Thursday, August 8, 2013

Not Just Pumping Iron, Part Twenty-Three

 The Significance of Speed . . . 
and Methods to Develop It

Centering, Charging
Grounding, Discharging

Being "centered" is as important as it is difficult to put into words. It is an experience, which once know, is easily recognized by its occurrence or non-occurrence. When centered, one feels alive, free from distracting tension, and able to focus on whatever is of interest. Thus, the act of centering involves enlivenment through adequate breathing, relaxing, and concentrating, without effort. 

Before moving into the pragmatics of breathing techniques, I believe some further philosophical framing of the experience of being centered is in order. This philosophical understanding will put the techniques in a context which will give them greater meaning.

Our experience in the world involves three dimensions, namely - 
time, and 
That is, we experience ourselves - 
in a physical place
at a particular time
with a particular level of awareness.

We locate ourselves as "here", as opposed to "there". 

The space dimension involves the point where I am as contrasted to my left, to my right, in front of me, behind me, above me, or below me. I am "here", as opposed to all the other places "there".

We also locate ourselves "now" as opposed to "then". This dimension of time involves the ever-moving moment of the "now" which moves from the "then" known as "before" toward the "then" which is known as "after". Thus, "past" and "future" form the poles of the time dimension. 

Awareness forms a dimension from vague or cloudy to precise and clear. And, awareness involves my sensory systems. Thus, awareness is based on my embodiment, my existing as an organismic being. 

In summary, we might then say that the parameters of existence are 
extension (space)
duration (time), and 
embodiment (awareness). 

Admittedly this is quite abstract. But, bear with me a little longer and you will see some very practical applications of this material to the bodily act of lifting weights.

Although I exist at a particular place, at a particular time, and with a particular level of awareness, it is possible for me to diminish the vividness or "realness" of that existential moment. We as humans are able to cloud our awareness through a myriad of psychological mechanisms, as well as through chemical means. We are also able, through fantasy, to leave the present time and present place. Fantasy is of immense importance to the lifter, as I have shown in previous chapters. However, one can get lost in fantasy, moving without consciously intending to, into a world of fantasy. Such intentional "daydreaming" can decrease one's effectiveness in the here-and-now.

I am centered when I am in my body in the here-and-now. When I am centered, I am at my most powerful and my most effective, in the actual world. Think of these things. If I have psychologically left my body and gone off in fantasy, my awareness is not with what is actual, and whatever movements I make are not guided by full awareness and attention. I can be effective in the world only to the extent that I am here and now and embodied. The less I am here, the less I am now; the less I am embodied, the less powerful and effective I am. I cannot do tomorrow's workout today! I can rehearse a workout. And this rehearsal can be of great value. But, the rehearsal is not tomorrow's actual workout; it is my having an intentional fantasy in the here and now. My dealing with the actual, physical reality can only take place in the actual, present time and place. In some ways this seems so obvious. But even if it is a truism, it is easily forgotten or ignored in actual training.

Let me emphasize -

For this reason I want to explore some methods of becoming centered.

One of the most powerful methods for centering is through focusing on one's breathing. We have already explored how breathing deeply and slowly into one's abdomen, with slight pauses after each inhalation and each exhalation can be calming and relaxing. Such calming and relaxing can be centering when one is tense or nervous. Tension in the muscles and chatter in the mind move one off center, not to mention introjected negative messages. To center, therefore, may involve the stopping of introjected negative messages, stopping mental chatter, relaxing the muscles, and the use of an affirmative mantra. Methods for doing these things have been presented previously. In addition, and central to the act of centering, is the slow breathing, low in the abdomen.

Not only can focused breathing be a path to a relaxed centeredness, but it can also lead to a state of high energy. This latter state is of immense value for the lifter, in training, and even more so in competition. To understand how this works, I will delve into the bio-energetics of breathing.

As a starting point, think of yourself as an energy system. As an embodied being, you take in nutrients, metabolize them, and thus provide energy for work and materials for growth and repair. Your energy is provided by your nutrition as it is transformed by your metabolic fires. Like the damper on a wood burning stove, your breathing regulates how much oxygen is available and, therefore, how hot and how fast the fuel is burned.

So, as breathing is altered to provide a greater supply of oxygen, one creates a higher charge of energy. One can breathe in a manner which is analogous to a closed damper, an open damper, or an open damper with a bellows pumping in air, depending on the organism's requirements. It is this latter way of breathing which charges the organism with energy.

Let us consider the biomechanics of breathing. Normal, relaxed breathing is an involuntary rhythmic activity controlled by the autonomic nervous system. On the average, when one is awake and relaxed, one takes 14 to 18 breaths per minute. This amounts to 20 or 25,000 breaths each day. One of the fascinating things about breathing is that one can override the autonomic control and make breathing a conscious, voluntary activity. By doing so one can determine, within a certain range, both the rate of breathing and its depth. In normal breathing there is a smooth, rhythmic action which involves the entire length of the body. Inhalation consists of an outward movement of the belly as the abdominal muscles relax and the diaphragm contracts. The chest expands. The pelvis rocks slightly so that the sacrum moves back. At the same time the neck arches back, slightly. So, on inspiration there is a slight arching back of the entire torso, reducing the distance between the cranial and sacral ends. When deep and full, this wave of inspiration can be felt from the head to the pelvis, and even down to the feet. After a brief pause, this wave is reversed. Thus, on exhalation, as the diaphragm relaxes, the abdomen moves back in place from its protruded position and the chest relaxes from its expansion, with the arch taken out of the neck. On expiration the cranial-sacral distance is increased. There is a brief pause, again, as one breathing cycle is completed.

What I have just described is abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing. Let us consider this type of breathing once more, from a somewhat more technical point of view. The diaphragm is a dome-shaped muscle attaching to the ribs and separating the thoracic cavity from the abdominal cavity. In its contracted position, the diaphragm flattens out, lowering the peak of the dome toward the abdomen. Therefore, when the diaphragm contracts, there is an increase in the vertical diameter of the thoracic cavity, and thereby a reduction in the intra-thoracic pressure. Since the air pressure outside the body is then greater than the air pressure inside the thoracic cavity, the result is an inflow of air through the nose or mouth. On exhalation the diaphragm relaxes to its more dome shaped position while the recoil of the stretched costal cartilages and stretched lungs and the weight of the thoracic wall increase the intra-thoracic pressure. With the air pressure greater in the thoracic cavity than the air pressure outside, air is forced out the nose or mouth. In normal, quiet respiration, then, inhalation is active (the diaphragm contracts), and exhalation is passive (the diaphragm relaxes).

Once again, it is this abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing which characterizes a calm, relaxed state. In that state, abdominal breathing will take place automatically, without one's attention and without conscious control. Therefore, when one wants to bring about a calm, relaxed state, it is this type of breathing which one can do, intentionally. To center, do slow, deep, abdominal breathing.

The other pattern of breathing is one of forced respiration, known as thoracic or costal breathing. In thoracic breathing the external intercostal muscles and several synergic muscles actually force an expansion of the rib cage. They literally pull the chest into an expanded position. With this expansion of the rib cage, there is, of course, a reduction of the intra-thoracic pressure. Now, with a greater relative air pressure outside, air rushes into the lungs through the nose or mouth. Once again, as was true for abdominal breathing, the phase of inhalation is active, involving the contraction of the muscles. In thoracic breathing, however, the phase of exhalation is also active. The abdominal muscles, internal intercostal muscles, serratus posterior inferior, and quadratus lumborum all contract, thus reducing the size of the thoracic cavity, and squeezing the air out. In thoracic breathing the chest pumps like a bellows, sucking air in and forcing it out.

Thoracic breathing is natural and automatic during strenuous muscular exertion. When one is exerting physically, abdominal breathing with its passive phase of exhalation is too slow to provide for an adequate supply of oxygen. What is needed is forced breathing, the pumping of air provided by the active inhalations and exhalations of thoracic breathing. This allows for a more rapid exchange of oxygenated and de-oxygenated air, bringing in oxygen and expelling carbon dioxide.

So, as one moves from a state of relaxation and quiet to a state of muscular exertion, one's breathing will naturally and automatically shift from abdominal breathing to thoracic breathing. As the organism requires a faster supply of oxygen, it will make this shift in the pattern of breathing without requiring any conscious intention to do so.

One can intentionally shift to thoracic breathing when one is not making any muscular exertion. Try that in a moment. Stand up. Take five rapid thoracic breaths. Make each inhalation as full as possible, and each exhalation as full as possible. Suck in the air and blow out the air. Be sure to pause, momentarily, at the end of each inhalation and at the end of each exhalation. Do this, now . . .

What body sensations do you feel? What I just experienced as I did this intentional forced breathing was as follows: an "aliveness" in my hands which quickly spread up my arms, over my shoulders and chest, and over the rest of my body; a sensation of heat; an increased vividness of vision; a feeling of alertness. In a word, I was charged. I repeated this demonstration, taking 10 breaths. This time, in addition to what I had experienced before, I became lightheaded. The conventional medical term for that latter experience is hyperventilation. The bioenergetic description is overcharged. To use a metaphor, in the first experience I was like a revved up motor, whereas in the second experience I was over-revved.

So, when the lifter wants to raise his energy level in preparation for lifting, he can take several big, fast breaths, breathing costally. To charge, do fast, full thoracic breathing. 

Next: More on Centering, Charging, Grounding, and Discharging.

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