Friday, 6 June 2014

On 16:19 by Victoria Stanham in , ,    No comments

The internet is full of articles on how to do and how to improve your execution of almost any exercise.

Want to improve your posture? Search for “posture exercises” on Google. Want to tighten up your core muscles? Search on YouTube “core exercises”. Want to learn how to do barefoot running? You search for “how to start barefoot running”. Etc.

Image from Yoga Journal
Even I had thought of writing today a guide on how to do isometric abdominal exercises (planks) without tension (they’re in vogue apparently… all my students ask me to teach them those… they even came out in the last edition of Yoga Journal).

But if identifying what you want to change (e.g. posture), and googling what exercises remedy the condition were enough, we’d all be set for life (and a whole lot of teachers and coaches would be out of business). However, not one of those articles or videos will help you see why it is that the exercises should work but actually don’t do so fully.

Therefore, before starting to fill the cybersphere with even more how to articles, I want to clarify what you need to know before you read another how to article on specific exercises. Only then will you be able to take advantage of the invaluable information floating around the web.


It all starts with your BodyMap...

Body-mapping is your ability to know how and where your different body parts are, and what they’re doing at any point in time. Your ability at body-mapping is at the base of your ability at controlling your body movements with any degree of precision.

For example, if the instructions for doing a correct ab-crunch call for, “keep your neck long and relaxed”, it isn’t taking into account the fact that you and I have different definitions of “neck”. Therefore, when we “relax our necks” we’ll relax slightly different parts in slightly different ways… and when it comes to your body, accuracy in your body-map makes all the difference in the precision of your movement.

Much of what you believe about how your body is designed, and where you feel the different body parts articulate with each other, could be sabotaging your success and creating unnecessary tension, wear and tear.

Learning to tune up your sensory appreciation, that is your mental body map, will give you the strategies to develop a precise control of your body. That fine control will make you more efficient in your energy usage. And that efficiency will give your more strength, power, and stamina to use in what each exercise or movement really requires of you (and not misuse your energy in tensing muscles that little have to do with the action at hand).


In order to start tuning-up your body map, you need to know which key parts are missing from it today.

The way to improve your body-map is first to discover which bits and pieces of the map went MIA.

Self-knowledge is at the base of sensory appreciation.


Become and impartial witness of your own Self.


You need to become the subject of study in your own investigation. Any teacher can give you a bunch of tips and experiments on how to explore how your body feels. These exercises will be based (at least we hope so) on their own experience in the area, on things that have worked for them and they share with the intention of helping you on your journey. However, the only data that will be really useful to you is that which you collect yourself from your own investigations. Use the examples from your teachers as a basis for your own investigations, but you need to discover what works and is true for you.


So, it’s all very well with words but, for this information to be really useful to you…


DO SOMETHING CONCRETE WITH IT: Choose your first area of investigation in your BodyMap

Choose a space in your body to observe and study this week. Keep it in mind during your workout routine, or while you walk, or during specific times you assign during the day. Put a reminder on your cell phone, or a post-it note on your laptop, to remind yourself to periodically stop and observe.

I’ll give you some suggestions and areas I work with my individual students:

  • The space occupied by your bones: There are some key bony structures that are worthwhile to know where and how they are.

If you choose this challenge, I suggest you observe your sitting bones. The sitting bones are those two protuberances you feel under your bum when you sit. Try feeling them when you’re sitting and check to see if you favor one or the other, if you tend to sit with them rocking back (almost as if you’re sitting on your coxis bone… ouch!) or rocking forward (almost on your pubic bone… ouch too!). Rock on them (their shape is rather like a rocking chair) and notice what effect that has on your column. At what point in the rocking motion does your column seem to be the straightest? What happens to the contact of your sitting bones on the chair when you cross one leg over the other? Do you sit with both sitting bones on the same line or is one further forward or back? Try walking with your sitting bones and feel what that motion does to your whole torso.

  • The space in your joints: A joint is the place in your body where two bones meet and the forces travelling through them can change directions (e.g. the knee, the hip, the shoulder, the elbow). For bones to move and change their orientation in space there has to be space in the joint.

If you choose this challenge, I invite you to observe your shoulder joint. The place where your humerus (the upper-arm bone) and your shoulder blade meet is actually your armpit. Learning to release the muscles that make up that space is key to creating space for the movement of that joint, and to reduce tension in your neck, shoulders and upper back. I suggest you try the box exercise I explain in this article. Do you notice any change in the tension in your neck, shoulders and upper-back? Do you notice any difference between the placement of one shoulder with respect to the other after releasing one of you armpits?

  • Spatial relationships between body parts: You can think all sort of lines that relate one part of the body to another, and take note of how those spaces adjust during movements.

One possible space relationship to observe is that between your sitting bones, o between one armpit and the other (the line across your upper chest). With my students I use a whole series of lines that connect the body and allow for it to expand, release and integrate, without traces of undue muscular tension.


Take your time

Any personal change requires 2 types of time.

One of them does not depend on you. It is the chronological time in which change occurs … change is after all a movement in space-time. There exist no instantaneous changes. Therefore: give Time time for change to occur.

The second type depends solely on you. For change to occur at all you have to do something to catalyze it. The simple act of consciously observing your inner spaces will start this chain reaction that will result in a change. Therefore: take time to observe yourself to help change to occur.
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See you next week.



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