Body – Diet – Changing Your Tastes

by pre., Friday, May 2nd, 2008.

The New York Times journalist Michael Pollan writes in an article ‘unhappy meals’ that we can sum up advice on good diet in seven words: eat food, not too much, mostly plants. Of course he also goes into much more detail in that long article. We recommend reading it.

The advice is fairly simple, but many people even after they understand this advice find it hard to follow. They have cravings for burgers and chocolate and chips and sweets and crisps. And the brutal fact of it is, that most people will give into cravings such as these.

The Taste System

Your tastes are more complicated than just pleasurable or unpleasurable sensations being sent from your tongue to your brain. Most of the taste experience is produced in the nose, smell more than taste, and we know that smell has a very potent memory system. Taste is as much about memory as sensation. Taste is a learned response.

Our tastes are affected, even produced by, our memory. Associations between a food product and a good feeling will literally make you enjoy that taste more next time. You can learn to love the taste of coffee, cigarettes, beer, blue cheese, just through associating that taste with pleasant experience. Just one teenage night of overindulgence can make you hate the taste of some type of alcoholic drink so much it makes you physically sick to drink it.

Consider for a moment how much food advertising you are exposed to each day. How many McDonalds or KFC or Pizza Hut adverts you have seen. Each time you see one of these things your taste system is subtly altered, you begin to like that taste more.

This offers us a path to changing your taste, and thus your cravings, and thus your diet.

Advertising At Yourself

This month’s guided meditation file is designed to help you change your tastes so that you will eat more healthily. As you follow the instructions in the mp3 you will be asked to think of a food item, to recall it vividly, try to experience it’s taste, and then to associate that taste with pleasant events from your life. It can help you take back control of your diet. You should have a food item in mind before you start to listen, presumably one you would like to eat more of.

Anti-Advertising

Of course, you my decide that rather than improving the tastes of a ‘good’ food, you want to reduce the allure of a ‘bad’ food. Just use the same guide in this circumstance, but of course thinking of that ‘bad’ food and associating instead an event which made you feel miserable, sick, or ill.

Guided Meditation File 4 – Body – Diet

Body – Diet – Avoiding Eating Too Much

by pre., Friday, May 9th, 2008.

We discussed last week how to alter your tastes so that you want to eat, crave to eat, the kinds of foods which you know intellectually you should eat. If you’ve been going over this month’s guided meditation file you’re probably already starting to see changes in your tastes.

You will likely find that, as you learn to love foods which better suit your nutritional needs, you are automatically starting to eat the appropriate amounts. As your nutritional needs are covered you aren’t craving that burger just to get the tiny trace amounts of vitamins in it.

However, especially in our modern advertisement-filled social sphere, some still find that they are eating too much, even if they start to eat the right things.

There are several things you can do which will help you to overcome, even eliminate, the desire to eat more than is healthy for you.

The first is to pay attention when you are eating. Eat as slowly, deliberately, and with as much focus and concentration as you can manage. The skills you have learned in previous months should help here, you’ll likely find that the more attention you pay to the food as you eat it, the more your body will remember eating it, and thus it’s filling effects will last longer.

Eating slowly has the added advantage of giving your body’s blood-sugar levels time to adjust as you eat, so that they more accurately reflect your actual need for food. Immediately shovelling in a ton of ice-cream and cake won’t give your body time to react and let you know when you’re full. The more slowly you eat, the more attention you pay as you do so, the more clear and accurate your body’s signals to your mind will become.

Of course, eating slowly and paying attention also have the hedonistic advantage that you’ll enjoy your food more, get more pleasure from it, eke out your eating out. And since you find each mouthful so much more rewarding, you’ll need fewer of them.

If all this isn’t working though, if you’re suffering cravings for food you know you shouldn’t eat, there is still something that you can do: distract yourself.

This tip is helpful not just when concerning food, but whenever you find your mind wondering in unproductive directions: Craving food, moaning or complaining, berating yourself, obsessing miserably. You’ll be practised at a few of the excercises or improving the Spiral Skills by now, so distract yourself by doing one of them.. Perhaps not one based on food if you’re trying to forget food, but you can run over the things stored in your Loci map or just practice staring intently, paying close attention to something then recalling it, or indeed simply blanking your mind with a calmness meditation. As you get better at controling your own thought processes, you’ll automatically turn to these excercises to fill time when bored rather than allowing your mind to drift to fake-hunger or contemplating your misery.

Body – Diet – Omnivore

by pre., Friday, May 16th, 2008.

The advice linked to in our article two weeks ago was, of course “Eat food, not too much, mostly plants,” and as far as it goes that advice is essentially correct, while the full article in the New York Times there is even more so.

However, it’s always more complicated than that. The raw fact of the matter is that nobody really knows the full range of micronutrients needed for human life, and it’s even more the case that nobody even has a clue what range of molecules in our diet are useful, as opposed to nessasary. That is, we have only a basic understanding of the stuff it takes to keep you alive, we have barely scratched the surface of understanding what you can use to make you better.

There are more micronutrients in your diet that you can count. That Wikipedia article lists nine just from the table of elements. Combine carbon and those elements in a variety of strange and interesting ways and you get more peptides and polypeptides and proteins and amino acids than science has even counted, let alone catalogued.

On top of that, every single one of us is metabolically different. Some can digest milk as adults, most cannot. Some can handle alcohol better than others. Some are even allergic to things other people find most enjoyable. Every one of us, identical twins excepted, has a different genetic make up and every one of us (even identical twins) has had a differing exposure to minerals and micro nutrients and peptides and proteins in our diet. All of which effect us.

Yet your diet can radically affect your behaviour even making you more violent. Your health and well being. So how are you best to navigate this maze of possibilities? Perhaps not by asking what you should eat, but how you should eat.

How should we eat?

Our species has spent literally millions of years experiencing Darwinian natural selection before the rise of civilisation. Our “natural” habitat, the one our bodies were bred to best be adapted for, is a diet so poor in any given food that we were forced to evolve an omnivorous diet. I mean you’re not a rat or a goat, you can’t litterally eat anything, but for the vast majority of evolutionary time your ancestors were eking out a living scrambing to eat anything they could get.

In other words, you have evolved to take advantage of anything you can get from your diet. If some random polypeptide is useful to your health, mind or body, not necessarily necessary, but usable, you have likely evolved to take advantage of it. Those who randomly did so, will have bred better.

This means the key to a “good” diet isn’t to eat a proscribed list of foods, or to ban some other proscribed lists of foods, or even to east seasonally, it’s to eat omnivorously

If there is a molecule in food anywhere that your body can take advantage of, you owe it to your body to make sure it gets some. Variety is key to your best diet. If you’re eating the same things every week you may be missing that useful (but not essential) micro nutrient that’s not in your normal fare. If you’re eating the same thing every week you may be building up an excess of some slow-acting poison found only in that food.

The key to eating well, is to like everything and eat everything. No food should be on your dislike list, no food on your must-eat list. Unless you’re literally allergic to it, you should be eating it now and then.

This Month’s Guided Meditation is naturally useful for this kind of diet. If there’s something you don’t like train yourself to like it. Get used to buying different things every time you go into a supermarket. Get used to buying your food from different retailers, different shops, farmers markets, corner stores and costermongers. Then you’ll know that your body has not only everything it needs but more relevantly everything it can want

Body – Diet – Metabolic Rate

by pre., Friday, May 23rd, 2008.

Some people can eat like dogs with two mouths and still remain thin, while others eat barely at all and yet constantly pile on the pounds. Why is this?

Firstly, quite probably you don’t really know how much people eat. Unless you’re with them all the time you have not one clue what they eat when alone, or with other people. This may just be selection bias.

The effect shines through even with careful measurement though. Partly, this is because we have different genes. You may just be getting more energy out of your food. Your digestion system may be more or less efficient than mine. You may naturally make more of some biologically expensive molecule in each of your cells than the next person.

Along side this effect is the natural variation in the things that people do. Some of us are more active than others. They run more. Jump more. Play more soccer.

These two effects however pale in comparison to one major difference between us: Our metabolic rate. Your metabolic rate is determined by how much energy, how many joules or calories, how much food it takes just to sit about doing nothing. Just to keep your cells alive and carry on the unconscious processes going on in each cell and across your body all the time.

Every cell in your body requires a certain amount of energy to live and there’s trillions of them. Which makes it relevent.

The vast majority of the food you eat goes just to keeping those cellular processes running. You may burn some calories by walking to the post office, but that’s nothing compared to the calories you’ll burn in the total of all your trillions of cells just transporting proteins from one side of a cell wall to the other; or building a chain of amino acids, bending them into shape; or unzipping a trillion DNA strands to replicate sections of them so that their message can be passed to the cellular machinery constructing proteins.

Sure, it takes lots more energy to lift a leg than it takes to do any one of those cellular processes, but each of those processes is happening many, many times each second in each of the literally trillions of cells that make up your body. Just digesting the food you eat takes a huge chunk out of the energy you get from it.

The best way to lose weight isn’t to “work it off”, that barely makes sense at all. You’d have to run for an hour for each bite of a cream cake. The best way to lose weight is to make your body metabolically more expensive.

Now it turns out that muscle cells take more energy to maintain than fat cells. Cells in things like your liver take even more energy still, certainly, and a working muscle takes much more than a resting one, but even a resting muscle cell takes more energy to maintain than a resting fat cell. Especially since resting is about all a fat cell ever does. This is what exercise is designed to achieve. You aren’t exercising in order to use up some of the energy you’re eating, you’re exercising in order to build muscle tissue which will increase your metabolic rate and thus increase the amount of food-energy you’re using even when you’re lounging about eating crisps in front of the TV later.

Which has implications for the kinds of excercise which will be useful to you and we’ll address those in our next lap around the spiral, but this is the “diet” section, not the “exercise” section. So what does this have to do with diet?

Each cell in your body is bathed in a cocktail of messenger molecules, chemical signals which let it know things like what type of cells are around it and what the general state-of-alert is around the body, if you’re well-fed or lethargic or happy or sad. Each of your cells uses this information to decide whether to grow or shrink, divide or die, strengthen or weaken.

When you’re hungry for a long time, when your blood-sugar levels are constantly low, the muscle cells in your body have evolved to notice. Then to kill themselves in the cause of your body’s future reproductive success. Muscle cells are expensive to maintain. That’s precisely why we want them when trying to lose weight. Those of your ancestors who lowered metabolic rate in times of scarcity lived through it to spawn you, while those who kept their muscle were more likely to die before they found the food they need and thus not be the ancestor of anybody.

If you eat too little, your muscles will waste. You’ll keep the fat, your food-stores, and reduce the energy you need to live. Some call this the famine response but that name implies a switch that’s suddenly activated if you’re not eating enough but really it’s just a continuum of chemical concentrations between a variety of different biochemical messengers in your body’s cells. The ‘starvation response’ is going on all the time in your body, delicately balanced by the ‘build muscle’ response. A tiny push each way will change the balance of which cells are growing, and which are shrinking.

So yes: If you’re fat you should be eating less. But not too much less, and for every bit less that you eat you must exercise enough to ensure that balance moves in the right direction. To lose weight it’s better to increase your metabolic rate and eat more than decrease it and eat less.

Guided Meditation File 4 – Body – Diet
Backing Music “Beautiful You” By Mark Nine
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Body – Awareness – Body Awareness

by pre., Friday, October 10th, 2008.

Last loop around we presented a meditation at the beginning of each month before we talked about it for the rest of that month. We did this mostly because we wanted to launch with a meditation available, but in fact we’d really sooner talk about the meditation to prepare you for actually practising it. Thus, this loop around we’ll be launching the meditations on the last Friday of each month, after we’ve talked for a few weeks about it.

The last loop around the spiral we also concentrated on bedtime meditations, to help you learn how to influence your dreams, become more conscious of the mind-building processes which happen during sleep. We wanted something utterly relaxing to help put your mind in that receptive suggestible state. This loop though we’re sure you’re getting better at that and so we’re instead focusing on exercise. Each of the next eight meditations we bring to you will be designed to be listened to during a short low-impact exercise program. Just ten minutes or so each day. Because of this, we’re swapping the order in which we attack the skills in the spiral slightly, dealing with body awareness before we move onto self awareness next month. These excercises aren’t designed to help you lose weight. They’re designed to build awareness of your body and to improve posture, poise and body control.

Body Awareness

You will improve your awareness of your body’s senses. These senses are more numerous and complicated than the simple “touch” which popular culture would hold as one of the ‘five’ senses.

Proprioception or the kinaesthetic sense tells you where your limbs are in relation to the rest of your body. Close your eyes then move your right hand till it’s in front of your face, then open your eyes. Were you accurate? Was your hand indeed in front of your face? How did you know it was there? Because of the proprioception sense. You will increase this kinaesthetic sense by moving slowly, and paying close attention. Practising feeling where your limbs are.

Your sense of balance of course helps you to avoid falling over and to know which way is up. You’ll improve this by holding balance in particular poses.

Your body can also give you information about how tense or slackened your muscles are. Often people can “carry tension” in their shoulders or back, keeping the muscles more tense than they should be. Learning to notice this will make it easier to consciously relax, helping with many posture difficulties. You’ll improve this sense by paying close attention as you relax your muscles during some of our exercises.

You will also improve your Breathing Awareness, by taking attentive notice to your pattern of breathing, controling it as you move and paying attention as you breathe more deeply, more fully, using the appropriate muscles to expand the chest cavity.

Your muscles also have stretch receptors. Many of the exercises in this month’s program are deliberately designed to stretch muscles, and to help you learn to focus on the signals received as you do so. You’ll learn to enjoy stretching within your own limits to ensure you have full flexibility and range of movement. We’ll talk more about this in a couple of weeks.

Before that, next week, we’ll talk about awareness of posture, the reasons good posture is essential, what to look out for in bad posture and how these exercises will help you to improve yours, essentially by having you practice good posture and take note of how that feels.

Please bare in mind that we can barely scrape the surface with these basic exercises, and that to quickly gain a full understanding of your body awareness you should enrol in a course in The Alexander Technique, Tai-Chi, Yoga, Pilates or similar. You should do at least one hour a week for a few months to fully grasp the potential, and will likely want to do more after that.

Also remember that while these excercises can help you stay more fit by improving your posture and range of movement, giving you energy, it will not be enough to keep genuinely fit. You’ll also need to do some aerobic, cardiac exercise. Long brisk walks, cycling, swimming etc. Something to get your heart rate up and exercise the blood systems used to oxygenate the muscles and indeed the whole body.

Body – Awareness – Posture

by pre., Friday, October 17th, 2008.

As you know, when you use muscles they grow. When you fail to use them they begin to waste away. It’s a fairly complicated process but essentially, some small proportion of muscle cells are damaged with use. That damage releases chemical signalling molecules which cause the surrounding tissue to divide, multiply, and differentiate into new muscle cells. So, assuming you have the time and appropriate nutrients around, for every cell you damage you get many more new cells to repair it.

Now of course the way you stand, your posture, effects which muscles are being used. Particularly the inner core muscles which support and separate the vertebra and the leg muscles which carry your entire weight. Standing up straight, holding the head high, having the appropriate pressure on the knees etc. uses these muscles, and so they grow. Slouching, leaning, and other bad posture habits allow these muscles to relax, to remain unused, not doing enough micro-damage for the repairs to maintain their weight, and so they begin to wither. Worse yet, with the muscles withered it’s harder work to stand up straight, and so you’ll tend to slouch and lean even more.

In this way your posture and the shape of your body are intimately related. The more you hunch your shoulders the more your belly will widen to accommodate your bent back. The higher you hold your ribs the stronger and flatter your stomach will be. When people say things like “if I eat the weight all goes on my hips” they rarely realize that the reason the fat is distributed that way is the varying use of each of the different muscle groups in their every day life, moving and sitting and standing and the way they stand.

Strong core muscles also help to hold the internal organs and guts in place. Like all mammals your gut is supported by a big cellular bag attached to the backbone known as the peritoneum. If we stood in the posture of most mammals, on all fours with our guts hanging down from a horizontal back, this would be just fine. However we stand upright, and thus our guts tend to slip downwards, falling to the bottom of the abdominal cavity. This makes us more prone to hernia than most mammals. The core muscles around the stomach squeeze this bag, pushing the guts backwards, up from the abdominal cavity. Strong abdominal muscles hold the guts and internal organs in place, helping to prevent the pear-shaped body.

Good posture then will naturally increase the strength of your muscles, increasing your metabolic rate and thereby reducing body-fat, toning muscles and shaping your body.

What is good posture?

The key to good posture is to ensure that the back is supported by moderately engaged stomach and back muscles, that your weight distribution is even over the body, and all joints are carried in their ‘neutral’ zone. The first of our excercises simply has you stand up straight, growing as tall as you can. You’ll sense your stomach, gluteal (bottom) and back muscles to properly support the back. You’ll ensure that your feet are flat on the floor, supporting all your weight equally. Ideally an imaginary “plumb line” down the centre of your side-profile would pass just in front of your knee joint, up directly through the thigh-bone, behind the hip-joint (which should be straight and level), straight on through the lower spine and the centre of the chest cavity and into the neck and ear-lobe. There are plenty of images on the web to help you picture this if you search for them.

As mentioned, the first of our excercises simply has you stand in this position and pay particular attention to how that posture feels, letting yourself breathe deeply and opening up your filters to grow more suggestible and let your brain learn. As you learn to know what good posture feels like, you’ll be able to translate that good posture practice into other non-standing positions. You’ll develop a sense, a body-awareness, of the best way to stand to support your back and ensure good balance.

Common Types Of Bad Posture

The Swayback slouch tends to pull the head forward, pushing the neck backwards and curving the spine. This posture uses less muscle-power than standing up straight, and this is of course precisely why it’s bad: You need to use the muscle power so that your muscles continue to be used enough not to waste away. Further, the slouched posture compresses the rib-cage, making proper breathing more difficult and so stealing vigour and vim.

Likewise even a minor Kyphosis, curving the spine rather than pushing it up tall, causes the muscles which support the rib-cage to grow tight and shorten and the shoulders to pull inwards and up towards the ears. This in turns makes standing up straighter more difficult, less likely, warping your entire body shape over time.

Even just too much sitting can tend to shorten your hamstrings thanks to constantly bent knees. This pulls the pelvis backwards and causes tension in the lower back and weakened abdominal muscles. Some of our excercises stretch out those hamstrings to try and compensate for too much inactive sitting.

Posture, then, has repercussions all over the body. Slouching one way can make the muscles on that side shorter, causing yet more slouching on that side. Many older people are bent out of shape not by gravity, but by a lifetime of leaning. Good posture will improve your muscle tone, body shape, and keep you fit and healthy for longer.

Body – Awareness – Range Of Movement

by pre., Friday, October 24th, 2008.

As we’ve noted, a muscle which is used grows and a muscle which isn’t used begins to waste away. This is not the whole story however, for a muscle reacts not only to the amount it’s used but to the range of it’s movement.

A common example of this in modern life involves the hamstring muscles, a group of muscles which run from the back of the knee, up the back of the leg and joins with the hips. When the knee is straight the hamstring muscles are stretched. To use the knee you contract these hamstring muscles which pull on the knee joint and so bend the knee.

With a modern sedentary life, people tend to sit down much more than we did when we evolved striding around on the seat-free pains of Africa, meaning that the knee is bent to about 90 degrees for hours at a time. The hamstring muscles get used to being contracted, and begin to lose some of their full length. The muscles end up short and tightened so that when you do stand up, the muscle pulls down on the hip-bones tilting them back and making the spine curve back which is nice for well paid osteopaths and hunchback fans but not so much for those who aren’t keen on back pain.

Flexibility

As people get older, they tend to become less and less flexible. They aren’t able to bend the joints as far as they used to, to straighten them as much as they used to, to have to full range of movement that they had when younger. It feels as though this is a function of the joints themselves, that the joints are more creaky, perhaps ceasing up and in need of oil. In fact, while this is true of arthritis, the reason for this lack of range of movement is more often connected to the muscles which pull that joint. Because they’re rarely extended to the full capacity, they become tight and short like the hamstring we just described, being unable then to stretch far enough for the joint to have it’s full range of movement.

The mechanism under which your muscles learn to constrain their movement is still debated. Some think that the muscles themselves, being constantly regenerated by the damage-repair process mentioned last week, build new fibres to fit the shape that they’re used for. I.E. that the length of the muscles themselves physically changes. On the other hand some think that the stretch reflex is tuned. The Stretch reflex is a short neuron loop built practically into the muscle. When the nerve is stretched it sends a signal to the muscle to contract, thus constraining the muscle by a simple feedback mechanism. Normal learning precesses and conditioning can effect these neurons, so that a muscle which is rarely stretched has a more active stretch-reflex. Rather than the muscle physically shrinking in length, the stretch-reflex becomes over-active restricting the muscle’s full movement. Probably both of these effects and more are actually involved to some extent.

Either way the old maxim still applies: use it or lose it. If you want the full range of flexibility and motion available to your body then you must use the full range of motion and flexibility available to you, indeed, you must be constantly pushing the limits, increasing that flexibility and motion.

Stretching

The good news is that muscle memory is quite short-term, and if you get into the habit of extending your range of movement by deliberately extending your muscles to the full extent you can gradually rebuild the full range of moment your body allows. You’ll even learn to enjoy this process, to take pleasure from stretching your muscles within their tolerances. To enjoy pushing the boundaries and keeping your muscles capable of their full abilities. You’ll learn to love building new muscle tissue, making your muscles larger and more flexible, with an extended range.

The excercises we’ll introduce next week mostly involve stretching some muscles, attempting to ensure you keep your full range of movement, building the kinaesthetic senses and at the same time conditioning the stretch reflex to allow muscles to reach further, and to build strength and flexibility.

To use our example of the ham string muscles, if they begin to tighten and shrink thanks to being sat down for too long, conscious and deliberate stretching of the ham-string muscles can reverse these effects. A ham-string stretch will indeed be introduced next week.

Warning

Micro-damage to the muscle fibers is a natural part of movement, the mechanism under which muscle change occurs. However too much muscle damage causes scarring, creating new scar tissue rather than muscle tissue. Scar tissue can’t stretch and contract like muscle tissue can and weakens the muscle. Furthermore, stretch damage to the tendons is not a natural part of movement and the repair mechanisms for tendon damage in fact reduce their length, possibly permanently. Stretching is good, over-stretching is very bad. If it starts to actually hurt, stop. The feeling of a stretching muscle is quite pleasant when you get used to it. But if you experience actual pain, that’s not a result of useful micro-damage but muscle ripping and scarring, over-strained tendons. If you damage a tendon you will regret it and won’t gain extra range of movement or muscle growth.

Body – Awareness – The Exercises

by pre., Friday, October 31st, 2008.

Our guided meditation this week introduces ten different light exercises. The track consists essentially of instructions on how to perform the exercise, which muscles to tense and relax and what patterns of movement to use, even how to synch your breathing with the movements. There’s also a smattering of reminders to pay attention to the way it feels to perform these movements, the signals from your body as you do so, and some suggestions that your kinaesthetic senses, posture, poise, balance and breathing are improving. You may wish to do the excercises in front of a mirror to help you check you’re performing the actions accurately and learn to improve your kinaesthetic senses through visual feedback, being able to see as well as feel while you pay attention to the way your body feels.

When we introduce the next seven meditations in this series, you’ll be expected to be performing essentially the same routine you will learn here, but we’ll barely mention the names of the exercises in those future mediations. You’ll use this meditation to learn to listen to your body, respond to it, and move as it demands while you follow those future meditations while performing essentially the same movements.

Of course, if you have any health issues you should consult with your doctor before beginning any exercise program

Breathing

Our new guided meditations are designed to help you to learn how to move, literally which muscle movement patterns are best able to support your weight, encourage full movement ability and keep the lungs inflated

Your posture effects the way you breathe, and the way your breathe effects how much oxygen your brain has, and effects posture in feedback. Your muscles learn patterns of movement which include a coordination of your whole body, including your breathing. Reflecting this importance of breathing control in this and coming meditations, each will have a breath track. You should try and keep your breathing synchronised with the backing music and the breath track will help you to keep track of this. It will drift in and out of audibility, but whenever you notice it you should try and ensure your breathing is in sync with the breath track. Breathe in when the breath track sucks, breathe out when it blows.

The Exercises

1 – Neutral Standing Posture

Stand with your feet a fist-width apart, rising up and elongating the spine, keep your shoulder blades relaxed, resting down into your back. Your neck should be straight and your face looking horizontally out in front of you. Imagine the plumb-line down the side of your profile described in the posture section. Keep your core stomach muscles pulled in and up to support the spine, pulling your tummy backwards and breathing deeply from the chest. Pay attention to how your body feels, constantly wiling your shoulders to rest down deeper into the back.

This exercise is designed to help you learn what good posture feels like, to know the natural position to which you should always return, to discourage slouching and improve balance.

As you get more advanced, you can add a neck-stretch, tilting your head sideways and stretching the neck muscles. Even rotate the neck around, letting your head drop forward and stretching all the muscles around the neck which support your head.

2 – Roll-down

Breathe in and ensure your stomach muscles are supporting your back then as you breathe out bend the knees very slightly and allow the head to fall forwards. When the muscles in the back of your neck are fully stretched, curve the spine slowly, one vertebra at a time, until you’ve bent down as far as you can. The whole time your shoulders and neck should be relaxed, allowing your head and arms to fall under gravity until you are (once you’re limber enough at least) touching your toes. When you reach the bottom, take a few deep breaths, maybe allowing your arms to freely swing like pendulums, then once again ensure your stomach muscles are zipped up before reversing the actions and slowly raising back to standing tall in the neutral position as you breathe out.

The Roll-down is designed to relax the muscles in your shoulders, arms, neck and spine, allowing gravity to stretch them out, while also stretching the muscles of the back. It should increase your control and kinaesthetic senses. As you pull back up you strengthen core stomach muscles and learn to return to a good posture.

3 – Arm rises

As you breathe deeply in, move slowly to standing on tip-toes, while also raising your arms around your peripheral vision (hands always just in sight) till they meet above your head. Avoid pulling the shoulders up towards your ears, keeping them relaxed and lowered. As you breathe back out, reverse the actions so you end up back in the neutral posture.

Arm Rises should help your body learn the neutral position and use the full range of motion of muscles in the back of the legs as you stand slowly to tip-toe and back. It should also train your shoulder muscles to remain relaxed while you move your arms.

4 – Side Reaches

Start in the neutral standing position then engage your abs, pulling in the stomach and allowing the knees to bend very slightly. As you breathe out slowly let one arm raise outwards and up over your head. Then bend from the waist to allow your body to form a “C” shape and stretch the muscles at the side of your body. Keep stretching and elongating those muscles as you take a couple of deep breaths before reversing the actions to return to the neutral position. Then do the other side and repeat, being sure to do each side an equal number of times.

This exercise stretches the core muscles which support the back, and your neck and shoulder muscles. As usual, the more slowly you can breathe and perform the action and the more attention you pay to your body the more you’ll improve your kinaesthetic senses and balance.

5 – Standing on one leg

Stand in the neutral position, and bend one knee so that your foot moves up behind you. Hold that foot with the hand on the same side as the body and, keeping the stomach tight to support the backbone and the neck muscles relaxed, pull the foot towards the bottom. Ensure your hips are not tilted and remain horizontal. Hold the position, paying attention to your balance, for a few deep breaths then switch sides and repeat. Remember to always treat each side equally.

This exercise stretches the Quadriceps and Hip Flexor muscles in the leg and some of the muscles in the arms while training your kinaesthetic senses and especially your balance.

As you get more advanced you may try to really test your balance by closing your eyes. Careful though, don’t fall over!

6 – Curl Ups

Now lie down either on the floor or a very firm bed. Take your head in your hands and move your feet towards your bottom so that your feet are flat on the floor and your knees at right angles. The curl-up is like a sit-up, but rather than repeating lots of them you slowly pull up as far as you can while you breathe out, holding you stomach muscles tight to support your back, and hold the position for a full deep breath in, out and back in again before lowering again as you breathe out one more. Relax while you breath back in, ensuring the stomach muscles remain tight and zipped up, before repeating. Try to keep your neck muscles relaxed the whole time.

The curl up should strengthen the core stomach muscles which support the back and hold the guts in. It will help you to learn the patterns of movement which should be involved to ensure the back is fully supported while you are moving, standing or even just sitting. The more slowly you can pull up into the curve, and the more curled up you can be (so long as you’re still holding in the stomach), the faster you’ll improve your kinaesthetic senses and your muscle strength.

7 – Spine Curls

Move your feet backwards towards your bum so that the feet are flat on the floor and the knees bent roughly to right angles with the feet a fist width apart. Engage the stomach muscles to support the back then as you breathe out, tilt your hip-bones up so your tail-bone lifts off the floor, then slowly raise the hips, gradually peeling and curling the backbone off the floor one vertebra at a time, until you form a straight line from the knees, down the hips to the stomach and chest. Breathe in while holding that position before slowlyreversing the actions as you breathe back out again. Repeat. After many listenings, when you’ve got used to these movements, you may sometimes try bringing the heals together, pointing the toes outwards, opening the knees and doing the same to use the turn out muscles in your legs and bottom.

This exercise should increase your awareness of your spine, creating space between the vertebra, making you taller and letting the spinal fluids flow more easily. It should also help you learn to control the stabilizing muscles which support the lumber spine, keeping you aware of how to maintain that support as you move. It also works and strengthens the legs.

8 – Hip Flexor & Hamstring Stretches

Lie flat on your back, tensing the core muscles so that ideally there’s a small gap between the small of your back and the floor, stretching your legs out in front of you. Pull on one knee, hugging it into your chest for a few deep breaths. Then straighten that leg, pointing the heel as close to the roof as you can, holding the back of the thigh for a few deep breaths. Finally, point the toes and rotate the ankle for a breath or two before lowering the leg and repeating with the leg the other side.

These excercises stretch the hamstrings and other leg muscles, improve the range of motion available to the legs and should help you to learn better control over your lower limbs. They are particularly useful for people who sit much of the day.

9 – The Cat

Roll over and onto all fours, adopting the four point kneeling position. Hands pointing forward directly under the shoulders, elbows slightly bent, certainly not locked. Knees at right-angles and a fist width apart, right underneath your hip sockets. Keep your back as straight as possible, like a table-top. Neck stretched long, looking at a spot a little way in front of your hands, making an equilateral triangle between the spot you’re looking at and the two hands. Hold this pose for a while, breathing deeply with your stomach muscles engaged, scooping your belly up towards the spine to support the back. After a while, as you breathe in, arch the back like a cat, letting the neck drop down and the hips tilt forward, stretching the middle of the back up towards the ceiling. As you breathe back in, reverse the curves, slowly and gently, looking up so the tail goes up and the waist goes down, lengthening and mobilising the spine, still pulling the stomach muscles tight to support it as it bends. Continue to swap these positions gradually as you breathe deeply.

The cat is designed to help you understand how your kinaesthetic senses are effected by different orientation, help you find that neutral straight-back position and so learn how to spread the load evenly around your body even in strange positions. Also to stretch and relax the muscles in your back and neck.

As you get more advanced you can, after arching your back each way for a while, return your back to a horizontal position, flat as a table-top, then begin to move one leg and the opposing (diagonally opposite) arm outwards, straightening and lengthening them stretching and holding them in position to improve your awareness of those joints before returning to neutral with the table-top back and trying the other arm/leg.

10 – Chalk Circles

Roll over onto your side, putting your arms straight out in front of you, one on top of the other with back flat. Your legs should be in the sitting position, forming a right angle with your knees and hips. Breathe deeply in to prepare and engage your core stomach muscles to help keep your back straight. As you breathe out slide the top hand forward until you feel your muscles stretch between the shoulder blades, then as you breathe in draw a circle up and around your head with that hand. Keep it on the floor as it moves up and over your head, your arm fully extended the whole time. Twist your spine to allow the hand to continue to circle until it’s gone 180 degrees and is stretched out forming a straight line with the other arm. There, stop and relax as you breathe out. As you next breathe in, continue the circle around until your arm points down towards your feet. Relax and reach downwards, stretching the muscles in your arm and neck as you breathe out. Finally finish the circle to join the hands as you breathe back in. Repeat, then roll over and do it twice on the other side. Be sure to do an equal number of circles on each side of the body.

This exercise opens up the armpits and chest, stretches the muscles in the neck and keeps the range of movement of the arm hanging from the shoulder as wide as possible.

Finish off

When the mediation is over, get slowly and carefully to your feet, shake the muscles to relax them and then spend a few seconds standing tall with the stomach muscles engaged, concentrating on your balance and the way your body feels. Then continue your day, trying to keep the core muscles strong and keeping tension out of your shoulders and neck. Allowing your posture to naturally readjust as you do the excercises more and more.

This is only a glimpse

As we mentioned at the beginning of our words about this track, we can only give you a small glimpse of the range of excercises which can keep your body limber, active and improve your balance and kinaesthetic senses. We really recommend at least a few weeks of a full Pilates, Tai-Chi, Alexander Technique or Yoga classes. Ideally try them all!

Guided Meditation File 9 – Body – Body Awareness
Backing Music “Touch Me” By Professior Kliq
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Body – Control – NeuroSomatic Control

by pre., Friday, October 2nd, 2009.

Last month we learned about Neuro Somatic Interactions, the way the mind can effect the body. How it can raise and lower stress levels, influence hormones, affect the immune system etc.

This month we’ll be exploring ways to learn to gain greater control your body, and so it’s worth noting that most of your body’s actions are the result of neuro somatic interactions. Even more surely than your brain can send signals to control your immune system, it can send signals which control your muscles.

German poet and philosopher Fredrich Schiller once said “It is the mind itself which builds the body”, and this is true to a massive extent. The mind affects your glandular and endocrine systems, it effects the way you stand, walk, move, your posture and gait. These things all in turn affect your appetite, the way the fat is distributed around your body, which muscles are used often and so are large and strong and which are slack and short and weak.

You grow into the kind of body shape that you expect to grow into, neuro-somatic feedback mechanisms alter your body shape via appetite control, excercise, likely even adjusting your very metabolism rate.

A study done at the University Of Warwick finds that people‚Äôs body mass index (BMI) is influenced to some degree by their relative BMI. That is, if you have fat friends you get fatter. If you have thin friends you get thinner. Not because you’re actively dieting to be more like your friends, just because of the small subliminal influences they have on you and the way this subconsciously changes your behaviour.

We’re not trying to say that you can think yourself thin, it’ll take more than visualisation, dreaming and meditation to radically change the shape of your body. However, you can think yourself into a new attitude, a new state of mind, which in turn can affect your behaviour.

For the rest of this month we’ll discuss some ways in which your thoughts and behaviour can build patterns and habits that, over time, will affect your body. Frames of mind and addictions which will increase your control over your body, it’s movement, it’s shape.

Finally, as usual, at the end of the month we’ll present a guided meditation, a lucid dream, which should encourage these predispositions as you sleep, and afterwards, while you’re awake.

Body – Control – Muscle Movement Patterns

by pre., Friday, October 9th, 2009.

We have talked a lot about the pattern recognition functions of your brain, how your visual system, for example, notices patterns in the activations of the rods and cones in your eyes to determine colour, and patterns in the colours to determine lines and shapes, and patterns in those lines and shapes to determine texture and shading, and patterns in that shape, texture, and shading to determine what objects you are looking at.

What is true for the input sensory systems to your brain is, more or less, true for the motor systems of your brain too. The layout of the neurons on their way out of the brain to the muscles is remarkably similar to the layout of the neurons that lead into the brain from the sensory systems.

It would seem then that your conscious mind is likely to be sending patterns, which your control neurons break down into sub-patterns, and so-on, eventually instructing individual muscle cells to contract is a particular sequence.

While patterns are recognised and grouped by the sensory neural system, they are instead constructed and developed by the motor systems.

Learning how to control your body more precisely, more accurately, more consciously and delicately is essentially a process of developing new patterns and improving existing patterns used by your neuro-motor systems to control your muscle movement.

As an infant, you learned how to move each of your limbs independently of each other by developing these pattern construction systems through feedback from your sensory systems. Most of it happening at a well-below-conscious level even for a well-below-conscious stage of development like that of a baby.

Did you learn it right?

There are as many different postures, gaits, and demeanors as there are people in the world. No two of us learned exactly the same patterns of muscle contractions in order to move our arms. There are lots of similarities, of course, but things like the way the stomach muscles ripple their contractions during the movement of the legs in walking is surely not exactly the same for any two individuals on the planet, even twins.

There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in an absolute sense, but of course all these things are still being inspected and analysed and judged by all the people around you in order to determine your social status, your confidence, your sexiness, your fighting prowess, your agility and even your intelligence and emotional connection to the people around you.

Which means that if you have preferences for how your social status, your confidence, your sexiness, your fighting prowess, your agility and even your intelligence and emotional connection to the people around you are judged by those around you, then you should pay attention to these things in order to refine them and project the image you want.

There are also health implications in these things. If you use all your muscle groups when you move, then you will not suffer from some being unused and rotting away. The shape of your body is affected by the way your stand and move via the amount of use each of your muscle groups receive.

Finally, while of course there are physical limits to the way you are able to move, some of the limits on the way you are able to move derive not from the size of your joints or the length of your muscles but from limitations in the patterns produced by the neurons controling those muscles. You can learn to more finely separate your muscle grouping, to flex and relax individual muscle fibres, with enough practice and attention. To raise a single eyebrow, even after half a lifetime of them being psycho-physiologically linked.

How to adjust your patterns of muscle use

The good news is: you have already been doing this, much more-so than you likely think. The whole of our last lap around the spiral was based on body awareness, on excercise routines designed to ensure you concentrate on your body while moving it. This, more than anything else, is the thing that teaches your motor control neural groups how to adjust their output patterns to produce the appropriate cellular muscle contractions. Those excercises, hopefully combined with some more aggressive training, have strengthened your core muscles.

Strengthening your core muscles already means that you stand taller, with your shoulders further back, chest more expanded, all the typical signs of confidence and social status.

You are much more likely now to begin a pattern of muscle movement by tightening the muscles around your gut to support your back during the process of moving. This will reduce the likelihood of back-pain and other vertebra related health problems.

You are really already part way there! But of course there is always room for yet more improvement, there is no transcended, only transcending. This month’s guided lucid dream will help to improve your concentration on the way your muscles move, the patterns of feedback they produce as they move, and in turn improve posture, gait and all the social values these things indicate

The Meditation

Our meditation at the end of the month will encourage you to pay attention to the way your body responds as you try out movements that are impossible in the real, waking world. Practising these movements will allow you to see, on a gut-instinct pre-conscious level, how the patterns fit together. To better learn to understand and coordinate them.