Friday, March 28, 2014

Guest Blog #1: Yoga - Vijay Panchia.

I count myself blessed to know, and count as friends, a fair number of other people on the path; humans into the same type of things I am interested in, here at Physical Alchemy - but approaching it from their own unique viewpoint, and with their own skill-sets and teachings.

I would like to feature these people on my blog; getting them to distill an aspect of the knowledge base that they specialize in, or, an insight they have gained from training.  That type of thing.  I am really looking forward to this myself, as I will learn much from my peers posts.

So, without further ado, my inaugural Guest Blog post is by my recently gained good friend and fellow explorer Vijay Panchia.

I met Vijay at the Steve Maxwell Mobility Conditioning Seminar that I reviewed a number of posts back.  Our initial conversation jumped around all types of interesting things: movement training; physical cultivation; Thai, Burmese, Indian, Chinese and Brazilian martial arts; Dharma; sanskrit (which Vijay studied at Oxford); shaivism; various types of obscure (but awesome) strength training methods - you know, all the same stuff I like.  It seems somewhat inevitable that we would meet.

The guest blog post for today is a general introduction to the word  yoga.  I had to stop Vijay from writing a mahabharata-esque epic, so I am hoping to get him to expand upon a number of things in future posts. 

Vijay Panchia

What is Yoga?

Is it what we find in our local fitness clubs?

Is it something of myths?

Is it something only for Indian Holy Men?

Is it a form of ancient gymnastics?

Or is it something else?

When confronted with writing on the topic of the yoga by my friend Dave, I had to really think about what I was going to write about. It is a truly vast topic. But before specific areas are covered I thought best that I express what yoga is to me. You are entitled to disagree with what I have to say but this at least gives a starting point.

Yoga is a system or path for means of spiritual fulfillment or enlightenment. It provides the practitioner with direct perception with the spiritual or divine.

There are a multitude of physical systems in the modern western world that are called yoga however few really present anything which can to be used to reach such goals or at least accordance with what we find in early yoga texts.

The earliest Vedic texts to make reference to such practices include the Upanishads, the Mahabharata, the Bhagavad-gita (which is a chapter of the Mahabharata, more often read isolation) and Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali. What is presented by such texts could be said to be a practice of mental science or alchemy, where the yogi distills the mind in order achieve his spiritual goal. There is no mention of the acrobatic like postures and stretches that we see in the common practices in the West.

What are mentioned are the asana or posture of keeping the body, neck and head erect, and the practice of pranayama or breathing exercises. These are the assistant exercises for the yogi to his goal. No mention what so ever of being able to put your legs behind your neck (not that I’m saying there isn’t any merit in this).  What is also interesting is there is no detailed explanation on the practice of pranayama.  The greatest emphasis is put on how one is to think and perceive the world.  One might say “how to navigate the mind”.

This way or path of thought is possibly best expressed or at least most accessible by the teachings of Lord Krishna and his discourse with Arjuna found in the Bhagavad-Gita.  This is a masterful teaching on the mind. He presents different paths of yoga, making accessible to all some practice of yoga. It could be said he is presenting a single path of yoga but giving various start points to fit with the aptitude of the practitioner.

Rather than going into the specifics of the Bhagavad-Gita, I would suggest tracking down a good copy of it and reading it yourself. Everyone seems to take away something different from it and it would be clumsy of me to even try to match Krishna in a blog post. There are many translations of the Gita available and all with have their own bias.  The Winthrop Sargeant translation is not a bad place to start and even has the transliteration of the Sanskrit.

The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali is the text often perceived as the quintessential work on yoga and teaches the eight fold path refered to as Ashtanga. This is not to be confused as a reference to the work of Pattabhi Jois. It is divided into the four parts: Contemplations, Spiritual Disciplines, Divine Powers and Realizations. Like many Indian works, it is intended be used along with direct teachings of a guru, and does not provide a complete discourse on practice.  It is very readable for the most part but be wary that there are many translations of the text with much variance. With the original Sanskrit, Patanjali has used very intricate and dense vocabulary. Hence it is hard to give a recommendation to any single translation. But don’t let this deter you from reading this work.

The Upanishads are regarded as part of the Veda. The Veda is divided into  four parts: the Rig, the Sama, the Yajus (which comes in two forms, known as shukla and krishna, light and dark) and the Atharva. Each of these four is in turn divided into four types of material, which are the Samhitas, Brahmanas, Aranyakas and Upanishads. The Upanishads are the philosophical discourse on Vedic philosophy, giving an explanation to the nature of this world. There are many texts given the title of Upanishad however it said there are ten primary texts which are based on commentary by Advaitan Philosopher, Sankaracharya (AD 780 to 820). These “other” texts often deal specifically on the topic of yoga, however as they are not primary sources and from a much later date, I will leave them from this discussion. Of the ten primary Upanishads, the Katha Upanishad and Shvetashvatara Upanishad offer the most obvious statements on what we consider to be yoga. These are more challenging works and some background knowledge or guidance may be necessary. 

The Mahabharata is the great Indian epic poem, much like the Odyssey and Iliad. However the Mahabharata, being three times the size of the Bible, dwarfs these great Greek works in size.  Even more amazing this work is from an oral tradition, meaning it was originally transmitted by being put to memory.  The original author attributed to this work is the Indian sage Vyasa, whom is said to have split the Veda into its four divisions and authored 18 of the major Puranas. It was written to summarize the Vedic teachings. It is a story of the Pandava and Kaurava princes and the rivalry and war that breaks out between these cousins. Various discourses are given through out the text on yoga and the metaphysics behind it. One we have discussed already is the Bhagavad Gita.

Something that really needs to be made clear about Indian thought is that it is an open conversation where one does not have to agree with everything in a text. However you need to well versed in order to engage in this ancient dialogue. Indian systems more often than not are based on logic and experience, hence dogmatic practice is a misdemeanor.  Also I would like to say that being well versed in these Yoga texts does not make you a yogi or yogini, and they may not even be necessary to achieve the elevation or mastery of the mind discussed.  A big part, if not the most important aspect of transmission of this knowledge, is through the direct oral teachings of a master of these practices. To establish whether or not someone even is a master of this spiritual path, the knowledge from these texts may be very useful.

If one wanted to delve deeper into these texts I would like to suggest seeking out the online courses offered by my friends at the Oxford Centre for HinduStudies. These are academic level courses put together by the brightest academic minds on Hindu thought. They offer specific courses on the Bhagavad Gita, the Upanishads and a general course on Yoga among others. 


Useful links

Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies
They offer online courses and many of the texts discussed. There is
also free mp3 lecture downloads on many of the different topics that
make up Indian Thought

The Bhagavad Gita - trans. by Winthrop Sergeant

The Upanishads
Very accessible translations of the ten primary Upanishads by scholar
Patrick Olivelle.

Sacred Texts
A free online resource with translations of the texts discussed.

Yogas Sutra of Patanjali trans. BonGiovanni
Offers a free pdf of the Bhagavad Gita as well as other early Hatha Yoga texts.

Spiral Movement Patterns, Rolling and 'Following The Eyes'

In case you missed it, Craig (ARC training) and Simon (Ancestral Movement) just released a new three video series on various movement patterns incorporating spiraling/rotating and rolling with the concept of eye lead movement (following the eyes). 

These drills are totally cool and playful, and can be done just about anywhere.  Simon is demonstrating them (on a miscellaneous patch of Earth in Canberra) as they should be done (or, as you should work towards doing them) - with smoothness, awareness and control.

They make a great warm-up; 'morning mobility' or movement-play session.  Looking forward to more videos from my good friends Simon and Craig!

Videos below:

Spiral Movement Transitions part 1 - Rotating

Spiral Movement Transitions part 2 - Rolling

Spiral Movement Transitions part 3 - Following The Eyes

Friday, March 21, 2014

Fascial Pec Minor 'Arm Line/Lung Meridian' Stretching

Image from 'Trail Guide to the Body; 2nd edition, by Andrew Biel'

I recently put up two clips on Youtube; both of which aim to bring sensory awareness, muscular activation and soft tissue re-modelling stretch to the tissues of/around/involved with the anatomical structure that is pectoralis minor.   

This muscle is notoriously tricky to isolate with a stretch, for a lot of people; and my 'Practitioner Hanging Fascial Pec Minor Stretch' partner stretch came about from my playing-exploring with ways to find a tangible and workable sensation of this region in my own body.  I am really loving this stretch at the moment (and a couple of other hanging stretches); as it works great solo and *GREAT* as a practitioner (partner) exercise. 

The second video is one starring Cherie Seeto (Sydney Stretch Therapy) has also come up with nice solo stretch (that gets pec minor and the clavicular fibres of pec major very nicely for me) - nick-named 'The Kebab'.(!)

This one works really well for me as a more active 'contract-move' eccentric style stretch, where the tissues are kept lightly contracted via a straight armed humeral flexion movement and slight elbow flexion; utilizing the breath to change the stretching vectors and release tension more specifically on the tissues attached to the ribcage (as opposed to a more standard contract-relax Stretch Therapy approach). Being a secondary breathing muscle, the use of various directed breathing techniques as enhancers to the stretch should come as no surprise. 

From Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapist - Tom Myers, 2nd edition.

Now, both of these stretches can be felt in many other locations - depending upon where you are have restrictions.  Biceps and the fascia of the arms are very common.  Both the Front Arm Line and Deep Front Arm Line myofascial meridians of the Anatomy Trains terminology are effected; and can be preferentially targetted if you know how.. different grip positions and strengths; different rotations of the humerus; different humerus to spine angles - and much more. 

[ Check out the 'Arm Line' article here: ]

Or just buy the new 3rd Edition of Tom Myers fantastic Anatomy Trains: Myofascial Meridians for Manual and Movement Therapists.  The second edition is on my 'Recommended Reading' list for a reason.. I'm looking forwards to checking out the changes to the new edition myself!

Honing in on the pec minor for a moment (and related soft tissues of the Deep Front Line - esp clavipectoral fascia; subclavius), we can see via the anatomy of the area why this region is a potent site for the blood vessels and nerves of the arm to be compressed against the hard tissue of the ribs; and/or tethered and adhered within the soft tissues of the region (neuro-vascular entrapment).

Magnify the percentage chance of this happening in relation to the degree of Forward Head Posture and all its spine, rib and scapula correlates.

The chapter on the pectoralis minor in Travell & Simons' great work Myofascial Pain and Dysfunction: The Trigger Point Manual mentions a number of clinical manifestations of pain and dysfunction related to this area, including: golfer's and tennis elbow; carpal tunnel syndrome; various arm pain, weakness and loss of proprioception; and pain, swelling and altered sensations in the hands and fingers.

Taking a slightly wider, and more osteopathic/Daoist perspective (as I do); it makes sense to me that there could be(are) a wider range of inauspicious health, movement and sensory awareness impacts to having this area in a less than optimal state of soft-tissue texture and tone - even if these are 'sub-clinical' in that they have not manifested as pain or perceived dysfunction, yet. 

Reading up about the meridian pathways of Chinese medicine can be very insightful when focusing on the sensations coming about in the whole body whilst stretching certain areas and maintaining sufficient body awareness and a clear enough mind. This complements the classical western anatomy and new fascial anatomy nicely (add in the Ayuvedic/Marma perspective for bonus points). The organ-meridian systems are also useful in watching various pulsations and other phenomena that appear post with it. 

Whether this is from a impingement upon blood-born nutrients or Oxygen (the primary nutrient) transportation; impediment of neural information; blocking of waste removal, or block of free flow of any other sort of information - the practical aspect of the effective re-patterning and softening the area is of primary importance in the Physical Alchemy method. 

I have a fair number of variants and enhancements to the Practitioner Hanging Fascial Pec Minor/Arm Line stretch (needs shorter title..), that I will be recorded in the near future - stay tuned! 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Product Review: Crumpler 'John Thursday 50' Pouches

Product Review: Crumpler 'John Thursday 50' Pouches

Crumpler make awesome stuff. Period.  I purchased these little pouches from the Crumpler Seconds store in Newtown, Sydney for $10 each.  They are exceptionally well made, as with all the Crumpler stuff I have, and very practical.  Crumpler has become the 'un-official' Stretch Therapy bag brand!

The pouch comes with a belt loop (velcro), which I don't use - instead, I have attached a hardware store large keyring and a Singing Rock brand carabiner (~$8 from memory..there are cheaper ones, but this one is well made).  This allows me to 'click-on/click-off' with the pouch and makes it easily modular with a number of different things.  

I have no idea why these are called 'John Thursday 50', but then again a camera case I have at home is entitled 'Million dollar home'. ..

I purchased two of these little beauties, and now almost regret not buying three.  They are really useful. Blue is for spare change, alchemical gold is for work.  

Having bought many cheaper things like this in the past, I have learned a lesson and won't do that again.  Having a few, high quality, functional items is much better than having multiple crummy ones (even if they were only $2.80...dammit Daiso!).  

Not sure if the Seconds store is still in Newtown, or if they have any of these left... I'll look into this and edit the post if I find out they are still available.  


Monday, March 3, 2014

Workshop review: Mobility Conditioning with Steve Maxwell

Workshop Review:
 Mobility Conditioning Seminar with Steve Maxwell (1 Day)

Yesterday I had great privilege of attending Steve Maxwell's Mobility Conditioning Seminar, hosted by my Jiu Jitsu Instructor (Felipe Grez) at Jiu Jitsu Kingdom, Sydney.   

I love Steve's work and am a big fan of his practical methods.  I have followed him on the Internet for a long time, and was lucky enough to meet, train and hang out with him last year.  As he says in his introduction to most workshops; he's been in the game for 50 years(!), and has been continually experimenting and refining his unique methods over this time.  He has an amazing wealth of information and experience. 

This seminar focused on what Steve calls 'mobility conditioning' which combines active flexibility,  joint mobility and movement pattern work with strength, 'baby training' neural re-patterning, breathing and tension-releasing exercises - it's quite an exceptional combination.  There's methods from all over the globe featured.  

Today (and yesterday post-seminar) my body is feeling fantastic and sore in some areas that do not normally get sore.  Steve is easily able to provide exercise progressions for every skill level present at his workshops, and though a number of the exercises are grappling specific (one of Steve's specialties), they provide mobility-conditioning, active flexibility and resilience to anyone who plays contact sports (martial arts; football and rugby codes, even basketball) or has the potential to fall during their activities (cyclists; trail runners; etc).

For me, I am really excited by blending and experimentation that I am doing with Steve's methods; Stretch Therapy and qi gong.  The blending and distillation of these three modalities is a very large part of what will make up the Physical Alchemy method I am creating (after suitable experimentation and refinement).  

Steve is putting on at least one more Mobility Conditioning seminar in Sydney (this Sunday 9th March, 2014), and one in Melbourne (the following week) - maybe two more if the one this Sunday reaches capacity (which it is close to doing).  If you are in either of these great Australian cities and are interested in all things physical cultivation and health, do not miss out on this opportunity:

Steve is a super generous dude, too.  He has gone over-time in every single workshop and training session I have ever done with him.  Yesterday he went over by 30 minutes and shortened lunch by half an hour - because people were so keen to learn, and he loves to get his methods across to people.   He has even given me two pairs or shoes (New Balance minimus!); five pairs of shorts(!); two belts and a rain jacket (Steve and I are similar builds, and he sheds gear he cannot take with him on his travels - as he packs light and agile when travelling). 

Dave Wardman (Physical Alchemy)

p.s I learned so much yesterday that I am doing the same seminar again next week!   :)  

Tom Myers on Fascia, Yoga and Body-mind transformation (Huffington Post Article)

HERE is an interview with Tom Myers (Anatomy Trains author and spokesperson of all things fascia) from the Huffington Post site.  It's a nice little article with a link to the longer discussion.  I saw last week (?) that the Third Edition of Tom's great 'Anatomy Trains' book is out now.. looking forward to checking out the new sections added since the 2nd Edition (which is one of my favorite books).