Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Strength Ain't The Way

I once read a quote from Forbes that said
something like, "for each generation to
make progress, it must view the one before
it as barbaric."

These days, exercise is all about muscle
and strength. But in the future, we will
look back on these concepts as barbaric.
Why ? Well, for a lot of reasons.

We're starting to realize that building
muscle is not as valuable as enhancing
function, i.e. those with great coordination
and balance tend to be much more athletic
than those with great strength.

I thought yoga was fad. Back in the 90's,
all the ladies and metrosexual men were
dashing into yoga classes and workshops.
(I think Madonna had a lot to do with it)
I was sure that yoga would be dead in
ten years. I was wrong. But the way
I see it, many who practice yoga still
talk about how it builds strength.

The hottest emerging exercise is called
functional exercise or (gulp) "functional fitness."
The concept is that conventional weight
training isolates and builds muscles, but
it doesn't "teach" those muscle groups
to work with other muscles. So "functional"
movements focus less on raw strength and
more on integration and coordination. These
are more like whole-body exercises that will
help you lift a toddler out of a car seat or
carry a 60-pound suitcase down the stairs.

Doctors and trainers are closing in on the
exercise of the future. They know "functional"
is better than strong, and that stretching (yoga)
is really important. Tai Chi is all that and a
bag of chips.

Tai Chi is all about coordination. In fact, the
movements are slow so that you can fine tune
your coordination. When you move slowly,
you begin to feel which parts are not linked up.
In the west, we view "coordination" as aggregate.
But in Tai Chi, there are six coordinations:
three exterior (shoulders & hips; elbows &
knees; hands & legs) and three interior (heart
& intention; intention & chi; chi & strength).
At higher levels, all six must also coordinate.

Tai Chi is also a phenomenon of stretching.
Sure, yoga gets you stretched, but not like
Tai Chi. Tai Chi focuses on "functional"
stretching in the waist and hips so that you
can stand on your feet, balance very well,
and turn your body at will. Tai Chi masters
can move like the wind.

Tai Chi focuses on cultivation of "chi" or
life energy. The chi provides amazing
speed and power. While a western trainer
might believe this is just an alternative
method of strength training, the Tenets
of Tai Chi translate STRENGTH with the
word "Li." In Tai Chi, strength is forbidden
and "Li" is a dirty word.

My teacher's father once wrote, "when
you practice Tai Chi there should not
be a single iota of brute strength remaining
in your sinews."

The popularity of yoga has paved a perfect
path for Tai Chi. Time Magazine calls
Tai Chi "the perfect exercise," and it is.
In 20 years, we will look back and say,
"how silly that we used to focus on strength."

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