A (brief) introduction to video, for stills photographers

(The same text appears as a front page article, www.getDPI.com; thank you Bob, Jack and Guy)

A (brief) introduction to video, for the stills photographer

Of course, this will be anything but brief! I say this because once I started thinking about the problem, it opened like Pandora’s box. Here’s the essentials, to start a discussion.

In a recent interaction on GetDPI.com, I wrote the following bare bones of an article; Rawfa, mentioned below, is a member who made a lovely one-camera video (https://vimeo.com/81553093). I want to use the interaction on that thread as the framework for bringing out what I see as the two main differences between video and stills as story-telling mediums.

Some background: I was a national network director (ABC-TV, Australia) for five years; I made 350+ live programs, and half-a-dozen film-based documentaries (one which starred Arnold Schwarzenegger, The Comeback). Here, “film-based” means more than the recording medium: it is a whole approach. All the live TV work (350 programs) used what we now call multi-cam (as all video-based TV does; in studio-based setups, you have up to five synchronised cameras, and multiple sound sources also ’synced’; once live, the director simply calls for the required angle; all are visible on a bank of monitors. The TV-based idiom is very different to the film-based approach. But one aspect that remains similar between the mediums is the audience’s expectation of continuity and placement of sound, and the implicit expectation that the sound should seem to come from the person in view on the camera being used. This is a critical, and largely mis-, or not, understood dimension in the modern video-from-stills-camera-era, except in Hollywood. More on this below.

Rawfa’s approach: single camera, multiple takes, on-camera sound recording: ‘going Hollywood’

The way Rawfa shot that lovely video (one camera and recording live sound via the on-camera Røde mic) makes a lot of work in post. One-camera shoots and multiple setups (to get all the angles you need) are traditional Hollywood, but are much more work than the method I use. And as many have noticed, recording sound from a microphone mounted on the camera has multiple drawbacks, even if you mount a decent mic.

And it’s clear that he was 1–3m away from the voice and the drum—and you can capture decent audio at those distances—but the on-camera mic means the perspective of the sound changes as the camera position changes, and on-camera mics are sensitive to handling and camera-operation sounds (like focussing, and iris changes). Humans are very sensitive to this, and find any mechanical sound intrusive; we will tolerate pretty much any visual chopping and changing (think of MTV clips) but we are disturbed by sound track changes, either in terms of perceived loudness, change of perspective (stereo L-R effects), and the quality of the sound (close-mic’d sound is totally different to room atmosphere plus voices, for example).

As Rawfa said:

“But in this particular case the guy called me for a photo shoot and I ended up making him a music video with LIVE sound…which was kind of hell, as each time I shot a different angle the music had a different duration (from 3 to 5 minutes). Editing was much harder than with the artist playing with a master track playing in the background.”

And he added:

“Regarding video, it would have been a smart move from Sony to have chosen a touch screen LCD that allowed you to choose focus by tapping.”

Let me use that comment as the jump-in point to explain my approach:

Multiple cameras recording simultaneously, separate sound recording, method depending on situation

Let’s use Rawfa’s shoot as an example. A relatively inexperienced performer cannot reproduce the same performance in subsequent takes—this was the differences in take durations noted. A skilled performer can come close enough. But no two performances are the same, and if you want to shoot two or (in this case) five takes to get all the camera angles you want, you can enter editing Hell very quickly: done this way, the post production editing process is difficult; there will be no accurate sync between the takes because the performer is actually doing a different performance each time, the perspective of the sound being recorded changes as the camera moves, and so on. In the modern small-camera era, there is a much better way, I believe.

I use multiple µ4/3rds cameras and separate sound recorder(s). I record sound and vision at the same time (sound on the recorder; vision on the cameras). And if the performer wants to do a number of takes, I record the sound of each take, plus the vision of each take. I will detail gear below, but the most important aspect of the way I shoot is not the cameras; it is that I use a number of small broadcast-standard recorders, each of which have different sound characteristics. There are two main approaches I use:

I get the sound into the recorder via lavaliere mics (those small ones you see newsreaders use, pinned on to lapels; these feed into a radio transmitter, hidden on the performer, or out of shot) or use the recorders’ microphones to record sound directly into the recorder. In the latter case, the recorder itself, with its built-in mics, will either be hidden out of shot, or (usually with much better sound) suspended over the performer, and within a metre (three feet) of the mouth of the performer. Getting the mike close to the mouth is critical: sound obeys the inverse square law. What does this mean in practise? It mean that the sound you want to record becomes one quarter as loud if the distance between the sound and the recorder doubles. And the unfortunate effect of this law is that, as the perceived loudness of the voice diminishes with this distance change, the perceived loudness of background sound (compared to the voice) increases; this is one form of the signal-to-noise problem. We usually do not want to hear the background sound in preference to, or competing with, the voice we are recording—so we try to get the mic as close as we can.

What kind of stereo recording?

An aside without getting too technical: one of my recorders, the $179 Zoom H2n, records variable-width mid-side (MS) recording; others use a conventional x-y microphone pattern; the latter is a standard approach to micing stereo sound with one device. Modern recorders work very well. The significance of mid-side recording is that the apparent width of the sound stage being recorded can be changed; and in some noisy situations this can give better final sound. However we get the sound into the recorder, though, it will be higher quality than recording the sound into the camera itself, unless the camera can record clean sound at a minimum standard of 48KHz and 16bit (what pro. editing programs use). Note that lavaliere mics are all monaural (single audio track, with equal loudness in both channels when played back in post into a pair of studio monitors, or headphones); the perception from the viewer’s perspective is that the sound is coming from the centre of the picture. This can be adjusted in post if necessary, but usually I don’t. If, as I often do, I record stereo rather than mono, then as the sound changes from L–R in real time (person A speaks, then person B), the listener/viewer hears this change too. So, for example, in my exercise videos, the person on the left of screen’s voice comes from the L of picture (assuming a wide shot that shows the ‘action’ from the front) and a person in the middle will be heard as speaking from the centre of the picture, and so on.

The Stage metaphor

Since the days of the ancient Greeks, performers work to the front of a stage (where the audience is viewing them or where the cameras are placed) or turn away from it: the point is that most performances include this invisible stage. All films work off the same metaphor, and this is the main reason we need to hear voices from where they actually originate. An important point to note is that, in a low-budget production, if the sound is recorded in mono and the ‘stage’ is created in an establishing “wide shot” (so we, the audience, can see where everyone is) then the brain interprets the person speaking on camera L as the sound coming from the L, even though a monaural signal, by definition, comes from both speakers equally. This helps us, a lot, in practise.

Establishing the stage in video

So, back to my approach: I record vision from a number of cameras simultaneously; one camera records the whole scene; this allow the audience’s point of view (“POV”) to be established (and if the wheels fall off, can be the fallback angle), and the other two cameras record either closer-perspective ’two shots’ (a framing that contains two whole people, or the heads and shoulders of two people) and another might shoot a ‘close-up’ (say, the head, or the hands doing something that’s important to the story). The performer will know where his/her closeup camera is, and when making to-audience remarks, will direct his/her eyeline to it (in this example, eyeline will mean that, when making discursive remarks, as though speaking directly to the viewer, the performer looks at this camera directly). In a documentary setup, performers are asked to ignore the camera(s); this way, the fiction of the invisible observer can be created. There’s more, but you get the idea.

I often use a top shot (a camera suspended over the action) too, because my videos are educational, and people need to see what’s happening in order to imitate. And the sound is recorded on one recorder. Very occasionally I use a number of recorders; if using the latter approach, then each recorder will be recording a single person ‘close up’; all are synced, and when I choose to go to a closeup when cutting the program, then that sound is selected too, so that intimacy is preserved (closer picture requires closer sound, for verisimilitude. Individual micing is not necessary on most low-budget productions. And I define “low-budget” as what we used to call documentary style shooting: small crew numbers. I usually do everything!

Focusing in the video world

The ‘tap to focus’ aspect mentioned above is one key advantage of the Panasonic range over all competitors: unless you want to ‘go Hollywood’, and use a follow-focus setup (and a second someone skilled to operate it), and have the performers hit their marks within fractions of an inch so they are in focus, you need to be able to focus on the fly. Panasonic’s tap-to-focus system works, and it’s an ‘eased’ movement of the focus point, too (starts slow, speeds, then slows as it finds it; this looks very natural). Using AF-C, continuous focus, never works as hoped for, in my experience, anyway. All the AF-C systems, when shooting video, constantly “hunt”: this means that the camera refocuses, and checks, and refocuses again: this is disturbing for the viewer. We use mostly wide angles on our cameras (and as we all know, µ4/3rds has a deeper zone of acceptable focus anyway, compared to FF or APS-C sensors). I use the 14, 17, 20, and 45 mainly. µ4/3rds shoots truly lovely video; 3D is perfectly possibly as is background separation—and what most people don’t know is that µ4/3rds is close to the ‘sensor size’ of 35mm film (which is shot across the negative, not along it); see this video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=K0shWr-oon4 for details. More on cameras below.

The Slate: tying it all together

Shooting multi-cam, I use an old fashioned slate (clapper board) at the beginning of the recording process—this has many advantages. Assuming I am recording “live” (actual sound and vision being recorded simultaneously) I have no post problems at all: I bring the sound and all camera’s vision into FCPX, and sync the cameras’ angles and the sound tracks on the slate, then simply (while watching all cameras’ angles simultaneously), I decide which angle I want the audience to “see” at any time. All this is non-destructive, and all can be changed. Because sound and vision is already in sync, and the sound is the actual sound, I have no problems in post, and the result sounds real.

This is the merest intro to shooting video. The biggest learning curve for the stills pro learning video is not the angles, or the lighting; you have all that. It’s what does the audience need to see, to tell the story you want to tell, and how to get the best realistic sound (sound that is perceived as real in relation to the vision you are showing). Getting the sound ‘right’ is the key to good video, yet almost without exception, beginning directors focus on image quality. I have to say this again: an audience will tolerate any crappy quality, image-wise (think black and white, super grainy, choppy vision) but they demand sound as close to ‘being there’ as they can get.

As an aside, in Guy’s runway case, I would be taking an audio feed from the emcee’s audio, or record the live audio from the audience’s perspective (assuming the live audio is good; often it’s not); you can always get a feed from whoever is doing the sound for the show. I would record this audio with a recorder plugged in to the desk itself; this is what the audience is hearing, after all. And whatever else I record (if I do) this is the ‘safety sound’, meaning that if everything else fails, sound-wise, I have a program at the end of the process.

Post production (factor in 2–10 times the time it took you to shoot!)

The second biggest part of the learning curve for video is in the post productions editing programs; I use FCPX. It is an amazing program (I have been using FCP since FCP2) but there was a big learning curve moving from FCP studio (FCP7) to FCPX. Learning how to edit convincingly is the hardest part of the additional skill set for stills photographers moving to video, IMHO.

My Gear

Briefly, and on the gear front: I use Panasonic GX-1, G6, GX-7, and an Oly EM-5 (the latter is my ‘steadycam’: I attach a monopod, and hold loosely, use a relatively wide angle lens (usu. 34mm EFOV) and move like a ninja—and the footage is excellent and cuts perfectly with the rest). I use the other cameras (usually two others, sometime three) on fixed tripods

Re. sound recorders: my go-to recorder is the Sony PCM-10; I mount it to a boom, and position it above the action, and record stereo. Sometimes I use recorders that look like USB sticks; I tape these inside a performer’s collar with Elastoplast; this stops clothing sound completely. These record in relatively high quality mono .mp3 files; I convert these to 48KHz/16 bit using a free program (Audacity), so FCPX can ingest. If recording an event’s sound, you will need to take a ‘line feed’ (this is a higher level than a mic feed; all decent recorders can switch between these. Check the connector needs with the audio dude before production night!

I have one fluid head for any panning/tilting requirements; the other cameras sit on fixed tripods, and usually are unmanned.

Is 4K necessary?

No non-Hollywood director needs more than 1080p video, in my humble opinion. Forget 4K, unless you need extensive post production (reframing, colour, green-screen, etc.). In all my videos for my Vimeo on Demand programs, all we use is the low end of HD, 720p (this means progressive scan, so discrete images) shot at 30 frames a second (“fps”). I suggest forget shooting at 24 fps: unless you obey the physics-determined panning speed specs (way slower than any beginning director ever uses!) then horrible choppy video will result. 30fps looks pleasing, and renders movement well. And there is always 60fps to render rapid movement nicely as an option on many cameras.

If you have a spare hour, a just-released podcast from wellroundedathlete.com

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Hello all,

Your humble author here. It has been an immense week: getting the cover and text files for the second edition of Stretching & Flexibility up on two platforms (Lightning Source and IngramSpark, for the e-book version); more on this in a later blog, and meeting with the wonderful customer service person, Rushelle, was truly excellent yesterday. It is incredible to me that more companies do not realise that people are their business, not an irritation to be suffered—but as the old saying has it, life is long, and all will be realised, whether the companies like the results, or not! Anyhow, companies like these two (and Sophos, our industrial-strength virus protection software company, also based in the UK) realised this reality long ago and, as a direct result (and as more and more companies move their HR and customer help desks off-shore, to Mumbai and Manila) that only this aspect—being able to call a number and get a real, local, person on the line—gives a real edge to what they are doing, in this world where google can find pretty much anything. But I digress.

The podcast I wish to turn to now. When you have an hour or so, and if you really want to know what’s the thinking; the ideas, behind the physical activities we are all pursuing, please put on your headphones and listen to this:

http://wellroundedathlete.net/008-kit-laughlin-podcast/

And if any of you know of a decent transcription service; please let me know: I want this podcast in a text form, to be the template for my next book, which is what I will be doing in 2015 (and the reason I will not be travelling to the northern hemisphere in 2015).

Cherie listened to all this at 06:00 today; she said this is the three days of the Into the Stretch workshop condensed into one hour; not too far from reality, I feel. Please let me know what you think, and please share the link—and last, and most, my deep thanks to Justin and Sean for allowing me this opportunity.

 

PREFACE TO THE SECOND EDITION of Stretching & Flexibility (the book)

Authors and readers have experienced unprecedented changes to the ‘book’ medium over the last ten years. I have decided to make changes to this, and future editions, of Stretching & Flexibility via a new medium, Lightning Source, an international Print on Demand, or “POD” service. As well as being able to print for individual customers on their own continents, Lightning Source is a ‘total fulfilment’ system; this means that once ordered, LS prints and posts the book to the customer—and at local postage rates. This aspect alone is an immense blessing for us, because shipping a book from Australia to the US, for example, is almost as expensive as the book itself.

To supplement the written form of the work, I have decided to use the new Vimeo on Demand (“VOD”; http://vimeo.com/kitlaughlin/vod_pages) inexpensive pay download service to present those aspects of exercises that are best understood via HD video with decent sound; we make all programs ourselves, on location; they are available in HD and standard definition for different devices and to cater to local bandwidths, and our programs are not copy protected, either.

The third strand to a more effective learning experience is the creation of our Stretch Therapy Community Forums (http://www.KitLaughlin.com/forums): with over a thousand threads presently, a huge amount of directly relevant material will be found there by browsing or searching, and, in addition, a user can ask a question, and get help or comments from any of the many members there immediately. All together, I feel that these three approaches provide an effective interactive learning system that no book or video in isolation can begin to approach.

The second edition of Stretching & Flexibility has two major alterations to the original (1999) edition: I have revised the hip flexor and hamstring stretches, because although the original ones work fine, the new ones are just so much better. As well, you will find 18 new exercises, including critical rotator cuff movements, in the Stretching & Flexibility DVD Update, now also available from Vimeo on Demand.

For an author interested in keeping his readers up to date with his material, there is another deep problem with the original Gutenberg Press model: it is simply too slow, because this model requires large numbers of books to be printed to be cost effective—and these books must be stored somewhere. In addition to the information being a year or more out of date (simply because of the large number of steps involved: writing, rewriting, editing, proofing, printing, shipping to distribution points, shipping to point of sale, etc.), the publishing model suffers from the same problems as medieval libraries: stored books are prone to fire, inundation, and rodents. We are now able to move beyond these limits for the first time.

Kit Laughlin, Melbourne, 2014

 

What use is stretching?

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On the eve of releasing the new Stretch Therapy products I find myself reflecting on how this material may be used and who it best be used by. In the making of these programs I have realised that there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what ‘stretching’ is and what it might be used for. Adding to my perception of the need for clarity is the recent increase in interest in something which is generally referred to as ‘movement’, as an activity of its own, and the lack of general understanding of the relationships that exist between ‘range of movement’ (ROM) and movement itself, with its additional skills of timing and precision.

Speaking most generally, many of our students want to acquire new movement patterns (like going to pole dance classes or they begin to study a martial art) but they find they simply can’t put themselves into the required starting positions. For example, suppose a movement pattern begins in the full squat, and you can’t actually do a full squat keeping your feet flat on the floor, what do you do? So one way of looking at our stretching work is to see it as a series of graded solutions to an infinite number of movement challenges of this type. Another good example is a movement pattern that begins in the full bridge position: if you can’t do a full bridge then you can’t even begin. There are hundreds of other examples.

And all of this became very clear in the filming of the new products because in each of the products (Master the full squat, Master the forward bend, and Master legs apart, for example) we needed to begin at the beginning. So let us talk about the full squat for a moment: ankle and hip ROMs (and leg muscles that are simply holding too much tension for the knee joint to fully close) are the limitations to being able to squat all the way down with your feet flat on the floor. The question then becomes, ‘in order to get into the starting position, how can we loosen the ankles, hips and the lower back’ so that the starting position becomes possible? This is why I referred to stretching and range of movement: just to start to learn a new movement pattern assumes that the capacity to put oneself in any starting position is there. Very often it is not.

And exactly the same constraints apply to learning any kind of gymnastics or other strength training: is there sufficient range of movement available? To put it another way, if you cannot get yourself into the starting position, how can you acquire the strength that is necessary to complete the movement? Well, what most people do is they cheat; if you get away with the cheat you’re good to go but many people force themselves in the process, trying to speed up the process. Think of the overhead squat position (where one is in the full squat holding a weighted bar overhead). This position requires the range of movement for the full squat but, in addition to the flexion movement in the shoulders and the extension that required in this thoracic spine all at the same time. How are you going to get that? Unless you are already close to being able to do this practising the OHS by itself will not be the most direct route to the ROMs you need.

If I may say one of the great attributes of the Stretch Therapy system is that you can find a solution to any range of movement problem you find yourself in. The ST system explicitly spans rehabilitation for problems like neck and back pain all the way through to someone trying to refine the full side splits—and everything in between.

Movement as an activity has become extremely popular in the last five years or so. It is also the case that ST has incorporated a huge amount of additional movement into its system because we have been working with movement teachers ourselves (plus many of our teachers are also teach movement). The ST system explicitly fosters this kind of cross-fertilisation. I also want to say that we were doing many similar things a long time ago, too (consider the ‘Unnumbered Lesson in Stretching & Flexibility, and all the ‘warm-ups’ in the same book), and we were hardly the first. We have excellent movement teachers here in Australia; Craig Mallett and Simon Thakur are two who I know personally and work with regularly.

If you want to start moving like these guys can, you will need the fundamental tools that allow your own body to firstly acquire the range of movement that these activities require and this will mean removing any restrictions to that range of movement. This is exactly the point at which you’ll need our work. I have worked with many tens of thousands of students over the last 30 years. I cannot recall a single one that did not have a restriction in his or her body at some place. Removing the restrictions is exactly what the ST system is all about. Once a restriction is removed the body can be positioned bio-mechanically optimally and then new movement patterns and whatever strength is required to support these can be learned safely and efficiently.

Now I realise in describing things in these terms I am generalising and glossing over many, possibly great, chasms; this is the nature of discursive discussion. But we have been paying very close attention over these last few years to the problems that many people have had in trying to acquire specific kinds of strength, whether it be in the Olympic lifting world or whether it be in the men’s gymnastics world. Very shortly we will be releasing the program Master the full back bend. And the last item in this program is a brilliant exposition by Olivia on our approach to how to perform a very common exercise (in gymnastics, it’s called the arch body hold and in other systems has other names, like Shalabhasana in Yoga). And the critical difference between our approach and most others is the development of the capacity to feel precisely what’s happening in the body and which parts of the body are involved in whatever one is doing. Once this awareness has been developed it is then used to a particular purpose. Let me illustrate.

The arch body hold for many people is felt only in the lower back, in a cramping or spasming kind of way. This is because of two main factors: one, there is insufficient extension, or backwards-bending ROM, in the whole body (and so all the posterior chain of muscles are having to work much harder than they need to and hence the muscles involved are much closer to their failure point than an analysis of the weight of the body parts suggests), and two, the glutes (as the main extensors of the legs in relation of the spine) are simply asleep. Effective cueing is about waking up this connection and is more important for many people than any other single factor. We have cued literally hundreds of beginners in the arch body hold and none of them have experienced any lower back pain. But it is not just about cueing: it is about effective breaking down of a whole body exercise into its component parts which are themselves related to range of movement and specific activation patterns.

For example it will be simply impossible to cue the glutes in a strong extension movement if, at the same time, the hip flexors are already under stretch; this is “simple” neurophysiology. The nexus is something called the reciprocal inhibition reflex (Sherrington’s second law): that a muscle cannot be activated voluntarily if its opposite (or antagonist) has reached the end of its range of movement. The solution is to increase the range of movement of the antagonist before attempting to cue the action you want. Almost all of the ST exercises use a combination of reflexes to maximise their effectiveness. I have written about this extensively elsewhere but I will mention simply that each exercise uses the reciprocal inhibition reflex; every exercise is organised to reduce the apprehension reflex to a minimum; and we use the post-contraction inhibition reflex to momentarily increase range of movement. All are well documented and have sound scientific bases.

But it also must be said at this point in the discussion that not all is happy in science-land. The rise of the scientific method in routine discourse and the rise of evidence-based medicine in our nation’s health systems has led to the presumption that scientific understanding is actually necessary for best practice. This is very rarely the case because, in my experience, best practice is usually years ahead of scientific understanding. Just because there is no scientific evidence or justification for something is no argument against its potential usefulness. Asking for this kind of evidence before embarking on a course of action, with the sub-text that this is necessary in order to begin practising something, will lead you far astray. Before scientific understanding (causal /analytic) is the empirical method; empirical is a fancy way of saying ‘suck it and see’. In other words, experience and observation usually come before causal understanding; this has been so for the entire history of science and is unlikely to change any time soon. My feeling is that the motive behind needing a scientific reason to do something—over the direct experience of trying something—is more about one’s attitude to uncertainty than anything else.

And, because of this misplaced reliance, we have a small body of unimpressive research into stretching, and which has allowed people to make all sorts of bogus claims ‘like stretching will not affect one’s propensity for injury’ or that ‘stretching will not reduce delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS)’, for example. It is absolutely accurate to say there is no scientific evidence to support these claims but it is also accurate to say that there’s no scientific evidence that supports the counter claim: the fact is that research has simply not been done and, speaking properly, science therefore has nothing useful to say on those subjects.

When I say “the research hasn’t been done yet” what I really refer to is the time periods of the existing studies (usually a university semester; way too short to be able to have any meaningful conclusions) and the actual methods used in the research itself (research design; the ‘stretching’ techniques used, etc.) And on that latter point, I mean that very little of this research is in any way specific about exactly what sort of stretching was used and how the stretching was varied to suit the particularities of each of the individuals in the study. I have never seen a single reference to this critical point in any paper I have read on this subject.

I mention this last point because we have found that adapting a stretch to the actual in-the-moment experience of the individual is simply the most important determinant of whether or not a stretch is going to be effective. And this is precisely the reason why a sets and reps approach to stretching is always going to be ineffective when compared to a system like ST. In this system, the quality of, and the depth of, the experience in the moment is the key focus.

So getting back to the forthcoming Stretch Therapy products. A program like Master the full backbend which will have an extreme backbend as its end pose, begins at the beginning as all systems must do. The full pose is broken down into what I call a vocabulary of flexibility which initially is based around single joints. To illustrate, loosening the hip flexors is absolutely fundamental to any decent backbend. In fact, tight hip flexors are the cause of most of the cramping and pain that people experience when they first tried to do spinal extension movements; this is because the muscles on the inside of the curve being made by the spine have a tendency to go into spasm (just like when you point your foot); we have found that the general rule is that any muscle asked to do work in the contraction end of its range of movement is liable to spasm; something that we demonstrate on every workshop we run. This is not a design fault by the way; it is simply the way the body is organised. Add to this tendency the hip flexors’ inhibition of the glutes, and you begin to understand why so many people have problems with backward bending. What follows is a brief meditation on other aspects of ‘stretching’.

To start, the acquisition of flexibility by adults is a completely different proposition than with children. Adults, by definition, have experienced their second growth spurts, usually (but not always) in their late teens. There are many reason for this critically important difference, and these can be canvassed below if anyone’s interested.

The key point here is that standard methods (like “hold a stretch for 30″) will not be effective in changing any present patterns that adults have. This is because to a considerable extent, these patterns have become ‘set’ in an adult; this is completely different to the conditions in a child’s body.

For adults, a different approach is required. I can say that I have tried every approach that has been written about, and many that have not. What I want to share with you here I have not written about (apart from oblique references in my past books) but personally have found to be of the deepest importance. What follows are the core conditions for an adult to change his/her body–mind in a way that observers would describe as “he/she has become more flexible”.

One’s pattern of flexibility is actually one’s “self”: one’s personality, self-beliefs, fears, and so on. One’s emotional self is precisely this pattern. When we talk of body language, this complex patterning is what we refer to. The way a body is held, in any moment, communicates this internal state to the person with whom one is interacting (or observing).

The essential conditions for flexibility to change have two parts. One is the exploration of new ranges of movement, and the other is how this can be ‘embodied’ (retained in the body and incorporated in the activity in question).

There are environmental conditions that one must consider, too. When stretching, heat needs to be kept in the body: the work of remodelling fascia is best done by slowing the rate of heat loss. All one needs is tights and tracksuit pants. Ambient heat is no help here: the human body is expert at shedding heat (the result is that no matter what exercise is being done, or what the ambient temperature is, the human body core temperature hovers around 98.6 F, unless something goes wrong, like rhabdomyolysis).

Only a very narrow window of increased temperature is required to open the window to changing one’s patterns (2 degrees Celsius). To put this in perspective, a lukewarm bath is 40 degrees C (a fraction above body temperature) and a scalding hot bath that you could not immerse yourself in is only 44 degrees. The point is that the reactions that we are trying to influence in the body change radically over very small temperature variations. This ‘window’ can be opened by slowing the body’s normally very effective temperature shedding strategies by wearing the recommended gear, and worn on the bottom half of the body only. Presently, the mechanisms behind these changes remains unknown; what we can say, experientially, is that warmth in the muscles works.

A side note: when using the Contract–Relax approach to increase ROM, as long as additional contractions can be performed, and new ROM explored, we are working on the somatosensory cortex and what tension it believes is necessary or useful. We are remapping what the unconscious part of the brain believes is the appropriate length-tension relationship in the various body parts. But when no more improvement in ROM can be achieved, we are now up against restrictions in the fascial structures themselves. Maintaining as much heat as possible in the body allows gentle and slow fascial remodelling. The way this is done is to back off slightly from the maximum ROM end position, and wait—minutes, for some muscle groups (this requirement depends on relative muscle size).

The second and equally important point is that flexibility cannot be achieved by force or by intensity. I know this is counterintuitive to a degree, because we have to exert some force to provoke any change (in strength training or in any other) and in flexibility work, effort is needed. But, and this is a huge but, the force is used only to make, or re-make, the connection to that part of the body. Once the force has been applied, the body has to be brought to a state where it’s willing to let this protective tension go. All humans have perfect flexibility while under anaesthetic; as they regain consciousness, though, individual patterns re-manifest. The point is that force cannot change the pattern: the trigger to change this is not consciously available to us.

In fact, in the ST system, we use the bones, muscles, and fascia only to remap the brain; this is what provokes the changes we regard as “becoming more flexible” in the short term. Further, heat allows the fascia to be remodelled once the elongation is experienced. Both are necessary. Effort is only required to the extent needed to provide the proprioceptive feedback to that part of the brain that decides how much tension to maintain in any body part, and its pattern around the body. As well, the degree of force that is required to bring this change about cannot be known ahead of time. Personally, now, I need 80–100% contraction force; other students need only 10%, and any level above 50% in these students actually has the opposite effect (the body experiences the force in the stretch as a direct threat, and literally creates additional tension to ensure the elongation does not happen). The capacity to tolerate more tension (hence stronger intensity of the stretching experience) can be learned; but it cannot be imposed: it has to be allowed, and can only be experienced, and embodied.

To achieve this goal of knowing ‘how much’, each individual’s attention has to be turned inwards. No teacher can do this part of the process. Unless the brain and sensory being is directly involved in the experience of stretching, it will not be effective. The most important questions for the acquisition of flexibility: What does that feel like; where do you feel it; and how can you relax further into it?

Only an individual can answer that question and—critically—the time it takes to relax into the beginning of a stretch; the contraction time, and the time spent in the re-stretch is unique. It can only be experienced, then learned, by each person individually; it cannot be reduced to a formula of number of seconds, or number of reps, or percentage of maximum strength in the contraction. This does not come naturally to anyone with a ’sets and reps’ approach.

As an aside, this is the hardest point to get across: there is no formula for adults; only an approach. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it! This uniqueness of response is also the reason why the research into stretching has provided so little illumination: all modern research relies on statistical analysis of groups. Such research has nothing to say about the individuals comprising such groups. Our method begins, and stays with, each individual.

The author thanks Dave Wardman for comments and vulgarities! And he suggests further reading:

The Future Has Arrived — It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed (William Gibson, 1992, or thereabouts)

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I am having a ‘the future has arrived’ moment as we sit here: I am in an apartment in Brisbane, writing a blog stored live on servers in the US somewhere, while (on another window on the mighty MacBook Air) a free software (TeamViewer) has allowed me to remotely control my MacBook Pro, sitting on a desktop in Canberra… this is kind of scary, actually. And by controlling that machine remotely, I am using that computer to upload sound recordings from Day one of the ST for GST programs, via another free software, WeTransfer.

The back story. Our ST for GST editor, Theron, lives and works in Istanbul. Last week I sent him two USB3 drives, with the Final Cut Pro X (FCPX) program’s “Library” bundles, which contained all the footage from the four days of shooting; let me take a step back. The four cameras we used for the shoot record in AVCHD; to be used by FCPX, these highly and cleverly compressed files were recorded onto SD cards, tiny insubstantial things the size of postage stamps (when was the last time you saw one of these, anyway?; for reference:

Aist_post_stampThe bordered-in-green image of the nurse is reproduced here about the size of an SD card (not the whole stamp) so they are pretty small things. Mine hold 16 or 32GB of any kind of information. When you “Import” these AVCHD files into FCPX, they are “transcoded” (this means that they expand in size by a factor of 10 to 20 times, depending on the complexity of any recorded movement, and what file size and frame rate you select on the camera) and “optimised” (this means converted into an ‘intermediate’ codec that FCPX can use).

And in the same process of ‘ingestion’ I copied the audio files from the Sony PCM-10 we used to record the ‘second system’ sound. But while FCPX copied the optimised footage into the hidden “High Quality” footage folder inside the Library bundle, it did not copy the Sony .WAV files—it left them in the original folders I had copied them into. I can only surmise that FCPX did not copy these files across into the Library because they were already optimised for FCPX (16 bit, 48KHz).

So, I received an email from our Istanbul-dwelling editor today, saying that all the logged footage was found in the Library bundles, all in the expected places, but all the sound files are ‘off-line’, meaning that FCPX only has a reference to them. In the process of copying the bundles to the hard drives, the sound files went AWOL. Well, they stayed where they were, and the other files made the journey.

What to do? The road distance between Canberra (where the sound files are hiding) and Brisbane is (according to google) 1,200.7 Km—and we flew here. it’s a very long drive (especially without a car). Did I need to head to the airport? I thought so. Or, could I ask Mountain Hammer to do yet another favour for me (go around to my house, Mission Impossible-style, find a way in via the hidden key, turn on the MBP and navigate through the many files on the 12TB of mirrored RAIDs I have set up for editing) and having located the files, copy them to me? Or was there a better way?

Google to the rescue once more. What about some remote control/remote access software? A quick search revealed a number of contenders for this role, but MH’s true-geek friend said there was only one: TeamViewer, and (amazingly) is was not only the best, it was free. Sounded too good to be true to me, but off investigating I went. In the meantime, I started reading the TeamView User manual, and offered to send the link to the manual; I got this note from MH, via email, in reply:

tech_support_flow_chart1

…along with this note: “Hahahahahha I don’t do manuals.” OK; understand, I trust this guy.

MH (with support crew), hit the road around lunchtime, got access to the inner sanctum, and called me. Over the phone we did the password thing (to access the MacBook Pro); he downloaded and installed TeamViewer; sent me the PW his copy generated; I entered this on my TeamViewer interface window; and I took control of my laptop in Canberra. At that point, MH’s role was reduced to that of spectator, and he headed back off to work.

It took but a moment to locate the sound files; MH had set up a shortcut to the Safari app (because my big laptop drives its own screen plus a big one I work on) and put that on the desktop I can see here in Brissie (there is a way to switch windows, but he doesn’t do manuals, so this was the workaround). I opened Safari, and opened WeTransfer, loaded it up to the max (just under 2GB of files) and pressed “Transfer”. In the time it’s taken to write this up, this is what has happened in the background:

TeamViewer in action

About 10% of the 2 gigs are already in the cloud somewhere, to be joined by the rest, and when Theron wakes up tomorrow (his time; actually yesterday) the files will be there. Of course (this is an aside), because TransACT will not enable any residential service’s upload speed more than 1Mb/sec, this will take about nine hours to finish uploading. Faster than flying home, though, and a lot less expensive. And now that software is installed, I can connect my two computers when I head off, and leave the big one in sleep mode—TeamViewer can even wake it up.

The Future Has Arrived — It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed, indeed.

Grateful? Yeah, I’m grateful; I can sleep on grateful.

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I am watching the Numb3rs episode whose last lines are:

Judd Hirsch (Alan Epps in the series), in response to a comment from Don about him “being right” (about trying to protect his dad from the danger of the terrorists, the theme of the episode), then Don says:

Thanks, …and for that, we’re grateful (speaking on behalf of the FBI), then, “alright? I mean, I’m grateful.”

Alan says, “Grateful?”

Don: “Yeah.”

And then Alan utters the immortal lines:

“Grateful? Grateful’s good enough, Don; I can sleep on grateful.”

Then, (Charlie talking to Don): “When did this happen? This whole new attitude?”

Don’s reply (which I wrote about in a previous post): “the new attitude is gratitude.”

It still is!

 

 

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 sensor is 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 more useful frame rates) then we’re not limited to the 30 minute recording limit set by the EU which for 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 all of these extraneous sounds are out of our experience of hearing, but sound recorders record what is actually there and that’s quite instructive 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.

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