Conscious Connections: Rigid, Flexible and Disconnected

Connection

A connection joins two parts or two pieces or two ideas.

In a mechanical or physical system a connection can be rigid so that the connected parts act as one integrated unit. Or the connection can be soft and allow the parts to more relative to each other while still maintaining a “connection.”

In electrical circuits, switches can be used to “control” connections, either allowing electricity to flow or preventing it.

Creating a Center

When we look at something like a billiard ball, we can say that it has a well defined center because all the component parts of the billiard ball are connected and those connections are strong and firm. Thus when we hit the cue ball with our cue stick, the ball moves. All the parts of it move together as one unit.
It rolls along the table and depending on how we hit it, it may spin in one direction or the other as well as roll. And then when it impacts the target ball, that ball also moves.

A water bed mattress full of water does not have a well defined center. Imagine trying to move a water bed or even trying to push it. It deforms and nothing else happens unless we push to the limits of the mattresses elasticity. Ideally at this time the mattress doesn’t break, it simply shifts as we push it. Now, because it is deformed, we can say it has a center. We’ve tightened some of the connections between the parts of the water bed mattress and now we give it a center of sorts. We can push it on it and it moves.

Rigid (or Strong) vs Flexible (Relaxed)

Simple terms that can be used to denote the differences in state between say a billiard ball and a water bed are rigid and flexible.

A rigid connection allows parts that are connected to move together. So when the billiard ball is hit, the energy of the collision is transmitted to all the parts of the ball via the connections between them. As a result the ball moves.

It allows the parts that are connected to handle change together and stay connected.

A flexible connection is like the water filled water mattress. The water particles inside the mattress can move relative to each other. Freezing the water turns the water mattress from flexible to rigid. With the water unfrozen the water particles can more relative to each other and the water mattress as a whole can deflect and deform, in effect absorbing change.

Within our body, we can make the connections between the parts of ourself rigid or flexible (or relaxed). Our joints can be like a billiard ball, hard, firm, able to be pushed or moved, or soft and pliable like a waterbed, each part of ourselves absorbing and dissipating change. Our joints can also vary between these two extremes.

Tension

The main mechanism for varying our joints between being strong/rigid and flexible/relaxed is tension.

By controlling tension we can vary the state of our joints between being rigid and flexible. Our joints can then can resist change or dissipate it.

Mental Connections

This model can also be applied to our mental state.

Mental “flexibility” could be imagined as the ability to let ideas move freely relative to each other. Mental “stability” or “rigidness” could be the ability to firmly lock ideas relative to each other.

I’d suggest that one isn’t better than the other. What is more important is the ability to freely choose whether ideas are flexibly connected or rigidly connected.

Disconnect

One final concept is the idea of disconnection. This is similar to the idea of a flexible connection however it is more complete. A flexible connection implies that there is still some connection between the two related parts. As an example we could relax the elbow so that the forearm can flop around relative to the upper arm.

A disconnect is like unplugging a plug. Doesn’t matter if the switch is on or off, electricity isn’t going to flow.

The Shoulder Blades-Retracting and Spreading for Stability and Mobility of the Upper Arm

Basic Body Elements are parts of the body that we can practice moving and feeling so that we can use them as part of larger movements or positions. Moving one part of the body relative to another part we change the relationship between those parts and so when moving or positioning our body we can also think in terms of relationships.

By learning to control the relationships within our body individually, we can more easily call them up as required and as part of a larger program.

In this article we focus on the shoulder blades and how they relate to the ribcage.


The Shoulder Blades

The shoulder blades connect to the upper arm to form the shoulder joint. In turn, the shoulder blades connect to the ribcage via the collarbones. While the shoulder blades don’t directly connect to the ribcage via a single joint, the two are connected via muscle tissue which can be used to both position the shoulder blades and stabilize them relative to the ribcage.

Depending on what we are doing with the arms we can position the shoulder blades in such a way that we balance the need for mobility and stability so that we can do what we are trying to do with minimum effort and maximum effectiveness.


Stabilizing the Shoulders

Generally, if we stabilize the shoulder blades relative to the ribcage so that the two are unified, then we give our upper arms a stable platform from which to act.

If we don’t stabilize the shoulder blades then in any action where we are using the arms our shoulder muscles may tighten both to provide stability while at the same time moving the arm. As a result our shoulders can tire more quickly when our shoulder blades aren’t stable.

If we stabilize the shoulder blades using the muscles that connect them to the ribcage then the shoulder muscles, those muscles that connect the shoulder blade to the upper arm, can be used solely to move the arm. As a result they may last longer.


Spreading and Retracting the Shoulder Blades

Scapula Wide

Scapula Retracted

Serratus Anterior, Trapezius, Rhomboids

Serratus Anterior, Trapezius, Rhomboids

Two very basic actions of the shoulder blades are “Spreading” and “Retracting.”

Spreading the shoulder blades means moving them away from the spine. In this movement they slide around the sides of the ribcage towards the front of the body.

This action uses the serratus anterior muscles which attach the inner edges of the shoulder blades to the sides of the ribcage. This is the muscle that looks like a set of fingers reaching around the sides of the chest just below the large chest muscle (pectoralis major.)

Retracting the shoulder blades means moving them towards the spine. I use the spine as a reference so that even if we are only moving one shoulder blade, this reference is still valid.

If the shoulder blades are moving downwards and inwards towards the spine then we are more than likely using the lower fibers of the trapezius, a downwards pointing triangular muscles that attaches between the inner edges of the shoulder blades and the spine.

If the shoulder blades are moving inwards and upwards then the rhomboids are probably being active. These muscles angle upwards from the inner edges of the shoulder blades to the spine.

If we want to stabilize the shoulder blades relative to the ribcage then usually we need to activate one of these muscles to create this stability.


Feeling and Controlling the Inner Edge of the Shoulder Blades

Because all three of these muscles, the serratus anterior, the trapezius, the rhomboids, all attach to the inner edges of the shoulder blade, then if we learn to feel the inner edge of the shoulder blade and practice being aware of it while moving the shoulder blades then we are more likely to activate which ever of these muscles is required.

If we don’t focus on moving the inner edge of the shoulder blades then when we move the shoulder blade we may actually be using some of the shoulder or arm muscles to move the shoulder blades. Remember, the purpose of “fixing” the shoulder blades to the ribcage is to stabilize the shoulder blades relative to the ribcage.


Positioning the Shoulder Blades with Arms In Front of the Body

Plank with Shoulder Blades Slightly Together

Plank with Shoulder Blades Apart

If the arms are in front of the body or are pushing forwards then we can use the serratus anterior to spread the shoulder blades apart.

In a push up position with the elbows straight we could allow our ribcage to sink down in which case the shoulder blades move together. If we engage the serratus anterior, they pull the shoulder blades away from the spine and the same action causes the ribcage to pull up. The feeling is like the back of the ribcage is opening.

Keeping the serratus active in this situation, the stabilize the ribcage relative to the shoulder blades. As a result the shoulder muscles have a firm foundation from which to act on the arms.

If we are standing with our arms in front of us we can use this same action to press the arms forwards and to resist them being pushed back. Here again the shoulders have a firm foundation from which to support the arms.

Generally, with the arms in front of the body, the more we spread the shoulder blades the more mobility our arms have in front of our body. As a result, as well as creating stability, spreading the shoulder blades by using the serrattus anterior also gives the arms room to move.


Arms Up Over the Head

If we are positioning the arms up over the head, the shoulder blades naturally rotate outwards meaning the outer edges move up while the inner edges stay put or move down. Prior to lifting the arms we can spread the shoulder blades so that the serratus anterior activate. We can keep this spread feeling by then reaching the arms forwards. From there we can lift the arms up. As we lift the arms the upper fibers of the trapezius may activate to rotate the shoulder blades outwards.

By first activating the serratus anterior, which pull outwards and downwards, we give the upper trapezius some resistance since these fibers pull upwards and inwards.

Balancing the action of these two muscles we can more finely position the shoulder blades on the ribcage, stabilizing them relative to the ribcage.

Generally, I prefer to lift the shoulders when reaching them above my head since it gives a nice stretch, but at the same time I also keep the shoulder blades spread and the neck long.

Keeping the neck long gives the trapezius room to contract. It also opens up the front of the ribcage. All of these factors together help to provide a foundation for the shoulder blades which then in turn provide a foundation for the upper arms.

If there is weight on the arms such as in handstand or down dog, then by using both the trapezius and the serratus anterior, the upper body can be pushed away from the floor. With the shoulder blades spreading apart and moving towards the ears, the shoulder joint is in a position where it is easier for the shoulder muscles to activate and control the upper arms relative to the shoulder blades.

Bone and muscle can then work together to support the body.


Arms Out to the Sides

Side Plank Preparation, Bottom Shoulder Relaxed

Side Plan Preparation, Bottom Shoulder Engaged

Side Plank (With Bottom Forearm on Floor)

With the arms out to the sides we can again spread the shoulder blades for maximum reach. If we actively spread the shoulder blades then the serratus anterior can be used to resist the weight of the arms because they are pulling the shoulder blades outwards. This can be handy in a pose like side plank where our weight is on one arm at a time.

Prior to lifting into side plank we can “use our shoulder” to press our arm into the floor.

This action moves the ribcage away from the floor.

By pressing the shoulder blade away from the spine, we press the arm down into the floor. Since the floor is immobile, the arm doesn’t move and the same action causes the ribcage to move up, away from the floor.

We are using the serratus to move the ribcage relative to the shoulder.

As a side note, to help balance in this pose, make the outer edge of the bottom foot strong and press it into the floor.

An easier alternative is to do this pose with both knees bent and the bottom shin on the floor.


Reaching the Arms Back

Easy Table Top, Shoulders Relaxed

Easy Table Top, Shoulder Blades Together

Easy Table Top, Pelvis Lifted

Generally, when reaching the arms back, we can move the shoulder blades towards each other. If we are stretching the arms like in “Prasaritta Padotanasana C,” then we can first lengthen the neck, which can open the top of the ribcage. From there we can slide the shoulder blades towards each other. This gives us room to clasp our hands behind our back. We can then work at pulling our arms back and up behind our body.

In a posture like reverse plank (purvotanasana) with our arms behind our body supporting our body with our chest upwards, or “Easy Table top,” the same pose but with the legs crossed, then moving the shoulder blades towards each other helps to lift the ribcage, moving the shoulders back relative to the ribcage so that the chest appears to open.

This action isn’t the same as bending the ribcage backwards. However we can combine it with that action for opening both the front of the ribcage and the front of the shoulders.

Doing this in a position like reverse plank, if we focus on moving the inner edges of the shoulder blades towards each other then the lower trapezius activate to help stabilize the shoulder blades relative to the ribcage. The arms then have a firm foundation from which to support the body.

When going into the pose, we can first move the shoulder blades together. Then we can bend the spine backwards. Then we can lift the pelvis.

And while it can be a good idea to learn a pose like this in stages, once we have the feel of each stage we can then work at doing all of these actions at the same time.


Experiencing the Shoulder Blades

Spreading the Shoulder Blades and Reaching the Arms Up
A simple way to practice experiencing the position of the shoulder blades is to slowly spread them and then retract them in time with the breath.

We can slowly point the elbows backwards as we spread the shoulder blades so that both the back and the front of the shoulders feel open as we inhale. We can relax while inhaling.

Once we have the feeling of this action, we can also lift the arms forwards while inhaling, having first spread the shoulder blades. We can lower the arms while exhaling.

The point of this exercise is to keep the spreading feeling in the shoulder blades while lifting the arms. (We can lengthen the neck just prior to spreading the shoulder blades and relax it while exhaling.)

Adding on to this exercise we can reach the arms forwards and then up, again while keeping the spread feeling in the shoulder blades.

The idea of these exercises is to experience what it is like when the shoulder blades are spread so that you can find this feeling and position no matter how you move into an “Arms Forwards” or “Arms Up” position.

Reaching the Arms to the Sides
We can do a similar exercise but while moving the arms out to the sides as we do in “Warrior 2.” For this exercise, first spread the shoulder blades and then reach the arms outwards while keeping the shoulder blades spread.

Retracting the Shoulder Blades
We can also do an exercise to practice feeling the shoulder blades when they retract. For this exercise, we can move the shoulder blades inwards and upwards while inhaling. We can relax while exhaling.

Remember to focus on moving the inner edges of the shoulder blades inwards so that the rhomboids are activated!

Once comfortable with this action we can then reach the arms back as we slide the shoulder blades towards each other.

We can try this with either an inwards rotation of the arms on an outward rotation. I would suggest practicing both to maximize your experience of your arms and shoulder blades.

The purpose of these exercises isn’t to say that you must move or position your shoulder blades in this way but so that you can learn to feel them and control them and experience them. When you can do that you can then choose how to position your shoulder blades yourself based on what you are trying to do and how your body feels. You can then find the most effective position yourself.

Body Basics-Feeling your Spine and Breath

The following set of exercises are designed to help you feel you pelvis, low back, ribcage, neck, head and shoulder blades. These exercises are designed to help you experience your body by moving specific parts slowly, smoothly and repeatedly with rhythm. You can then focus on feeling the parts that you are moving.

Once you’ve learned to feel these parts individually, you could then practice feeling them in the context of some action, whether a yoga pose or a tai ji movement or rowing or weight lifting or any activity that you do. The more you experience your body, the better you can feel it and control it in any situation. The intent is not to program you and say that this is the right way or the wrong way, but to allow you to feel and control your body so that you can use it in a way that is appropriate to what you are doing at the time. Better yet, it is to give you the ability to feel the possibilities for each of these parts so that you can choose from among them.

As an example, in the twisting section there are four different exercises. One involves twisting with the ribs expanded, another while the ribs are pulled inwards. Another involves twisting with  one side expanded while the other is contracted and the other variation is the opposite.

Now even if you can only do the first two options (expanded or contracted) you can try these options and notice which one makes twisting easier, or helps you to twist further or which simply feels the most comfortable given what you are doing at the time.

These exercises are all designed so that they can be done while sitting. You can sit on a chair (while looking at your computer) or you can sit on the floor. If on the floor you may find it to sit on a block or a book so that your can move your pelvis freely relative to your legs. Ideally, you can move roll your pelvis far enough forwards that you lumbar spine can straighten or even assume a “normally curved” position.

In the context of basic principles and foundation, you can consider these exercises foundational building blocks for feeling your body and using it in different contexts.

Ribs and Spine Together-Lengthening and Relaxing

Learn to feel your ribs and spine  by bending your spine forwards and allow your ribs to sink. Hold and concentrate on feeling the “weight” of your ribs and allowing weight to sink down. Notice (and allow) spine to bend forwards. Think “Couch Potato” or simply slouch. Also allow the head to go forwards and down relative to the ribcage.

Next slowly pull ribs and head upwards. Pull up on the back of the head so that the back of the neck feels long.

Work at making the ribcage feel expansive and spacious. You can also focus on creating space between the ribs.

Relax ribs and head down and then and then Lengthen entire spine, ribs and head upwards. Gradually shorten the time in each position and move slowly and smoothly from one to the other. Notice the difference in sensations. You may notice that you naturally inhale while lengthening and that you exhale while relaxing. That is because lengthening the spine and opening the ribcage expands the lungs while doing the opposite compresses the space that they are in.

Ribs Only

For the next exercise, which can continue from the previous, keep the spine upright and long and only move the ribs.

Because you are only moving your ribs, you may notice that each breath is a lot smaller.

To maximize your breath, focus on each part of your ribcage individually. While inhaling and exhaling, focus on moving your front ribs forwards and up, and then back and down. Bottom side ribs move outwards and up and then inwards and down. The back ribs simply lift up and down.

Focus on feeling or sensing each of these actions separately first and then all together. To feel your ribs move put your awareness on them or in them.

Diaphragm

For the next exercise, keep the spine long and the ribs lifted and allow your front belly (the front of your belly) to move as you breathe. It’ll move forwards as you inhale and back as you exhale. Once you have the hang of this,  focus on the bottom half of your lower belly (the bottom quarter of your belly)-halfway down from the belly button. Hold this part of your belly inwards while inhaling. There should be a slight feeling of tension running from side to side. You can imagine pulling the front edges of your pelvis inwards slightly.

Allow your upper belly to expand while holding your lower belly in. Slowly and smoothly relax your entire belly completely while exhaling.

Now try the same action while lifting and lowering the ribs. While inhaling gently pull your lower belly back while allowing your upper belly to expand. Allow your ribs to lift and expand at the same time. You may get the sensation that you are using your upper belly to push your ribs upwards.

Smoothly relax everything while exhaling.

The diaphragm pushes downwards on the abdominal organs while inhaling in this exercise. The abdominal organs then push outwards on the abdominal wall. It also can cause the “Pushing Up” sensation on the ribcage.

Roll the Pelvis and Straighten the Lumbar Spine

Changing gears slightly, sit on a chair or on a book or block so that you can roll your pelvis freely back and forwards. Start with it rolled forwards so that you lumbar spine is bent backwards (normal curve.)

Slowly rock your pelvis back just far enough so that your lumbar spine is straight. Then rock forwards. Practice slowly smoothly rocking backwards and forwards while feeling the change in position of your pelvis and lower back.

You may find it helpful to use a mirror. Notice when your lumbar spine looks straight and notice the feeling that accompanies this straightness. You might try fine tuning this position if there is a position near straightness that feels really comfortable or nice-as if the lower back is open or full.

You can add the previous exercise to this one and allow your upper belly to expand while rolling your pelvis backwards. You can pull your lower belly in at the same time. You then straighten you lumbar spine and expand your ribcage each time you inhale. You relax them both while exhaling.

Pulling head Up, Straighten Cervical Spine and Spreading Shoulder Blades

We’ve already practiced pulling the head back and up while straightening the spine, but here we’ll isolate the movement.

Relax the ribs and allow the head to sink forwards. Now focus on pulling the back of the head back and up. The chin can pull inwards at the same time. You may notice that this action naturally causes the front of the ribs to lift. Now slowly relax your head forwards and down. Repeat and make the movements smooth and slow.

Adding the shoulder blades, focus on feeling the inner edges of your shoulder blades, the part closest to the spinal column. This is the attachment point for most of the muscles that stabilize the scapula with respect to your ribcage.

As you pull your head back and up move the inner edges of your shoulder blades away from your spine. You may notice that your back feels wider, broader, more open. Relax while exhaling. While doing this action, try to keep the muscles that sit on your shoulder blades relaxed. Keep your large chest muscle (Pectoralis Major) relaxed also. You may have to focus on slowly moving your shoulder blades in order to feel this action, and in order to feel the position where the inner edges of your shoulder blades are flat on your back.

Twisting and Turning the Ribcage

With hands in prayer in front of your sternum, keep your hands there and turn your ribs to the right. Turn your ribcage relative to your pelvis and lumbar spine. Twist your ribs relative to each other.

Keep your ribs and head lifted and move your upper belly while breathing.

Hold for a few breaths and then pull the ribs in while continuing to twist. Hold for a few breaths noticing whether pulling ribs in makes twisting easier or harder. Did you twist further?

Next contract the left side of your ribcage and open the right side. How does this help (once you get the hang of it.)

Try the opposite.

Rest and then try the same options while twisting to the left.

In any exercise where we are twisting and turning the ribs, we can expand the ribs, contract them or expand one side while contracting the other. As mentioned, one option may be more appropriate given what you are doing at the time.

Bending the Spine Backwards and Forwards

Again while sitting, bend the spine backwards. Tilt the pelvis forwards at the same time. You can tuck the chin in and focus only on bending the lumbar spine and thoracic spine (back of the ribcage) backwards. Notice as you do so how your belly lengthens and the front of your ribcage opens. To assist this action, Focus on the side of your ribcage and push the sides of your ribs forwards.

Just for the experience also try pulling the sides of your ribs back.

Notice how each movement assists or doesn’t assist the backbend. For myself (currently,) pushing side ribs forwards makes bending spine backwards feel better.

Next bend the spine forwards. Pull the side ribs back and then try pushing them forwards. Notice the results. Again, my personal observations (yours may be different) are that pulling the side ribs back make this action easier while sitting.

When holding each position, experiment with different types of breath to see which one is easiest.

I find that when bending backwards, holding my lower belly in and breathing into my upper belly and front ribs feels comfortable. While bending backwards, I can breathe just a little into my upper belly but I then I put most of my effort into breathing into the back of my ribcage.

Stretch and Relax

To stretch and relax the muscles you’ve been using you may find it useful to do an assisted or relaxed twist.

Use a knee or the side of your chair and the back of your chair or the floor for leverage, use your arms to twist your ribs while relaxing your waist and ribcage.

Make both your inhales and your exhales feel relaxed and smooth.

Wrap Up

Most of these exercises involved using the muscles of the abdomen or intercostal spaces (the spaces between the ribs) in one way or another. They also, ideally, will help you to develop your ability to both feel and control your spine, the elements that make it up (the head, cervical spine, ribs, thoracic spine, lumbar spine and pelvis,) and the relationships between these elements.

In Basic Principle terminology we can use the word “idea” instead of the word “element.”

Note on Ideas and Relationships

The ideas we can learn to feel using these exercises are: The head, neck (cervical spine), ribcage, thoracic spine, lumbar spine, pelvis, shoulder blades.

Because the neck, thoracic spine and lumbar spine are actually made up of smaller elements, we can actually learn to feel and control the relationships between these smaller elements. Thus these elements could be considered as ideas or as a system of relationships.

Other relationships that we can learn to feel and control include those between the following pairs of ideas: head and ribcage, ribs and thoracic spine, ribs and pelvis, shoulder blades relative to each other, shoulder blades relative to the spine.

The Basics-How Much Practice is Enough?

A friend came over for a visit last night and showed me some brush painting techniques he’d learned from his teacher. We varied between using brushes and bits of newspaper but most importantly (and perhaps the most fun) is that we freed ourselves from style and convention. He’s had more practice than I have but we both played at expressing ourselves freely.

The day before I’d been running for about the third time in a year. I used to run regularly both while I was in the army and afterwards during university and after. I did have dreams of running a marathon but after a half marathon and another run with a lot of fun hills my knee had packed it in. And so for the next 10 years I focused on learning my body through yoga and later tai ji.

Getting back to running has been a chore in part because I’ve had no where nice to run. And then I did find someplace nice to run and so I started in on what worked before, running at a slow pace so that my heart rate stayed within the aerobic range.

Running like an old man I thought back to times when I’d been cross country skiing with friends. The first few outings would be torture and then all of a sudden, after plenty of rests, I’d find I was flying on my skii’s with hardly any effort. Even going up hills (and their are lots of hills in Gatineu Park outside of Ottawa in Canada, I felt like I was flying, to the point that i was easily catching up to and even in places leading friends who had stacks more experience than I did.

I wondered about all the work I’d been doing learning to feel my body and control it. I really wanted to feel like I was flying. Fuck the heart rate. I focused on feeling my body while I was running. Sure I’d run for a little then slow down but at least I was running the way I wanted to. And then my knee flared up and so running fast I focused on my hip, thigh and shin and on positioning them so that my knee felt alright. It worked. For each stride, I felt and positioned my leg so that I could use my whole leg to drive me forwards simply by aligning the bones with the force of what I was doing. Rather than muscling each stride I tried to feel it.

The next day I did something similar while swimming. Most of my time at the pool of late has been devoted to providing an environment for my daughter to get comfortable in water. It’s been about her instead of me…and so yesterday I got to do something for me. simply breast stroke with my head under water most of the way doing a sort of “hold your breath” pranayama while seeing how relaxed I could stay as I approached my breath holding limit.

Using my legs like a frog I gauged the quality of each “kick” by noticing the pool tiles passing below me. I would only kick when I stopped moving forwards and when I did kick I tried to feel my legs as I did so, again using the least amount of energy possible, keeping my legs soft and flexible, as much like the fins of a fish as possible. I noticed things like the positions of my hands up ahead of me, fingers together to reduce drag and while looking forwards pressing my arms bones up to smooth the profile of my head and arms. I felt myself “immersed” in the moment.

Later on that day, after our calligraphy fun and games my friend and I went out for a beer to discuss things like basics. We both agreed that one of the things that allowed us to express ourselves so freely with brush and ink was the practice we’d put into staying within the limits. For me that meant learning characters to the point I could do them without thinking, continually holding the brush upright while noticing my connection with the brush and trying to see everything-be open while I was painting.
With learning the body, I felt that learning the basics enable me to get back to running and swimming with hardly any problems. I thought and still believe that there are body basics that we can learn and practice that can help us in anything that we do that relates to the body, whether it is painting, running, riding a bike or even drinking beer….

So how much practice is enough?

It depends on what we are trying to do. If we find ourselves practicing and doing nothing else, least of all expressing ourselves in what we are practicing for, then perhaps it is time to take a break from practice.

How much practice is enough, it depends on what you are practicing for.

As for me, I wanted to express myself freely with a brush and with my body. I’m not going to stop practicing the basics but I am going to make more time to do what I really want to do, paint freely and express my self.

How does this relate to foundation? Practice is the foundation based upon which we can express ourselves freely, beautifully and meaningfully.

Foundation-A Starting Point for Change

A foundation is a reference for any change that we wish to create or observe or measure.

In anything that we do, once we know what we are going to be doing, the foundation is the first thing that we create.

Creating Stable Relationships

Erecting a building, builders create a base to support the structure. The base is the point of contact between the building and the earth. The base (and framework) of the building create a stable relationship between the building and the earth. It keeps the building upright. We can do the same when building a pose, we can create stability in our pose via our connection with the earth.

Standing on our feet we can make our feet, ankle and lower legs strong so that they support the rest of our body. Prior to that we can make sure that we are standing on ground that is solid and secure.

Within our body, we can look at the relationships between different parts of our body and make one part the foundation for the part that it connects to. Working from the ground up, our feet and lower legs can be the foundation for our thighs. Our thighs can be the foundation for our pelvis. Our pelvis the foundation for our lumbar spine. Our lumbar spine the foundation for our thoracic spine. Our thoracic spine then supports our cervical spine and in turn the head.

To maintain a relationship, we can make one part stable so that it supports the other part.

Support from Above

While we might normally think of foundations as supporting what is above it, they can also support by acting as something that can be hung from. For example a bridge like the Golden Gate Bridge has towers which support spanning cables which in turn support hanging cables which support the road bed. In the same way, with our spine and head stable, we can use them to support the ribs. The ribs then in turn can be used to support the shoulder girdle which then can act as the foundation for the arms.

Knowing and Understanding, Foundations for Doing

Prior to building a building engineers and architects plan and design it. This way the builders know what they are preparing for when they create the first foundation and all that follows.

If when doing a yoga pose (or anything else for that matter) we know what we are doing we can choose how to create our foundation. The “idea” that we have in our mind then provides the foundation for the reality that we wish to create.

With something like our body that is mobile and changeable, the better we understand how the parts of our body relate, and the clearer we understand what we want to do with it at any moment in time then the easier and simpler and more efficiently we can go about creating what we want to create.

This can apply to anything that we are doing or working with, like tools, machinery, designing cars, building bikes, teaching people yoga, tai ji, doing oriental calligraphy. When we understand what we are working with then that understanding provides a foundation for the expression of what we are trying to do.

Foundation in Terms of Chakra’s and the Five Elements

In terms of the five elements of Daoist theory, foundation can be related to the element of earth. The Earth is the foundation for everything that we do, even in activities like flying a plane. (We always need airports to take off from and land at.)

In any posture we can look at our connection with the earth as our foundation, whether we connect via our feet or our hands or our head.
In terms of the chakras, foundation can be related to the root chakra or the first chakra. The root chakra is often related to basic activities like survival. If we continue to survive then we can continue to experience life and express ourselves. And so in anything that we do, if we wish to express ourselves then the first thing that we can do is create a foundation for that expression.

As an example, in the picture I am doing “Side Plank Pose.” My foundation is the outer edge of my bottom foot and my bottom hand. Because these are strong and engaged with the earth they provide the foundation that supports the rest of my body.

Basic Principles

Creating a Foundation is the first of five Basic Principles. They are designed as tools that can be used to apply “Being More Conscious.” To see a summary of those principles and more click here.

Basic Principles

Basic Principles can be thought of as a foundation for understanding and experiencing life. They can be used to understand ourselves, what is around ourselves and our relationship with what is around ourselves. I like to think of them as tools to help us be more conscious in anything that we do. As they are tools for being more conscious it can be helpful to have a way of modeling what consciousness is.

Elements of Consciousness

Primary tools for being conscious include ideas and relationships.

  • Ideas are basic units of meaning.
  • Relationships are basic units of change.

Principles of Consciousness

To make “being conscious” useful, we can divide it into two main functions, thinking and doing. These correspond to consciousness being able to expand across time and space. We can describe and summarize the qualities of consciousness as follows:

  • Consciousness can expand in time or across space.
  • Consciousness is limited in time and space (the more we have in one dimension the less we are in another.)
  • Thinking happens across time (imaginary space)
  • Doing is done across space (real space)
  • Use thinking for problem solving, understanding, defining, determining, reminiscing.
  • While doing, focus on using the senses.
  • Taken together, thinking and doing allow us to experience and understand.
  • Expand consciousness completely into time or completely into space to move beyond the limits of space and time. Consciousness then becomes unlimited or infinite.

Principles of Learning

Principles of learning are designed to help us understand quickly via experience. This understanding can then be used to help us create the change that we desire (or experience it.)

  • Focus on learning small and meaningful pieces of “understanding”
  • Practice using rhythm and repetition to make what we are learning a part of ourselves.
  • To make what we are learning a part of ourselves, practice doing (space) and then looking back at what we have done (time.)
  • Develop sensitivity and learn to control.
  • Take Regular Rests (Rest completely or by doing something else.)

Principles for Doing

While initially we may have to think about these principles in order to do them, we eventually move beyond thinking to understanding. These principles then become “built in.” We can focus on pure doing.

  • Stabilize Foundations
  • Control Connections, direct the senses and choose how to respond to what is sensed.
  • Center unifies, balances and gives a point or purpose to what we are doing. To be centered, focus on feeling and controlling entire self.
  • Look for, Create and Use Room to Move both for ourselves and what is around ourselves. To express ourselves (and for others to express themselves) we need room to move. We can also look for Gaps to Flow through.
  • Express… the idea of what we are trying to do. Based on what is happening now choose what do to and how to do it. Instead of thinking, do it.
  • Experience both what we are doing and what others around us are doing.
  • Understand by taking the experience inside of ourselves. Allow it to sink in so that we can move on to more experiences.

Principles of Thinking

Thinking is a part of who we are. Rather than be a victim or prisoner of the mind we can train our mind and choose the way we think. Some guidelines or principles of conscious thinking include:

  • Know that you can
  • Focus on what you want to do
  • Look for the reason to do something rather than the reason to stop
  • Look for excuses to love instead of reasons to hate
  • Imagine that you are loved

Understanding Consciousness

To learn more about understanding consciousness and basic principles, you can order the book.

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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.