Sunday, September 26, 2010

Relax Completely

In the practice of Kokikai Aikido, one of the four basic principles is Relax Progressively. The idea is to relax as much as possible when responding to an attack, as this allows you not only to respond with more power, but to respond with more flexibility of both mind and body. Beginners can achieve results on their first night of practice when they realize that they are adding unnecessary tension while throwing, but even advanced students find that there are always more ways to relax, more fine muscles that can be released, more mental openness that can be achieved. Hence: relax progressively.

Yet, Maruyama Sensei emphasizes that "relax progressively" does not mean "relax completely." If you relax completely, you can't respond at all!

There are benefits to relaxing completely, just not when you are being attacked! Most people seldom relax fully, even in sleep. Over the long term, this inability to release physical stress can have many negative effects, like irritability, difficulty concentrating and difficulty sleeping, not to mention physical pain. The benefits of relaxation practice include, as you might imagine: better mood, ability to focus, a better night's rest, and a healthier body.

In yoga there's a practice called savasana (pron. sha-VAH-sa-na) and it's done at the end of every class, but it can be done any time. I once heard that Monty Python's John Cleese lay flat on his back on the floor of an auditorium for 10 minutes before giving a speech. Sounds like savasana to me!

Savasana is actually much more than lying on the floor and staring at the ceiling, even though that's what it looks like to an observer. It is usually "guided," especially for beginners. Listening to the vocal cues helps you to bring the attention of the mind to the body, to achieve a depth of relaxation that isn't possible without mind/body coordination. Some guided savasana uses visualization ("Imagine your stomach is a pool of warm liquid, and the warm liquid expands to fill your whole body"), some is more "practical" ("Relax your toes and feet, let the weight of gravity hold you up, now your calves..."). You can use "props" such as a pillow under your knees if your back hurts. There are many "how to's" on the Internet, and guided savasanas galore on YouTube, and I would recommend trying a few of these, finding one you like, if you have never done savasana before.

How long to practice savasana? You can do it for 5, 10, 15 minutes, even longer. I recommend at least five minutes. Some people get very enthusiastic and decide they will get the most benefit out of 15 or 20 minutes. But then they often decide they can't set aside that much time regularly, so they don't do it at all. Therefore I'd recommend somewhere in the middle.

If you try it and you feel better afterward, then maybe you can use it regularly to release stress. If you don't feel better afterward, let's talk.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Fast Forward

I was talking to a colleague the other day as we were heading home about how much we look forward to the weekend. I understand her feeling that way, especially as she has two young kids. But we both remembered the movie Click with Adam Sandler. The premise of the movie is a massive cliche, and maybe that's why it was so appealing. We all know it's true: if you get into the habit of "fast forwarding" your life, when it's over, what do you have?

I am working on a different habit, which is just to notice when I am thinking about the future. Some people tend to dwell on an imagined past, I tend to imagine and anticipate what will happen - all completely fabricated, of course! But if I can notice when I am doing this, I have a shot at being where I am, maybe if only for a microsecond.

I'm gonna keep trying.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Everything's Amazing Right Now and Nobody's Happy

Louis C.K.'s clip on Conan is pretty funny.

When I was a kid, we had a rotary phone. You had to stand next to it while you talked. Zeroes took a long time to dial. (Of course you only had to dial 7 numbers most of the time.) If we weren't home, the phone just rang and we had no idea someone had called.

While you were driving, you could not make a phone call. Nor could you listen to music except what was on the radio. That's not true, actually: when I was about 13 they invented 8-track tape. However, your kids could not watch a movie in the back seat of the van.  (They didn't have vans. They had station wagons.)

In fact, the only way to watch a movie was to go to the movie theater. Most towns had a movie theater that played one movie at a time.  If you wanted to see a film by Bergman, Bertolucci, or Truffaut, unless it happened to be on late night tv, basically you were SOL unless the local college had a film series. If you loved a movie (say, 2001) you went back that week and saw it as many times as you could afford to. Then it was gone forever.

After 2am there was no more TV. They played the Star Spangled Banner, showed a picture of the flag, and went off the air.

If you wanted money, you went into the bank, which was only open till 3pm. And when you ran out of money, that was it. You couldn't buy any more stuff.  Bank statements had to be balanced by hand. Using MATH.

If you went to another country, you were incommunicado. No one could afford to call you, and where would they call you, anyway? You would send postcards.

If someone had to write a scholarly paper or submit a proposal for a deadline, they had to make sure that it would get there in time via the mail.

So the next time you you get annoyed because your voice-to-text app misspells a word, stop a second...