Rami's Blog

Like the Yin-Yang, Eastern Martial Arts and Western medicine are two halves of a whole. My mission is to preserve the ancient mind-body tools, and pass them on to you.

 

Leg Workout for Health and Martial Arts: Part 3

The summer has come and gone, but the blog keeps going! Welcome back mind-body students! I hope our US-based readers all had an excellent holiday weekend.

We continue with Part 3 of our leg workout series this week! For previous installments, see here: Part 1, Part 2.


Leg Workout for Health and Martial Arts, #3

This week, it is all about the feet! Feet are more important to the function of the legs than just about any body part, because they are the first part of us that transfers energy from the ground and through our body, and the part of us that lets us transfer energy from our body into the ground. Our stretch for this week is a standing foot and calf stretch using a special tool. You can get these for cheap online, or you can use the lowest step in your house, or do this with your foot up against a wall instead. Your choice! This stretch is one of my 12 Body Markers, and it has an exact angle of flexibility that you will see in the video.

The mind-body exercise this week is simple, but not easy! We will be standing on one leg to improve our stability and balance. This is such a great exercise, because it requires that you not only engage all the tiny and powerful muscles in the feet, but also all of the leg muscles, and the core muscles. It even forces you to focus your mind and "capture the monkey", or you will lose your balance! Doing this for 1 minute on each side means you are in good shape!

Lastly, our meditation this week is actually whatever breathing technique you would like to use, but you will be doing it while you are taking a foot bath for health! As you sit and enjoy the relaxing foot soak, you can practice your deep breathing and achieve a very high level of mental stillness, "thoughts of no thoughts." Sit until the water has cooled off, and then you can practice some self-massage of the feet, or (if you are very lucky) you can have someone else massage your feet for you!

But because I want you to also work your mind this week, I am challenging you to go watch people walk this weekend, and see if you can spot things like incorrect alignment, flat feet, toes pointing outward, and so on. There are a million different ways that people walk without correct alignment. Looking at how other people walk is a good way to learn correct alignment for yourself.

That's all for this week, come back next week for more!

As always, happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!

Leg Workout for Health and Martial Arts: Part 2

Another week has gone by! Good to have my mind-body students back again reading the blog.

We continue with our leg workout series this week with Part 2! For previous installments, see here: Part 1


Leg Workout for Health and Martial Arts, #2

The body was designed to be able to extend the hip such that the knee can sit right within the small space beneath the collar done. This stretch, called the Hip Extension, is one of my 12 "Body Markers" which I use to get a sense of how much someone is a prisoner of their soft tissue. This stretch is very simple to do, all you need is a wall, a chair, and perhaps some yoga blocks or books depending on how flexible you are to begin with.

Stretch each hip for two to three minutes each time. It's often helpful to put something in the area where you watch TV. Each commercial break, go stretch one of your hips! That will get you a two or three minute stretch without even needing to keep track of time!

A more advanced technique for developing all the stabilizing muscles and tissues in the leg is called Leg Rotations. These movements are helpful for both health and martial arts, because stability, particularly on one leg, if vital to avoiding dangerous falls whether you are simply walking around at home, or competing in a martial arts tournament!

Do a session of leg rotations every other day, 20-30 repetitions in each direction (clockwise and counter clockwise) for each leg. That comes out to between 80 and 120 repetitions, 40-60 on each leg, half in one direction an half in the other. But don't worry, these go fast! Even when you do them slowly, you will fly through your sets.

And finally, for this week's meditation section of the workout, we are going to be practicing our grounding and rooting! Once you have an idea of the Light and Heavy Forces, you can move into the techniques of grounding and rooting by standing on two blocks and putting your mind below you, into the ground.

This is a great meditation to take with you as you walk during the day, maybe to the subway, or along the street to your house or the store. Picture the surface of the earth as a big sheet of see-through glass that you can look into and place your mind there, beneath the surface. See how long you can keep your mind and your energy grounded!

That's all for this week, come back next week for more!

As always, happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!

Leg Workouts for Health and Martial Arts: Part 1

Hello and welcome back, mind-body students!

Summer is quickly winding down, but that doesn't mean you can't still get lots of exercise in (and look good for however many beach days we have left)! So this week, we are starting a big series on leg workouts on the blog.

Each week I will give you a stretch, a mind-body exercise, and a meditation to do. By focusing all five building blocks while you workout every week, you will see the best results you can. At the end, I will also give you some other great resources I have found for leg exercises!

Before we jump into today's leg workout, please consider checking out my Tai Chi books, DVDs, and online courses which contain all the exercises you are about to see, and more. Here are some brief excerpts from the Sunrise and Sunset DVDs, which cover much of the same content you will find in the books.


Leg Workout for Health and Martial Arts, #1

Remembering my "Rule of 80%," begin this workout with your choice of a hamstring stretch. The hamstrings are often the tightest muscles in the body, and learning how to release tension from them is incredibly important to having a good and balanced leg workout. There are a few different ways to stretch the hamstrings, and each of those ways has different levels of stretching you can achieve.

Do each stretch (to each side, if applicable) for 3 minutes. Begin incorporating deep breathing now, so that when we reach the meditation you will already be in the mindset of breathing deep!

Continuing the workout, we will move into the Tai Chi Walk technique. This technique is great to do after stretching the hamstrings because you will be able to really see and feel that stress that was relieved from those muscles as you do the movement.

In this exercise, do a total of 50 steps (25 on each leg), and as you do be sure to focus your visualization on the lower energy center, and also try evoking your spirit. For this one, some of my students find it helpful to evoke the spirit of "the immortal walking man/woman". But what is important for evoking the spirit is to do whatever works for you!

Finally, the meditation for this week's workout is Water Breath! This is a tough meditation, but that is okay! It is good to try difficult meditations every once in a while, especially if it pairs well with one of the exercises you are doing (you will see what I mean later).

To practice, sit on the floor or on the edge of a chair, and begin breathing very deeply, softly, and silently for 3 minutes, gradually building up to 10 minutes, then 20, and maybe even 30 minutes! 10 or 20 minute sessions is often good enough for your entire first year of meditation practice. Keep that monkey mind at bay as much as possible! End each time you do this workout with a session of water breath meditation.

Once you have experience doing the water breath meditation on its own, you can combine the hamstring stretch and the meditation into one exercise: Vitamin-H with Water Breath. This will allow you to begin the meditation part of the workout right from the very beginning. See if you can train yourself up to the point where you are doing water breath for the entire workout!

That is a great way to integrate your mind and body into a workout for health and martial arts!


As a bonus, I found this excellent page of the "30 Best Butt Workouts" on www.jenreviews.com, and it has lots of great exercises for your hips, quads, hamstrings, and more! If you are looking for a creative new exercise to throw in to one of these leg workouts, I am sure you can find one you like in that article!

As always, happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!

Meditative Shaking and Pulsing: Complete Series

The following is an excerpt from my book Sunset Tai Chi: Simplified Tai Chi for Relaxation and Longevity


This week, we complete the series on meditative shaking and pulsing! It has been five quick weeks of exploring the body through the movement of energy and the joints. Today, we do a quick overview of each of the steps we took, and then give some final words about the technique.

Introduction

In the first part of our series, we introduced meditative shaking and pulsing as an alternative to the traditional western-style warm-ups. We talked about how this technique jumpstarts the energetic system and prepares our whole being for a great session of mind-body medicine such as Tai Chi. We also reviewed the movement types that you can create through the joints, and how gently you should be doing this exercise. 

Remember the rule of thumb! If a joint is tense and you want to create isolated pulsing and pumping in it, you need to move the joint above that joint.

Fingers, Wrists and Elbows

In the second installment, we got right into the specific joint techniques, beginning with the upper limbs. We learned how to feel the difference between the sensations of the fingers, from the largest joints (the thumbs) to the smallest (the pinkies).

We covered pulsing through the wrists by focusing on the elbows, and explored all the different angles of motion the wrist has.

And then we discussed how to shake the elbows using the shoulders, and how they a very limited range of motions in comparison to the wrist.

Yin & Yang Layers in the Shoulders

We spent the entire third part of the series on finding all the various sensations and movements you can create in the shoulders by using this technique. Because there is no real joint "above" the shoulders, we shake them by gently pumping the feet against the floor.

Remember the important tip! Make the force of the pumping with the feet moves through the knees, and into the floor, not into the knees, which can be very painful and cause joint issues.

We went over the three postures you can take while pulsing the shoulders, and how to do each one most effectively.

Ankles, Knees and Hips

For part four in the meditative shaking series, we started from the ground and worked up, pulsing the ankles, knees, and hips. For the ankles, we went in-depth about the importance of proper weight distribution and and alignment for seeing results and avoiding injury.

When talking about the knees, we told you a cool trick you can do if you are an experienced practitioner and you have a wooden floor to practice on. (If you missed it, go check it out!)

And finally, we covered the hips, which also have three major postures similar to the shoulders. We went over each posture, and also mentioned that you can isolate one hip joint at a time if you wanted, just like you could do with the shoulders.

Spine, Neck, Jaw and Soft Tissue

For the last review of unique areas to pulse and shake, we covered the central joints of the body as well as the soft tissue. We told you a tip for dividing up the spine into three sections (lumbar, thoracic, and cervical are most helpful) to more effectively pulse all through the entire spine during your practice.

Remember our advice about the neck! You should be especially gentle with the neck, for two reasons. Not only is it of key importance to avoid injury in the neck, which can cause all sorts of problems, but secondly, many many people hold a lot of tension in the neck from years of being stressed, hunched over, or both. All of this tension will not go away in one day, so it is very important to take small steps and make gradual progress in the meditative pulsing and shaking of the neck.

We also reminded you that the jaw is a joint too, and showed you how to make pulsing motions in it.

And finally, we talked about how, with experience, one can move the shaking and pulsing energy from this practice not only into the joints, but also into the soft tissues, such as the muscles, fascia, skin, and even closer to the bones.

Conclusion

Sense the pulse, the pump, and the shaking throughout the whole body. Scan the joints. Some people like to pulse, pump, or shake gently and others like to pulse, pump, or shake a little more strongly. Most people will find that at various times they may enjoy the two methods mixed, the slow and the fast, according to the time and the need.

When you perform this mind/body prescription during sunset, allow the sun to warm your joints while drawing your aches and pains from the joints. When doing the meditative shaking, put your mind a few inches away from the joint you are working on. By putting the mind away from the joint, the impurities will be led away from the joint and the pulling energy of the setting sun will do the rest of the pulling and dissolving. When you practice the meditative shaking during sunset, you will experience a strong sensation that will be hard to achieve without the setting sun. This strong sensation is your guardian energy or what I call the energetic bubble. Do not wait only for this time of the day to perform the meditative shaking. This mind/body prescription needs to be performed at least twice a day.

Do the meditative shaking for three to five minutes every day. Remember that when performing the meditative shaking, keep breathing deeply through the nose, and keep the tongue touching the roof of the mouth except when pulsing the jaw. Once you finish the meditative shaking, you should stand still or sit on the edge of the chair, and for three to five minutes put your mind in your center of gravity energy center or lower energy center to allow the energy you built up to be led into the center and to strengthen and upgrade your lower energy center while still noticing the patches of heat throughout the joints. Lead your mind from the four gates, the tips of the fingers and toes, into the lower energy center. You can also nourish the bones by leading the energy from the patches of heat inward into the joints and from there you can then move into the bones.

Once you are comfortable with this mind/body prescription, bring in the other building blocks: the breath, mind, energy, and spirit. Evoke spirituality by putting the mind into the three forces: heaven, human, and earth. It is a process that is called 'unification of the three forces.' There are other ways to evoke spirituality. You can use your own religious symbols or you can use the spirit of nature, such as a tree. Your arms can be the branches and they are shaking and becoming loose, gently in the wind.

Many people will testify how comfortable on both physical and mental levels they feel after performing this meditative shaking. They also express how relaxed they feel after this mind/body prescription. Pulsing, pumping, bouncing, and shaking are part of natural movements and performing them allows us to connect to nature in a new, interesting, and energetic way. In my personal experience with some of my students, the meditative shaking may have the strong effect of increasing bone density, but it is not scientifically proven yet. Some individuals get some of this pulsing and pumping motions while performing 'embrace the tree' (Yi Chuan) standing meditation.


And that's the entire meditative shaking and pulsing series! See you all again next week!

Happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!

Meditative Shaking and Pulsing: Part 4, Moving the Ankles, Knees, and Hips

The following is an excerpt from my book Sunset Tai Chi: Simplified Tai Chi for Relaxation and Longevity


Check out the previous blogs we have done to find the intro to shaking and pulsing, as well as the guide to shaking and pulsing the finger, wrists, elbows, and shoulders.

Ankles

Once you finish with the arms, move to the ankles and try to pulse through the ankles. Pulsing the leg joints will create different sensations. The arms do not bear weight but we do bear weight through the legs, and that totally changes the sensations.

Alignment and weight distribution are the keys to accessing all the ligaments in the ankles. First, we have four major ligaments that we want to create an even stress on between the foot and the bottom part of our leg; two ligaments in the front and two in the back. If you have the weight on the ball of the foot, you will feel the stress on the front ligaments while the back ones will be loose or free of stress. Now if you shift your weight to the heels, you will change the sensations of stress. The heels will now bear the weight that will generate stress on the back ligaments and will loosen the two front ones. If you allow the soles of the feet to collapse sideways, you will lose the alignment and lose the ability to isolate the pulsing in those four ligaments.

Make sure you distribute the weight in the middle of each sole of the foot. Do not collapse inward or push outward. Maintain the alignment, and then enjoy the pulsing, pumping, and shaking to a much higher level. While doing so, you also will be preventing injuries. Alignment of the ankle is very important. Much practice and work in the different postures and movements needs to be done to understand and experience the ankle.

Knees

Next, move into the knees. Make sure you bounce the weight through the knees, right into the floor, and not into the knees. If you do it right, and your weight moves through the knees into the floor, you may be able to vibrate the whole floor of the room. You need wood floors to make this happen. If the weight moves into the knees, you will not be able to create that vibration of the wood floors. Moving weight into the knees is not good for them. The knees are not meant to be weight-bearing joints.

Hips

Then move to the hips. They, like the shoulders, have many strong and different sensations. The reasons are first, both the shoulders and the hips are the biggest joints in our body; second, the hips and the shoulders have the most range of motion in contrast to all the other joints in the body. The three major postures or positions that allow us to sense the various different sensations in the hips are as follows:

First posture: While pulsing and pumping, bring the pelvis forward by tucking in the tailbone.

Second posture: While pulsing and pumping, stick the tailbone back and slightly out. You are coming out of alignment in this posture but in this case it is okay.

Third posture: Once you pulsed and pumped with the pelvis back and in the front, find the middle between the two, dropping the tailbone down but not tucked in like the first posture, and not pushed back like the second.

Of course, again, like the shoulders, each hip joint can be isolated by itself. By shifting all your weight to the left leg, you can isolate the right hip joint or you can direct the pulsing to the left hip joint with the weight on the right leg.

These exercises give you a way to create different sensations in the hips. Over time, you should find and explore other postures that lead to other sensations and new experiences.

Next week, we will give you the how-to for shaking the spine, neck, and jaw.

Happy stretching, deep breathing, empty your mind, strengthen your energetic system, and evoke your spirit!