Part 4: Flexibility and Mobility

Now to the ground work, the physical aspect for a better lifestyle. I combine everything that has worked for me in the past in the areas of:  Systema, Russian Martial Art, Aikido, Kundalini (the awareness yoga) and Hatha’s Yoga physical postures (asana), poses (mudra), and odd military drills I learned in the Army. I will try to convey them in a simple, non-too technical manner. These are my own work; you can adjust, modify or eliminate what doesn’t work for you and add your own.

You can do these movements while standing, sitting, while laying on the floor, with a friend, your family, a group single or collectively. There are no specifics, no “have to be this way” nonsense. You adjust and modify accordingly.

Couple of key points to make this experience practical and enjoyable:

  1. No pain. You should not feel pain, if you do tone it down. There is no need for injury so you go as far you want and can go without painful tension. Eventually you get there one step at the time and if not that’s ok too; everybody’s body is different, unique.
  2. Breathe! Can’t stress enough. Without breathing, tension builds and instead of feeling aware and relaxed, you will feel anxious and in pain. Give 3 to 5 breaths per movement. That is for each stretch or movement you breathe 3 to 5 times (cycle), releasing tension, stretching and expanding self with each breath. Breathe in and on the exhale extend, breathe in again and extend some more on the exhale. You can also start the breathing on the exhale alternatively. With practice you will be able to stretch and move further with one full, long breath and will be able to extend or squeeze your breath considerably for optimal benefits. Remember full, wave like breaths.
  3. Each stretch or movement must be fluid, non restrictive. Breathing properly will help and keeping your body loose and relaxed. A good posture is essential. Proper body alignment with aid breathing, prevent injuries and keep your joints, muscles, tendons, bones in essence your entire body alive, strong, healthy.

The key for proper alignment is keeping the levels on top of each others. These are the levels: head over shoulders, shoulders over hip, hip over knees, and knees over ankles. When you stand or sit pay attention to your posture. If you slouch, you will note that your body is creating tension and your mind is not focused. As soon as you adjust your body in alignment with the levers your posture will straighten, you will feel aware and focus. Many injuries can be prevented with proper posture and body alignment.

If you’re standing if should feel like this:

  • Your body in alignment with the levels, knees slightly bent ( do not lock your knees)
  • Your arms serve as levers, hanging by your side
  • The center of your body is right around your belly button, you move your body through your center, as a whole, do not twist your body. Think of it as having arrows in your hips and feet. They all should point out in the same direction, always.
  • Your awareness is at the top of your head, inside your mind, it’s your 3rd. eye.

If you’re sitting or lying on the floor, the concept is similar: relaxed, no tension. Ready? Then let’s go!

Step 1: awareness and energy- early morning poses and stretching

  • Breathe; release your body of tension. While standing:
  • Mountain pose- stand relaxed and strong in body alignment feeling grounded like a mountain, still and silent yet alive! 3 cycle breath
  • Tree pose:  while in mountain pose, arms overhead while breathing open handed and expand upwards, grow like a tree while feeling rooted, stable. Alternate one leg tree with one leg to knee like a number 4, take your time regaining your balance. Focus your gaze to a point forward to gain stability, extend upwards, don’t forget to breathe your cycle.
  • Warrior: stand with feet more than shoulder with apart, hands on your hips, bend forward slowly with the breath to half way, then guided with your breath go down until you reach your toes. Don’t worry if you can’t go all the way down. Go as far as you can, remember no pain.
  • Warrior poses: with your feet more than shoulder with apart, arms extended to your sides, looking like a sea star, complete your breath cycle every time extending, releasing the energy through your fingers while stretching.

Now move your left foot outwards bend your knee like doing a lunge, arms extended, head to the left, breathe, you’re a proud warrior.

If you are able, come back to the warrior position, turn left foot outwards, turn and bend your hip sideways to the left and move your left arm down towards your left foot while the right arm is up, turn your head up and look at your right hand. You should be aligned in a triangle form. It is not as complicated as it looks.

If you really want to take it up to another level, slide your left hand forward flat on the floor and raise your right leg straight to the side. Great stretch, turn your head up looking to the right hand if possible. Breathe the tension out, go slowly. Repeat again with the right side.

Come back to mountain pose. You may want to repeat these anytime you feel tired to   create energy. There are other set of Yoga poses that are performed standing, seated, lying down or on the floor with forward bends, leg curls, leg extensions, etc. Common ones are down dog, upward dog, cat stretches and sun salutations. You can add, modify, eliminate or make your own set.  This is one sure way to start the day or anytime you want to create energy. Alternatively, you can use the following energy movements anytime:

  • The Wave: in Systema, the wave is a whole body motion capable of generating powerful movement and can be used in different situations. The wave-like characteristics of the movements resembles a figure 8′, moving in a non-linear dimensional form.
  • Monkey drum- remember the Asian hand held drum with two balls attached to beat against drum when swung side to side? Mr. Miyagi’s used in the Karate Kid movie. Well imagine you body, the stick, in alignment, grounded, knees flexed, and arms, your two balls attached to a string hanging loose on your sides. Now move from the hip. It’s a swing motion that generates energy; it is not upper body movement at all. Think with your hips, the legs are nimble and I feel grounded, strong. My weight is on my lower extremities which are very strong with no tension on the knees.

Step 2: flexibility and mobility

I think of this step as a means to wake up the hundreds of muscles, tendons, ligaments, soft tissue, and bones. You’ll notice that what we are about to do is something you may have been doing already unconsciously. Don’t be shy about using your favorite chant, prayer, affirmation, whatever positive you can say. I usually let my exhale become more audible, releasing even more tension.

  • Start with your face. Using your hands and fingertips rub your face, that’s right as if you just woke up. Make silly faces if you want, have fun while at it. You can rub in rotations using your whole hand or fingertips. The idea is to awaken your nerve and circulation system and everything else that connects through your skin. You get the idea. Now rub your hair, mess it up. Continue with your neck, rubbing the tension out, then your shoulders. Squeeze your arms; rub your hands, your fingers like washing them. It gets your circulation flowing, you can feel a slight tingle.
  • Now using your all your fingers tap the head, face and neck areas. You may hear and feel a vibration on your exhale. Tap the tension out of your chest. It is a tender area that is roughly a full hand above your nipples, slightly below your collar bone. Whenever I feel tension in this area I tap with my middle finger. For your arms, abdominal area, sides, legs etc. use your fists. Make a relaxed fist and “knock” your body parts. You haven’t forgotten about breathing right? Continue to breathe normally and fully.
  • Neck rotationss: side to side, up /down, left /right. Slow rotations
  • Shoulder rotations and stretching: front and back, swing your arms in an X fashion extending and stretching.
  • Hip movement: side to side stretch, hip front and back squeeze, and rotations. Bend your legs half way and bent forwards half way. You should feel in your hamstrings and your buttocks. Expand your buttocks. Yes, that’s right! You should not bend too forward that may get your body out of alignment. Now bend backwards, slowly feeling it on your thighs. The body still in full alignment, head over shoulder, squeezes the hip forward, tuck or tilts your butt forward. This is the equivalent of a pelvis tilt. Caution: you should not bend forward beyond your toes or may get injured. Look at your butt; it should be aligned with your ankles.
  • Knee and ankle rotations: circular left and right rotations
  • Frankenstein movement: this is good movement to feel how your body shifts its weight. Do it slowly. Here it is: while standing normally, tense your legs but do not lock your knees. Slowly shift your body weight to the left. Become aware of how your weight shifts to the left and do not lift your right foot until you feel is right. The right foot should lift naturally without having to adjust or compensate shifting your weight more to the left. Feel the balance, your posture.  Now slowly shift to the right and repeat.
  • The monkey movement: my favorite in Systema. Stand straight up bend your knees slightly. Tip: you may exaggerate bending your knees further to get the feeling more quickly. No pain though. The movement is from your legs, your upper-body; your arms stay loose by your side. Start in a left-right movement shifting your weight from side to side, left to right side. This is similar to the Frankenstein movement, but at a faster pace. However do not rush on it, pay attention to the basics so you can do it right. Once you gain momentum, you’ll notice your arms start to swing naturally like the monkey drum we discussed above.
  • Core Exercises: pushups, sit-ups, leg raises, squats, lunges, sprints, etc.  Try this, instead of doing the push -ups, sit ups, leg raises, and squats mechanically, do them slowly with your breath. Slow up and down continuous movement counting from 1 to 10. The slower the better, but do not forget to breathe. These exercises will build your strength and endurance. Here we count quality versus quantity. Make it count!

All these movements take time and you  want to be patient and not rush any of this because you will lose essentials that come with practice to make it excellent. You don’t want to do something for so long and then find out you were doing wrong or didn’t work. So trial and error is the concept. Try something, give it your very best, learn as much from it, and experience it. If after a considerable time and many things take years to practice let alone master, then if you see that something is not working for you, modify it your way, make it yours, no one is quite the same. If after all did not work don’t despair, you have gained experience and it was not a failure or a waste of time. You can now move on to other methods until you have what you want.