Thai green chicken curry

It’s been a while – we have been intensely busy. But we need to eat, and I usually cook in bulk. The recipe below will make four or five dinners for two people. This recipe freezes beautifully. I usually eat one meal with Miss O when it is first cooked, and leave overnight on the stove in the pot, covered. Then I remove another meal’s worth (for us, that’s five legs plus veggies and stock) and there are three meals left over, which I ‘decant’ and freeze in meal serve-sized containers.

Main ingredients
4 trays skinned chicken thighs. We use “Lovely Legs” (Macro organic brand); in Australia, the trays are about 400g each, and contain ~5 LLs).
10–20 Asian eggplants (these look like pale green speckled balls, about the size of a lime)
two large onions, brown or red
one whole head garlic
two medium-sized limes
one lemon
1 x 400ml can coconut milk
big handful shredded dried coconut
handful fresh coriander
3 tbls. coconut oil

Green ingredients to be macerated (I use a 250W Braun hand blender):
all the garlic
1–2 green chili (how hot do you want the end product? I usually only use one or two)
the cut-up white ends of two pieces of lemon grass; save tops
6–8 kaffir lime leaves
one tsp. belachan (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shrimp_paste) or 1 tbls fish sauce (if you use fish sauce, reduce the amount of salt you add)
zest from 1–2 limes, depending on taste
juice from limes and lemon
mix down to liquid

Spices (lightly fry before grinding)
1 tbls white peppercorns
2–3 whole star anise
1 tbls. coriander seeds
4 whole cloves
1 tbls. cumin seeds
1 tsp. fennel seeds
6 allspice pimento ‘balls’

Put all the fried spices into grinder, add 1 level tbls. rock or sea salt, and grind finely

Spices cont’d (to be added once lovely legs are resting in the stock)
one whole vanilla bean
1 cinnamon quill

Once cooking starts (details below):
grate 1 whole nutmeg over pot
1 tsp. cayenne pepper, or chili flakes
1 tbls. ground turmeric
2 tbls. karamel makasan (cooking caramel; heavy and dark; mmmm) to taste (also makes the stock darker)

Preparation/cooking:
Put coconut oil in heavy-bottomed pot. Cut onions and add the coconut milk and heat. Section eggplants and put aside. I usually cut lime-sized eggplants into thirds, then halve again crosswise, all cuts made vertically. Macerate the wet ingredients (taking great care to not let any of the belachan escape; I wrap cling wrap around the top of the blender to make sure!) and add to pot.

Heat all the unground spices in a small frying pan until one of them just starts to smoke, then put in grinder. Grind finely after adding the salt and stir mixture into pot. Add turmeric, nutmeg, and cayenne pepper. Omit the cayenne p. if you are using green chillies.

Cook the basic stock until onions are translucent. Add karamel makasan and stir well until consistent colour is achieved. Thin stock to suit; I usually add 1/4–1/2 litre of boiling water to get the consistency I want. Slowly add the Lovely Legs, submerging them. Add the vanilla bean, cinnamon quill, and the top sections of the lemon grass.

Bring to boil and immediately reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, then add the eggplants. Simmer until the chicken and vegetables are cooked to your taste (about 15 minutes more is about right). If you cook the chicken too long, it will fall completely off the bone.
If you want to thicken stock, add one tbsp. finely ground brown rice (use the same spice grinder; this will clean it, too) and stir well before adding eggplants.

Serve with rice on plates with raised edges (to contain the stock). Place rice first, use tongs to place the lovely legs, use ladle to place stock and veggies. Garnish with small handful of chopped coriander leaves and fresh ground black pepper.

Eat with your favourite while wine!

On the eve of going live with the new site

Behind the scenes and most recently while most of you were on holiday, the triumvirate of Miss O, Suu Kyi, and myself have been busily slaving away on what will become the new website. We have learned some remarkable things along the way.

Chief among them (and completely unexpected by me) was to understand for the first time how most people use websites – and much to my surprise the majority of people interact with website via their phones or tablets these days. For me as a power Macintosh user who owns two laptops and a 5K iMac (and quite often they are all doing different things at the same time), the idea of interacting with a web page via a device that is so small that I have to put my glasses on to read it is simply unimaginable. But clearly I am a minority, so my thinking must change.

On the flight back from Malaysia recently I sat next to a young man who is the CEO of a Netflix-like company located mostly in Asia. He told me that their stats say that 90% of their customers interact with their website and their products (films, TV programs) via their phones. This information has a massive impact on the way you design any site that is going to be relevant in the 21st-century, and it says something about the nature of consumption, too, and how that has changed (I am thinking here of the traditional western lounge room dominated by a TV, with couches or chairs, and around which family would gather for the evenings entertainment, after arguing about what to watch. These days are gone forever).

Our current site, like many sites, is a hodgepodge of different softwares and systems. But this phenomenon is hardly limited to us: for example, the last time I spoke to a Commonwealth Bank technical person he told me that they have 17 historical, or legacy, databases that the current software tries to link together, with varying degrees of success. Olivia and I have been unable to successfully change our place of abode in all of those databases and as a result the Commonwealth Bank is still sending paper printouts of various things to an address that we have not lived in for over 12 months. Three separate attempts, with senior people with higher access than the tellers, have failed to rectify this problem. This is a clue.

Relevant here are our ongoing interactions with Telstra; the company which exemplifies the notion of ‘the left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing’. And there is an immense unwieldiness and inertia in all large corporations. For example, the last two times we reported a massive internet speed drop (>90%), the business centre dispatched a Telstra technician to find out why – both times a two-cent connector had failed. The tech replaced them with the same connectors. And when I raised this with the head of the business centre, asking him whether the people involved were aware of this problem, he said, yes of course. And I asked him well why don’t they do something about it? And he replied (and this is gold), “That’s the way they’ve been doing it for 45 years.” His point was that it is easier to dispatch a technician and replace a connector than improve – or change – the kind of connector they use.

We cannot look to the large corporations as any kind of guide to current best practice. There are problems with software and hardware and the way they interact and how people expect to be able to use them and if we want to be effective in this very rapidly changing environment, we have to co-invent the future ourselves.

We started this new website project several years ago, but we realise now that what we were really doing was learning about how people use websites and, as a parallel process, refining our own understanding of exactly what it is we’re trying to do with the website; this has changed hugely in the last ten years. There have been three major developments that have played significantly into this process.

We have had some success with our Vimeo On Demand (VOD) presence and ‘VOD’ has become a significant source of income and a focus of work that we will do in the future. VOD has changed our income base – in 18 months. Think about the speed of this change. In fact, apart from the workshops (and perhaps a few classes we will run locally), our entire world is now based on the idea of digital delivery of something that we’ve created in one place in the world and which is delivered, automatically, to any other place in the world, once someone pays us a modest amount. As DW so famously said recently, we are two of the few people making money on the Internet not actually involved in pornography. I found this a charming idea.

Another development fundamental to Stretch Therapy, and which occurred during the same period Vimeo on Demand emerged, is the emergence of print on demand (POD) technology. POD refers to the process whereby you order a book from (say) Amazon or Barnes & Noble, and a hidden “total fulfilment company” gets the order electronically, prints one copy, binds it, packages it, addresses it, and sends it to you. POD, as we affectionately call it, is a boon for authors, who immediately have become publishers with this technology. As I wrote in the foreword to the second edition of Stretching and Flexibility, the shortcomings of the Gutenberg press model have been addressed, finally. I speak of the primacy of economy of scale in the publishing mind-set of previous years (meaning that one had to print a lot of books in order to get individual copy costs down to something manageable, with the financial risk that involves; most books are ‘remaindered’ within 12 months of publication) and of the publishing company’s influence in the authorial process (“Is it too complicated? There are so many words…”). And when books are printed using this almost 600-year-old technology, they have to be transported and stored somewhere, where they are susceptible to the same vicissitudes of Middle Age libraries: rodents, inundation, and fire. With the advent of POD technology, though, any author can update his or her material as quickly as writing it, converting to PDF, and sending it to the company. And publishers are no longer needed.

Between POD and VOD, our world has changed, forever.

The third development is called “micro 4/3rds”: a standard devised by Olympus and Panasonic. The result is a range of hand-holdable video-capable cameras that can also take magnificent still images. All are about half the size of the cameras they replace, or smaller. For example, my four-camera kit will fit in a small carry-on bag and include batteries, lenses, sound recorder, tabletop tripods and other essential equipment – all weighing less than the international 7 kg limit. My old standard definition “professional” video camera weighed more than this, without the charger. Ten years ago no amount of money would have bought a portable studio that could fit into a carry on bag and which could record high-definition video under ordinary room lighting. I can travel everywhere with this bag now and this equipment allows me to make programmes on whatever I feel like wherever I am in the world. As an ex-television director (who once had a crew of 45 in one of the two big four-camera television studios at Gore Hill in Australia), this is liberation. Print on demand is liberation for a writer.

The bigger picture is that these technologies have freed many of us from the strictures of large organisations – and it is not just the inertia I referred to above; it can be the sheer cost of ‘getting the experts’ involved. Today, anyone can become one of those experts. Reorganising our internal mental landscape to take full advantage of this will be required: action requires a vision, the confidence to see it to fruition, and the energy to sustain the effort that will be required.

I don’t want to make today’s blog too long, because I have become aware that most people do not care to read these days. As a writer, I acknowledge this reality in order that I communicate more effectively. So, for example, all individual elements of the new website are introduced by an image or an icon and just a few lines of text, followed by a more button*. In this way the user can skim the total content of the site very quickly and drill down deeper whenever she wishes. This approach is a fundamental change in information architecture that acknowledges the shorter attention spans of the modern reader/watcher; that recognises that information now is more than word-based content; and which results in an organisation that benefits all users.

Today, and perhaps for the first time in human history, content creators and educators are limited only by what can be conceived. Seeing this clearly has profoundly influenced our new website; we will be very interested in your feedback.

*On the new site, clicking this takes you to the bulk of the text, images, possible an icon or two, and maybe an action you can take, like paying for a workshop.

Google has long owned the internet; bowing to pressure, we now have Instagram and Twitter presences, but only to get the site’s new name out there. stretchtherapy.net is live.

Feeding the Beast (how to survive the pressure of the internet in the 21st century)

We have a Facebook Profile, and Facebook Page; the former a personal space that I add things to from time to time and the latter a business presents which gets updated every time we have something new to let the world know about. Unlike many of my colleagues (who are updating their Facebook presences hour hour, if not minute to minute) I feel no compulsion to put anything up there unless it’s important to me.

We have a new website going live very soon and I’ve written a longish blog about the emergence of new technologies that have completely changed our business world in the last two or three years. All this coming tomorrow or the next day; I will publish the relevant blog as soon as the new site goes live.

And our Forums are going great guns; we have over 1,000 members and more than 11,000 posts now. I hope I’m not jinxing the future by observing that the forums are more or less self-sufficient now as there are many active posters. And our stats tell us that many thousands more visit weekly but describe themselves as lurkers and who are not members and who don’t post. It was always my hope that the Forums becomes an unique repository of knowledge on the subject of stretching and strengthening (and much more, these days) and it seems to be well on the way there.

So, getting back to the title, we do not feed the beast in the same way that we see many other people doing. I feel good about that. I had visitors here recently whose phones have the notifications turned on and who are getting Facebook advisories every five minutes or so. Personally I do not find this relaxing in the slightest and found the pings intrusive but I have noticed that social behaviour has changed incredibly in the last five years.

Olivia and I were in a sports bar/restaurant in New York last year and we saw six people who work together come in for an after dinner drink and dinner. All of them were connecting to other people via their phones for the whole time they were there and the only time they spoke to each other was to briefly point the face of the phone to the table at large and laugh about an image there and then go straight back to the person they were talking to. The interesting thing is that they were all having conversations – just not with each other.

And this blog is only something I turn to when I have ideas that really need exploring for one reason or another. If I think about the total amount of time I spend on the Internet on a daily basis it would look something like this: I get up at 6:30 or seven at the latest (and sometimes much earlier; this depends on many factors) and make the first of the two holy cups of coffee with herbs. I then carry said coffee to the couch or to the floor and open the email client on the MacBook Air (I have two other computers; both sleep at this stage!). I have emails sorted in ascending date order and the client always opens the oldest of the emails first; working through these take somewhere between 45 minutes and two hours. I then go to the Forums and scan the new content; if anything looks either interesting or looks as if it could benefit from some personal input I will go to that but I often leave the forums alone for up to week. I realise in this moment of writing that I never go to Facebook (either page) and I don’t go to the blog are either; that is something that might be accessed when I’m in a more reflective state.

And depending on what is interesting me at the moment I may visit one or both of the pro-photography forums I’m a member of. And that is pretty much the extent of my Internet interaction.

I do have an Instagram account but never use it. I do not have a Twitter account on philosophical grounds: 140 characters is insufficient to express any useful thoughts on anything I’m thinking about and, from the tweets I have seen, encourages the user to pithiness and maximum impact rather than insight. More thoughtful is my inclination.

We will have a Stretch Therapy Twitter account, as google owns the internet these days, but it will only push to the new site. Same for a ST Instagram account.

I feel that social media is having major effects on interpersonal relations. Personally, I think staying off social media will benefit any of the relations near you that you care about, but I feel that I am in the minority now.

So, how do we survive the pressure of feeding the Beast? By realising that the beast is another internal fiction; use the Nancy Reagan approach, and “just say No!

No problem and stay tuned.

 

Active brand protection and franchising of Stretch Therapy

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We have had calls from people involved in our work about what the next stage of development might look like; many ideas are being floated—all this is good. So, in a brief post today, I wanted to air an idea or two, to spark reactions and to foment discussion.

While I am alive, there will be no active brand protection for Stretch Therapy and no franchise models for using our work, beyond attending workshops. The short story is that if my attention, or Olivia’s, is directed to “protecting our borders”, then creativity switches off. I have more ideas per day than I can possibly implement. ST will stay ahead of the curve (and hence be pre-eminent in the field) by being the best, and being recognised and spoken about as the best. Whether this is a slow, or fast, process is out of our control, it seems to me. For this reason, we will be devoting our energy to improving ourselves, our offerings, and the way we teach them.

Regarding the franchising model, I have never heard a franchisee speak a pleasant word about it: too many strictures from ‘head office’; too onerous accounting to calculate the fees and too much talk about what counts as a ‘legitimate’ expense—overall, too much energy in a small business needing to go to accountability overheads. No to franchising. Other models need to be developed if, indeed, they need to be developed at all. In our present thinking, we say we need to see a practising teacher show up at one of the cognate workshops within any three-year period to stay on the current teacher listings on our main site. This is how students find a teacher. As well, we make Vimeo on Demand inexpensive download products, and we sell books (print and PDF); teachers recommend these to their students, and the enterprise ticks along. I should say that making money is not my objective, nor Olivia’s; but living in a capitalist culture, we need to pay bills. A holiday would be nice.

A philosopher whose work I admire, Imre Lakatos, wrote of “degenerating paradigms”: these are knowledge gathering systems who spend their energy protecting their boundaries in preference to creating new aspects to their work; many schools of body work who claim to teach an “original system” fall into this category—failing to realise THE most important aspect of learning, which is embodiment. All originators of all systems departed from what they were taught in order to set up their ‘new’ systems; without fail, they changed the original teaching in the process. This will happen to our work, and should happen. (An aside: I once said to one of the senior teachers that, in the future when I am no longer around, if I hear anyone saying “do it like this because Kit said this is how it must be done” I will strike him down with a bolt of lightning!). I want experimentation and practical empirical research—which anyone can do—to happen, with all present being clear about why this technique is held on to, or why this new thing is better. What I am trying to develop is the most efficient method of tinkering—the fact that we use stretching techniques as the method of exploring this field is due to my own personal history—equally we could be discussing ping pong. All teachers of this system need to see themselves as inveterate tinkerers. Only a fool thinks he knows all that is needed.

Many practitioners fall into a similar category: the worst massages I have received have been from massage therapists with postgraduate training; in the limit case, they end up knowing all about their subject from an academic perspective, but being distanced from the in-the-present activity itself in the process, and not being able to do it well. Where your attention goes, you become.

Anyone can take our work and incorporate it into what they do; this is what’s been happening over the last ten years, and we have noticed that very few teachers of our work position themselves as “Stretch Therapy teachers”. There are many reasons for this, no doubt, but we feel (when I say “we” I mean Olivia and I, as the two core people in this system), that we want to get better, not bigger. This is already happening as more people like all the excellent people on the Forums take up, and contribute to, what we do. What we want to do now, with the ten or so years’ of experience of teaching Stretch Teacher workshops behind us, is concentrate more on how to get better. We have some clear ideas about what that will entail, and some not-so-clear ones, and this is what we need the Forums and the workshops for: to clarify and select the best directions for everyone involved in what we do. When I make any decision, the heuristic I use is simple: ‘What is the decision that will bring about the greatest good for the largest number of people involved?”

Getting back to Lakatos for a moment (and I wrote extensively about this in my Master’s thesis, and it was a central idea in my PhD research in talking about lean learning systems), if you are not creating, growing internally and externally, and if you are not constantly re-specifying your objectives and trying news ways of reaching those objectives, then you are dying. Of course, we all share that fate, but many are dead before this event occurs. We don’t want that.

This is why I am suffering through the 45 day ‘ballistic stretching protocol’ (many hundreds of dynamic repetitions of both loaded and unloaded stretching: how else can I know what effect this approach will have on me? This is “conscious suffering”. Something will have been learned, and embodied, by the end of this period. There is no other way of getting this knowledge.

It might be worth reading these posts before engaging with what I write above:

http://wp.me/p1QR8D-kI (Where are the wise?)

and

http://wp.me/p1QR8D-jb (The genie is out of the bottle, and she ain’t going back any time soon)

and

https://kitlaughlin.wordpress.com/2013/05/18/the-90-day-blog-challenge-and-the-50-year-test/ (short one that ends with the “50-year test”)

There is so much more to say on this, but short story is no border protection, and no franchises.

Thanks to dog for the correction to the last link.

Where are the wise?

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Two books I have read recently have had a massive impact on me: Yuval Harari’s Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind, and Nassim Taleb’s Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto). And insights gleaned from both underscore the question of this piece: in the 21st century, who can we look to for wisdom?

Part of Taleb’s thesis is that education (in the formal, university-based sense) does not create the ideas that lead to the technology that our cultures benefit and profit from; or that there is a low correlation; rather, on his account it is dropouts from university like Steve Jobs who do the creating—and that the process of innovation (not just an idea, but bringing it to market, more widely) requires a vast array of additional skills that education only tangentially touches upon, if at all. The main tool of innovation is trial and error—not complex theories. “Tinkering” is a word Taleb uses often. The further point is that increasing access to education (individually or collectively) does not increase the wisdom of those so schooled either—if anything, it reduces the capacity for novel or independent thinking by schooling more rigorously in any discipline. Back in 1970, Neil Postman claimed that “universities are suffering from a hardening of the categories” and that trend has increased. The most novel ideas occur at the interstices between disciplines, yet in this era of outcome-directed research (where “relevance” has to be demonstrated if funding is to be bestowed), interdisciplinary research is becoming rarer.

This claim against the alleged value of formal education (claimed by universities, mostly, but implicitly valued by most Westerners) is made amid a much broader salvo aimed at the traditional holders of wisdom in our modern culture who are the products of these systems (like the head of the Reserve Bank of the US, or Nobel-prize winning economists, or senior academics, or…), and he demonstrates conclusively that most of the “wise” are anything but. For example, not one of the involved parties was able to predict the two recent financial crises that wreaked havoc globally, and all experts relied on predictive modelling but without grasping the huge potential errors that are inherent in this process. Taleb argues persuasively that the assumptions of modelling more generally simply cannot grasp, hence predict, the outlier (or “tail”) events that can have such a destructive impact. His suggestions? Minimise downside (risk or exposure); maximise upside (or potential gain); and get out of debt.

It is not about Taleb’s brilliant thesis I wish to talk about today, though; I mention these two book simply because they have made me think about a number of my embedded beliefs (and hence unexamined until recently). As an aside, I feel that all one’s most deeply held beliefs need to be dusted off and looked at critically—especially deeply cherished ones!

Traditionally (here I mean pre-industrial humans, brilliantly drawn in Harari’s wonderful book Sapiens), wisdom was held to exist in the collective memories of the elderly. Proof of that wisdom was held to be embodied in the old, still existing, humans and that their very existence was sufficient evidence of it! This no longer obtains in any Western culture, though traces may be found in those few groups where generations live under the one roof or in close neighbourhoods. And part of this trend, no doubt, comes from the twin celebration of two concepts, “individual” and “freedom”. This has come at considerable cost, as well as benefit. In most Western cultures, the elderly are ignored as non-productive, and are experienced as a burden—and they are moved out of view into assisted housing or worse. Canteen-grade pap is fed to them; they are largely isolated and they are assisted in dying as neatly as possible, in a way that creates as little inconvenience as possible for their survivors. And that most significant of passages for each of us is sanitised to the nth degree (recorded music in the background; unctuous intermediaries to the fore—and so often these people have not even met the deceased).

Can we look to politicians for wisdom? Or the clergy? There might have been the odd statesman or woman in earlier eras, but it’s hard to think of one… And when I recall the reverence with which my grandmother spoke of the role of the priests in her rural, Irish life, where they were universally held to be wise (by believers, in any case) it is difficult to reconcile her views what we see and hear today.

So where do we look for wisdom? It’s clear, I think, that it will not be to Facebook or Twitter, or prime-time TV, or newspapers in any form. In fact, the sheer proliferation of information is itself a problem, and that problem has concerned many thinkers since it was identified—philosophy, according to the ancient Greeks, is properly concerned with distinguishing between episteme and doxa (truth and opinion). In the face of an information barrage available at the click of a mouse, sorting the wheat from the chaff is harder than ever before, I feel—what the Greeks identified as the pressing question of their day remains.

The problem is deeper than this, though: there is an asymmetry of respect for kinds of knowledge, or skills: since Miss O and I have been closer to the processes of building a house than ever before, it struck me recently that the more abstracted the knowledge, the more it is valued in our culture—yet when watching someone lay a row of bricks, or apply paint to a wall, it’s clear that immense practical/tactile skills are involved—why are these skills so undervalued in our culture? On another axis, why are university lecturers paid so much more than kindergarten teachers? (A personal aside: in the Stretch Therapy system, only the most experienced teachers get to work with beginners, because I believe that beginners, like young children, need the best teachers—the initial interactions literally set the context of how the beginner relates to the processes of learning itself). If that experience is benign, or positive, the beginner learns to teach herself—and once that is achieved, the attitude to learning, as well as the learning experience, is altered forever. The beginner learns to learn by herself and, as I have said many times, as teachers, our goal is to render ourselves unnecessary in this way.

The fact that the capacity for abstract thought is valued over practical skills is at the heart of many of modern civilisation’s ills, it seems to me. And this is what’s behind the blindnesses Taleb identifies in Antifragile: the further you get from hands on-making of things, the more inherently unreliable the constructions—necessarily increasingly mental or conceptual—become. This is simply because when you work at the hands-on level of constructing, the materials themselves are a real constraint on what can be done.  I feel we need a return to a more master/apprentice approach to learning; the term “master” (and mestre, maître, or maestro share the same root, and are gender neutral) simply means someone who has mastered a skill; invariably this means embodiment of physical capacities as well as having an understanding of a discipline. Embodiment is missing from much of the knowledge that our culture values and this is one of our deepest problems. Not coincidentally, the same asymmetry is at the heart of the difficulty one has in the search for wisdom. It is also the root of our present environmental problems: increasing distance from the source (both of what we use and the nature of which constrains us, if we pay attention). Modern mental constructions have enabled such distance from Reality (in the Wilden “big R” sense) that economists can describe the Earth’s capacity to absorb human waste as infinite—and thereby not appear as a cost on the balance sheet. How insane is this? I stop this thread here; I hope the direction is clear. As Korzybski noted so profoundly long ago: “The map is not the territory.”

My personal journey in seeking wisdom within the realms of academia ended with well-funded PhD research (I was looking at the limits to science and logic); a breakthrough came one day when I realised that these disciplines have literally nothing useful to say about the experiences of daily life and how to make these experiences more real. The same disciplines were completely silent on how to live a more authentic life, too, and when I realised that I did not have much of my life left (one of the advantages of entering university as a mature student) I decided to look elsewhere.

I have been extremely fortunate in having met, and spent considerable time with, a number of remarkable teachers. The teachers I refer to here work in the ‘spiritual’ realm (this term is even more fraught than the term ‘traditional’, but for the purpose of this note, by “spiritual”, I mean inward looking and contemplative in direction), the direct opposite to scientific, whose purview is outward and whose intent is to uncover the nature of, and structure of, the world we live in. And it’s not coincidental that the perspective that science explicitly proscribes is the subjective (I will not go into the subjective–objective distinction here, except to say that any individual’s most important information and direct experience on a day-today basis will be found in the former and not the latter domain).

There is a long tradition that holds that contemplation and/or meditation can be a reliable method to uncover wisdom—held to be inherent in us all and which will manifest once various ‘obscurations’ are removed. And this may well be so—but which school; which teacher; which lineage? A partial solution to this problem is offered by Buddhism, in a three-part combination of the teaching itself (damma); the historical figure of the Buddha himself (how he lived; what he said) and a group of like-minded people who are interested in the same (sangha)—the Triple Gem. I feel the last part, the group of like-minded individuals, is a crucial element that is missing for many people in today’s world—face-to-face interaction with people you care about. Facebook does not count! (For brevity, I mention only Buddhism here, but other ‘direct realisation’ schools, like Daoism, or the Tantric schools of Yoga offer similar approaches.)

So—where am I going with all this? At the most fundamental, I am arguing for the necessity of embodiment of knowledge as a precursor to wisdom. Embodiment is a physical/mental process, and we know something about this.

We are stardust, Billion year old carbon,
We are golden, Caught in the devil’s bargain,
And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.
(Joni Mitchell, “Woodstock”, 1970)

It’s an old song. Comments very welcome.

Update: I perhaps should have read past p. 375 in Antifragility before writing this note; embodiment is what Taleb goes on to elaborate in his discussion of “skin in the game’, and the relationship between antifragility and ethics. Same idea; and better done in his book! Please read the original; it is the best book I have read in 20 years.

My thanks to Dave Wardman for insightful comments, and Miss O for correcting a typo or two; any remaining silliness is my fault.

And you may care to read Dave’s earlier pieces on his blog that inspired this one:

http://physicalalchemy.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/the-agile-lifestyle.html

http://physicalalchemy.blogspot.com.au/2015/01/the-agile-lifestyle-part-ii-deathstyle.html

References:

“Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind”, by Yuval Harari

“Antifragile: Things That Gain from Disorder (Incerto)”, by Nassim Taleb

“System and Structure”, Anthony Wilden

“Science and Sanity”, Alfred Korzybski

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 the transcript (thanks Ande!) can be downloaded here:

Kit-Laughlin_WRA-Podcast_with-commentary

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 to 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:

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