Monday, February 16, 2009

Reality Check – Get Calm and Centered - Find Center and Balance

"The best and safest thing is to keep a balance in your life, acknowledge the great powers around us and in us. If you can do that, and live that way, you are really a wise man." – Euripides

We are incredibly strong. However, when we compare ourselves to the creatures of the natural world, we often find ourselves wanting. We are not as strong as the lion or the elephant. We cannot swim like the fishes. We cannot run like the cheetah or the horse.

But, this is what happens when we compare and do not realize that our bodies do many of this these things very well and that there are not many animals that can do as many things as we can. When we add in the power of our brains to co-ordinate with our bodies we can on occasion do things that were never dreamt of in the animal kingdom. Specifically, I am thinking of gymnastics, skiing, skating and dance to name just a few. A fireman can rush into a burning building, pick up an injured victim, throw the victim over his/her shoulder and then run out of the building saving the victim’s life. Not many other animals can do this.

Our bodies are especially strong when our posture is good and we concentrate our weight to our physical center. Our physical center is a point midway between the front and back of our body and approximately two inches below the navel. One way to find your center is to stand with your feet about shoulder width apart. Interlace your fingers with your palms facing each other and touch the tips of your thumbs together. Imagine that at the point where your thumbs meet, a rod is piercing your body from front to back. Halfway along the rod inside your body resides your center.

Here is an exercise that will help you find your center and the incredible stability it offers from Thomas Crum’s The Magic of Conflict:

· Have a partner stand easily and naturally, with his feet approximately shoulder width apart.
· Stand beside him, facing in the same direction, so that he feels you are there to support him, not compete with him.
· Reach over and place the fingertips of one hand very lightly just above the center of your partner’s chest.
· Very slowly and smoothly increase the pressure on that point, as if you were going to push him directly back. Do so smoothly with no jerky or sudden motion. Have your partner stand naturally and not try to physically resist this pressure.
· Your partner will soon begin to wobble. Notice how little pressure it took for this to occur.
· Keeping your fingertips in the same position on his chest, ask your partner to concentrate on his center – the physical center of his body – which in a standing position, is located roughly a couple of inches below the navel. Having him touch that area with his finger will help him to focus his mind on the location.
· Slowly increase the pressure again, gently so as not to distract his thoughts away from his center. It may be helpful to tell him to take any feeling of pressure on the chest down to his center, to actually feel it “from his center.”
· As you slowly increase the pressure on his chest you will find that there is remarkably more stability, gained simply by your partner’s becoming more aware of his natural center.

What Tom has described above is the one-point (synonymous for center) exercise that was created by Koichi Tohei for the Ki Society. Once you have completed this exercise try it again, but this time have your partner think about the top of his head, the tip of his nose or a point on his back. You can even help him by lightly touching the place you want him to think about. Then, re-test him as you did above. You will find that your partner is significantly less stable when he thinks about anything other than his center. Before this exercise is completed please re-test your partner by having him think about his center so that he finishes with a positive experience.

So, are we then to walk around daily thinking about our center worried about whether or not we will fall over? At first, yes this is exactly what you will have to do. You will find that often you are not physically centered and that your mind has escaped to some other part of your body or it may not even be present in your body at all. As you practice, you will become better and better at finding your center until it becomes second nature and you will no longer have to think about it.

We have seen our bodies are very strong when we are centered. But how does centering the body affect the mind? We have all known a person in our lives that was particularly scattered in his/her mind and ultimately clumsy physically as well. Luckily for us, the converse is also true. Because of the mind-body connection our minds will also become more stable when we have stabilized our bodies. As we become better at finding our physical center our minds will remain centered as well. Decisions will be easier and faster. We will also see that the outcomes of those decisions will be more loving and caring. It is truly all about balance.

In the next post we will move back to our original list and continue that line of thought with - Maintain Proper Distance and See the Whole Picture.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reality Check – Get Calm and Centered - Be Relaxed

“Relaxation means releasing all concern and tension and letting the natural order of life flow through one's being” – Donald Curtis

When I was an actor, a bad performance was often described as “wooden”. This characterized stiff movement and a dialog delivery that sounded mechanical. The source of this was usually nerves. When we are nervous we tend to tense our muscles. Sometimes, we only tense a few muscles resulting in a stiff neck, sore shoulders or an aching back. At other times, we will tense every muscle in our body resulting in a near paralysis of our bodies.

As an experiment, stand in the center of a room and tense every muscle in your body. Then, while maintaining this state try to walk or do any simple task. If you could observe yourself objectively you would see someone moving similar to a clumsy robot. This is exactly what happens when we are over-run with emotions.

After performing the above experiment, we see how the body reacts when it is not relaxed. But how does it appear when we are relaxed? There are two types of relaxation:

1. Static Relaxation – characterized by a limp body with very little energy showing in the extremities. This type of relaxation could be likened to a car parked for the night with the motor off. Very little energy is being consumed
2. Dynamic Relaxation – characterized by a soft but firm body with the body in a ready state. Utilizing the automobile metaphor, this type of relaxation is similar to when the car is started, the transmission is in gear and the driver’s foot is on the brake. The car is in a ready state and energy is being used, but at a much slower rate than if the car was moving.

Here are two exercises that can demonstrate the differences between these two states. You will need partner for both of them.

In the first exercise, stand, as you would normally, with your feet no more than shoulder width apart. Relax your arms completely so that they feel limp at your side. Have you partner lightly grasp you at your wrist and and raise you wrist straight up toward your elbow. If this exercise is done correctly your wrist will move up, your elbow will bend and your shoulder will move with very little effort on the part of your helper. This is Static Relaxation.

In the next exercise, begin by standing as you did in the first. Gently start to bounce on the balls of your feet with your heels coming off the ground, but not your whole foot. Allow the energy of the bounce to begin to travel up your body to just below your navel, up your torso to your shoulders and down through your arms. When the energy of the bounce reaches your wrists, let your hands begin to shake as if you were trying to dry them but didn’t have a towel. The movement should be a gentle bounce and not at all violent. Do this for about 30 seconds and then begin to slow the bounce until your entire body has stopped with your hands at your side. Then have your partner test you as before. This time your helper should have more difficulty raising your arm, if they can do it at all. You will find that even though there is increased effort on the part of your partner, you will be expending almost no energy. This is the essence of Dynamic Relaxation.

Coming up in the next post - Find Center and Balance