Feeling the Body

One of the things I talk alot about and do alot of is try to feel my body.
Generally, the better I put my attention into feeling my body, noticing the relationships between the parts, the better I can operate it or respond to what I sense. As an example, practicing Tai Ji recently, I’ve been practicing relaxing my body more and more as I do the movements of the form I am practicing. Specifically I’ve been focusing on my hands because they are a week spot in my sphere of awareness. Feeling my hands as I practice, I notice my wrists and my fingers and I do my best to relax them given the action that I am doing. Relaxing my hands more and more I notice that it affects the rest of my body. But also it affects my awareness itself. I feel like I am then led to sense my feet or reminded to. Sensing my feet in the same way that I use my hands I can then practice making my steps very soft, smooth and deliberate. I can gently touch the floor and as I feel part of my foot touch down then I can commit my weight to that foot. Not only that I can do so in such a way that my weight presses down through the center of my foot.
The interesting thing is the better I focus my weight through my foot the better my foot can support my weight. With my weight properly centered over which ever foot I am on my foot can relax even though it is bearing weight, it can relax in such a way that it naturally supports my weight without even seeming to try. It’s as if I’ve aligned the bones with each other and rather than an external instruction, “point the knee in the direction of the toes” it is alignment driven by feeling my body from inside. It is natural alignment that occurs as a result of letting go.
Aligning my feet from “inside my body” it is then easier to find the natural alignment for the rest of my body. Feeling my hips at the same time as I feel my feet I can operate my legs in such a way that my feet and hips (and knees) find the best position possible given the action that I am trying to accomplish. With my legs naturally positioned it is then that much easier to straighten my spine and relax the muscles of my back. Even if my goal wasn’t to straighten my spine, perhaps to make it “neutral” the better my base is the easier it is for me to control my spine. Not just my spine but the parts that it is made up of including the pelvis, ribcage and head.
With my spine aligned, my head and ribcage are both affected as are the shoulders. My shoulders can then rest on the ribcage and hang from my head, relaxed yet supported and in turn then able to support my arms with the help of my head and neck.
In Tai Ji one of the reasons we try to relax the body is that it is then easier to feel it. Also, the more relaxed we are the less energy we use. Also, the more relaxed we are the easier it is to respond, to control our body with a minimum of effort.
Not only that, the more relaxed we are the easier it is for all the parts of the body to work well together. That translates to smoothness in action. When the parts of the body are all connected, they can act as one and then we can flow from one action to the next.
How do I apply the same idea outside of Tai Ji?
Feeling my body while riding a motorcycle, if I really am feeling my body I’ll notice how I go around corners. Recently I realized that while riding a bicycle I wasn’t using the handlebars to turn. Instead I was leaning my body which caused the handlebars to turn which in turn caused me and the bike to go around the corner. However, if I wanted better control I needed to use my arms to turn the handlebars while allowing my weight to shift at the same time. Applying this to riding a motorbike, if I feel my body I can feel if my arms have room to move, i.e. if my elbows are bent enough to allow me to turn the handlebars. Not only that, I can feel if I am holding unnecessary tension. If I can let it go then that my whole body can work together and it can work with the bike. My body and the bike can then become one.
What allows me to feel my body? Relaxing, but even before that choosing to direct my awareness in such a way that I notice the parts of my body and how they relate.
Riding a bike that means noticing where my center is in relationship to the bike by noticing how my sitting bones press down. It also means feeling my body and the bike as I go around corners, noticing what I do with my arms (are they turning the handlebars) and my weight (am I shifting it into the corner so that I am balanced?)
Feeling the parts of my body and more importantly noticing how they relate to each other and whatever I am connected to I can respond to what I sense.

Leading with a Clear Idea of what we are trying to Do

In an interview with Leo Babatua, the author of Zen Habits, Tim Ferris quotes Herb Keleher, the CEO of Southwest Airlines as one of his inspirations. According to Tim Herb says that anyone could be the CEO of Southwest by asking this simple question-will this help us to be the lowest cost airline? This statement is so simple that it stunned me. It was a simple way of saying what I am trying to do with my book and this website. Help my readers become CEO’s of their lives, but not just their lives, every thing in it. (Note, I’m not sure if Herb said this or not but check out this website and see what you think.)

What does a CEO do? He leads the company with a clear idea of where they are trying to go or what they are trying to do. He gives the company and everyone in it direction. And so that he or she can do that they look at the options and choose from among them. And if there are no options, if there is only a single way to get ahead, then they sense that way and lead their followers along that path. It may be the path of least resistance, or the path of maximum benefits for everyone involved. In either case or any case, they provide the glue that keeps all of the parts of the company together. They give each part direction and purpose so that as a whole the company works well. Each part is useful and is used.
Now if everyone in Southwest Airlines shared this simple idea, they would for the most part be able to lead themselves. They would still be a part of Southwest, they would still be helping to make it the lowest cost airline but instead of having to ask Herb they could ask themselves and so lead themselves.
And if the idea changes, if instead of wanting to be the cheapest, they wanted to be the sexiest or the fastest, then so long as this simple change is transmitted clearly to every part of the organization, then the organization can continue to function effectively only this time as a whole it is working towards being the fastest or the sexiest.

So before we go any further, lets talk a little about idea. In the terms of this book and this website an idea is anything that can create a change when it connects to another idea. What do I mean by that? As an example, riding my motorcycle this morning I realized that the motorcycle is an idea. Why? Because when I connected to it, when I got on it to ride it, the motorcycle changed me. Instead of a pedestrian I became a rider, someone able to get to places fast. Getting off the bike I changed again, I became a person again. The macbook pro that I am using to type with is an idea. In this instance it changes me from a person to a writer. And guess what. I change it. Instead of just being a computer, now it is being used. It’s potential is being realized. Likewise, the bike changed when I got on it to ride. It was able to go places because I was operating it. We can thus think of ourselves as ideas too. We don’t have to though. If you don’t like thinking of yourself as an idea then don’t. I like to think of myself as an idea because at any moment in time I can ask myself the question, what is the idea of what I am trying to be at this moment in time. It’s not that I am any one single idea, or maybe I am. but perhaps I am the big idea of Neil Keleher that is made up of the smaller, but not insignificant, ideas of bike rider, writer, father, husband, yoga teacher etc…

So now lets talk about ideas other than ourselves. lets talk about ideas that we can use to lead with. Riding a bike I lead with the idea of getting from A to B or perhaps I am trying to get around a track as fast as possible. Writing this book, or in this case, this article, I am trying to introduce you to notions that will help make your life easier. Basic Principles that can be used in any aspect of life so that you can get on with doing what you are trying to do. You could be leading a company or you could be part of a company trying to do the best job you can. You could be a writer, a martial artist, part of a family or part of a rock band. You could be leading your body with the idea of a yoga pose or a Tai Ji movement. By knowing the idea of what you are trying to do you can get on with doing it and whether you are leading yourself, someone else, a team, a company, an inanimate object, knowing the idea of what you are trying to do you can get on and do it in the best way possible. You don’t even have to ask if what you are doing is efficient or not, if it is helping you do the idea of what you are trying to do, then what you are doing is useful and thus not a waste. Even if you are learning and making mistakes in the process, if you learn from those mistakes, if you experience them then that experience can help you with the idea of what you are trying to do.

Now if this seems too simple or perhaps not detailed enough I believe you are right. Just having an idea isn’t enough. If I want to ride a bike I have to learn how. If I want to lead a company, or create one, I need to put all the parts together and I need to know what each part does.
A motorcycle is a big idea made up of all sorts of small ideas that work together so that bike as a whole functions well. The same (ideally) with a company, and the same with our body. Each part is an idea in and of itself. Each part of a company, of our body, of a bike, each part has a specific function. That function is what defines the idea. That function is what enable the small idea to function as part of the big idea. It is all the small ideas together that make a big idea work.
When the small ideas in a motorbike are connected they create a change, together they create the big idea of a bike and when someone gets on a bike and turns the ignitiion on, more change is created.
Likewise with a company, when all the parts of a company connect, and when someone comes along with an idea of someplace to go, then that company can go places.

Here’s another look at ideas. As you hopefully have seen, ideas can be broken down into smaller ideas. This doesn’t just apply to the idea of companies or motorbikes or the idea of our bodies, this also applies to the ideas of things that we have to do. As an example, again from the Leo Babauta/Tim Ferris interview, Tim says that he does three workouts a day. What a workout, a way of improving or maintaining the fitness of the body. We can go to the gym once a day and have a one, two or even a three hour workout, or we can break our workout down into the smaller parts that make it up. We might do this anyway. Going to the gym we might spend 20 minutes doing cardio and then 20 minutes of weights and then 20 minutes of stretching and cooling down. Now if instead of doing cardio as a warm up and stretching as a cool down, if instead we view these as exercises in their own right, we could go to the gym three times in one day and on each visit work on any one of these ideas. Or we could break the weight workout into different ideas. Perhaps one part of our workout is upper body and the other part lower body. We could then go to the gym and do upper body weights followed by stretching and then when we go back, do cardio followed by lower body weights and stretching.
Notice how each of these “small ideas” has a purpose. Wether an idea is a big idea (leading a company) or a small idea, the thing that makes an idea useful is understanding what it does. In the case of working out the lower body we are making the legs, knees and hips all stronger or more mobile or a little bit of both.
Going back to Leo’s blog, when he got that started in the process of creating it everything he did was led by a clear idea of what Zen Habits is. Peaceful and Simple. In one of his blogs he writes about how he responds to people who make him angry. He asks himself if he is in line with what his blog is about. It’s not to say that he doesn’t get angry. I’m sure he does, but he doesn’t let that anger affect his writing or his blog. He is leading himself with a clear idea of what he is trying to do. As a result all of his readers can see this and choose to follow him. Why? Because the idea of what he is trying to do is very clear and visible for all to see.

Imagine leading anything that we do with a clear idea of what we are trying to do.

Now, if we aren’t doing what are we “doing” instead? Well, then we could simply be watching the doing of everyone and everything around us. Or we could be resting from doing and enjoying the fact that we have done something. Or we could be thinking about what we would like to do.

Flexible Finking… or Thlexible Thinking

One of the things that I practice is “The Dance of Shiva.”
It exercises both the mind and the body, improves balance, coordination and in general can make you smarter.
One of the ways I like to think about it is as an exercise for practicing possibilities.
Like Tai Ji each movement has a specific intent but rather than being martial in nature dance of shiva derives its intent from the position of the hands. In the eight main hand positions a hand is either horizontal with the palm upwards or it is vertical with the palm facing outwards. The intent is then to keep the palm in either type of position or move it from one “plane” to the other. The practicing possibility part comes in because there are a total of 64 different hand positions. The goal of this dance is to learn and then practice connecting each of these 64 positions to any of the other 63 positions. And rather than saying that one move is harder than the other, all this practice involves is simply practicing each of the moves until we can do them freely, without thinking and without effort. Then as we learn more and more of these connecting moves we become freer and freer to dance among them.
As much as I love the practice of the Dance of Shiva I don’t always practice it and my excuse is that I am trying to lead my life as an actual practice of the dance. I’m exercising possibility in the way that I live.
As an example, we’ve been a bit short of cash this month. It’s got to the stage where I had to ask my aunt for a loan and she was kind enough to give it to me. My original intent was to use the money to pay of credit card debt and then pay her back.
Well, we just got the money and my wife’s phone bill is past due. Should I use my aunts money to pay for the phone bill or not?
When I got the money I decided not to use it to pay for credit card debt. Rather I considered it an investment. I would only use it to adverse my books when they are ready. Then, if I actually sold the books then I could use the income generated to pay of credit card debt and then pay back my aunt. Anyway, paying of my wife’s phone bill seemed contrary to this plan and despite the attractiveness of her having the use of her phone, I decided instead on another plan.
I would try the best that I could to pay of debt from my paycheck which arrives this Friday. Meanwhile If she really needed a phone, like say if she did get that real estate customer she is talking about, then she can just use my phone. It’s not as if I use it all of the time anyway.
What I am trying to show here is that there are always options and that is what dance of shiva is about exploring the options so that we can choose freely from among them.
How do I practice dance of shiva without actually doing it, by learning to see in terms of options or possibilities. What are the ways we can do this? As opposed to “what is the way that we have to do this?” or “what is the way that I’ve always done this?”

The website is just getting started but you can have a peak at some of what the Dance of Shiva is at thedanceofshiva.com.

The Coffee Grinder

On one occasion I was at a coffee shop sitting at the counter while one of the staff was in the process of calibrating the stores two grinding machines. There are various degrees of grind ranging between fine and course for various types of coffee machines.
The guy was making sure that when each machine was set to “fine” the grind it actually put out was “fine” as opposed to extra fine, or what was more likely the case, ” really coarse.” Over time and use machines like grinders tend to go slightly out of wack so they need checking are recalibrating regularly.
I watched as he put beans in both machines with both machines set to the same setting. He was talking as he did this, explaining what he was doing to anyone who was listening.
He then poured some of the ground coffee from each machine onto a paper towel, side by side. Even “eye balling the grind” from a distance it was obvious that the grinds from each machine were considerably different.
He proceeded to dismantle one machine and then the other so that he adjust them. In the process, he forgot which pile of coffee corresponded to which machine.
I had left before I had a chance to see what he ended up doing.
Part of my thought thinking back to this instance is that when we are trying to create change it can be a good idea to only change one thing at a time. We know what we are trying to change and it is easy to see when we get the change that we desire. By only changing one thing at a time the things that we don’t change provide a reference for us to measure the change we have created. It is then easy to see if the change we are making is in the right direction or the wrong direction. Back to the coffee machine example, we could then see if the adjustment we made was actually making the coffee even coarser than we wanted or if it was making it finer as we desire.
Another point is that when we are creating change, the more present we are the more engaged in what we are doing the easier and quicker we can create the change that we want. In the above example, if he had been focusing on what he was doing instead of talking to the customers, the mistake probably wouldn’t have happened. Even better, if he had worked on one machine at a time this mix up would not have happened. He could have fine tuned one machine, got it working well so that it put out the correct grind and then he could have worked on the second machine. In each case he could have had a “reference grind” some ground coffee in a bag that he knew to be the correct size for a “fine grind” and one at a time he could have adjusted each machine so that they put out the same size grind as this reference grind.
That being said, I still go back to the same place whenever I get the chance.

Be Water, Be Like Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee says “be like water.” How can we be like water? Water is soft and fluid so that when poured into a cup, bottle, teapot or other container it adapts itself to the shape of the container. An important question to ask is why does it do this. Because of gravity. Water flows because gravity pulls it and because it is soft and relaxed.
How can we become like water, by relaxing. By feeling the weight of our bones and letting them sink down.

It’s been a Bruce Lee week. A few days ago I was in a martial arts class and someone said that Bruce Lee was born in America. An argument ensued and afterwards a friend found on the net that Bruce had indeed been born in America.
Later this same week Leo Babauta posts an article about Bruce Lee on his web site. (actually its a guest post by a Jonathan Mead)
That same day I take my bike to the shop to get the chain replaced. When I return to pick up my bike a friend is there playing on the computer. He is watching a YouTube video of Bruce Lee playing ping pong with nunchucks. Apparently it may not be real but still would I be surprised if he really could have played ping pong with a set of nunchucks?

It was incredible to watch and it might beg the question how did he do it. Obviously practice is a huge component of how he did what he did but I believe that a larger part is due to him being able to sense his body so that he could relax it. The same awareness that he applied to being able to sense his body he could then apply when encountering things outside of his body. Sensing his body and relaxing it and then sensing the motion of a ping pong ball he could respond in such a way that he could return the ball to the person he is playing.
Of course he didn’t just sense the ball and his body (and perhaps the intent of the person hitting the ball) but he also sensed the weapon he was using, the nun chucks. Sensing all of these things and keeping his body as relaxed as possible he could respond in any way he chose.

The subject of this post occurred to me this morning after I had just finished a very good Tai Ji practice. I realized that the practice had been one of my better ones because I had been so relaxed.
How did I know the practice was a good one? Because of the way I felt afterwards and even during the practice. The movements felt easy, light and effortless and all the parts of my body felt unified as if they were working together towards a shared goal. Afterwards I simply felt good, energized, happy.
How did I relax? By feeling my body. For me that means feeling the weight of my bones being pulled down by gravity. It also means lifting my arms or my legs with the absolute minimum amount of effort necessary to do what I am trying to do. Moving slowly while doing Tai Ji it is pretty easy then to sense tension and let it go.
It’s as if I am a marrionet with each piece of my body hanging down from a string but the puppet master is so good that there is just a little bit of tension at each of my joints so that rather than loosely connected bits of wood bouncing around my body is one connected whole moving smoothly from one position to the other.
Doing tai ji, the more I relax the more I feel tense spots and more I can let go. And while I might practice moving slowly I feel like I can keep the same relaxed awareness and ability to respond when I move faster. It’s like I’m riding my body like a wave and my body flows smoothly from one pose to another.
How do I flow, by staying relaxed and feeling my body and responding to what I sense.

Sensing tension I respond to what I sense by either relaxing the muscle that is tense or my repositioning my body as necessary so that it can relax. Sensing our body as well as what is outside of our body we can do something similar, we can respond to what we sense by moving our body based on the idea of what we are trying to do. Using nun chucks to hit back a ping pong ball, sensing our body and where the ping pong is going to be, we can respond to what we sense by moving our body in such a way that we cause the end of our nun chuck to co-locate with the ping pong ball, hitting it back where we want it to go.

Doing yoga, doing Tai Ji, doing weight lifting, running, body weight exercises, the more we sense our body the better we can respond to what we sense and the better we can do what we are trying to do. It’s as if the thing we are doing is the shape of a glass and we become water by flowing into the shape of what we are doing.

About

Zero Parallax is the term I use to describe the state where we understand an idea completely. The idea can be that of our body or of something outside of our self. The idea can be something that helps to unite us with the person we are with.

Sharing a Point of View

I first learned about Parallax in Chemistry class. We had to learn how to measure quantities of chemicals accurately. What was important was how we related to the instrument when we took our readings. Also important was having an instrument that could measure accurately.
Measuring liquid into a graduated beaker we had to stand so that our line of sight was level with the measurement graduations so that we measured consistently. If all of us in the class adopted the same position taking turns to measure using the same beaker we would all see the same results.
Now if we all measured at a viewing angle of 30 degrees we would also all get the same results. The measurements would be wrong, but we’d all be wrong in the same way.
However, if one of us measured at an angle of zero degrees and another of us measured at an angle of 30 degrees then we would all have different results measuring the same thing.
The point was to be consistent.
To be consistent we had to share a point of view, we had to measure at zero degrees. The “error” we got when we made a measurement not at zero degrees is called parallax.
If we all measured at zero degrees then we have a state of Zero Parallax, zero viewing error. We all relate to the same thing in the same way.

Calibrating for Viewing Error

Looking at the old fashioned types of clocks with hands and a face instead of a digital readout we can stand directly in front of the clock and see that it is 12 o’clock. However if we stand to the left enough 12 o’clock actually looks like 12:02. Not a big difference but enough if we have to be somewhere else in one minute’s time.
Understanding that when we stand to the side we introduce viewing error we can take this viewing error into account. We can stand to the side of the clock, notice what it looks like it is saying then shift so that we are standing in front of the clock to see what it is actually saying. Then whenever we stand at the side we know what time it actually is despite our viewing angle. We can calibrate for viewing error.
When we understand the clock and how our relationship to the clock changes the time we see we can take our relationship to the clock into account when we read it. Being able to take our relationship to the clock into account we no longer have to be directly in-front of the clock to see the right time. We don’t have to move to see the correct time because we have taken the time to calibrate for different positions.
Understanding where our self or anyone else is standing with respect to what we are looking and how our relationship affects what we see we can zero parallax.

Knowing Where we are Sitting in the Plane

A friend who is a pilot told me about zero parallax in the context of flying.
A pilot has to be aware of their position relative to the instruments so that they can account for viewing error. They can then zero parallax.
Because they are sitting off of the plane’s center line they also have to be aware of their relationship relative to the aircraft.
Looking out the window they have to know where they are in the plane so that they can align it with the direction they are going in, so they can trim it. To do that they have reference points on the airplane that they can use to align the plane with the direction they are going in. These are the points they use to calibrate themselves with straight ahead. They know that when they use these points to line the plane up it will actually be flying straight ahead and lined up with straight ahead.
This is especially important when landing.
Now suppose a beginner pilot gets comfortable flying from one side of the aircraft but then they have to switch positions and learn to fly from the other seat.
They then have to learn new reference points.
However once these points are learned they can then fly the plane from either seat.
Knowing where they are in the plane they can account for their position and fly the plane straight. It’s like they are centered in the plane even though they are positioned to the side. They are centered in the airplane because they are aware of how they relate to it.

Matching Words with Meaning

If two people are flying together, one flies, working the controls of the plane; connected to the plane, the other does the navigating; connected to the earth. And they connect to each other by working out a means of communicating so that they can share information, when it is needed. If the connection, the language they use, is good, then they can communicate with zero parallax, zero error. The words match the same meaning for both the sender and the receiver. The words become their meaning so that when the navigator tells the pilot where they are or which direction they need to go, the pilot has an image of what is coming up as if they are seeing it with their own eyes. And when the pilot asks the navigator for a specific piece of information, the navigator knows, exactly what the pilot needs.
They become one with each other and the plane they are in.
Part of it is the words that we use, using words that match their meaning, part of it is both of parties knowing exactly where they are, in relationship to each other and in relationship to what they are doing. Part of it is sharing the same idea for what they are trying to do.
Being able to account for parallax, we see the limits within which we can move and we freely move within them.

Dealing with Life’s Hassles

A baby isn’t necessarily a hassle but it can be a challenge when you are trying to get things done or do some of the things that we enjoy. Leo Babauta wrote an entry about dealing with disruption here.
My own feelings are that if time is limited because of disruptions then we may have to choose one thing that we really want to get done.
As an example, for a while I was learning Chinese, doing calligraphy, writing a book and teaching yoga all while having a house, partner and child to pay for.
Plus I wanted to continue to do Tai Ji and also learn Jiu Jitsu and maybe occasionally hang out with friends while also looking after the baby on occasion so that my partner can do the same.
(We haven’t quite got to the stage where we can afford day care but we’re working towards it.)
For myself I decided to temporarily drop the Chinese and focus on writing my book. Actually, I finished one book and am now working on two others that complement each other. Both are on subjects that I know alot about and in one case the book is already written I’ve just got to revise it and add photos.
You may not be writing a book. Maybe one of the activities you choose to focus on is getting ready for the marathon, or going to the gym, or working on the business. So that you can get things done the easiest thing possible is to break the big things you have to get done into smaller meaningful tasks. Writing a book I focus on chapters or pages or sections on a time. Sections that overall have some purpose. Then it is easy for me to recognize when I am done. And those times when I don’t get done, when I have to stop because of a disruption or because of limited time finished, because I am aware of what I am trying to do it is easy to pick up where I left off and continue with what I am doing.
It may be harder to train for a marathon this way. You simply need those long runs. So what do you do. Use the opportunity of not running to take a rest. Or you can use it to visualize yourself running. Feel your body as you run and imagine the feeling you would like to have. Feel the weight of your bones as you carry them forwards a step at a time. Feel the way your ribcage and belly move as you breathe. Notice where your eyes are looking as you run. Make the experience as real as possible even if only for a few minutes at a time.
What if you are working on losing weight. Then divide your workout into smaller units. Work out for fifteen minutes at a time. Find 5 yoga poses or tai ji postures you can do in fifteen minutes or less. Then find another group of postures. Ideally these postures complement each other so that you finish them feeling balanced and better than before you started. Breaking big tasks into smaller ones it is easy to get things done.
Also another practice is un-tightening your mind. Instead of resenting every moment lost, accept it and do what you are doing. It may actually be only in our minds that we haven’t got time. If we focus on doing what we are doing, changing diapers, feeding the baby, discussing things with our partner, then if we focus on that act then we are using time to the best of our ability and then when it comes time to do what we want to do we are already in the right headspace for doing it.