Behind the scenes on the “How to sit for meditation: setup exercises” shoot.

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Some of you will know that I have been co-presenting at a number of traditional Buddhist meditation retreats for some years now. My co-presenter is my good friend (and wandering Dharma teacher) Patrick Kearney. For many years he had been telling me that many meditators were having trouble sitting comfortably. And on the very first one month silent retreat that I attended, as soon as the silence was lifted, all everyone could speak about was the kind of pain they had and where there pain was located!

Now, it is often said that pain can be a meditation object and because so many people are in pain when they sit (and because that actually what’s happening in big ‘R’ reality) then pain is a meditation object for many sitters. This pain mostly manifests in the knees, hips, back and neck. But a long time ago I asked myself, ‘What could meditation be like if you were able to sit perfectly still and perfectly comfortably for an hour or more?’. I have been able to do this for many years now and I can report that the experience of meditation can be substantially different from what was reported following my first one. As a result, I have spent a long time researching all the important exercises to let people sit with minimum tension and no tension concentration spots in the body. I mention this last because if you had any sore spots in the first 10 or 15 minutes of meditation, by the time that 40 minute mark comes it’ll be the only thing you can think about. For me personally, this seems like an inefficient use of the time and process.

The technology for recording high-quality video and sound has changed remarkably in the last 10 years. Some of you know that I was a filmmaker in earlier life and we used 16mm film and analogue magnetic tape sound recorders to make documentaries then. A small crew was three people and very few filmmakers were able to make programs with more than one camera at a time: apart form the personnel needed, film was very expensive and the making of the final film requires an extensive editing process after it has been exposed in camera. Film is difficult to handle and is vulnerable to x-rays and other events that are common to the world traveller (not the least of which is the possibility of any film being stolen as one of mine was when I was passing through the Philippines one year).

Today I set up my two Panasonic cameras and set the white balance to tungsten. We have special “cool fluros” as they’re called which are perfectly colour balanced to 3200K, and provide an even light which has almost no heat associated with it, unlike normal tungsten lights which are very hot (and so a small space like the studio with four or five people working in it becomes uncomfortably hot very quickly).

The two cameras I have chosen are Panasonic G6 which is available for about $500 these days and a Panasonic GX1 which I bought brand-new for $179. Our cameraman has my other camera, which I have written about here, the Panasonic GX-7; he is setting it up for the forthcoming ST for GST programs, which we start soon. And I have a couple of very inexpensive zoom lenses and a few primes. These particular Panasonic cameras have a unique feature as well, something called the extended tele (ETC) mode, which means that you can double the effective focal length of any lens sitting on the front of the camera (because the senses are 16 megapixels and hence almost 4000 pixels wide). When you use the extended tele setting the camera simply crops the centre pixels required for 1080p or (what we use) 720p. And using the AVCHD codec (and sourcing your cameras from the US which I always do, for the ore useful frame rates) then we’re not limited to the 30 minute recording limit set by the EU which fr reasons known to no one, apply here in Australia. Both of my cameras can record up to the full capacity of the SD cards or the full charge of the battery, whichever ends first. Today I recorded for just over an hour continuously and both cameras recorded files of about 7 GB in size.

At the same time I had set up my Sony PCM-10 recorder using its XY microphone configuration and I suspended it from one of the struts in the ceiling, so it was about 3 feet above my mouth when I was sitting down. The remarkable thing about top micing (which Hollywood has done for years, except there you need some brawny guy on the end of a long boom) is that you can move around in the sound cone and the sound does not change very much at all. The quality of the sound I recorded today is excellent and because I was being top mic’d there is no handling sound from my clothing (which is always a problem with lavaliere mikes) and there was no squeaking sound from my knees or feet on the cushion either. And still are all of these extraneous sounds out of our experience of hearing, but sound recorders record what is actually there and that’s quite innstructive thing to reflect on too.

The technique is to start the sound recorder, check levels, then start recording, and then turn on each camera and use the focusing button to focus on the front of the meditation cushion I was sitting on. The inexpensive zoom lenses I used on both cameras today have an advantage in this situation: they are relatively slow in terms of their aperture—but the great thing for me in this setup meant that I had quite a deep slice of acceptably focused space to work in (as I wrote in another post, depth of field is a function of aperture and focal length). I know the shallow depth of field is all the rage these days on Vimeo and YouTube, but if you want to make an instructional video, deeper depth of field is usually the way you need to go, especially if your talent is moving around.

Then I used my old-fashioned slate (sometimes called clapperboard): making sure it could be seen by both cameras I simply clapped the top part together with the bottom part to make a sharp sound. I slid the slate out of the picture, took off my glasses, and taught the one-hour class exactly as I would have done had I been sitting in front of a room of meditators. What a liberating experience for a filmmaker I can tell you!

Once I had finished recording the program I switched off all the machines and took their SD cards over to my editing room. I am using Final Cut Pro 10 (FCPX) now and I ingested all of the footage into an new Library that I’d set up to the occasion. Once all three digital files were in the program, I examined each clip and found the slate sync point on each and FCPX went to work. Only seconds later I had a multi-cam clip set up and I pulled it into my timeline. Editing in FCPX is simply a matter of clicking on which camera’s view you want to see at any time. I did shorten a few things (including a couple times during the program where I went to check to make sure the camera were still recording because this is all fairly new technology). And cutting those bits out was a matter of a few clicks.

Now as I sit here dictating this blog FCPX is doing the second compression of the program. We are experimenting with different frame sizes and different compression techniques to see how we can get the best possible program for the smallest possible size. As soon as I get back from Adelaide, I will upload to our Amazon Web Service and go live to the world.

Please excuse (and advise me!) of any typos: I dictated this via Siri in about 20′.

Do some good, have some fun, make some money

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Crudely put, these are the orienting principles of my personal philosophy, or modus operandi. The order of the list is important; it is ordered from most to least important; former ones take precedent over later ones. So, let’s consider these in order.

Do some good. Note ‘some’: no Mother Theresa here, more a guideline (think of the Pirates’ Code, and the word ‘guidelines’ being said by Geoffrey Rush); or think of it as a test—is this course of action good? Never easy to define, nonetheless, everyone knows what is good; but sometimes we have a difficult time following that direction. We get distracted; we lose sight of the principle; we forget the order of the principles. This is human. To become a better human, we strive to fulfil this principle more often. When others are involved, this principle is reframed (as I have written elsewhere): what course of action will lead to the greatest good for all involved? Sometimes this means putting others before oneself.

Have some fun. Again, “some”. While the “pursuit of happiness” in enshrined in no less than the Constitution of the Unites States, used here, the term means something different. What we do in daily life is best experienced as enjoyable; I find the principle most helpful reframed in its negated form: if I am not happy doing what I am doing, either I am not present, or I am not doing what I want, or need, to be doing. Happiness, I have discovered, does not depend on others; and, if it does, suffering is inevitable. And one of my teachers said that the heart is only capable of two states (he used the word ‘emotion’, but in his work, all the ordinary states psychology labels as “emotions” are actually blockages to the heart’s two fundamental movements as he described them). Experienced directly, the heart’s two states are simple happiness, or simple sadness. In some people, happiness is experienced as peacefulness. Happiness, or peacefulness, manifests naturally (spontaneously) when one is present and hence not enmeshed in the habit of thinking. One of the virtues of a daily sitting practise is the direct experience of this state; a reminder of one’s true nature.

Make some money. This is an explicit acknowledgement that we function in a capitalist culture. The least important of the principles, I have found that if the first two principles are followed, the last one takes care of itself. This is not the New Age perspective of “the universe will provide” (except in the logical necessity sense that all that we receive necessarily must come from the universe). No, one must pay attention to this principle to ensure that one is capable of supporting one’s dependents; to be able to have reliable shelter; and to put food on the table. This principle means simply that one’s income must exceed one’s outgoing; that one be capable of paying well the people who help you; and that one’s indebtedness to others be reduced as far as possible. Money is condensed energy; for many years, I recalculated the monetary cost of anything I wanted in “P.U.s”; or “patient units” (the dollar value of a consultation). I know precisely how much energy this is; that recalculation helped my consideration of the desired object (i.e., how much do I really want this?).

The genie is out of the bottle, and she ain’t going back any time soon

These last few weeks have been my all-time, fastest–deepest, learning experience (apart from the time I almost died in hospital).

The result of these events is that I needed to think and re-think about why it is we do what we do. If you had been following this blog, you will have seen that there have been a few posts on the philosophical foundations of Stretch Therapy. But it’s not just philosophical foundations: it’s the ethical ones too, and most people who have not studied philosophy as deeply as I have will not be aware, perhaps, that ethics is an area of inquiry all by itself in philosophy-land. Whether or not there is any ethical basis to the doing of what we do is connected to the individual who is doing the doing. This is entirely dependent on what kind of human being they are; their values; and the morality based on these.

As an ex academic (philosophy of science, relevant logic, human ecology), my main concern over ten years of post-grad. research was the limits to scientific understanding (and, not coincidentally, this refocused my interest in traditional Buddhism and meditation). As JimP commented the other day, academic research is conducted in a relatively very open environment (except for Big Pharma’s research): academics present their findings in open seminars; we publish our work explicitly to invite criticism and commentary; we engage with colleagues expressly to both share and to further the enterprise. Publishing means your work is ‘out in the open‘: anyone can access this information and use it any way they like. In academia, all one is required to do is to acknowledge one’s sources.

The general point is that knowledge cannot be controlled: as soon as you publish, in whatever form this occurs, you must let it go. This is what publishing is: the deliberate dissemination of the thing you have created, for criticism and potential up-taking/inclusion in other bodies of work. In our work, we don’t just ‘permit’ this: we encourage it explicitly, and the repayments have been magnificent: everyone involved in our work feeds back their insights to us, and the system grows. As I have observed recently, we have learned more in the last 3–4 years than the previous 20 for this reason alone. In reality, I have become the collator for ST, rather than its originator—and I am delighted with this development. ST is, explicitly, a collective enterprise.

Our intention is to share the info. that we have at the lowest cost to the user that lets us continue, and we want to learn from our students which is why we run our forums, and the manner in which we run our workshops. They are workshops in the deep-meaning sense: interactive, creative, where everyone can have a voice if they want—definitely not a lecture from an ‘expert’. All this is why our system works: it has been tested by many tens of thousands of people just like us. We incorporate feedback quickly and dispassionately, and are happy to acknowledge when something proposed by someone else—perhaps not in the system—works better than what we are using. Anything that does not work is ruthlessly cut. This is because we have a passion for an impersonal objective: more closely understanding Reality in its myriad forms, as this applies to movement, flexibility, and our objective, “grace and ease in the body”.

The genie is already out of the bottle, and it cannot be put back. Let’s hang on to her robes, and enjoy the ride! Let’s see where this can go. Let’s have some fun, do some good, and make some money, in that order.

In our endeavours, we have had extraordinary support from our students and Forum members; and many people have made themselves known to us of the express purpose of offering assistance. Thank you, everyone.

I grind my teeth and have jaw tension—what can I do?

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This is a common problem, and I have been asked for advice many time, so I thought a blog post might be helpful.

Grinding your teeth (most often at nighttime) is called bruxism and, according to dentist friends, can seriously wear the teeth (more than eating, apparently) and you don’t want that. A quick scan of the literature reveals that for some people, the forces produced during bruxism exceeds the maximum voluntary force the same people were able to make during the day—and it is the larger forces that produce the increased wear.

I suggest wearing a dental splint at night, too, if you have any cracks in the molars (independent of bruxism) and the same suggestion even if you have perfect teeth, but grind them at night. The splint will stop the wear completely.

I made a short video on a range of exercises that can help decrease the ‘normal’ tension in the jaw muscles, thought to be the cause of bruxism. ‘Normal’ because though common in the statistical sense, not desirable. The video is found here:

Go really gently with these in the beginning; make sure you do all very slowly and with full attention on the sensations the first few times.

You may want to consider doing neck exercises too; there are a few on the YT channel. One theory is that undischarged neck tension is the main reason behind the grinding activity while we sleep. If everything gets looser (more relaxed) over time, that activity decreases. As well, the jaw is a gliding–sliding joint—so one’s bite (alignment of the lower and upper jaws) is purely a function of the balance of forces around the temporomandibular joint (TMJ). This joint is the last one in the chain of joints starting at the feet where any imbalance of forces can be resolved—if you have a skeletal leg-length difference, for example, then it is common to find jaw misalignment—but I suggest holding off on any bite restoration dentistry until the LLD is resolved (about half the population have a measured LLD of 5mm, or more; this is one of the core concepts in the book Overcome neck & back pain).

I say this because one of my teachers from many years ago had had about CAD $8,000 worth of realignment dentistry done when we met but she had not had her LLD looked into at all. When the LLD was partially corrected, the immediate effect in her body was that her jaw was no longer aligned and was very noticeable to her from a comfort and chewing perspective.

One more important aspect: reducing neck and jaw tension by itself makes people look younger; the reason is that tension in the facial muscles is the cause of wrinkles. On any of our workshops, by the end of the second day, the participants in the room are looking at everyone else’s face say things like, ‘Omigod: your face has changed!”, and so on. It’s amazing to see.

Last point: consider developing a conscious relaxation habit. There are immense health and wellbeing benefits (not to mention significant reduction in mental self-talk!). I have a bunch of free downloadable relaxation scripts on the forums. Put them on your iPhone, plug in ear-buds, lie down, and listen. You will experience amazing effects in the body over time, and this new habit will complement the jaw/neck exercises perfectly.

Why living longer is a *potential* benefit to all

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On his wonderful Physical Alchemy blog, Dave wrote:

One of my teachers once said to me:

“All these things (health; stretching; movement/martial arts; strength training; etc)—simply give you the longevity that you are probably going to need to get over your own ignorance and attain your True Nature” KL (Paraphrased—this was the gist of it).

I want to unpack this idea in today’s post. As far as the planet’s concerned, probably the faster we all get recycled, the better—but many spiritual practises believe that if one can live longer and if one is practising (more on what I mean by this term below), then one might just transcend the limited sense of self. By “limited sense of self”, I mean the ego’s perspective that it is separate from Other, and that it, like the ~7,000,000,000 other egos, is unquestionably the most important of them). A lot of conditionals in this sentence, I admit, and just one of the reasons spiritual practise ls like sliding down a 40′ razor blade, using your balls as brakes and rudder. I digress.

In a similar vein, a dear friend of mine came to me once to talk about how stretching might be able to assist him, mentioning that a monk he had met on a recent retreat had confided to him that, ‘major insights came to me between the ages of 84 and 87…” and my friend was concerned that his vehicle might not last the distance!

This is what I want to talk about today. What’s the point surviving to an old age if you are decrepit, unclear, medicated, and/or in some kind of care somewhere? Or worse—attached to a machine? This is not my idea of living; it might fit some definitions of survival, but at too low a level of functioning to satisfy me. This is a side note, though: the real usefulness of living longer might be able to be realised if you have some kind of practise. But when I use the term ‘practise’, what do I mean? Let me put this another way: how are you with yourself? Do you know yourself? Do you like what you experience inside? Do you pay attention to this, or are you focussed on what those around you think of you? Do you like what you see when you look in the mirror?

As I get older, too, I am exposed to an increasing number of people who are older than I am, and many of them live from one medical procedure to the next. Conversations revolve around pain/dysfunction/inability/immobility/some kind of physical difficulty. There is a kind if self-centredness that concerns me. Horizons narrow; interests contract. Many have become completely captive to what’s going on in their minds, and mistake this activity for Reality.

Actually, if anyone every does take the time and develop the capacity to sit still for an hour and pay attention to what’s actually being thrown up on the mental big-screen, very quickly once realises that there are patterns that repeat, sometimes endlessly, and they have zero content. If you do not see this, though, the activities of the mind can seem important and, more concerning, real. I made a YT video on how to sit in the lotus position; many meditators want to do this, but being able to sit in this position has nothing whatsoever to do with how effectively you can meditate. The video is over 14′ long, but if you do want to try to sit this way, following the directions can help you save your knees:

Meditation is a vast subject, on the one hand, and simple on the other. The Buddha spoke of vipassana and samatha as the two wings of the bird of meditation; just thinking about these two concepts (let alone trying to say something sensible or useful about them in a blog) will perhaps give some sense of this vastness. The simple aspect, though, can be summed like this: what is the state of your mind right now? I am off to sit.

“‘Sorry I could not get to this sooner”. “No, now’s good!” ex Numb3rs

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Numb3rs is a brilliant program and some of the most human television I have ever enjoyed. The relationship between the precociously brilliant and very young Charles/Charlie and Don, his elder brother, can be brilliant viewing. Charlie is a mathematician at ‘CalSci’ when we meet him, having got his PhD at 16, the same day his brother Don graduated high school. Don is an FBI ‘special agent’ (and they all seem to be ‘special’, don’t they?) . Add Judd Hirsch as the father, and you have a truly interesting triangle.

The exchange I quote in the subject line above grabbed my attention. The details of why Charlie could not get to the task Don wanted him to do is not material to what I want to talk about here. Time and our relationship to it is what I want to discuss.

Because Charlie was not able to get onto the problem that Don needed an answer to, he experienced an immense pressure, partly from his own perception that he was procrastinating and partly because he did not want to grapple with the question itself, because its implications in the outer world, the messy non-mathematical Reality (reality spelled this way courtesy of Anthony Wilden) were manifesting in dangerous ways. This episode reveals the shortcomings of decisions made on the basis of mathematical modelling and its limitations were becoming painfully apparent. Again, this detail is not particularly germane to what we’re talking about here; the mismatch between the conceptual modelling of the world and what the world actually does must be painfully clear to everyone who can think or read! I mention it because everyone can relate a similar experience.

Don’s answer to Charlie’s apology is simple and brilliant. As Eckhart Tolle wrote in his book The power of now, there is only now. All the resistance that we experience in our mind to what is happening or what we want to happen (but which is not happening) or what we wish were not happening, is all purely mental in its construction. Most people are not aware that the resistance and the irritation and/or anger or any of the other emotions that are created in the body as a result of what’s going on in the mind at the time is not real. It is simply just what going on in the mind at the time. And if readers have ever spent some time meditating you all know that most of the time the mind is an extremely busy place and it just keeps generating ideas, concepts, and whatever emotions are attached to those. Experiencing resistance is always mental resistance to what’s actually happening now.

Charles had come to Don in quite a state in this particular episode. Don’s reply, “No, now is good” is simple, is 100% percent accurate, it immediately disarmed Charlie’s internal state, and is perfectly aligned with the dharma. Now is  perfect.

How does that feel?

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The most common question from teacher to student is, ‘how does that feel?’; where do you feel that?’; and ‘can you move/change that feeling (and how)?’ This is the process by which we have come to learn that science has only a partial understanding of the process of becoming more flexible, or stronger. I spent many years in graduate study at the ANU, in the Philosophy and Human Ecology Departments, and one of the main focuses of that work was trying to understand the limits to science, as a broad set of tools for understanding the natural world. And it became clear that science has little to say on those aspects of human experience that are (often pejoratively) labelled as “subjective”. Pain is a perfect example, and an individual’s experience of the many sensations of the activity of stretching is another. No amount of understanding of the biology, mechanics, or neurophysiology of stretching will actually get you into side splits. We have spent 25+ years in the close study of this most intimate and inner of human experiences, and now we understand something about it.

I will tell you what I think is happening in a moment, but a bit of background first. An area of the brain called the somatosensory cortex was once thought to only be where information from the proprioceptors was ‘recorded’. An aside: one of the difficulties of articulating dimensions of experience are the assumptions that are built into models like these (‘recording’ as a metaphor for the experience of living, or the many computer metaphors that attempt the same thing, like memory considered as ‘storage’). I argue that these metaphors are completely unsuitable for this task, and instead of shedding light on any associated question, instead obfuscate, or cover up, what’s trying to be understood. English is poor in respect of concepts and words for describing one’s interior states. And there is emerging dialogue in a field termed ‘interiority‘ that attempts to describe this, but I note that criticism has already emerged on the grounds that the very term draws part of its ‘power’ from the metaphors of architecture.

As an ex academic, I am often amused by the constant re-invention of the wheel that plagues popular writing; phenomenology (called one of the ‘Continental’ schools here in Australia, with our still-prevalent logical positivist biases) has been plumbing the depths of the interior life, as lived, for a very long time now and some remarkably clever thinkers’s work can be found with a simple search on this term.

And there’s another new/old word, too: interoception. Another term introduced by the great Sherrington (proprioception is his, too), and based on another great’s work, Pavlov, interception has not got the traction it deserves. Only recently has this term re-emerged, and I believe the term is becoming popular among fascial researchers like Robert Schleip (“Greeeaaaat!”, for anyone who has had the pleasure of working with him!) as the term to describe the suite of sensations that comprise the inner world.

I believe one of the main impediments to this term becoming as popular as proprioception, and becoming central in research rather than peripheral, is that interoception simply cannot be studied by science and medicine the same way as rocks and plants (and that’s a big assumption, too); interoception must be experienced; it must be lived, to have any meaning at all. MRI analyses of patterns in the brain do not have much to say about the lived experience. I believe this research direction is unlikely to uncover anything really useful; direct, subjective experience: our work, Yoga, contemplation, the emerging movement schools—these are the paths that will lead to deeper understanding of the lived life. What useful information is yielded by a knowledge of citrus organic chemistry in respect of the question, ‘what does an orange taste like?’ to one who has not tasted an orange?

But back to the task at hand. Research over the past 15 years, in particular, has led to a reassessment of the role of proprioception in both range of movement (the classic ROM so loved by body work practitioners) and the experience of living, the far more interesting aspect, I argue. And our work in flexibility and movement strongly suggests two aspect of this which are not yet mainstream discourse. The first is how the body learns to balance: in a typical beginner’s MG* class, we will teach the students how to kneel upright on a Swiss ball, balancing on only the shins, then the knees. About half the class can do this the first few times they try; and the remainder cannot. The next class, though, a week later, and with no practise of any sort in between, 100% of the students can do this. We feel the mind–body, when exposed to any challenge, works on the problem in the background, in a way that is completely hidden from you, the ‘owner’. The second is that becoming flexible has little to do with Z-fibres and sarcomeres; it have everything to do with what the neural system experiences as the task is being attempted (especially when you come out of the end stretch position). The owner of the body in question feels a series of sensations—and sensations are the language of the body. Sensations are primary and some sensations, when sufficiently intense, create the experience of emotions. In the stretching world, the elephant in the room is fear.

Fear is something we talk about in the class and workshop situation, because it’s there (imagine trying to sit in side splits if you can’t, or to lift yourself off the floor into a full back bend if you can’t do that either), and because pretending it isn’t does not change the reality. I believe fear is experienced when the body is sufficiently challenged, because this response is ‘hard-wired’ (to use another computer metaphor) in the system. It ia a major part of our inherited adaptive mechanisms. And watching a demonstration of what you will soon be doing elicits the same internal response, if you have not had the actual experience. All creatures exhibit this response. If an amoeba is stimulated with a probe in a petri dish, for example, it withdraws from the irritant. Let me put this another way: no human being has ever responded to a threat, or strong stress, by lengthening, relaxing, softening, and opening. It just does not happen—yet, paradoxically, this reflex can be unlearned. And in the unlearning, major changes take place in the world of interiority. All reflexive responses can be repositioned this way, too.

A strong stretch is just another threat, as far as the body is concerned, unless you can actually do the intended movement—in which case, all you feel are sensations, but which have no strong emotional charge; accordingly, there is no threat, and your experience of exactly the same position is a different experience from the person who cannot. This difference turns on attribution of significance: I am certain that the sensations coming from the body can be experienced as a threat (depending on your personal history) or as a pleasant sensation (if stretching regularly is part of your personal history). And I feel that much of the confusion surrounding the most intimate of experiences, pain, turns in the individual’s capacity to separate the sensation (neural impulses) and the significance (the story we have learned to tell ourselves about it).

As a culture, we westerners know more about the external world, in scientific terms, that any culture has, as far as we know. But it seems to me we have made the mistake of knowing the price of everything, and the value of nothing, in the process. The main problem is one of intent, or one of direction: most systems, beginning with pre-school, are oriented to knowing more and more about the external world. But where is the balance? When are children taught how to look inside, and to understand the significance  (or the non-significance) of what they feel? And where are the adults who might teach them these important things? That’s enough to get the conversation started, I feel; please add your comments below.

*MG: Monkey Gym

Photography 101 in (hopefully) digestible instalments, Part Two

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Continuing from the earlier post, the next variable to consider is shutter speed.

Shutter speed

The foe of sharp images is blur: and this has a number of interesting causes. If, for example, you are trying to make images of fast moving children, then it’s helpful to know that selecting a shutter speed of 1/250″ will slow most human action, and 1/500″ will do an even better job of this. So, the speed of movements of the objects you are shooting need to be considered.

Blur (either movement of the object being shot, or movement of the camera itself while the exposure is being made) will rob your image of its sharpness. Sharpness itself is an illusion: just as a surface that looks polished to the naked eye looks rough under a microscope, so too will apparent sharpness disappear if you magnify any image too much. So we need to consider what the image’s final use will be—if your images appear at small sizes on the internet, or you only show people images off the back of your camera, then you will not need to worry overly about sharpness: if it looks sharp enough on the viewing platform you use, then the image is sharp enough. If, on the other hand, you want to print your images, or see them on a larger computer screen, then sharpness will become a more important aspect of the final work. It’s a very useful exercise to do: download some of your images, and look at them on a big screen: what looked razor sharp, often, is not.

Getting back to the relationship between aperture and shutter speed, and again using two fast-moving kids as an example, then you will need to choose a fast shutter speed (to freeze their movement and, in the process, any movement of the camera itself as you try to keep up with them) and you will need to used a relatively deep (or “thick”) depth of field, to try to ensure that both children are in focus. If you think about this, if you attempt to shoot your children, it is unlikely that they will be playing in the same plane (speaking geometrically here) so if your aperture is shallow (low ƒ stop number) then only a shallow slice of what you are looking at will be in focus. This means that if the camera manages to focus on one child, only she will be in focus, and the other one will be soft. This may suit your intent, but if you want to see both clearly, you need to select your focus point somewhere in between them, and select a thicker ‘slice’ of sharpness by selecting a higher ƒ stop (bigger aperture number).

And the thickness of this slice also depends on the lens’s focal length: wide angle lenses display deep DOF; and longer lenses display shallower DOFs. This is why portrait lenses (the typical head and shoulders with a nicely blurred background) are the tool of choice for most who do this work. The most common portrait length lenses are between 85 and 135mm, but any FL can be used, naturally. In fact there’s an emerging school of ‘environmental portraiture’ that relies on FLs between 24 and 50mm (the latter being the typical lens that came on your Dad’s old film camera.

If you are beginning photographer, I recommend using a FL of between 35 and 50mm (or the equivalent in your system). Let me explain: the numbers I used above when referring to FLs are all relates to the now-old film format; variously called 135, or 35mm. It was the then-new ‘small formate’ popularised by Leica and then other ‘rangefinder’ cameras, and they were described as “small” in relation to the sheet film (4 x 5″, and 10 x 8″) and other larger formats, like ‘medium format’, most of which are still around, like Hasselblad’s 6 x 6cm, Pentax’s 6 x 7, and the larger 6 x 9. I have used all of these in the ‘old days’. If you are using one of the excellent small-sensor cameras that are around these days like the Nikon V1, you will want to get the inexpensive but excellent 18/1.8 (18mm, behaves like a 50mm FL lens, and with a fast aperture of ƒ1.8). This will yield a field of view very similar to the 50 we have been talking about, and it’s a superb lens.

These days, most images are recorded on silicon-based sensors, and these range in size from minuscule (your phone’s sensor) to “full frame” (the size of 35mm film) and larger. So when talking about what size images the sensor will “see”, a language of equivalency has emerged: what FL lens will produce the same look as (say) a 50mm lens used to do (using Dad’s old film camera as the example). And FLs shorter than 50mm are called “wides” or wide angle (and very wide ones called “ultra wides” and FLs longer are called “teles” (or telephoto).

So, to end today, if you have an interchangeable lens camera, I recommend you get a fixed focal length lens (called “primes”) for your and practice learning how to see. Many have written on this, but if your images lack pizazz, you are probably too far away from the object of interest. And primes have another advantage over the cheapo zoom lens that probably came with your camera: they are better corrected optically (less aberrations) and usually have a faster ƒ stop wide open—o can be used to shoot when the light gets low, or to use a faster shutter speed (when things get fast). And primes are almost always smaller, too, so you are more likely to carry the camera with you—and that will always be the best camera to use!

Correction: I changed the FL of the Nikon V1 lens I was talking about; I sold mine to a friend and did not have the actual lens in hand when I was writing. Mea culpa!

How and why we do things in Stretch Therapy the way we do

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We have a completely open system in Stretch Therapy. By ‘open’ I mean it that we set no boundaries around our work and we encourage our students and our teachers to study with whomever they wish, and to teach our material to whomever they wish. All we ask is that any new techniques they learn that might be able to be pressed into the service of Stretch Therapy be brought back into our system. As most of you know we have 100 videos now up on YouTube where we give away many of our ‘innermost secrets’! ‘Innermost secrets’ in inverted commas here to signify ironic use: the fact is that we do not have any inner secrets. We want our little bit of knowledge to get out there, and get traction on real-world problems, as soon as it can. Personally I do not enjoy YouTube clips that are 100% commercial promotions for the business being advertised. We try to include useful information in all of our clips, including our promotional ones.

I want to talk for a moment about why we have completely porous boundaries around our work. A very famous philosopher called Lakatos once coined the phrase “degenerating paradigms”. What he was talking about is what happens when the creator of any system tries to protect the content of that system too vigorously. The result is that the system becomes protective and inward looking and, most importantly, defensive. The deep problem in adopting this stance is that it pretty much kills the originator’s creativity. But that’s not all. By adopting a protective stance one is inward looking, rather than outward looking, by necessity. This is the antithesis of the Stretch Therapy philosophy.

We are outward looking—we are trying to find new ways and new techniques of doing what we already do. We will share our information with anyone who is interested. Anyone who wants to teach our system will be given all possible support. For example, anyone who repeats one of our workshops does it for 50% of the cost of the original one, and if they wish to repeat again it drops to 25% and so on. What we have found is that anyone who repeats our workshop eventually contributes more than what they take away the second and third times around. And in fact, on the figures that Olivia keeps, a huge percentage of people do repeat workshops, some a large number of times. We love this and they become friends too.

We don’t control the teaching approach of someone who teaches our system. In saying this I mean we have assembled a body of knowledge and we do wish that body of knowledge to be taught as effectively and as accurately as possible, but we never specify to our teachers how they are to teach that material. The results of this is that each teacher interprets and presents the material in their own way and in the process their own personality is uniquely reflected. They develop a unique voice. This is our principle of embodiment: making the work your own. In the process of embodiment, new and interesting details are learned; and we benefit. And many new techniques have been created in the embodiment process.

In the process of not controlling the dissemination of knowledge a wonderful teaching atmosphere is created. It might surprise readers to know that some of the best exercises that we teach were taught to us by students in beginner’s classes. When the teaching atmosphere is open and free the creativity flows brilliantly. And because each of our classes is a mini-workshop of its own all students feel free to contribute anything that they feel might be useful in the moment—this is where some of our best techniques have come from. If your students simply follow orders you’re missing out on this incredibly fertile source of new ideas.

One of the reasons why people want to control the teaching process is they feel it’s too easy for them to lose control if the class or the workshop becomes a free-for-all. Of course this is true but it’s a very simple matter to limit that aspect and bring the focus back to the larger task at hand. Many times I’ve been asked a number of questions by an attendee on a workshop and I always indulge the first few, but if I feel that the dialogue is becoming too much about them as an individual I’ll simply say, ‘let us talk about that later’, or ‘I’ll come back to that’ once we do whatever it is that we are about to do. This aspect of control is simply a function of the skill and experience of the presenter or teacher.

As for trying to control the copyright of one’s material, that is trying to put the genie back into the bottle. Because of the internet, the genie is already out of the bottle. So the best you can do I feel is to encourage the accurate sharing of what the genie has to offer and stay far enough ahead of the rest of the pack so that people want to work with you personally in the workshop situation. As well, if you are a leader in your field, people will want to buy your products and read your books and talk about the work that you do. This of course is not why you do it, but it is simply the outcome of always doing the best you can and trying to nurture the incredible group of people who always assemble themselves around individuals who are trying to do something well.

If you are following our YouTube channel you may have noticed that we always use a Creative Commons license system which only requires an attribution of the source of any idea. In Australia copyright comes into existence as soon as any new idea comes into form, be it a YouTube clip or a book or an audio recording. The situation is different in other countries we understand. One of the reasons I put many of our new techniques up on YouTube free is to help associate these new ideas with the brand Stretch Therapy and to show the world ST’s capacity to innovate. Now, time will tell, but so far the putting up of information which in other systems you would have to pay for has meant that our workshops are always full.

In the first draft of this post, I had written “I don’t want to be working 24 hours a day, seven days a week; Olivia and I simply want a lifestyle that is an enjoyable one and where we make enough money to pay the bills!” This assessment is not accurate, and I am grateful to Dave for pointing this out. We are living our lives; this is not a phase. Philosophers do gedanken (this is a German term meaning ‘thought experiments’; these are free, quick and often remarkably revealing), so let’s do one now: if we won the lottery, and had more money than Croesus, what would change? We both think that we’d fly first class instead of economy, but would not change much else. We would program in real sabbaticals, and would make them a priority in the annual schedule. We would hire more people to help us (for example, I need a red-hot FCPX editor, and soon). This way, only the scope and magnitude of what we are trying to do would change; and change in such a way as to assist the basic project, which is to get the information out there.

Also in terms of trying to protect copyright I made a decision a long time ago that I did not want to spend my life being a policeman. I am an ex-academic and plagiarism is pretty much the only crime in academia. As a result I have the habit of acknowledging all of my sources and I’m delighted to do that and I have the same approach to all of the teachers that I’ve been fortunate enough to work with. There have been a few examples of people taking my work and incorporating it into a book and marketing it as their own work and there’s nothing I can do about that. Of course I could take them to court on the basis of breach of copyright, and I have the documentary evidence to support that, but the point is that that approach is antithetical to the larger project which is about creating and being as open as possible.

Finally, in terms of being concerned about protecting ideas or protecting copyright, or any other ‘problem’ or ‘dilemma’, or anything I think is important or worrisome, I apply what I call “the 50 year test” to determine its true nature. The test is this: ‘Who will give a fuck in 50 years?‘ So far, no apparent dilemma or ‘important’ decision that I’ve been presented with has actually passed this test.

And, as a dear friend said only yesterday, ‘Any experienced resistance is, and can only ever be, the mind’. Once that is recognised, I fall back on the ‘second order’ decision process which is to come up with a solution that is the best for all concerned. My sense is that the direction we are on in this life will have wheels for some years to come.

 

Stretch Therapy™ for Gymnastic Strength Training (“GST”)

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Stretch Therapy for Gymnastics Strength Training (“GST”)

This two-day intensive workshop is purpose-designed for all men and women pursuing strength training following men’s gymnastics’ strength training protocols. We will present solo and partner versions of most exercises. We will cover all necessary partial poses, progressions, and associated techniques (like fascial releases) to be able to do:

  • pike
  • pancake
  • full squat
  • full back bend (the bridge)
  • shoulder extension, and flexion
  • full hip mobility

Achieving a full pike and a full pancake requires stretching the calf muscles (including the often-neglected posterior fascial line), all three hamstrings, all adductors, and a small muscle in the hip called piriformis which is a surprisingly common (but often unsuspected) limiter of these fundamental movements. Practising the pike and pancake by themselves is relatively inefficient, in terms of results gained for time spent—there are better ways.

The techniques we will use to achieve the pike and the pancake are all partial poses and/or fascial techniques. The core method used is the Contract–Relax technique, as developed by our team over the last 25 years. We will also use innovative agonist–antagonist moving stretching techniques which will actively assist flatter pikes and pancakes, by activating the hip flexors and TFL in their maximally shortened positions—this provides needed strength in the fully contracted position as well as provides the brain with a novel stretch sensation. Fascial releases on gracilis and the inner hamstrings will be done on all attendees, where needed.

The full squat requires considerable ankle flexibility and hip mobility and we will show you a range of exercises that will allow you to do this movement with good foot alignment, preserved arches in the feet, and no support. On most workshops when we begin, only about half the room has a decent full squat, but by the end almost everybody does.

We will cover assistance techniques for hip internal rotation (this will complement the external rotation exercises that work piriformis, above, too).

We will practise all partial poses leading up to a full back bend. To this end we will show you effective partner stick stretches that will open the chest and shoulders, in preparation for full dislocate movements, and then add the hip flexor/quadriceps, passive back bends over supports, and rib-cage mobilisation exercises so that the body is prepared for the full back bend. Solo alternatives will be taught as well. In addition, fascial releases for the diaphragm and rectus abdominis will be done for all attendees.

In the process of going through these partial poses, you will learn exactly which structures are limiting your present movement patterns, so future practise becomes very time efficient. Often, only a small muscle or narrow line of fascia is the restriction—finding and changing these are the keys to unlocking your body.

Experience has shown us that adults following gymnastic strength training regimens frequently injure themselves. We will practise a range of extremely effective rehabilitation–treatment exercises to address these kinds of problems. As well, there are a number of stretching exercise that actively assist in recovery and we will do these, too.

Kit has an extensive rehabilitation background and has worked with many elite and Olympic athletes over the last 25 years. He is the author of Overcome neck & back pain (now in its 4th edition) and Stretching & Flexibility (15th printing). Search for him by name to find his site, his forums, and his YouTube channel.

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