I am interested in Change. Specifically I am interested in transmutation of human beings across all levels. My studies have taken me through a diverse range of fields of inquiry: firstly at university and crucible of the martial arts dojo; body work training and apprenticeship with an embodied philosopher; studies with jivamukta and alchemists.
But before all this had happened I had a particular, profound experience regarding the physical body that set me drifting along a virtuous course. So, let us begin this piece with me bringing out my palantír and casting my gaze back. Back..
Back into the past we peer.
To the year 1999 – the last year of the previous millennia. It was year 10 of high school for me and I had started to get niggling pain in the upper back region for the first time. The physical therapist I saw prescribed a series of exercises involving a theraband that I completed with the basest rudimentary attention level necessary for the completion of the task – as fitting of my state at the time.
After a number of weeks I looked down at my shoulders and was startled from my daydreaming to see that the right shoulder had a growth of some sort on it. Young Dave spent far more time than he cares to admit considering if it was some type of “too-mah” – even consulting a couple of his friends as to their opinion of the strange growth. Thankfully the right side dominance balanced out in a week or so and the ‘growth’ turned out to be the blessed hypertrophy of my anterior and medial deltoids!
What a stunning discovery for a young man to make.
Muscles can be provoked to grow using resistance training exercises.
Casting the eye back in time this was actually a profound moment. A minor satori. Here was tangible proof that I could change my lot in life; that the muscles of the physical body and possibly other aspects of the human being were changeable. Plastic.
Sure, I had “read” Bruce’s Tao of Jeet Kune Do and some other martial arts training manuals prior to this but somehow this did not sink in at all.. I had not connected that I could change my physical body, myself. The experience that I could had a very big impact on how I conceived about physical training for cultivation (as opposed to sportive training where you follow instructions which I had done plenty of).
After this highly humorous (in hindsight) event I set about reading the same books mentioned above once more. We were just about to do a module of weight-training in our physical education (PE) class and I paid more attention than I had before to almost any other class. Weight training in college was a regular staple with a couple of my friends, which continued onwards to university where I began what I my first period of this articles namesake – ‘Physical Re-patterning Work’ within the martial arts alongside deepening my Western physical culture training and knowledge.
Many of my colleagues and peers have similarly stories of stumbling into some form of hard physical training as the base metal for their transformation and current practice. In many ways it really is the best place to begin.
What Physical Re-patterning Work is in a nut-shell is the orientation of the compass you take into physical training ( the way in which you undertake the training ) multiplied by who you are learning from. This point is key as it is the development of the teacher you work with that determines whether they can teach you Physical Re-patterning Work or just whatever physical modality they practice – and in either case they can be teaching the physical skill-set exceptionally well.
It is a compelling sophistry, the notion that you can learn all you need to know from training partners and friends alone. Not having a teacher protects you from certain types of scrutiny. In the realm of just physical skill training partner only exploration can get you a long way but in Physical Re-patterning Work (and deeper studies) it is not so. There is no mirroring capacity unless you put yourself under the instruction of teacher who has gone far beyond where you are currently. And not just for a weekend workshop, either.
Just as the old alchemical adage goes ‘you need a spec of true gold to make gold‘, so it is that you need a teacher who has at least made serious inroads towards reenchantment (better to have gone passed this milestone) to imbue the quality of the physical training being taught with the essence that makes it something more substantial.
[*] Physical Re-patterning Work.
To have the modus operandi prime of re-patterning disenchanted patterns from the body means we train differently. Some methods employed bare more than a passing resemblance to those used within fitness, performance or therapeutic modalities but the differing intentionality means that the usage and outcome is greatly changed. Sometimes this will radically alter the sequencing and selection of exercises.
First port of call in this framework is to preserve the joy and effectiveness that comes from hard physical training.
No need to make things overly ‘sensory’ or ‘exploratory’ when they are not necessary or called upon by the training methodology. Sometimes intensity and power are called for. Particularly in the beginning, hard physical work well taught has a ‘necessary shock’ effect upon people who exist in the comfortably numb half-life that makes up a significant proportion of the populace. As my friend [pf] reminds me often quoting archetypal psychologist James Hillman: ‘the soul craves intensity(!)’
Be it by strength work; by movement; virtuous stretching methods; the martial arts; evasive arts, too- whatever (as long as it is well taught). The positive effects that can be had from correctly executed physical training are becoming increasingly recognized by the general public. I always found I loved orientating my week around my physical training sessions. Over time: if the setting, teacher and training is kept at a high level the changes produced from these humble methods are almost miraculous.
Secondly (and balancing out the first); we target the ‘unnecessary tension’ inhibiting the muscles and soft tissues of the body. The deep physical relaxation benefits feel great but more than this we seek to reduce the tension so we can watch it creep back in – we can learn to watch the tension-state of the muscles of the body and use this to correlate the ‘internal weather’ that is our habitual reactions to outside environmental and human factors.
Combining these two aspects in an alive way starts to raise the resources of the physical body. People need to have the hidden resources of their bodies woken like a sleeping giant. The hara enkindled. The body no longer wasting huge quanta of energy to move or adopt postures. Breathing expansion, channels opening up. This raising of the level of the body (an person) is a defining feature of Physical Re-patterning Work and has certain qualities to it.
Part of this work is also being an explorer of the interior of the body and learning to release (re-patterning) areas of sensory motor amnesia, trigger points, adhesions – and regions that contain physical ‘deposits’ of disenchantment. This idea is largely responsible for the vast array of stretching exercises I have co-opted, modified or created (see the Schemata at the bottom of this article). Many paths open up later on from this aspect of the work.
A slightly more exotic theme in Physical Re-patterning Work is that the physical body is the easiest realm to learn that you are mistaken. The tangibility allows for you to find out you are in error about your capacities, and (if you can accept this) simply move forwards in addressing them. What I posit is if you are practicing Physical Re-patterning Work instead of just physical training the deeper quality to accept defeat, error, mistakes (and be fine with it) transfers into your character as a whole. Your opinions, like tight hip flexors of the mind, can be loosened – made supple. This may sound odd but as you see below in the ‘Re-patterning & Alchemical Stretching Diagram’ the onset of ‘metaphysical suppleness’ is one of the defining signs of the process deepening in the individual.
The ability to entertain ideas – to play with them – is key to art creation. Metaphysics and practices tossed in the air openly and with curiosity. Correlations observed and digested, not forced into contrived boxes.
So we can see now: if there is capacity increasing but no transmutation of character there is no Physical Re-patterning Work, only physical training. As the great Japanese filmaker Kurosawa said ‘The heroes are the ones that are still changing, while the villains are locked and petrified into what they are’. I have seen huge physical capacity change with little or no character change, whereas I have also seen very meager physical change with huge character change. And I have also seen huge capacity and character change and no change at all.
With training we light the fires of this physical alchemical laboratory that is the human body. We raise the state of the organism (solve et coagula). We heat and hammer our body with training so as we can enjoy our existence fully and no longer remain chained by our own frozen resources.
[*] Metallurgy & Stretching.
An intriguing insight occurred whilst I was re-formulating the 3-Phase Stretching diagram for this article. Initially the third phase was called ‘no ripples phase’ but I felt this did not adequately represent what is a process that certainly involves exiting the stretch in a skillful manner but also includes the period of digestionof the stretch (and stretching session as a whole) – its re-patterning effects over the coming hours and sometimes days.
The word that intuitively downloaded into my mind was ‘tempering’. This led to the better part of the afternoon being spent looking into metallurgical processes and the more I researched the more the metallurgical processes appeared apt metaphors for the re-patterning stretching process.
We decrease ‘rigidity’ and ‘brittleness’ (materials tendency to break before bending) via increasing ‘elasticity’. Over time we increase the ‘plasticity’ (deformation beyond its original shape – hopefully positively when talking in terms of the body) of the body via working upon its ‘ductility’ and ‘malleability’ (ability to yield in relation to tensile and compressional forces) whilst maintaining the ‘structural integrity’. This leads to greater ‘toughness’ (resistance to breaking) of the body.
Even the process in which a metal quenched quickly produces brittleness and rigidity has parallels with people who overcook the stretch and have to exit the stretch too quickly and/or with low awareness – severing the circuit of sensory impressions and failing to impact into the ‘plasticity’ in a beneficial way. The creation of flexi-zombies.
At any rate the looking for analogous processing within man and Nature comes with the alchemical territory and makes for some interesting lines of research. Observe:
[*] Stretching Schemata outline and discussion.
On the practical experimental end there has been some nice structural condensation in regards to a schemata I have been working on for about 7-8 years. Just as in spiritual work there is a ‘spiritual vertical’ and a ‘spiritual horizontal’, so in the Physical Re-patterning and reenchantment work there is working simultaneously towards depth and breadth.
On the ‘depth’ aspect there is the recently produced ‘Re-patterning & Alchemical Stretching Diagram’ (see below), that is a a map of the process of the deepening of the Physical Alchemy stretching syllabus involving stretching. Interestingly the depth is not at all correlated with the complexity or difficulty of the stretching exercises. I have done some of the deepest work with some of the humble mid-tier stretches by virtue of the mental and emotional resources mixed into the alembic that added to the fermentation of the process in question.
In the ‘breadth’ aspect (the schemata structure) I wanted as many humans as possible to be able to use this body of work for what they practice and teach. I feel the factoring in of ‘horizontal’ and ‘vertical’ aspects allows this whilst being authentic to the scope of my own studies. If you want stretches and re-patterning techniques to use upon athletes/clients/patients you work with – by all means this is possible. Just understand that these exercises are created in a completely different framework. You may have to get creative and modify them for your own work.
The Stretching Schemata came into existence as a taxonomy for re-patterning stretching exercises. I am not the first to do this, this is simply my take on it for the stretches I use or have created. Largely they follow a pattern-based postures emphasizing groups or ‘chains’ or muscles and soft tissues. Sometimes it is useful to be reductionist in a certain cases too i.e. keystone structure work). It should be obvious that a lot of this work is influenced by working with and studying under [K]. I blended a lot of my formative training in martial arts and Daoist body cultivation into this mix, as well as my studies in bodywork (particularly Rolfing theory) that I was research and practicing alongside being Kit’s apprentice.
Kit constructed his bestselling book ‘Stretching & Flexibility’ upon the courses he taught at the ANU at the time. The books follow the 14 weeks of the courses he ran in a series of lessons. Although lessons are quite possibly the best way to present material to classes or workshops I have also been tinkering with ways to present the information for teachers of physical re-patterning work and related modalities.
This has lead to a categorization system and schemata diagrams based upon what the stretching exercises do to the body. In this way I am hoping to make the selection of the exercise easier for those who want to blend it with whatever they teach and practice.
[*] Preserving Paradoxical Insights.
This is a work in progress – more like ongoing notes. These are the commonly used exercises in the Re-patterning and Alchemical Stretching Syllabus of Physical Alchemy. There are many others less frequently used.
In large part this comes from seeking to preserve and fuse the gold (the deep insights) from all the eclectic stages of my 15 years of study into transmutation of human beings. This involved reconciling the seeming differences and to facilitate classes so as people can learn however much they are ready for as they are when they encounter the method. It took some real doing to make this occur.
Through my studies from external to internal I have worn many ‘hats’ that have led to the creation of the Physical Alchemy method. Looking back from the current vantage point an essential feature of my transmutation was being forced by circumstance to wear each hat in suggestion – alone. Not trying to wear three hats upon the same head, forcing life into my own subjective conjuration. To dive in to a body of inquiry honestly without trying to fit it into an overarching conceptual lattice has been most auspicious.
And so it is that my own personal researches within Physical Alchemy continue down a number of seemingly conflicting lines. Some overt, some covert. Continually I research the practical efficacy of my basic physical training methods (the base metal) though at the moment this is almost exclusively practical tinkering and ‘lore’ based. There was a period of intensive theoretical and scientific study during university which ran in parallel with what would classify as mentoring and apprenticeship relationships with my first two Teachers. Both of these men would likely classify close or within the genius spectrum of intellectual ability and both undertook doctorates at one of the more rigorous universities in Australia.
A similar mechanism can be created with your peers. If you have sufficiently intelligent and exploratory friends and colleagues, and you trust their judgement in research matters (and know their biases) you can save yourself an enormous amount of time-energy by letting them research the areas they are interested in the most and not looking into them yourself (especially if you have a general knowledge in the area already). They will find the gold in the area of inquiry for you and you can read the summary. What I actually do in practice is a step beyond this. I wait until multiple peers post about a piece of work before I consider reading outside my designated researches. More weighting is given if multiple friends with conflicting ideas and opinions recommend the piece. This is one aspect of ‘diminishing returns’ applied to theory gains post initial research for the practical-based physical tinkerer.
One of the primary virtues of apprenticeship (if approached sincerely) is that it is an acceleration of your evolution. If you have chosen the Teacher wisely they will be able to select texts you read so as to save you many thousands of hours of your own research. Similarly, they select (if they are capable) the types of training and experiences that will develop you (not necessarily the ones you want or think you need). Obviously if ye has chosen poorly this can go astray..
As you can see I have included the two Gates I discussed in the last article (Body Tessellations II – Paradoxical Stretching) as the dotted lines that break up exercises of the same pattern into different potency level and corresponding level of qualities necessary to safely undertake these stretches as exercises (tools) of physical alchemy, not simply as stretches. A similar structure is underway for the other syllabus used in Physical Alchemy.
[*] Re-patterning & Alchemical Stretching Diagram [explorations and explanations].
Although these are my studies in structuring stretching within the Physical Re-patterning Work framework, we have Frederik and Craig working on similar insights in other syllabuses. This type of thing could (and likely is) be done with other training methods. We enter a interesting and critical era for the study of physical training as Physical Re-patterning Work.
Upon encountering re-patterning stretching the student is most likely within this category even if high degrees of skill and coordination from other activities are present. The word ‘Exploratory’ has been chosen because this is what people are doing in this phase. I feel it gives a better idea than something like ‘beginner’s’ or ‘introductory’ and it avoids people feeling put out from being in ‘beginners’ for 18-24 months – which is the usual half-life for people to start to get into the next phase.
The study of anatomy as it is embodied and lived is much more fun and practical than its study in dry texts (though one can certainly study anatomy concurrently with practice). It becomes somewhat of a puzzle – finding pieces, changing tension relationships, seeing how structures far away from each other are influenced and linked in a weird and wonderful way.
The study of the interrelation between inhibition, motion, tension is begun. The body starts to open up and function in a more harmonious way. All types of interesting insights about embodied existence appear as awareness descends into the shell of the body. The intelligences of the body stir from their slumber. Why was I not taught this stuff in high school ?!
This level as corresponding to my studies in Stretch Therapy and Basic Martial Arts experiences and practice. This is the level in any well taught art where you are getting the basic building blocks familiar and begin to put them together.
[*] ~6-24 months on average
The immersion phase takes place when a critical mass of experience in the method builds within the practitioner. Some other types of training accelerate this process and some retard it (more on this in the book). In many ways it is better to work with absolute beginners in the physical training realm who have interesting experience in other aspects of their lives.
Some things that herald this shift has arrived are people running out of the stretching equivalent of the ‘beginner training effect’, in that they run out of easy gains in range of movement and have generally reduced tension in the organism significantly. Then they run into their character armour and other deep restrictions. These do not yield so easily to the flame of training. Many cycles of tempering are required before they melt and give way. Confusion comes from very flexible (either innate or previous training) or people who gain flexibility easily – they can seem as if they are in this stage people people are focused upon quantifiable aspects like range of movement when character armour can still easily hide within these bodies – they even have more options in not finding this ‘shadow material’ as [K] (and others) say, as they can squirm out of it in many different and amusing ways.
Having the profound experience of the unknotting in real time of a deep physical restriction is one of the signs that signals the later Immersion stage.
Running in to one’s character armour leads on into the investigation of the robotic nature of many of our gestures, postures and amnesia sensations. The melting of this ice allows embers of aliveness to breath and grow into flames.
[*] ~1.5-5 year on average
On a physical level the awareness goes into feeling and predicting the weather of the internal atmosphere – states, sickness, stressors. This feeds into the deepening of aliveness. We feel strange long lost emotional flavors from long ago. We can bring back into the body the open attitude of youth. We can also take the actual exercises into a very powerful realm – where the need to do them as often also diminishes leaving time-energy available for other studies and practices.
Because this is physical repatterning work and not performance or fitness we are looking for the beginning of the training breaching into the mental and emotional realm tangibly at this stage. As realization dawns upon the student that they do not, can not, feel vast oceans of sensory information coming from their body; that how they move and hold themselves is habitual.. maybe then there is a possibility for them to entertain that other aspects of their mental and emotional life are equally false or arbitrary. How many are automatic thoughts; automatic opinions; automatic comments; automatic emotions? How long do you life as a servant to the False-I each day? What might lay just outside the realms of the muffled senses and buffered resources..this is what we look into in the next level.
[*] ~2-7 year half-life (if at all – many 20+ year veterans do no have these qualities)
This is where Physical Alchemy actually begins. Yes; the Body Tessellation work people associated with Physical Alchemy begins earlier but do not mistake outer form for inner substance. This is where things start to get really interesting but the less that is said in textual form the better due to the confusion of tonguesphenomena related to living currents of experience in work like this; where people will hear or read the words and wrongly associate it with their own theories and experiences. If the preceding syllabuses have not been assimilated we get confusion. Everyone always wants to proceed straight to the most potent work but truly it is better to proceed one layer of the onion after another.
[*] ~7-12+ years (if at all – only a handful of people I have met are doing this currently)
[*] Embodied Paradox
This syllabus depth I know exists via experience with other practitioners but consists of content that I can only ‘flash’ (as the term from juggling goes for an non-sustained for multiple rounds juggle) erratically; have in larval form or do not have at all currently but know will fit into this category and am excited to explore. I would hazard a guess that this material is impossible to teach outside of apprenticeship relationship and has much more of a ‘transmission’ quality to it than the other stages.
This is a highly speculative element of my work, in that I know these qualities and abilities exist I just do not know what happens when you combine them within one human form. But I really want to know what happens whence this occurs, so onwards in my own practice!
[*] 20-30 years?? (Unseen)
But back to more practical and immediate concerns.
As I sat contemplating how best the Re-patterning Stretching syllabus could be displayed practically at workshop level I decided upon teaching segments in terms of ‘lessons’ around a particular theme – similar to what I do in class but somewhat extended out to 3-3.5hrs in length. Some of these lessons follow the sub-syllabus structure used to map the Re-patterning and Alchemical Stretching syllabuses – some do not. There are countless numbers of lessons and teachers can and should create their own. Here is a sample of some of my favorites that I will be presenting upon in upcoming workshops:
[*] Un-foetalling the Human Form
This is the primary lesson of the Re-patterning Stretching Syllabus. It is also one of the sub-syllabus categories. Within this idea we can see many of the most potent stretching exercises known, that are often placed with more local anatomical stretches, are actually part of the same grouping when they are viewed in this light. Hip flexor stretches; Passive and Active Backward bending; the Human Crossbow; even scalenes stretches and awakening exercises for the deep anterior neck muscles – these exercises are grouped by virtue of their ‘de-prawnification of the bi-pedal crustacean’ potency (their ability to counter-act the foetaling up of the human form from external and internal environmental factors).
Group with many wonderful practical exercises the lesson also covers useful concepts and ideas such as biological aging vs chronological; body as ‘Connective Tissue Retort’; cultural factors effecting; Keystone structures in the targeting of inhibitory vectors; models such as Janda’s crossed syndromes and connective tissue chains and meridians; ‘Flexor addiction’ [Feldenkrais]; emotional factors; the repatterning effects – and more.
This is not a ‘postural’ thing we are simply unlocking and awakening the body – unfurling it as we did in infancy so it can once again hold any posture it cares to with no unnecessary tension.
[*] Pelvic Bowl
This lesson is also a very common one, due largely to the fact that the large muscles of the pelvis effect strongly what happens further upstream in the spine and even the shoulder girdle and arms and downstream into the legs and feet. It is an important region close to the body’s centre of gravity. We accumulate a lot of tension in these muscles and it also provides quite a pleasant experience to release this.
This is where we get to work with the large range of new and old adductor and deep external rotators of the hip. The interrelation of the reciprocal relationship between these two groupings of muscles is explored from all angles. Short and long adductor work (Pancake variants, Splayed Frog and Inverted Splayed Frog, Tailor Posture variants, Side Splits, and much more); pre-loading, sequencing and exercise selection; common sites and teething issues; the use of Open and Closed chain variants; ‘return for investment’ and transferability; Keystone structures; ‘layers of the onion’; breathing connections; and more.
Hip Flexor specifics are also featured in this lesson; particularly some of the more exotic and specific exercises (iliacus, psoas, rectus femorus). AS you can see from the Schemata diagrams the syllabus is well-armed with hip flexor stretches. The lesson can be paired with spinal exercises (or feet exercises) after the work upon the pelvic bowl to explore the effects upon tension in the hips, pelvis and sacral area upon spinal motion.
[*] Breathing Apparatus [Prerequisites]
The ‘Exorcising the Breath’ sub-syllabus is one of the 4 deep categories of exercises within the Re-patterning Stretching branch of the Physical Re-patterning Work outer shell. For my mind this is where the stretches reach their appropriate use and high art. Breathing patterning is in an inauspicious way in industrialized nations. Many interesting things might happen if we gains more sensations and freedom to breathe.
This lesson contains: 3 Uber-rotations [Body Tessellation Level] – true ‘physical alchemy’ exercises; bringing Solo work to life; combination with other breathing practices; ribcage work; strange correlations; study of the breath (contemplative traditions); anxiety – and so on.
If the student is already doing breath work then we can discuss how as to structure this type of work without conflicting with already established exercises. For the most part this syllabus contains ways to remove the inhibition upon the breathing apparatus but not the programming or manipulation of the timing of the breath (i.e pranayama; breath retention; etc).
[*] Deep Physical Relaxation
One of the principal side benefits of the Re-patterning Stretching syllabus is that is works on the quality of deep physical relaxation. In the chaotic unnatural bombardment of non-nourishing stimulation that is the 21st century many never really relax; drifting through different depths of stress and anxiety, felt or ‘subclinical’.
If you add in specific lying relaxation work (ala yoga nidra) you can go even further. One key aspect of this type work is the gaining clarity on the issue of ‘noise’ and ‘sound’. ‘Noise’ is the sounds happening in the soundscape plus the False-I interpreting them as desirably or undesirable, whereas ‘sound’ is the sounds happening in the soundscape. The shifting from ‘noise’ perception to ‘sound’ perception can be accomplished by lying relaxation work and has immediate and tangible effects of sleep quality for those who have trouble sleeping.
Within other traditions of human development there are many ways to approach the attaining of this basic element: dance, music, standing practices, walking practices, sitting practices, and so on. Craig Mallett (another member of Physical Alchemy) has been intensively researching the Daoist practices involved in Standing Practices that are means to the ends of ‘Deep Physical Relaxation’ and then proceed onward. Whatever the methodology the gaining of the entrance level deep physical relaxation skill-set is a priority in the beginning.
With this era having hallmarks of: disembodiment; anxiety; depression; over-analysis – can you really afford not to learn to relax on purpose.
[*] Wringing out the Lateral Seam
This lesson encompasses the ‘Hanging Stretching’ (see below) syllabus – as well as much more. Hanging stretching involves the big muscles of the back and the muscles and connective tissue channels that flow from the arms into the back and chest. We work towards opening up the sides of the body and the ribs. Unlocking the capacity for lateral undulation of the spine is within this lessons scope. Many who dwell in industrialized cities lack lateral undulation and certain forms of rotation for which this lesson can be insightful and revealing. For those who enjoy strength training the latissimus dorsi and its investing fascia have many specialized exercises (that feel great!).
[*] 5 Necks
The 5 ‘neck’s of the body: wrist (x2), ankle (x2), neck. These distant but similar anatomical bottlenecks are grouped together as they are trained in a reasonably similar way. Many small bones and muscles in a complex arrangement with a nerves and blood vessels that were spread wide suddenly channeled down a smaller path.
Deep Neck Flexors, deep forearm flexors, tibialus posterior – all these three areas have deep muscles within the flexor compartments that are largely dormant in many people. The neck also has many deep rotational muscles and imbalances beyond what the others have due the the complexity of the area and links in with the vestibular and visual systems.
Though these structures are the butt of many jokes (often by myself) they are in truth vital areas to work on. They can aid or restrict the use of larger muscle groups and motor firing patterns. Allow for fuller strength and power expression or put the brakes on it. As we age, these areas are often early on in the list of structures that degenerate so we want to keep them strength, supple and healthy. Many exercises and strategies will be discussed.
[*] Deep Pressure [Prerequisites]
Just as stretching is a tool for re-patterning the body, so is deep pressure. In fact many regions of the body seem to respond better to this stimulus than by stretching; or respond to pressure AND stretching simultaneously the best. Further I have found that hypermobile individuals respond very well to this particular sub-syllabus (when properly prepared).
Because of the fine-tuning of the pressure involved and the keystone structures targeted there are prerequisite skills for both the person administering the pressure and receiving. Positions of high leverage advantage are used not because huge pressures can be generated but because these same positions can be used to hold light or medium pressures for very long periods without shacking or change in pressure from the practitioner. This is one of the secrets to this syllabus. Long, medium pressure with a sensory dominance in a passive position that allows breath and sensation to be the focal point of the exercise.
These techniques can also be sequenced prior to certain stretches to eliminate or reduce confounding tension and provide a better re-patterning effect.
[*] Sciatic Pathway
The grouping of exercises here includes hamstring, calf muscles, the plantar aspect of the feet, piriformis and forward bending exercises – pretty much anything potentially compressive or entrapping of the sciatic nerve pathway from brain to hallicus. We trace the path of the brain that has escaped its bone prison and leaked down the posterior aspect of the body, winding throughout the connective tissue architecture being at some stage attacked from each side by compressional forces and snared within ‘brambles’. Themes of Neural Tension and Entrapment are discussed.
This includes more global exercises like the Pike or Emperor Pigeon with some very specific work on smaller structures.
[*] Partnering – cultivating of listening skills.
One of the best lessons I got from [K] was that of being a good partner. Learning to apply oneself as a ‘soft, immovable force’. Listening into the body and responding intuitively to the subtle and not-so-subtle changes happening in real-time. When you are the non-stretching partner in a stretch you are not passive; you are training physical intuition and body intelligence (if you pay attention).
There are the vectors like rotation, wringing and traction → engaging the fascia correctly; different layers; stabilizing injured and compromised joints; counter-traction and counter-wringing contractions; creating internal spirals; deep pressure work; Physical Intuition [Stretching type + general].
Structure → Deviations from norm, “ideal” within reason (parameters: must not compromise capacity to provide a proper assistance; non-shaking assistance; no slipping; no-mind).
[*] Physical Re-patterning Work in Physical Alchemy
Now; as I said above (and elsewhere) my studies into the transmutation of human beings have lead me on a merry odyssey. Within Physical Alchemy I always seek to refine my practical skill and applied knowledge of the physical training methods I teach and practice (and to maybe learn one or two new methods occasionally). I study disenchanted patterns of the people who come to class and who I interact with throughout the day. Also, on a more alchemical level I am always studying the Law of 3 and Law of 7 in the physical form and within Nature more generally*. Odd, I know. This is how I study change. After their isolation the three hats are now one.
But this is just my way of studying change.
You need to find your own way.
To do what I do is not at all necessary to teaching what I call Physical Re-patterning Work. Much of what I do is by virtue of the quirks of my educational pathway. I DO think that the Physical Re-patterning Work paradigm is much more widely applicable than what I am and likely will ever, do. I am keeping from going too wide because I want to go deep down a few of the lines of inquiry that have found me.
People are dawning to the knowledge that there is a lot of habitual patterning running through their movements, gestures, speech, thoughts, emotions, opinions – and a lot of people love to do physical training and movement arts. The two can go very nicely together. People with much less eccentric studies than I will add very much to this body of work. Even within my work the outer shell is so similar to most physical training that not many can tell the difference.
The workshop tour I am about to embark upon will likely cover the first three depths of the syllabus and as wide as the practitioners turning up can safely handle.
May 1st 2017
[*] Just as gravity existed prior to 1687, with a similar perspective it is that I study the universe from the non-scientifically proven alchemical Law of 3 and Law of 7 alongside the study of more conventionally accepted knowledge of Nature and the physical body.
[ Excerpt from older article concerning 3-phase diagram ]
- Acclimatisation Phase
Acclimatisation Phase is a feeling out of the tension-patterning of the day and discharging the residual (if it is not too extensive). Some days we suffer from post-viral effects in the soft tissues, emotional-mental tensions manifest in the flesh and of course physical over-use and postural tension. So, Acclimatisation Phase is, as my stretching mentor Kit says: ‘Interrogating the body’ to see how it is on the day.
Once you have built up your body awareness and sensory lexicon you will be able to very easily tell how you are in terms of tension-patterning for a given day (once you are experienced enough you can simply feel this at any time you wish, stretching or not).
In the end of acclimatisation phase we sink into a stretch: that is we move into a range of motion that elicits the stretch reflex from the muscle spindles and soft tissue receptors around the joints the stretch encompasses.
The Contract-Relax Protocol: The event that bridges the end of Acclimatisation Phase and the beginning of Re-patterning Phase is a contraction of the muscles and soft tissue structures that you have on stretch.
The muscles and soft-tissues structures that are on stretch have the stretch reflex overridden by the utilization of the more powerful Golgi-Tendon Organ Reflex, thus allowing for the exploration of deeper ranges of motion and sensation.
The contraction time and intensity parameters are both dialed based on a number of factors including: training age, body awareness, sensory quality, muscle cross-sectional area, illness and injury, charge of the area and a whole host of other minor factors.
After the contraction of the stretch muscle is finished we exhale, relax and move into a deeper range of motion AND a deeper sensation richness.
The two are sometimes not equal: we can move a number of inches and have a moderate sensation increase, or we can move a couple of millimeters and have a huge jump in sensation, it all depends on the person and their body’s perception of the area and how close they are to the end position at the time of contraction. Smaller muscles are usually contracted with less force and time than proportionally larger muscles.
Once the body is in a new, deeper range of motion we are in the Re-patterning Phase.
Within this phase you can utilize a number of other Contract-Relax protocols to re-boot yourself deeper into new territory. This can be done in a number of ways and there is no ‘right way’, it is a stretching fingerprint you forge by continued practice by yourself and via communicating kinesthetically with other high level stretchers of different constitutional types.
- Re-patterning Phase
The Re-patterning Phase begins as soon as you are in a new range of movement and sensation post the Contract-Relax protocol. In this phase we are trying to keep:
- As clear a mind as possible
- A quiet, listening body
- Slow, diaphragmatic ‘Natural Breathing’ (nasal only if possible, deep down into the dan tien of Daoism).
One way of explaining this process I use is that of someone having a map that has missing information.
Post the Contract-Relax event we are sending explorers into this uncharted, or poorly charted, terrain. Keeping the above constraints (clear mind, slow breathing, listening body) brings about the best conditions for the explorers to gather new sensory impressions from the new range of motion (territory).
Practicing with these parameters as guides, with time, practice and awareness, allows us access into the Simmering state. We want to stay in this state as long as possible and with as high a quality of new impressions as possible being collected for digestion.
As I mention, sometimes (if you possess sufficient focus and relaxation) emotional colours and flavours bleed through into the stretch and provide for an even richer sensory landscape and higher quality impressions. Like water seeping into the dry earth these emotional flavours saturate the flesh and are heated under the flame of mental clarity and physical quiet, producing an alchemical effect in which the ‘raw material’ is refined into a new coherent substance.
The Re-Patterning Effect
IF you get to this level of quality you will likely experience what I call The Re-patterning Effect (Possibly it should be called the Re-patterning after-effect, as you usually feel it slightly after finishing the session). There are actually a number of flavours of this effect, but in general you will start to experience this after you have put in a solid session of stretching in this manner (or, as I mention in the clip, sometimes after a sheer immensity of volume of re-patterning work ala a workshop). For me this often involves pleasant warm currents in the body and greatly enhanced sensory awareness of certain internal structures. There is often (for me) many more twitchings, pulsings, vibrations and subtle shifts of various soft tissues.
- Tempering Phase
The final phase of the ‘holy triad’ is returning from the new range of movement with all the high quality new impressions you gathered whilst you were in the Re-patterning Phase. Now, you can come out reasonably quickly and unconsciously and still become more flexible – so if you’re goal is purely on the new range of motion side, this is not of critical importance. However, if you’ve ever done this for, say, a strong posture like a deep hip flexor stretch you’ll know the proprioceptors of the hip (and beyond) freak out a fair bit as they are trying to calibrate where in space-time the femur actually is. Net result is you wander around the stretching hall like a cowboy(girl) with a wicked case of saddle-soreness, to the amusement of the other participants present in the class.
I used to do this. It is reasonably funny and when the proprioception kicks back in you feel great and can move normally again but a chance conversation with my mentor Kit many years ago led me to re-think my prior haste at exiting the final position.
He said he believed the most important part of the stretch was the exiting phase, as the brain needed to know that the range of motion was safe, and that haste and high noxious sensations in the exit-strategy produced an inauspicious combination of stimuli for trying to convince the brain of this fact.
To go back to my description of the partially filled in map: if half your explorers are lost (eaten by tigers, one presumes) on the way out for the jungle, even if they collected immaculately fine new information – it is lost with them, and further, it is not very convincing that the new terrain is non-hostile. We want all our explorers to return home and with them as many fine, detailed new maps as possible – hence the slow removal. The ‘Art’ part of this is the quality of movement smoothness and the Awareness that one comes out with. If you’re going to come out of a stretch, you may as well do it with full awareness.