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The Mind-Body Connection, Beauty and The Bar Method
“My tuck is VERY OFF!” a Bar Method student named Katie wrote me yesterday. “I know that if I could really get the tuck down, it would help keep me completely safe and strong€¦” The “tuck” that Katie is talking about is a Bar Method position that engages students’ core muscles – namely the glutes, abs and upper back – while it allows their lower backs to relax. To “get the tuck”, students like Katie must first get out of the habit of inadvertently contracting their back muscles when they engage their glutes.
Katie is right about the importance of learning good coordination. The way you move, like good posture, plays a big role in how good you look as well as how you feel. Carry yourself gracefully, and you will come across as more confident and attractive. The Bar Method helps you to attain this feature in two ways. First it trains your core muscles to turn on when you need them. (Read CORE STRENGTHENING – FACT AND FUNCTION for more about the core.) Second – and less common among exercise techniques – it teaches you good coordination, which is your mind/body connection’s ability to choose the best possible muscles to use for each movement, and to relax those you don’t need.
Why do people use unnecessary muscles in the first place? They might do this because the muscle group that is supposed to do the work is weak, so the muscles around it have gotten into the habit of trying to help. Other reasons might be bad movement patterns picked up during childhood, or storing emotional tension in certain muscles.
Whatever the cause, if you haven’t had serious athletic training, you probably unnecessarily use too many muscles at least on occasion. What are the hardest muscles for most Bar Method students to turn off? They’re the ones in the lower back, which is why Katie and so many other students find the tuck position so elusive at first. The reason lower back muscles have so much trouble letting go in general is that our glutes unavoidably spend much of their time resting in chairs and so become weak and, yes, lazy. This reduced strength on the part of our glutes causes our lower back muscles to compensate, but they can’t perform the work our glutes are supposed to do. So students end up arching their backs instead of contracting their seats. To counteract this phenomenon, Bar Method teachers use an arsenal of training techniques, including visual imagery, gentle hands-on adjustments, frequent reminders, and breathing exercises.
Retraining your muscles to work more efficiently takes patience. You have to actually rewire your brain circuits in some cases so that the your brain doesn’t send the message “contract your lower back and glutes” when you really wanted to simply contract your glutes. The brain’s aptitude to fire specifically called upon muscle groups is what they call good mind/body connection. This connection is learnable and the results are transformative. Some students take weeks or months; others take years to get the tuck or learn to keep their shoulders down. Here are four tips on how to improve your coordination during class:
1. Look at your form in the mirror. Try to look at yourself without pre-assumptions on what you see. Try to notice whether or not your back is vertical or on an angle and whether or not your back is arched or straight.
2. Exhale deeply and sharply with each rep. Your diaphragm can get you in better touch with your core muscles if you let it help you. Try puffing out softly through your lips as you work on your form, and you’ll find that your back muscles will tend to release and your ab muscles will start to take over.
3. Ask your teacher for help. She or he will be happy to guide your body into the correct positions.
4. Stay alert during class. Avoid letting your mind wander. When it does, return to your breathing. Your added mental focus can work wonders on your form.
Most of all, be proud that you’ve set out to develop a trained and graceful body. It’s an enormous undertaking that, with patience and persistence, will transform your body.