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!

Goals, Strategy and Tactics

I remember being somewhat daunted in my early flying days at the prospect of taking a long cross-country flight. When I first began doing solo cross-country flights as a student anything longer than 50 miles from my home airport was a long way. Nowadays, I regularly fly to locations up and down the East Coast, to destinations as far as upstate New York to the north and Key West to the south. I have yet to take a cross-country flight in the literal sense of the term, but I am sure that day will come and when it does, I will be well-prepared.

A thought crossed my mind shortly after I began making longer flights on my own that has stuck with me ever since: the epic, long-distance flights are nothing more than a series of short flights strung together. For instance, a 1,500 mile flight in a small plane is naught but three flights of 500 miles, one made after the other. A simple thought, really, but one that makes flights of any distance comprehensible, if not within reach.

So it is with anything in life. Even the most ambitious goals can be broken down into their component parts. Such thinking requires a combination of holistic and linear perspectives; on the one hand, you must be able to envision the entire project or plan, on the other you must be able to define the steps that must be taken to move from where you are to where you’d like to be.

When I take on a large project, such as learning a language or to fly, I state the goal and its accompanying parameters (time frame, cost, etc) as soon as possible. From there I articulate the various strategies I could employ to achieve the stated goal. After considering, weighing and ranking the strategic approaches I pick one and then develop the tactical approach to accomplishing my strategy. My thinking, then goes from the general (goal) to the specific (tactics) by way of an intermediary (strategy).

All of it, of course, is subject to change. I make it a point never to be so rigid that I break when the winds of circumstance blow differently than hoped for or anticipated. The mighty oak’s strength is derived not from its rigidity but from its pliability.

Winston Churchill once cautioned: “However beautiful the strategy, you should occasionally look at the results.” In all my years of piloting I have only had to abandon my strategy of flying home to northeast Georgia in my own plane once. An equipment malfunction precipitated a precautionary landing in Washington D.C. and I had to get back for meetings sooner than the timeframe necessary for the repair. I didn’t balk, hesitate, whine or whimper. I booked a commercial flight and made my way back. Any time you have to adjust your strategy it can be as simple as that…or not. The choice is yours.

The wonderful thing about the circumstances around you is that they offer feedback on how effective your well-intentioned strategy and supporting tactics are working. I have had to make a number of course deviations over the years to avoid unexpected weather. Most of the time I can fly around or over the weather ahead, but occasionally the conditions ahead worsen beyond my comfort level or my airplane’s operational limitations. Again, when conditions change, don’t be so foolish as to assume that your strategy or tactics are set in stone. Remember that flexibility is an essential component of strength.

If your strategy leads you to a brick wall or a cliff, where one step further would result in tragedy or loss, stop where you are. Assess, modify your approach, but don’t give up! Chances are that the obstacles require nothing more than a minor change to overcome, though occasionally you might be required to scrap an entire plan and start in a new direction. Rather than see it as a failure on your part or confirmation of your stupidity or lack of vision, realize that no amount of prior planning can completely insulate you from the vicissitudes of life which come largely as a result of the free will of each and every person on earth at any given time.

When you are faced with a challenge, don’t buckle under the pressure. Use the pressure to your advantage. Look for the baby steps in your immediate circumstances that will allow you to inch your way to your goal. When it comes to forward progress, every inch counts!

It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.” ~ Albert Einstein

Mind moves matter, if you let it.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

The practice of yoga is more challenging – and more rewarding – than it looks. One of the lessons I took home with my shaky legs and becalmed mind was that your mind can stand in the way of easy progress in your life if you let it. Likewise, it can be the key to forward movement, healing and growth if you let it.

My yoga instructor used an example that made a lot of sense to me. She described the fact that scar tissue, limitations in movement and inflexibility that come from physical injuries can often be worked through and healed if you are willing to work through the mental hesitation and mental convictions of disability that block the way to restored function.

The positions you get into and hold for what seems like hours in yoga have an uncanny ability to expose the parts of your body – and the aspects of your mind – that are in need of stretching or strengthening or both. A new pose, like Reclining Hero Pose or Half Moon Pose, brings you swiftly to the edge of your personal performance envelope, the quickly narrowing corner where the power of your mind, the depth of your conviction about the power of outside events and your present physical and mental agility and fortitude meet.

Relinquishing limiting assumptions unleashes hidden inner strength. Call it life force, qi, prana or elan vital, but as with any flow system, when you find a way to open the pathways, flow is restored. While some physical limitations are irreparable, I would venture to say that the large majority of them are reversible. What stands in the way is more a state of mind than a state of matter.

MENS AGITAT MOLEM. Mind moves matter.