ISAI The Martial Art of Formless Flow: How to be naturally strong

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

How to be naturally strong

During thousands of years of training, probes and study different people developed different approaches and methods to strength developing. These methods reflected first of all their practical needs but also were born out of unique historical, cultural, esthetical and social milieu.
Our way is a natural way and so is our method of strength development.
First of all the natural method of strength development must grow out of inborn reflexes. It must have the shape and sequence of natural motion, which in its turn grows out of the same reflexes.

The natural way of strength development is a very often seen physical activity of almost all living beings in Nature. Strangely, but majority of observers don't really realize what do they see. Even more strangely they don't realize what they do by themselves because they also often perform the very same activity. This is stretching or pandiculation. I personally prefer to call this reflexive action power-stretching from obvious reasons. Almost every kind of living beings performs it many times during the day. They start their day like ourselves or their night, like wild cats, from power-stretching to prepare themselves to various activities. They do it when they are tired in order to revitalize themselves. They do it when they are boring or nervous. One kind of power-stretching is a yawning. I consider it as a power-stretching mostly of the neck and facial muscles. Important characteristic of yawning is that yawning can happen even if all rest of the body is completely relaxed.
I said that most of folks don't pay any attention to power-stretching, but not all. One of the most famous was Charles Atlas. The outstanding athlete, strongman and model of the past Charles Atlas grew skinny and weak boy, at age of 17 he was weighting only 47 kg and stood 174 cm. high. Things changed after he visited Brooklyn Museum and saw ancient Greek and Roman statues of perfectly developed athletes.  He realized that strong beautiful body is a result of training.
  Charles Atlas at the age 17 - 174 cm and 47 kg
His next important visit was to the Bronx Zoo. He was astonished and inspired to watch lion stretching in his cage. He immediately realized that the gorgeous wild beast was undergoing a natural workout by "pitting one muscle against another". Very soon Charles Atlas created his famous system of "Dynamic-Tension" which became very popular all around the world. This system was built of isometric and isotonic exercises carefully selected by author and provided great results for developing great strength and beautifully looking body.
In isometric exercises contracted muscles don’t change their length. We can see it when somebody tries to push immovable wall or tries to pull out big tree.
In isotonic exercises the intensity of muscle contraction is kept constant during the movement.
 Charles Atlas as a super model 

"Dynamic-Tension" gave great starting point to many other systems, combining isometric and isotonic exercises, but its initial inspirational motive, power-stretching, was abandoned and forgotten. The only reminiscent of the power-stretching in the field of physical culture are physical exercises that pit agonist muscles against antagonist muscles, similar to bodybuilders posing on stage. These exercises are mostly isometric but there are also isotonic exercises.

The most well-known modern isometric system of exercises probably is Isometric Power Flexes by John Peterson, who issued excellent book under the name "Isometric Power Revolution". But there are also old and excellent systems.  Alexander Zass, considered by many to be the strongest man ever lived on the Earth, Bernarr MacFadden, Alois Swoboda, Max Sick, Anton Matysek, George Jowett, Joseph Greenstein (Mighty Atom), Mighty Apollo and other great developers and athletes. Today their methods practice Dennis Rogers and other great performers and strongmen.

Alexander Zass lifting 13 people
Josef Greenstein, Mighty Atom
Josef Greenstein, Mighty Atom, pulling car fixed to his hair

 Dennis Rogers rolling a pan

Scientists researched the field of isometric practices for strength development. I would like to mention especially the book "PHYSIOLOGY of STRENGTH" by Theodor Hettinger and the works of Antonio and Gunyea.
There are also isotonic exercises systems.

I would like to mention especially "Transformetrics" system of John Peterson which pits agonist against antagonist muscles while keeping isotonic contraction. This system works without any complex machines or devices.  

In the field of manual therapy and movement therapy today only few therapists mention power-stretching, but don't really know how to work with it. They feel that it may be some overlooked mechanism of the most ancient origin common to all living beings that plays significant role in our life. The problem is that they still don't know the real reason for power-stretching and don't know its physiological results as Luiz Fernando Bertolucci, M.D., the founder of Muscle Repositioning (MR) system of manual therapy, wrote in his article "Sustained Manual Loading of the Fascial System Can Evoke Tonic Reactions: Preliminary Results": "…these facts suggest connections between Eastern disciplines, MR, and pandiculation. The latter, still poorly understood in its physiological significance, may be an overlooked mechanism in health maintenance".

He resumes in his article " Pandiculation: An organic way to maintain musculoskeletal heath":

"Pandiculation might provide one source of good signals by (i) breaking bad connections while stimulating better ones, and (ii) resetting postural muscle tonus to produce integrated movement, which movement is a further source of good mechanical signals. In short, pandiculation might be a form of neuro-myofascial hygiene.

If this be true, might we encourage pandiculation to enhance general health? This would require a reassessment of the cultural stigma against yawning and pandiculation, as well as further investigation of therapeutic approaches, such as Muscle Repositioning, that seem to stimulate it".

Great words indeed!

I propose the new theory of yawning and power-stretching which integrating nicely with theory of motor control by Prof. N.A. Bernstein. I believe this integration can provide great basis for the future General Natural Theory which I hope will be presented one day and will include as its parts the already existing theories of Natural Motion and Motor Control as well as other physiological functions.

The most common natural way all living creatures exercise is a power-stretching and yawning. There is also another system of exercising, the game. This method is very common to all animals which have considerable learning ability. Younger the animal, more capable it to learn more it will play. The game usually very enjoyable, it provides and sharpens mental, behavioral and motor skills, coordination, timing and distance appreciation, makes the animal stronger and increases endurance, but still I believe the most effective way of rejuvenation and developing strength is a power-stretching and yawning. Yawning usually is considered as a kind of power-stretching for head and neck. Both power-stretching and yawning are just two appearances of reflexive act which I call the Total-Power-Stretching reflex or shortly TPS reflex. In this chapter I will mention it just as a power-stretching.

During power-stretching we actually perform kind of almost isometric contraction. It means that during muscle contraction we perform very slow 3D rotational motion, less than 20 degrees in second or even almost completely stop. The most important here is a "motional intention" during this act, honest attempt to continue movement even it stops completely. We call this kind of contraction the quasimetric contraction. The exercises which make usage of this kind of motion we call quasimetric exercises. The very interesting and important characteristic of power-stretching is that this is the only natural activity with isometric or quasimetric muscle contraction where agonist muscles work against antagonists. At first glance this action seems lacking any reason, has no functional meaning. It looks like it's just not connected to any natural motion, like if performer got stuck in the middle of his movement. But there is a real reason for that. The meaning of these agonist-against-antagonist quasimetric contractions is to exercise the moments of changing from flexion to rotation and vice versa in limbs and body during natural locomotion or breathing. At these moments also rotations of participating body parts change their direction relatively to the next to them body parts. These moments are most strenuous for the muscles and tendons, they are most dangerous, most vulnerable and therefore need constant special exercising. The Nature or God took it into consideration and “invented” power-stretching in order to provide special exercise at most dangerous and crucial parts of the motion.   

The method of ISAI is to follow natural, inborn training methods which most human cultures abandoned and forgot. We do the same also in this case. ISAI uses system based on power-stretching for strength development. It has some great advantages comparatively to other systems.

We call this system Natural Power-Stretching Exercises or NPSE. Please reread the chapter "Why we have to relax and how we do it" where we already started to speak about it. The almost same exercises not only make us very strong but also incredibly efficient for health, for building beautiful stance and for developing light, effortless motion. In the next chapters I will describe Natural Stance-Stretching Exercises or NSSE, which is almost identical to NPSE. We use to develop great stance, flexibility, balance and naturally light, effortless motion. 

NPSE has additional most important and distinctive feature. The NPSE practitioner experiences real feeling of natural power-stretching and not only performs movements that look externally as natural power-stretching. This is a result of the unique motion character of NPSE. As a result the practitioner experiences extremely pleasant feeling from the motion itself. This feeling makes exercising itself very enjoyable. In this aspect NPSE of ISAI stands alone and differs from any other system of exercising.

There are a lot of theories and assumptions regarding the role of power-stretching. My opinion is that quasimetric movements of power-stretching are just refreshing the inborn locomotion program and its "close relatives" - statokinetic reflexes and breathing motions. Breathing activity and especially action of diaphragm plays crucial role in keeping of erect stance and in locomotory motion. The opposite influence of motion on breathing is also very strong and important. Good locomotory activity improves breathing whereas bad locomotory habits harm breathing. Therefore yawning plays very important role in preserving good breathing, and then correct locomotion and stance, as well as power-stretching of body and limbs promotes correct locomotion and stance and then breathing. For more details please read the chapter “YAWNING, STRETCHING AND FUNCTIONS INTEGRATION IN LIVING ORGANISMS”.

The careful study of power-stretching dynamics reveals that these quasimetric movements repeat the general form (morphology) and kinematic stages of natural locomotory motion (locomotory motion is a motion of body in space like walking, running, jumping etc.).  The knowledge about it was kept in secret and was coded by first Chinese emperor Fu Xi some 8 thousand years ago! For more information please reread the chapter "The Fractal Nature of the Natural Motion" about Fu Xi trigrams and hexagrams. Like virtuoso piano player has to play Czerny exercises in order to keep his technical skill on the highest level, so the Mather Nature provided us with inborn exercises to maintain our locomotion skill, vigor, power and coordination!

The science recognizes the functional nature of strength. It is no such a thing as pure strength, but rather the strength is specific to some field or task that has to be performed. There are different types of strength of power lifter, wrestler and gymnast. All of them may have tremendous strength, but it's very specific to their sport, to their specific movements. Even if some movements externally look identical they can be actually very different if their meanings are different. In this case training in one movement will contribute very little to success in performance of another one. The reason for this is very simple. Even our eyes see only external movement the truth is that not only muscles, ligaments and bones participate in action. Probably the most important ingredient of movement is our nerve system which is invisible for observer. We know that movements with different meaning and purpose are activated and controlled by different areas of our brain cortex even if externally these movements look the same. World champion in wrestling usually doesn't perform well in power lifting or gymnastics and the main reason for that is his specific strength rather than technique. I already mention Amazing Samson - Alexander Zass. This amazing athlete could perform astonishing demonstrations of strength, but constantly avoided participation in any powerlifting contest. He knew that even he was strongest man in the world in his field he could not win the contest in different kind of strength.

 Alexander Zass caring a horse

 Alexander Zass with chain

In some cases the functional strength can be transferred from one motion to another exactly like automation of motion. I already wrote about this in one of the previous chapters. For example, when boxer performs push-ups, he hopes to increase this way the power of his punches.  
Back to the natural functional strength, it connected to natural locomotion which in its turn provides the widest common pool for nearly all types of strength. This means that power-stretching and NPSE develop and maintain the most general and universal kind of strength.
We already discussed the fractal nature of the body structure and natural motion in the chapter "The Fractal Nature of the Natural Motion". Shortly the fractal is a structure build of similar parts like the tree build of branches or see wave build of smaller waves. The motion of the body can be also fractal if the parts move the same way as a whole.
Power-stretching reflects and follow fractal structure of both the body and natural motion and can be performed within every basic element of "empty-full-empty", fractal levels 1 to 6 or in any chain of these basic elements – please see pic. "Fractality of the Human Body". Levels 1 and 2 represent two different kinds of yawning. Shortly, in the first type of yawning, level 1 or rest yawning, there is deep, long inhalation followed by retention and exhalation with contracted glottis area and soft palate, while the lips are passive and relaxed. The second type of yawning the inhalation and exhalation are very shallow, vigorous and short and both lips are contracted exposing teethes. This type of yawning, which we call active yawning, is performed at level 2. Often the yawning starts at level 1 and continues to level 2. The yawnings can participate in power-stretchings of body and limbs, it means that power-stretchings of levels 1 and 2 can join power-stretchings of level 3 to 6 or their partial chains. This is a very important point. It means that power-stretching and NPSE act on the all space of the body from level 1 up to level 6. We can watch it when all the body power-stretching. The partial chain can consist of only arms or trunk and arms or just trunk and so on.

NPSE is a total natural body exercising, the complete exercising for all the body from tips of the fingers to the tip of the nose or just for naturally connected parts of the body (partial chains) – all in one single universal movement. 
The voluntary motion in NPSE together with natural motion of body causes the real experience of power-stretching. Very often this voluntary action will be followed by spontaneous yawning and power-stretching. This means that voluntary natural movement will cause reflexive, involuntary movement of power-stretching. Significant fact here is that if active yawning participates in power-stretching with movement of arms both limbs and fingers will be pulled back. It means that lips will expose teethes and fingers will form closed fists. The head will rise up and wrists will straighten.  
In every fractal level or chain of fractals power-stretchings can be performed during inhalation or exhalation or full breathing cycle. The breathing naturally can be performed in single or cascade mode. Both kinds of breathing can be observed in nature during yawning or power-stretching.
In single mode this one inhalation and one exhalation with or without breathing retentions between them. In cascade mode inhalation and exhalation consist of series of short breathing actions. For example instead of one single inhalation there are 4 short partial inhalations performed in succession with short retentions between them. We can combine single and cascade inhalations and exhalations in any order as we wish. Usually cascade mode develops stronger, more complete muscle contraction and more muscle control but also is more demanding and energy consuming.
The very special feature of NPSE is their short duration uncommon in other systems. We can use NPSE just for strength and power development but also for natural body building. In case we are interested only in strength and power we can exercise as little as only1-2 seconds daily. For practical and health reasons usually we practice during 15-20 seconds 3-4 times daily. This is how much animals usually power-stretch themselves in Nature.
For body building we need more time, about 10-15 minutes daily. This instead of 40-60 minutes of usual training.
NPSE doesn’t need any special conditions, devices etc. and can be performed in any time and place – in the office, in the car, during the rest time. Some exercises can’t be even distinguished by others. 
Even if we stop practicing for few weeks the result of our previous trainings will change very little if any.
Aside of being great and unique system for building strength and power there some additional important effects of NPSE.
NPSE has very strong, immediate and long lasting energizing effect. It can be used with great effect if one has urgent need to revitalize himself within seconds. For example it can be used with great success by tired drivers. Students involved in tiring preparation to examinations during sessions also can find this method very effective.
NPSE and NSSE are great for many sports and for health. I would write about it in next chapters.
Finally I would like to say it again – NPSE is not just another system of training or calisthenics. It is much more. It is a natural way of refreshing and reconstruction of our instinctive, inborn way of training. This is a most complete, harmonious, universal, healthy and effective natural training method. This is a piece of art produced by Creator or by millions of years of Evolution.  
This article provides only general, theoretical information about NPSE and not any practical course of exercises. NPSE is an absolutely new and revolutionary approach to old theme of physical training and therefore I believe that it’s very important to outline, even shortly, its theoretical basis. The practical instructions or set of exercises will be outlined in another chapter.





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