Strength Through Relaxation
The letter ‘i’ in the Fitness ABC stands for ‘Indian’, more specifically an Indian Fakir. A Fakir, without going into too much detail, is basically a holy person who survives via the generosity of others. The bed of nails, which is also included in the image, is synonymous with the Western idea of an Indian Fakir, someone who can perform the ‘magic’ trick of lying on so many sharp pins. They are also famous for their serenity, a state where your mind is still and calm, something many of us would like to achieve!
The bed of nails isn’t magic, of course, it is actually to do with weight distribution and relaxation (hence why it’s sometimes called the bed of nails ‘trick’). To have a brief discussion about the concept of strength through relaxation is really the only reason I’ve included this letter in the series. While the exercise itself is an interesting one and one I’ve had a go at in years gone by, I do NOT recommend it for anyone who has any suspicions about their neck strength.
The verse, in case you ARE super confident enough to have a go is as follows:
A nail board in India
even serves as a bed for the fakir.
Who can lay on it so stiffly without bending,
to a count of 10?
Learning to relax when you’re doing body weight exercises is going to TRANSFORM the exercises for you. If you try and perform ANY type of exercise all tense and angry, your blood flow is restricted and you end up working (and straining) muscles that you aren’t supposed to. Maybe you’re thinking what does it matter if I use extra muscles, isn’t that a good thing? Well, while the answer isn’t a harsh NO, is also isn’t a harsh YES.
The mind-muscle connection is a vital part of your exercise education. If you are doing an exercise that is designed to improve your shoulders for example, the more you can remove all other outside assistance, the greater your results will be because you are isolating your shoulder muscles.
An example from something like the Radio Taiso series is to focus on energy radiating from your fingertips when stretching up. This creates straight lines and open channels through which energy can flow (which may sound a little hippy-dippy, but I can assure you it makes a difference). In the case of this exercise, it’s about creating that single line between your neck and your feet through engaging each muscle gently, not simply tensing.
If none of this has made sense to you, then just try this little test: Raise your arms out to your sides, clench your fists and tense up like you were squeezing your muscles. I’m willing to bet it doesn’t feel that pleasant. Now, raise your arms again, but this time don’t actively squeeze any muscles, but focus on pushing out with your fingertips and imagining energy coming from your fingertips, all the while breathing normally and keeping your shoulders down (not up by your ears!). Notice the difference? THAT is strength through relaxation.