"What Will I Learn?"

Consider two classes: in one, you spend a week, in silence, being led through the grand canyon. In the other, you spend two hours online learning about the grand canyon.

“What will I learn?”

The online class could have a long, thorough list of what you’ll walk away with. Geography, archeology, flora and fauna and on and on. If someone asks at the end “so what did you learn?” you’ll be able to tell them something, potentially a lot.

What could you say about the week in silence? Did you learn anything?

And yet, it’s not that wild of an idea that the week moving through the terrain, immersed, has an inherent worth to it, a “knowing” that is not well summarized in a list.

Intellect and artistry —— left and right brain —— knowing in the head and knowing in the body —— research-led and experience-led practices ——

We tend to get campy around this kind of thing, no? That one is superior. And honestly, if push came to shove for me, I’d take a week in silence any day over the two-hour class if my objective were to really get to know something deeply.

And yet — and yet — are these not both entry points to the same knowing?

West-Rim.jpg

ps these are the kinds of questions Mike Hamm and I talk about ad nauseam on the phone together, in an attempt to bring you only a refined version of this inquiry in our workshops — like our four-day immersion in August for people who work with the body — where we place great important in teaching and learning from both perspectives.

Nobody But Yourself

Almost anybody can learn to think or believe or know, but not a single human being can be taught to feel ... the moment you feel, you're nobody-but-yourself. — e.e. cummings

I'm tempted to just leave that quote, gorgeous and poignant as it is!

But ... check out this picture.

  Ze human brain.

Ze human brain.

It's from Gray's Anatomy, a cutaway revealing the brain's insular cortex, one of the deeper centers that collates feeling-state information.

This depth of the brain is essentially part of the limbic system, that is our "middle brain" that deals a lot with primordial emotions. Primordial meaning these sensations deal less with a nonchalant "this surface is rough vs smooth," and more with something quite intense, a wave of sensation that says "let's jolt this body with great fear in hopes that we'll get out of this threatening situation alive!"

The more "superficial" sensations are, indeed, registered in a more superficial part of the brain (the somatosensory cortex).

Isn’t that wild? Some sensations that don’t feel as deep — say the feeling of your bum on a chair — register as activity in more superficial areas of the brain than, say, a more emotional sensation that feels deep, like heartache or a burning in your guts. That second one IS more deep, neurologically speaking.

Are there ways in which you attempt to stay "safer" by thinking about something personally difficult rather than by feeling it? The feeling tends to be more raw, deep and, as our poet above said, intimate.

_________

ps the upcoming weekend retreat with myself and Brooke Thomas still has a few spots left. We will, indeed, dive deep into the heart of this feeling-state inquiry, this nobody-but-yourself-ness.

 

Self Improvement

Self improvement can be such an important desire.

It's an impulse that says "something is wrong here; we need to change." I know for me, this impulse to improve my self — my experience — has led me wondrous places and very much feels a part of my dharma, my life path.

Though it can also be a way to (attempt to) escape reality — what's actual happening, here and now.

By trying to get somewhere more improved, we don't feel the wise and important sting, perhaps, of what's here.

Have you noticed?

Fascia, Fluids, Nervous System: The Body in Time

Here’s a thought-in-process you might find useful.

Your fascia is your past. Your fluids are your immediate present. Your nervous system is your future.

Of course, all of these tissues are present now, so this is more like Metaphorical Anatomy. Let me expound.

FASCIA

Your connective tissue body, as much as any division of reality is actually a thing, is what’s been created by your past: every nook and cranny of experience happening to, by and through you.

Think of it as one of those slime trails left by a slug, an echo of where you were and who you’ve been. It’s called Wolff’s Law in bones, and Davis’ Law for connective tissue, but the premise is the same: what you’ve done, you are.

As one of my teachers, Tom Myers, said in our interview, fascia is the tissue of our beliefs. It’s the firmness, rootedness, “I believe this to be true because these things happened, or didn’t” nature of us.

In a movement practice, this is “working with the body you’ve got.”

And it is always, of course, in process. (Alternately, we might say, it *is* a process.)

Or as David Whyte said much more simply and beautifully

We shape our self
to fit this world

and by the world
are shaped again.

FLUIDS

The fluids of the body — and there are many — are differentiated largely due to fascial membranes. Within these structures — lymphatic ducts, veins and arteries, interstitial spaces — flow our life waters.

Why fluids as present?

Our hormones — the endocrine system — are the currency of these pathways.

And if you’ve ever experienced depression, or an orgasm, or taken LSD or even drank a cup of coffee, you know the power of a change in an almost unimaginably small amount of hormones.

Those are all in-the-moment, and only in-the-moment, experiences. Once the hormonal balances shift again, you are suddenly (or not so suddenly, depending) having a very different experience.

Consider, too, the fluid-like verbiage of emotion and sensation, often used as a tool to anchor into presence. Swelling, falling, shrinking, warming, pain surging, the rushing of desire, anger rising, an inner breeze cooling … all “-ings,” all happening now. (This idea borrowed almost verbatim from my interview with Susan Harper.)

In a movement practice, this is the breath, and the acceptance if not embrace of what is occurring, in real time, now.

NERVES

Of course the nervous system does a bajillion things (so does fascia and so do fluids), but considering the lens of time, most of the nervous system’s function has an element of the future, of prediction.

We know already the process of thought has an element of “not here”-ness to it. Right? Not even like that’s a bad thing. But the very act of thinking about something that just happened means … of course … it’s not happening anymore.

“So Liam, that’s the past, and you said fascia was the past,” you say. You cheeky devil, you!

Well, a) you’re right, and b) consider that any pontification of the past only makes sense to a thinking mind if that same mind believes there’s something to be gained. None of us would dwell on what just happened if we didn’t think there was something in it for us — however misguided that belief can be.

To build something that’s not been built, it must first be imagined. (Or created spontaneously, but that’s of course different than “I am going to build X, and X hasn’t been built before,” which is a very real thing one can do.)

This kind of scanning the past for help with prediction happens unconsciously all the time. That’s another bajillion things, like you having an aversion to a smell, a sound, this person or that sport, all more or less beneath the radar.

(One good thing to know is that we are passed, and we will pass if we bear children, these cravings and aversions between generations, i.e. you’ll likely have nonsensical likes and dislikes that your grandparents had even if you never met or knew anything about them.)

This is, of course, also one way of framing trauma, of what has happened holding the steering wheel of the thing that tries to predict what will happen. Bang = bomb. Man = danger. Alone = death.

In a movement practice, this is visualization, intention setting, the “cut and paste” nature of our perception that can take something that hasn’t happened yet, visualize it as though it has, and depending on how this aspect is playing with all the others, it might happen.

(One little side note here, consider that movie The Secret, where they’re essentially suggesting you anchor “future you” into “present you” by anchoring the thought of what you want into the fluids, i.e. the feeling of having it.)

AND SO OUR WHEELS TURN

I’ll close this by re-emphasizing that this is but imagery, metaphor with its roots in truth as best as I know it. Your nervous system exists in isolation about as much as the leaves of a tree exist independent of the branches, trunk and roots … not to mention the soil, the sun and the pollinators.

Helpful? Infuriating? I’d love to hear if you care to share.

With love, LB

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On Embodiment and "The Body," Pt 1

The work I'm investigating, as far as I can see, is not ultimately about the body, the stuff of us.

It's not about "the body" as separate from anything you, inherently, are. And I am.

Is is perhaps more accurately described as a wink and nod game we play with creation, that okay, we're going to set up some rules to make this game real, full, deep and often quite challenging.

It's like a haiku:

Strict parameters
On how you say what you need
To say, directly

We use form to come to know how freedom moves.

Y tu?

Love, LB

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Online Embodiment — ep 36 is live

Episode 36 is live!

Online Embodiment and Curating Virtual Space with Vagus Study Group founder, and a dear friend of mine, Lisa Elliott, is live. Go to the episode page or find on iTunes et al.

Love, LB

How
Do I
Listen to others? 
As if everyone were my Master
Speaking to me
His
Cherished
Last
Words.

– Hafiz

On Being a Good Student

The game has flipped.

It used to be: good information was hard to find; good teachers and teachings were rare. The onus, in many ways, was on the teacher.

Now, of course, that’s still true in a certain respect. But also true now more than ever, I reckon in this age of near-infinite material being but a click away, is the importance of being a good student.

What makes a good student?

• You are willing to learn, and also willing to stop learning and practice what you’ve learned.

• You don’t think you know everything; you don’t think you know nothing.

• You’re willing to suspend belief for the sake of experiment, thought also you remain an adult, not handing over your discernment at the feet of a guru.

• You go through periods of introspection, taking the teachings in and treating your body-mind as a very precious temple. You also go through periods of expressivity and effort, inhabiting your body-mind as a hungry tiger inhabits the forest, fierce and unrelenting.

• You’re willing to try new teachers and teachings.

• You’re willing to dive deep into material, not stopping until you know, in your heart of hearts, that you understand what’s being taught (and not merely an ability to regurgitate, verbally or physically).

• You can take care of yourself and you’re also willing to bust your ass trying.

• You don’t seek confirmation; you seek guidance in confirming for yourself what’s true.

• You’re not an island. You’re part of an ecosystem.

You're a student. Beware any teacher who isn’t.

What's Happening in a Yoga Asana Besides Stretching, Anatomically Speaking

As “yoga” and “stretching” are often used synonymously, let’s consider what’s happening in a yoga asana* beyond tissue lengthening, i.e. stretching.

 On the off chance that my stick figure yogi isn’t going to get me into the Smithsonian: this practitioner is in a forward fold, their legs on the right and head/arms to the left.

On the off chance that my stick figure yogi isn’t going to get me into the Smithsonian: this practitioner is in a forward fold, their legs on the right and head/arms to the left.

Note: the following is meant to be for the lay-reader, but that said, it is fairly technical. All that to say: if you don't get every word 100%, this is meant to be a supplement to the picture above, as much as vice versa, so if you get one and not the other, you've mostly got it.

💧 COMPRESSION: as one tissue group lengthens, there’s a corresponding compression, usually on the opposite side of the lengthening. We could call the main recipient of this compression the “fluid body” (taking this from Tias Little): this includes blood, lymph, the gooey morass of interstitial fluids, and the organs and glands.

And while of course it’s not just the fluids that are being compressed, the map of the endocrine system — which uses the blood as its “highways” to transport data between glands — is a good one to consider the benefits of compression.

✨ AWARENESS: two pretty distinct aspects here:

  1. Data going from the limbs to the CNS = afferent nerve signals = “I can feel [whatever you’re feeling]” = proprioception and interoception (which are processed in distinct areas of the brain, but we’ll lump them together here as “sensory information coming into the brain”).
     
  2. Data going from the CNS out to the limbs = efferent nerve signals = “I am moving/stabilizing [whatever you’re moving/stabilizing]” = motor control.

Side discussion: awareness is a big word. Does it extend beyond the nervous system? I sure think so. But we immediately run into “the hard problem” of consciousness: how does one study the thing that is doing the studying? We avoid that here by talking about what qualities of the nervous system we do know, which involve relaying information via neural impulses.

↔️ STRETCHING: much of what makes the distinction in the quality of a pose is the apex of the stretch. Whether you have a rounded back or not, your whole back body — or the superficial back line, to use the language of the Anatomy Trains — is stretching.

So what makes a good forward fold vs a bad one (and please, all arguments about everyone getting to do their own thing notwithstanding; of course that’s true; but some movements are more well done than others)?

The answer is a question: where are the apex(es) of the movement? In a forward fold, like this as in many asana, it’s the hips folding into flexion, aka hinging at the hips.

GERM LAYERS OF THE EMBRYO are also part of this schematic** 

There are three that make it all the way through (sorry, neural crest). The guts 💧 arise of the endoderm; the nervous system ✨ and skin are of the ectoderm; the fascia, bones and musculature are of the middle, and quite pervasive, layer of the sandwich, the mesoderm.

* yoga asana, or any stretching whilst paying attention for that matter, actually any movement at all; yoga is just easier to study because its movement stops now and then

** want to go even further out on a limb with me? If you know the Ayurvedic doshas ...

💧 endoderm = kapha

✨ ectoderm = vata

🔥 mesoderm = pitta

Hope this was useful for you 

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It's Not the Fist; It's the Clenching

This video is a little body-thought experiment that goes beyond the “well, is posture important or not?” dichotomy.

This was much inspired by my conversation with Susan Harper way back when, which I just re-listened to part of.

Also, I really been loving making these few one minute videos. They are excellent training for a long-road rambling thinker like me. If you're appreciating these (more than just "that's nice," but like "yeah these are helpful!") please let me know and that'll be good fuel to keep making them. Thanks :)

 

Intent

It’s a wonderful, albeit overused, idea.

If it feels a bit too woo-woo for you, try this thought experiment on: Remember when you were learning to walk? (Me neither so let’s imagine;)) Whatever you want to call what you did to go from the ground to standing without having done it before.

That.

It wasn’t about engaging this or that muscle, though muscular engagement certainly did happen.

It wasn’t about knowing a progression, though a progression did happen (and it’s a beautiful one, as lots of us movement folks are figuring out and incorporating into the work we do).

It wasn’t even a “practice” you were “doing” yet. And you didn’t know if other kids were doing it or not.

But something in your DNA, in the root of your being, wanted to walk.

That.

So back to our original word, I am struck by:

1. the power of intent — or whatever you want to call it — and the self-organization that happens around it when it’s real,

but now, also,

2. this question: who, exactly, is the one with the intent to do something?

(Is it really something you need to do or is it already there? And if it’s not there, we could say there there is an intent there do not do, or to be still or whatever else.)

🍰

ps get Anatomy of the Breath for $15 — which is half off — by using this link, which will remain valid through the end of March: https://www.udemy.com/draft/1580660/?couponCode=KNOWTHYSELF

Integration vs Going to the One Source Before Fragmentation Occurred

"Somato-spiritual breath-body integration + shamanic unity awareness practice with Chakra Cleanz (tm)."

There's quite a bit of fusion of previously-disparate strands these days, no?

Acro yoga on stand up paddle boards. CrossFit with Drake, ending in meditation. Somatic meditation movement workshops like the one Brooke Thomas and I put together for this summer.

The upside of integrating several practices is being able to then offer something that is more inherently complete. It's more like an orange — with its near infinite array of co-factors — than just the isolate of Vitamin C.

The downside is we can lose sight of the nature of this integration — namely that what we are "integrating" was, perhaps, never separate to begin with; that we created the separation to help make sense of things.

And if we're not careful we can lose sight of the already-unbroken nature.

You don't actually need to put the vase back together that you've only smashed with your mind.

———————

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Water, Muscles and Light as Energy with Gerald Pollack — ep 33 — is live 🧡

Gerald Pollack has spent more hours studying water and the nature of muscle contraction than you've spent doing just about anything. Beyond his work with water, which is hugely worth checking out — you could start with this Ted Talk or his book The Fourth Phase of Water — Jerry is a very bright, kind and well-seasoned scientist with a lot to say about the current state of scientific affairs.

In our talk, we cover:

1. Water (particularly its "fourth phase")

2. The nature of science, and experiments

3. The nature of muscle contraction, and Jerry's work with water explaining contraction beyond the most-usually-cited actin/myosin model

4. The ways in which we use light as energy, through water and infrared

He's a gem. As per usual, enjoy via the player below, this download or iTunes, Spotify, or whatever app you use to listen. Thanks for supporting the show :)

Quick Little Shoulder Mobility Movement

Here’s the kind of stuff we’re doing as warmup for a strength and mobility class I teach. Perhaps you'd like to give it a little go? It's fun to get into the little nooks and crannies, I think, and probably in a new way unless you're already doing this kind of thing. Computer break time.

Imagine you’re scraping the inside of a large bowl with your shoulder blades. Go slow. Squeeze your fists and keep your arms straight. Get as much range of motion as you can whilst maintaining the all that:)

The idea is that you ...

🦅 find yr scapulae (💪 🧠)

🦉 dissociate ^ from elbow bending

🦆 get into some of the inner stickies in your deep shoulder

🦇 oh yeah and breathe and enjoy :)

Getting Physically Stronger by Moving With Uncomfortable Emotions and Thoughts

I just finished my morning movement / workout session with my friend Nicole. (We train together twice a week.)

This morning, as many mornings over this past year, I feel very grateful — and a bit amazed — at how much stronger, more mobile, and what a wider range of frequencies I have access to in my body versus a couple years ago, even a few months ago.

The amazement is how I've always wanted these kinds of results from my training, but only the past couple years am getting them, and in such a deep way, with not necessarily spending that much more time training.

It's the emotional labor.

But before we get to that, I'd like to be clear that I do move a fair amount these days, but almost without exception:

  1. I don't do anything that's not fun for me. (Like yesterday, I was planning on going to yoga, but brunch sounded more fun so I did that instead.)
     
  2. I work out with less weight than I used to, and I'm way stronger than I used to be.

So, what's different?

Hard to put my finger on exactly ... I keep learning a ton so I do employ a lot of it is "try this instead" kind of modifying ... though I am hardly at all in the camp of "here is the proper way to do such and such a movement." That is limiting and only partially true, no matter what's being said, and for me its application is well umbrella'd under the following ...

My dedicated workout time is usually mentally and emotionally exhausting.

Like, in a fun and good way, but still.

Like when I'm practicing my hanging drills, I'm way, way back on what I could be doing, and am instead seeking and finding these little pockets that cause my whole autonomic nervous system to rev up. I'll feel like a caged animal, and just want to get the hell out of there ...

It's a positional thing turned emotional. It's form turned function. It's anatomy turned physiology. It's mechanotransduction!

All this is happening under what looks from the outside like pretty benign movements. It's secret work.

It takes all I have to stay focused, even partially, and to just stay with it, no matter how I feel (emotionally; this is not about pushing into pain one bit).

And, again, it's crazy how much stronger, and more mobile and resilient I am because of this work.

Sorry if I'm a broken record, but just to reiterate: it's not a "what;" it's a "how." (And, somewhat semantically perplexing to say but true, a lot of that "how" is to change up, and keep investigating and holding very sacred, the "what.")

===

So ...

I'm only 37, so perhaps I'll write something more profound when I'm 70, but still ... I'm at an age where lots of people say "yeah, that just starts to happen" with body breakdowns and whatnot.

So it's great to feel my body opening up, like way up, in no uncertain terms.

This is not about avoiding pain. (Good luck with that, anyone.)

It IS about not only "confronting" some demons via somatic experiencing — which I would contend is just as readily available at a 225-lb barbell as it is in a Peter Levine-trained therapist's office — but, perhaps ...

Dancing with those demons as well. Moving with them.

===

It's corny when put into words. It HAS to be. That's the nature of something becoming cute and tidy in language.

It's something different as a lived experience. (As many of you know; and most of us continue to find out, ever deepening.)

Love from the abyss, right back into its own heart.

LB + TBA