odds and ends: real muscles you didn’t know you had, buteyko breathing, language awareness

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1. Muscle activation patterns

I don’t recommend any of his other stuff, but this book by Feldenkrais is a timeless favorite of mine:

Feldenkrais, Moshe. “Awareness through Movement: Easy-to-do Health Exercises to Improve Your Posture, Vision, Imagination and Personal Awareness.” (1972).

The book is so tedious that I haven’t even made it through the whole thing, and I’ve had it for years. But, it’s the closest analogy of “meditation” for the body. (It doesn’t replace safe strength training; it doesn’t replace safe stretching.) While I haven’t spent any time discussing it on this blog, I’ve spent just as much time exploring “body stuff” as I’ve spent exploring meditation. (A decade of martial arts, hundreds of hours exploring the body (tactile, intentional, phenomenological) with anatomy books open in front of me.)

When I say “meditation” for the body, I mean it in the “muscles you didn’t know you had” sense, but actually, the book is more about activation patterns than it is about individual muscles. The book shows you that:

1) There is huge redundancy, or, better, flexibility in “muscle activation space.” A boring example is that there’s an infinite number of ways to reach for a glass of water. More interesting is walking, sitting up, running, twisting, jumping, etc. This book helps you realize how inefficient or even damaging your current postural configurations and movement patterns sometimes are, as well as all the subtly different and ripply ways you can move.

2) It shows you how to change your habitual motion patterns. With most “techniques,” as soon as you stop paying attention, you go back to your old posture or old movement. This book show you how to reach in and change stuff so that it persists when you’re not paying attention. And, you learn how to easily tune stuff amidst daily life (because what you do does wear off if you don’t change your macro patterns, which is fine, if you’re willing to do tuneups once per week).

This book helped me mitigate back issues (caused by unsafe martial arts stuff when I didn’t know any better) to the point where I’m able to sprint at top speed again when I hadn’t been able to for many years and meditate for longer without pain. All the stuff I tried that was adapted from peer-reviewed research either didn’t help or just made things worse. YMMV.

(Weight training and flexibility (and nutrition and high intensity interval training) are entirely separate topics, are additional topics that I’ve spent a ridiculous number of hours on that I might write about someday. This book does not replace any of that. Physicality is a huge topic.)


2. Buteyko breathing

So, breathing. Blood gas concentrations have a complex relationship with respiratory rate, respiratory volume, respiratory muscle activation patterns, muscle tone throughout the entire body, hormone levels, kidney function, immune system, sympathetic and parasympathetic tone, arousal level, sleep stability, and probably tons more stuff.

Meditation can kind of mess with your breathing, for some people. This is supposed to go away pretty quickly, but I’ve never really had that great of a relationship between meditation and breathing. I typically never choose my breath as an object of awareness, even though it’s a classic object.

If meditation seems to be interacting weirdly with your breathing, you might play with something called Butekyo breathing. I really like this ebook:


Butekyo breathing changes your carbon dioxide tolerance, which for a lot of people is too low, because we spend all of our time a) sitting, b) being anxious, c) mouth breathing because of increased allergy prevalence.

I think Butekyo breathing should be done very, very conservatively or you will become glassy-eyed, headachy, miserable, and start waking up at night. Go SLOW if you’re curious. You should stop before you notice anything, in any particular session, even though I know you’ll ignore that advice. This is powerful stuff.

I think you should only do it if you’re also doing high intensity interval training (e.g. periodic “sprinting” be it on a track, treadmill, or elliptical) which adds hormonal and nervous system accompaniment. I only used Buteyko breathing for a few months, and now weekly high intensity interval training seems sufficient to maintain the changes I wanted.

You may think Buteyko breathing seems crack-potty and the people who promote it make crazy claims, but I experienced negative short-term effects and highly positive long-term effects (around sleep, peeing, and breathing in cold weather), among other things). There has been some peer-reviewed research done on some of the claimed benefits, and I find there to be highly plausible mechanisms for a bunch of the claims made. YMMV. Be careful.


3. Accelerating language awareness

Skimming this book will help you realize the vast dimensionality of semantic space and the vast dimensionality of how language can map to that semantic space:

Payne, Thomas Edward. Describing morphosyntax: A guide for field linguists. Cambridge University Press, 1997.

(Compare with, say, Experiencing and the Creation of Meaning by Eugene Gendlin.)

(Compare with, say, http://www.cook-greuter.com/Cook-Greuter,%20ComprehensiveLanguageAwareness,1995.pdf )

Language is constrained and non-arbitrary (physics, evolution, brain, culture) but it also amazingly incidental. Getting a concrete sense of this may helpfully uncouple meaning and language more than you have them uncoupled now.

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