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 is a guest post by my friend Bob.

Consciousness can be pure. This happens when we are just conscious, awake and internally focused, suppressing all thoughts, feelings and desires to act.

Consciousness can also be directed either at an external event or situation or an internal state. If we are conscious the latter is always there. If not, we are just a part of the external world. We are unaware of the fact that we participate in the world, at least by observing it.

Our internal state colors our consciousness. The complexity of an event or a situation creates a palette of colors. Patterns in the possible palettes can be grouped by numbers. Consequently, numbers are thereby related to qualities as far as they are caused either by a consciousness color or a palette of colors.

In this approach a number may refer to the complexity of an event or a situation, i.e. the total number of states which can be distinguished. It may, however, also refer to a particular state inside a given structure or system.

For instance, the number three can refer to a structure of three states, but also to the third state in an event of seven states. This is one of the reasons why a number cannot have a single quality.

The 7 states

While focussing on an event or structure we may discover that its complexity (the number of observable states) increases with observation and perception. For instance, we can be either in the house or outside. But, when considering these two states we will soon need to include the possibilities of entering and leaving the house, thereby creating events of three states (being inside, passing through the door and being outside). Between every two such states an additional one may be observed, giving rise to five states in total. The first and last state may also be split into two finer ones, which gives us seven states. These are:

1. Being inside, unaware of the door. Housekeeping.
2. Being inside, aware of the door. Finishing housekeeping.
3. Approaching the door. Opening it.
4. Passing through the door. Experiencing the threshold.
5. Leaving the door behind. Closing the door.
6. Being outside, remembering the door. Starting a walk.
7. Being outside. The door is no issue any more. Enjoying the walk.

This process may be continued depending on the sensitivity of senses and consciousness as well as the complexity of the event.

The circle of 12

After returning from a walk the same set of events can be experienced in a reversed order. Since the first and last states of the two events (going out and coming in) coincide, such a circle of events has 12 states (instead of 14).

If we define different states of consciousness as having a different internal color then approaching the door and opening it are in the same state as they both are related to a physical experience (walking, touching, opening). State no. 2, however, is entirely different as it refers to activities of the soul or mind: longing for a walk or  planning to go out. In the state no.1 this element is not there, but it may also be non-physical as we may concentrate on housekeeping, reading a book or just sleeping.

This circle of 12 can be experienced as an event in time, but not only. Another interpretation is to perceive it as a geometrical circle passing through four directions (Being inside, Leaving, Being outside, Returning), each with a preparation and a finishing state. The logic of this example does not allow intermediate states between the Being inside and Being outside states different from the already given states of Leaving and Returning.

The tetrahedron of states

Let’s say we have four elements: air, fire (warmth), water and earth. If we consider all states built from and between the four elements, then we have for individual elements, six dyadic interactions (of two elements), four triadic interactions (of three elements) and one interaction of all four elements. This corresponds to the geometry of a tetrahedron: the four corners, the six edges, the four faces and the inside of the body, counting up to 15 states.

For example, each of these states may correspond to our experience for a particular holiday. The face of earth, water and fire  stands for a holiday near a lake in the mountains in the summer, while thee dyad of water and air points to a sailing holiday anywhere, any season.

Going further

We can now consider more and more complex events or situations. The total number of states is limited by the richness of experiences our mind and soul can perceive as different states of consciousness.

For example, if instead of going for a walk, we will go for holiday or participate in a serious talk, such an event can be differentiated into 17 or 19 states.This can be understood as the 12 states on the circle enlarged with additional five or seven states. But now the beginning and end states might not be identical since there is a significant difference inside us before and after the holiday (or talk). We are changed.

Summary

So, what is the meaning of, say, the number four? In order to answer that we have to look at the frame of reference. Where is the four we are asking about? We may experience a situation with four states, we may look at the fourth state in an event of seven states or in an event of 19 states. The meaning will change accordingly.

The quality of numbers can not be discussed in an absolute sense. A number, similarly as a word in a language, conveys a set of possible meanings. The proper one has to be understood from the context.

***

The image above shows a beautiful quilt by Inge Duin. See more of her works on www.ingeduin.nl.

 

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