A few ideas for easing tightness or discomfort in the chest, shoulders and forearms...
What happens when you cross James Bond with Uddiyana Bandha (a.k.a., a respiratory diaphragm stretch)? Watch and find out.
Starring: Claiborne Davis (Clueless Abs Guy & “James Bandha”)
Videography: Jack Davis, Claiborne Davis
Video Editing: Claiborne Davis
Footage showing transversus abdominis from: Ray Long, “The Key Muscles of Yoga” (3rd Edition)
Photograph of diaphragm model as seen at La Specola, Florence, Italy
Background Music (in order of appearance):
(*Note: Each clip is 58 seconds or less)
-Esquivel, “Lazy Bones”
-The John Barry Orchestra, “James Bond Theme (2003 - Remaster)”
-Beat Down Sound, “Piglet’s Lament”
-Apple, Inc., “Stepping Out Medium” (included with iMovie 9.0.9)
-The Cure, “I Dig You (Vinyl B-Side By Cult Hero)”
-Apple, Inc., “Daydream” (included with iMovie 9.0.9)
Many thanks to Jill Miller, creator of Yoga Tune Up®, for having introduced me to the respiratory diaphragm’s potential and its intimate relationship to the core…
In the video, I also reference the fact that the transversus abdominis and diaphragm have a direct connection. Click HERE for proof, courtesy of Gil Hedley.
I started writing the following would-be blog just over two weeks ago. The working title was “A Midsummer Night’s Scream: Frustrated & Feeling Undeserving After Underserving.” It references a tennis match I had just played. I was 90% outrivaled by a more polished opponent, but that other 10% was my painting myself into a corner by producing more double faults than I care to mention. (A double fault is the unplanned gift of a point to one’s opponent; it’s when one fails on each of his or her two service opportunities designed to begin a point.) The tennis serve is the one shot in the game completely within one’s own control, notwithstanding weather conditions that could play a part, such as wind gusts, temperature and rainfall (up to a point, it’s possible to continue play on a clay court in rainy conditions). As you can see, I did not go with my first choice of titles, for reasons that will become clearer as you read. This entire text morphed into what I oxymoronically dub “a lucid stream of consciousness.” A diary-like airing of sport-related grievances mixed with self-psychologizing… I needed an outlet to channel frustration, so here is that initial attempt:
Impulse is a powerful force. It’s likely the juggernaut that’s fueling the keystrokes of this impromptu blog as time ticks to within a half hour of midnight on this Wednesday, hump day, the 6th of August 2014. I have quite a hump to ascend. Abundant apologies for this momentary lapse in my usual literary decorum: I am flippin’ (not the genuine word I was thinking of) pissed off right now. Comprehensively clobbered on the tennis court tonight (6-1, 6-0), I’ve about had my fill of humble pie. Any more and I may need mental Maalox. I’m perfectly willing to admit overt dominance when such tribulation should come to pass. But, you see, this is my ninth loss in ten matches. From a tennis point of view, I usually function within the paradoxical disposition of “controlled aggression,” but the law of averages commands that my yogically mediated court attitude will, inexplicably at times, dissociate itself from my best ball striking. I’ve had pockets of dumb luck in which my strategy comprises thumping go-for-broke groundstrokes that somehow stay within – or barely on – the lines. It would be infallibly prescient to say that this is not always a winning tactic.
That was as far as I got. My train of thought screeched to a halt when I became enthralled with late-night television programming, a failure-proof recipe for insomnia and disruption of circadian rhythms. At first, it was extraneous background babble incapable of bothering my deep focus and fast fingers. But then a “siren song” of sorts – a police siren, that is – reeled in my attention. Turns out a police chase reality program had just come on... a late night adrenaline rush… Before I knew it, the clock revealed “2:00 AM.” Bedtime.
Fast-forward nine days. Seeing that, in most cases, time is the great healer, I’ve been able to cool my jets since that evening. Today is Friday, August 15th. As I type, I’m reminded of the fortuitousness of this blog as I watch ESPN2 coverage of a tennis tournament in Mason, Ohio: this is a warm-up event for the U.S. Open, the last of the big four tennis competitions of the year. Throughout the summer, the reason I’ve had what seems like an assembly line of opponents waiting in the wings is because I signed up for two United States Tennis Association (USTA) “Flex” leagues, collectively comprising seventeen adversaries, ten of whom have found success against me. (“Flex” suggests a “flexible playing schedule,” in which opponents can schedule a match on their own terms.) I still have five more matches to play before the end of the month. That, coupled with my landing back in the academic world this summer as a means of personal enrichment and career development, made for a busy June and July.
I’ve played three times since August 6th (one being a non-Flex match). I won one out of those three. Winning, of course, is always gratifying. But I actually took certain gratification out of my two losses. A really tough opponent who beat me in straight sets previously needed three sets the second time around (non-Flex match). The other loss was to an opponent who hit really hard and was able to keep the balls in and his unforced errors low. Two instances when I know I did the best I could… Even though it’s been a lot of work on court and scheduling-wise, it’s been worth it. Signing up for two USTA leagues has given me exposure to all kinds of opponents: the classic “pusher,” the “can’t miss,” the “mirror image style of play”,” the older, the younger, etc. It’s a bit of a metaphor for life: you meet lots of people along the way and no one person is exactly like the other.
Fast-forward two more days... It’s Sunday evening, August 17th. At the risk of negating my self-directed didactic musings up to this point, I’ve relapsed into a state of frustration after another quick loss. I suffered another near shutout and was on the verge of losing my courtliness (pun intended). This time, it was a mirror image result of the one that initiated this article: 6-0, 6-1, colloquially referred to as a “bagel and breadstick” score because of these baked goods’ resemblance to the “0” and “1” respectively. I rack my brain trying to come up with an excuse for losing other than the perfect storm of my many unforced errors and my opponent’s few. Could it be all the pushups, squats and abdominal exercises that I exhaustingly accomplished Saturday morning during a hurts-so-good CrossFit workout? Was I cumulatively kaput from all the tennis matches I had played up to that point? Or was it simply that my opponent had a better game plan? My suspicion would be the latter. He was a “pusher.” That means someone who wins by hitting medium- to low-pace shots against someone who is more accustomed to hitting and receiving high-pace shots (i.e., yours truly), therefore increasing the likelihood of the non-pusher’s having a higher-than-average unforced error count. As much as the devil-on-my-shoulder part of me thinks this is an abhorrent tactic, the better part of me must admit that it is still a legitimate one that falls under the rules of the game. That he won therefore deserves my respect, because that is, after all, the ultimate goal.
Sitting in the car after my match with mobile phone in hand, I found my silver lining within about five minutes of opening my Twitter app. On a whim, I had tweeted former professional player and current ESPN tennis analyst Brad Gilbert, asking how I could rectify my recent track record against pushers. Gilbert has coached Andre Agassi, Andy Roddick and Andy Murray. He also wrote a book called “Winning Ugly.” So I figured he may have a few sage words of advice… because I sure lost ugly tonight. I know he’s probably a busy guy and may not have tons of time to answer questions outside of his immediate family, friend and coworker circle. But it wasn’t long after I sent my message that I received an apropos response! Not knowing Gilbert personally, I’ve always found his on-air persona to be affable and funny and it’s good to know that he enjoys interacting with the spectating public, too. He suggested three items for my punch list: be patient, wait for the right shot to attack and give my opponent a taste of his own medicine. It’s good to have two or three clear points in mind when your typical style of play isn’t working. I’ll do my best to use this template for any match I play henceforth.
Fast-forward one week… Today is Sunday, August 24th, the eve of the U.S. Open, a tournament that will surely have my fanatical television viewership over the next two weeks as my schedule allows. As of about 10:30 this morning, I’m pleased to have clutched my third Flex win of the summer. In the opening stages of the match, I had a sense of déjà vu. On top of dealing with the habitually high late summertime humidity and Fahrenheit readings already in the lower 90s, I was down one game to four (1-4) in the opening set. Just as quickly as “not again” popped into my mind, I recalled Gilbert’s suggestion to “be patient.” I wasn’t playing a pusher, but I figured that’s a good rationale for any game in which one is on the losing side of the battle. Hearing the voices of my inner cheerleaders, on my favorite tennis surface of green clay (formally known as “Har-Tru”), I somehow managed to gut out six consecutive games, winning the first set and getting up a break in the second, 6-4, 1-0. After my opponent and I suffered several service hiccups early in the second set, I pulled through with a score of 6-4, 6-2. FINALLY. If there were a men’s version of the Petko Dance (Google it if the link to the YouTube video expires), I imagine I’m ecstatically channeling Fred Astaire.
In spite of today’s good outcome, my USTA summertime win-loss results stands at 3-11, an overall underwhelming record. Therefore, I suppose now I’m trying to rationalize and take the sting out of the efficiency of my frequent dismissal from the court of play. So here goes…
There exists an intangible psychological athletic space called “the zone,” when there is effectively a disembodiment of the negative, cynical mind from the perfectly capable physical specimen able to handle the sport-specific task at hand. What brings this about? I have no idea. It could be a timely confluence of biochemical interactions. Or a racquet whose string tension and type meshes perfectly with the meteorological conditions and the racquet holder’s power gradient… Or the player’s propensity toward topspin shots, which are arguably “safer” than flat groundstrokes… Whatever the reason, this mode of operation, unfortunately, is transient. But, this is what brings us back to the game again and again: the effort to find that elusive zone. As odd as it sounds, I think it’s actually good that this is not a perennial frame of mind. To be constantly at ease on the tennis court (or any sports venue) would be to have no incentive to tool with your game, to streamline your strengths, to reform your weaknesses, or to call upon a track-and-field temperament that leaps over mental hurdles… I can’t even tell you how eager I am to get back out on the court and keep plugging away until victory is mine! Nothing worthwhile is ever easy.
Sometimes, in sport, you are your own worst enemy, capable of beating yourself with substandard play. In the end, I have to remind myself that it’s just a game! Outside of the pros, for whom the tennis court is their office, tennis is just for fun and a great form of cardiovascular exercise. In order for me to have more fun, I’ve scheduled a tennis lesson for the week ahead. My last one was in May, so I’m probably overdue. As an amendment to a well-known phrase, I’d say that practice makes better, not perfect. I’m nowhere near perfect, but I’m definitely getting better.
The music’s pumping, speed’s increasing, incline’s rising, legs are pounding, arms are swinging, sweat’s dripping, heart’s pounding, consciousness is slipping…
Did you catch that last part? Everything was becoming blurry… what one may liken to a traffic report that warns of reduced visibility behind the wheel in deteriorating weather. But I was not outside on a foggy day. Not that long ago, I literally was deteriorating and suffering reduced visibility when my vision started to go out of focus.
It was the noon hour. I was running rapidly on a treadmill at an interval training class that I routinely attend. I don’t remember what song was playing, but it might as well have been Jackson Browne’s “Running on Empty.” Quite suddenly, my sight became cloudy. I started to feel about as balanced as a drunkard on an ice skating rink. So, what was happening? Essentially, I was all dried up. As it turned out, I needed a microscope to see the miniscule amount of hydration sense that I had that day. My pre-workout sustenance that morning had been two cups of black, sugarless coffee and a small square of dark chocolate. Absolutely ideal for someone with a family history of hypertension and who’s passed out from dehydration before, right? I suppose we’re all entitled to occasional lapses in common sense, but for reasons unknown to this usually well hydrated fitness fanatic, my common sense in this instance had plunged deeper than the Marianas Trench. The only thing I did do right up to this point in the day was immediately get off the treadmill when my sinking spell started. I managed to plop down on an aerobics step platform, hang my head between my legs and just breathe. I imagine I looked like a boxer who had just lost a bout in the ring. I’m lucky to have avoided my own technical knockout. I was able to stand up again after about fifteen minutes, at which point I hauled myself to a juice bar down the street. Liquefied celery never tasted so good.
There’s no doubt that self-drought was what nearly took me down that hour, but it was a Carcassonnian fortress of positive affirmation that proved stronger. It was my “sankalpa,” a Sanskrit word roughly translated as a commitment toward positive change… in essence, a motivational phrase. Examples include “I choose to be happy” and “My challenges are my opportunities for success.” The one I had on my brain that day and that I had been proposing to participants in my yoga classes around that time was this: “I listen to my body and respond compassionately.” I came across it during my Yoga Tune Up® studies. Words truly can be powerful when all else is failing you.
It may sound ludicrous to associate compassion with sprinting on a treadmill. Most of my fitness-related acts of self-compassion in recent times had been opting for a few lazy hamstring stretches on my back over attending an advanced yoga class. But I think the parameters of compassion’s context are open to interpretation. If you’re on the brink of keeling over but can will yourself to sustain consciousness long enough to sit down and rest, I’d call that compassion. This is when interval training entered the realm of mind-body wellness. I’d say running on a treadmill is largely a brainless activity. There’s often a disconnect between what’s happening above and below the shoulders. You may be busy thinking about your grocery list and what time you’re picking up junior from school, but paying no attention to your stride or to that odd pain in your lower back. Sure, we’re human and distractions creep their way into our minds all the time. But, you owe it to yourself – and your health – to truly give heed to everything that’s happening in the moment.
I’m fortunate that the concept of sankalpa already had been so well instilled in me. If you say something to yourself long enough, it eventually leaves an impression. Even though I’ve been a yoga practitioner for over a decade, I find I still struggle with the mind-body connection. This is why I devote time to practicing with my students while I teach because I find my body often thinks of poses and exercises that my mind doesn’t. It could be that sankalpa is the neglected ambassador ready and willing to create the handshake between brains and brawn. It’s comparable to what I’ve heard sports commentators call “the intangibles.” You may have Roger Federer’s grace of movement and Serena Williams’s steely determination, but, in isolation, neither will guarantee success in your endeavors. Taking a page from the American football handbook, sankalpa is the ultimate “twelfth man” ready to cheer you on and remind you of all the physical and mental good (and common sense) of which you’re capable.
You’ll probably need to experiment with which sankalpa works best for you. It depends on what you want to change in your life. Once you have it, say it to yourself and say it often. The yoga mat is a great starting point, but so is your bed. Before you even lift your head from your pillow, with your green thumb of mind-body horticulture, make that commitment to yourself. You may have several sankalpas to accommodate your needs. Whatever you go with, trust your gut and make sure your inner voice of reason speaks with a megaphone instead of a whisper.
Here is Part II of my latest blog for Yoga Tune Up®. It includes a video demonstration of an exercise to strengthen the lower back and surrounding musculature.
My latest blog for Yoga Tune Up®... It's a two-part piece on assessing whether your lower back is safe in Plank pose. Part II will suggest an exercise for you to strengthen the lower back and surrounding areas.
I’ve written a new blog for Yoga Tune Up®. It’s an additional follow-up to the New York Times Magazine article. Check it out.
“A Posing View: Downwardly Dogmatic Assertions on Yoga’s Safety”
That's me on the bottom right in 2007 doing Wheel pose while waving to the camera. I should have considered how much pressure I was placing into my left shoulder by lifting my right hand.
I apologize ahead of time for these terrible and possibly obscure musical analogies to my yoga practice. Sorry, Creedence Clearwater Revival – my big wheel won’t keep on turnin’. And I hate to break it to you Coldplay, but my rush of blood to the head is not coming from a headstand. There’s a new New York Times Magazine article that addresses how yoga might bring you to inner pieces rather than inner peace. First, let me offer a little background information.
I’ve been a yoga practitioner since 2001. That’s the year I saw a user-friendly fold-out yoga book in a Barnes & Noble. After years of collectively running cross country and track, playing football and eventually my favorite sport of tennis, I realized the stress-busting and Gumby-like promises of a yoga practice might do me good. It wasn’t until 2003 at the urging of a close friend and tennis partner that I actually took my first class, and it was a good deal more challenging than what I had been doing from the book. I was surprised how oddly blissful I felt after that first classroom outing even though it was challenging. Building systematically on this milestone since that sweltering July afternoon in New Orleans’s Marigny neighborhood, I’ve upgraded to a vastly more upright posture and a greatly enhanced state of mental tranquility. For a while, I favored a more vigorous practice with plenty of sweaty slipping and sliding on the mat and tons of Cirque du Soleil-like postures. But, hindsight tells me I was doing just that: posturing… with no real context into why I was standing on my head and balancing on my shoulders and trying to get my feet behind my neck… and what these poses could be doing to me in the long run that’s not so great.
I’m happy to report I’ve reached one of the more sublime states in yoga: enlightenment. No, not that kind of enlightenment... rather, a more scholastically and somatically informed approach to what my and other bodies physically can and cannot do. For a while, my own yoga practice was rather farsighted. I convinced myself I was doing everything fine on the exterior, but oblivious to my proverbial blockage of proper physical embodiment. A nagging shoulder injury and incongruent hamstrings finally directed me toward a more serious investment in my inner framework. This is why I’m so appreciative of the mini epiphanies brought on by the deconstruct-reconstruct mindset of Yoga Tune Up®. I’ve seen it in myself as well as in my public and private clients.
Borrowing from the Facebook lexicon, I’d say my status update as a wellness guide is that I’m a drop of biomechanics in an ocean of Vinyasa (the ubiquitous class title that peppers nearly all yoga studios). It’s with this notion that I can’t stress enough the importance of the New York Times Magazine article to which I’ve pasted a link below. It suggests how one’s body can either love or loathe yoga. It gives you insight on why I haven’t practiced or taught a Headstand or Shoulderstand since September 2011. The article features who I understand to be the highly experienced and intelligent Glenn Black (having never studied with him, though I have had a Body Tuning session with his teacher Shmuel Tatz). I jokingly refer to him as my “yoga grandfather” because he’s the teacher of my own equally wise and innovative teacher, Jill Miller. There are plenty of ways to challenge your body and its inherent capabilities without rendering yourself incapable of basic human movement.
Depending on the lifespan of the Internet link directing you to this article, many of the concepts within the story are expounded upon in the book entitled “The Science of Yoga: The Risks and the Rewards” by William J. Broad (release date: February 12, 2012).
Check it out: http://www.nytimes.com/2012/01/08/magazine/how-yoga-can-wreck-your-body.html
Hello! Thank you for exploring my Web site. As I become accustomed at how to maintain and update this page with additional blogs, I will offer you links to blogs and a vlog I've written for Yoga Tune Up®:
©2017 Claiborne Davis
I'm a Certified Integrated Yoga Tune Up® Instructor (YTU-I), an Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher with the Yoga Alliance (E-RYT 200), an AFAA-Certified Group Fitness Instructor, tennis player and former television news producer.