Flexibility and Control

My Pilates instructor shared an interesting video with me after attending the recent Atlanta MANIA fitness tradeshow. The video featured Chuck Wolf, M.S., an exercise physiologist who developed an interesting fitness training modality called “Flexibility Highways,” who expanded on the basic point that: “Mobilizing muscles and joints without incorporating a stabilizing movement pattern can actually increase the client’s risk of injury.” Take a moment to reread the last sentence. It’s an important point!

Increasing flexibility without increasing control is risky business.

This principle works well in this setting, but does it hold true in other phases of life? I believe so. Yesterday we considered what it takes to “step it up a notch” in your personal expression. I have found that stepping up my game requires that I first relax more deeply in relation to some point around which I have held unnecessary tension. That relaxation – physically, mentally or emotionally – allows the life force to course more freely through body, mind and heart, providing a natural source of strength and inspiration to overcome previous limitations.

New capability without new control is dangerous.

Think of this in relation to children who are allowed to go on the internet for the first time. At first the control must be provided externally, by a parent or limited access restrictions on the search engine, but it makes sense to ease those external controls over time as the internal control builds in the maturing child. If you were to give a child free access to the internet without such controls, the results could be disastrous.

Whenever you mobilize new capability, pay attention to the corresponding stabilizing movement. There will always be one.

In business terms, this would relate to the corresponding strengthening of infrastructure that must accompany a growth in sales. Many wonderful companies with excellent products or services go out of business because of a failure on this point. Their growth outpaces their infrastructure and the company implodes or the infrastructural development outpaces the growth and the company starves to death. Either is an ugly and inglorious ending. Both are generally avoidable if care is taken to add a dash of stabilization whenever a pinch of expansion is experienced.

Principles such as these abound in life and the nice thing is that one principle properly understood can be applied in millions of different ways. What you learn, experience and know in one area of your life can be tremendously useful in other areas of your life when you learn to connect the dots. It’s not that hard, really.

Go ahead, give it a try!

The Crucible of Transition

Not in his goals but in his transitions man is great.” ~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

I had a wonderful chat with a friend and associate of mine yesterday. We were discussing his evolving set of professional goals, yet the focus of our conversation narrowed to the matter of handling the transitions he was facing with grace, balance and integrity.

No doubt you’ve had experiences with transitions. Some were easy, while some were not so easy. To be sure, every creative process passes through a crucible of transition, where “what was” gives way to “what is to be.” This crucible varies in its duration and difficulty, and the ability to navigate this no-man’s land is what separates the boys from the men, the simply pert from the expert.

To be effective in handling transitions you must understand the value of a properly set foundation. A foundation can be either faulty or sound, there is no in between. Every sound relationship has a foundation of love and trust, every sustainable enterprise has a foundation of best practices and agreement and every respectable leader possesses a foundation of integrity and a mind conscious of right. A foundation is essential as a starting point for safe passage through any transition.

In the case of my friend, his business is expanding on many fronts. A good problem to have! He faces daily transitions, some easy, some more challenging, and in a larger sense, his entire life is in transition as he moves from one phase of his professional career to the next. There are numerous keys to creatively handling any transition in life, some of which are:

  • Leveraging the strengths present in your current foundation. Every one of your previous successes forms a part of your foundation. What you’ve learned, see, and done was not a one-shot deal, in fact, if you are observant you will find that every one of your assets will come in handy at some point as you grow and develop.
  • Beware of impetuousness. Rash decisions can create a dangerous disconnect between your foundation and the limb you’re exploring. Moving prematurely or overextending yourself can happen quickly, especially when you are caught up in the grandeur of your emerging vision.
  • Seek the counsel of those you trust where appropriate. No one of us has all the experience in the world. Perspective is valuable in transitions as the factors often have not yet revealed themselves and hearing another’s opinion on the matter can be valuable. That said, you must chart your course at the end of the day. The decisions you make are ultimately yours.
  • Be reasonable about your demands. Don’t push yourself or those around you too far. As with exercise, it is best to push it to the present limit and then ask for a little bit more. This is the basis of growth and forward movement. The discomfort – the growing pains – will only be temporary and the oscillation between comfort and discomfort, rest and effort will allow for steady expansion.
  • Refrain from the tendency to question the goal or doubt yourself half way through the transition. Be mindful of the peaks and valleys of pressure in any transition. There will likely be a mix of predictable and unexpected breaches in the transitions and the sooner you can make adjustments to avoid a full-blown rupture the better. The sooner you make the adjustments, the more subtle they can be. This is the key to handling transitions with grace.

There are many more points, but I hope these provide food for thought as you move through your next transition!

Aha! Moment

Never underestimate the power of realization. During my riding (horse) lesson on Sunday my trainer and I worked on gymnastic exercises designed to increase flexibility, strength and lightness. Both my horse and I had taken time off due to injuries, so we were both starting back up  at levels lower than we had left off. They say that the hardest part of exercise is getting started, and this lesson was no exception to the rule!

The exercises we were doing were basic, but demanding given the present level of fitness. Although I understood in concept why my horse was huffing and puffing about the exercises, I can say today that I feel I am much more empathetic about what he was going through during the lesson after my Pilates class yesterday.

If you have never tried Pilates, it is one of those forms of exercise – like yoga – that is much harder than it looks. Pilates emphasizes core strength and stabilization.

One of the movements during my session on the Reformer (a piece of equipment used in Pilates) was called the “Elephant.” The movement, shown to the right, involves articulating your legs back and forth at the hip joint while keeping everything else stable. This move is one of many exercises that strengthens the powerhouse – the pelvic floor muscles, Transversus, Multifidus, muscles of the inner thigh and the muscles circling the sitting bone area – that, in turn, offers a solid foundation for any movement.

This movement in particular was working at exactly what I was after in the gymnastic exercises with my horse. And boy did I feel it later! As I said, my empathy increased but so, too, did my resolve. Getting to the other side of this exercise was tremendously rewarding. Further, I realized again that lessons learned in one department of life come in handy in either the performance or the understanding of another.

Your life is one thing and approaching it with a holistic perspective has its advantages. As I mentioned in my post, Classical Education: A Primer,  the linkages between fields of study and areas of interest are of vital importance to anyone seeking to refine his or her expression. If you are frustrated, if progress is blocked in one area of your life, look to the areas where you are successful for clues as to how to restore the flow you know is possible.

Your life is one thing and the sooner you treat it as such, the better off you’ll be.

Sleep your way to the top!

Arianna Huffington made an excellent case for getting more sleep in her recent TED Talk. We live in a time where sleep deprivation is seen as a symbol of male virility, a badge of leadership and proof that you are a person of worth.

According to a 2008 CDC study, 29% of US adults report sleeping less than 7 hours per night and 50-70 million have chronic sleep and wakefulness disorders. This translates to a nation where one out of every five Americans are impaired while awake.

It is challenging to be joyous, grateful, gracious, productive and effective in life when you are lacking sleep. If you are not sleeping because you are too busy, find a way to reestablish your priorities. If you feel you cannot sleep because of a medical condition, see a health care provider. You may want to consider visiting a naturopath or Chinese medical practitioner as a first step, as they are likely to take a relatively non-invasive approach.

http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Easy steps to take that don’t require the intervention of a health care professional include:

  • Try not to eat 2-3 hours before sleeping
  • Cut out nicotine, caffeine and alcohol in the evening hours
  • Get moderate exercise during the day to burn off nervous energy and oxygenate your body
  • Don’t be afraid of the sun! Get small doses of regular daily exposure if possible, hatless and without suncream
  • Minimize psychological stressors at the end of the day. Tie up loose ends if possible. Give thanks for the day, no matter how difficult it was, before retiring to bed.

More sleep will translate into better performance. To live an uncommon life you must find the ways to achieve top performance. Don’t overlook sleep…it is a MAJOR factor!

The Power of the Master Mind

I’ve been giving a good deal of consideration to what makes our company such a dynamic and enjoyable place to work and I came across a wonderful post on the Art of Manliness that described in a variety of well-researched ways one of the central keys to building an uncommonly appealing corporate culture: the power of the master mind.

What follows below is an excerpt of Brett and Kate McKay’s excellent post: “Iron Sharpens Iron: The Power of Master Minds”:

The Tennis Cabinet

Theodore Roosevelt and the Tennis Cabinet

When Theodore Roosevelt assumed the presidency, he became at age 42 the youngest president in the country’s history and brought an unprecedented zest and vitality to the White House. A man who placed a premium on living the strenuous life, he liked to get a couple hours of physical exercise in the afternoons. Accompanying him for these excursions of “vigorous play” were a group of men TR referred to as his “Tennis Cabinet.” As Roosevelt often butted heads with the old curmudgeonly men who filled government office, he preferred to spend time with younger gents and those who brought a fresh enthusiasm to Washington. The Tennis Cabinet included friends from his days in the West, diplomats, comrades in arms like Major-General Leonard Wood, fellow conservationist Gifford Pinchot, Maine guide and Badlands pal Bill Sewell, and young military aides like the grandsons of Generals Lee and Grant. TR and the Tennis Cabinet hiked, climbed cliffs, rode horses, skinny dipped in the Potomac River (even in early spring when there was still ice floating in the water!), and, of course, played tennis. The men exercised their minds as they worked their bodies, discussing and debating the pressing issues of the day and planning out the best way to proceed. As a friend of Roosevelt remembered, “For that once in our history, we had an American salon.”

This group of men was just as beloved to TR as his Rough Riders, and he told Pinchot they were much closer to him than his official cabinet. Roosevelt bid farewell to his time as President by holding a luncheon for members of his Tennis Cabinet. He addressed these indispensable advisers by saying:

“I do not believe this country has ever had an abler or more devoted set of public servants. It is through you and those like you that I have done the major part of what has been accomplished under this administration…The credit has come to me, to the chief of the administration. For exactly as men like to symbolize a battle by the name of the commander, so they like to symbolize an administration by the man at the head, forgetting that the immense majority of his acts can be done only through others and that a really successful administration, successful from the standpoint of advancing the honor and the interests of the country, must be managed as ours has been, in a spirit of the most loyal association and partnership.”

Many members of the audience, overcome with gratitude to have served by TR’s side, openly wept at the dissolution of this one of a kind Master Mind.

To read the full post: http://artofmanliness.com/2010/12/01/iron-sharpens-iron-the-power-of-master-mind-groups/#ixzz16uMvAEqO

I admire President Roosevelt’s appreciation for and recognition of those who served with him in the accomplishment of the purpose that united them. In my experience, having served on both sides of the equation – responsible to and responsible for – there is little in life that is more gratifying than knowing that your contributions count and matter.

The purpose of building and managing teams is to leverage the experience, knowledge and talents of each individual in the accomplishment of an aim. It follows, then, that each team member should be given stage at the appropriate time. It is unlikely that every person will have equal say and if the teams are managed correctly, the same people won’t do all the thinking, talking or doing all of the time.

I love the idea of exercising the mind while exercising the body and I find that the combination of the two – whether I am on the back of a horse, gliding back and forth on a Pilates Reformer or walking through the woods with my hawk and a group of friends – facilitates creative thought that in turn lead to dynamic solutions.

I look forward to the McKay’s next post on the subject and I appreciate you taking the time to read my thoughts on the matter. I look forward to hearing yours!

From Coarse to Fine

Steinkraus

I stumbled across an interesting thought while giving some thought this morning to two of my favorite forms of exercise, pilates and horseback riding. It became clear to me that both of these activities measure progress in similar ways: advancement requires increasingly less coarse or jerky movement.

Pilates Reformer

In fact, greater control translates into finer movement to the point that experts in either field make even the most demanding moves look effortless. This, to me, is the essence of refinement. Refinement is more than the appearance of ease, it is the evidence of the presence of ease. Refinement, therefore, cannot be faked.

Refinement comes on the heels of control. Control comes as there is a deep and fluid understanding of the principles that govern any given activity. In the equestrian arts an effective rider must take into account the ever-present principles of rhythm, balance and suppleness. In pilates, the practitioner must remain mindful of centering, concentration, control, precision, breath and flow. Mastery is made possible by the purposeful utilization of these principles and despite many attempts to prove another way, there are no shortcuts.

Every activity you undertake should, over time, take less of your energy and conscious attention to complete. Practice may not always make perfect, but diligent practice provides the means by which progress is made relative to the efficiency of effort.

The opportunities for improvement are endless when you look at the activities you undertake in this light. If things are not getting easier over time, you’re likely missing an important principle or two. Go back to the fundamentals and honor the basics. You will likely take a giant leap forward!