Monday, November 23, 2009

Bend At The Knees

"Bend at the knees!"  my husband, a dually licensed chiropractor and osteopathic physician exhorts me all the time.

But I don't want to bend at the knees because it's more difficult.  I preferred for many years, despite these recommendations, to bend at the waist and put pressure on my lower back and end up with lower back pain.

In Kung  Fu and Tai Chi we have to bend at the knees a lot.  From the "stance" work that we do, strength is developed gradually in the thighs, lower body and core.

I grasped this concept quickly in Kung Fu, and could see that the people who were getting lower and deeper and in their stances, and who worked those stances were more graceful and strong.

So eager to get there, and so willing to push myself  physically and endure the discomfort and work that I would have shrunk from, physically, in the past, I worked really hard at having low stances.

The progress I experienced was gratifying.  I didn't think I was moving too quickly.  It took me over a year to get kind of low.  That's not fast, right?

Here's me down as low in horse stance as I can go last February:

I thought that was pretty darned cool for a girl who had been out of athletic condition for almost 20 years, and who had also once weighed 270 pounds.

I was doing the same thing when I added my Tai Chi. Tai Chi was even rougher on the knees, however, because you have to remain in a bent knee position throughout the whole form.

But this past summer, I started feeling a little stiff and sore. in the knees, and was once again having trouble "bending at the knees" to pick things up off the floor in my home, although during my workouts I was fine.

When I went on vacation this past summer, my knees started to feel better. I decided to come back to my martial arts gradually. I added the Kung Fu, and the knees are fine. But I am waiting to reincorporate the Tai Chi again.

I think my concepts were fine, and that I am going to develop these low stances the way I want to. The thing I was doing "wrong" was that I was rushing things. I was doing too much too soon.  Even with my knowledge and acceptance of the concept that one can't rush this kind of physical development. Even with my conscious willingness to take things slowly and be patient, I still was rushing.  Because deep down inside, I was still in a hurry.

I've been waiting all my life to achieve some of these things, and now I'm starting to understand and get really serious in my 40s.  It seems as if there is a little clock ticking, like the countdown to my recital on the right hand side of this blog page.

Yesterday, Arachne commented on this blog about how things get harder,  physically, in your 40s.  I have done a lot of reading about physical conditioning and flexibilty and other aspects of body development, and, from what I can glean, although it may be harder, it is still possible to acquire much physically in these latter days.  But an awareness and knowledge of where one is at is important.

If the concept of being patient and allowing the time necessary is important to everyone, it is even more important to be patient to one who is in her 40s.  Yet that is just the time when a person often feels that mid-life crisis pressing and making one feel like time is running out!

In a favorite vocal book of mine, Discover Your Voice, by Oren Brown, he repeats continually that doing too little is  better than doing too much.  A patient, consistent, daily effort pays off much more in the long run.  It's like building a savings account.  If you just throw a regular amount in there every day, it will grow!  You don't need to suffer by depriving yourself extremely and putting so much in the savings account that you have nothing to live on or no budget for any of the little "extras" that give a little pleasure and joy in life.  You have to trust that the few dollars you are throwing in there every week will do the trick.  Of course, there is an amount that is too little, where the rate of interest is not sufficient to overcome the rate of inflation, and one is actually 'losing" money by saving it, in that case.  So, the minimal amount has to be discovered.  Also to be discovered is the maximum amount that can maximize the process without subtracting too much from other aspects of life.

Yesterday I caught sight of a blog post by a singing teacher who claims to be able to speed up the process of developing the voice.  In a post titled "Vocal Instruction Gimmicks: Voice Lessons Online, Via Phone, CD and DVD -- What Are They Worth?" the blog author explains how she is famed for her scientific method of accelerated voice development.  She sounds rational when she writes, but I can't understand how she can claim to be able to speed up a a process that has it's own rhythm for each individual.  She claims that her method is based on good vocal science.  I am skeptical of that, but maybe "accelerated" means that  because of an expertise that can remove impediments that can slow down or interfere with progress, the process is optimized or something.

What I am discovering is that the actual psychological, mental, or emotional state of desiring acceleration is a state that interferes with true mastery.  If this desire to get there faster is present, it will impose an element of control on the process.  So the mere mental state that causes a singer to respond to a claim like this already contains an element that can interfere with the true work that needs to be done.

It may sound like I am advocating something like merely standing still.  One, of course, does want to progress forward, but the progression must be a by-product of the work one has entered into.  One must at every moment be present where one is at, and work within those parameters, and have the trust that something is developing.  Like a friend from the NFCS forum has said, "focus on the intention, not the results."

So, even though I have accepted and entered the process, there is even more deeply that one can enter "the process."  Taking it slow means a state of being with one's work.

So, now, I am doing less in martial arts training, but achieving more.  It is amazing to me actually.  Ironically, ny Kung Fu is actually improving more quickly.  I stand and listen to the young people breathlessly exclaiming in the changing room after class that they have been there for several hours, and now they are going to take the kickboxing class too.

The mantra seems to be more, more, more just as I am discovering the value of less.

After writing this blog today, this piece of writing about Gradual Progress by a Chi Running instructor appeared in my blog list. This is just what I was talking about.


  1. It behooves us to seek vocal instruction that allows us to move forward at our optimal rate of development. But it's so hard to come to terms with what exactly an "optimal" rate of development is for us as individual singers - especially when it's not as fast as we like. It sometimes leads me to frustration, despair, second-guessing my teacher, etc. etc.

    Nowadays, like you, I am trying to focus on intention rather than results, and let things develop at their own pace. It's nice to have the luxury of doing this, unlike our colleagues on the professional side who I imagine must be under pressure to certain milestones at certain times, or face the prospect of aging out of YAPs, comps, etc.

  2. That's a good point you make, Blue Yonder, about it being a luxury to wait for the results. The results are guaranteed if a singer has a good teacher and is working in the right way. I was willing to be patient and wait for results that never came at one point because I was not working in a manner that would bring about those results.

    It's a shame that the professional system is set up in a way that artists can't afford that luxury. I have heard of singers who started out professionally, but who had to stop singing because of vocal injury. I wonder how many of them never even got to sing professionally at all?