaxed until needed - are respond quickly and in harmony. Then go back to resting again.

Advanced Flexibility (Stretching) & Soft Body Skills --> Basic Strength:  Improved range of motion, relaxation and removal of inhibitory properties (neural; trigger points; fascial adhesion's; scarring; etc) plays back into capacity to access muscle fibres and to enhanced sequencing. 

Basic Strength & Advanced Flexibility (Stretching) & Soft Body Skills ---> Complex Movement Skills:  A strong foundation of strength, flexibility and agility from which to more effectively, efficiently and safely learn fun, new movement patterns and skills.  (Why no arrows back?  Again, this is a prototype diagram and for now I am thinking the influence is stronger in this direction - let me know if you thinking I should have double direction arrows here).

Re-Enchantment of the Body ---> Complex Movement; Basic Strength & Advanced Flexibility (Stretching) & Soft Body Skills:  Although the diagram does not currently have two of these arrows, the enhanced breathing, relaxation and kinesthetic intelligence flow nicely into the three categories at the top.  The arrow back from the Flexibility (Stretching) & Soft Body Skills skills to the Re-Enchantment of the Body is indicative of the strong link between the two in both directions.

Re-Enchantment of the Body <--->  Qi Gong Skill-set:  This should be a reasonably obvious connection.  Some of the more basic awareness exercise flow on into more complex Daoist practices, then flow back into the basic exercises. These are very similar categories, but I didn't want to put Qi Gong 'into' The Re-Enchantment of the Body because there are so many arts and practices under the banner of 'qi gong' that it seemed a bit foolish - even though qi gong does very much re-enchant the bodymind.

Qi gong <---> Stretching:  I have a strong feeling that qi gong and stretching/soft body work (done the Stretch Therapy way) is going to be a very auspicious, mutually re-enforcing combination. 

Zen/Ch'an -->  I talked a little bit about this above.  All things become practice, hence the lines going out.  I have contemplated putting arrows back to this from 'Stretching' - i.e being able to Sit in a more comfortable position in zazen, or control movements better in kinhin.  Also, possibly back from qi gong, though I haven't practice qi gong for long enough to make any judgement about that one. 

At any rate, I had fun making a linking diagram of the things I encompass Physical Alchemy (which are also some of my favorite things).  Quite possibly I could have had more arrows (even arrows showing influence from everything to everything else), but again, this is just prototype #1!

Hopefully you got something out of this (even 'just' a good laugh).  Let me know if you have any useful suggestions or experience in the combinations mentioned above. 

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