The triangle pose and making the bed

There’s a lot of things out there that can get you healthy and fit. Choose a few and do them.

If you didn’t look much further than this page, then here’s one: the triangle pose. It’s a pretty simple yoga pose. I learned it once from a nice, quiet evening class in Alhambra a few years ago.

  1. Stand tall with your feet together and hands together at chest level.
  2. Take a deep breath into your belly.
  3. Open your arms straight out to the sides, parallel to the floor, with palms facing the ground.
  4. Keeping your feet pointed forward, slowly scoot them apart to the sides. Stop when your feet are at about the same distance as your hands, or when comfortable.
  5. Carefully pivot your feet to face the left. Left toes to the left, pointed as straight to the side as is comfortable. Right heel to the right, foot can be at an angle.
  6. Keeping your knees as straight as you can, anchor your hips back to the right and tilt your torso slowly over your left leg. Keep your arms straight to the sides like a “T”.
  7. Tilt down and stop before your torso bends. Let your left arm come down to your leg and rest your hand where it naturally falls.
  8. Position your right arm vertical and keep your head neutral.
  9. Balance by two mechanisms. Keep your left leg taut and “pull” against your hamstring. At the same time, push your hips forward and “lock” yourself into place.
  10. Take easy breaths, and try to breathe deeply through your nose.
  11. After a few breaths, once you’ve found equilibrium, pull back up. Keep your torso straight, push your hips back to center, and regain the upright posture with arms to the sides.
  12. Slowly scoot your feet back to center.
  13. Bring your hands together at the chest and bring yourself to full height.
  14. Have a gentle breath in, and let it out slowly as you relax your arms down.
  15. Repeat to the other side.

This might not be the best yoga pose, but it’s the one I do.

The thing I love about this pose is that it sort of stretches me out, especially in the midsection, and it just calms me down. It’s probably because I use it as a small meditation time. I feel so good after doing it, especially when I’m outside, but even when I’m indoors it’s great.

The triangle pose is one of those things I’ve just been very grateful to have picked up and use almost every day. I can take it with me anywhere, and it helps to anchor me. It’s like making the bed every morning. Another simple practice that brings continuing benefit.

We’re always going to see the newest diet or exercise or gadget that’s supposed to make all the difference. If you’ve taken some practices into the fold before, and stopped doing them because of different reasons, try bringing some of those little things back. Some of the best long term practices don’t always make a big impact the first few times, but over the months and years you get a lot out of them.

What simple practices do you have?

Live powerfully,

Steve

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Copyright © 2017 Steve Ko, All rights reserved.

Doing better instead of doing more

Atul Gawande, the famous physician author, writes in his book Better: A Surgeon’s Notes on Performance about the consistent miniscule actions that make elite doctors successful. He talks about the mindset of absolute commitment to excellence. Very few physicians uphold the highest standards in their work, and the few who do live by that level of commitment.

This came to mind as I thought about doing swings and getups every day. It can get a bit mind numbing after months of doing the same exercise, over and over. The principles of technique, form, and strength before volume start to slip here and there. I start to get accustomed to doing all the reps, all the sets. Every so othen the most important aspect of strength training escapes me: to do each swing with maximal force and each getup with maximal attention to form, and to stop when that can no longer be fulfilled.

It’s a matter of integrity, too, I know. You have to be honest with yourself and admit when you don’t have the strength to finish a set. But I think before any of that, it’s this absolute commitment to excellence. Just like with diets, I think that strength programs are easy to start, hard to keep going. To keep going the right way, that is.

Pavel Tsatsouline insists in Kettlebell Simple & Sinister that each swing must be done with full force. At first this seems like a no brainer. Sure, I’ll do my best every time, why not? Then as the weeks and months pass by, I find myself trying to finish sets with some not-so-hot swings toward the end. What gives?

Pavel talks about this natural preference within us to sacrifice strength for volume. When we get tired, it’s our instinct to try to get it all done, even if it means suboptimal output to reach that end. I’d rather hit the ten reps with a few weaker swings at the end, then stop at six when I feel my strength going down. It’s a strong urge to accomplish or finish a task, that’s socialized or built into me.

The thing to train for is maximal strength. It doesn’t matter exactly how many repetitions and sets get done. Yes, there are basic numbers to follow, and this helps us understand the general volume that is needed to increase strength. But the real cores of training strength are learning to do the movements and then doing the movements with maximal force.

Most school systems teach us to finish all the problems, write a prescribed number of pages, read a set number of books, achieve a certain GPA. This is ingrained in most of us from around age five to around age 21. How do you get away from that in a world that actually rewards the quality of the output?

Maybe I’m getting too deep here, talking about the education system and sociology. But that’s my mode of thinking, that’s where I come from in terms of schooling. So to me it’s about thinking but also doing outside the box.

Physical training is one of the most basic places to start with conditioning yourself in any aspect of life. It’s physical, so it’s right there. To do it, you are involved not just with your body but with your mind. You structure your learning, you commit to repetitions in order to improve, and it’s all inclusive. I even think the soul gets something out of it.

So in summary, I’m trying to say that we can think about physical training as the practice of giving the best in order to make that best even better. Rather than sticking to our grade school habit of making the teacher happy and hitting all the numbers, we can play to nature’s true system of improvement through excellence.

We can take care to only give maximal effort, and to withhold from doing anything that is not so. This is hard. Very hard.

Live powerfully,

Steve


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