Why I Do What I Do
When you’re trying to impress the importance of breath in your ability to move, the environment you learn it in is everything. Have you ever heard someone say “I can’t meditate because my mind wanders," or, "I get distracted and just can’t shut myself up?” Well, the truth is they can meditate, but probably chose the wrong form of meditation to start with. Choosing mobility exercises is no different. In other words, if you’re so tight that you can’t touch your toes, why would I be taking you through a mobility drill that gets you into a position one step removed from a perfect front split? That’s way too ambitious too soon, not to mention, I didn’t even say whether or not I taught you how to properly breathe through a stretch, either.
There's a few key things that go into how I train mobility and breath, and some key considerations I've made. I invite you to consider these in your own practice and write to me about your own experiences.
Remember how meditating the first time was so hard? Did you try it in a comfortable space? If not, you surely know that you quickly became distracted by dust on the table, things out of place, your shoes sitting by the door, the awkward temperature, ambient noise, or traffic outdoors.
By a similar token, it can be hard (but not impossible) to do some deep mobility work in the wrong environment. By now, you have some idea of how I train, what I deem important and my overall disposition (as much as you can tell these things online if that's how you know me). I say that to say this: would it be appropriate for me to conduct my training business inside a noisy commercial gym, filled with machines, empty promises and the Top 40 music station blaring in the background? It’s hard to breakthrough and work on something that requires relaxation and concentration there. It’s why, for one thing, I work in a private space, in a relatively private and off-the-beaten-path area in Manhattan, inside a beautiful studio put together by my friend and landlord Dr Peter Hwang. It has the tools of the trade, like the squat rack, kettlebells, med balls, sandbags and more, but it’s also designed to be a place of healing. The "patented" Moroccan rug, the plants, the lighting and view… all help drive the point home: we're going for a different part of your brain when we push you.
Sound & Music
Sound and its vibrational resonance are extremely powerful, and we are perceptive to sound frequencies that aren’t audibly detected by the human ear. For example, ask any audio engineer and they’ll tell you that frequencies under about 100Hz are inaudible, but you can FEEL them. If you’ve ever been in a room with a good subwoofer, you know what I mean. You don’t hear the bass, but you sure as hell feel it!
That’s why, if you listen to music while you work out, or more importantly, while trying to limber yourself up and get rid of the tension, you’re playing a dangerous game, but potentially one that can help you out a lot. Sound can also be a performance enhancer, in other words. Tunes that you find relaxing will help put your mind at ease, and your body will more positively respond to what it’s hearing. For that reason, and because I like it, I always have reggae on during mobility sessions, and most sessions in general. Followers of my Instagram and Facebook videos will readily recognize a session of mine, as you almost always hear some reggae in the background. It’s an easy sonic landscape to get loose to. If I had a gym full of guys breaking their deadlift PR’s, I’d probably blast Slayer to get them hype (but not too much, don’t want to fry em!). Sound is a powerful tool and contributes to the environment and what your brain and body feel comfortable doing. Respect it!
There’s a lot of material out there on breathing, but admittedly, not much is focused or does a good job of applying it to movement and conveying how very important it is. Hopefully I’ve begun to change that a little :).
It’s immensely important you return to your breathing in the most difficult of positions, because your perceived inability to breathe in certain situations actually tells you quite a bit about your physical conditioning and limitations.
Do you stop breathing in an attempt to focus so hard on what you’re asking your body to do? That’s a big Catch 22 of flawed thinking, because you’ll never move into that range while holding your breath.
Go get in a squat, or a somewhat physically taxing position, BUT one that you’re good at, and hold it. Ask yourself: how does it feel? Good? Good! You’re breathing too, aren’t you? Yes, you are. You’re familiar with it, you know it, there’s no fear.
That point of comfort and mindless execution is what you need to get to in all new skills and and new positions in order to excel. If you acquire new skills and begin to excel at them, you’re doing this passively without realizing it. If you have had learning impediments with some physical movements in the past, this may be why you aren’t progressing!
Find your range, then push it.
The philosophy of putting yourself in some degree of discomfort, or breaking your body down to build it up, is nothing new to the world of fitness, strength and conditioning, or even self improvement. That’s why I’d be remiss and really ineffective if I didn’t drive home the point that we work hard. It’s uncomfortable (all growth is!), it’s taxing, but it’s also remarkably rewarding and never is anything you can't do. Change never comes easy. The beauty with the change we work on though, is that you end up really feeling better. Moving through new ranges you opened up, and doing so freely, without assistance or holding onto something, is the ultimate display of strength.
Now, this part may be a little harder to do or evaluate on your own, as opposed to having someone like me there to help you identify which exercise you should do, and to help you intelligently push (all while reminding you to breathe!), but it’s certainly nothing to talk yourself out of. Intelligently choose an exercise (maybe visit my YouTube channel or Instagram for ideas), and start slowly. Only move as much as your breathing will allow.
I should end this all by saying that as you become increasingly skilled, mobile and calm in your practice of breathing and movement, many of the things I discussed, particularly the environment, begin to matter very little. They’re material things that you can easily look past. However, any time you have to dig deep and force yourself to look deeper within and train new ranges, movement, breath and the mind, you may find it more advantageous to do so in a "temple" you've built for yourself, or somewhere designed to get positive work done.
That's what I try to do, and why I do it where I do it.