Goal of this page:
To gather the relevant data necessary to produce measurable improvements in overall sports performance through a periodic
70-minute sports-massage session.
(As this page evolves, it's become increasingly clear the material included here pertains to improvement in various walks of life, not just sports. Perhaps a more accurate title would be Performance Massage.)
This is the world's leading online, in-depth discussion of sports massage, so it may run longer than one finds convenient. Because the length of this page approaches that of a 150-page book, the material presented here is of interest primarily to deeply motivated performers and other massage professionals, particularly those who want to explore the dynamics of achievement from a different angle.
Much of the information presented here will be found nowhere else in the literature of sports performance, particularly in the convergence of massage technique and self-improvement theory. To facilitate skimming, I attempt to highlight key points, whenever possible, with color coding.
For instance, few authors in the field have more than a tenuous grip on the various physical constituents of that elusive state we term "well-being." When we come across such elements on this site, they will be
highlighted in magenta.
This page is as much an inquiry as it is a statement. The working question is: What is the protocol we set up in order to tap into deeper reserves of energy, hinted at only sporadically in the literature but with impressive levels of authority, that normally go untapped, even by talented athletes?
Main page: Proactive massage for the Scranton and Pocono region
Table of contents:
Introduction / definition / purpose
- Early 20th century
- Mid-to-latter 20th century
Eastern thought and dormant vitality
Crunch time / end-gaining (going for the goodies)
Signs of progress in letting go
Alpha / beta
Oscillation / pulsation
Psoas: the granddaddy of movement
Trigger points / static charge
Leverage / higher levels of performance
Character vs. technique
Focus + intensity yields alchemy
Positive ground of being
In the head / willpower
Coaching with words only
Commitment & Context
"Most people live in a very restricted circle of their potential being.”
– William James (1842-1910), 'dean' of American psychology
For the moment, let’s define sports massage this way: “The systematic reduction (not necessarily elimination) of physical impediments to higher levels of performance.” Note that the word ‘impediment’ comes from the Latin impedimentia, or the excess baggage that Roman armies carried, slowing them down considerably on long marches. Says former world-class gymnast Dan Millman (Body Mind Mastery, 1999) the essence of high-end talent is not so much a presence of certain qualities but rather an absence of mental, physical and emotional obstructions.
Compared to “regular” massage, sports massage is more focused, with goals that are specific to the need or the sport in question. It is not necessarily a “feel good” session, nor for that matter is it a “feel bad” endeavor operating under the mistaken assumption of "no pain, no gain." Within a sports context, we simply want to deliver a massage that’s highly efficient so the recipient can get back onto the field and display measurable improvement.
The most promising candidate (victim?) for sports massage is probably the performer who realizes that her or his old ways of preparing for an event are no longer cutting it, that a new paradigm must be established. The business world has discovered that old paradigms of performance (for instance, the "human resources" model), lose their punch every generation or so and must be reinvented in order to meet current-day demands.
"Whenever I draw a circle, I immediately want to step out of it."
– Buckminster Fuller
Working definiton of 'paradigm,' per Werner Erhard: A model within which a process occurs.
Let’s not jump right into a discussion of technique. Let’s step back and analyze what we’re doing here. It’s more difficult that way – and certainly tougher to write – as each space must be experienced before being written in book form or posted online. Fundamentally, what are the principles that underlie our game plan? We’ll take an interdisciplinary approach, searching for any tidbits of wisdom can we extract from the ages. Our aim is to create a structure, a paradigm, a protocol, within which technique can unfold more naturally.
“Those who wish to succeed must ask the right preliminary questions.”
– Aristotle, Metaphysics
"Find the right question. You don’t invent the answers. You reveal the answers."
– Dr. Jonas Salk, developer of the polio vaccine
“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
– Harrington Emerson, American business theorist (1853-1931)
Within a wrong structure, it doesn’t matter how hard we work. So says Stephen Covey, author of the hugely popular Seven Habits of Highly Effective People. For example, you can have an MBA and sterling work habits, but if you work for a convenience store you're still going to get goosed by management every payday. Bad paradigms produce pain and confusion, adds Covey (as do bad approaches to human relationships). Moreover, "thinking positively" will not correct a bad paradigm (or a dysfunctional kata, as I like to call it).
“Churning water, for however long a time, does not produce butter.”
– Buddhist saying
"There's nothing worse than doing the wrong thing well."
– management consultant Peter F. Drucker
"You cannot make a crab walk straight."
Said the renowned American psychologist Abraham Maslow, positive change doesn’t involve the application of better techniques and strategies. It revolves around a change in our awareness of ourselves. So hopefully this presentation we're now reading will dwell at least as much upon awareness as upon the secondary and tertiary techniques and strategies.
Said navy admiral H.G. Rickover: “Among the young engineers we interview, we see few who have received thorough training in engineering fundamentals or principles. But most have absorbed quantities of facts; much easier to learn than principles, but of little use without application of principles. Once a principle has been acquired it becomes a part of one, and is never lost. It can be applied to novel problems, and does not become obsolete as do all facts in a changing society.” Ergo, let’s dig deeper than strategies and techniques to get at underlying principles, and let's retain a healthy distrust of anyone who uses the word 'ergo' in a modern sentence.
“Knowledge shrinks as wisdom grows, for details are swallowed up in principles.”
– Alfred North Whitehead
"Those are my principles. If you don't like them, well, I have others."
– Groucho Marx
If you pick up a text on sports massage you’ll often see it broken down into three categories: pre-event massage, post-event, and “interim,” meaning of course the period in-between performances. We will concentrate on the interim stage, aiming for a spillover effect into matters of everyday life.
Our ultimate aim is to induce higher levels of power generation or performance, particularly in the clutch. Our working assumption will be this: As opposed to commonplace physical manipulation of an athlete, it's relaxation that helps open up that inner world where more powerful energies and potential await. To put it another way, the ascent to performance is more dramatic if we first enter a state of deep relaxation. We're now creating the potential for the phenomena known as "goal achievement" to last longer – and be expressed more profoundly – than if we were to start from the typical state of semi-aroused agitation or stress (like the morning pep talks for Walmart employees). In this regard, we need to move a little backwards to move forward.
“The farther backward you can look, the farther forward you can see.”
– Winston Churchill
“The moment of victory is much too short to live for that and nothing else.”
– Martina Navratilova (Was she speaking only of tennis?)
According to sports psychologist Charles Garfield, whose work will be cited periodically on this site, optimal performance cannot occur when an athlete is over-aroused or excited. Excessive arousal, he says, is actually a source of stress; we feel that each and every action is a life-or-death matter. In a business context, he adds, when we're under the gun our automatic (reflexive and unconscious) response is to work harder, to effort more. This normally induces a high state of tension leading to inhibited productivity. Errors increase and we waste time back-tracking to correct them. Rare is the employee (or athlete, or student for that matter) who can see through this trap, and he or she risks accusations of not being a "team player" for failing to succumb to the pack-rat mentality.
"If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I'd spend the first four hours
sharpening the axe."
– Abraham Lincoln
If our assumption proves workable, that there’s a connection between total relaxation and higher performance, can we possibly delineate the mechanism?
If there is such a linkage, then with sports massage we will attempt to induce a state of non-doing (creative loafing), under the proposition that a calm mind fosters spontaneous performance. Said Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz, authors of the best-selling Power of Full Engagement (2003): “We must periodically disengage. Intermittently disengaging is what allows us to passionately re-engage." In this context, we can partially define sports massage as a “one-hour systematic disengagement process.” By achieving this state, our overriding aim is to produce more results on the field with less effort, to increase our efficiency and speed up our recovery time after a performance. Per Dr. Jari Ylinen and Mel Cash in 1988's praiseworthy text Sports Massage, it's incomplete recovery from training and competition that leads to muscle and joint pain in addition to tendon and bursa discomfort.
Loehr & Schwartz add: Without time for recovery, our lives become a blur of doing unbalanced by much opportunity for being. As an example, the authors note there appears to be little that differentiates great tennis players at the Wimbledon level – except for how they act between points. In the tiny slots of 16 to 20 seconds between points, the very greatest of tennis players appear able to relax their minds and refocus. In the process, their heart rate lowers. Those at the pinnacle of the game display focus, purpose, and resilience (the little nuance that separates the best from the mere competent). Almost unaware of themselves (and each other), top tennis pros display this common aspect of maximizing their recovery time between points. Lesser competitors don't. Even in golf, both Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer have discussed this “two-tier” approach: moments of high intensity and focus interspersed with valleys of deep relaxation. With similar intent, one aim of sports massage is to systematically enhance and perhaps reduce recovery times between performances and workouts.
Why are boxers massaged between rounds? (Rhetorical food for thought.)
Our mantra will be this: decrease resistance to movement (the operational impetus behind bullet trains, not to mention the old Roman armies concerned with excess impedimentia). That’s how we increase spontaneous performance as opposed to the type of performance that emerges from mental calculation. (Taken from trainer Jack Meagher, author of the landmark book SportsMassage, released back in 1980.)
"Calculation which is miscalculation sets in."
– D.T. Suzuki (1870-1966)
"Cunning is the dark sanctuary of incapacity."
– Lord Chesterfield (1694-1773)
Definition of cunning: skill in achieving one's ends by deceit; crafty, devious, sly, scheming. Example: quarterback Tom Brady and the New England Patriots intentionally deflating footballs in order to improve his grip
If an acceptable synonym for ‘resistance’ is ‘inhibition,’ the following statement from Maxwell Maltz should ring true for us as well: “Physical relaxation is a powerful disinhibitor.” Dr. Maltz’s Psycho-Cybernetics, released 20 years before Meagher’s book, was a lynchpin text of the human potential movement.
“In most mental illnesses the capacity to relax is as much impaired as the integrity of a bone is destroyed by fracture.”
– Abraham Myerson (1881-1948), neurologist/psychiatrist
Let's take an analogy from the field of sales. Two ways to increase sales are to decrease resistance within the potential buyer and to eliminate what are known as "considerations" bedeviling the psyche of the salesman. Considerations ("Why I can'ts") can be evaporated by communicating them to an empathic listener. What's even more fascinating is that as we delve more into this page we may notice a blurred line between "mental" considerations and "physical" resistance. Eventually it's difficult to determine where one stops and the other begins.
As these pages develop, we will also pursue this crucial line of thought: We have the ability to expand the space between stimuli and response. Says Dr. Phil McGraw in his book Real Life, it is in between moments of time that occur life's critical junctions and opportunities. McGraw then presents us the challenge: Can we spot them, as they occur?
“Our success depends upon the use of our time, and its by-product, the odd moment.”
– newspaper executive Arthur Brisbane, 1864-1936
Another way to express this phenomena is to say we become more 'at cause' in our experience, as human potential leader Werner Erhard would put it. Stephen Covey would say we have the ability to “slow down time.” The phrase “bending time” is also part of the public consciousness, and it will also apply. Note that it is within these higher spaces or zones that batters ‘see’ the ball, whereas other times they’re functionally as blind as a bat, like the Yankees’ A-Rod in the 2011 playoffs.
"We make our decisions in the present, and the present exists out of time. It is a tiny moment where two periods – the past and the future – meet. In the present you are always free to make your choice."
"The majority of men meet with failure because of their lack of persistence in creating new plans to take the place of those which fail."
– Napoleon Hill (particularly at the moment they fail)
“Opportunity never knocks twice at any man’s door.”
– French proverb
“Opportunity always knocks at the least opportune moment.”
– Ducharme’s Precept
If these pages achieve their goal, they will offer a clue or two on how to bust out of various ‘stucknesses’ we’re mired in, helping us to storm the citadel into higher levels of performance. We’ll look for ways to chip away at and eventually transcend “invisible walls” that may separate us from our goals. We’ll aim to spontaneously generate the so-called Zone at will. (As a masseur, it took me years to drive out mental distractions at will, but now I can do it 95% of the time.)
“If you plan on being anything less than you are capable of being, you will probably be unhappy all the days of your life.”
– Abraham Maslow
“In order to achieve all that is demanded of us, we must regard ourselves as greater than we are.”
"It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf."
– H.L. Mencken
Again, we’ll concentrate less on technique and more on underlying principles and theory. As Erhard, one of the world’s top business trainers, explains, “You can alter people’s performance, if you’ve got enough time, with information and knowledge. You can do it, if you’ve enough time, with experience or beating them over the head. But if you want a breakthrough in people’s actions, you have got to alter the way the world occurs for them.” This is the realm of principle and deep philosophy (not Philosophy 101, mind you). It is not the realm of technique, which is secondary if not tertiary. (Thank you, Admiral Rickover.)
"A thorough knowledge of the elements (basics/principles) takes us more than half the road to mastership."
– chess grandmaster Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935)
"The better you putt, the bolder you play."
– Don January, winner of 10 titles
"People who write about spring training not being necessary have never tried to throw a baseball."
– Sandy Koufax, Los Angeles Dodgers
Finally, let’s finish our brief introduction with this little observation from Joan Johnson, author of the mediocre Healing Art of Sports Massage (1995). (Johnson once ran a joint called Sports Massage of the Rockies): “Top athletes tend to get frequent massages.” Pedestrian, yes, but we'll run with it.
A select history
Latter 19th and early 20th century
The modern history of sports massage begins in the early 1900s with the founding of the Finnish School of Massage, which used Swedish* massage strokes to develop a timely and systematic system useful for athletes. In the 1924 Summer Olympics in Paris, Paavo Nurmi (the first "Flying Finn") won five Olympic gold medals in one day, with only a 30-minute break between events. He cited his massage treatments as an integral part of his training regimen. This period between 1924 and 1930 also saw Russian sports massage developed by Dr. I.M. Sarksov-Sirasini, where it was then taught at the Central Institute of Physical Therapy in Moscow. Apparently there still exists a large body of Russian research material awaiting English translation. [*The commonly used word 'Swedish' is slightly misleading. It simply represents an amalgam of techniques and approaches found mostly in northern Europe during the years leading into the 20th century.]
In the early 1900s in Australia, H. Joseph Fay established himself as an authority on massage within a sports context. He noted that American and Swedish athletes were open to the idea, as were the Germans and French, though he voiced frustration with British athletes and trainers who seemed less inclined. Fay also observed that British sports massage techniques were more superficial in application, lacking a game plan, and thus were less efficacious. He insisted that massage must be both vigorous and systematic, and that the masseur be in good athletic condition himself. He also encouraged masseurs to rely less upon their fingers when kneading and to incorporate the entire palm instead. (Don't stop there; add the forearm when possible.) Fay also discussed the “electric effect of the masseur,” an early awareness that energies are being transferred between giver and receiver. (See Fay’s Scientific Massage for Athletes, 1916)
“Who touched me? Some power has gone out of me.”
– Luke 8:45-46
(Note: the matter of "transfer of energies" has also been discussed by seminal writer/researchers Wilhelm Reich and Ashley Montagu.)
We should actually back matters up a decade or two earlier, citing influential research by the Italian physiologist Angelo Mosso (1846-1910). Mosso helped establish that muscle fatigue was largely a chemical process (as is thinking itself) that involved the production of toxic substances such as carbonic acid. Working at the University of Turin, Mosso concluded in 1888 that "work done by a muscle already fatigued acts on that muscle in a more harmful manner than a heavier task performed under normal conditions." Muscle can no longer contract properly. In 1891 Mosso published the paper La Fatica (Fatigue), in which he asserted that fatigue helps destroy our ability to even think clearly. Mosso’s work was partly inspired by the social injustices inflicted upon the working class as Italy was amidst its transition from an agrarian to an industrial society (source: Lamp & Benjamin, Understanding Sports Massage, 2004).
“The first virtue in a soldier is endurance of fatigue. Courage is only the second virtue.”
Early research by Mosso and a colleague, one professor Maggiora, helped establish that a remedy for this fatigue is to foster increased circulation to the affected muscle. (Cited in R.T. McKenzie, Exercise in Education and Medicine, 1915.) These early findings were corroborated by the Russian V.I. Dubrovsky in his study of Soviet athletes (1982). (source: Lamp & Benjamin)
Working in loose collaboration with Mosso, apparently, or at least aware of his work, the Russian J.B. Zabludowski (professor of massage, University of Berlin, early 20th century) made this discovery: Normally at about five minutes after exercise, muscles recover their working strength by about 20%. But if you were to substitute five minutes of massage for five minutes of rest, you could achieve a recovery rate of 100%, or more. (Can anyone say synergy?) Similar findings were also reported in the U.S. around the same time, so it was an idea whose time had come. They had also been discussed in the academic literature by the preeminent Victorian doctor Thomas Stretch-Dowse and the German Hans Ruge.
Said Dr. McKenzie in 1915: “After a hard race or other contest it is a matter of common knowledge among trainers that a five-minute treatment will enable an athlete to repeat or continue a performance otherwise impossible.”
In the latter 1800s and early 1900s, the ultimate destination for wearied (and wealthy) business executives was the Battle Creek Sanitarium in Michigan. It is said that the first course of action was to actually get a high-strung exec to do nothing for the first few days. This often proved difficult.
“And nothing brings me all things.”
– Shakespeare, Timon of Athens
(and in this case we'll overlook The Bard's legendary capacity for double-entendre)
King Gustav of Sweden, upon presenting a gold medal in the 1912 Olympics: “You sir, are without doubt the greatest athlete in the world.”
Jim Thorpe: “Thanks, King!”
Some relevant ancient history
About 2300 years ago the word Yu appeared in the writings of the Taoist scholar Chuang Tzu. Yu is a synonym for the right way of following the path, or Tao. It has been translated into English as 'wandering', as "walking without touching the ground," or as swimming, flying, and flowing. Chuang Tzu believed that to cultivate Yu was the proper way to live – spontaneously, without concern for external rewards, with total commitment. Note how some present-day schools of meditation likewise encourage us to let go of the reins of excessive conscious control, in the process allowing ourselves to receive guidance from sources of Higher Wisdom.
"Only when he no longer knows what he is doing does the painter do good things."
– Edgar Degas (1834-1917)
Yu can emerge only after the individual gives up conscious mastery. On the other end of the spectrum, the Western view of optimal experience leans toward changing and manipulating objective conditions, confronting challenges with skills. In contrast, yu reflects the Eastern approach of de-emphasizing objective conditions in favor of spiritual playfulness and the transcendence of trivial affairs. Why we include Chuang Tzu in this discourse may become evident later as we discuss the crucial matter of not thinking so hard.
"We aim for a state where the athlete is free from consciously thinking about what he or she is doing."
– sports psychologist Charles Garfield
"Sometimes thinking too much can destroy your momentum."
– golf hall-of-famer Tom Watson
“Stop thinking about the shot,” the Master called out. “That way it is bound to fail.”
– Eugen Herrigel, Zen in the Art of Archery, 1953
"How can you think and hit at the same time?”
– former Yankee catcher Yogi Berra
A couple centuries later we find Galen (AD 130-200), chief physician to the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, recommending massage for gladiators both before and during exercise. Galen felt that massage within the context of physical exercise afforded an additional layer of security against fatigue. [Certain sports analysts even believe lingering fatigue is a current-day problem that gets expressed mid-season in the NFL, when many players seem to lose their fresh-and-eager dispositions and consequently their sharpness. For instance, Jim Nance, who was a star running back for the New England (then Boston) Patriots from 1965 to 1971, once commented that his legs usually felt "dead" by the fourth quarter. He once had famed trainer Jack Meagher (discussed below) massage his legs right on the field.]
"If you wait 'til they're exhausted, it's too late.”
– Yankee baseball announcer (and former pitcher) David Cone, 8-13-15
The ancient Greeks also built massage routines into their famous regimens which were designed as protective, performance-boosting mechanisms. Says sports massage authority Meagher, the massage we know of today is emasculated in comparison and it’s seen as more of a restorative technique. Apparently Meagher took notice that the Greek approach was more proactive in scope, aimed at enhancing one’s level of participation in all of life. The question remains, however, how do we retain the relatively reactive restorative aspect while emphasizing the performance-boosting side?
Note that Joseph Pilates (1880-1967), who overcame a frail body as a child to eventually become a boxer, extensively studied the regimens of ancient Greece and Rome.
As an aside, it’s interesting to mention the ancient Greek belief that overdeveloped bodies led to sluggish souls. (Ida Rolf, whose work we will discuss, developed a similar though not exact train of thought in recent times.) Or perhaps the Greeks were close but just expressed it backwards: It's the person with an immature, underdeveloped approach to life who is usually the type we see pounding away recklessly at the metal in gyms.
"The enormous contrast between the athletes of Greece and those of Rome is well known. For the Greeks, physical exercise was an ethic for developing freely and harmoniously the form and strength of the human body. For the Romans, it was a technique for increasing the legionnaire’s (warrior's) efficiency. The Roman conception prevails today.”
– Jacques Ellul, The Technological Society (1964)
"The mere athlete is brutal and philistine, the mere intellectual unstable and spiritless."
"The best partner for dice playing is not a just man but a good dice player."
– Plato, The Republic
"The best throw of the dice is to throw them away."
– English proverb, possibly dating to Roman times
This ancient Greek distrust of excessive regimens shows that the purpose of dietetics, of "taking care of one's self," was not necessarily to extend life as far as possible in time nor as high as possible in performance, but rather to make it useful within the limits set for it. One could and should not expect regimen to circumvent fate or to alter nature. What could be expected, however, was that it would enable one to react, with some degree of readiness, to unforeseen events as they occurred. Or in other words, dietetics/regimen trained a person to think on their feet. It was not a set of rules; it was not the answer to life. The individual had to find his own rules and answers. Regimen was merely the coach. As Plato says in the Timaeus, this is the method by which man both governs and is governed by himself. In more recent times, self-improvement leader Werner Erhard was adamant that his seminars were not about giving people sets of rules to live by. He was determined, rather, to explore the grounds of being that lay much deeper than rules and could help people generate their own individual answers.
"Rules are made for people who aren’t willing to make up their own."
– test pilot Chuck Yeager
"The truth is that many people set rules to keep from making decisions."
– Mike Krzyzewski, Duke University basketball
Quickly moving along a few centuries, and noted elsewhere on this site, the word sprezzatura appeared during the Renaissance (1520s) to denote doing the difficult with apparent effortlessness. In sports and the arts, we admire not those who overdo their effort, but those who apply the appropriate amount of effort at the right time. Ida Rolf's role model in this regard was the fluid dancer of the golden age of Hollywood, Fred Astaire. Our model is The Beatles, who were essentially simple without being simplistic, complicated without being complex. They were the ultimate 20th century masters of "harmony and proportion" as Leonardo described. Sprezzatura is the ability to display an ease in accomplishing difficult actions in a way that camouflages the conscious effort that went into them. With this in mind, we shall explore how this stance may help conserve resources in a variety of physical endeavors. We will also discuss how concepts such as sprezzatura (a good name for spaghetti sauce) are not mere lofty ideals but in actuality carry a commensurate muscular component.
“No dancer can watch Fred Astaire and not know that we all should have been in another business.”
– Mikhail Baryshnikov
“If you see a tennis player who looks as if he is working very hard, then that means he isn’t very good.”
– Helen Wills Moody (1905-98), the greatest female tennis player ever
“Nothing so much prevents our being natural as the desire of appearing so.”
– La Rochefoucauld, Maxims, 1665
Mid to latter 20th century
In the 1930s, German physicians Johannes Schultz and Wolfgang Luthe described what they called an "autogenic" state of deep relaxation. Autogenic basically means a state created by and within the individual, as opposed to an outside agent. This state, a step beyond mere muscular relaxation, mobilized the usually dormant normalizing and healing capabilities of the brain. Schultz discovered that autogenic relaxation was best achieved through passive concentration. (At first this seems like a contradiction of terms, as in "passive aggressive behavior.") There should be rapt attention, he wrote, but not a feeling of struggle. There should be a sense of letting things happen, not forcing them. As with meditation, less effort produces more results. We also see this point as a recurring theme in the literature on effective living and it appears to be another way of expressing Chuang Tzu's concept of yu.
One of the first books written entirely about sports massage was Massage in Athletics (1947) by Albert Baumgartner, a former trainer at the State University of Iowa. Baumgartner wrote that “a good massage is half of the athlete’s preparation,” and that a vital part of an effective massage is to instill confidence. The Soviets had earlier discovered that mental training (which we'll define massage as a subset thereof), is at least as important as physical training, and perhaps more so.
“If you don’t have confidence you’ll always find a way not to win.”
– Carl Lewis, Olympic gold medalist
"Son, what kind of pitch would you like to miss?"
– Dizzy Dean, St. Louis Cardinals
“I've never seen anyone grow humpbacked carrying away the money they won from me.”
– Poker Alice (1851-1930)
“There is plenty of time to win this game, and to thrash the Spaniards too.”
– Sir Francis Drake (reputedly) while playing a game of bowls, upon being informed that the Spanish Armada had been sighted approaching England in 1588
“Not only do I knock ‘em out, I pick the round.”
– Muhammad Ali
Although sports massage was commonly used by trainers and athletes in the first half of the 20th century, it had virtually disappeared from the sports scene in the U.S. between 1950 and 1980 (per Benjamin). It's interesting that massage instructor/publisher Robert Noah Calvert, in his History of Massage (2002), points out a similar time-frame for the virtual disappearance of massage from the techniques employed by the mainstream medical community.
Also influential at the mid-century point, Elsa Gindler (1885-1961), was a physical educator in Berlin who developed a program called Sensory Awareness. She sought to instill in her students a "quiet alertness," an attitudinal – and contextual – change from one of "trying to get things done" just to be finished to one of being present to the moment, to the process. Note that she moved away from the common practice of imparting techniques; she was more interested in altering a person’s core ground of being, a space that precedes and delineates technique. The scope of Gindler's work eventually reached as far away as the Esalen Institute in Big Sur, California, an incubator site for the human potential movement worldwide. Through Gindler's influence, we're also seeing an example of how "movement education," including yoga, is considered a forerunner to the field of self-help. In fact, each is incomplete without the other.
"If you want to build a ship, don't drum up people together to collect wood and don't assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea."
– Antoine de Saint-Exupery, author of The Little Prince
"My team talk was very simple. I said, ‘Let’s just have an old-fashioned match, get the right result and go out for a few drinks afterwards.’ It seemed to work better than all the tactical crap.”
– Ron Atkinson, manager of Coventry City, 1996
Lulu Sweigard Ph.D (1895-1974), taught dance for many years at New York's Juilliard School. She was an innovator in the use of mental imagery to achieve a goal, a radical departure from the efforting and exertions taught to dance students up to that time. Sweigard
developed a system called Ideokinesis whereby you unlearn a motor pattern that doesn't work and replace it with one that does. (Though you can’t unlearn when the mind is racing.) Under Sweigard's system, the improved image in our mind guides our nervous system into the proper movement patterns, and she believed it took three months of daily practice to re-pattern an old habit.
“Nothing erases unpleasant thoughts more effectively than conscious concentration on pleasant ones.”
– Dr. Hans Selye, University of Montreal, pioneer regarding the nature of stress
Fundamentally, Ideokinesis is the process of using mental imagery to improve the body’s postural alignment in order to generate greater equilibrium. Harvard dance student Julie Grinfield described it this way: “The tacit nature of Ideokinesis means that mental and physical energy can be used to train the particular skill, like learning a phrase of choreography, instead of on postural alignment. A dancer can more easily do a pirouette if she thinks of herself as a spinning top than if she thinks ‘neck up, shoulders back, rib-cage down, arms out, back wide, pelvis forward, and toe to knee.’ Sweigard fully described Ideokinesis in her 1974 book Human Movement Potential, which at last check sells for a healthy $550 on Amazon and at that price should probably come packaged with a complimentary copy of the hit single "To Sir With Love" by the other Lulu. Sweigard's work, by the way, continues to appear in the bodywork literature, particularly her development of the Constructive Rest Position as an aid toward releasing the psoas. Parts of her work were incorporated by Joseph Pilates and F.M. Alexander and are also seen in findings of researchers even today. Bottom line, if we remove the puffy academic language from the previous paragraph, we see two key ideas that Sweigard advanced: 1) equilibrium generates results; 2) we have to get mental garbage out of our head and simplify.
“Out of clutter, find simplicity.”
“One must pass through knowledge to arrive at simplicity.”
– Trevanian, Shibumi, 1979
Dr. Walter Rudolf Hess of Switzerland (1881-1973) was a Nobel Prize-winning physiologist. Like Schultz and Luthe, he found that a mechanism similar to the famed “relaxation response” of Dr. Herbert Benson promotes
restorative processes. (If you're interested, look for The Functional Organization of the Diencephalon, published in 1957. Diencephalon = "interbrain.")
A mini resurgence for sports massage began in the early 1970s, traced to the 1972 summer Olympics in Munich. That’s when runner Lasse Viren, known as “The Flying Finn,” set a world record time in the 10k and an Olympic record in the 5k. It was learned that as part of his training routine Viren received deep massage daily. Viren was actually the second “Flying Finn.” The first was the aforementioned Paavo Nurmi, who won five gold medals in one day in 1924 with only a 30-minute break between events. Nurmi had credited much of his success to his personal massage trainer (source: Lamp).
“If you want to tell something to an athlete, say it quickly and give no alternatives. This is a game of winning and losing. It is senseless to explain and explain.”
– Paavo Nurmi
The Finnish legacy became apparent again in 1977 when the Nike shoe company founded the famed Athletics West Track Club in Eugene, Oregon. The lead masseur was Ilopo Nikkoli, a Finn whose deep pressure work was met with skepticism by some. That is until various runners began to experience fewer injuries due to his approach. Around this same time, marathoner Alberto Salazar began to credit the role of massage for his running success. Salazar was quoted as saying massage is “one of the basics of training that somehow got lost.” Salazar is a three-time winner of the New York City marathon and one-time winner in Boston.
According to journalist Ray Hosler, author of The Runner's World Massage Book (1982), Salazar claimed that two deep-tissue massages per week enabled him to maintain, without interruption, a 17-week training schedule. Previous to receiving massage he was never able to train for this length of time. Salazar also credited massage with offering him quick recovery times from marathons.
Through much of the 20th century, sports massage was widely practiced and refined in the former Soviet Union before it became popular in the West. Soviet trainers experimented with ways to help athletes recover more quickly from training sessions, and they found sports massage to be effective in boosting performance and speeding up healing. In fact, the strength coach for the New York Giants, Johnny Parker, once traveled to the former Soviet Union to learn about sports massage. When he returned, he started a sports massage program for his team. That was 1986-87, the season the Giants won their first Super Bowl. Parker's methods were later adopted by Walt Evans, strength coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
One of the key figures of this era to emerge from the Russian side was sports psychologist Alexander (Aleksandr) Romen, who may have hailed from Alma-Ata, the former capital of Kazakhstan. According to American sports psychologist Charles Garfield, Romen's place in sports history (and also in the training of Soviet cosmonauts) was achieved not so much by formulating techniques per se, but by encouraging levels of relaxation that improve such techniques. Expressed another way by Garfield, what stood out was Romen's discovery of the techniques for teaching the athlete how to gain voluntary access to the peak performance state. Stanley Krippner, author of Human Possibilities (1980) studied Romen's work first-hand and noticed how Romen's methods helped athletes overcome pre-event jitters, accelerate their reaction times and relieve fatigue between events. According to Garfield, Romen also demonstrated that the western model of tight-jawed determination (what he calls the 'Vince Lombardi school') to accomplish a single-minded goal actually limits the athlete’s ability to achieve results, since only limited parts of the body (and mind) are activated. The crux of the Soviet programs was two-fold: first relaxation, then visualization.
“The main thing to do is relax and let your talent do the work.” (brilliant)
– Charles Barkley, Phoenix Suns (basketball)
"May you achieve all your goals."
– ancient Chinese curse
Romen also suggested that conscious relaxation is equal to and in some cases more refreshing than sleep itself. His opinion was echoed by Brent Rushall, professor of coaching science at Lakehead University in Ontario, who determined that “a rest period of concentrated relaxation would help the recovery process” (Psyching in Sport, 1979). Also in the 1970s, a period of tense American/Soviet competition and mutual suspicion, Soviet psychologist Grigori Raiport noted that American sports training was geared toward the correction of chronic deficiencies, a reactive approach (driving the car by looking through the rear-view mirror), whereas the Soviet system was more proactive, focused more on the unexplored dynamics of athletic excellence.
Another important Russian train of thought in this period came from Soviet physician A.G. Odessky. He asserted that with relaxation we can rid ourselves of counterproductive emotions and sensations that can plague us as we head into competitive situations. His work was based in part on the findings of Johannes Schultz (German psychiatrist and neurologist of Berlin) and Wolfgang Luthe, developers of the aforementioned autogenic training. Says Garfield, when negative emotions are present, peak performance will not occur, regardless of the attentional focus or energy levels. Few top salesmen would argue this point either.
"A single negative thought is what gets me hit in the face."
– boxing champ Ray 'Boom Boom' Mancini
"All negative emotion is expressed as flexion."
– Moshe Feldenkrais (Negative emotion carries a physical counterpart, in this case flexion/bending, as documented by Wilhelm Reich.)
The vibrational frequency of humans can be measured in kilohertz (kHz), and a healthy human ranges in frequency from 62 to 78 kHz. At 25 kHz, death begins. Negative thoughts can decrease one's frequency by as much as 12 kHz.
– Frankie Avalon Wolfe, Complete Idiot's Guide to Reflexology, 1999
(one needs to be something of an idiot to sound so similar in name to a worthless pop sensation from around 1960)
"To complain is always non-acceptance of what is. It invariably carries an unconscious negative charge."
– Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now
W. Timothy Gallwey, author of The Inner Game of Tennis, gained a lot of attention when his book was published in 1974. Said Gallwey, "The player of the inner game comes to value the art of relaxed concentration above all other skills. He learns that the secret to winning any game lies in not trying too hard." (It was the classic philosopher Rousseau who said he could never achieve anything he desired too strongly.)
Gallwey encouraged the kind of spontaneous performance that occurs only when the mind is calm and seems at one with the body. Paradoxically, success comes when we temporarily withhold judgments of success or failure but notice what is. Gallwey's book was not received well by many professional tennis coaches.
"If you try to do too much, the chances increase that the game will go against you."
– John Smoltz, Hall of Fame pitcher and broadcaster
In terms of massage publishing, 1980 proved to be a banner year in more ways than one. For our purposes, the year saw the release of the highly influential book SportsMassage by athletic trainer Jack Meagher, a text that has helped set the standard for sports massage publishing ever since. At least for a time, if not even today, the book has been required reading to earn a massage license in New York State, though it’s starting to sound dated.
When we are sore and tight, one of our first inclinations is to rub and stretch, a habit that nature seems to have embedded into us. However, stretching in and of itself is a form of brute force, and force in itself cannot fully and reliably induce a muscle to relax. So says Deane Juhan, author of the highly influential bodywork text Job's Body. Unfortunately, many massage instructors to this day insist on stretching a body every which way under the sun, without a game plan, operating under the unexamined but tempting proposition that a mere stretch is the magic solution for ameliorating the bumps and grinds of daily life.
"Force can only achieve mediocre results at best."
– Napoleon Hill
"Power is not the same as force."
"Force is the negation of power."
– Werner Erhard
“Force has no place where there is need of skill.”
– Herodotus (485-425 BC)
“Who overcomes by force, hath overcome but half his foe.”
– Milton, Paradise Lost
“Knowledge is more than equivalent to force. The master of mechanics laughs at strength.”
– Samuel Johnson (1708-1784)
“Force, unaided by judgment, collapses through its own weight.”
– Horace (65-8 BC)
Static stretching, exemplified by yoga, can be slightly more effective. However it is still relatively inefficient in terms of results gained for time spent. It also lacks the capacity to immediately reduce tension in unusually tight muscles (source: Kit Laughlin, Overcome Neck & Back Pain, 1995). Laughlin, an Australian who leads seminars around the world, adds that as far as the body is concerned, stretching exercises are yet one more stress. Also, when it comes to teaching proper methods of stretching, a crucial point is usually missed. Says Laughlin, the sole purpose is to feel a stretch in the precise place. Others have termed this approach "precise localization."
"Localization of force is more important than intensity . . . poor results are most often due to improperly localized forces, usually too strong."
– Goodridge & Kuchera, 1997
(At other times Goodridge substitutes the word "monitoring" for "localization." History has also demonstrated that an improperly placed flying buttress
on a Gothic cathedral can take the ceiling down.)
Most significantly, conventional stretching cannot deactivate trigger points (dysfunctional nodes of congested tissue) in a dependable way. When overdone, stretching can actually make matters worse, for when a muscle is elongated by more than seven percent of its resting length, it begins to rip and tear. "Feel good" massage isn't very effective either (Clair Davies, Trigger Point Therapy Workbook, 2001). For instance, when rotator-cuff muscles (so called because they rotate the arm) are stiff and resistant, the "exercise and stretch" route can yield disappointing results. However, by first addressing these trigger points, we're dropping a direct hit on Laughlin's "precise place." We're planting a smart-bomb onto the precise area of congested tissue (with a short, single-direction microstretch designed to enhance circulation at the deepest of levels), rather than performing a carpet-bombing macrostretch of the muscle's entire length. This latter approach still happens to be the conventional method though in reality it can make the situation worse. But if we can first de-activate the trigger point, the rest of the muscle, which has resisted stretching until this moment, stands a fair chance of lengthening naturally and spontaneously. (Do books on stretching mention this? One thinks not.)
Full range of motion can now return simply by means of resuming normal activity. Davies' point backs up Jim Loehr's assertion that upper range performance is a natural consequence of the right kind of internal feeling/climate occurring at the right time. In effect, we’re setting up a calculus, encouraging the two trains known as equanimity and kairos (discussed later) to merge simultaneously. And instead of focusing on the content or doing-ness of stretching, we've taken the matter down into the basement (or the gutter?), one level deeper, into the context of stretching, or in other words that which allows stretching to happen in the first place. (Is it true that the deeper the basement the more stable the building?)
"A coach who suppresses natural instincts may find that he has lifted a poor player to a mediocre one but has reduced a potential genius to the rank and file."
– Sir Don Bradman, Australian cricketer
Lest we oversimplify, full release and relaxation of musculature is a complicated affair, says Meagher, and it’s easy for an athlete to lose this skill-set. He adds that the underlying cause of a muscular problem is the development of a spasm situated at its origin/attachment point, though others would argue convincingly that it’s centered in the belly of the muscle. Regardless, we don’t want to stretch this spasm, we want to do the opposite: shorten and broaden it without straining the attachment point. A clarification here, courtesy of Myers: muscle itself never really attaches to bone. The movement of muscle pulls on fascia, which is attached to the periosteum (or joint capsule); the periosteum pulls on the bone. [Definition of periosteum: a dense layer of vascular connective tissue enveloping bones except at the surfaces of joints.] One further clarification: Meagher published in 1980 and focused on attachment points. By 2001, however, Davies demonstrated, based upon the research of Travell & Simons, that it's the constant muscle tension imposed by latent trigger points that overstresses and eventually damages muscle attachments. This insight gives a practitioner the license to focus less on the attachments themselves, even though Meagher claims this is "where the action is."
Per Ylinen/Cash (perhaps influenced by Meagher), we don’t treat just the belly of the muscle. When treating an attachment area as illustrated above, we work toward the belly. This applies a stretch to the tendons and induces a "reflectory relaxation" of the muscular unit. (Reflectory in this case appears to be used in the sense of an indirect and involuntary reflex action, as if we’re fooling the muscle into compliance.) Stroking applied away from an attachment, they claim, is more effective than when applied toward the attachment, though if working away from the heart we keep the strokes shorter. Traditional stretching, as we've noted, tends to affect all the myofascial structures in a given area equally ("stretching the symptoms") and appears less effective in setting off this reflectory relaxation. So again, with sports massage we hone in on specific localized areas for greater effect, aiming to “unbunch” discrete muscle fiber so as to increase intramuscular circulation and break up adhesions between muscle bundles.
In addition, stretching must be pain-free, per Davies (though treating a trigger point is not). Heat, by the way, has no measurable effect upon encouraging trigger points to release, or else we'd see a waiting list to get into the steam room. However we approach it, stretching is generally seen as something we ‘do’. Yet according to practitioner/educators such as the famed F.M. Alexander, we cannot recover the proper use of overly contracted muscles by "doing." It is only by "not doing" (down in the gutter) that we can relax them and allow them to regain normal function – including the enhanced restorative processes of the variety Hess described in the 1950s.
There is no simple movement in itself, stretching included, that can release a muscle. Release comes from letting go of any trigger mechanisms that fire in the muscles causing them to contract. We cannot "unfire" by "doing," says Alexander. Only by "not doing" do we cause release and relaxation. "Not doing" is harder than doing, he says, simply because we've lost the art of it, nor is the practice fostered by our Western way of thinking.
"To refrain from an act is no less an act than to commit one, because nervous inhibition is co-equal with nervous excitation."
– physiologist Charles Sherrington, Nobel Prize winner, 1932
To cap off this section, as muscle tightens it tends to torque or twist. Who in their right mind would undo a twisted rope or a Twizzler by merely stretching it?
"Achieving centration, such as the precise alignment of the femoral head within its socket, is more advantageous than stretching."
– from The Psoas Solution, by Evan Osar, 2017
Eastern thought and dormant vitality
The aim of bodywork methods such as acupuncture, shiatsu and massage is to reclaim the individual’s balance of energies and to bring her or him into harmony with the universal pulse of life (Lucinda Lidell, The Book of Massage, 1984, and notice how her choice of words is so out of fashion today, though still on the mark). As an analogy to a well-functioning human body, it's much easier to play correctly on a piano that's in tune than on one that's not. We can’t achieve higher levels of performance when the paradigm is dysfunctional or out of balance, as Covey asserted so elegantly that we accept his position as being self-evident.
"The framework of a symphony must be so strong that it forces you to follow it, regardless of the environment and circumstances."
– composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)
This state of realignment and rebalancing could well be the "X Factor" described by psychologist/author Jim Loehr who sought, like others before him, to discern the difference between elite athletes and the mere competent. Both camps have the ability and technique down pat, he says. The difference can be found in tapping into the inner reserves that full relaxation invites.
"The best is the enemy of the good."
"There is no such thing as a pretty good omelet."
– French proverb
In contrast to our deeply ingrained, assertive Western way of thinking, a paradigm that permeates American sporting culture, traditional Chinese medicine views wholeness and completion as the starting point, not the end game. This approach, by the way, is reflected in the work of Werner Erhard: “The (mere) mind deals only with parts. It can understand ‘getting complete’ or ‘becoming complete,’ but it can't get wholes, such as ‘is complete’ or ‘being complete.’ This is the realm of the Self.”
"A good play needs no epilogue."
– Shakespeare, As You Like It, spoken during the . . . epilogue
"People who experience themselves as complete don’t deal with other people as opportunities to have their own needs filled."
– Werner Erhard
The realm of the Self is the same space as that of taking a stand and declaring what shall be. In this view, we take the Art of War approach and decide that the game is won before it begins, then we fill in the missing pieces. The Beatles applied such a strategy in 1964, delaying their first visit to America until they already had a #1 hit ('I Want to Hold Your Hand') on the often-rigged Billboard charts.
Actually we're not so much deciding as creating, a zone that's much more powerful. Later on this page we'll discuss the link between full relaxation and enhanced visualization. For the moment, however, let's suggest that full relaxation also enhances the quality and precision of our declarations, the kind that say, that create "I'm coming home with the cup."
"Stop saying ‘I wish’ and start saying ‘I will’."
– magician David Copperfield
"People often say that this or that person has not yet found himself. But the self is not something one finds, it is something one creates."
– psychoanalyst Thomas Szasz
"You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare."
– Georgia O'Keeffe
(The word 'declare' is derived in part from the Latin clarus, meaning "clear," as in a clearing, which we'll discuss. At the rate we're going, hopefully we'll get to it by next week.)
"Good writers define reality; bad ones merely restate it."
– playwright Edward Albee
"The minute you start talking about what you’re going to do if you lose, you’ve lost."
– George Schultz, former U.S. secretary of state
Notice also how certain camps within the Eastern bodywork profession place prime emphasis upon development of moral character, lest ki remain untouched. (Later on we'll discuss a possible connection between ki and deeper levels of muscle firing. We might even get a chance to define ki if we're lucky.) From now on, in the card game of sports massage, character and intention will also trump technique.
"Some people are so busy learning the tricks of the trade that they never learn the trade."
– Vernon Law, pitcher for the Pittsburgh Pirates, winner of the Cy Young Award in 1960
"To create is to act . . . without predicate (preconditions/prerequisites)."
– Werner Erhard
"To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society."
– Theodore Roosevelt
“Everything I know about morality and obligations of men, I owe it to football.”
– Albert Camus
Said educator and sports psychologist James Hickman back in 1979 (in the journal article "How to Elicit Supernormal Capabilities in Athletes" found in Coach, Athlete, and the Sports Psychologist), westerners frequently experience spontaneous bursts of energy that contribute to exceptional performance. However, eastern systems take this space a step deeper, teaching one to tap into often-hidden reserves of energy (source: Garfield). Garfield, a world-class weightlifter, also notes that temporary bursts of energy from another common source – anger – are unreliable and inconsistent and can lead to confusion and fatigue. After visiting the USSR in 1978, Hickman also noted that learning to influence our physiology mentally is an essential missing ingredient in most Western training systems, as is the process of firing up one's imagination.
"The angry general loses."
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War
“It ain’t the water cooler getting you out.”
– Yankee manager Casey Stengel to Mickey Mantle, who once kicked one after going down on strikes
“Most golfers are willing enough to practice physically, but they never think of practicing mentally.”
– Jerry Travers, U.S. Open champion, 1915
To this point, we've seen the fascinating matter of "hidden reserves" taken up by Schultz, Luthe, Hess, and now Hickman.
“Nobody knows in detail how extreme pleasure works, but it seems to activate some of the deepest and most primitive parts of the brain, occasionally overriding the more complex, cognitive regions.”
– Clifford Bishop, British author/researcher
“One of the reasons why I, 'a medical man' decided to give up medicine was a firm conviction of the extraordinary influence on health of pleasurable excitement, especially when combined with fresh air and exercise. How frequently have I, with great difficulty, persuaded patients who were never off my doorsteps to take up golf, and how rarely, if ever, I have seen them in my consulting room again.”
– Alister MacKenzie (1870-1934), golf course architect
To this eminent list we can also add Andrew Taylor Still (1828-1917) who is considered the "father of osteopathy." His primary interest was in developing a hands-on approach toward encouraging the body's own capacity to heal, minus drugs and chemicals. Compare this method with psychologist Edward Deci, mentioned below, whose interest in sports and coaching dealt with the issue of self-motivation, with the coach merely playing the role of facilitator.
"The teacher must adopt the role of facilitator, not content-provider."
– Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934)
"Teach as an old fishing guide takes out a beginner."
– Theodore Roethke, winner of the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, 1954
Still's premier student was apparently William Garner Sutherland (1873-1954), whose focus was also on manual therapy vs. pharmaceuticals. By 1948, Sutherland was basically saying "Don't adjust people anymore. Find the still-point." (Similar to the null point described in the next section.) Sutherland called the still-point our "reset button," enabling us to heal on our own. He said that people in real stress never get to the still-point. In fact, in a point that's corroborated by Wilhelm Reich, we actively struggle to get out of it, to avoid the still point at all costs.
"Neurosis is the way of avoiding non-being by avoiding being."
– Paul Tillich, German-born theologian (1886-1965)
"He who sleeps in continual noise is wakened by silence."
– William Dean Howells (1837-1920), American author/editor
"Silence is God’s first language."
– St. John of the Cross (1542-1591)
Throughout this site, quotes from recognized mystics are highlighted in green. In all human history, they have come closest to glimpsing eternal truths, usually in an extraordinarily short amount of time ... like 15 minutes of glorious, unfiltered insight handed down from Above.
Another take on the hidden reserves theory was once expressed by a doctor Joseph Buchanan (1814-1899), author of Therapeutic Sarcognomy (from the Greek sarx, meaning 'flesh' and gnomy for knowledge) way back in 1846. Buchanan, of Kentucky, wrote that intense stimulation of the lower limbs has the power to arouse the dormant vitality of the base of the brain, perhaps referring to the medulla oblongata (Governing Vessel 16, one of the most primal of points). A major contention of Buchanan was that each portion of the surface of the body is related directly to a physiological function, through a shared sympathetic connection with the brain. Thus, a map of the organs of the brain is reproduced on the body, and vice versa.
The eminent William James also discussed the topic of hidden reserves in his essay “The Energies of Man” (1908). James was also one of the first major voices to openly discuss the topic of mysticism from a scholarly perspective, and the two topics are not entirely unrelated. Garfield notes that when hidden reserves are tapped, it often happens unexpectedly (and accidentally), as do mystical experiences, which seem "more real" than ordinary life to those who are privileged to stumble upon them.
"It is in the nature of human affairs that great alterations take place suddenly, and great discoveries are made unexpectedly, as it were accidentally."
– William Godwin (1756-1836)
Note that the intense acuity that athletes report when they're "in the zone" (spinning all the plates in the circus) has also been described as being "more real" than everyday moments of competition. Almost ironically, at these moments we perceive the minute details of our performance with acute clarity, yet at the same time we see the big picture more clearly (Garfield). Garfield also observes, by the way and with a hint of regret, that the topic of hidden reserves has received scant attention from researchers in the field of sports science.
Unrelated to "hidden reserves" but still related to the work of Buchanan, the brilliant Russian physician Vladimir Bekhterev (1857-1927) reportedly coined the term ‘reflexology’ (unrelated to the foot) in 1917. Per Bekhterev, an organ begins to dysfunction when it receives inappropriate operating instructions from the brain. By disrupting the dysfunctional biofeedback loop by working the skin surface, the therapist prompts the body into issuing more coordinated signaling. Lack of such coordination was seen even by the great Edgar Cayce (psychic/healer, 1877-1945) as a primary source of health disturbance. When impulses from nerves branching out from the spine lack coordination and balance, he said, certain organs receive more stimulation than others. The firing is either too little, too much, or haphazard, and we can certainly imagine the ensuing lack of physical coordination during sport competition.
Building upon the work of Pavlov, Bekhterev's contention was that a higher degree of functionality is achieved by applying a series of such interruptions, including electrical. This concept is apparently similar to the southeast Asian concept of “stopping the blood,” discussed later on this page. Bekhterev saw no difference between mental disorder and that of the nervous system. He also noted that all mental processes are accompanied by physical counterparts, as did Moshe Feldenkrais, whose work we'll get to later. In other words, “thoughts are physical things,” not “inanimate stuff.” For a period of time through the 1930s, Bekhterev’s reflexology threatened to supplant traditional psychiatry as the premier model of human behavior. (Source: Pauline Wills, Reflexology Manual, 1995)
"Every act of thinking is identical with the molecular activity of the brain-cortex that coincides with it."
– Auguste Forel, psychiatrist (1848-1931)
"Every now and then go away, have a little relaxation, for when you come back to your work your judgment will be surer; since to remain constantly at work will cause you to lose power of judgment. Go some distance away, because the work appears smaller and more of it can be taken in at a glance, and a lack of harmony or proportion is more readily seen."
– Leonardo da Vinci
"Painters often look at their work in the mirror because you can see flaws that you don’t see looking straight at a canvas."
– historian David McCullough
Because we’ve seen the word 'harmony' used three times already, let’s offer one definition: “a pleasing or congruent arrangement of parts.”
"Harmony is next to Godliness."
– Bach, and make that four times
Throughout the ages, many great teachers have suggested that spirit (life force) occurs in the spaces between our thoughts. During deep meditation, for instance, there comes a point where the mind can enter a void that's momentarily free of the usual surface noise. Perhaps another way to express this mechanism is to say that time is slowing down, the space between stimuli and response is widening, and our brainwaves are operating at more placid levels. If we take a look at our own experience we may notice that if we've ever committed ourself to a course of action, particularly one that others would doubt our ability to achieve, a positive outcome occurred outside our normal parameters of time, logic and predictability.
"The pleasure of sport is so often the chance to indulge the cessation of time itself."
– journalist George Plimpton
"There is something beyond our mind which abides in silence within our mind."
“Logic and consistency are luxuries for the gods – and the lower animals.”
– Samuel Butler (1835-1902)
“The truth is more important than the facts.”
– Frank Lloyd Wright
The ancient Greeks had a term for such a moment, and they called it kairos, which often gets translated as something like "the right, opportune, or supreme moment." Kairos does not refer to linear time as such, rather it expresses the moment that some athletes refer to as "time slowing down," those episodes in and out of sequential time when the real magic on the field happens. In Russia this might be called the "white moment," as expressed by gold-medal weightlifter Yuri Vlasov, a key role model for Arnold Schwarzenegger. From the realm of poetry we can cull T.S. Eliot's "timeless moment," while in the Hopi language we can find no word that expresses the concept of linear time.
"The crucial concept in baseball is the creation of opportunities." (Brilliant)
– George F. Will, Men at Work, (1990)
"If you no longer go for a gap that exists, you’re no longer a race car driver."
– Ayrton Senna, Formula One driver from Brazil
If you've ever read a business book along the lines of "Closing the Sale," they all discuss this moment (without ever using the word kairos, of course, but that's what they're driving at). In this regard, kairos is a call to action, the moment when the fish nibbles, defined as, in the viewpoint of the Greek rhetoricians, "a passing instant when an opening (a clearing) appears which must be driven through with force if success is to be achieved."
“I never think about the play or visualize anything. I do what comes to me at that moment. Instinct. It has always been that way.”
– Lionel Messi, Barcelona forward
“That little white ball won't move until you hit it, and there's nothing you can do after it has gone.”
– Babe Zaharias, greatest female athlete of the 20th century
“It would be much better if she (Zaharias) and her ilk stayed at home, got themselves prettied up and waited for the phone to ring.”
– sportswriter Joe Williams, New York World-Telegram, ~1935
“Some people say little girls should be seen and not heard, but I think, OH BONDAGE, UP YOURS!”
– Poly Styrene, X-Ray Spex
Despite the fact that no single word encapsulating the concept of kairos has entered the English language, and despite the mistranslations of the original concept because of the limitations of language itself, we will attempt to induce kairos on the massage table with the intention of a spillover effect onto the playing field. Note that among major thinkers of the last century, Werner Erhard has come closest to repopularizing the concept of kairos through his frequent use of the word and concept "clearing," especially in his latter career.
“You should hammer your iron when it is glowing hot.”
– Publilius Syrus, first century BC
"Do not wait to strike 'til the iron is hot, but make it hot by striking."
– William B. Sprague, American clergyman (1795-1876)
“Act well at the moment, and you have performed a good action to all eternity.” (Brilliant)
– Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801), Swiss poet/philosopher
It is in solitude and quiet that our best ideas occur to us, said legendary motivational author Napoleon Hill (1883-1970). Self-help writer Wayne Dyer also picked up on this point at length (for instance, in his book Inspiration), and he arose very early in the morning precisely to catch such thoughts as they occurred. Let’s suggest that this principle may carry over into physical development as well, for instance where muscular rebuilding best occurs during times of rest.
“There is a time to run and there is a time to rest. It is the true test of the runner to get them both right."
– Noel Carroll, Irish Olympian, co-founder of the Dublin Marathon
What’s more, decisions arrived at in managed solitude (I’m sure the massage table qualifies for this category) have a habit of being correct. So said David Schwartz, author of the influential Magic of Thinking Big (1959). Said Schwartz, top-tier leaders actually pencil in time for solitude to tap their supreme thinking power.
"The more powerful and original a mind, the more it will incline towards the religion of solitude."
– Aldous Huxley
"Solitude is not something you must hope for in the future. Rather, it is a deepening of the present."
– Thomas Merton, Catholic monk and writer
Thomas Edison said pretty much the same thing: “To do much clear thinking a person must arrange for regular periods of solitude when they can concentrate and indulge their imagination without distraction." And perhaps another way to express the indulging of imagination is this: to let go of the shackles of overly rigid and non-creative thought.
"Imagination rules the world."
– Napoleon Bonaparte
"Imagination is not an empirical or super-added power of consciousness, it is the whole of consciousness as it realizes its freedom."
– Jean-Paul Sartre
“The debt we owe to the play of imagination is incalculable.”
– Carl Jung
“Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.”
– John Dewey
“Imagination creates reality.”
– Richard Wagner (1813-83)
From Shackleton's Way (2001), by Margot Morrell & Stephanie Capparell: In 1914, Sir Ernest Shackleton and his 27 men became stranded in their attempt to transverse the Antarctic by foot. Their story of defying the odds and returning to civilization has become the stuff of legend. Shackleton attributed several factors to their success, among them a chain of command that was as egalitarian as possible. Also, he insisted upon periods of exercise and relaxation. He believed a man was successful only if he could win "honorably and splendidly" (the character factor). The book also notes that top leaders are set apart by a calm wisdom. Another word for “calm wisdom” is equanimity – the counterpart of physical equilibrium – which either is or should be one of the goals of a top-flight massage.
"Never tell me the odds."
– George Lucas
"When the going gets rough, remember to keep calm."
– Horace (65-8 BC)
"When your opponent is hurrying recklessly, you must act contrarily and keep calm."
– sword master Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645)
“Men do not approach to leadership until they have lost the desire to lead anyone."
– Lord Beveridge (1879-1963), economist
In the physics lab, a “null point” is an instrument reading of zero. It can be described as “the point of no consequence,” similar in a way to “moot point.” In a seaside estuary, the null point is the spot where the flow of upstream saltwater is balanced out by the flow of downstream fresh water. In a tongue-in-cheek analogy, it’s the point where two deodorants cancel each other out, rendering the wearer unattractive to men and women alike – the social null point.
On the massage table, after 70 minutes the body reaches a null point of sorts, where both physical and mental hyperactivity are arrested for the time being. Worry (which looks forward) and regret (which looks backward) are temporarily arrested, as are their aberrant electrical charges that can travel quickly from tissue to tissue. For some clients this space is experienced as a state of "nothingness" (a very high state) and/or reported as a state of "floating." They have been “re-created,” perhaps for the first time in their life, and they’re now loathe to get off the massage table. Now one might think that the next available space after “nothingness” is either more nothingness or a gradual return to renewed layers of “somethingness.” But in terms of the human potential movement, the next space after “nothing” is “everything.” Re-creation has caused disappearance (a lynchpin tenet of the human potential movement).
“It takes a nail to drive out another.”
– German proverb
"One creates from nothing. If you try to create from something you're just changing something. So in order to create something you first have to be able to create nothing."
– Werner Erhard
(Said Erhard, business executives are paid to visualize and create what isn't. Lower-level managers simply build extensions onto what already is.)
"Nothingness is the same as fullness. In infinity full is no better than empty. Nothingness is both empty and full."
– Carl Jung
"A good drama critic is one who perceives what is happening in the theatre of his time. A great drama critic also perceives what is not happening."
– Kenneth Tynan, English theatre critic (1927-80)
If we skip back in time again to the era of ancient Greece, and even earlier, we can find the Gnostic term kenoma, which has been translated (or possibly mistranslated) as "sensible emptiness" or "ultimate metaphysical emptiness." It is experienced as a void, an abyss, though its original meaning has probably been emasculated by the ravages of time. The word Gnostic comes from the Greek gnostikos (learned one), and the word kenoma includes the Greek root keno (totally unrelated to the gambling diversion) which means "to empty out" or "to drain." In studies of Gnosticism, this "sensible emptiness" is generally taken to mean the opposite of the ideal spiritual state which can go by the name pleroma, a fullness or totality. But for the sake of our argument here, let's suggest that the term kenoma illustrates an ancient awareness of the null point, a state that is not the opposite of fullness but is a necessary gateway just at the doorstep.
"With the void, full empowerment."
– Albert Camus
"The work comes into the world at an undetermined hour, from a still unknown, but it comes inevitably."
Britain's Royal Navy reportedly has a practice known as the "all still." When something goes wrong on a ship, particularly a submarine, the captain announces an "all-still." For three minutes, no one is allowed to move or speak. In effect, is the captain enforcing a null point, a state of kenoma (sensible emptiness) so he can get to the heart of the problem more quickly, without distraction?
"Silence catches the mouse."
– Thomas Fuller (1654-1734)
Back in the days of ancient Rome, a prating (chatterbox) barber once asked Achelaus how he would like to be trimmed. Achelaus answered, "In silence."
– Plutarch (46-120 AD)
"Silence is only frightening to people who are compulsively verbalizing."
– William S. Burroughs
In terms of physiology at this point and its potential for improving performance on the field, let’s now take a look at a key passage from Job’s Body: “Even more importantly, for hours after the session is over, this relaxation and these new sensations give the client the opportunity to experience and practice movements that are relatively free from the habitual sensorimotor patterns that define and dominate his 'normal' state. Under these conditions, a great deal of relearning can take place in a short period of time, and the sense of conscious self-control can be tremendously enhanced.”
"Self-control is only courage under another form. It may also be regarded as the primary essence of character."
– Samuel Smiles, Self-Help, (1859)
"Few lapses of self-control are punished as immediately and severely as loss of temper during a boxing bout."
– Nobel Prize winner Konrad Lorenz (1903-89)
"We must interpret a bad temper as a sign of inferiority."
– psychotherapist Alfred Adler (1870-1937)
"The best charioteers do not rush ahead; the best fighters do not make displays of wrath."
– Tao Te Ching
Prior to this moment, the body could well be caught up in what James Earls (cited below) calls a "sensori-motor amnesia cycle," a sort of unconscious autopilot that should be brought to fuller awareness in an individual. For instance, the brain might “think” a certain muscle is relaxed when in fact it’s excessively contracted. Let's also assert at this point that no amount of stretching can override the brain's operating instructions in this regard. Whatever we stretch, the brain will undo our efforts in short order.
"A large part of every 'voluntary' movement is both involuntary and outside consciousness."
– Arthur Guyton, Basic Human Physiology (1971)
At this point we’re also more aware of those “individual moments” that occur between thoughts and units of time, somewhat like those moments when so many thoughts come to us at once we can hardly write them all down. In baseball terms, we can now “see the ball” better. Says tennis author/coach Tim Gallwey, cited further on this page, few tennis players can really see the ball to save their life. Says Dr. Phil, it is in between these individual moments that occur the critical junctions and opportunities of life (not to mention sports performance). Can we spot them, he asks, as they occur?
“Only three or four outs directly affect the outcome of any given game.... One of the greatest challenges of pitching is to recognize these critical situations and rise to the occasion with consistency.”
– Tom Seaver, New York Mets
"One cannot permit unique opportunities to slip by for the sake of trifles."
– Erwin Rommel, German general during World War II
Let's assert we can spot these moments more easily from a null point than from one that’s hyperactive and stressful. It was the great Buckminster Fuller who noted, by the way, that scientific progress does not occur during times of social agitation. In a broad survey of man's scientific advances during the ages, reminiscent of Covey's unprecedented survey of American self-help literature, Fuller noticed that science does not progress during times of war. Only in times of peace – social null-points – do we make significant advances.
"Simply by being compelled to keep constantly on his guard, a man may grow so weak as to be unable any longer to defend himself."
"Four people out of five are more in need of rest than exercise."
– Logan Clendening (medical historian), Modern Methods of Treatment, 1924
Crunch time / end-gaining
"The pressure's on, no time to lose."
– Modern English, Gathering Dust
"I can’t tell how good a team really is until I see them playing under pressure."
– Billy Martin, New York Yankees manager
Why is it that many top athletes become erratic at crunch time? The source of the problem is as much physical as mental and can be pinpointed in the neck, shoulders, and upper back, said Wilfred Barlow MD, author of The Alexander Principle: How to Use Your Body Without Stress (1973). As with a couple of the writers above, Barlow noted that in between moments of peak performance, many top-tier athletes, "pathetically," don't know how to return to a state of proper resting balance with minimal muscular activity.
Wilhelm Reich (1897-1957), one of the more controversial figures in the history of psychoanalysis, adds a different layer of understanding to this phenomena. Reich was the first to recognize and label the "fear of feeling good," and he noticed it's a phenomenon that permeates our culture. He called it pleasure anxiety. We treat with suspicion the pleasures and successes available within ourselves; in their place we substitute the acquisition of commodities. Perhaps it’s not too much of a stretch to extend the concept of pleasure anxiety over toward that of “goal anxiety,” which is another way of expressing “choking.” For some of us, this glass ceiling that hinders performance can be expressed by a deeply unconscious and barely articulated "I don't deserve to win. Someone else deserves it more than me."
"The popular idea that a child forgets easily is not an accurate one. Many people go right through life in the grip of an idea which has been impressed on them in very tender years."
– Agatha Christie
"Real religion is the transformation of anxiety into laughter."
– Alan Watts, Zen educator (1915-1973)
Definition of massage: A clearing in the angst.
The surest way to fail on a diet, it is said, is to be constantly preoccupied by it. We’re also familiar with the phenomena whereby it's possible to obsess so much about an individual that we actually freeze up when meeting them face to face. It seems ironic that the more infatuated we are with someone, the more eager we are to please them, the greater our risk of social miscues because we're so excited, and over-excitement is the enemy of a level head.
"Offer them what they secretly want and they of course immediately become panic-stricken."
– Jack Kerouac
"There is a psychological principle called cognitive dissonance. It’s the uncomfortable state that arises when our self-image, often negative, comes into conflict with positive results on the field. Athletes who experience this conflict generally revert to their comfort zones and opt for mediocre results, even though success is staring them in the face."
– Gary Mack, Mind Gym, 2001
There’s also a little paradox to clear up here: As soon as someone dwells on their goal exclusively, they’re manufacturing trouble, like the common sight of an outfielder trying to throw back a ball before he actually catches it. But on the other hand, at the risk of overstating the obvious, we won’t win the game unless we produce the goal.
"It is a paradoxical but profoundly true and important principle of life that the most likely way to reach a goal is to be aiming not at the goal itself but at some more ambitious goal beyond it."
– historian Arnold Toynbee
"Success usually comes to those who are too busy to be looking for it."
When we choke at crunch time, therefore, it’s rather apparent that we're living in our head, putting the majority of our awareness there rather than dispersing it through the entire body. We’re now “end-gaining” (going for the goodies), as famed movement educator F.M. Alexander (1869-1955) once described it, focusing on the goal at the expense of the process.
"We must never become too absorbed by the thought we are pursuing."
– Claude Bernard (1813-78), famed French physiologist
"Quality comes not from inspection, but from improvement of the production process."
– management consultant W. Edwards Deming
"You can’t get from A to Z by passing up B."
– Nick Saban, head coach, Alabama football
"Forget goals. Value the process."
– pitcher Jim Bouton, author of Ball Four
"Too many managers strut around on the field trying to manage the umpires instead of their teams."
– umpire Bill Klem (1874-1951)
As a former actor in his native Tasmania (Australia), Alexander began to develop his techniques after failing miserably, at key moments, during his recitals of Shakespeare. And it was John Dewey (1859-1952), one of the pillar philosophers of American education, who said it was the Alexander technique that gave him the means to translate his educational ideals into practical reality. Dewey wrote the introductions to three of Alexander's four books. Through various sports massage methods that we'll delineate as this page progresses, we will attempt something similar: how to translate our goals into physical reality on the field or court or track.
"In the absence of clearly defined goals, we become strangely loyal to performing daily trivia until ultimately we become enslaved by it."
– Robert Heinlein
"Most people under-perform because their training lacks purpose. They don’t have a plan, so they ride too hard or too easy."
– Massimo Testa, cyclist/physician
"How many successful people have you ever heard say, ‘I just make it up as I go along’?"
– Mike Ditka, football coach and broadcaster
Borrowing advice from some of the greatest minds in the field of self-improvement, we will begin by slowing things down a moment. We'll mentally disengage from the end result, paying more moment-by-moment attention to the process itself, as it unfolds. We need to find as much meaning in the process as in the goal. The literature of the ages is rather adamant that it works better to relax into this space that engenders higher levels of awareness rather than to tense up and strive for a touchdown on every play, whether the game at hand is sports, business, or even poker. The more preoccupied we are with the end result, the more miserable we shall be.
"An 80-yard drive is better than an 80-yard bomb. The sustained drive … is far more demoralizing to your opposition."
– Fran Tarkenton, hall-of-fame quarterback
"Not the fruit of experience, but experience itself, is the end."
– Walter Pater (1839-1894), English essayist
"If you don't see a sucker at the table, you're it."
– Amarillo Slim, professional poker player
Dr. James Sonnet Greene (1880-1950) was founder of the National Hospital for Speech Disorders in New York. Regarding stutterers, he had a motto: "When they can relax, they can talk."
As an aside, we can extend these principles into the art of listening, where it’s said that the most effective form of listening is the kind that dispenses with an attachment to any predetermined result. True listening requires a high degree of non-judgemental and full attention in order to create a space for the unsaid – the elephant in the room – to emerge. It's actually in articulating the unsaid, reaching a communicative null point, that we create the potential to express something new and probably more honest.
"The things one says are all unsuccessful attempts to say something else."
– Bertrand Russell
"The sage is one who knows by listening."
– Chinese proverb; the Chinese character for ‘sage’ is made up of two symbols meaning ‘ear’ and ‘to develop’
"Never stop listening to your audience."
– magician David Copperfield
"If you listen carefully to the patient, he or she will tell you the diagnosis."
– Richard Smith, editor, British Medical Journal
"If you give audiences a chance they’ll do half your acting for you."
– Katharine Hepburn
"Your audience gives you everything you need. There is no director who can direct you like an audience."
– actress Fanny Brice (1891-1951)
"I never let them cough. They wouldn’t dare."
– actress Ethel Barrymore (1879-1959), regarding audiences
Note that we’ve yet to discuss the nuts & bolts of sports massage. We’re still busy setting the table.
If we’re to avoid choking in the clutch, the literature suggests it’s counterproductive to simply press harder. What seems to work better is easing off the throttle a little bit, letting go of excessive control. The highest levels of performance require a degree of backing off, rather than relying entirely upon the assertive aspects of so-called rational behavior from a Western perspective. Various cultures over the centuries, by the way, have devised methods aimed at reducing this excessive self-assertiveness that stands in the way of breakthrough, though of course these cultures wouldn’t express the dynamic in quite those words.
"What seems to work is letting go into the goal, unreservedly."
– Deane Juhan, Job’s Body
“In healing research, we face a paradox. Healing cannot be forced to happen. At some point the person must relax into a state in which she or he permits the healing process to proceed in its own way.”
– Larry Dossey MD, editor of Alternative Therapies in Health and Medicine
"The person most in control is the person who can give up control."
– psychiatrist Fritz Perls (1893-1970)
"There is one good rule in helmsmanship: let the boat do the sailing."
– Peter Heaton, Sailing, 1949
When we are in no hurry to get anywhere, we can surrender to whatever is happening at the moment (if our kata is functional). As they say in German,
“Eile mit weile.” Or in other words, “When you’re in a hurry, take your time.” This phrase has also been translated as “More haste, less speed,” and it was Augustus Caesar who once famously said the same: "Make haste slowly." In the field of professional sport, the great golfer Bobby Jones didn’t think it was possible to swing a club too slowly. And in his day, Jack Nicklaus was said to have the slowest backswing on the pro tour.
"Quick ripe, quick rotten."
– Italian proverb
"Hasty climbers have sudden falls."
– Italian proverb
"They stumble that run fast."
– Romeo and Juliet
"People whose ‘needs are satisfied by speed’ are wankers … any joy is from fascination with perfection."
– Niki Lauda, Formula One world champ
"To go to a cricket match for nothing but cricket is as though a man were to go into an inn for nothing but a drink."
– Sir Neville Cardus, cricket correspondent, Manchester Guardian
We're aiming for a degree of ego-abandonment as well, a prerequisite for operating in a higher space than we’re accustomed. In a sports context, Garfield discovered that although elite athletes exert enormous self-discipline during their training phase, during actual competition they too exhibit a type of "abandonment." In the process, they enter a zone that is