January 22nd, 2010

green leaves

Random question

If you could choose to stop disliking specific things, would you do it? You could go back to disliking them if you don't like the results.

A few examples:

I would rather be able to like beer. I wouldn't want to love alcohol, but being able to enjoy a glass of the good stuff now and then (I can like a smallish amount, but then the yuck-alcohol reaction kicks in) seems as though it would improve my quality of life.

I wouldn't want to be able to like romance novels. I'm not sure what I dislike about them (I like love stories, but there's some specific romance thing that puts me off), so I'm not sure what I'd be changing.

I think I'd be better off if I could pay attention to the details of political processes.
green leaves

A movement hack

The hack is to consider doing an action, and then notice what you've done to prepare for the action. If the preparation involves unnecessary tension or pulling yourself out of alignment, then refrain from the preparation and do the action.

I've gotten good results from this in tai chi, qi gong (especially a side bend which had been jammed up for something like a year-- once I started paying attention to how I led into it, I realized I was bending bits of myself forward or backward (sorry, don't remember details) in a way which made a good side bend impossible), and clearing up some knee problems when going down stairs. (I've got a better method[1] now, but the attention to preparation would clear them up for a few months.

I believe this is more useful than trying to correct posture because it's working with immediate sensory information (the low-quality preparation you just noticed) rather than a guess about what better posture is. I also hope (but don't have proof) that working with this approach leads to better baseline movement habits. In general, people are best at noticing changes rather than background conditions.

I'm curious about how useful this advice is-- on the one hand, I've put a lot of years and professional help into improving my kinesthesia, and on the other hand, I started out pretty numb. I don't know how many people would think this is too obvious to be useful, and how many would find it impossible to do. If you do try this, I'm quite curious about how it went. Even if nothing happens, I might find a way to improve my explanation.

The hardest thing for me is keeping it honest. It's essential to pay attention to what's happening during preparation each time, and not slop over it because I think I know how things are going to feel and what changes I need to make. The truth is that I'm using this technique because I need to keep getting fresh inputs.

If you're playing with this, I recommend starting with good-sized physical movements. I've tried it with talking. It's harder, but possible. It may be worth noting that the Alexander Technique was invented because F.M. Alexander couldn't directly inhibit his habits around speaking, so he developed a subtle movement which makes for a general improvement in one's kinesthetic sense.[2] It's also possible to use this method with breathing (take a moment to notice whether you're doing anything extra before you inhale and/or exhale), but I've found that the improvements are larger with bigger movements.

[1]The Five Tibetan Rites, a sort of yoga/calisthenic combination which is worth a separate post.

[2] The Alexander Technique and me is also worth another post.

Addendum: I believe it should be possible to continuously notice and undo inappropriate preparations while in action, but I'm not there yet.
green leaves

Support muscles

I've heard[1] that there are two sorts of skeletal muscles-- little muscles near the bones which specialize in support, and bigger muscles in a layer farther out which specialize in movement. Biology being the complicated thing that it is, I expect that there's some overlap.

If one's body isn't organized in a way which lets your support muscles really do their work, then some of it has to be done by the movement muscles, which means they're overworked (support muscles are optimized for endurance) and less free for movement.

What has just occurred to me is that support muscles aren't very voluntary compared to movement muscles. That's why it's a standard piece of advice to imagine a string pulling you up-- using your imagination contacts your support muscles in a way that deciding to stand up straight doesn't. (The string thing might contact your support muscles-- it doesn't do anything for me. I'm willing to cut the common wisdom of the human race some slack and assume that it works for a lot of people.)

[1] In other words, I've heard it from people I trust, it sounds reasonable to me, and I don't have a convenient way to check it.