The effortlessness of the expert

It takes a lot of effort to make something look effortless – Steven Sondheim

When we witness an expert performer in music or in sport the word “effortless” often springs to mind. However, most people are (hopefully) aware of the amount of work actually needed to reach this level of mastery. Therefor “effort-less” can necessarily not mean that something is “without effort”.

Hånd på klaviatur

A seemingly “effortless” performance is indeed the result of a sophisticated physical and neurological coordination which creates a subtle fluctuation between tension and relaxation in the parts responsible for the movements and to master this coordination is at the true core of every excelling performance.

Excessive and static tension

In a body performing at a high level of function there is very little excessive tension present, each part of the body has just the necessary amount  needed to perform the task.

A lot of us carry an excessive level of tension in certain parts of our bodies, both when we are performing tasks and when we are seemingly relaxed. Changing the tensional pattern of our body takes a long time, primarily because most of us are unaware of much of the tension present in our bodies. In our minds we have a tendency to think that:

TENSION = PAIN

so that when a part of our body is not performing as it should according to its design we may not necessarily attribute the lack of performance to excessive tension as long as it´s not causing us any pain. But the presence of tension is not necessarily visible only through pain but also in restricted movement, non-optimal coordination  and affected performance.

Changing a pattern requires that we first become aware of it. Do a simple exercise: Stand on all fours and allow your stomach to relax and sink down like a hammock.

All the way…

Take some time (think a couple of minutes) to let your stomach completely give in to gravity. You will probably experience that  what you thought were a full relaxation is just a fraction of the potential and that as the seconds pass you will sense more and more micro-releases in the tension in your belly.

Most of us spend an excessive amount of energy constantly sucking in our stomach, so much that when we are in a position where gravity naturally pulls our organs forward we have a problem releasing this tension because it has become a more or less constant and unconscious pattern.

But constant static tension also means restricted circulation and our abdominal region contains things that are dependent on good circulation in order to function properly.

Like your digestive- or reproductive organs.

A constant excess of tension makes it harder to relax but more importantly: it also leads to a limited ability to activate and relax your muscles at different degrees.

A healthier alternative is a constant fluctuating pattern of tension and relaxation where our muscles have the option of not only being in an on/off mode but rather cycling constantly through different degrees of tension/relaxation according to what is needed.

Not this:

av-paa-bryter

but this:

Trinnvis bryter

Keeping a steady frame with your partner while dancing the tango demands a whole range of different degrees of tension that allows you to respond according to the impulses you are receiving. If the muscles of your upper body are so tense and unresponsive that their only options are either on (rigid) or off (loose) there will be no options to choose from, and to just be told to “relax” your elbow or “keep a steady frame” just isn´t detailed enough information.

tangosko

Coordination – using what is needed

When we want to make a movement we have multiple choices  as to how to make our bodies perform that movement. If you intend to pick leafs of the ground in your garden you could use a crane to do the job, it would just not be very practical. Keeping your lower arms extended horizontally in front of you for several hours every day while typing on your computer requires a certain activation in your muscles but the coordination or distribution of workload between those muscles is decisive when it comes to how straining this activity will be for your body. Skjelett

And you can switch the activity of typing with pretty much any other activity, like walking, dancing the tango or playing an instrument.

So why would we use more than we need?

Our muscles are controlled by our neurology. A motor unit consists of a nerve attaching to certain muscle fibres of a muscle. The greater amount of fibres it attaches to the “bigger” the movement the nerve controls. In what we call fine motor skills the motor units attache only to a few fibres and the amount of motor units working at the same time and (hopefully) in coordination is very great, on the opposite side of the scale we have large muscles where a single motor unit controls a great amount of fibres and make them all move at the same time giving a high degree of leverage and force with a lesser degree of coordination needed.

But having the neurological hardware to be able to move the different parts of a muscle independently to one another is not the same as actually being able to do this. Through lack of regular use muscles can become neurologically “lumped together” so that we are not able to differentiate between them any more and differentiation is the key to coordination: if I can’t differentiate between the different muscles in my body I am not able to make them to move independently of one another.

Coordination is the ability to decide  what parts of a muscle  to activate  and how those parts are to move  relative  to each other  and to other muscles of the body.

Some people have a natural tendency for good coordination but for most people the “default” coordination is a result of the sum total of how you have used your body up to this moment which is a highly individual matter for most of us.

Therefor training is sometimes needed.

Both Timani and Nutritious Movement as methods are all about coordination in order to achieve a more sustainable use of the body in order to increase performance and to take a step closer to the realm of the effortlessness we all can benefit from – whether we are experts or no.

 

Timani – en inngangport til en dypere forståelse av kropp og musisering

stående speilbilde For musikere
– For ikke-musikere
– For tangodansere

  • Timani handler om å oppnå en bedre indre koordinering mellom de ulike delene av bevegelsesapparatet vårt og derved øke evnen til musisering eller ganske enkelt til å være komfortabel i egen kropp. Du oppnår en større sikkerhet og teknisk kontroll, bedre klang og større uttrykksmuligheter på instrumentet ditt. I tillegg får du konkret kunnskap som lar deg forebygge framtidige belastningsskader og endre innøvde belastende spenningsmønstre.

Kroppen vår er et presisjonsverktøy: hver del har sin bestemte funksjon og oppgave og de ulike delene samarbeider i et helhetlig system. Optimalt sett jobber de ulike delene av kroppen vår etter et utfyllende prinsipp: hver del – sin oppgave. Belastningsskader oppstår gjerne som et resultat av at denne arbeidsfordelingen har blitt forskjøvet: deler kompenserer for hverandre og gjør ting de ikke er ment å gjøre.

Kroppen vår er tilpasningsdyktig til en utrolig grad og den er i stand til fysisk å endre form som en følge av vedvarende ytre påkjenninger og ensidige belastninger. Imidlertid har den fra naturens side en default-modus; begrepet “Alignment” henviser til den fysikalske utgangsposisjonen for skjelettet vårt som tillater oss å ha maksimal bevegelighet og sirkulasjon med minimal slitasje. Denne optimale posisjonen påvirkes i svært stor grad av spenningsmønstre i muskel- og bindevevet i kroppen vår. Disse spenningsmønstrene er det mulig å endre.Alignment

Sist men ikke minst: Kroppen vår og dens form, utseende, funksjoner og bevegelsesmuligheter er styrt av de fysiske lovene i den verdenen vi lever i hvorav tyngdekraften er den viktigste. Timani baserer seg i stor grad på faget biomekanikk som dreier seg om hvordan biologisk materiale (tenk: kroppen vår) påvirkes og reagerer på mekaniske krefter (trykk, press og tyngdekraft).

Målet gjennom Timani er å lære å bruke bevegelsesapparatet vår på en differensiert måte og å trene opp en tilgang til de ulike lagene og delene av kroppen vår. Dette involverer nevrologiske og muskulære øvelser og gir samtidig en svært konkret innsikt i eget spilleapparat/egen kropp og hvordan den fungerer.

Timani for musikere:

Musikere har en arbeidssituasjon som på en og samme tid krever stor stabilitet og utholdenhet og samtidig en høy grad av fleksibilitet, finmotorikk og bevegelighet. Ulike deler av bevegelsesapparatet vårt er ansvarlig for å gi oss disse tingene men hvis feil del benyttes til feil bruk ender vi opp med en indre koordinasjon som virker belastende på kroppen og kan føre til spenninger, begrenset luftstrøm, presset klang, manglende rapiditet, smerter og andre problemer vanlige blant musikere.

IMG_0071I en Timani-time jobber du med øvelser som delvis foregår direkte på instrumentet. Belastningsskader er svært ofte et kompensasjonsproblem: de oppstår når vi bruker feil del av bevegelsesapparatet vårt til en oppgave den ikke er ment for. Dermed har det lite for seg å dra på treningsstudio for å bli sterkere eller å få behandlinger av en fysioterapeut/akupunktør/naprapat/lege etc så lenge vi ikke endrer på det som gjør at problemet stadig vender tilbake: måten vi bruker kroppen vår på ved instrumentet.

I løpet av den første timen tar vi en prat om din tidligere og nåværende spillemessige situasjon, vi foretar en analyse av kroppsbruken din når du spiller og vi jobber med øvelser tilpasset det som er mest hensiktsmessig for ditt utgangspunkt. Timani er et helhetlig system, det vil si at det baserer seg på forskning innen bevegelseslære som ser på kroppen som en helhet hvor alle “delene” påvirker hverandre på ulike måter. Smerte er ikke alltid en god indikator på hvor hovedproblemet faktisk sitter: en skade i en fot kan for eksempel føre til smerter i skuldre og nakke som igjen kan påvirker bruk av fingre og armer under spilling. En del av arbeidet med Timani består derfor i å forstå hvor et problem kommer fra og å jobbe aktivt med å endre uheldige bevegelsesmønstre.

Timani for ikke-musikere:

Ikke musiker? Vi har alle en kropp. Her vil du få økt kunnskap om  egen kropp og bevegelsesapparat og om hvordan du gjennom bevisst trening og kroppsbruk kan endre belastende mønstre og stadig tilbakevendende problemer. I tillegg lærer du hvordan du, via kroppen kan jobbe med stress-og spenningsrelaterte problemer. Jeg er sertifisert restorative exercise instruktør innen Nutritious Movement (foreløpig den eneste i Norge) og underviser også dette systemet som en del av min Timanipraksis. Les mer om Nutritious Movement her: Nutritious movementSkjelett

Er du tangodanser og ønsker økt kunnskap om hva som kan bedre akse, balanse, stabilitet og flow på gulvet? Jeg har danset tango i 15 år og bruker aktivt elementer fra min praksis for å hjelpe kroppen til å jobbe mer optimalt på dansegulvet.

tangoskoHvis du vil lese mer om flere av temaene innen Timani så ta en titt på disse postene: om Timani og tango, om belastningsskader hos musikere, om temaer knyttet til nevrologi og kropp

  •  Ønsker du å prøve Timani? Ta kontakt på mirhla@gmail.com eller send en sms til 99 47 90 92 for å bestille time. Første time varer ca 90min, oppfølgingstimer (hvis du ønsker det) varer 1 klokketime. Timene kan tas enten der du er så fremt du har tilgang på instrument, eller hos meg på Holmlia i Oslo. Timani egner seg for alle instrumenter og for sangere men er også til nytte for alle som ønsker økt kunnskap om egen kropp og bevegelsesapparat og som vil ha hjelp til å spille mer på lag med kroppen i hverdagen. Jeg tilbyr Timani som en del av mitt foretak The listening experience og du kan lese mer om det og andre ting jeg jobber med på hjemmesiden min her
  • Ønsker du en presentasjon for elever/lærere/instruktører/medarbeidere? Hva med å starte studieåret med en grundigere kjennskap til de spesielle anatomiske, biologiske og nevrologiske utfordringene en musikkstudent møter og hva som kreves for å få kroppen til å fungere optimalt i en læresituasjon/høyskolestudium? Jeg holder foredrag og presentasjoner om teorien og tanken bak Timani for høyskoler, grupper og lærere.

image002Timani gir:

  • Anatomisk og nevrologisk kunnskap om kroppens koordinasjon og funksjonsmåter
  • Øvelser som bedrer teknikken, fremmer forholdet til instrumentet og øker uttrykksmulighetene og evnen til klangvariasjon
  • Økt mulighet for tilstedeværelse i musikken både fysisk og mentalt
  • Innsikt og kunnskap som gjør deg i stand til å forebygge og forhindre fremtidige belastningslidelser knyttet til musikkutøving eller daglig kroppsbruk
  • Mulighet til å endre mulige belastende spillemønstre og bygge deg opp etter skader.
  • Mulighet til å spille på kroppens premisser
  • Opplæring i differensiert muskelbruk og en mulighet til å utvikle et større musikalsk og teknisk overskudd i spillingen
  • Innsikt i hva som rent fysiologisk ligger bak vanlige metaforer brukt i spilleundervisning (“Spille med tyngde”, “bruke støtte” etc)

Timani er utviklet av den norske pianisten Tina Margareta Nilssen som også driver Timaniakademiet i Oslo. De tilbyr både utdannelse, kurs og privatundervisning. For mer info om Timani sjekk ut hjemmesiden her: www.timani.no

Tensegrity, tango and giant bridges

Question: What does a tango dancer, a giant bridge and a geodesic dome have in common?

Answer: They are all subject to the same laws of physics pertaining to a specific kind of principle that I wish to talk about here.

Tango dancers have feet. Feet are basically foundations  and speaking about foundations it is tempting to move into the world of  construction and architecture, a world in which a solid foundation is invaluable.  The foundation is  the point from which everything else is decided.  It dictates the later possibilities, construction wise, of whatever is to be resting upon that foundation. We are talking about forces of physics here, of thrust and counter thrust, ground force reaction, balance and integrity of structure.

tensegrity-architecture-30-620x503

No one in their right mind would ever build a pyramid upside down (except perhaps in the world of Walt Disney where there was a story once where Scrooge was searching for an upside-down pyramid balancing on a giant diamond in the middle of the jungle). No matter how fascinating balance might be, in construction we tend to prefer stable objects which are able to carry their weight and distribute the forces of what is resting upon them in an even way.

When the foundation crumbles the results are often disastrous as might be seen in the collapsed sweatshops in some Asian countries. For a building to be solid a good foundation is a requirement. At the same time the forces working inwardly in the structure are equally importent. Enter the term Tensegrity

Tensegrity as a term is coined out of the two words tensional integrity. The man who created the term, Buckminster Fuller, used it to relate to a principle of engineering used in architecture describing structures in which the tension between the different parts of a structure make up the main supporting principle of it and not the individual strength or mass of each part.

In other words: the synergy of tension and compression distributed between the different parts of the structure is used actively in order to create structures that are both lighter, stronger and more stable than one would think possible. For instance the Kurilpa Bridge in Australia:

kurilpa_bridge_01

Notice how none of the poles are actually touching each other?

Here is an example of a building created on such principles. What you’re looking at is an example of a geodesic dome. For more info on these structures look here.

800px-Mtl__Biosphere_in_Sept__2004

and here is a second example of how these principles might be used in creating beauty:

Tens.rainbow_arch

Okay, so what is the connection between all of these incredible structures and the trials and tribulations of a tango dancer?

And the answer is:

Tensegrity!

Our bodies are in fact tensegrity structures, highly complex and balanced organisms where each part is dependent on the other in order to function correctly. Just as the poles and cables distribute stress and compression through a tensegrity bridge, our skeleton, muscles, sinews and last but not least our connective tissue make up a structure of mutually dependent elements were forces of tension and compression are distributed in an evenly manner.

Or so at least we would wish.

But unfortunately this is not always the case. Unlike a bridge we humans have a mind of our own and that mind is often occupied in adapting to a society and an environment less than ideally suited to our bodies and their needs. We have a highly developed ability to adapt ourselves to our surroundings, especially when there is pleasure involved.

Invaluable props

tangoskoAs tango consists of a lot of pivoting movements high heeled shoes has long been the mantra as it often is necessary to be on one’s toes. In this way the foundation of our axis (the central line of balance through our body from feet to head) is a small as possible. This makes it possible for us to twirl and do things like this (check out the twirls at 3.13 and onwards):

The price we pay, however, is high. Burning forefeet, bunions, hallux valgus or similar deformations of the foot causing pain and eventually diminished range of motion in the feet. Our heel bone is more than capable of carrying the weight of our body. The small bones in our  forefoot and toes on the other hand have less of this capability. They are not designed to carry the amount of weight that we stack upon them when our heels forces our entire bodymass forward hoovering above our toes which for the moment are trapped inside a beautiful pair of thight, pointy shoes.

hallux

In addition to that the heels underneath our “heels” tilts our body out of alignment making it necessary for the muscles in our calves, thighs, hips, back and shoulders to compensate in order to keep us in a vertical position.

Remember that tensegrity bridge from earlier? What do you think would happen if we removed one of those poles or slackened one of the wires? Would you be willing to cross it?

The tensegrity system of our body is based on our alignment without high heeled shoes strapped under our feet. In a way the heel acts as an additional pole adding an element of instability into our perfectly balanced structure. Unlike the bridge our bodies are able to compensate for this instability, the cost, however, is often high.

So what if you are unable to give up your heels, what if tango and the experience of twirling around on 10 inch heels is the one thing that keeps you (literally) up?

The next best solution

First of all: the awareness of what we are doing to our body and our feet is an important knowledge which might help us at least not to treat our feet as if they were made of titanium. They are (hopefully) going to last a lifetime so a little atention is not to much of a request.

Secondly: have you ever seen those artists that paints or play the piano with their feet and toes? The feet that they use are no different from yours except that they have been forced to use them actively instead of just shoving them into tight, unyielding shoes every day.

The good news: your feet are adaptable, exercises and stretches actually work so with no further ado here are two recommendations:

The MELT method by Sue Hitzman. This is a training programme including, among other things, small rubber balls and rubber bands of different texture and firmness used to work and manipulate the connective tissue in the feet and hands. A regular workout with these or just having a little session after each late night on the dancefloor does not seem much but has a surprising effect.

For anyone interested I recommend this link in checking it out. The kit costs about  $40 and is worth every cent.

Then there is the invaluable book “Every woman’s guide to foot pain relief” by bio-mechanist Katy Bowman, a true “Bible” when it comes to foot health and a great insight into how your feet are designed to work and exercises in order to make your feet feel a lot more happy. This goes far beyond giving yourself a little footrub now and then. At the moment Timani-founder Tina Margarete Nilsson is teaching a course based on, among other things, principles and excersises from this book in Oslo. If you did not make it then you still have the chance of buying this book

K bowmanand as always: buy it at Bookdepository.com. Great online bookstore with great prices and free shipping to Norway and a lot of other countries!

also: check out Katy Bowmans blog here for more info on feet and foothealth in general.

Interested in knowing more about the tensegrity of your body and how to play with it in stead of against it? Try a lesson in Timani! I give lessons in Timani for both musicians and non-musicians. Read more about it on my webpage here or in this post (only in Norwegian for the time being..)