Sunday, September 14, 2008

Be a Mountain

I am exploring a common thread in all aspects of my life, and this aspect is being like a mountain.

Mind body exercises are great because every movement, every session can be a metaphor for your life.


Master Ali asks me if I have any questions about the form I am working on. I reply that the main thing is I know there are things about my forms in general that I am unaware need fixing...this is code for tell me the one thing I need to work on in my practice.

Master Ali said that my motions were too tight and small. Tukong is a mountain form of martial arts. This means that movements are like climbing a mountain. Your motions should be big and definitive. While we learn other ways, we tend to practice in a big, solid way.

In contrast, there are times when you move in "beach" style. In this way your movements are small, and very close in. Picture walking up a mountain versuswalking in a big mushy beach with shifting sand.

I discussed when beach style was good versus mountain style. Master Ali showed me a few examples of each, but emphasized that my practice was too close. In fact, I had heard that from several black belts.

My Tukong movements were too constricted, too small.

Professional Development
Flash back to a couple of months ago. I had merged my Zero Waste Network with the UT Arlington Division for Enterprise Development. Our director was at a conference and wanted me to promote the Center for Environmental Excellence. I asked her to give me the vision.

She looked at me for a moment, and then said "you need to articulate the vision". This led to a discussion that basiclyamounted to my movements being small. I was looking at my small business unit, she wanted me to be looking, and assuming leadership for, the entire environmental program.

It was time to think big.

Inner Body Bright
Anusara Yoga teachers frequently use the term "inner body bright". Inner body bright is very hard to explain, but easy to see, and with focus, easy to do.

Take a moment and stand with your arms at your side.

Now picture a giant power field eminating from your core, out through your limbs, into your head, glowing out around your body. If you watch, you will see that your body will seem to swell up from the inside. You wil look bigger.

So in Yoga the other day I set the intention of "being the mountain", which in my mind is pretty much "inner body bright". The teacher Sanieh, actually noticed that something was up, and made a point of letting me know.

Be a Mountain
Being a mountain gives you an enormous amount of personal power and influence. People take notice of you when you are in a room. Setting the intention of being the mountain immediately begins a change in:

  • your posture, which gets taller.

  • your breath, begins to expand becase your lungs have lots of room to take in air,

  • your eyes tend to sparkle a little, and you are looking around,and seeing a whole valley

  • you tend to move decisively

  • you speak with conviction,

But not all the time

So why aren't we always being a mountain? Well, as in Tukong and Yoga, the mountain is not alway the bset way to move. When the path is uncertain, or we need to let others stand tall it is good to use 'beach style".

In martial arts, you change your energy constantly to seek advantage. You may be able to tower like a giant even when your opponent is bigger than you. But if both of you are being a mountain, it may be good to turn into a tight little stream and cut them in half.

Note that in martial arts mountain style is used to control the space. So, if you want others to speak, act, or express themselves in any way,back your mountain down for a while.

In my personal life being a mountain can be inspirational, but in some situations it is intimidating. I noticed this first in a supermarket. People were saying "excuse me" and not walking past me even when there was a lot of physical space around me. I could be looking at something in an asle that could hold three of me. People would stop as though I were blocking the whole aisle.

The certainty of your speaking can mislead people, giving them the impression you know what you are talking about when you are guessing. A friend of mine got irritated in Korea because he thought I knew where I was. In my mind I was saying "I think it is over there". He heard "it IS over there".

If you have had a long and intensely high energy yoga practice. Make sure you take a moment to go inside. Bring your energy back into your core and let it cool. Ashtanga practice always ends with a series of tight postures. This prepares you for final relaxation, and lets you get the maximum health benefits.

Big and Small

Scholars of the ancient Chinese game of strategy, Wei Qi (Go), willl tell you that all strategy is about knowing when to make a big move and when to make a small move. If you never make a big move you will be "living small". You may survive, but youwill be unsatisfied. However, people who move big all the time will have massive losses.

When you are on uncertain ground, revert to beach style. For instance, in business make sure you understand a contract before you step out on the sand. Ask many questions, examine each step closely. Once you sign it, the ground is firm execute the strength of a mountain.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Animals Animals Everywhere

Lately I am realizing how deep my immersion in martial arts and yoga has become. One symptom is the way I talk to my teachers. Here are some typical questions:
  • is that a pigeon pose?
  • should I go to dragon stance?
  • kind of like a one legged dog?
  • should we turn the head of the snake upward?
  • cobra, sphinx or upward dog?
  • a drunken monkey?

I swear these are all legitimate questions which were asked in perfect seriousness and got detailed responses.

In martial arts and yoga many of the poses and postures are modeled after animals, and the animals We spent about ten minutes discussig how to use our hand like a snake after class. We looked at how to bend our hand around poles, and move our hands upward or sideways in a shimmering motion.

As we discussed this I began to wonder:

  • Is it possible to take the anology too far? Obviously we are not pigeons, camels dragons or tigers, so why should we study their motions?
  • Animals are adapted to move certain ways, but the same laws of physics apply to them, so if we move our hands like a snake we can take advantage of the unique coiling motion of a snake. If we think of a tiger we can make our hands into claws that tear. If we think of a dog stretching out, we can get that angle in our upper back that feels soooooo good.

So the next time you are doing Cat/Cow, king pigeon, or a drunken monkey, think about how the animals move. At the very least it will bring some art and fun to your practice.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Off the Mat...Public Speaking

One thing I have brought from yoga is a connection between my mind and my body. Your posture influences your mood, and vice versa.

Consider public speaking. It is one of the most stressfull situations people can have. People rank fear of public speaking above fear of death.

So what is happening as you sit in a chair, waiting to be introduced? Your legs are folded in an unnaturally chair constricted posture that let's your quads shrink, and even atrophy.

These are your fight or flight muscles. When an alligator leaps out of the water these muscles need to fire up and carry you off the field. So your body is telling your mind that you are not ready to move. Your mind, in turn is telling your body that you are about to enter a dangerous situation. It is a feedback loop. You are about to expose yourself with no ability to fight or fly!

The trick I learned at a recent speaking engagement was to loosen these up these tense muscles. You will be cool, calm and relaxed as you speak. Just sit a little forward on your chair, and bend your leg to the floor. The top of your body will be unchanged, so people watching you sit at a table will simply see your upper body and a smile on your face. Meanwhile your quads are loosening allowing you to relax and prepare for a stressful situation.

And...if your speech is not well recieved.
You will be able to fight or fly!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

On and off the mat --- Relaxation Response

Today, I had a demonstration of something truly amazing. If you conquer your fears, and relax your anxiety, problems start to disapear!

Some may say this is mystical, but the explanation could be much more simple.

Case in point. On my way to a meeting today, and already running late.

RED LIGHT! At this point there is nothing to be done. Talk about pressure....I am sitting there, with a BIG ASS MEETING Coming up....SITTING IN THE CAR, WAITING ON A LIGHT!

Then I remembered the NPR show this morning. That if you elicited a relaxation response at a red light you could have a significant effect on your health.

Well, I was still pretty sure this light was going to make me late for the meeting, but at least I could arrive with low blood pressure, no rashes and not a trace of sweat (or other bodily fluids). So I

took a deep breath

The light changed, and I drove one block to anohter red light.

breath, calm

Three red lights later I was calm.

The funny thing. All those lights slowed me down less than ten minutes. I made the meeting, smelling and looking good, and a little early.

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

My Temper, My Quads

No doubt about it now, every time I get into a pose that stretches my quads I start to feel irritated. Liz was working on Hero pose (vira sana) and I was just getting more and more angry. It started with frustration (why cant I do this pose), then fear (is that my knee?) and ended with outright irritation (why in the HELL don't we do another pose....HERO AGAIN! C'MON LIZ, DO ANOTHER POSE

This by the way is a variation with the toes bent....(photo from Downward Blog)

I really wasn't being much of a hero.

So here is my conclusion.

1. I tend to sit in a pose, much like the one I am in now. Hips folded in an unnatural chair, psoas compressed, quadricepts tightening.

I do this all the time, and have done it for quite some time.

2. The hips are supposed to contain the fight or flight mechanism. Stetching that tight muscle releases aggression.

Liz mentioned that Hero pose does a really cool thing. It connects the heart to the core.

This got me thinking of a story Grandmaster Wonik Yi told us.

"There once was a region that the king wanted to collect taxes from, but the people were fearsome fighters. The king sent a general who had strength. One year later the people sent a basket to the king with the strong generals head in it.

So the king sent a general who was smart. For three years the rebellious region sent tribute. Then one year the tribute came with the smart generals head in it.

So the king sent a general with a strong heart. The next year, and forevermore the people of the region sent more tribute than was asked.

The moral is:
Strong body is weaker than strong mind
strong mind is weaker than strong heart."

So let's think about this hips to heart thing. What would a person who had mastered Hero Pose be like? The following is pure conjecture on my part, I could be completely wrong.

Mastering Hero's pose connects the heart to the core. Or the physical strenght to physical compassion.

If one could master this they would be powerful and loved for their power. They would have a lot of strength. Their strength would emenated from the Tan Tien (a.k.a. the root lock manipura). This area holds the power that is projected in martial arts moves.

If I can master this pose (and apply the principle at all times) I can be cool under pressure
I can avoid conflict out of compassion, but never from fear
When I do enter conflict I could do so without anger, maintaining my awareness, emotional stability and strenght all at once.

This is very exciting.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

class attendance - Yoga Yoga, Repost from Myspace

I just figured out that I have access to my class attendance records at yogayoga

I took my first yoga class at Yoga Yoga with Kewal on March 7, 2006 at noon. Since then I have taken 345 classes, averaging 13.2 classes per month, or about every other day for two years. I tend to go every day, but have breaks when I travel.

My favorite class is by far Hatha (41%), I also took a lot of beginners Hatha (23%) and Hatha flow (20%). I went to Ashtanga about 7% of the time. If you don't know Ashtanga from hatha, here is a guide to the classes.

My most frequently attended teachers kind of suprised me. I really take advantage of the diversity of teachers at yoga yoga. I have taken a lot of teachers for two or three classes. Over 30% of my attendance was to a teacher I only took a few times. The number of times I went to a teacher doesn't relate closely to how much I learned or enjoyed the class.

I know I ussually pick a class because of the time, type of class, my schedule, how sore I am from other exercise and my level of energy. Teacher is about the third thing I look at. Nevertheless, some teachers consistently rose to the top and that isn't coinciedence. These teachers shaped my practice and taught me a lot.

My top teachers were:

Mandy 12%

Liz B and Sapphire with 8%

Gundega, Larrisa, Pamela B. and Chuck (5%)

I think Mandy is on top as much because of her regularity, and the amount of time she has been teaching as any other reason. Mandy is a great teacher, has taught for the past two years and teaches a lot different time slots. In contrast, Gundega who I have recently been going to has only had a few classes for about a year. Liz B. has had extended absences but would probably be the teacher who has the deepest effect on my practice.

I took classes through two marathons, countless martial arts classes, injury, sickness, S T R E S S and MORE STRESS, I even found it comforting the day my dog died.

I still can't do a headstand, full wheel (for very long), stick my toes up my nose and kiss my ass, but I think I am getting stronger and more flexible every week. I have learned to look deep in my body, align my muscles, heal sore achy muscles. In combination with martial arts I have increased my ability to balance immensely. I can relax under extraordinary circumstances, and deal with my emotions much better than before. On a more mystical level I can feel the flow of Prana (also known as "Chi", or "Ki").

I am very glad to have incorporated yoga into my life, and highly recomend Yoga Yoga to anyone in Austin.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Appropriate Use of Force

For the past two days we have been reviewing a series of joint locking techniques. These techniques consist of trapping some part of the body, like the elbow, shoulder, wrist or thumb. When you feel these techniques even lightly applied your knees turn to jello. If force is applied to that one small part of the body the whole body just melts, and in that moment you can lead your opponent wherever you want.

The key is learning how to apply that force at just the right angle with perfect timing. I was practicing one today and I went left instead of right; I noted this worked fine since I still controlled the person and my elbow was in a perfect position for a strike. Shaval (the instructor) however was not going to let me off that easy; he noted that from the position we started I had a number of strikes available to me.

"If someone grabs you with both hands" he said "I am grateful because both my hands are free to strike his face
with each word he showed a strike.

"The point is not to break our friends nose here, but to control them"


A true martial artist has a large arsenal at his disposal for any situation. He can launch a debilitating kick, or simply escape the grasp. In this case we apply pressure to a tiny joint and basically arrest their movement. This is the essence of martial arts.

We are not street fighters who simply seek to win a conflict. We are artists who turn conflict into art; the ideal outcome could be no conflict at all.

If someone grabs you what is the best response?
Escape their grasp?
Strike the arm so they release and think twice?
Lock their weak joints and bring them to the ground?
Strike them so hard that they are permenantly injured?

A fighter always goes to the last option, they seek to fight and win. The artists will instantly apply the correct response.

This is why we must train our philosophy and hearts as much as our body. If we only go around hitting people at every conflict then you are probably going to eventually wind up in jail or the hospital; not to mention unnecessary pain you inflict on others. Yet only with a lack of fear and complete awareness can we react with the correct response.

We must use our art to get the desired outcome. Applying a small amount of force to a weak point.

Introducing....The Psoas

The purpose of the psoas is to lift the leg to the body, or move the body towards the leg. Both functions were adequately explored in the last two Anyusara Hatha Yoga classes I took.

This muscle tends to tighten and shorten in long periods of sitting. I have come to believe that this tightening leads to a feeling of stress and anxiety.

Releasing this muscle can greatly lower you stress.

Strengthening and increasing it's flexibility has some rather obvious advantages for martial artists. Most notably getting into a front stance, or long stance (ap kubi).

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Three moves in a form

Master Ali helped us with forms. I can tell I am improving because this time he waited until the first move to offer correction. The last time he started at "ready position". The higher your rank the more exacting the instruction becomes. There is no end to the detail.


Liz worked on headstands last night. I am getting there, I can almost kick-up without assistance. I can't tell if it is that I lack the strength to get my legs (and ass) up or if I need to overcome fear of tipping over. I do know that I can hover tentatively for a moment before clunking back to the ground.

Monday, July 21, 2008

Letting Go

One of my current philosophical challenges is to maintain my desire and drive without getting attached to something.

Does that make sense to anyone else?

Two Steps Back, better than One Step Forward

There is an old saying:
"It is better to become the passive
in order to see what will happen.
It is better to retreat a foot
than to advance only an inch."

This is called
being flexible while advancing,
pushing back without using force,
and destroying the enemy without engaging him.

There is no greater disaster
than underestimating your enemy.
Underestimating your enemy
means loosing your greatest assets.
When equal forces meet in battle,
victory will go to the one
that enters with the greatest sorrow.

- Tao Te Ching Chapter 69

At the end of Tukong Moosul today Master Ali said that the school used to recite a saying at the end of every class.

"It is better to take two steps back than one forward".

He said that the obvious intention of this was if someone wanted a fight it is better to step back, rather than rush in.

Martial Application

Other classes have emphasized how to keep your guard up, while appearing passive. It is very funny to see my fellow Tukong students in some of these postures as they talk to each other. I was in a coffee shop talking to one of the black belts and he dropped into one of these stances. I adopted the same posture and we had a little private laugh. To the outside observer it looked like we were just standing there yacking.

These postures are good for "two steps back". I had a friend who worked in psychotic wards and he learned how to stand in a calm posture that would allow him to talk to psychotic patients; it was the same thing, the posture allowed him to block and avoid a number of attacks without seeming confrontational.

My Experience

So far I have never had to use my Martial Arts to hurt someone. It is an opportunity I hope I never have; but prepare for every day.

However, I have had a number of people confront me in threatening ways. I have found that my attitude and demeaner often defuse a situation. I simply look the person directly in the eyes, without tensing the muscles, calmly, and without fear. Very few hotheads will go off on you if you adopt this demeaner.

It is not easy to take two steps back. Once an angry guy cussed me out in Best Buy for no reason other than I was standing in the aisle looking at something. "Get your ass out of the way!" he shouted.

I turned and looked at him.

"You better get your ass out of the WAY!"

I stared at him.

"y' you shouldn't stand there"

and he walked off.

Part of me was afraid; he was a big guy
another part enraged; I could have hurt him

But mostly I was proud to have stood up to his threats, making violence uneccesary. If I had backed down I would have felt weak, defeated, and probably would allow myself to be bullied in other less threatening situations. Further, the thug would have been more likely to threaten others and may have wound up doing something stupid. But if I had fought him, what would I have gained?

In the words of General Tzu

" Move not unless you see an advantage; use not your
troops unless there is something to be gained; fight not unless
the position is critical."

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Dinosaur Tail

Sometimes the practice of a mind body exercise elicits humor. I particuarly find myself laughing in hatha yoga classes.

Take last week when Rebecca was teaching a hatha beginners class. We were doing a pose called cat/cow, and she wanted us to loosen up our hips. Her instruction was

"imagine you have a great big dinosaur tail behind you" she continued to say "now wag your tail back and forth, but not fast, smoothly, remember it is a dinoaur tail"

I started guffawing. The thought of everyone in that class having a dinosaur tail. I saw great big brontosaurus tails sticking out. Then my mind went through a series of images:

  • women worrying that their dinosaur tails were too big

  • J Lo and Beyonce got some good dinosaur tails

  • It would be so nice to have a dinosaur tail when standing, you could sit back on it.

  • it would be really cool in sparring and wrestling adding a whole new limb to your body

  • Let's see, in downward dog it would point out at a 45 degree angle, in half moon it would go straight up, in tree it would wrap arount you, full wheel would be interesting

It just went on and on. In fact, I walked around the rest of the day with a big dinosaur tail.

About Mind and Body

This is a blog for exploring martial arts and yoga. I plan to fill this blog with insights of my mind that are gained through the physical practice of Tookung Moosul and Yoga.