Friendly Body

Physical wellness

The river doesn’t mock the mountain’s immobility…

Three months ago was christmas: because of quite a big family, these celebrations usually start on December 11th for me, and end roughly around January 12th… This, and the end-of-the-year workload, usually force me to stop working out.

One month ago, I made a classic mistake while snowboarding, and I was rewarded with a sprained wrist: not going back to the gym anytime soon, since I’m totally unable to hold a firm grip or even to put weight on my joint.

Two days ago, I taught my art at a seminar, and guess what ? I was able to perform an exercise that I had quit practicing…

One hour ago, I thought to myself that I wanted to share a thought with you, dear readers, for this thought can help many people, even those who don’t workout…

This exercice is the one you can see as this article’s featured image: your hands grab each other, one coming from above your shoulders, and one coming from below them. For the past two years, I couldn’t perform this exercice, because my elbows felt a bit painful when my hands would reach each other.

That is why I started practicing a modified version of this exercice: the intent is more important than the fact of performing it perfectly, and if my hands don’t touch each other, that is not a critical problem. This tip is applicable to any other exercice: a softer version of it will still make you work, and will make you advance on your path, even though the form doesn’t look “standard”.

Instead of clenching my hands, I started using this form

I don’t like stating causations as if it held some kind of certainty, but I’ll count on you to rembember that I came to this conclusion while tinkering with my body, very empirically, and not in a scientifically rigorous way: I think working out had limited my range of motion, even though I was very flexible and performing stretching every day.

That’s not a subversive hypothesis, of course, since working out makes you bulkier, and therefore dimnishes your range of motion.

And that’s what I want to share with you today: when you tinker with your body (or mind, or life itself), you quickly realize that spending energy in one direction slightly impairs your journey in another direction.

Getting stronger can make you less flexible, and the more you specialize your body, the harder it’ll get to develop other qualities.

My personal life has been full of these funny explorations: climbing made me stiffer and a slightly less agile pianist, playing the piano made me slightly more vulnerable to some wrist-locks in martial arts, martial arts made me slightly too grounded to dance, and so on…

Note that it’ll be the same thing regarding the way your body is built: being more flexible can make your joints less reactive, being stronger can make you stiffer, training your endurance can lower your strength if you specialize in strength, and gaining muscle mass can lower your performances if you are a runner…

And it’s the same thing, again, regarding your body shape: being fat makes you heavier, but protects you from shocks and makes your joints more stable, which is why strongmen, those athletes whose physical prowess rely on their incredible strength, don’t care about their bodyfat ratio.

And it’s the same thing, again, for people who don’t care about fitness or high-level sports ! Of course, as long as you haven’t been practicing for long, you can improve your performance in practically every direction, and there isn’t a more desirable direction (because we all chose our direction arbitrarily). Yet, if you want a result, based on somebody else’s results, if the results counts more than your inner state, you might end up hurting yourself, both physically and psychologically.

If you are inspired by someone’s state of mind, or philosophy, you will benefit from this mindset and find a different outcome. If you focus more on the goal that this inspiring person has achieved, without this person’s mindset, you will probably not only miss your goal, and also hurt yourself.

Friendly Body’s way of using your awareness to explore your body’s abilities is based on this simple fact: we are not equal with each other. Our bodies are not equal, and we cannot necessarily copy another person’s mindset. Not everyone can practice gymnastics, yoga, or any other sport healthily, and among the practitioners of a sport in particular, not everyone can perform every exercice: I am saying this as a Pilates or Yoga teacher, for I haven’t seen a single person capable of performing every exercice in the Pilates or Yoga handbook.

It is the mindset I would like to share with you: this implies that, sometimes, you don’t have to copy the external form of a teacher’s moves or stances, because even in non-traumatizing and soft body-conditioning systems, you will find exercices that you cannot perform, and this applies to everyone.

When I teach this mindset, I am blessed to see my students adapt my exercices to their own bodies, even though their external form is different from mine. I am blessed to hear my students tell me, even in a group workshop: “I won’t do this, it’s not good for my body”. I feel joyful to listen to my students, telling me: “I will do another exercie, that will make me develop the same qualities, but will protect my wounds”.

Above all, I feel blessed to see my students, using this mindset to perform moves or stances in a way that I could never imitate: my students are already better than I am at some exercices. They copy the essence of my work, instead of its external form, and seize every opportunity to find their own way of moving.

To paraphrase Koichi Tohei, the forest doesn’t mock the river because of its lack of density, and the river doesn’t mock the mountain for its immobility.

You’re the sports coach ? But you don’t look like it !

A few years ago, I used to teach Yoga in a neighborhood center.

I am waiting outside, relaxing before my class, when a lady, sitting on a bench, who has been staring at me for a while, asks me: “You’re the sportscoach ?

When I nod my head to tell her that I am, indeed, the teacher, that lady goes on, in an oddly wrathful way: “Come on, you don’t look like it !”

My first reaction was to be slightly stunned… After all, it’s not everyday that I can hear someone speak so frankly, and she’s displaying the kind of facial expression that I would display if I were talking to a person defecating on my yard…

It might have been my hawaïan shirt, not really looking like a Yoga or a fitness-related outfit, or it might have been my body, that demonstrates my taste for fine cuisine… I will never know, for that lady wasn’t here to attend my class, but another one… Still, her comment made me think ; how could people see that I’m good at what I do ?

I teach people how to inhabit their body, to develop a benevolent and friendly attitude towards it (hence this website’s name). People coming to become my students do not come to me because of what I can do, but because of the way I can help them. Friendly Body is based on a the same mindset as meditation or spirituality: we explore our corporal sensations and play with them, and Friendly Body’s exercices are only a pretext, a mere opportunity that we consciously use to discover ourselves, and not a tool to achieve a goal. And that, dear reader, sums up the problem: how do you depict a good practitioner of an art, if the pursued goal is different from one person to another ? what is the detail that one would have to pay attention to, in order to spot a person with a remarkable self-awareness or self-benevolence ?

I’ve had many names, throughout my career (it almost sounds like an immortal being’s statement, haha): Yoga-, Pilates-, or Qigong-teacher… physical trainer, psycho-corporal therapist, and a few others. Yet, I don’t recognize my work there, neither in these names, nor in their usual iconography (be it in magazines, on billboards or on websites): I don’t want to brag about my abs (well… when I can see them), I don’t want to brag about an outfit such as a chinese silky pajama, and I don’t want to brag about my flexibility by showing a picture in which I twist my spine under the setting sun.

Mark my words, all these pictures are great: I like them all, it’s just that it doesn’t mean that the essence of my work is understood at all…

In the beginning, this was a dilemma to me: what would be my ideal logo ?

This question matured in my head, until I realized that it couldn’t have a clear answer, for my work is inherently personal. The Friendly Body logo is just a person squatting and stretching, because I enjoy this stance, and that’s about it…

For a person practicing meditation, it would be absurd to ask for a “spiritual enlightment certificate”: the best a teacher can do is testifying that you were here when the lessons were taught, and guessing, on the basis of your conversations, that you understand the teachings… In no case would this teacher be able to be sure of your understanding of the art, because this person cannot speak about you: it only is someone’s perceived self talking about its perception of your own self…

By focusing on the result of a training, it can be possible to loose its essence. That is not necessarily the same thing regarding every field: it could seem logical to listen to a piano teacher, when you want to play this instrument, and it would seem logical to show that you can properly execute powerlifting exercices if you want to be a teacher (then again, there are great teachers who are poor practitioners, and vice-versa, because of so many reasons, ranging from an incapacitating wound to many other things). But when you want to place your awareness on your own sensations, it is a completely different story.

When you teach a know-how, it can be interesting to show that you “know how”, but the way I pratice with my body is focused on the process, not the result: it is a mindset, and if I can, indeed, see that a person is obviously not treating his/her body benevolently, but I cannot be sure about what’s happening in the mind of a student… I can only propose explorations, at best.

If I am judging a movement from the perspective of it’s external form, and propose an exercise, such as push-ups, the quality will obviously be different if an athlete is compared to a an arthritic octogenarian.

On the other hand, if I am contemplating the same movement from the perspective of self-benevolence, it will be complicated for me to judge anything from the outside.

What seems certain to me, is that you can adapt your moves to your body: your awareness and self-benevolence will allow you to find the type of movements that your body likes and can do. That is why I have students with a very wide range of abilities, trying to copy my moves, and I am blessed to see them adapt these moves without any inhibition, for a very simple reason: their body isn’t mine, and what they’ve been through isn’t what I’ve been through.

Your body has its own story, and with the proper mindset, you will find a humongus number of moves, that will be powerful, beautiful, pleasant, and efficient for your own body.

That’s why, after all, if I were hearing the lady from my story again, saying that my teacher status wasn’t obvious, I would happily answer: “wonderful, you are just starting to understand my work !”

I tested these posture correctors that are advertised online

TLDR : it might be useful, but probably not in the way its ads imply it

Lately, I’ve seen many ads about these little gadgets, design to correct their wearer’s posture. These ads always follow the same pattern:

  • A person is seen, slightly bent forward, working or reading
  • A 3D spine is seen, and we can contemplate the famous red vertebrae that are shown when a spine suffers from the strain of being bent forward… gosh, what a lovely cliché !
  • The person over-acts discomfort, their face basically saying: “ouch, myyyy baaack” (this line must be overacted in your head, of course)
  • The person uses the posture-correcting device, and now smiles happily, and even lifts the thumb of victory in front of the camera

 

This narrative is repeated several times, and in the end, we can see the product’s price. But does it really work ? For less than twenty dollars, I definitely seized the opportunity to test the device, so I bought several versions of it ! Several variations exist (I guess that it’s a trend), but their differences are minimal: basically, it’s about preferring buckles instead of velcros or clips to wear the device, but the difference isn’t bigger than that. When I tried it, the device made me feel like I had ropes around the line of my shoulders and chest, reminding me the Japanese Tasuki. Soon, I realized that my posture didn’t change at all… Either I misused this product, either the people depicted in the ads are comedians, and voluntarily changed their posture with their own back muscles (they’re paid to demonstrate that the product is cool, after all)… In any case, this device didn’t change my posture, but pulled my shoulder blades together, making me look like a grotesque chicken, or better, like Jim Carrey impersonating a Velociraptor.

 

I don’t find the core idea uninteresting : forcing the spine upwards to avoid backpain isn’t necessarily stupid, but it is completely possible to slouch, even while wearing this device. You’ll just be slouching with your shoulder blades tied together, but nonetheless, you’ll be slouching. Also, it is totally possible to slouch from your lower back, even though your upper back is trying to straighten up towards the sky. So let’s say it bluntly: the device won’t miraculously change your posture, and won’t miraculously make you sit / stand straight. Plus, if you know the philosophy we have here, at Friendly Body, you’ll know that I’m extremely skeptical about posture correction, especially when it comes to reducing back pain. Does it mean that I would advise you not to wear such a device ? Well, not necessarily…

 

Correcting a posture doesn’t really make sense to me, but wearing such a device can help you taking care of your money.

 

Indeed, wearing a precise type of clothing can help you focus on a specific area of your body:

  • Some people who work-out enjoy wearing a tight belt around their belly, even though their workload isn’t ridiculously heavy. This can help them placing their awareness on a specific part of the body, to maintain a propper form. Of course, if you’re deadlifting a very heavy load, as in this video, the belt will be useful to protect your body, but that’s another story
  • Some Tai Ji Quan or Qi Gong practitioners wear silk, because the feeling on their skin allows them to be conscious of the surface of their skin
  • As for myself, I have tried several types of shoes, and even walked bare feet on the street, simply because this diversity of sensorial experiences made me pay attention to the way I was walking

 

To conclude, this little gadget will work only if you use it to recall your awareness, just as a tool, that sometimes pushes you to tell yourself: “wait a minute, do I need to get into another stance right now ?”

 

This device won’t remove your back pain (but you’ll still be able to pay a thumbs-up in front of the camera, if you want), and this won’t correct your posture, but it isn’t necessarily useless: I just think that it is important not to feed an illusion, as a seller or as a buyer.


Next time, I’ll test the bigger version of this device, with a lumbar belt included.

There is no such thing as a bad posture

“Stand straight !”

I head this injunction countless times, during my childhood (not always in my direction). Almost each time, the person who heard the order would rigidly stiffen their spine.

Sometimes, while consulting a physiotherapist, a coach or a chiropractor, some people will hear that their back is out of alignment, that their pelvis could move back to its rightful place, and that this misalignment explains their (present or potential) low-back pain.

That’s a compelling story, because by changing their posture, some people will really feel improvement (be it regarding low-back pain, or any other pain). This seemed so obvious to me that I never questioned this idea, until… I hurt my back trying to stand straight !

When I got interested in Yoga, Pilates, Feldenkrais and associated methods, I heard more of these injunctions that some children hear, but in a more subtle way:

  • let your spine fly up
  • imagine that your head is hanging from a thread made of silk
  • don’t arch your back too much, but don’t round it too much
  • mind your vertical alignmet

But in the end, the order was still to stand stratight, with my head above my pelvis (some went further, telling me to align my ear with my shoulder, with my hip, with my knee, and with my ankle…)

The more I tried to stand straight, the more I felt like my back was stiff, and each of my teachers had a perfectly credible explanation: sometimes, it was because I was finally paying attention to my body, and sometimes, because tensions were dissipating themselves (painfully)…

So I started asking many people about this topic (patients, students, fellow teachers, people who were still training while being teachers, relatives, etc…).

After reading scientific studies and digging deeper, I realized quite a few things, that I’m now sharing with you:

  • there are people who are in pain, while standing perfectly straight
  • there are people who are not in pain, while standing in a way that doesn’t fit to this ideal posture at all
  • among those who feel low-back pain, there are people who are muscular, skinny, fat, fit… There are couch potatoes, people with round backs, and people with arched backs… Flexible people, and stiff people alike
  • among those who don’t feel the pain, you can find the very same kind of people !

What does this mean ? Well, that’s quite simple: I didn’t find any clear and evident relationship between posture and discomfort / pain…

And yet, some people feel better when they changer their posture !

Why ? The more I study this phenomenon, the more I think there is no bad posture: there are only postures that you have been assuming for too long.

If I asked you to read a book, lying on your stomach, you could probably read in this position for a certain amount of time. After a while (depending on each person : each body is unique), you would feel the need to change the way you are reading…

The good posture, and the bad posture… Too bad, it’s not that simple…

When you think about it, children have an intuitive understanding of this mechanism ! Watch them read, play video games, or just relax: they often change their posture, switch from one stance to another, and sometimes put their bodies in very creative configurations that would probably be described as unhealthy for an adult.

Adults are more prone to be socially conform, and more prone to feed old habits. Because of that, they tend to forget that it is uncomfortable to keep the same stance over and over. Pain can be, sometimes, the signal that your body uses to tell you: “I need some change”.

 

This change can happen while practicing sports, taking a walk at the park, receiving a massage, or taking a bath: it is as if you decided to turn a computer on and off too fix a bug.

If you are used to working long hours in front of a computer, you can work in a standing position from time to time, but then again, the good idea is not to stand up, in itself: easing discomfort isn’t about working in a specific posture, but about introducing diversity in your sensorial experience. Standing all day long could also hurt you, just like sitting in a pricy ergonomical chair can also become painful if the only stance your body knows is this one.

Don’t worry, your spine won’t become red just because you take this stance. They will, however, if you only know one.

Myself, I take several different stances throughout the day: sitting on the floor, standing, sitting on a comfy gaming chair, sometimes on a back-less piano chair, and sometimes on an inflatable Pilates softball…

Since not everybody can enjoy a workplace it is allowed to be creative regarding the working posture, I would at least like to precise that there are many ways to incarnate, to embody a posture:  you can sit deep in your chair, enjoying its back, cross your legs, slouch comfortably, sit firmly straight, resting at the edge of the chair, lean forward, arch your back, etc… In other words, to those who slouch and feel back pain, I’d like to say “from time to time, stand straight and arch your back… it’s a torture if you do it all day long, but can be a great relief sometimes !” And to those who already keep their spine straight, and feel back pain, I’d like to say “perhaps standing even straighter isn’t necessarily the best solution, and sometimes, it’s great to allow yourself to slouch !” Of course, this require some trial and error with your own body, just like kids do. I wish you a good week, then, exploring this freedom of posture that we all had as children, but in your adult body !

 

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