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Showing posts with label Zen Exercising. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Zen Exercising. Show all posts

Zen Relaxation between Exercises

If you are not already familiar with Interval Training it is the concept of alternating exercises in a routine so you are alternating between high intensity exercises and low intensity exercises. HIIT (High Intensity Interval Training) for example is one brand of Interval Training.

One way of doing this would be:

Jogging for 5 minutes, walking for 2 minutes, Sprinting for 1 minute;
Jogging for 5 minutes, walking for 2 minutes, Sprinting for 1 minute;
Jogging for 5 minutes, walking for 2 minutes, Sprinting for 1 minute;
Etc.

Do that for 40 minutes and then walk home and you've had a pretty productive workout.

The benefits of such a program means you are building endurance and speed, but you're not overtaxing your heart rate - it also means you can change it up regularly. Interval Training is very flexible in that you can change it and adapt it to whatever you want to do. The only really challenge is measuring the time you use for each exercise - I use music for my changes myself, each song is a different exercise, but there are also smart phone apps with buzzers that you can use that tell you when to switch to a different exercise.

For weightlifters for example they might alternate between heavier weights on barbells, and then switch to light weight dumbells, and then jog or skip rope for 10 minutes before hitting the heavy weights again. On any particular day they might vary how much time they dedicate to each exercise, or they might do the exact same exercise every day just because they love having the same routine and not having to think about it.

Using Zen relaxation techniques in-between different exercises, this is another way you could change the way you exercise.

Say for example a person wanted to create their own approach to Zen Archery training. They might do the following for two hours:

1. Shoot for 10 minutes.
2. Meditate for 10 minutes.
3. Shoot for 10 minutes.
4. Read zen poetry for 10 minutes.
5. Shoot for 10 minutes.
6. Breathing exercises (focus on deep belly breathing, do not use your chest) for 10 minutes.
7. Shoot for 10 minutes.
8. Light yoga for 10 minutes.
9. Shoot for 10 minutes.
10. PMR (progressive muscular relaxation) for 10 minutes.
11. Shoot for 10 minutes.
12. Meditate for 10 minutes.

And then pack up your archery gear and head home feeling relaxed, refreshed and the feeling of having accomplished something today.

I am just using archery as an example here, but the concept could be applied to any sport or activity. By mixing in meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, PMR and even zen poetry you can turn your exercise routine into a more relaxing and thoughtful process - making it the best part of your day.


Archery Meditation + Zen Focus

How good is your concentration when you are trying to shoot? Do you get distracted easily? Can you shoot properly even while distracted?

There are many books on the topic of Zen Archery (a few of them are good, a lot of them are actually horrible). One of the books I recommend the most on this topic are "Zen Bow, Zen Arrow", which includes a biography and the poems of Awa Kenzo - it is the poetry that is most useful and profound if you want to get into zen archery and want to understand the essence of Zen Archery.

Another book I recommend is "The Unfettered Mind", which is actually not an archery book. It is a series of letters written by Takuan Soho and sent to famous samurai approx. 500 years ago, during which he advises them on matters of concentration, swordplay and politics. But the advice he gives in the letters doesn't just apply to swordsmanship, it also applies to archery and many other tasks.

The last book I recommend is "Kyudo - The Essence and Practice of Japanese Archery" by Hideharu Onuma. This book is for people who want to get into the ceremonial practice of Kyudo and aren't really into Zen Archery. But if your focus is on doing both Kyudo and Zen Archery, then I do recommend that particular book for your collection.

Now you might think "Hey, what about 'Zen in the Art of Archery' by Eugen Herrigel. Honestly. I read it. I was not impressed with his writing and I find he presents a stereotype of the practice of Zen within archery. You can still read the book if you wish, but I recommend you not put too much stock in his writing.

There is a video below about 'archery meditation' made by an instructor at a tropical resort, and the video gives you an idea of the concentration required to do archery - but it really is only the tip of the iceberg. I have created a list of fifteen tips further below for people who want to improve their concentration skills for the purposes of archery.



15 Concentration Tips for Archery

#1. Do things slowly and methodically. Not just archery, but everything you do. eg. Wash the dishes slowly and methodically and concentrate on what you are doing as you do it slowly.

#2. Eat foods that take a long time to eat. Fruits like apples and bananas for example can be eaten slowly (don't cut them into smaller pieces, that is just speeding up the process).

#3. Do one thing at a time. Avoid multitasking.

#4. Focus your eyes on what you are doing. Don't look at the archery target until you have completed each step.

#5. When do focus on your target, focus your eye at a single point in space.

#6. Take your time aiming.

#7. Avoid speed shooting. This is not a speed competition. You should not be looking at the clock, counting the seconds or even worried about how much time you are spending on the shot.

#8. Do math in your head. The more complicated math you can do in your head, the more you have to concentrate and remember what you are doing. Focus on the math. Visualize it.

#9. Ignore emails, texts and don't listen to music unless you have set aside a specific time of day just for listening to music, answering emails or texts. Focus on only one of these things at once.

#10. Motivate yourself on what you are doing. Whatever you are doing is important, otherwise you would not be doing it. Focus on the task, stay motivated as to why you are doing, why you want it to be perfect. It doesn't matter what you are doing, regardless of whether you are grilling bacon (so fatty, but it serves my example because if you lose concentration and burn the bacon you will realize you were distracted) or composing an email (and then have typos or poor grammar in sentences).

#11. Plan what you are doing before you do it. Have everything ready and set in place, ready to be put in motion.

#12. Shut the door, turn off the radio, close the window (to avoid noise from the street) - shut out all distractions from what you are focused on. So if you are listening to an audiobook, that should be the only thing you are listening to - and focusing on listening should be the only thing you are doing.

#13. Don't forget to take breaks. Eventually your mind gets exhausted and you just to relax and unwind. Time to watch or listen something entertaining, spend time with family or even just take a nap. People can't concentrate if they are tired or mentally exhausted.

#14. Eat, but don't overeat. Being hungry is a distraction, but so is gastric distress and heartburn.

#15. Slow down when making important decisions. Sometimes this is necessary. A hasty decision made when you haven't concentrated on the consequences isn't going to help you. With archery this means you need to think about your next shot before you even do it. Know where you want to be aiming, use your best judgement based on the distance and all your knowledge. Your first instinct is rarely correct, but you don't want to over-think it either.

Yoga and Zen Vacations

Yoga retreats are a booming global industry, primarily for women and women's retreats, but there is a small but growing percentage of men who are visiting yoga retreats too.

The principle is simple - you go on vacation to some exotic locale, stay there and do yoga, meditation, breathing exercises, and other activities (eg. some of these retreats even offer archery lessons).

Many of these retreats work on a 3-day or 7-day programme and offer a series of workshops on yoga, meditation - as well as services like massage, therapeutic discussions, etc.

The idea essentially is for people to go there, relax, do yoga, and then come back from their vacation feeling refreshed and re-energized.



There is only one problem.

These retreats are often ridiculously over priced and geared towards getting people to come back again and again because it is addictive. So be forewarned, if you get into visiting yoga retreats regularly you will discover they are very expensive and you will find yourself going back again and again. I have a friend who goes to a yoga retreat in Romania every year, spending $5,000 to $6,000 every year on the 2-week trip (she even borrows money from people just so she can go, even though she knows she should be spending her money more wisely). For just a portion of that she could get a membership at a local yoga studio in Toronto and go there all year long instead of 2 weeks per year.

From my perspective yoga is something that shouldn't even cost money. People do yoga in the park. Toronto has a Free Yoga Meetup group that organizes free events at Toronto parks for people who are into yoga. So it doesn't have to cost a cent, and you get to meet new people, make friends, and explore Toronto. Win-Win-Win.

There is actually multiple meetup groups for Yoga in Toronto/GTA.

North York Free Yoga

Plus Size Yoga Toronto

Etobicoke Yoga Grove

Markham Yoga

Beach Yoga Toronto

So there really is no shortage of Yoga Clubs in Toronto that people can join. No reason to go overseas or spend $1000s just to have a good time and feel good about yourself.

Learning Instinctive Shooting for Archery

Traditional Archery in Scotland
I have been teaching archery for over 3 years now and during that time period I have learned that you cannot teach Instinctive Shooting to archery students.

Now that doesn't mean they can't learn how to shoot instinctively.

And it doesn't mean I cannot set them on the right path to learn how to shoot instinctively.

Which is what I am going to do right now, in this post, is set you on the right path towards becoming an instinctive archer - assuming that is your goal.

But first lets explain the four different types of shooting a person can do.

#1. Traditional Shooting

You aim off the tip of the arrow, learn through experience, trial and error, and determine where your arrows will go. Your goal is to develop tight clusters of arrows and then adjust your aim so that your clusters are lined up with the target.

Learning to shoot traditionally takes time and practice as you have to learn through experience. However traditional shooting is argued to be better because when shooting at targets at different ranges the experienced traditional archer can gauge the distance to the target with their eyes and knows from their experience where to aim.

With traditional shooting your eye should be looking at both the tip of the arrow / the adjusted target, and the center of the target at the same time. This is tricky to learn how to do because it requires teaching your shooting eye to multitask.

The traditional archer also pays attention to wind conditions, obstacles, can adjust their footing to unfamiliar terrain, adjust for a moving target (when hunting), and can shoot despite bad weather conditions based on their previous experience of shooting in such conditions.

#2. Gadget Shooting

Gadget shooting is typically used with olympic archery bows and compound bows. You aim through a gadget located above the arrow rest. In the case of compound bows you also use a peep sight to line up the peep with the primary sight.

With gadget shooting your eye is simply lining up the sights with the target. It is brainlessly easy.

Where gadget shooting fails however is that it is overly reliant on the accuracy of the gadget. The archer becomes too dependent on never changing their form, on the wind/weather conditions they are used to, and they will be completely confused as to how to aim if their sight is ever broken or lost. A person can get really good accuracy with a gadget, but they're so reliant on it that they don't know how to shoot without it.



#3. Zen Shooting

With zen archery you aren't so much aiming as you are meditating and trying to achieve a zenshin moment. Zenshin is a moment in time wherein "you know" you will hit the target. If you've ever played basketball or golf you've probably experienced such moments where everything just seems to go perfectly. The method of aiming is not so much as important as your mental state while shooting.

Zen archery in Japan is traditionally done with a Japanese yumi bow. However zen archery in general can be done with any kind of bow because it is not the equipment or the stance or the way you aim. It is your mental focus.

In a way Zen Shooting is similar to Instinctive Shooting because it isn't really something you can teach. It is something a person has to experience and then once they have experienced it they must then pursue it as a mental discipline. Nobody can teach you mental discipline - but you can be set on the right path so that you can learn it through self-purification, learning to both control and unleash your mind, and improving your mental skills so that you can attain zenshin more easily.

#4. Instinctive Shooting

Learning to shoot instinctively ends up being a bit like both traditional shooting and zen shooting. Except you aren't looking at the tip of the arrow - instead you are ignoring the arrow and looking straight at the target. The idea in instinctive shooting is to advance beyond traditional shooting wherein you are adjusting your aim and instead start shooting without even thinking about it. You just look at the target, pull back the bow-string, and release. In theory you are relying on experience, but instinctive shooting is supposed to be more than that. It is supposed to be about reaching a point of experience wherein you don't even think about it any more.

This is why instinctive shooting is considered to be a desired skill for experienced archers - to shoot without thinking, to hit targets at different ranges without really gauging the target because your mind just does it instinctively.

The problem is you can't teach instinct.

But I can attempt to set you on the right path so that you can eventually teach yourself how to shoot instinctively.

TIPS ON INSTINCTIVE SHOOTING

#1. Constant Practice - Practice archery 3 to 5 times per week, shooting for several hours each day. Aim to shoot for 6 to 10 hours per week.

#2. Use the same bow and the same equipment whenever you practice - Make your bow and your arrows like extensions of your own body through constant use.

#3. During a shooting session start off by shooting large numbers of arrows in the early stage of the session and slowly reduce the number of arrows you shoot each round so that by the end of the session you are shooting 3 arrows per round.

#4. Take your time in-between each shot. I cannot stress this enough. TAKE YOUR TIME!

#5. Stare at the target constantly, even when not shooting.

#6. Don't aim off the tip of the arrow. Just stare at the target itself, narrow it down to a specific spot, and then shoot.

#7. Ignore distractions and things that interfere with your shot. Ignore trees, twigs, wind, rocks. Just stare at the target.

#8. Experiment with different ranges, different size targets, moving targets, shooting in different weather conditions. Constantly challenge yourself to shoot in adverse and difficult conditions.

#9. Don't worry about holding the bow the same way every time or angling it a specific way. Just shoot in whatever manner feels comfortable.

#10. Practice, practice, practice. Practice is the alpha and omega of instinctive shooting.

CONCLUSIONS

Now you might think "Hey, isn't Instinctive Shooting very similar to Traditional since it is so reliant on experience?" and you would be partially correct. Experience is very important for any archery practice. The difference is that where traditional shooting worries about shooting clusters and adjusting your aim, instinctive shooting focuses on "just hitting the target without really aiming".

Which is a tad confusing, because you are aiming at the target and yet not really aiming at the target. It is very difficult to explain. You are and you are not.

It is one of the reasons why Instinctive Archers are so rare. Most archers, even the really great archers, were not instinctive archers.

Howard Hill (1899 to 1975) for example was not an instinctive archer, he was a traditional archer.

Same goes with Byron Ferguson, also a traditional archer.

Awa Kenzo, the great archery zen master from Japan, started off as a traditional archer and later became a zen archer.

Notes

Some people actually claim that Instinctive Shooting is a myth. They say that nobody really shoots instinctively and that it is impossible to learn to do so. They argue that Instinctive Shooting is for people who have advanced beyond Traditional Shooting so that they can shoot faster and with less thought - and argue that it isn't really instinct at all. However some people who identify themselves as Instinctive Shooters say the opposite - that the naysayers of Instinctive Shooting are simply too far behind on the experience curve and have never made "the leap of instinct" (some people describe it as being similar to a leap of faith) and thus such naysayers are dissing something they themselves have been unable to experience. And possibly never will. Trying to explain Instinctive Shooting to a naysayer, especially when Instinctive is so hard to explain in the first place, is a bit like trying to explain evolution to a creationist. It is simply too complicated to explain to someone who refuses to accept it in the first place.

I myself am a Traditional Shooter but I try to do Zen Archery and instinctive shooting on the side. I can see certain benefits to learning to shoot instinctively, but at this point I get more enjoyment out of just challenging myself.





UPDATE, February 2016: Glossary of Terms

There seems to be some confusion about the term "Instinctive Archery" and what makes instinctive archery so different from other styles of archery so I have decide to add a quick glossary for those people who don't understand the differences.

Traditional Archery - Aims off the tip of the arrow, utilizes a high anchor point sometimes referred to as North Anchor, Traditional Anchor or High Anchor. Usually no gadgets, although arrowrests are sometimes used. Sometimes also called "Barebow Archery". Commonly uses many kinds of more traditional styles of bows, longbows, shortbows and traditional recurves, including ethnic varieties like the Turkish horsebow, the Korean horsebow, the Japanese yumi, the English longbow, the Cherokee flatbow, etc.

Gap-Shooting Traditional Archery - This is a sub-type of Traditional Archery, which uses the same techniques as Traditional Archery, with the exception of how to aim. Instead of aiming off the tip of the arrow, Gap Shooting involves using the gap between the target and the side of the bow / shooting window. Gap Shooting is usually used by experienced archers who have been shooting for a very long time.

Olympic Archery - Aims off a sight attached to the bow, utilizes gadgets like a clicker, stabilizer, and arrowrest. Also uses a low anchor point sometimes referred to as South Anchor, Olympic Anchor or Low Anchor. Utilizes Olympic archery equipment designed specifically for shooting at 70 meter targets during competitions.

Compound Bow Archery - Aims through a smaller peep sight and off a sight attached to the bow. utilizes pulley cams to create a let off on draw weight, stabilizer, complex arrowrests (eg. drop away arrowrests, whisker-biscuits, etc) and does not normally use a fixed anchor point because the peep sight is doing most of the work in that respect and worrying about an anchor point is considered unnecessary on a compound bow.

Instinctive Archery - Doesn't aim off anything in particular, does not use any kind of sights or gadgets, does not necessarily have a fixed draw length or a fixed anchor point - this doesn't mean the archer doesn't sometimes use an anchor point, it merely means that most instinctive shooters do not use a fixed anchor point. However it should be noted that if they are looking at the target and using a fixed anchor point, then they might be technically Gap-Shooting without realizing it and they are not doing instinctive archery. eg. Lars Anderson does not use a fixed anchor point. Many people confuse Gap-Shooting with Instinctive Archery, mostly because they don't know what the difference is.

Equestrian Archery - Firing a bow from the back of a horse, usually while the horse is in motion. Often utilizes either Traditional or Instinctive archery techniques, as well as specific techniques designed for equestrian archery, eg. a "live" horseman's release, during which the drawing arm moves backwards away from the bow after releasing the arrow.

12 Exercises for Building More Sensitive Ears using Hearing Exercises

I have consulted a number of sources, including audiologists, who say it is impossible to regain your ability to hear better. The vast majority of them - well nigh all of them - say that hearing loss is permanent.

However having suffered hearing loss when I was a child, and regaining some of my hearing over the past 22 years, I must affirm that I think the scientific community is WRONG when they say it is impossible to regain some measurement of hearing.

To explain this I will be doing two things: 1. I will be trying to be as scientific as I can when explaining my ideas; 2. Some of my explanations will be based on conjecture and hypothesis, so I saying this now as an informal disclaimer so that people understand that some of my ideas may not scientifically accurate, but are instead based on my first hand experience. I was also be basing some of my exercises further below upon my research into zen and yoga techniques designed to improve hearing.

When I was 12 years old a shotgun shell went by my left ear and was so loud it caused hearing damage. I was temporarily deafened in my left ear. (There is a long story about how this happened, but I will spare you the details.)

I am now 34 and during that the last 22 years I have had my hearing slowly improve over time. Initially it was very quick. I went from being temporarily deafened to simply "severe hearing loss" / almost deaf in my left ear.

By the time I reached university in 1999 my hearing had improved somewhat, to the extent that combined with my perfect hearing in my right ear I was able to function most of the time. I would regularly need to ask people to repeat themselves because of my hearing difficulties, but I was able to cope 99% of the time.

Since graduating in 2003 my hearing has continued to improve over time, to the point that I would now describe myself as having only moderate to light hearing damage in my left ear.

However several questions remain... Did my ears physically heal over the past 22 years, or did my brain simply get better at interpreting the sounds it was receiving? I think it is a bit of both. I believe there was some initial healing process, wherein part of the damage to my ears was permanent - and the other part was simply temporary. It was the temporary aspect which healed up more quickly. After that had healed however I believe my brain has learned to compensate and use what little hearing I have in my left ear and has slowly improved with time.

Which brings me to why I think audiologists are wrong when they say it is impossible to improve your hearing using hearing exercises. They are only thinking in terms of permanent hearing damage - they are completely ignoring temporary hearing damage, and they are completely ignoring the possibility that the brain can learn over time to compensate and "hear better" based on what data it is receiving from the ears.

So yes, based on my personal experience you can improve your hearing over time - the trick is to heal any temporary damage to your ears, and to attune your mind so the hearing ability you do have is used to its full potential.

12 Hearing Exercises for Building More Sensitive Ears

Note: The first three are really more maintenance issues, so you don't cause further damage to your ears over time.

#1. Routinely check for a build-up of earwax.

Some hearing loss can be caused by excess wax in your ear canal. Snap a photo of your ear with a camera, or have a friend look into your ear with a flashlight. If you see impacted wax, do not touch it. Trying to dig it out yourself will only make it worse.

If the blockage isn't severe, try to wash it out yourself. (Note: Only do this if your eardrums don't have tubes or holes in them.) Use an eyedropper to put a few drops of baby oil, mineral oil or hydrogen peroxide in your ear to "soften" the wax. After a day or two, use a rubber-bulb syringe to gently put warm water into your ear. Tip your head to the other side to let the water (and wax) drain out.

If the blockage is severe, call your doctor or audiologist and make an appointment to have it removed.

#2. Make sure you don't have an ear infection.

If your ears are in extreme pain, see a doctor immediately to make sure you don't have an ear infection or ruptured ear drum. If these conditions are left untreated, they can permanently damage the hearing in your inner ear.

#3. Take measures to stop any further hearing deterioration.

Reduce your exposure to loud, sustained noises. If noisiness like this is part of your job try wearing specialty ear plugs or changing jobs. If you wear earbuds or headphones to listen to music, keep the volume low or moderately low. When encountering loud sustained noises protect your ears with your hands and move further away from the source of the noise. Try to reduce your exposure to high volumes overall, and you'll reduce future hearing loss.

#4. Don't talk so loudly.

If you have lost a significant portion of your hearing, speak in a slightly softer tone than you think you need to. It's common to overcompensate and talk loudly if you can't hear your own voice very well, but if other people can't hear you, they'll tell you to speak up.

#5. Use your hearing more.

Your brain's pathways are like rocky trails, gravel roads and highways. If you use part of your brain more often the extra activity (traffic) on those mental pathways will strengthen and expand. This is why blind people often have very acute hearing and sense of touch - they have been forced to use their hearing more and thus their mental pathways controlling the interpretation of sound has been rapidly expanded.

This is not going to turn you into some kind of superhuman listener (like the blind comic book hero Daredevil), but it will allow you to improve your ability to hear things - even despite minor or moderate hearing damage.

#6. Learn to identify sounds / Auditory Indexing.

According to Zen monks learning to identify sounds is one of the first steps in learning to better control your sense of hearing. The practice is known as "Auditory Indexing". Without identification a person can become confused, overwhelmed or frightened by the sounds they are hearing. By learning to identify which sounds are which they can hear the sounds, but tune out those sounds they recognize as being too far away, not a threat, of little interest, etc.

An hearing exercise you can do at home is to listen for sounds you cannot identify, and once you find a sound that you don't recognize go and see what it is. Memorize that sound. Start over again and listen for other sounds you don't recognize.

#7. Learn to control your mind and avoid distractions.

A person who is distracted by random thoughts will not notice sounds that are nearby them. Learning to control distracting thoughts is a complex process and first requires a person to let go of their mind before they can learn to control it. I strongly recommend reading the book "The Unfettered Mind", which is a small collection of essays / letters by the Zen monk Takuan Soho and deals directly and indirectly with the topic of how to control your mind. In the book Takuan Soho references Japanese swordplay (kendo), but that can be used as a metaphor for any task.

#8. Listen for your own heartbeat.

This is difficult for even people with perfect hearing to do, but it can be done. The sound of heartbeat is there, but it is being muffled by numerous other sounds. Late at night, in a quiet room it is a much easier task to hear your own heartbeat - but with practice a person can listen for their heartbeat even in a crowded room.

If you get bored of listening to your heartbeat you can also listen to your breathing, your stomach/digestive organs, and even the sound of yourself blinking. If that seems like too much of a challenge try making very quiet sounds with your feet or fingers - such as rubbing your fingers together - and listening / concentrating on that sound.

#9. Extended Hearing Exercise.

This exercise has its source in tantric yoga. To do this sit comfortably with your eyes closed. Imagine a series of circular ring emanating around you at fixed distances.

First listen to all sound coming from within a 3 feet radius of you. Identify each sound that is closest to you. Ignore sounds that are further away, even if they are louder, so that they become background noises. Each time you concentrate on a new sound briefly identify what it is. Footsteps, conversations, mechanical noises, the rustle of leaves, the buzz of insects, the sound of running water, the distant roar of the city.

Next expand your hearing range to 10 feet and concentrate on the sounds found within this range. Continue expanding in circles around you to include the surrounding room, the building, your neighbourhood and the distant sounds of the world beyond.

#10. Listen to music.

When listening to music - such as an orchestra - identify which musical instruments are making what sounds. Learn to tune out the sounds of the other instruments and only listen to the one instrument. Challenge yourself to try and listen to only one of the musicians at a time.

#11. Test your limits.

The human eardrum can hear sounds anywhere between 16 Hz and 20,000 Hz. Extremely low (bass) sounds or extremely high pitched sounds cannot be heard by the human ear.  High pitched sounds like a dog whistle can only be heard by a variety of animals because the frequency is so high its beyond the range of human hearing - but that doesn't mean you cannot attempt to hear similar high pitched sounds.

Testing the limits of your hearing may require the help of an audiologist doctor, in which case I can recommend an audiologist in Vaughan who gives free hearing tests.

#12. Hypnosis.

According to a variety of researchers people in a state hypnosis can hear sounds from extreme distances, such as the case wherein a hypnotized person could hear a constant hissing sound at 230 yards (0.21 km), whereas a non-hypnotized people typically could not detect the same hissing sound until they were within 30 yards of the source.

This suggests that experimentation with hypnosis and hearing could prove to be highly beneficial for someone who wants to retrain their brain to hear noises more acutely.

BONUS: Audio Calibration!

During this exercise the listening person stands in the middle of a room and imagines him or herself to be at the centre of a clock face: directly to the front would be Twelve O'clock, directly behind is Six O'clock, ninety degrees to the right is Three O'clock and so on.

A second person moves about stopping at random and calling out “Now”. The listener must then guess the direction and distance. So for example, if the second person is standing six feet directly behind them the correct answer would be; “Six O'clock/six feet”. When a correct answer is a point is scored, if incorrect, the second person says the correct answer so that the listener can associate the correct answer with the immediate auditory experience.

Once the listener can get 9 points out of 10 then they go to the next level of difficulty, for which the listener and second person come up with a slightly more difficult task - possibly by changing the volume of the sound, the distance to the speaker, the preciseness of the distance, adding extra background noises, etc.

CONCLUSIONS

Don't listen to what the audiologists are saying that you cannot improve your hearing. If you have only minor or moderate damage to your ears then there are plenty of ways to rewire your brain so you can function without full hearing capabilities. I managed to do it and my hearing only seems to be getting better the older I get.

General Wellness - Mind, Body + Soul

If you exercise and eat well because of the health benefits (and longevity) its possible that you've also realized that health also includes mental health - and that mental health is often the most important thing you need to worry about.

Fitness is more than just sweating your buns off, pumping iron and trying to burn the most calories possible. You also need SLEEP and REST time to heal and build new muscle tissue.

Another thing you should do regularly is STRETCHES. There will be times when you are in so much pain for exercising that you won't even want to stretch, and you might be tempted to regularly skip stretching or exercise sessions because you are suffering from muscle pain/fatigue. That is normal. Its a sign that you've been pushing yourself too much.

When that happens it means you need to force yourself to do stretching or yoga instead of your regular exercises - and more importantly to rest and get plenty of sleep. You may even need to purchase muscle relaxers in the event that your muscle pain is so severe you are having difficulty sleeping.

Sore muscles become filled with lactic acid, the adrenal glands fatigue and the body produces more cortisol, a hormone that will store more fat, and make it harder to burn off. Too much intense exercising actually becomes quite counterproductive if you are overdoing it and making your muscles too sore. Over training can be a serious problem in exercise enthusiasts and can cause irritability, fatigue and the increased risk of injury. Take care of your body by introducing gentle exercise such as yoga, tai chi, Pilates or general stretching can help give your body a break and give it more time to build new muscle tissue.

Sports injuries are a sign that you are doing something wrong. When that happens it is important to make sure you are - not overdoing it, observing proper form on your exercises (sloppy form = more injuries), or trying to challenge yourself too much by doing things beyond your current talents.

It is true that "No Pain = No Gain" when it comes to weightlifting, but "Too Much Pain = You're Doing It Wrong" is also equally true.

Doing regular stretches and yoga, and basic exercises to build up your core strength, help to prevent sports injuries and should be a regular component in your fitness regimen.

Remember these three things!

MIND - Sleep, rest and meditation. Remember to take naps when you get the chance.


BODY - Stretching, yoga, low stress exercise days. eg. Going for a nature walk instead of weightlifing.

SOUL - Fun exercises / sports that give you peace of mind. eg. Archery, cycling, ice skating, swimming.


The simple act of walking or cycling on a nature trail is great exercise but also calming, refreshing and revitalizing - helping your mind and body on multiple levels. You have to think in terms of BALANCE so your body can maintain its equilibrium physically but mentally and emotionally too.

There is no point being buff on the outside if you are falling apart on the inside.

Awa Kenzo + Zen Archery Tips

Awa Kenzo was a Zen Archery Master who lived in Japan, born in 1880, died in 1939. He is one of the most important archery masters of the last century. In Western/European culture he gained notoriety because he was also the teacher of Eugen Herrigel, the author of "Zen in the Art of Archery".

Awa studied the art of Kyudo first in the tradition of the Heki Ryu Sekka-ha and Heki-ryu Chikurin-ha. At the time archery in Japan was very ceremonial and ritualistic. It is still used even today in Buddhist ceremonies to banish demons. (This concept isn't unique to Japan, many cultures believe in the power of the bow and arrow to banish evil. Simply making a sound by plucking a bow string is said to scare evil away.)

However following a religious enlightenment experience Awa Kenzo developed a totally unconventional and new approach to teaching archery, believing that the spiritual dimension also played a role in one's ability to shoot a target, especially if under stress. This part is certainly true from a psychology perspective as people who lack confidence and are under pressure will shoot particularly badly when they are distracted / unable to concentrate on what they are doing. Using Buddhist Zen principles to control (or unleash) the mind an archer can overcome difficulties and shoot just as accurately as they normally would under less stressful circumstances because they are able to calm their mind and shoot accordingly.

Knowing this Awa Kenzo deliberately turned away from the then-recognized tradition of Kyujutsu which was much more ceremonial to become an outsider in his training methods, focusing not so much on ceremony but on the spiritual enlightenment of his students.

In doing so his revolutionary approach resulting in his numerous students creating a lasting impact throughout Japanese culture. Awa Kenzo's doctrine of "Daishadõ-kyo" (Great Learning by Way of Shooting) followed a holistic transformation of the shooter in the sense of religious enlightenment through the practice of archery.

In the video below you can see Awa Kenzo's students taking turns shooting in a film made during the 1930s. Awa is recognizable for his rather long goatee.


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10 ZEN ARCHERY TIPS

#1. In the beginning learn to shoot quickly, don't worry about your accuracy so much as that will come later.

#2. Don't worry about form so much. Worrying about it will distract you. Just get the basics right.

#3. Breathe into your belly. Let it be the rock that holds you in place.

#4. Shoot even when your mind isn't in it. The best time to practice is when under stress.

#5. Embrace stress but don't let it control your mind.

#6. Your body will be honed with time, but only you can hone your mind.

#7. As you progress take your time to aim, but don't spend too much time aiming. Let your spirit guide you.

#8. Refine yourself to become a purer person. Avoid the distractions of vice and such things will no longer distract you.

#9. Take pleasure in the simple joys of shooting, even if you don't hit the target.

#10. Don't gloat over your successes. They are well earned, but don't let your ego become your downfall.

Sensory Training for Archery

Years ago I started doing archery as a way to get exercise and have fun doing so. Now I am an archery instructor and a personal trainer here in Toronto. Go figure.

Since then however I have noticed something unusual... My skills in visual observation have improved dramatically.

Now I admit its not super-human or anything like that.

But it is definitely more than it used to be. Now you might chalk it up to the Zen benefits of archery, which gradually hones your mind and increases your ability to concentrate on a singular target while still remaining aware of your surroundings.

Which got me thinking... If it is possible to train your eyes to be more observant using archery and similar tasks, is it possible to train the other senses as well?

Well one example is that people who have lived through a fire become hypersensitive to the smell of smoke. That sense has become attuned so that whenever they smell smoke the memories of the fire they lived through comes flooding back to them at just the whiff of smoke. For me I have lived through my parents' barn burning down when I was 5 years old and my neighbours' house burning down when I was 8. I am perfectly aware that people can become more sensitive to smells due to strong memories.

Legends about Blind Samurais is another example of why I think it is possible.

Now I admit this is a concept from Japanese folklore, but the concept is simple: The warrior trains their other senses over time and develops above average ability to hear and sense movement around them...

And as proof that learning such martial arts is not impossible for a blind person, check out this video from the CBC of a Richmond Hill resident who is blind and is learning the Israeli Martial Art of Krav Maga.


Another reason why I think it is possible is because of documented cases of men who went through the Vietnam War and similar conflict zones who, due to their circumstances and extreme need for survival, developed unusually high skills of observation.

In pop culture there are a variety of references to military groups attempting to deliberately train soldiers or agents to have above average senses and observation skills. One such film that I am fond of is the 1997 film "The Assignment".


The beauty of "The Assignment" is that it is also based on the real life true story of how Carlos the Jackal was captured.

But if you're looking for the cream of all pop culture references to developing "super senses" the top of the list would be the TV show "The Sentinel" which ran from 1996 to 1999... However in the TV show they make out that the main character has a combination of genetic advantage and hypersensitivity training that was developed during his years in the military.

However that TV show isn't really a good example because the writers of the show went overboard and gave him the ability to communicate with ghosts, spirit animals and visions of the future... Which is just plain ridiculous and the show was eventually cancelled at the end of 3rd season so they created an extra half season just so the storyline could be wrapped up.

My last example of why I think it is possible to do Sensory Training isn't from pop culture.

Its from Ashtanga Yoga, the 8-fold path of purification.
  1. Yama     Moral codes
  2. Niyama     Self-purification and study
  3. Asana     Posture
  4. Pranayama     Breath control
  5. Pratyahara     Withdrawing of the mind from the senses
  6. Dharana     Concentration
  7. Dhyana     Deep meditation
  8. Samadhi     Union with the object of meditation
Of these topics there are several that deal with sensory awareness, but the most obvious of these is Pratyahara (withdrawing of the mind from the senses). The practice involves deliberately weaning oneself from the senses one at a time so that eventually you simply fail to notice things.

As human beings we regularly do this without even noticing it. We can narrow our focus visually when watching a TV screen (the kitchen could be on fire and we wouldn't notice). We tune out noises that we don't want to hear. We ignore tastes, smells and pains in our body, especially when distracted.

Now imagine doing the opposite. Sit in a coffee shop or some other public place and listen to other people breathing. If you close your eyes you can concentrate on this task even more. Listen for minute sounds and what you discover is that you can hear many different things around you, but your mind typically doesn't listen to these things because it is so busy tuning such things out.

Another thing you can do is play observational memory games with friends. This will be mostly your eyes being tested and trained.

The thing is that isn't your eyes, ears, nose, tongue or skin that is hypersensitive. Unless we have a disability like blindness or deafness can all do these things naturally anyway. What is different is our brain pathways...

To understand brain pathways and how it interprets the senses imagine a map with a network of highways in the shape of your brain. When you are a teenager these neural pathways are still growing and expanding, and depending on which neural pathways you use more of those pathways will become thicker and stronger as your brain reinforces those pathways.

So for example if you do a lot of math your brain will reinforce the mental pathways that control your ability to do math functions. Over time your brain will increasingly be attuned to solving math problems because that is part of the brain that is being used and exercised most often.

Memory, creativity, your ability to make decisions all stem from various mental pathways which are used, not used, depending on how often you do various mental activities.

Now by the time you reach adulthood many of these 'highways' have become super highways and they're dug in there pretty deep so that they are pretty difficult to change. However they're not impossible to change.

Lets say for example you were really good at math during your teens but at the age of 20 you stopped worrying about math and went to university to become a French teacher. By the time you finish university your brain will have re-wired itself so that it is now more focused on social skills involving interactions and also on language and communication skills. You will still continue to use the math parts of your brain, but they will fall into disrepair like an old highway that few people drive on anymore.

Now lets apply this concept to your observational skills.

If you practice and hone your ability to observe things every day, either with your eyes, ears or other senses, then with time your brain will reinforce various mental pathways which affect your abilities to observe your surroundings.

Which is what archery has apparently done for me. It has increased my visual observation skills without me even realizing it, re-wiring my brain pathways so I am now more observant.

Conceptually it is different from the various physical exercises I usually discuss, but the idea remains the same: If you practice a particular skill you will with time become good at it.

Mind Body Fitness Vs Zen Exercising

There is a new trend in the fitness industry called "mind-body fitness" (or various other names) which combine tough physical workouts with lighter and less stressful components for what some personal trainers are calling "a total mind-body solution".

In reality mind-body is a misnomer. People like to use the words mind-body (or mind-body-soul) whenever they want something to sound New Age in an effort to appeal to people's more religious/spiritual sentimentalities.

Now there is nothing wrong with being spiritual and trying to look for moral guidance. Moral guidance can teach you to be less lazy, less gluttonous, more proactive, more patient about your goals... more virtuous and less sinful = More Exercise and a Better Diet. So nothing wrong with trying to be moral and virtuous, especially when it comes to exercise.

However just because something says "Mind Body" doesn't mean you should buy it. If anything you should instantly recognize it as a slogan / catchphrase, the same as "Authentic", "Traditional", "Old School", or anything else that screams "New and Improved".

Take for example Yoga: Traditional Yoga sounds pretty good, doesn't it? So does Mind-Body Yoga. New and Improved Yoga just sounds like the person is trying too hard.

Mind Body Fitness really is a bit like Interval Training... except Interval Training alternates the difficult and easy exercises multiple times instead of just one each. One Stressful, One Less Stressful. But if you repeat them both 5+ times then it IS Interval Training.

Anywho, back to my main topic: Some examples of this more stressful/less stressful so-called 'mind-body' trend include:
  1. Cy-Yo-One hour workout that combines spinning with yoga.
  2. YogaFit-Stength, cardio and yoga merged into one.
  3. Pilates-Yoga - The core strengthening benefits of Pilates combined with the full body + relaxation of yoga.
  4. Extended Stretch Sequence - Personal trainers may leave the last 10-15 minutes of every few sessions for a good, thorough (and more than likely, much needed) stretch.
  5. Jock Yoga - It's challenging enough for athletes but involves the relaxation that active people need to stay physically healthy.
So when you think of it you can basically combine any light exercise with any heavy exercise to make a combined 'Mind-Body' workout.

Examples:
  • Weightlifting followed by Yoga
  • Cycling or Spin Class followed by Stretching 
  • Running followed by Surfing or Wind-Surfing.
  • Helping Your Friends Move all their Furniture... followed by tossing around a frisbee or football.
So really, pretty darn easy to do these things. But do they really engage your mind? Not really. The latter component is really just more physically relaxing compared to the previous activity.

How to Add Less-Stressful Exercises into Your Workout

Easy. Think of a really physical stressful activity that you don't like doing, but you know you should do (eg. intense cardio for 45 minutes). Then add an activity you enjoy doing which is more relaxing but still keeps you moving (eg. 30 minutes of archery).

So anyone can do this on their own if they choose to. It takes only a little effort to add it your daily regimen and what you will discover is that the enjoyable exercises make the whole thing worthwhile and enjoyable.

What is ZEN EXERCISING?

Well Zen is the idea of really focusing on what you are doing. You avoid thinking about other things (distractions) and your goal is to get really into the activity you are doing to the exclusion of everything else. Doing this will result in a more intense workout, create better harmony between mind and body (and better hand-eye control and reflexes.

So Zen Exercising therefore is a very different thing from Mind Body Fitness (which is really more about stressful / non-stressful exercises) because Zen Exercising really gets more into your mental state while exercising.

Some people like to exercise when they're angry. The adrenaline rush from their anger makes them stronger and more energetic. However if you only exercise when angry you probably won't be exercising very often unless you have some serious anger management problems.

HOWEVER!

Some exercises are really good for developing your mental abilities. Examples:

#1. Zen Archery. Archery combines physical strength and balance with your ability to aim and concentrate on the target. Even your breathing comes into play because if you breathe into your chest and move your shoulders your aim will be knocked off, so you need to concentrate on breathing into your stomach.

#2. Tight-Rope Walking. If you're not paying attention to what you are doing you WILL fall.

#3. Acrobatics / Gymnastics / Figure Skating. Many balance oriented exercises (like surfing) require full concentration.

#4. Yogic Breathing. Concentrating on your breathing patterns is more difficult than you think.

Thus someone wanting to add Zen to their exercise routine needs to be adding things which will cause you to concentrate on your balance, aim and breathing.
Looking to sign up for archery lessons, boxing lessons, swimming lessons, ice skating lessons or personal training sessions? Start by emailing cardiotrek@gmail.com and lets talk fitness!

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