Tag Archives: flexible strength

Physicality, Embodiment & Yoga

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Do you feel that unless you strain when you exercise, you are not doing enough?
Are you sure that strain is necessary to get strong in body or mind?

Do you think you are connected to your body because you exercise or practice yoga?
Are you sure that being physical means that you are well connected to your body?

What if strain only added body stiffness to the strength you could build without the strain?
What if being physical was not enough to be fully connected to your innate body wisdom?

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On the left she tightens and creates body stiffness in her outer muscles,
on the right she allows space to relax and let her core muscles strengthen themselves!
My  journey from physicality to awareness of disembodiment

When I started exercising and decided to eat right, I was motivated by wanting to look the best I could and keep my weight down. I used to exercise 3 hours a day. Half of that time was walking to and from campus for 45 minutes each way and the other 90 minutes were at the gym, running or an aerobic dance class plus using the universal machines of the time.

I thought I was very connected to my body and although I never strained to the point of hurting myself, I did judge the amount of appropriate tension by how much I was pushing myself. Burning calories was high on my list as I have a compact muscular body and always wanted to trim it down.

However, I had a profound realization that changed the course of my life. One day, while finishing grad school and being very pregnant with my first child. I found myself leaning on the table at the library so my belly was totally squished against the edge of the table. Noticing that was like a wake up call. I asked myself ” What am I doing to my baby? And what am I doing to my body?”. I started noticing other such instances. Maybe I was not as connected to my body as I thought? It made me realize that physicality was only part of being fully connected. I became aware that my physicality had been driven by my mind that acted as if it knew better than my body.

My journey towards embodiment of my aware mind
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That profound realization led me to practice meditation and let go of a promising career teaching French Literature at the college level for which I had just studied several years. Everyone thought I was crazy. But academia was going to keep me in my head so I had to find another more holistic type of teaching, and I did. Although embodiment is a life long evolution, working in a mind/body field with the Alexander Technique has made a huge difference in my life, especially combined with my meditation practice.

Over time, I realized and experienced that my addictive straining was only adding body stiffness to the strength I was building. It was true in the gym or on the yoga mat. I found it to be a mindset that reveals itself throughout all aspect of my life as self-created stress if I let it. And when I am flexible and strong in my mind, I can enjoy flexible strength in my workout or my yoga practice.

It became clear that I wanted flexible strength and that flexible strength starts with an aware and embodied mind. When your mind is embodied, there is no room for strain when you are being physical because you are in harmony with your innate body wisdom. And this is a whole body affair through every movement and every moment of the day. When you focus mainly on physicality, you are missing a dimension and the door to injury is still wide open whether you are at your computer, in your kitchen or on the mat.

When your mind is embodied, there is no room for strain when being physical
because you are in harmony with your innate body wisdom.
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Connecting to your body in a holistic way means that you are not tending separately to the mind and the body. You are aware of both whether you meditate or exercise. It also means that you allow your whole body wisdom to guide you as it is designed rather than controlling your skeleton muscularly according to the dictates of your mind as if it knew better than your innate body intelligence. It means organic good posture takes care of itself in a sustainable way like it does in children.

There is a breakthrough process that can help you access your whole body wisdom with ease whatever type of exercise you enjoy doing. It helps you to be embodied in a way beyond focusing on your stretch edge or your pain edge which represents only a small percentage of your whole body wisdom. It helps you reclaim organic good posture and strain-free living.

Interested in exploring this further? Then check:

1) My Free Email Seminar 2) My Free Webinar 3) My Beta 90 Day E-Course Special.

 

 

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How Your Body Image affects Your Body Use into Straining & Slumping!

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Have you ever consciously thought about what your body image is?

The one that drives you to eat, exercise, or dress a certain way? As a woman, do you want to look thin, sexy, professional? As a man, do you want to look strong and unaffected? Whether man or woman, do you think your looks and wealth equals your worth? For better or for worse, those values are actually 19th century by-products of the Industrial Revolution in a society that has been valuing: appearances, money and machines.

On a more personal level, where is your body image coming from?
 And is it serving you?

Considering your body image shapes your current beliefs, you may want to explore your thoughts on the subject. They are creating feelings and actions that are possibly holding you back. Once you uncover these thoughts and beliefs feeding your body image, you can choose to create new ones if need be and see your life change progressively; sometimes drastically. Check this inspiring one minute video with Kate Winslet:

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Unlike Kate do you remember words from a parent, friend or teacher that sent you on a specific body image path?

My Story with Body Image

My well-intentioned mom projected her limiting beliefs about weight on me at a very young age.  I became a slave to my body image around weight for decades.  The process to free myself from a body image that did not serve me started when I was pregnant with my first child.

One day, when very pregnant and quite absorbed in my studies, I caught myself in the library studying with my belly squished against the table. It was a powerful moment. I wondered about what I was doing to my baby and to my own body? And in a flash, that is when I realized something had to change. Being in my head so much as a PhD student only emphasized a mind/body disconnect that had started long ago with my compact body image. I saw this clearly then. My mind had taken over and I did not experience my body fully except as a number on a scale.

In short, this led me to a meditation practice, to a career change and to train as an Alexander Technique teacher in the hope to become a more integrated being. Although this tends to be a lifelong journey, training then teaching this work has made a serious difference. I have discovered my body from a different perspective and learned to appreciate many dimensions about it thanks to becoming more of an “embodied” mind.

One important thing I discovered was that my body image was affecting the way I was using my whole body, and the way I was using my body was affecting its functioning. On the other end, improving my overall functioning by improving the way I used myself seriously decreased the impact my body image had on me. Now, I can dance through life joyfully!

How Your Body Image Story affects Your Body Use

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Familiar slump leaning into the comfort of habits

 

Your body image is affecting how you use yourselves in everyday life and vice versa. When you are not happy with the way you look or feel, you consciously or unconsciously want to curl in, hide or cover up. Have you experienced this familiar slump where you lean into the comfort of your habit despite its cost? As you know, slumping often translates into back or neck discomfort, sometimes into breathing and digestive issues as well because your inside is being squished constantly interfering with the best functioning of your organs. Have you just been triggered to pull your shoulders back in an effort to straighten up because of what you just read? And yet, you know it is pointless since you go right back down in seconds?

Does this sound like you? Do you have muscles and joints discomfort, pain or tiredness? Are you prone to feeling stressed and overwhelmed? Do you tend to worry uncontrollably? It comes with the territory of this familiar pose. There is a reason for it as explained in this Ted Talk video. Luckily for you, there is a way out!

And it has nothing to do with you trying to control your body muscularly. Otherwise you may turn into a chronic holder when it comes to your posture and an over-doer on the mat.   Like many people, unless you strain on the mat, you may think that you are not doing enough, not strengthening enough, not stretching enough. And yet, you do not really want to strain, do you? You just want the benefits of exercising whether on or off the mat.

How to Stop the Straining & Slumping Cycle

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The difference between sitting in a balance way
and sitting with your gravity center behind your sits bones: A big difference!

 

What you really want is “Flexible Strength” and “Sustainable Good Posture”. And the secret to acquiring the flexible strength of the cat is to behave like one. No kidding! Do you see cats exercising one body part at a time? I don’t think so. They use their body as a whole when they move. And guess what? You are designed that way as well!

The truth is that you may not be moving and exercising your body as a coordinated self even if you know, intellectually, that all the parts are meant to function as a whole. The reason for this lies in a handful of common unconscious habits that interfere with your best efforts. Since you can only be mindful of what you are aware of,  becoming aware of and learning to overcome these common habits is the key to functioning with optimal safety and optimal performance,  the key to stopping the cycle from straining to be upright, to surrendering into your inevitable habitual slump.

Interested in exploring this further?

Check 1) My Free Email Seminar 2) My Free Webinar 3) My Beta 90 Day E-Course Special.

 

The Art of Flexible Strength: Drop the Strain, Keep the Strength!

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Striving to Stretch

As a yogi or fitness practitioner, do you  feel it is important to develop strength and flexibility? And yet do you truly feel you are developing flexible strength in the process? The flexible strength of the cat for instance which allows the cat to be totally tension free one minute and in an instant, display amazing strength, flexibility, accuracy of aim and speed of action.

If you are like most of us, the answer is no, not really!

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Beautiful natural integrated stretch

The truth is you strive for more flexibility and you may succeed up to a certain point. Yet are you tension free between yoga classes or even on the mat? If you can say yes, then you can stop reading right here. If the answer is no, then read on.

One reason you may not feel as flexible as you would want to be in your body (even though you work hard at it), is because flexibility starts in the mind, it is not just a body feature. And since the mind and the body are the two sides of the same coin, if your mind is not flexible, your body will reflect that by feeling uptight and it goes the other way round as well if you are flexible as a whole rather than having some flexible parts.

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Different bodies and awareness levels, different practices, different level of benefits

Another reason is that you may have unconscious habits of movements that are in the way of getting the result you are working for. I have found this to be a common explanation for nagging muscular and joint tension. In fact there are five such common habits that stem from misconceptions of movement. They have to do with you using parts of your body to do the job of other parts of your body so naturally, the misused parts end up complaining that they are not suited for the task. Becoming aware of this in your own body is a game changer.

The young man in the picture is aware of the way the pose is supposed to be but some of his unconscious habitual patterns prevent him from doing the pose the way he sees it and if he tries to straighten his back muscularly, he can only strain. Luckily he sensed that and was not trying to force anything. And the habits could manifest more subtly and be harder to detect but still doing a job on the synergy of your body. The fact is these common unconscious habits make you use your body in a way that is not in line with your innate body wisdom. As a result, no matter how much exercise you do, you feel you are not getting the results you want or when you do, you find them not to be sustainable.

One way to address this is to attend my free webinars or better yet sign up for my 90 Day Live Interactive E-Course. The work I do is very practical and can benefit you from the start by expanding your awareness with a new way to approach movement. It can also help you handle mind or body stress from a fresh new perspective and truly transform your life.

For more info or to sign up to June 9 webinar, go to: https://offthematyoga.leadpages.co/free-live-interactive-webinar/
For the E-Course, go to: https://offthematyoga.leadpages.co/cecileclearofferinteractivee-course/

 

While Pushing your Edge, Building Flexible Strength or Body Stiffness?

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Are you a fitness enthusiast? Do you feel good about your practice only if you push yourself to the max and feel your muscles straining a bit? Maybe you feel you do not do enough if you do not feel that stretch or that muscle power working “effort-fully”? Is that  feeling of muscular tension what you consider “pushing your edge”?

When do you know that enough is enough? What do you think of the fitness enthusiasts below displaying their ability to squat with pride because they feel that edge big time?

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The man, back and shoulders rounding forward to not fall backwards, is overstretching his back and compressing the back of his neck as he is pushing his edge to stand on one foot while squatting. The woman has the ball of her feet partly off the ground because her weight mainly situated over her heels is not evenly distributed above her whole two feet. It means that to not fall backwards, she is compensating by overdoing in her leg muscles building unnecessary tension while building up strength.

Both are also stressing ankles, knees and hip joints which are constricted by the excessive muscular tension required in their legs to keep some sort of balance. Is it worth it to push your edge in a way that creates these issues?

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Is there a holistic way to push your edge that allows you to stretch and strengthen all the same yet does not translate into building compressed joints and muscle stiffness on or off the mat?

For starters, think children and tribal cultures! Look at the individuals below. Notice how their head neck and torso relationship works perfectly as their weight is balanced above their well grounded feet: some of their body weight past their toes, some of it behind their heels. A good example of what to be respectful of while you are exercising so you do not hurt yourself while you are trying to be good to yourself.

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In many cultures more connected to the natural way to handle daily movements, it is actually common to see men and women of all ages squat with ease or carry heavy loads on their heads gracefully. Since such flexible strength and ease is possible among some humans, it must be accessible to all, including you!

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In the animal kingdom as well, you see creatures who can display powerful and precise flexible strength without building any excess muscular tension so they are totally relaxed when not in action. If they stretch, it is a whole body happening done usually once.

These examples are all about efficiency and it is precisely that efficiency that allows them to push their edge safely. Excess tension is seductive but misleading. It makes you feel like you are being productive when in fact it decreases your efficiency and creates stiffness that will backfire on you on or off the mat, sooner or later.

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How can you still push your edge and develop efficient flexible strength?

 

1) “Flexible Strength” is the opposite of “Stiff Strength”. So stop focusing on holding and tightening (a mind need to control), and instead release into your support and allow yourself to expand into your space (trusting mind). As you engage in your pose, stay in it even when it is demanding as long as you can still release into your support. If there is no room to release all the way into your support, you are already overdoing because your pose stopped to be integrated from head to toes.

2) “Flexible Strength” is “Integrated Strength”. You are still challenging yourself and building strength when you release into your support, only you then do it in an integrated fashion that benefits your whole body and connects you to its innate wisdom. Even if some muscles are being challenged more than others, they won’t be pushed past their safe limit because you are respecting the integrated synergy of your body.

3) “Pushing Your Edge” the “Holistic Way”:  When you brace yourself grasping your skeleton to keep it in a specific pose no matter what, you are actually interfering with the best functioning of your body because your joints are locked and your muscles tensed unnecessarily. On the other end, staying in the pose and constantly releasing and expanding through it despite this being challenging is how you push your edge in a holistic way! 

CONCLUSION & IMPORTANT DISTINCTIONS

Necessary Muscular Tension can grow into “Flexible Strength” when challenged to do so during physical activities while connected to your support in a released way. Unnecessary Muscle Tension only grows into “Body Stiffness”. Since your unconscious daily habitual patterns tend to show up on the yoga mat, your poses may include habitual skeletal misuse or habitual muscle overuse  (often a compensation for skeletal misuse). It makes it harder and sometimes impossible to do a pose in a safe way.  With unnecessary muscle tension, you may feel like your body is a battle ground and you cannot find peace within it or you blank out the tension till it catches up with you.

Also, when you are mistaking the “Feeling of Muscle Tension” for the “Feeling of Strength”, you keep pushing muscularly when you ought to be letting go and releasing into expansion. Hence the stiffness lingering in your muscles and joints over time on and off the yoga mat and the constant need to stretch recurring or chronic tension.

To be safe, you must cultivate awareness of how what you do affects every part of your body as you do it. Otherwise you run the risk to create muscle tension while you are working to build up strength.

Developing an awareness of functioning in an integrated fashion is your safety net. It allows you to keep your “Postural Mechanism” fully functioning as it is its job to secure balance, coordination and fluid movements within your integrated self. It is your “Inner Teacher”, always there to guide you, and all you need to do to activate it is to release into expansion. The best way I know to develop such awareness is the Alexander Technique. If you have not yet explored it, don’t wait. Treat yourself! You will be happy you did too.

The next workshop for yoga practitioners of all levels is on December 13, 2014.
To sign up go to https://offthematyogablog.com/.
Be well! And Happy Holidays!
Cecile