Yin and Yang-Sensing Energy and Controlling It

Yin and Yang are relative terms that can be used to describe how one thing compares or relates to another, or to describe different aspects of the same thing. Understanding yin and yang we can create balance in what we are creating or doing. We can also use yin and yang “analysis” as a way of understanding what we are doing so that we can then create balance.

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Transmitting Change

In computer systems, wires can be used to deliver electricity from one place to another.

Within our body Meridians serve that purpose, helping to transmit change from one part of ourselves to another.

Where connection allows change to happen, disconnection prevents it.

The connective tissue of our body comprises a network that connects bones, muscle and organs, all interlinked in our body’s version of a world wide web. It also houses energy channels called meridians much the same way phone lines and cable lines connect and contain the parts of the internet.

Rather than just transmitting change in the form of electricity (or bio-electricity or qi) this network also transmits change via tension. That tension is applied and released by our bodies’ skeletal muscle.

By learning to sense and control whether our muscles are active or relaxed, by learning to feel the weight of our bones and position them with respect to the forces acting on themm, we can control and vary the tension in our body and thus effect the state of the meridians. We can sense change and create it, at the same time directing the flow of energy within ourselves via the connective tissue of our body and the meridians within those tissues.


Yin and Yang- Sensing Energy and Controlling it

If we think of energy, change or information as equivalents, different forms of each other, we can use the terms “Yin” and “Yang” to denote the direction that change is flowing in relative to ourselves.

We can also use Yin and Yang to refer to the flow of change relative to something outside of ourselves.

If we think of energy in the guise of information as something that we can sense and something that we can respond to, we can also use the term Yin to refer to sensing the flow of energy into ourselves and the term Yang to denote controlling or directing the flow of energy out of ourselves.

Using our senses we take note of the energy or information moving within ourselves or beyond ourselves. We can then shape the energy we send out in response.

Sensing is yin while controlling or responding is yang. Both of them together allow us to handle change or shape it.

Whether energy is moving from outside of ourselves to inside of ourselves, or whether it is moving from one place to another within ourselves, if we sense this flow then that sensing ability can be defined as Yin. Our response is Yang.

One interesting thing to note, the better we sense the energy we send out, the better we can fine tune the energy we continue to send out based on what we are trying to do. The better we direct the way we use our senses the more we can choose the information we take in so that it is relevant to what we are trying to do.

Thus while we can think of sensing as mostly yin, we can direct the way we use our senses which is Yang. And while we can think of controlling or responding as mostly Yang, we can sense the way that we respond which is Yin.


Having a Clear Idea

In each case, the thing that ties together Yin and Yang, helps them to work together is that of having a clear idea of what we are trying to do.

Having a clear idea of what we are trying to do we can direct  the way we use our senses And we can then Sense the way we respond based on that clear idea.

  • Inwards, sensing in Yin.
  • Outwards, controlling is Yang.
  • Energy, information or change is what we sense and control.

If we don’t have a clear idea of what we are trying to do then we can practice having a clear idea.
We can also practice sensing the parts of our body and controlling the relationships between them.

A clear idea is what we use to direct the way we use our senses and control what we do. Having a clear idea of what we are trying to do is what ties together and directs our ability to sense our body and control it so that we can create change and handle it. Having a clear idea we can unify yin and yang.

Understanding what we are trying to do we can use our senses and respond to what we sense based on the idea of what we are trying to do. The better we can use our senses and the better we can control our responses the better we can handle change and the better we can create it.

We can Dance in the Sea of Change.

Learning to Stretch-Practicing Sensitivity and Control

Relaxing a muscle and contracting it are both aspects of controlling our body. We can improve our ability to stretch our muscles, activate them and strengthen them by learning to feel our muscles and control them. We can focus feeling the belly of the a muscle since this is the part that does the work. We can also learn to feel our bones and the points of attachment between muscle and bones.

Focusing on the belly of a muscle we can feel when that muscle contracts and relaxes.

Focusing on the endpoints of a muscle, the points at which it attaches to bone, we can move these points away from each other or towards each other to help stretch a muscle or activate it.

This article focuses on learning to feel, control and relax the belly of a muscle so that we can stretch it.

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Muscle Layout

Some muscles cross and act on only one joint. Some muscles cross or act on two joints. Yet other muscles cross multiple joints. The better we understand the “Layout” of a muscle and the bones that it attaches to, the easier it will be for us to direct our awareness to the appropriate place so that we can feel our muscles activating or relaxing, and so that we can control them. If we have an understanding of where a muscle is located we can put our awareness in that place to feel it.

Looking at any anatomy book, we can see learn where the belly of a particular muscle is and then try to may that awareness to our own body. As an example, the biceps is located at the front of the upper arm. The belly of the biceps is located between the elbow and the shoulder. To feel our biceps, it helps if we focus our attention on the front of our upper arm. If we then bend our elbow and straighten so that the biceps contracts and relaxes we can then practice feeling our biceps.

If at the same time we are aware of how the biceps connects to the shoulder blade and lower arm, we can notice any pulling sensations at the shoulder and elbow and based on those sensations decide whether we are actually engaging the biceps or some other muscle as well.

We may find that we are engaging the brachioradialis or the coracobrachialis, the first of which attaches the upper arm bone to the radius, the second of which attaches from the upper arm to the coracoid process on the shoulder blade.


Muscle Actions

So that we can learn to activate and relax muscle tissue at will some basic understanding of how muscles work with and against each other can be useful.

Bones connect at joints so that they can move relative to each other. Muscles act on bones across joints to either change the relationship of the bones at that joint or maintain that relationship.

  • A muscle can contract and “close” the side of the joint it works on. The greater the force it works against the greater the muscle needs to contract
  • Muscles can work against each other with unequal force so that a joint closes in the direction of the stronger muscle
  • Muscles can work against each other with equal force so that a joint is stable
  • A muscle can gradually relax and allow the side of the joint it works on to “open.”
  • All muscles that act on a joint can be relaxed so that the joint is able to move freely.

In the first case, a muscle might be working against some outside force, or the weight of the body part it is acting on. Holding one arm straight out in front, we can bend the elbow and cause the biceps to engage. Since it is only the weight of the arm that is moving, the force required is minimal.

Holding a weight with our arm down by our side, the greater the weight the greater the force our biceps would have to exert in order to bend the elbow.

With the arm in front or by our side we could tense the triceps, at the back of the arm, and then engage the biceps. If the force of the triceps is only slightly less than that of the biceps then the elbow will slowly bend. We can thus use one muscle to help us engage another muscle.

If we slowly relax the biceps, reduce the force that it exerts, or we increase the force that the triceps exerts, then we gradually open the elbow.

Thus we can use body weight, the weight of some external object or an opposing muscle to help contract a muscle. To relax a muscle we simply relax or release the force that it is working on.

If our focus is on relaxing muscle tissue so that it can be stretched we need to be aware of any opposing forces that a muscle may be acting against, whether body weight, an opposing muscle, or some external weight or force, so that we can negate that force and allow the muscle to relax.

Note that if for some reason we feel unsafe, we may tense muscles in opposition to create stability and safety. This can work against us if our intent is to stretch. If we can figure out the reason why we feel unsafe or position ourselves in such a way that we feel safe it may then be easier for us to relax and stretch.


Relaxing and Contracting

When the fibers in the belly of a muscle contract, the muscle tries to shorten and pull the bones it attaches to towards each other. I say “Tries to Shorten” because if a muscle works against against a greater force then it will actually lengthen. However if it is working against a lesser force then it will shorten. If it is working against an equal force then it will stay the same length.

When a muscle is relaxed or inactive it tends to return to its resting length. If the bones that it is attached to are moved away from each other then the muscle will be lengthened. If moved gradually beyond it’s resting length the muscle will actually be stretched.


Tendons-Connective Tissue that Transmits Force

The belly of a muscle is attached to bone via connective tissue called tendons.When a muscle contracts it pulls on tendons which in turn pull on the bones that they are attached to. When the bones that a muscle is attached to are pulled apart these same tendons then help to lengthen the belly of the muscle. When the belly of the muscle creates a pulling force, it is the tendons that transmit this force.

Tendons are made up of connective tissue and this connective tissue extends into the belly of the muscle itself. It defines bundles of muscle fibers and allows them to move relative to each other as well as giving them something to pull on when they contract.

The connective tissue within the belly of a muscle has some elasticity so that they help the belly of the muscle return to its resting length when relaxed. It is this connective tissue that is lengthened when a muscle is stretched.


Positioning The Body to Relax So That we can Stretch

Since muscle tissue can lengthen even when active (because it is trying to act against a greater force,) just because a muscle is lengthening when we pull on it doesn’t mean we are stretching it. If we want to stretch a muscle we need to relax it so that we stretch the connective tissue within the belly of the muscle. One possible way of doing this is to gradually relax a muscle as we lengthen it. We can practice gradually lengthening to the point of total relaxation, hold for a moment, and then gradually contract.

Part of relaxing muscles at will is positioning the body in such a way that the muscles we want to relax can relax. In general this can mean providing a stable foundation for the muscle(s) that we are trying to stretch. This means making one of the bones or body parts to which that muscle is attached stable. Then the other part can move relative to the stable part.

As an example, in a standing forward bend we are trying to move the pelvis relative to the legs to lengthen the hamstrings. Since the hamstrings attach from the lower leg to the pelvis, we can stabilize  the lower leg, including the shin, ankle and foot, to give the hamstrings a stable foundation.

Laying on our back and pulling one leg back and down, we are moving the leg relative to the pelvis. So that the pelvis is stable we can activate the abs to unify it with the ribcage and stabilize the lower back. We again give the hamstrings a stable foundation.

So that we can give the muscle(s) we are stretching a stable foundation we need to know which parts of the body a muscle attaches to, and which of those parts we are moving relative to the other. We can then stabilize the other part so that the muscle in question can be stretched.


Leading with a Clear Idea

Another part of stretching or allowing ourselves to stretch is having a clear idea of what we are trying to do. If we define a foundation as something that allows us to do what we are trying to do, whether it is erect a building or stretch a muscle, then we can say that a clear idea is a foundation of sorts because it allows us to get on with what we are trying to do. Without a clear idea we don’t know what we are trying to do, and so we may have an idea of getting more flexible but not knowing how we are trying to get flexible while in a particular pose.

For example, in a seated forward bend we can reach our legs forwards and push our pelvis back to create space in the hip joint so that it is easier to bend forwards.

There are four hip muscles that connect the thigh to the pelvis which can be used to create space between the pelvis and the thigh bone. When focusing on reaching the legs forwards and pushing the pelvis back we can help to activate these muscles.

Since these muscles also cause the thighs to rotate externally, we can counter this tendency by engaging the outer hip muscles. Since the outer hip muscles can also be used to tip the pelvis forwards, this is doubly advantageous if we are doing a forward bend.

If we also focus on the idea of reaching forwards in a forward bend (as opposed to downwards), the process of reaching forwards will gradually bring our chest towards our legs. For this to happen we have to tilt our pelvis forwards. For this to happen, our hamstrings have to lengthen and prior to that they have to relax.

The clear idea we can then focus on is reaching our torso and legs forwards (while pressing our pelvis back.) This clear idea holds all of the smaller ideas together. In the process we lengthen the hamstrings which is the big idea of what we are trying to do.

If we aren’t focused on that one clear idea, other ideas may be occupying our mind. “When will this be over…. I hate this stretch…. I can’t do this… this is so uncomfortable.” All of these are also clear ideas but they are also ideas that hinder what we are trying to do. If we want to lengthen a part of our body then that is what we can focus on doing. Our body is then more likely to follow.


Using Weight or Supporting It

When a muscle is “tense” it is more than likely working against some outside force. When we are stretching, a muscle may be tense because it is trying to prevent part of the body from falling or collapsing so as to not be overstretched. In fact, our body is working against what we are trying to do.

To help a “tense” muscle relax we can try to relax or negate any forces that it is acting against.

In a forward bend where we are trying to stretch the hamstrings, the hamstrings may actually be engaging to help support the weight of the upper body, to prevent it from moving forwards. So that we can negate this tendency we can support the weight of our upper body by using our arms. We can then wait for our hamstrings to relax and then we can lower our upper body slightly by bending the elbows. Our hamstrings then may engage again but here again if we support the weight of our body in this new position then our hamstrings may release again at which point we can lower our upper body further.

Once we’ve trained our hamstrings to stay relaxed we can use the weight of the ribcage that we were previously supporting to actually help stretch the hamstrings. We can slowly and smoothly reach our hands off of the floor so that our ribcage is unsupported and we can even add weight by reaching our arms slowly forwards.

If we do this slowly and smoothly we are less likely to cause our hamstrings to tense up in fear. If at the same time we reach our arms and ribcage forwards, the weight of our body can be used to gradually lengthen our hamstrings.


Practicing Relaxation and Activation

One final technique bears mentioning is using slow, rhythmic repeated movements to both stretch muscle tissue and activate it. Such movements can be done in time with the breath if we can breath slowly enough but they can also simply be done slowly enough and smoothly enough that we can feel our muscles and bones as we move our body.

As an example, in the forward bend we can support our upper body with our hands so that our hamstrings can relax, we can then smoothly take our hands off of the floor and then reach our arms, ribs and head forwards while inhaling. We can put our hands back down on the floor and relax and then repeat.

We can add “clear idea” practice to this by focusing on reaching forwards when inhaling (and making the lower legs stable at the same time since we want the pelvis to move relative to the legs) and focusing on relaxing while exhaling.

While inhaling our upper body reaches forwards and our pelvis tilts forwards. While exhaling we support our upper body and gradually allow it to relax downwards while relaxing the hamstrings at the same time.

As we practice this movement we may then find that we can keep our hamstrings relaxed even as we lift our upper body and reach it forwards. We thus help to lengthen the connective tissue that is within them.

Creating Space in the Hip Joint

This post is related to AIS but is also very important in “technique free” body context. It relates to the hip socket. In one of the exercises that we were doing at the AIS workshop, a cross body leg stretch that used the adductors (inner thigh) to stretch the abductors (side of the buttocks/hips) one student commented that she felt a binding sensation in her hip.

She was fairly flexible anyway and so she was probably reaching the limit of active mobility-the point at which the muscles that she was using to move the leg got in the way of the leg itself. (Like someone moving a big piece of furniture backed up against the wall so that neither they nor the piece of furniture can move any further.)

One potential solution to this is to learn how to “reach” out of the hip socket.

The feeling is similar to that of spreading the shoulder blades. With your arms out to the sides if you spread your shoulder blades (causing the shoulders to move forwards on the ribcage) the arms reach further out to the sides. Maximum reach is when your collar bones, upper arms bones and forearm bones are all more or less in one line.

Obturators and
Gemellus

With respect to the pelvis and thigh bone, we can actually use muscle to pull our thigh bone out of the hip socket. The amount of movement is small but perceptable. To perceive the action simply put your awareness in the area of your hip socket. When standing you can try pushing you pelvis up off of your thigh bones. When sitting with your legs forwards you can push your thigh bones forwards away from your pelvis (or you can push your pelvis back away from your thigh bones.) When standing you use the obturators and gemellus to lift you pelvis off of the thigh bones.

With your legs forwards it is more likely that it is the psoas and obturator externus that does this action. With the leg forwards and crossing to the opposite side it is possible the pectineus, psoas and/or adductor brevis that does this action.

While this action is useful when you find that your hips are binding you may find that in some situations it isn’t openess that you need rather it is stability.

Creating
Stability and
Choice

If you want more stability in the hip joint you can the opposite and pull your thigh bones into your hip sockets. This feels like you are “sucking” your thigh bone into the hips socket. This can be a handy action is you are balancing on one leg. You can stabilize the hip of the standing leg. With the free leg you can try both actions to see which one is more suitable.

Being able to do both of these two actions you can choose from among them. You can keep your hip stable when it needs stability and you can create space in your hip joints when they need room to move.

Leading with the Mind

Practicing
Life Skills

Most of the things that we can practice with the dance of shiva can be applied to anything we do. They include:

  • learning to break complex tasks into simpler ones,
  • sensing and choosing options,
  • knowing what we are doing before we do it.

One of the advantages of the Dance of Shiva is that it provides a good way of practicing any of these skills. Plus you don’t have to figure out how to practice them, you can simply get on with practicing them.

Warps
and
Clear Ideas

One of the things we can practice is “leading with the mind” or “leading with a clear idea”.

In the more advanced practices (I call them “Warps”) we can memorize a sequence of moves. An example would be “CF-T, CF-CF, CF-B, F-CF.”
(CF=CHANGE FORWARDS, T=TRANSQUARTER, B=BACKWARDS, F=FORWARDS.)

This is a “generic” formula that can be used to start from any of the 64 different positions of the dance of shiva. Repeating this formula 4 times returns the arms to the position from which they started. So that we use each of these moves from each of the 64 positions we need to practice this formula from 16 different positions.

When practicing this sequence or any other sequence, before we “do” each move we can first see it with our mind.

As an example, starting from position 1-1 the first move is a CF-T which takes the arms to b-3. With enough practice we know the positions so that they are easy to see with our minds eye. As a result we can see our hands in position b-3 before we actually move them there.

From our new positions we can then see what the result of the next move is before we do it. From b-3 we can “see” that the CF-CF move will take our arms to 3-d. Having seen with our mind we can then move our arms there.

Rather than moving automatically and then checking where we are once we get there, we use our mind first and then follow with our body.

Move Mind
then Body

If we move first (automatically) and we move correctly, our hand position shows us where we went. That is not a “bad” thing. However, if we think first then we have to use our mind to draw up the memory of where our hands should go. Rather than relying on our body to give us the answer we use our mind and then we use our body.

We can learn to use our mind quite quickly in this fashion. Rather than waiting for our body to give us the answer so that we can check it, we use our mind and then check that our body has done the move correctly.

This is exactly like the kung fu movies where the adverseries see the fight and what they do in it before the fight actually begins.

Inner
Skill

Another term for gong fu is inner skill. I like to take this as meaning seeing with the mind first and then doing with the body. Practicing “inner skill” with the dance of shiva we develop our ability to think fast.

Thinking fast, we can do quick movements knowing that we are doing the movement correctly, or we are able to correct ourselves while we are doing the movement if we spot that we have made a mistake.

This “leading” with the mind lends itself immediately to what we do outside of the dance of shiva.

Do we know what it is that we are trying to do? If not what is it that we are trying to do. We can then spend time figuring it out rather than wasting time by doing something we don’t need to do. Then once we are doing something we can do it quickly, efficiently and like a martial arts master.

Practicing Warps, if we use our mind to know where we are going before we get there we can then lend additional brain power to monitoring our arms as they do the movement (since we already know where they are going.) We can make our movements more precis, more exact.

We then not only train our brain, we also train its ability to control the body while training the body at the same time.

To try out a warp (don’t worry, this is for free) click here.

Sincerely

Neil Keleher

Listening and Change

In Malcolm Gladwell’s book Outliers I believe the opening of the book is the most important and telling part. (A village in Pennsylvania where people are very healthy and it’s not because of their diet.) That the people who are most healthiest are those who interact with other people.
What does interaction involve?
Speaking and listening in turn. Listening we take in the information that is shaped by the person sending it. By listening to the words and the way they are said we connect to the sender and as a result we change. If the words simply fall on deaf ears then there is no connection and no change.
To respond in such a way that we maintain the connection we can send out energy shaped by ourselves based on what the other person told us. We can shape the information based on the person we are sending it to.
As a result we converse, we connect, we change each other.
This change is deeper even than a healthy diet.
When we listen the person whom we are listening to can tell. It’s as if via walky talky someone responds by saying “Receiving you loud and clear.”
When we listen we change and the person who is talking can sense that change. It’s as if they are a battery and they are plugged into a circuit. All of a sudden they become part of a bigger meaning. They become meaningful to someone outside of ourselves. (And we become a part of that meaning also.)
And it all happens from something as simple as listening, as noticing. By noticing we benefit ourselves. We allow energy into ourselves. We allow the power to change within ourselves.

Watching Art and Becoming It

Art and Plumbing-You do art when you make change that matters, and do it via a connection with an individual. A great waitress or conductor or politician can make art. So can David, who cleans the tables at Dean and Deluca. Art isn’t the job, it’s the attitude you bring to the job and work you do when you’re there.

How do we become art, how do we do art?
in a chinese poem called ascending the stork pagoda, the first image is of the sun resting on the mountains exhausted after the end of a long day. In doing what it does the sun creates an image of beauty at the end of the day. And perhaps it can rest for awhile having enjoyed its labors so that it can continue the next day…
The next line is of river waters exhausting themselves into the sea. Again a long journey has been completed and once a part of the ocean, drops of water can evaporate to fall again on high to experience the river bed again.
In striving, exhausting themselves and in doing what they do the sun and the river become part of a beautiful scene. The mountains and ocean add to the beauty.
The poet then talks of himself wanting to see just a little bit more, to exhaust his eyes by seeing as far as he can see. And so he climbs one more set of stairs to the next level so he can see just a little bit farther still.
How do we become art, how do we become beautiful?
By being present in what we are doing whether it is climbing a set of stairs or painting chinese characters or doing a yoga pose or doing the dishes. We can also be present by focusing on who we are with.
We can also take part in art by observing the work of others as it is in progress.

白日依山盡
黃河入海流
欲窮千里目
更上一層樓
white sun supported by mountains, exhausted
river into the sea flow,
straining eyes to see 1000 miles
go up one more story

Bigger isn’t Better

I’ve just got my latte and it’s so small…. compared to the array of all the other cup sizes. It’s so small it’s not even on the price menu. But the only reason I am here is to work, type actually, and it is nice to sit in a nice environment while doing it.
I’m not against all the size options. I’m not even against servers trying to super size me or up sale me. This is business and if they don’t do that I might not have this nice coffee shop to sit in, or would I?
More to the point is that I didn’t get taken in by comparison shopping.
“Why have this tiny little cup when you can have this bigger cup for only a few dollars more?”
“Because I only want a little cup.”
I only need a little cup to enjoy the taste of my latte.
Plus if I drink too much coffee it makes my ass sore.
Plus I only gulp it down anyway.
Plus if I drink too much it makes my sweat stink and I want more money to spend on other things in my life.
That being said sometimes I do enjoy choosing the larger size coffee. However I want it to be my choice driven by my need or desire as opposed an split second decision made by the brief impression that “hey yes, that is pretty small” when in fact it is actually quite normal.