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.

Handstands-Center, The Pelvis and the Psoas

Handstands and Controlling Center


Center

Previously I was talking about the middle position, a position of the body, that gives us the most possibility given what we are doing at the time.


The Psoas

Another way that we can practice being centered is to focus on feeling and controlling our pelvis. One of the ways that we can control our pelvis is via a muscle called the psoas. Actually this muscle can be used to control more than just the pelvis. It can be used to control the spine and its relationship to the thighs and legs.

If we view the ribcage and pelvis as extensions of the spine, extra large levers that we can use to change the shape of the spine or maintain its shape, then using the psoas we can change the relationship between the ribcage-pelvis and legs.


Controlling Center

Because the belly of the psoas extends to the space that is within the pelvis we an often “feel” and control the pelvis and psoas as one unit.

Since our center of gravity is usually located within our pelvis (it depends on what posture we are assuming at the time) this can be quite handy. What it means is that if we control our pelvis, and our psoas, then we control our center of gravity.

If we can position our center of gravity over our foundation then we can balance. This is true whether we are standing on our hands, on our feet, on our head or even on our forearms. When our center is over our foundation, and assuming there are no other forces in play other than that of gravity, then we are balanced.

Using our psoas to help control our pelvis and center can make it easier to balance.


Using Our Center to Lead

When we are standing on our feet, we can use our legs to move our pelvis and in turn we can use our pelvis to drive the movement of our upper body. When we are on our hands we can use our arms, shoulders and ribcage to move our pelvis and then we can use our pelvis to move our legs.

When we are on our hands, so that we can give our pelvis a stable foundation, we need to use our hands, shoulders, and abs. So that we can control the relationship between our pelvis and our legs, as well as the relationship between our spine and our legs, we need to use the psoas.


Activating the Side Gluteals

To make using the psoas easier we can use our side glutes. These are the muscles at the sides of the pelvis that move the thigh bones outwards. They are the glute medius and minimus and also another muscles, the tensor fascae latae which pulls the thighs outwards as well as causing the legs to internally rotate slightly. These muscles can also be used to both flex and extend the thigh. Using these “functions” together they can also help to stabilize the thigh.

For our purpose we can activate them by trying to pull the thighs outwards. We thus help to stabilize the thighs relative to the pelvis and we also give the psoas some resistance against which it can then pull the thighs inwards.


Activating the Psoas

Once we’ve activated our side glutes one of the ways that we can make it easier to activate the psoas, is to focus on feeling our kidneys and in addition make them feel full. This involves tilting the pelvis back far enough that the lower back is straight. But rather than just making the lumbar spine straight, adjust the position of the pelvis so that the back of the waist feels full. Keep this feeling while jumping.

In addition keep the side glutes active while jumping and as you jump focus on “closing” the thighs to the stomach or chest.

It can feel like you are resisting this action even as you are doing it.

You may also notice a sense of your awareness being inside your belly as you do this. For myself it literally feels like I am pulling my pelvis forwards and up from the inside.


Final Notes

If you watch the videos and pay attention to the orientation of my spine you’ll notice that the times I get up and stay up the longest-even getting up into handstand, are the times when my spine is nearly vertical. My shoulders are over my hips.

When practicing, first get your shoulders ahead of your hands. From there, then get your hips/pelvis over your shoulders. Then you upper body will be in front of your hands and they then balance your legs which are behind your hands.

If from here you move up into full handstand, then as you lift your legs, brings your shoulders back slowly so that they are over your hands.


Videos-Large View

Handstands and Controlling Center

Handstands-The Middle Position

Practicing the “Middle Position”

In martial arts, the middle position is a place where we have the most options available to us. Depending on our environment, our opponent or our partner and even ourselves, our middle position may vary.


Being Able to Respond to Change

Generally whenever we respond to a change we have to leave the middle position. If after having responded to a change we return to the middle, we are then ready to handle any new changes as they occur. Being in the middle position makes it easier to respond to a change no matter where it comes from or what form it takes. Being in the middle gives us options, possibilities. If we continually return to the middle after having ventured away from it, we can be ready to handle new change.


Being Able to Create Change

If we are creating change without having to worry about external factors then finding the middle position, and returning to it, we can continue to create change and we can be fully flexible in the change that we create. To create the change that we desire we need to be in a position that is stable, balanced.

Even if we are moving to a position that is unstable, starting from a position that is stable will allow us to move to the new position more easily.

The middle position is the stable center that we can start from.


Having Options

In handstands, the middle position or middle handstand is a position from which we can do the most things. If we jump up into a handstand and keep our legs at the same level as the pelvis with knees either straight, bent or just slightly bent, and we can balance, then from this position we can easily pull our legs up into full handstand. We can also drop down with control into chataranga dandasana (A push up position with the elbows bent.) We can lower our feet to the floor between our hands as if jumping forwards from down dog. We can even swing our legs through our hands so that we end up sitting.

Practicing the middle position we make it easier for ourselves to do handstand, we also make it easier to do Ashtanga style sun salutations, Vinyasas, and Arm Balances as well. As an example of the latter, from the middle position we could lower down into Bakasana.

Going into the middle position we give ourselves the option of moving into anyone of these poses should we choose. Or we can simply hold it.


Moving into the Middle and Out of it

In the video I jump into middle position and from there alternate putting my feet down or pulling them up. This is an exercise I can use in my classes to teach the benefits and flexibility of this position.

In the video, I don’t quite actually make the middle position on my first jump… bad teacher! On the last jump I swing my legs through my hands… only my feet get stuck along the way! Oh well.

I could have crossed my ankles to have given myself the clearance but didn’t. If I ever do get the jump through then I would like to do it with my legs straight and ankles uncrossed and so not crossing my ankles is the way I am working towards that.

As a final note, If we can move into this position and hold it we are more likely to be able to maintain balance or a floating like quality even as we move out of it. Also, in the video I jump into it from down dog. We can also pull up into it from the forward bend position.


Video Enlarged

Practicing the “Middle Position”

Handstands-Pulling Up From a Forward Bend

Rocking Back and Forwards
Pulling the Pelvis Forwards to Get the Legs Up

If you’ve ever watched Olympic diving, you’ll often see divers pulling up into a handstand prior to diving. They start from a forward bend, and then as if by magic, sweep their legs up, in most cases while keeping them straight. And then they dive. This article isn’t about diving, but about getting our legs up while balancing on our hands. To make this more accessible, we’ll talk about doing this with the knees bent. However, once you understand the basics it should be easy for you to apply to doing it with the legs straight.

This series of exercises is best done in sync with the breath. At each stage focus on feeling your body and your breath and on moving slowly an smoothly. The idea of moving slowly and smoothly is so that you can experience your body by feeling it.


Rocking Forwards and Back

In a standing position, bend forwards and place your hands on the floor, bending your knees as much as you have to. Place your hands shoulder width apart just in front of your feet. Lift your hips high. Slowly rock forwards until you can feel your weight on your hands and then rock back. You will still have some weight on your feet but try and position your body so that you feel most of your weight pressing down through your hands.


Pressing Down through the hands

If possible, reposition your hands so that they are besides your feet. Now use your shoulders to press down through your hands. Use the same feeling as rocking forwards and back. Gently press down through your hands and then release.

If you can’t place your hands next to your feet, then continue rocking backwards and forwards but while doing so, notice your shoulders, use your shoulders to press down through your hands as you rock forwards and release smoothly while rocking back.


Positioning the Shoulders

So that is is easier to balance, a part of what we can do is shift our shoulders forwards. You may already have been doing this, but now you can become conscious of it. As you press into your hands, move your shoulders slightly ahead of your wrists while inhaling. Activate them at the same time. Move back while exhaling.

If you can move your hips forwards at the same time this is even better. See if you can get your hips over your shoulders and your shoulders slightly in-front of your hands. You’ll more than likely have to come up on tippy toes.

You may also find it helpful to lift your pelvis high as you move forwards.


Engaging the Abs

The next step from there is lifting the pelvis. Instead of using the legs though, we use our shoulders, ribcage and waist… Basically we use our abs to unify our ribcage and pelvis so that we can they use our shoulders to lift out pelvis and ribcage together.

So continuing with the previous exercise, with hands slightly forwards or besides the feet, and while moving shoulders and hips forwards, engage the abs so that it feels like you are using your arms to push your pelvis up. At this stage you may find that your feet come off of the floor.


Lifting Up

Rather than trying to jump up, see if you can get your shoulders and pelvis far enough forwards that your feet come off of the floor by themselves.

From there, to get your legs up higher, instead of focusing on lifting your legs, focus on pulling your pelvis forwards so that it is over your shoulders and your spine is vertical. Get your shoulders ahead of your hands to that you upper body is balanced by the weight of your legs. Your upper body is then in front of your hands while your legs are behind them.

Once you get you legs up to the same height as your pelvis, you can continue to lift them but now you move your shoulders and pelvis slowly back, so that they are over your hands, to stay balanced.

So that you can more finely judge how far forwards or back to move your shoulders and hips, feel your hands. Use them to feel where your center is. If you feel your weight moving towards the front of your hands then move your shoulders and hips back. If you feel your weight moving towards the back of your hands then move your shoulders and hips forwards to balance.

Remember to keep your abs engaged. Even better, use your side abs (the obliques.)

The better you can feel your weight via your hands and the better you can control the relationship of your shoulders and hips to your hands the easier you will be able to balance.


Videos Enlarged

Rocking Back and Forwards
Pulling the Pelvis Forwards to Get the Legs Up

Feel Your Body-Move Slowly and Relax

One of the reasons for feeling the body is so that we can notice when it feels good and enjoy the feeling. Another reason is so that we can notice when there is a lack of sensation. Yet another reason is so that we can learn how the parts of ourselves relate.

If we don’t have a clear idea of what we are trying to do, then by feeling our body in whatever we are doing, we can notice how we feel and in the process gain experience.

As we gain more and more experience we’ll be better able to develop a clear idea of what we want to do.

If we have a clear idea of how we want our body positioned or how we want it to move, then if we feel our body while moving it, we can check to see if what is actually happening matches up to what we want to happen.  We can then make changes where necessary.

Moving Slowly and Smoothly-

So that we can feel our body while we are moving it, one of the things that we can do while moving from one position to another is move slowly and smoothly. Yet another thing that we can do is relax our body as much as possible given what we are trying to do.

Generally the slower and smoother we move the easier it is to feel our body. Actually, in order to move slowly most of us have to focus on what we are doing. So say we are in a lunge and we want to lift our back knee and then lower it. To do this requires awareness, not only of the knee we are moving but the front foot as well since we are using it to help us balance.

In this case the slower we move the more we have to feel our body so we can tell that we are moving slowly.

If in addition to moving slowly, we are as relaxed as possible given what we are trying to do, then the actual process of making sure that we are relaxed is a way of feeling our body. Plus, the more relaxed we are the easier it is to sense tension in our connective tissue and via that tension the weight of whatever body part is hanging downwards.

Tai Ji

Practicing Tai Ji I use my feet to tell me when I have shifted fully from one position to another. I can feel when my weight is fully on one foot, or when body has shifted so that the front and heel of my front foot are pressing down evenly. Part of this is relaxing my feet enough that I can notice changes in pressure where my foot contacts the floor.

Another part of this is “shaping” or positioning my foot so that it is naturally stable. Yet another part is moving slowly enough so that I have time to both feel what my feet are telling me and to respond to what I sense.

Being able to feel my feet I can use them to tell me which foot my center is over and exactly where in relation to my feet my center is. I can then tell when my center is where I want it to be.

Applying this to a static yoga pose like Warrior 1, I can try bending my front knee. As I do so, if I feel the forces acting through my front foot I can move my foot forwards more or back so that those forces press evenly through the front and back of that foot. When this happens I’ve got a pretty good indication that my shin is vertical or that my knee is over my foot.

Yoga

Carrying this body awareness upwards from my feet, I can then focus on feeling my pelvis and hips. I can either pull my front leg hip back or my back leg hip forwards so that my hips are square to the front. (I’m still in Warrior 1 pose.) I can then adjust my feet accordingly so that there is even pressure through the front and heel of the front foot and through the inner and outer arch of the back foot.

For a more finely tuned pose, I can brace my front foot so that my front leg acts like a buttress for the pelvis, and then I can relax my hip muscles so that my pelvis “naturally” faces the front.

Practicing Slow Movement So That We Have the Option of Moving Fast

Having practiced feeling my body while moving slowly, it is then easier to carry that feeling into doing movements quickly. I can practice a Tai Ji sequence quickly while carrying the same feeling from doing it slowly. Or I can enter straight into a pose like Warrior 1 and find the sweet spot immediately without all the fiddling around.

Making Muscle Tissue Smart

Focusing on feeling, whether moving slowly or quickly, the sensation or experience is of the parts of the body positioning themselves. Muscle memory kicks in. However, this can be more than the muscles following the same groove over and over again. It is the muscles finding the best groove depending on what is happening at the time. We give our muscles a rudimentary intelligence or consciousness so that they can respond in the best way possible depending on the circumstances as they are now.

The smarter we make our muscles and the parts of our body in general, the easier it then is to get our body to do what we want it to do. We can then lead our body by looking for the feeling of what we are trying to do, or by simply having a clear idea.

Foundation-The Interface Between Ourselves and the World

Generally when we look at a system we can isolate it from its surroundings or we draw a line, a boundary.

“This is where the system ends, and this is where it begins.”

We can look at the main connection between itself and the outside world as the foundation. The part of the outside world to which it connects, is its foundation.

When building a building, the foundation is the first part made.

(The plan comes before the foundation, and the idea before the plan so we could say that the idea is the foundation for the plan, the plan the foundation for the making of the building.)

The foundation is usually a part of the earth, or it provides an interface, a solid link or connection between the earth and the building.

The metal framework continues that link upwards.

If we look at the earth and the building as two separate ideas we could say that the earth, particularly the small square parcel of land that the building is going to sit on, is the foundation in the relationship. It provides stability so that the building can be made and while the building is being made. It continues to provide that stability afterwards.

Relationships with the Inside and the Outside

If we look at ourselves in the context of our relationship with the earth, the earth provides stability so that we can walk run or even stand still. Because of the earth’s size, and the gravity that is a result of that size, the earth provides a foundation for us to change. We may change it in some small way, in the context of individual entities, but for the most part, it remains stable so that we can create or experience the change that we desire.

Looking at ourselves and the earth what we have is a relationship. In that relationship, change can occur easily, change that we desire can occur because the earth is stable.

Within the context of our body, we can say that our body is a relationship, actually a whole bunch of relationships. We can divide our body into two parts, the lower body up to the pelvis and the upper body, from the pelvis upwards. We can call the lower body the foundation, the upper body the expression and we can also use a third part, the center, in this case the pelvis, since it connects the two. We could go deeper, the feet, lower legs, thighs, pelvis, lower back, ribcage, neck, head, shoulder girdle, shoulders, arms, forearms and hands, these are parts and where they connect relationships are formed.

Depending on what we are doing, one model or the other may be more useful at the time.

Foundations or References for Change

Whichever model we use, if we are trying to create or understand a change that is happening in our body, in each relationship we can use one part as the foundation for the other.

Our feet and lower legs can be the foundation for our thighs and pelvis. In this case the thighs and pelvis are an expression. We could look then at the thighs as the foundation for the pelvis and the pelvis the foundation for the lumbar spine. In this case, because we are starting from the ground up, each lower part in the relationship, each part closest to the earth, closest to stability is the foundation and the other part is the expression.

Generally, the foundation is the part that stays still, stable while the expression is the part that moves.

With a foundation we have a point from which we can measure and create the change that we want to create. If we are looking at a relationship then a foundation gives us a reference against which to measure the change that occurs (if any.)

Generally, one would hope, when creating a foundation for a building, say a simple one, the top surface of the foundation is flat and level. Not only that, any mounting points, structural elements are set distances apart from each other.

Engineers create this by first digging or marking one point and using it as a reference to locate other points. Meanwhile these points and the foundation act as reference for the first part of the building. Once that is up, the floor below and the floor above can be used as references for the floors that follow.

Which reference used can depend on convenience and facility, which is the best to use at the time? Which makes it easiest to create the change that we desire.

Absolute and Relative References

If you’ve ever written web pages where even a few links are involved you are already used to this idea. If you know the page you are at and the relationship of the page you are going to you can write a full link or a short link. For example, if the page you are lining to is in the same directory of the same sight you can simply reference the file name.

But if the page is being used as a template or copied elsewhere then in that case you’d want to use the whole address.
In spread sheets we have the same flexibility.

We can reference cells based on the cell names, using the a1 cell as the master reference, or we can reference cells based on our current location, two cells down and one cell to the left. (Absolute and relative referencing)

The address that we use provides a reference, a foundation for the change that we wish to create whether linking to another web page on the web or another cell in a spreadsheet.

Creating Stable References

Generally, in relationships with the earth, the earth is the bigger party, it is also relatively stable and immobile and so it is the obvious candidate for the label of foundation.

In the case of our body, doing something while standing, we can make a part of our body stable, immobile, a foundation for the part that moves.

So while standing we can make our feet, ankles, lower legs strong, so that we can do what we want with our upper body. Our foundation may just be our feet and ankles, or it may include our shins, knees and thighs, and even our hips and our pelvis.
If we look at just our lower body, we can look for the foundation within the foundation, say the feet, ankles and shins, while the thighs and pelvis are the expression, relatively relaxed.

And then our waist, ribcage, neck and head can be the foundation for whatever we are doing with our arms.

Working from the Center Outwards

Another way that we can create a foundation for our body is to work from the center outwards. In this case our spine, pelvis, waist, ribcage neck and head can be made stable to provide a foundation for our arms and legs.

In this case our foundation is at our center.

Once our center is firm, we can adjust our connection with the earth to suit.

This could be like building a mobile home, carting it to its new site, and then setting the foundation to suit the mobile home. Depending on what we are doing, one point of view may be more useful than the other.

We could also look at the earth as one big ball, globe or planet. Rather than thinking about the small patch we are in contact with we could think about the whole of the earth. Then in that context, the earth’s center is the foundation for ourselves. It is the point which gravity pulls us in towards and it is the point that we stand up and radiate outwards from.

Choose Your Starting Point

Whether thinking in terms of center or foundation, the most important thing is to be clear on which is which so that you have a reference for the change that you are trying to create.

If you haven’t got a reference then that can be the first change that you can create. You can pick some part of a relationship to use as a reference and if it is less than ideal then change it and choose another.