Articles from Potent People Magazine
by Douglas Canier, CMT
To achieve greater physical harmony, it is necessary to understand the principles of cooperation and balance of movements within the body. In the average American education, we are not given a basic understanding of how our body moves. Usually, the focus in physical education is teaching how to be a team player in order to get across the goal line. We are not given an understanding of how to communicate with our bodies. Instead we are taught to compete, to get results by getting the touchdown or a better time in a race.
I believe that physical education should incorporate both the right and left hemispheres of the brain. This type of education lends grace to a body, providing balance and attunement to its surroundings. Few athletes have this sense of communication or cooperation with the very tool they hope to sharpen, their own bodies! It is possible to be in touch with your body, to listen to its communications, and to still be a team player.
Before we can learn to cooperate with our teammates, we must first learn to cooperate with our own bodies. As a gymnast, I was taught to be flexible as well as toned. Gymnasts are given a variety of exercises to get muscles to work together. Even gymnasts, all too often, are not taught to understand the reasons why it is important to develop both flexibility and strength. Most of us have to learn by the school of hard knocks, by listening to our intuition, or unfortunately, while recuperating from an injury.
It often comes as a surprise to people to discover that tonifying and stretching are opposing concepts. Some believe that light toning exercises will give them flexibility. This is simply not true.
Another common misconception is that Nautilus apparatus gives flexibility because of the longer, wider movements. Others believe that they are stretching by running slowly before running fast and that this will give them flexibility.
What all of these inappropriate methods of exercise have in common is that tonifying exercises are piled upon other tonifying exercises. This does not allow the body to either warm up or to properly cool down. They are imbalanced modes of exercise.
To achieve optimum benefits from efforts, I suggest a balance of 50% stretching and 50% toning.
The true difference between stretching and toning is easy to understand. Stretching is the lack of engagment of a muscle or a muscle group while toning is an active engagement of the muscles. In movement, we send a message to the muscle from the brain telling the muscle to contract or relax. This causes the two attachments on either end of the muscle, and their corresponding bone structure, to either come together or to move apart. Stretching a muscle is expanding the muscle, hence increasing the distance of the attachments to the bone. Contracting the muscle achieves the opposite results.
In the conditioning of our muscular form, it is important to pay attention to both types of movement and to keep them in balance. In this school called Earth, it is far easier to get tighter than to get looser, especially with the competitive lifestyle in this country. Hopefully, by the time you finish this article you'll move with more awareness.
While strength is important for obvious reasons, what you may not know is the importance of cooperation and distribution of the weight that muscles carry. If one muscle doesn't carry its share of weight, some others must do more, and this is how muscles get over worked. The buck stops at the bottom of the spine. Our muscles suspend the vertebra with a correct tension, lifting the weight from the force of gravity which allows us the freedom to move.
When our muscle groups are not cooperating, we get pain. Pain can be a good motivator towards change.
Stretching is more process oriented (yin), while toning tends to be more goal oriented (yang). Stretching is the act of expanding the tissue, and toning is act of contracting and engaging the muscles which lie within the tissue. For example, yoga is a stretching experience while running is a toning activity.
To achieve a state of true fitness we should strive to bring about the balance between stretching and toning. We are enriched when we set time aside to communicate with all our planes --- physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual.
The reason why yoga is so powerful is that it helps to connect your awareness with your body, mind, and soul. If your body hurts, your body is trying to tell you something. The first step in attaining a healthy whole self is to listen and respond to your body when it speaks to you.
Stretching creates an environment for the body to tell us what it needs. The language is transported through the nerves; pain is a way the body communicates. If nerve responses were charted on a graph, one end would be sensitivity and the other would be acute pain.
We can take responsibility for the way we treat our bodies by responding to subtle communications from our bodies rather than waiting for our bodies to scream in pain. The first step in regaining our power is to listen to our bodies and to trust our intuition. The more we communicate and take responsibility and right action, the more our bodies will trust us.
The second step is to organize our time so that we can stretch. I use a Casio watch that beeps on the hour to remind me to stretch. This is my time to move and connect with myself.
Since habits are powerful, why not create the ones you want? If you stretch ten times a day for one minute, you have a program which takes almost no time and can become automatic. You then can return to the other activities of your day thinking more clearly and feeling that you have taken care of yourself. This will result in an increase in productivity and well being.
If your body has been telling you to pay attention to your back, for example, and you say, "I'll work it out in the gym," how much trust will you elicit from your body if you push it?
You can get relief in many ways. Why not educate yourself. Pain is a result of discord within your self. The cause can be and often is in planes other than the physical.
A powerful question to ask yourself when your back is speaking is ,"Do I need more support in my life?" The body has a wonderful way of getting your attention when it needs something. When you move and it hurts, your body trying to tell you that you are out of balance. You can respond by listening to your body while you stretch, because stretching is a way of connecting and healing yourself.
When we become aware of muscle balance and the way our bodies actually move, our muscles can move in a colorful, harmonic dance. Our bodies are instruments of light and grace. The muscles in the body represent the strings, while the bones enable the strings to have the correct tension to sound the correct note, by performing the correct movement.
It is the harmony of the tuned body that enables it to perform with efficiency and without stress. Then our bodies become tuned instruments with which we can play, run, jump, dance, and fly.