Monday, 22 May 2017

On 10:24 by Victoria Stanham   No comments

I love to move; I derive endless pleasure and reams of personal insight from it. I practice several choreographed and un-choreographed forms of movement and am always avid to experiment with new forms.

It hasn’t always been this way for me, however.

Being an inveterate perfectionist, moving wasn’t always a source of childish delight and wide-eyed wonder at my seemingly endless movement possibilities. I used to (and still do if I’m not wide-awake to my habits) turn every activity and movement challenge into a competition, where the only ephemeral joy came from beating myself or others in “getting there” (all thoughts on the finish line and none on the journey). The prize for “getting there” (wherever that may be) was some cheap and short-lived admiration from peers and superiors; the price, on the other hand, was steep and long-lived.

No joy ever came from within after conquering one of these podiums; it was simply never good “enough”.

The fact that outside praise soon died away, and to get my fix once again I needed to surpass, or at minimum up-keep, my previous achievement level, seemed only to prove that I needed to do more and better (whatever that may be).

Still, no joy came from within, no praise came from within, and the constant struggle to do more and be better ended up corroding my belief in the truthfulness of outside praise and admiration. What I didn’t give myself, I couldn’t receive from others, even if it was showered upon me (which it never really was anyways).

Then, one good day, I was inadvertently presented with my first somatic movement practice. And little by little I got hooked on a completely different perspective on what it means to move and be moved.

Nowadays, whenever I “practice movement”, I am more interested in becoming aware of how I choose to move than in getting anywhere in particular.

Becoming aware of how I move throws light on my movement habits: how I always tend to unconsciously choose by default the same set of movement options, even when they are perhaps not the best suited to the present situation.

Therefore, in my personal movement investigations I present myself with simple movement challenges in a safe environment. I do so in order to teach myself how to move in and out of these challenges in different ways at any time, and thus widen the range of movement choices available to my conscious mind.

As I become aware of my growing number of movement options, movement habits loosen some of their vice grip on my actions: they become just one option among many from which I can consciously choose (if I’m aware enough to do so).

Movement has hence become a path of self-development. Nowadays, whenever I “exercise” (be it running, doing Pilates or any other sport or gymnastics), my focus is not primarily on “exercising my muscles” (although that is an added benefit) but first and foremost on the cyclical process of becoming aware of how I move, evaluating if the current choice is the best option available, making any necessary adjustments (based on my personal investigations) and listening in again to my movement quality.

This process of “listening-in”, of entering into a nurturing dialogue with myself through movement and sensation, through thought and image, has brought forth the only emotion worth deriving from any action: JOY.

Why this emphasis on JOY you may ask.

Well, a friend and teacher once told me that in the Vedic tradition the three attributes of God are Sat, Chid and Ananda, which in worldly terms would be something like: knowing all, living forever (aka being connected to all things) and being always in a state of bliss. She also said that for us humans it is difficult to realize when we are connected to eternal knowledge and eternal life, but we do come equipped with the capacity to know when we are connected to eternal bliss, and that is in the feeling of joy: an emotion that wells up from deep within and expresses itself in body and mind.

When Joy is present, when we experience a glimpse of Ananda, we are also experiencing a glimpse of eternal knowledge (Sat) and eternal life through the connection to all things past, present and future (Chid).


Sunday, 7 May 2017

On 21:05 by Victoria Stanham in    No comments

Good posture is more about how you move than how you keep still. 

During my early twenties posture was a nagging concern for me. One of my grannies had osteoporosis and a noticeable hump and the general postural tendency in my family is towards a rounded shoulder outline. My other granny, who was blessed with naturally good posture and steel hard bones, would swear her secret had been walking around with a broomstick across her back during her adolescence and reminding herself to “roll her shoulders up back and down” to keep her back straight. My sister, who in her teenage years showed early signs of slouching, was constantly reminded to stand straight and keep her shoulders back. She even had an elastic-harness-strapping-thingy that promised to train her muscles into holding correct posture.
With this background, it isn’t surprising that I grew up believing good posture is something you have to hold on to, an ideal form to keep and train your muscles into. When in my early twenties I started seeing signs of my own postural deterioration, I also bought myself one of the harness contraptions and would try to wear it during work hours, strapped on as tight as I could (the tighter the better, right?). It was horribly uncomfortable, painful even; it would leave me with incredibly sore shoulders and neck. But the most disheartening thing was that the minute I took off the torture device, my shoulders would invariably slump forward, aching but grateful that the day’s ordeal was over. In other words, my posture would fall apart the minute I wasn’t strapping it into its “correct” position.
This view of what good posture is, and how to acquire and maintain one, is fairly mainstream. A quick Google search for “posture exercises” will throw results that speak to this idea: which muscles need to be strengthened to hold you upright (mostly core work, i.e. abdominal and back muscles) and which need to be lengthened from their chronically shortened conditions (namely muscles which attach your limbs to your trunk, like the pectorals, the psoas and the hamstrings).
I hold no issue against these exercises, for I still believe that the relative length and strength of certain muscle groups does play an important role in so called “good” posture. However, I do have an issue with the model of posture that is behind them.
From a somatic movement perspective “posture” (as the term is generally understood) is an irrelevant concept, hence it makes no sense to hold on to neither the term itself nor any physical posture whatsoever. The word posture (linked etymologically to the word post) implies something static, and life is everything but that.  When you admire someone’s “good posture” what you are really admiring is their “poise”, their “alignment”, their capacity to adapt to constantly changing demands for balance and counterbalance, in such a way that there is a relative “quietness” of visible effort in their bodies. This “quietness” of unnecessary effort, this efficient play of equilibriums, is what “good posture” is actually all about: an “attitude” more than a “shape”.
The main problem with our understanding of what posture is, is thinking it has anything to do with a set form, “set” being the key word here. We are always moving, even when we think we are standing, sitting or lying motionless. Think of it, even when we are completely “still” we are still breathing, and that is already a form of movement that requires adaptations in the relative position of certain bones (ribs), muscles (diaphragm) and organs (lungs) which in turn cause adaptations in all other bones, muscles and organs. When we are standing still, we are balancing upright against the pull of gravity on a structure that is most decidedly not a post. As we can see, maintaining the illusion of “good posture” is more a question of managing the dynamic equilibrium of perpetually moving parts that keep realigning themselves to adapt to constantly changing inner and outer environments, than of keeping certain bits of our anatomy in a fixed position (shoulders back and down!).
Posture is a dance, full of improvisations, micro and macro adjustments of tone and direction. Since all our parts need to be ever ready to move in relation to our other parts, trying to maintain a fixed “posture” is nothing but interference with the action of living (at the very least of breathing).
For example, when I was strapping my shoulders back and down with the harness I was interfering not only with my breathing, but also with my walking. My shoulder blades need to move as I walk, both as part of the rotation of my trunk and the back and forth swing of my arms. By fixing my shoulders firmly back I was disturbing the natural movement of my arms and the rotation and counter rotation that should occur between my shoulder girdle and pelvis as I walk. This in turn unbalanced my spine and anything that unbalances your spine automatically increases the overall effort you need to exert just to shift weight from one leg to another in order to walk. Needless to say, if you unbalance your spine, you unbalance your-Self, for few things are more terrifying to your system than the possibility of losing your balance and ending up with your head smacking against the floor.
In a nutshell, the whole stand up straight, shoulders back, chest out, butt in directives are not only ineffective in correcting posture, they also causes problems when the time comes to actually move (which is all the time). So, instead of trying to maintain good posture, why not ask yourself whether everything is moving with ease?

How can you know that? Well, I think the key is in learning two things. The first is learning a little about how you are built for movement, have some basic idea of what your inner structures look like and what movement possibilities they have. The second is learning to tune into your movement quality, to how your body feels when it moves (does this movement feel easy, elegant and graceful, or painful, stiff and forced?). Putting these two things together is the surer path I know to finally acquiring and constantly updating your posture.

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

On 15:08 by Victoria Stanham in ,    2 comments
Post originally published at www.joy4running.wordpress.com


Written by Victoria Stanham
Most of my non-running friends’ response to “Why don’t you run?” is something along the lines of, “I love the idea of running… I just hate the actual running itself.”
If we are all born with the necessary hardware and software for the task... why is running pleasurable only to a gifted few? Does it have to be this way? Can something be done about it?
I believe it can... and I have this great idea to share with you.
Just for clarity's sake, I’m not going to teach you how to go “from couch to 5k”, nor give advice on what shoes to buy, nor what training plan to follow, nor what to eat before a run. All these topics have already been exhaustively covered in other running-related blogs out there.
My focus here is not so much on the “externals” of running as in the “internals”. What you’ll get from me is ideas on how to manage your breath, body and mind so that they stop fighting each other and start cooperating during your runs.
What for?
Sheer running-bliss. No more, no less.
So what’s my running-mojo all about?
1.     Awareness and Use of Breath. Enjoyment of running is almost equivalent to your enjoyment of breathing. Do you enjoy breathing? Do you like how you breathe? Do you enjoy breathing even when your heart-rate speeds up? Or does it suddenly get all painful and out of control?
2.     Awareness and Use of Mental Processes.Out of control breath equals out of control mind… and vice-versa. Where does your mind wander off to when you run? Is this what your train of thought looks like? Most exhaustion is rooted in the out-of-control wandering mind; once you learn to bring it home to rest, more energy becomes available to you.
3.     Awareness and Use of Body Mechanics. The body is the resting place for both breath and mind. But, if pain and strain also reside there, you can’t blame breath and mind to try and go wandering somewhere else. To master the biomechanics of running, body awareness has to come first and excess effort must be let go.
Every complaint I’ve ever heard about running from would-be runners can be traced back to the downward spiral of a poor breathing pattern, fuelling an out-of-control mind, which engenders poor body-mechanics, which in turn hinders the breath, which exacerbates the mind, which tenses the body... ad infinitum.
The saddest part is we are not even aware that this is going on, we’re only aware of the discomfort and pain it causes to a specific part of us. So before you decide to tinker with your breathing pattern or your body-mechanics: STOP! You can’t change what you don’t know is there.
My first tip is this: Invest in heightening your awareness of body, mind and breath. Above all, become aware of how these 3 aspects are intimately related.
In future posts I’ll share some of the exercises that have helped me enhance my own awareness of these three areas and their interrelatedness. If you don't want to miss them, just register your email to receive notifications of new posts directly in your inbox.
Happy Running!
-Vicky


Tuesday, 11 August 2015

On 17:50 by Victoria Stanham in , ,    No comments
This blogpost was originally published in my running blog at www.joy4running.wordpress.com



It’s winter here in Uruguay, and it’s difficult to start (or keep up) a running routine. No matter how much I enjoy the actual running, and the post-running bliss, stepping out into the cold and the wind is not always the most tempting prospect.
This year, however, I managed to keep the winter blues at bay. These arte the 4 keys I used to stay on track:

1.     Having a Fixed Date with a Running Group and/or Running Buddies

Nothing beats keeping me on my toes than the support and encouragement of my new running group: Trotamundos Running Uruguay , and arranging runs with my sister. There’s something about keeping a commitment with someone else that makes getting out the door easier.

Benefits:
·         fixed days and times for runs means I don’t have to decide when to go out for a run (I like keeping superfluous decisions down to a minimum, they use up too much precious energy)
·         the camaraderie and fun energy of a group makes going out for a run more motivating, even when I’m tired

     2.     Registering for a Race

Joinging a running group means I have 3 fixed running dates a week. This doesn’t mean I don’t ‘skip’ training days anyways. Sometimes I’m tired after a long day of work, or I’m just too lazy. The best solution: registering for a race that’s a tiny bit challenging for me and that requires sticking to a training program. With my sister we’ve set our sights on a sponsored 7k run in a month and a half. I’ve gone a bit further and started courting the idea of running the Nike Half Marathon in two months. Perhaps that’s crazy, but it gives me enough motivation to lace up and step out.

Benefits:
·         extra motivation not to skip training days
·         that great feeling of building towards something, even if I don’t reach my goal
     
     3.     Having a Training Plan

I get bored if I always follow the same routine when I run. That’s why I like to have a varied training plan. This also avoids me having to decide what to do when I’m out running: it’s there on today’s plan.

Benefits:
·         keeping things interesting and moderately challenging
·         keeping the weight-loss benefits (it’s been proven that doing always the same run, at the same pace completely undermines weight-loss goals)
·         not having to think “what should I do today?”
    
      4.     Setting up for Success

There are thousands of little, simple things I can do to make it easier for me not to skip a run due to plain laziness.  The ones that work best for me are: a) leaving my running clothes ready to jump into (either by my bed for a morning run, or in a bag if I’m doing a post-work run), b) writing in my running dates in my agenda, so as to avoid scheduling other stuff at the same time, and c) training near my house, (this one I learned the hard way, after joining a club once that required a half hour commute to come and go).

Benefits:
·         elminating excuses and obstacles
·         prioritizing my runs over other activities

What are your keys to keep the motivation going?

Let me know in the comments below… I can always use more advice in this area.

Happy Running!
-Vicky



Monday, 3 August 2015

On 13:34 by Victoria Stanham in , , , ,    4 comments
This post was originally published in my new running and Alexander Technique blogsite, at www.joy4running.wordpress.com


Every time I took up running in the past it lasted me for no more than a month. My main reason for taking up this particular form of torture was fairly straightforward: I wanted to lose weight and I’d read that running burned far more calories than walking.

So, for a few weeks, I would drag myself onto the Rambla a couple of times a week for a 30 minute torture session of walk-run-walk. Although I enjoyed the post-workout feeling of accomplishment, I hated every minute of going through the actual ordeal of putting one foot in front of the other as I gasped for breath and ached all over. This needless suffering was the main reason I would start skipping sessions on any semi-justifiable excuse.

The more I skipped, the harder it was to break the inertia the next time. Eventually some silly injury or nagging pain would keep me off the road for a couple of weeks straight and that was the end of my running spree. The mere thought of having to build up my endurance once again until 20 continuous minutes of jogging didn’t feel like a death march was a sure motivation killer.

I decided running was not for me. When the running craze hit Uruguay I congratulated myself for not being one of those self-torturing crazies on the Rambla, with the pained expressions, heavy footfalls and heaving breaths.

I had also decided I didn’t need running. Having found Pilates (which made me fall head over heels in love with movement for the first time) and the Alexander Technique (which got me hooked into understanding and thus moving how nature intended) I considered my movement needs more than adequately met. And so it was for several years.

But the funny thing is that Pilates and Alexander Technique made me so comfortable in my own body they inched me ever closer to enjoying all the movement possibilities available to a human being… and running is just the natural evolution of walking.

So when my sister, who used to be a running-hater too, started training for and completed her first 5k race, I decided to give running another chance. To my pleasant and ecstatic surprise I didn’t hate it AT ALL, I actually LOVED it. My training in Pilates and Alexander Technique had made me an extremely efficient exerciser; I had more endurance than seemed possible for someone who’d shunned cardio for years. What’s even better, I discovered that even if I skipped a couple of weeks of running, I could jump right back on track without feeling I had lost much training.

Seeing that running comes so easily and joyfully for me now, my sister has asked me what the trick is. It’s not so much a trick but a set of organizing principles that allow body and mind to be better coordinated. This results in the ability to maintain good form and a deep breathing pattern even at times of great physical exertion. The best part is we’ve discovered these principles can be taught and learned fairly easily, so she’s improved her running too!

I’m writing this blog to document my approach to running, in the hopes that it can help you too. My sister will be the one keeping me real with what works and what doesn’t.  I’ll be sharing all my tips and secrets which meet her one basic criteria for a run: take no more than 30 minutes.

Please, if you are at all interested in enjoying running, leave a comment, ask a question, suggest a topic for investigation. If you tell me what’s keeping you from enjoying your runs, or what’s keeping you from running altogether, I’ll do my best to figure out a way to get you a step closer to lacing on your running shoes.

Happy Running!


-Vicky

Tuesday, 2 June 2015

On 15:33 by Victoria Stanham in , ,    No comments

Nearly 10 years after finishing my university degree in theatre in the USA, I am putting myself once again through the 4-year-plus ordeal of acquiring a second degree, in a completely unrelated field, here in Uruguay (physiotherapy).

In that 10 year span I wasn’t idle either. From 2009 to 2011 I put myself through three years of Alexander Technique teacher training and got certified in Pilates Method.

Hence, I know a thing or two about being a student… and what it does to you. I am also prone to forget what I know if I don’t remind myself about it.

With that in mind, I am putting those nuggets of wisdom in writing. These are my 5 key reminders for psychophysical survival and enjoyment as a student. They have carried me through 15 years of studying in different countries and settings (both public and private), through different approaches to learning, in different group sizes and with widely varying resources. They count for both long training courses to short one-hour lessons, and everything in between.

1. Find your “deep why” to channel your energy and drive you on.
Your “deep why” is your dharma, your calling, that thing that sets your soul on fire. Being a student is tough, especially when you also juggle a working-life and family-life. When the going gets really hard it’s tempting to just call it quits. Your “deep why” will carry you through those rough patches.

2. Make peace with how things are to husband your energy and keep you sane.
Learning situations are never ideal; one or several factors are usually not up to standard. Be clear about what you want to get out of this learning situation, why you chose the institution, teacher, venue (or whatever), and use that clarity to separate the chaff from the straw. Once in the learning situation don’t waste energy in pursuits that don’t fulfill your deep why (like complaining that things are not ideal).

3. Know your habitual patterns to avoid wasting energy and losing track of your true goal.
We all have student-personas. Different learning scenarios (study groups, exams, one-on-ones, etc.) will trigger full psychophysical reactions and you might find yourself acting like a high-school adolescent all over again. Know yourself and be prepared to inhibit your desire to “be cool”, or "be perfect", (or whatever) and direct your energy towards actions that truly fulfill your deep why.

4. Empty your glass that you might taste your teacher’s wine.
If you’ve been around for a while you’re probably already full of your own ideas about how things are (or should be). But if you’re so full of your own wine, you’ll never get a taste of your neighbour’s. So, regardless of how much you think you know about the subject, don’t fight the teacher (unless, of course, they are directly attacking you). After all, it’s you who chose to learn from them. So be humble and listen to their point of view. Try to understand what frame of thought they come from, why and how it works when it works, and how it relates to your way of thinking about it.

5. Involve yourself psychophysically that you might make your own synthesis.
Learning is simultaneously a sensual, emotional, social and mental pursuit. To get the most out of your learning bring your whole self into the matter, immerse yourself psychophysically and socially. And after full immersion take time to create your own synthesis, force yourself to elaborate your map of the subject matter. Only then will it become an integral part of you.

Sunday, 29 March 2015

On 20:00 by Victoria Stanham in , ,    No comments

For the most part we are unaware of what a brilliant balancing act it was and still is for our species to achieve the upright stance.

In non-existent “ideal” conditions the normal situation would be to be light, free, and unaware that we are, in fact, living, moving, breathing, 24/7 balancing acts whose stability is constantly being threatened, lost and efficiently, eutonically recovered. In ideal conditions all response option would be open to us always, so we’d be free to choose according to circumstances.

But life falls short of ideal. Although we all come with the same basic fabric design, we are born neither perfectly symmetrical, nor perfectly balanced, nor perfectly ambidextrous. 

As we choose, like and prefer some options over others, using what works and gets results fast, we pull and twist the threads of our basic design slightly askew to accommodate our tastes. This makes choosing the same option easier the next time around, till we don’t have to “consciously choose” anymore: we can reset to relative “neutral” while the fabric is still young and elastic, but our favourite choice has becomes “preset”.

The more we choose the same paths over and over, the more they become a part of who we believe we are, who we “feel” we are. Eventually the choice becomes “us”, it gets recorded in the very grain of our fabric. All the habitual twists, the stretches and pulls, the contractions and rigidities become fixed. As our fabric ages and elasticity is lost, it becomes harder and harder to reset to “neutral” and to choose and hold a different set of twists and stretches on the fabric.

As we become convinced that the twisted and stretched fabric is in effect our “neutral” and “natural” basic design, all “other” possible options fade from our awareness. As they fade from our awareness they become temporarily “lost” in that ineffable place that has become for us the “unknown”. There they will lie dormant until we choose to set out on the quest to re-awaken our potential, to map-out the unknown.

The “unknowable” will remain forever hidden from our human senses. But the “unknown” will be forever there, waiting for us to map it and thus reclaim our supreme inheritance.