crane_exercise

Photo courtesy Tony Hisgett available from Flickr under Creative Commons.

Concentration and self-mastery

Have you ever watched a person of a strong reputation or character?

If you have a chance, observe them closely. Look how they sit, walk and talk.

You will notice that men of force and women of wisdom exert a great control over their bodies. The posture is strong, the body is well grounded, the eyes are focused yet radiant and their movements are optimized. All parts of the body are in a total harmony. They align to a purpose.

Their speech is well rounded, thoughtful and inspirational. There are  hardly any stop words, such as ‘yeah’ ,’uhm’ and so on. Their speech and their body are in resonance,  They are slow to preach but fast to listen.

They are calm and well poised, in control of their bodies. They radiate assurance, wisdom and respect.

Now, watch an ordinary person on a street or on TV. You will see how seemingly different parts of the body have their own lives. Wiggly gestures, scratching head, pulling hair, biting lips, looking down or off, tapping fingers, moving constantly on a chair or while standing.

Their speech is erratic, repeatable and lacks focus. They allow emotions to take over. They are fast to talk but slow to listen.

***

Mind is associated with muscles and nerves. Once the muscles and nerves are moving without control, your mind becomes scattered. The energy needed to support these movements diminishes your power of concentration. In addition, when the heart beats irregularly, the circulation is uneven. Consequently, the mind goes over all places and lacks the power of focus. As simple as that.

Controlling your mind and your body goes hand in hand. Any practice that teaches you to strengthen and control your muscles and nerves will steady your mind, as a result. You will become more focused. And the power of focus is the foundation of self-mastery.

There are, of course, many practices you can choose. The basic one, however, starts with breathing.

So….controlling your breath is a way to maintain your health. The slower breath, the better. Ideally, you breath in the same pattern as your heart beats. Out-breath, pause and an  in-breath.

Breathing and the crane

Many diseases, including acute and chronic problems, are related to the weakness in one or more parts of the digestive tract. Digestion is controlled by the autonomic muscles and the regular exercise will not reach them. Many suggest that poor breathing habits are a major cause of weakness in the body by not using diaphragm to massage the internal organs.

Oftentimes, when we breathe, the lungs tend to expand outward toward the chest as we use the upper part half of the lungs only. The stale air that remains in the lower part and the moisture which accompanies the stale air provides the conditions necessary for germs to have a party 😉 Therefore, we need to find a way to breathe the lower part of the lungs as well and force the stomach, intestines and colon to move, to work so they may be strengthened.

The Crane Exercise comes as a solution.

Crane is a Chinese and Japanese symbol of longevity, wisdom and nobility. Not surprisingly, as they live long, pair for life, look elegant and perhaps make smart choices 😉

When it stands, the crane folds one leg into its belly and exerts pressure on its abdominal muscles. This is done to strengthen its digestive, respiratory and circulatory systems. A similar thing happens when we adapt this position for humans. Since intestines are not easily reachable by external exercise, emulating the crane will benefit the digestive system greatly. Humans emulate the crane by practicing standing on one leg and then by learning to use the diaphragm to  massage the digestive organs.

The Crane Exercise forces the lungs downward. This is beneficial because the intestines have no place to go, they are pressed out against the abdominal muscles. Such a motion breaks up constipation, encourages absorp­tion of nutrients. and strengthens the entire digestive tract while stimulating the lungs. The Crane posture also increases the circulation to the abdominal organs and muscles. Hence, it can reduce fat accumulation (great news, isn’t it? ;)). The pose also helps asthma through its effects on the lungs.

Slow diaphrag­matic breathing, as taught in the Crane, allows for full expansion of the lungs and full absorption of energy from the air, while exercising the lungs and gently massaging the internal organs. The Crane posture also encourages us to improve our circulation. Even though these organs are controlled by the autonomic nervous system, the Crane Exercise enables us to bal­ance the energy between top and down of the body.

Crane Exercise

This  may be practiced while standing, sitting, or while lying down.

Caution: Avoid in pregnancy or when there is an abdominal pain.

  1. Start by rubbing the palms of your hands together to generate some heat in your hands.
  2. Place your hands, palms down, on your lower abdomen on the sides of your navel.
  3. Inhale through nose, while keeping your mouth close.
  4. Begin to exhale slowly, while pressing your hands down lightly so that the abdomen forms a hollow cavity . Since the hands act as the leg of the crane, this gently forces the air out of the lower lungs. If you like, keep imagining unwanted microorganisms to leave your body as well.
  5.  After you have exhaled completely, pause briefly and slowly inhale again. Extend your abdomen outward so that it becomes like a balloon. Do your best to use your muscles in the lower abdomen – let the chest stay flat.

Begin with 2-3 rounds (exhalation followed by inhalation is one round) and slowly increase to 12. Please practiced daily, ideally in the morning or evening. Your goal is to do it as slowly as possible, say one round for about 30-50s.

***

Eric Cobb from Z-Health shows a breathing exercise which is in fact the laying down Crane Exercise.

 

Standing Crane Exercise

This is more advanced than the sitting/lying down exercise but worth learning. In addition, it helps to develop balance and increases the flexibility of the knees, ankles and hip joints. It also increases the circulation in the legs and feet.

  1. Stand with your feet touching.
  2. Take one foot and rub the sole of that foot on the opposite calf. Slowly work your foot up the leg, stopping to rub it until your foot rests on the outside thigh of your opposite leg. The heel should lie toward the pelvis, and the toes should be past the thigh near the hip joint.
  3. Use your hands to massage the sole of your foot, including toes.
  4. Raise your arms over your head sideways as you inhale, and bring your palms as close together as possible.
  5. Breathing as usual, balance in this position for as long as you can.
  6. While exhaling, lower your arms and foot and repeat the exercise with your other foot.

And here is a demonstration of the standing crane:

Concentration and breathing

When your breath becomes regular, your circulation follows. A steady mind begins with an even breath. A healthy body begins with diaphragmatic breath. Enjoy it!

***

 

speed matters Photo courtesy Tea, Two Sugars,  available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

Speed matters

In the last few weeks my son was learning to ride a bike. Although he previously refused to use a balance bike, he suddenly got super interested in riding a chunky and heavy bike. He made a fast progress with stabilizers as he was willing to practice no matter the weather.

First, the stabilizers were perfectly aligned on both sides. After two days, they were moved upwards. As a result, riding became a wobbly experience for him, nevertheless enjoyable. I could see it from the happy face of my son. The support given by the stabilizers was pretty weak.

After a couple of days my son insisted to take the stabilizers off. I still made him practise a few more days and I saw that he was ready.

The day came when the stabilizers were removed.  My son sat on the saddle with a huge confidence. Totally, convinced that riding was going to be a smooth experience.

It wasn’t.

He attempted to take off. Yet, he fell off just a second later. He tried again and fell again. And again. And again. Many more times.

He got perplexed. He was crying in desperation. Nothing worked.

I decided to give him support. In the initial stage, I hold  the bike at the back in a balanced position. Then I run with him riding, while balancing the bike. He was OK, when I was behind him. Yet, the moment I left him on his own, he was again back on the pavement. Falling over and over again.

I gave him lots of encouragement. No matter my praise, however, he was falling.

I kept applauding his attempts. All in vain.

At the end, he stopped, totally devastated. Frustrated, angry and defeated. He decided to ride his scooter instead.

***

The following few days brought nothing new. He had refused to ride a bike for a couple of days. Then he asked for his stabilizers back.

I did so.

Stabilizers brought his comfort again. He felt at home again and easy at riding. This time however, his experience was richer. He knew how it was to ride with and without stabilizers.

While practicing with stabilizers,  I explained to my son that in order to succeed he had to ride fast. The bike was heavy for his age and when a certain speed was gained, balancing become easier. Otherwise, slow riding, made it nearly impossible.

In addition, to help with the initial momentum, we practiced fast rides on a small downhill road. Then, I removed the stabilizers. Now, he knew he had to ride fast. He had the experience and understanding.

We started from a downhill, and … voila… he was riding a bike. Not ideally, at first, but without falling. Two more attempts, and he was perfectly fine.

A major accomplishment.

What is the moral of the story?

Speed matters.

The story is a good metaphor for all the situations when we want to induce a change. Be it to introduce a new habit, move a house, re-formulate a company strategy, learn a skill, or change a carrier.

The moment in which we want to start a transformation, the speed of implementation really matters. This speed, in analogy to bike riding, is important to gain the momentum. It is important to overcome the initial inertia and get things going. The speed of implementation is meant to push things forward. There is no time to dwell in fears or insecurities.

The speed forces you to stay focused. And the focus and dedication will help you to find the right way, the middle way, while balancing the in-s and out’s of the situation.

In order to do that, your initial preparations and strategy are essential, similarly as practicing with my son was. Deciding what you want and knowing what needs to be done to achieve that is the preparation. Then you just dive in and implement it as fast as you can.

Next time, when you are about to make a change in your life, choose to implement your strategy fast. No procrastination. Take one step after another. Until you reach your destination.

Speed of implementation matters, indeed, if you want to succeed.

 

 

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Photo courtesy Fe Langdon, available on Flickr.

You are what you focus on” is the title of a chapter from the “Accidental genius” book by Mark Levy. There are two important points I will be making here, so please pay attention.

Focus

Your focus has defined who you are today. Your focus is now defining whom you are going to become. Clearly, your personality, skills and achievements reflect the areas of life to which you have dedicated your attention. This means effort, work, time or enthusiasm. Certainly, things hardly ever happen overnight. Time and effort are required.

Becoming healthy, developing a skill, working for purpose or having a fulfilling relation is not an event but a process. Maintenance is required too. Whatever resources and gifts you have got, these are yours to put in use.

An easy way to investigate how to put your skills to use is to do it with writing. Writing is a funnel through which thoughts are de-cluttered and organized.Writing is an easy anchor to attach weight to thoughts so that they are born in this space for a possible manifestation. Once thoughts are out of the head and visible on the paper, they can be easily explored.

Clear writing leads to clear thinking.

Conscious mind and subconscious mind

Before we talk more about focus, let us discriminate between the conscious and subconscious minds. Ultimately, there is one mind, but it helps to see it through its different roles. The conscious mind (related to self-consciousness as well) lives in the moment of now and is limited to, what some estimate, 4-10 bits of information per second. It practically means that in any given moment you can focus on a few things only. The subconscious mind, a connected network of cells with specialized tasks and functions, is capable of computing somewhere between 10 and 40 millions of bits per second.

In analogy, the conscious mind is the CEO of a huge company, say of 100 000 employers. The subconscious mind consists of all the workers and organizational levels. There is no way the CEO can be made aware of all details of the business, product development, customer issues, complaints, missed targets and so on. She can’t also be involved in all low-level decisions or tactics. These are being made through systems and managers. Only essential information is filtered out and presented to the CEO for planning, developing strategies and execution. The CEO defines the filter, the kind of information she is interested to receive for evaluation and action.

Selective attention test: how fast can you count?

If you have already encountered one of such tests in your life, just show it to someone else and find out how they perform. If you haven’t seen it yet, watch the video below.

Can you accurately count the number of times that the white team passes the ball?

Pay careful attention and find out whether your conscious mind can keep up with the counting.

Ready? Steady? Go!

If this is the first time you see it, you might be surprised with the result, especially if you missed the obvious. On the other hand, it is trivial when you know where to direct your focus, isn’t it?

This test demonstrates that attention is selective. You will only pay attention to what you have decided to focus on. Your subconscious mind will filter out “unimportant” information that your senses report to you so that the conscious mind, the CEO, can do the task. There is no way that your conscious mind can ever keep up with your senses.

The learning point is this.  Focus is discriminative. When you choose to focus on one thing, you have to neglect all others.

Attention alternation test

This test comes from the “Accidental genius” book.

Whenever you are, just look around for 5-10 seconds to spot all red things in your neighborhood. Close your eyes and mentally create a list of all red objects you recall.

How many are there?

Open your eyes and look around again to confirm whether you spotted them all.

Now, let’s make a slight variation. Suppose I offer you 1000 pounds (dollars/EUR) for a list of 100 red objects in your surroundings. Suppose you really need this money. Now, chances are that you will not only list all the obvious red objects, but you will also become creative in rediscovering them behind the veil. For instance, you may mention red lips, red letters on a tag of your jumper, red blood coming from your finger jabbed by a paper clip, a red flashing diode on your mobile or a red-colored strip over the clouds from the sunset. Have you made to 100, yet?

If you have done this exercise you can discover how “hidden” the objects may be even if they sit in your plain view. The difference between these two small tests lies in the precision of your focus (“How many red objects are there?” vs “Find me 100 red objects”) as well as your motivation/willingness to perform the task.

The learning point is this. The quality of your focus (precision plus motivation) influences the quality of your answers.

If you are looking to get unstuck, improve an aspect of your life or find a solution, an important idea or a resource may be hidden in your plain view without your active and dedicated effort. In other words, as with internet searches, the context, the right question, defines what you will find.

Conclusion

The tests above clearly demonstrate the importance of the right focus. What you focus on will determine how you lead your life. If you choose to pay attention to grumpy people, annoying situations, self pity and miseries, surely you will encounter them in your life. Your lenses of focus define what you see. If, on other hand, you choose to concentrate on happy moments, kindness or smiles, you will experience them in your life.You are the one with the power to alternate your attention.

Both sides, sadness and joy, ups and downs, difficulty and solution, have always been there. Why? Because the pendulum of life swings between the polarities. It is what you choose to see, hear and experience will color your life happy or not.

This is all great, but …

Where does freewriting come into the picture?

Freewriting has a special role. Under time limit and through continuous writing, you can reach your vast inner space beneath your daily chatter-box or critic. This is the space where creative solutions happily live in.

A good and precise question is your point of focus. Your practice of freewriting is a way to dig deep and discover what matters to you. When made actionable, the discoveries will lead you to success.

Final exercise

If your life vision is buried under the tasks of the daily routines, use freewriting to elaborate on this. Set the timer for 20minutes. Ask the question:

“What is necessary for me to have a fantastic life?”.

Write continuously, without editing, to answer this question. Include all the criteria, and the three aspects of “being”, “doing” and “having”.

Choose  one item from this exploration list. Take an action in the next few hours.

***

 

learning_from_mistakes 

Let me first clarify what I mean by a “bad idea” here. “Bad idea” means ineffective, at best and stopping progress, at worst.

“Learning from mistakes” is an expression strongly rooted not only in our language, but also our thinking. It is accepted as a sound piece of advice for some or a trivial colloquialism for others. The idea is that we make mistakes and we have to learn from them in order to improve. We consider it as a truth.

Now is the time to challenge it. Or at least, challenge what we understand by this expression.

***

You and I make mistakes in our lives. They are inevitable. We made them in the past, we are making them now and we will make them in the future. No doubt about it.

Mistakes are simply misguided actions or poor estimates in the given context or situation. They may involve experiencing borderline cases, crossing the edge or making wrong judgements.

Mistakes have an important role in the learning process and I don’t want to dispute that. They are a part of the feedback on the progress we make. They are however not the foundation of our success.

When is learning from mistakes ineffective?

If you constantly focus on your mistakes and how to improve them, you focus on what does not work. In other words, you concentrate on the problems and not the solutions. This is a trap that one falls into – the trap of losses, misses and the don’ts. What you focus on, takes your energy and expands. If you concentrate your efforts on what doesn’t work, you provide fuel to recreate the very conditions of such situations.  Whether you like it or not.

Imagine this. You want to go shopping. You make a list of all products you don’t want to buy. Does it help you to know exactly what you need? Does it help you to make a smooth buy? Nope. There are plenty possibilities of what you may consider buying even if you precisely know what you don’t want.

Imagine this. You are a teacher at a college or university and you teach a group of students. At the end of the semester you prepare a questionnaire to find out how they benefited from the course. What would you ask?

Would you focus on finding out what they didn’t like?
or
Would you focus on finding out what worked for them?

In all cases of teaching there are usually a few unhappy no matter what. Would you adapt your course, examples and exercises to satisfy the disappointed few or would you rather expand with doing more of what worked for the 90-95% of others? Paraphrasing, would you focus on multiplying your strengths or on improving your perceived weaknesses?

(By the way, a great question to ask in such circumstances is this: “What did you like the most and how can I improve it to make it even better?”)

Imagine this. You are starting a business. One of the advice you will get is to fail often and as fast as possible. This is the idea of learning from mistakes in the context of business. If you follow such a process, however, you will become an expert in the land of unsuccessful approaches. But… Will you know what makes it all work?

The implicit assumption behind “learning from mistakes” is that if you know what doesn’t work, the opposite will pave you the road to success. The reality is not that straightforward, however. Oftentimes, it is a unique combination of strategies, approaches and particular details that fuel progress and create a formulation for success. Such a mixture cannot simply be discovered by negating the things that don’t work.

Do you see where I am leading to?

Knowing what does not work, helps you very little to find out what does, despite what you may want to believe.

Understanding own mistakes does not necessarily lead to progress. They may, in some circumstances, but they usually do not.

Persistence

Take a 9-12 month old infant who learns to walk. Have you ever seen one? Although infants find unique ways to master this skill, they all share one thing. They are persistent and continue doing what they are strong at (or what works for them), no matter what.

Some of them, like my oldest, practiced crawling in a free-style movements and supported standing (i.e. standing up by a table, chair etc), until one day he simply felt ready to walk. His first steps were not just a few, but a 20m straight walk, instead. I was shocked as he simply walked a distance.

My other child was forcing me to hold his hands in order to exercise walking with him until he was ready to do it by himself. Over and over again. Although his first steps were a few only, soon they became many. He demanded help and he received it.

Both children spent somewhere between 5 to 8 weeks on daily practices. Until they succeeded.

The point I want to make is this. Oftentimes, persistence (or perseverance) coupled with a simple strategy is much more effective than multiple approaches, all abandoned too early at the level at which we could perhaps judged them as mistakes or failures.

Foundation

The key point about learning is the same as about concept learning. You need a solid foundation first.

How do you build your foundation? By collecting your positive examples which are used to build your first concept. Studying the examples and experiencing the successes behind them will help to refine the concept further on.

With respect to life it means that you focus on your talents, gifts, model cases, nearly-ideal examples, successes and everything that works for you or others involved.

Mistakes is everything where you sucked at, what others judged as wrong, inappropriate or unsuitable. They serve as an important feedback for the re-formulation of your concept. This is a crucial difference with respect to the usual understanding of the “learning from mistakes” mantra.

Mistakes are necessary for the testing of the boundaries. They allow us to re-define clear (or crisp) edges of the concept we are learning. But in order to make use of the mistakes successfully, we need to have the concept formulated first. And such a concept can only be built by using the positive examples – essential for our learning. This brings us to the final thought here.

Mistakes are not for the learning of a concept/skill but for re-learning of an already formulated concept/skill, especially with respect to the boundary cases.

Finally

Any time you want to learn a new skill or start a new enterprise, learn from successes of yours or others and focus on what works. Build your concept first before you begin testing the boundaries. Only then mistakes can be used effectively.

What does it mean?

If you begin your relationship, make it successful.
When you start your business, make it work.
When you lead a project, bring it to conclusion.

Commit to make your efforts success first before you allow yourself to fail.

***

Photo courtesy Fe 108Aums, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

***

 

This post is inspired by The Acorn Principle book.

“This above all: To thine own self be true, and it must follow –
as the night the day – thou cans’t not be false to any man.”

“Hamlet” by William Shakespeare

acorn

You are an acorn

The acorn principle tells you to look inside and discover what is the seed of your being. The metaphor is for you being an acorn who is going to develop into an oak tree. If you provide the right conditions and circumstances that fulfill and exceed the needs of an acorn, you are going to become a magnificent oak tree. Or in other words, your fastest, easiest and most enjoyable growth comes from your natural talents and skills.

The challenge however is that we do not appreciate this little acorn seed inside us as we feel attracted by the skills and features of other trees. We usually think they are better equipped, more talented or more successful than we are. Other trees look much more impressive than we, more flexible, much stronger, or better rooted. We look at other trees and want to be like them. So, we struggle.

Others make you believe you are a pine

Parents, teachers, managers, supervisors and other authorities often project on us what they believe is good for us. They see us through their own perception filters, ideas, unfulfilled dreams or ambitions. They want to shape us accordingly. So, they often get it backwards.

They look at the little acorn that they see inside you and say “Oh, I see a great potential in you. You are already knowledgeable and can learn fast. If you learn more of the pine trade, follow the pine courses, with some hard work you can become a fantastic pine tree. And yes, we need more pine trees around. They make a good living.”

The truth is that an acorn can only become an oak tree no matter what you want it to become. If you focus on modelling the pine approach and learning the pine skills, even if they serve you well, they will not help you identify with the oakness in you. You will become a hugely underdeveloped oak tree with a great set of pine skills, perhaps.

But …

you will miss a mark as you will neither become a pine tree nor a satisfied oak tree. This may lead you to chaos, confusion or even identity crisis. You may hope to look like a pine tree but since you hold an oak consciousness inside, you may become a hybrid tree at best, feeling alien both with pines and with oaks.

Now, the manager / teacher / parent / supervisor will say, “So, you need to become a giant pine tree. There is a great future for pine trees indeed. I am going to help you to develop your pine skills.” A parent may say “Pine trees are evergreen and have such an easy life. You need to go to this school as it is the best in town for pine trees. You also need to polish your pine tree language so that you can communicate better with pine trees. And you need tutoring from pine math to optimize the position and growth of your branches. We will help you to become the most beautiful pine tree in the area.”

A manager may say “You need to start networking with pine trees. Start modelling their skills and approaches to problem solving. Take a successful Pine tree to a lunch and learn the secrets. And here is the training, The Tricks and Techniques of the Pine Trees, that you need to go through. And here is a book with short biographies of the greatest Pine Trees ever. Please study also The Power of Positive Pine thinking by Albert Pine.”

You are going to become an oak tree

But the truth is pretty obvious. Inside, you are going to be an oak tree, no matter the conditioning, affirmations, training, hanging out with pine trees around and so on. The training into the secrets of pine trees may be valuable and widen your horizons broadly. I don’t want you to discard this. Learning the skills of other trees will only help you to become a wise, knwoledgable and strong tree. But you need to develop your oakness first! This is your foundation.

If you are pushed in a direction of pineness without being aware of the oakness inside you, you may end up dissatisfied and confused at least, or deeply unhappy and depressed at worst. And as a result you will become an insecure, weak and weird oak tree.

Nurture your oakness

A better question of a parent / teacher/ manager is “What is the true nature of your being?” or “How can I cultivate this nature into the best potential?”. The parent may say “Oh, I recognize a little acorn seed in you. How great it is! Let’s sign up for an acorn development course and see how you like it.” The manager may say then “I see an acorn seed in you. Let’s investigate how to make your acorn skills stronger.”

Now parents, teachers, managers, supervisors or authorities can perfectly use the same techniques as before to encourage the development of our seed. But now with the focus on an acorn. This is going to be a great journey because the nature is nurtured in the best way.

In reality we have many seeds inside us. It takes time to recognize who we are and what we aspire for. It takes time to accept ourselves and know ourselves. It takes courage to look behind the veil of conditioning, society and cultural norms, pleasing family and others and so on. It takes courage to accept who we are: our consciousness, our past, our deeds, our ideas, our purpose and our vision.

Through self-retrospection and quieting of mind, being alone in the nature, you can start to listen to a little voice inside you. You, who wants to emerge from the shells of an acorn into a powerful oak tree. Let it happen.

The moral

The moral of this story is twofold. First, it is about knowing oneself and being authentic. Secondly, it is appreciating the authenticy of others. So, the challenges are to:

1. Know yourself. Appreciate who you are. Be authentic.
Grow into a magnificent oak tree.

  • Take the time to find out who you are. Every journey begins with questions.

Who are you?
What do you want from life?
What are your desires?
What are your ambitions?
What do you want to experience?
What do you want to develop?
How do you want to see yourself in one year time, 5-year time and 10-year time?

2. Value yourself as you are. Value others as they are. We are all God’s seeds in development.

It is your task to help yourself and others grow along the natural talents and gifts so that we can all become the most magnificent trees ever, having their own places in the Forest.

Remember this is the Forest we all live in.

Let it be a great place.

***

Photo courtesy Happy Days Photos and Art, available under the Creative Commons license on Flickr.

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Other inspirational or educational posts:

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