location of psoas / hacking the hammies

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.)

Note: 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 200-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 with enhanced layers of perspective.

Much of the information presented here will be found nowhere else in the literature of sports performance, particularly in the convergence of massage technique, sport psychology, and self-improvement theory. As such, we'll be dealing with the ontology of massage, its philosophical underpinnings, nearly as much as its nuts and bolts. 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
- Ancient
- Mid-to-latter 20th century
Eastern thought and dormant vitality
Null point
Crunch time / end-gaining (going for the goodies)
Letting go
Signs of progress in letting go
Alpha / beta
Pre-existing imbalances
Oscillation / pulsation
Psoas: the granddaddy of movement
Pelvic basin
Scar tissue
Trigger points / static charge
Leverage / higher levels of performance
Reducing sway
Startle pattern
Whole-body dispersion/diffusion
Character vs. technique
Focus + intensity yields alchemy
Positive ground of being
In the head / willpower
Coaching with words only
Breakthrough point
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 impedimenta, 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, architect/inventor for the ages

Working definiton of 'paradigm,' per Werner Erhard: A model within which a process occurs.

"If we are to achieve results never before accomplished, we must expect to employ methods never before attempted."
– Francis Bacon (1561-1626), scientist/philosopher/statesman

As we begin, let’s avoid the common temptation to delve right into discussions of technique. On the contrary, let’s step back and gather some perspective on what we’re doing here. It’s more challenging that way – and certainly tougher to write – as each space must be worked through before being articulated. Fundamentally, how do we outline the principles that underlie our game plan? Let's 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 (1989). 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."
– Aristophanes

Said the renowned American psychologist Abraham Maslow, positive change does not involve the application of better techniques and strategies. It revolves around a change in our awareness of ourselves. So hopefully this presentation will dwell 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 what lurks underneath, 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, philosopher/mathematician (1861-1947)

"Get your principles straight; the rest is a matter of detail."
– Napoleon

"Where principle is involved, be deaf to expediency."
– navy officer Matthew Fontaine Maury, astronomer/oceanographer/meteorologist (1806-1873)

"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 and performance, particularly in that slippery zone known as "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 potentials await. To express it another way, we'll assert that the ascent to performance is more dramatic if we first enter a state of enhanced calmness. Against this backdrop, we'll be setting the stage for the phenomena known as "goal achievement" to last longer than is customary – and to be expressed more profoundly – than if we were to start from the typical state of semi-aroused agitation or nervous anxiety (like the morning pep talks for Walmart employees). In this regard, we'll 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 proposition contains merit, that there’s a connection between total relaxation and improved performance, can we possibly delineate the mechanism? If such a linkage exists, 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.

"The only way to maximize potential for performance is to be calm in the mind."
– Brian Sipe, quarterback for Cleveland Browns

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 those 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 hasten 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 impedimenta). That’s how we induce spontaneous performance as opposed to the type of performance that emerges from mental calculation. (Taken from trainer Jack Meagher, author of the pioneering book SportsMassage, released back in 1980.)

"Calculation which is miscalculation sets in."
– D.T. Suzuki, Zen and Buddhist educator (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 linchpin text of the human potential movement, a phrase derived from Aldous Huxley when he spoke of "the human potentiality."

“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), Lithuanian-born neurologist/psychiatrist

“Muscle can actually lose its very ability to relax.”
– former fitness maven Bonnie Prudden

Let's take an analogy from the field of sales. Two ways to increase sales are to minimize 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 television psychologist 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 expressed 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's 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."
– Tolstoy

"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."
– self-help legend 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 accomplishment. We’ll look for ways to chip away at and eventually transcend “invisible walls” that may separate us from our goals. We’ll also 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 98% 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.”
– psychologist Abraham Maslow

“In order to achieve all that is demanded of us, we must regard ourselves as greater than we are.”
– Goethe

"It is impossible to imagine Goethe or Beethoven being good at billiards or golf."
– H.L. Mencken (1880-1956), journalist and cultural curmudgeon

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."
– Latvian chess grandmaster Aron Nimzowitsch (1886-1935)

"Principles of motion take precedence over sequence of motion."
– Ed Parker, karate instructor and author

"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 emphasized 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. The lead amalgamator, so to speak, was the Swedish educator Pehr Henrik Ling.]

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," primarily because the muscle can no longer contract properly. In 1891 Mosso published the paper La Fatica (Fatigue), in which he asserted that fatigue undermines 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.”
– Napoleon

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. These concepts were discussed in the academic literature of the time 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.” Some 38 years earlier, one doctor Dr. Douglas Graham noted in the New York Medical Record  (1877) that sprains can recover in one-third the usual time through the efficacious application of massage (Calvert).

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 quite challenging. Battle Creek was once managed by Dr. John Harvey Kellogg of Corn Flakes fame. Kellogg is credited with writing what's considered the first textbook in the field, namely The Art of Massage, in 1895, back when masseurs were often called "body manipulators."

“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 immersion. 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), French impressionist

"Learn to become aware, but not aware of your awareness."
– Dorothy & Bette Harris, Sports Psychology (1984)

Yu can emerge only after the individual gives up preoccupation with 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 intriguing topic 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

“The dumber you are on the court, the better you’re gonna play.”
– Jim Courier, International Tennis Hall of Fame

"How can you think and hit at the same time?”
– former Yankee catcher Yogi Berra

"When I'm in my groove there is no thinking. Everything just happens.”
– shortstop Ozzie Smith, baseball hall of fame

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 this context afforded an additional layer of security against fatigue. Certain sports analysts even believe lingering fatigue is a current-day problem that emerges 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 that 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, centered in a gymnasium known as esclapeion, was more proactive in scope. Combined with education and political discourse, the aim was to enhance one’s level of participation in all facets of life. The question remains, however, how do we retain the relatively reactive restorative aspect of massage 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 useful 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)

"In my experience, based on many years’ observation, officers with high athletic qualifications are not usually successful in the higher ranks."
– Winston Churchill, 1941

"The pursuit of athletic greatness doesn’t necessarily coincide with healthy personal development."
– Jim Taylor, sports psychologist, University of San Francisco

"The mere athlete is brutal and philistine, the mere intellectual unstable and spiritless."
– Plato

"I'd hate this to get out, but I really like opera."
– Ford Frick, former commissioner of baseball

"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, and 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

"Talent and genius operate outside the rules."
– Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1832

"I don’t believe in rules, I believe in standards."
– Mike Krzyzewski

"To rest upon a formula is a slumber that, prolonged, means death."
– Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr., supreme court justice (1841-1935)

"Those who keep the rules are asses; those who break the rules are men."
– Ikkyu, Japanese monk of the middle ages

"In baseball, as in the remainder of life, the most important rules are unwritten. But not unenforced."
– George Will, Men at Work: The Craft of Baseball, 1990

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 necessarily those who overdo their effort, but rather 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.

"My love of dynamic complications often led me to avoid simplicity, when perhaps simplicity was the wisest option."
– Garry Kasparov, Russian chess grandmaster

"Principles are the simplicity on the far side of complexity."
– Stephen Covey, self-improvement author and management consultant

"The dumber a pitcher is, the better. When he gets smart and begins to experiment with a lot of different pitches, he's in trouble."
– hall-of-fame pitcher Dizzy Dean

The Beatles 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.

“Obvious effort is the antithesis of grace.”
– Baldassare Castiglione, The Book of the Courtier (1528), in which the term 'sprezzatura' was coined in print

“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

“Maximum effort is bodily abuse.”
– Jack Meagher, Sportsmassage, 1980

“Superhuman effort isn’t worth a damn unless it achieves results.”
– Anglo-Irish polar explorer Ernest Shackleton

“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.

“I expect to coach execution, not effort.”
– Roy Williams, head basketball coach, University of North Carolina

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 in track & field

"Son, what kind of pitch would you like to miss?"
– Dizzy Dean, St. Louis Cardinals

"When I race, my mind is full of doubts: who will finish second, who will finish third?"
– Noureddine Morceli, Algerian gold medalist in the 1500 meters, 1996

“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

“It never occurs to Arnold (Palmer) that the ball won’t go in the hole.”
– Gene Littler, World Golf Hall of Fame

“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.

"Reliance on secret techniques will get you nowhere."
– Morihei Ueshiba, founder of aikido (1883-1969)

"Technique does not mean you can juggle a ball a thousand times. Anyone can do that by practicing. Then you can work in the circus. Technique is passing the ball with one touch, with the right speed, at the right foot of your teammate."
– Johan Cruyff, Dutch football icon

"Athletes can’t consistently execute fancy strategies and tactics – they aren’t easy or familiar. Opponents may be fooled initially, but it all comes down to quality of execution of the fundamentals."
– Harvey Dorfman, Coaching the Mental Game, 1984

"I do not innovate. I transmit."
– André Derain, French artist (1880-1954)

"You are expressing the techniques, not doing them."
– Bruce Lee, martial arts master of masters

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. (The Esalen Institute also produced one of the lamest massage videos ever released.) 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, and it was Esalen that helped foster the convergence of these two formerly separate disciplines.

"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

"The only tactics I admire are do-or-die.”
– Herb Elliott, Olympic gold in the 1500 meters for Australia, 1960

"All men can see these tactics whereby I conquer, but what no one can see is the strategy out of which victory is evolved.”
– Sun Tzu, fifth century BC

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 co-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. Sweigard's work was influenced by one Mabel Elsworth Todd, of Syracuse, whose 1937 book The Thinking Body is considered a classic in the field of dance.

“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.’ "

“Resilience and vitality come not from preserving 'ideal' postures.”
– Deane Juhan, Job's Body, 1987

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 still discussed by researchers today. Bottom line, if we remove the puffy academic language from the previous paragraph, we see two key ideas that Sweigard advanced: 1) equilibrium enables performance; 2) we need to get mental garbage out of our head and simplify.

“Just because golf is elusive is no reason to complicate it.”
– Ernest Jones (1887-1965), English pro golfer, World Golf Teachers Hall of Fame

“Out of clutter, find simplicity.”
– Einstein

“One must pass through knowledge to arrive at simplicity.”
– Trevanian, Shibumi, 1979

“Genuine magic demands perfect simplicity of execution.”
– Jean Hugard, Australian magician

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 emerged 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.

“Practically all runners who fail to finish (marathons) fail because they run too fast early on, not because the distance is too far.”
– Noel Carroll, founder of the Dublin Marathon

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 methods to help athletes recover more quickly from training sessions, and they found sports massage effective in boosting performance and speeding up healing. In fact, a 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 (the yips), accelerate their reaction times and diminish 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 impedes 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 cannot 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

(The motivational writer Napoleon Hill called negative thoughts 'tramp thoughts')

"Thinking is what gets you caught from behind."
– O.J. Simpson, who is still out on the golf course looking for the real killer

"All negative emotion is expressed as flexion."
– Moshe Feldenkrais, physicist/engineer (1904-1984)
(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

"Trying too hard sabotages boat speed."
– rower Craig Lambert, Mind Over Water, 1998

"Thinking too hard invites impulses from the brain’s cortex (the seat of conscious awareness) into the temporal region, which is responsible for autonomic (subconscious/instinctive) motor patterns. In effect, thinking too hard disrupts any coherence between various regions of the brain."
– sport psychologist Gio Valiante, Golf Flow, 2013 (rephrased slightly)

In eastern/Oriental thought, one of the seven extreme emotions is that of overthinking, sometimes described as being overly pensive.

"Drop your urgency based simply on the desire to win. Replace that with an understanding of how you perform when you’re at your best. The sense of urgency inhibits optimal performance."
– Harvey Dorfman, Coaching the Mental Game, 2003

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 appear dated and stale.


When we are sore and tight, one of our first inclinations is to rub and stretch, a habit that nature seems to have encoded 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 and yoga 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 cure-all 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 under 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 often 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. Per Jelvéus (2011), static stretching can actually decrease power performance, endurance and speed. Jelvéus makes the case for dynamic stretching, which involves carrying muscle groups through their full range of motion, emulating the movements that will occur during the upcoming sport or activity.

"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.)

"It is one of the fundamental jobs of the muscles’ sensory system to resist sudden change."
– Dean Juhan, Job's Body

"Don’t push growth. Remove the factors limiting growth."
– Peter Senge, management expert, MIT

"When I look at the net I don’t see a goalie."
– Pavel Bure, Hockey Hall of Fame, the 'Russian Rocket'

"It is our duty as human beings to proceed as though the limits of our capabilities do not exist."
– Teilhard de Chardin, French Jesuit and philosopher

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?) Earls & Myers (2010) suggest this contextual route, by the way, arguing that it's the loosening of fascia that allows for the ensuing relaxation and lengthening of muscle.

"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 via the Sharpey's fibres where microtears occur. [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. (Picture strands of spaghetti sitting in the pot after they're overcooked, bunching together so hard you have to pull them apart.)

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 generate 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." (Certainly the same can be said for centration of the arm's humeral head.)
– 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 proposition 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."
– Finnish composer Jean Sibelius (1865-1957)

"Mozart’s music is constantly escaping from its frame, because it cannot be contained by it."
(Mozart exploded the existing paradigms.)
– conductor Leonard Bernstein

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.

"Everything you do, if not in a relaxed state, will be performed at a diminished level of proficiency."
– Bruce Lee

"The best is the enemy of the good."
– Voltaire

"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.”

"Although the content of consciousness depends in large measure on neuronal activity, awareness itself does not. To me, it seems more and more reasonable to suggest that the mind may be a distinct and different essence."
– Wilder Penfield, American-Canadian neurosurgeon (1891-1976), using the word 'mind', as others have done, to suggest 'Self' in Erhard's sense

"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.

“You win or lose the match before you even go out there.”
– tennis champ Venus Williams

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."
– Thomas Szasz, Hungarian-born psychiatrist (1920-2012)

"You get whatever accomplishment you are willing to declare."
– artist 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

"Coming off the last turn, my thoughts changed from ‘One more try, one more try’ to ‘I can win, I can win!’."
– Billy Mills, American gold medalist in the 10,000 meters in 1964

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

“By valor, not by trickery.”
– Latin proverb

"To create is to act . . . without predicate (preconditions/prerequisites)."
– Werner Erhard (echoing the "precursive faith" of William James, who said such a faith "runs ahead of the evidence" and is legitimate)

"To educate a man in mind and not in morals is to educate a menace to society."
– Theodore Roosevelt, 26th American president

“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 ingredient missing from most Western training systems, as is the proper process of firing up one's imagination.

"The angry general loses."
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

"The surest way ... to pile up a disgraceful score is to become angry and rattled."
– Bobby Jones, World Golf Hall of Fame

"Aggression means emotion. Emotion means you’re going off your game plan, and that means you’ll lose the fight."
– Vladimir Klitschko (Ukraine), world heavyweight boxing champion

“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

“It is better to play with concentration for two hours than to practice eight without.”
– Leopold Auer, Hungarian violinist (1845-1930)

“Mental is to the physical as four is to one.”
– Bobby Knight, basketball coach, Indiana University

“Hitting is fifty percent over the shoulder.”
– Ted Williams, baseball Hall of Fame

“Baseball is 90 percent mental. The other half is physical.”
– Yankee catcher Yogi Berra

To this point, we've seen the fascinating matter of "hidden reserves" taken up by Schultz, Luthe, Hess, Buchanan, and now Hickman. Before long we'll add shiatsu educator Ryokyu Endo to this esteemed list.

“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.

"There’s far more over-coaching than under-coaching."
– John Wooden, master basketball coach, UCLA

"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.

"Being still and doing nothing are two completely different things."
– Jackie Chan, martial artist and entertainer

"Neurosis is the way of avoiding non-being by avoiding being."
– Paul Tillich, German-born theologian (1886-1965)

"Neurosis is just a high-class word for whining."
– psychologist Albert Ellis

"He who sleeps in continual noise is wakened by silence."
– William Dean Howells (1837-1920), American author/editor

"Both speech and silence transgress."
– Zen saying

"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.

"Symptoms are nothing but a cry from suffering organs."
– Jean-Martin Charcot, French neurologist (1825-1893)

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, social philosopher/novelist (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 pertinent 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. (The skin has been described as the "external nervous system.") 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 (related to 'rebellious' ki), 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 disturbance 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, Swiss psychiatrist (1848-1931)

"The major motivational theories by which most men live can lead them only to depression and cynicism."
– psychologist Abraham Maslow

Null point

"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

"My great talent, the one that distinguishes me the most, is to see the entire picture distinctly."
– Napoleon, speaking of a characteristic known as coup d'oeil (koo-DOY) , the ability to analyze a situation at a glance

"Seeing is in some respect an art. It must be learned."
– German-British astronomer William Herschell (1738-1822), who discovered the planet Uranus

"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."
– Upanishads

“Logic and consistency are luxuries for the gods – and the lower animals.”
– novelist Samuel Butler (1835-1902)

“The truth is more important than the facts.”
– architect 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.

"What I did was to de-synchronize to the element of speed, where it was all in slow motion."
– Jackie Stewart, Formula One racing champ, the 'Flying Scot'

Some golfers get ready for a tournament by moving slowly before they hit the course.
– Michael Murphy, The Psychic Side of Sports, 1978
(Murphy was co-founder of the Esalen Institute in California)

"If we pay no attention to it, time does not exist."
– Mircea Eliade, Romanian-born historian of religion

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. In French, the word éclat comes close, suggesting a timeless quality to one's performance.

"When a jump works . . . I'm riding on top of time."
– Jacques d'Amboise, New York City Ballet

"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."

“It’s a moment that I’m after, a fleeting moment, but not a frozen one.”
– artist Andrew Wyeth

“If I have to hold a note for a long time, I imagine it as moving and spinning, for the note has to have a life. In a way, a singer actually refreshes a note with every beat that it's held.”
– Renee Fleming, operatic singer and Grammy winner

“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 (golf) 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)

"He who strikes first, strikes twice."
– Russian military proverb

"If you wait, all that happens is that you get older."
– Mario Andretti, auto racing icon

“Act well at the moment, and you have performed a good action to all eternity.” (Brilliant)
– Johann Kaspar Lavater (1741-1801), Swiss poet/philosopher

“Jiu-jitsu is about waiting for the right time to make the right move.”
– Ryron Gracie, of the famed Brazilian martial arts family

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, linking creative solitude with kairos

"In music the present is extended."
– Ned Rorem, classical composer (1923-2022)

"We are always acting on what has just finished happening. It happened at least 1/30th of a second ago. We think we’re in the present, but we aren’t. The present we know is only a movie of the past."
– Tom Wolfe, Electric Kool-Aid Acid Test

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, preeminent Swiss psychotherapist

“Our songs are nearly all imagination … ninety percent imagination.”
– Paul McCartney, regarding The Beatles

“Your imagination is your preview of life’s coming attractions.”
– Einstein

“Every great advance in science has issued from a new audacity of imagination.”
– John Dewey, philosopher/psychologist (1859-1952)

“Imagination creates reality.”
– German composer 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.

"Vigorous let us be in attaining our ends, yet mild in our method of attainment."
– horror writer H.P. Lovecraft

"Never tell me the odds."
– film director 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)

"A real strong fighter should always look dignified and calm.... I believe that any act of aggression is an act of weakness."
– Fedor Emelianenko (Russia), mixed martial artist

“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 linchpin 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.)

"Average people can keep things organized. It takes genius to control chaos."
– Jens Voigt, German cyclist

"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)

"To invent when there is nothing to invent: That is leadership."
– Jean-Claude Killy of France, winner of three Olympic golds (1968) in Alpine skiing

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, as in a fully manned ship. 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

"Zero-zero is a big score."
– Ron Atkinson, manager for Oxford United

"Zero is a powerful result."
– Werner Erhard

"The work comes into the world at an undetermined hour, from a still unknown, but it comes inevitably."
– Puccini, master of Italian opera (1858-1924)

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 "All still." For three minutes, no one is allowed to move or speak. In effect, isn't 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), British physician and intellectual

Back in the days of ancient Rome, a prating (chatterbox) barber once asked the nobleman 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, "Beat Generation" author

"If I were a doctor and asked for my advice, I should reply: Create silence."
– Søren Kierkegaard, Danish philosopher/theologian (1813-1855)

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), Austrian zoologist

"As long as the bull remains enraged and reactive, the matador is in charge."
– psychologist Tara Brach

"We must interpret a bad temper as a sign of inferiority."
– Austrian 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

Our conscious mind controls only three percent of our body functions.
– gold medalist David Hemery, Sporting Excellence, 1986

At this point we’re also more aware of those “individual moments” that occur between thoughts and units of time, 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

"The parts of a fight that are urgent last only seconds."
– boxing coach Teddy Atlas

"The difference between a good and great officer is about ten seconds."
– navy admiral Arleigh Burke

"A poor photographer meets chance one out of a hundred times, and a good photographer meets chance all the time."
– Brassaï, Hungarian-French photographer (1899-1984)

"The essence of strategy is to have more force – at the crucial point – than the enemy."
– Napoleon

"One cannot permit unique opportunities to slip by for the sake of trifles."
– Erwin Rommel, the 'Desert Fox', 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."
– Nietzsche

"In trying to defend everything, he defended nothing."
– Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (1712-1786)

"Four people out of five are more in need of rest than exercise."
– Logan Clendening (medical historian), Modern Methods of Treatment, 1924

"I think sometimes the best training is to rest."
– Cristiano Ronaldo, Real Madrid

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

"No pressure, no diamonds."
– Thomas Carlyle, Scottish philosopher/mathematician (1795-1881)

Why is it that many top athletes get snakebitten 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." Psychoanalyst Aaron Beck (1921-2021) termed such mental pop-ups "automatic thoughts," and he spent much of his career studying them. Such thoughts are rarely if ever positive.

"Fear comes in two packages: fear of failure, and sometimes, fear of success."
– Tom Kite, World Golf Hall of Fame

"If a fear cannot be articulated, it can’t be conquered."
– Stephen King

"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."
– 'Beat' writer 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

"It is not what you want that you attract, you attract what you believe to be true."
– Neville Goddard (1905-1972), religion/self-help writer and speaker from Barbados

"Players with low confidence are already totally focused on a negative outcome."
– performance coach Dave Alred, The Pressure Principle, 2016

"Pressure is a word that is misused in our vocabulary. When you start thinking of pressure, it's because you've started to think of failure."
– baseball manager Tommy Lasorda, Los Angeles Dodgers

"You can do nothing that is in conflict with your own image of what you really are."
– army general James van Fleet

"You can never out-perform your own self-image."
– attributed to surgeon/author Maxwell Maltz
Echoing the "self-consistency" theory of Columbia University psychologist Prescott Lecky (1892-1941)

"By stretching yourself beyond your perceived level of confidence you accelerate your development of competence."
– Michael J. Gelb, author of How to Think Like Leonardo

"The purpose of today's training is to defeat yesterday's understanding."
– Miyamoto Musashi, The Book of Five Rings, ~1645

"Do one thing every day that scares you."
– Eleanor Roosevelt, former American First Lady

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."
– Thoreau

When we choke at crunch time, therefore, it’s rather apparent that we're living in our head, putting the majority of our awareness upstairs 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

"When one eye is fixed upon your destination, there’s only one eye left for finding the way."
– Joe Hyams, Zen in the Martial Arts, 1979

"The eye should learn to listen before it looks."
– Robert Frank, Swiss-American photographer

"Forget goals. Value the process."
– pitcher Jim Bouton, author of Ball Four

"If you go onto the ice thinking ‘I must score’, you won’t."
– Alexander Ovechkin, future hockey hall-of-famer

"Focusing on the process rather than the outcome is the essence of performing well under pressure."
– performance coach Dave Alred, The Pressure Principle, 2016

"The procedure, the process, is its own reward."
– aviator Amelia Earhart

"To be an artist you have to give up everything, including the desire to be a good artist."
– Jasper Johns, American painter & sculptor

"The instant you know what the result will be, you are lost."
– Juan Gris, Spanish cubist artist (1887-1927)

"Winning the prize wasn't half as exciting as doing the work itself."
– Maria Goeppert Mayer, German-born Nobel Prize winner in physics, 1963

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, the 'dean' of science fiction writers

"Without goals, training has no direction."
– Natalie Coughlin, 12-time Olympic medalist in swimming

"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

"I only trained 40 to 45 minutes a day."
– Sir Roger Bannister, first runner to beat the 4-minute mile

"How many successful people have you ever heard say, ‘I just make it up as I go along’?"
– Mike Ditka, football coach and broadcaster

"Plans are only good intentions unless they immediately degenerate into hard work."
– management expert Peter Drucker

"You must exercise caution in laying your plans, but be bold in carrying them out."
– P.T. Barnum, circus magnate

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.

"Our emphasis is on execution, not winning."
– Patricia Summitt, Olympic and collegiate basketball coach

"Things are more likely to go your way when you stop worrying about whether you’re going to win or lose and focus your full attention on what’s happening right at this moment."
– Phil Jackson, NBA coach

"Attentiveness is the natural prayer of the soul."
– Nicolas Malebranche, French philosopher (1638-1715)

"Worry begins before the point when performance doesn't rise to capability. This gives us time to control it before it sets in (by concentrating on form)."
– Dorothy & Bette Harris, Sports Psychology, 1984

"The way you win is not by striving to just ‘win the game’ but by striving to play as well as you can."
– college basketball coach Bobby Knight

"I concentrate on looking at the spot where the ball will be placed."
– NFL hall-of-famer George Blanda, regarding kicking field goals under pressure

"Only those become weary of angling who bring nothing to it but the idea of catching fish."
– Rafael Sabatini, Italian novelist

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

"The opposition cannot deal effectively with something executed to perfection ... it’s very disheartening."
– sport psychologist Harvey Dorfman

"If you perfect your golf shots, your opponent will need more than an unfriendly attitude to defeat you."
– Virginia van Wie, Associated Press Female Athlete of the Year, 1934

"Fast nickels are better than slow dimes."
– old retail saying

"Quiet moves often make a stronger impression than a wild combination with heavy sacrifices."
– Mikhail Tal (born in Latvia), chess grandmaster

"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."
– Welsh-born Bertrand Russell, British polymath (1872-1970)

"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

Letting go

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 – "losing one's bottle" – 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."
– German-born psychiatrist Fritz Perls (1893-1970)

"There is one good rule in helmsmanship: let the boat do the sailing."
– Peter Heaton, Sailing, 1949

"The art of conducting consists in knowing when to stop conducting to let the orchestra play."
– Herbert von Karajan, conductor of the Berlin Philharmonic for 35 years

When we are in no particular 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 (Octavian) whose motto read: "Make haste slowly" (festina lente). Augustus expressed contempt for military commanders who displayed rash judgement. Centuries later the Medicis of Florence took up the same catchphrase, and no less than Shakespeare and Goethe cited it as well. 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

"Officers don’t run. Only corporals do that."
– Carl Gustaf Emil Mannerheim (1867-1951), president of Finland

"People whose ‘needs are satisfied by speed’ are wankers … any joy is from fascination with perfection."
– Niki Lauda, Formula One world champ from Austria

"You've got to learn a pace that's fast enough to win, but slow enough to finish."
– Rick Mears, four-time winner of the Indy 500

"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 also exhibit a type of "abandonment." In the process, they enter a zone that is more real than the everyday world. This experience of a parallel but "more real" realm has also been relayed time and time again by religious mystics over the centuries.

Some notes regarding discipline:
"The discipline which makes the soldiers of a free country reliable in battle is not to be gained by harsh or tyrannical treatment. On the contrary, such treatment is far more likely to destroy than to make an army."
– U.S. Army Manual

Back in the Cold War days the feared East Germans discovered that overtraining (discipline run amok) can lead to diminished performance.

“Sometimes the hardest thing to do in a pressure situation is to permit the tension to persist. The (undisciplined) temptation is to make a decision, any decision, even if it is an inferior choice.”
– chess grandmaster Garry Kasparov (Russia)

“The first sign of pressure is poor decision-making."
– Peter Kostis, TV golf analyst and instructor

“Discipline means creating the situation (as it is).” (Brilliant)
– Shunryu Suzuki, Buddhist teacher (1904-1971)

“I exploit the greed of all hitters.”
– Lew Burdette, Milwaukee Braves, on chasing bad pitches

"The more a person chases, the more they feel they're acting on their own initiative."
– author Robert Greene

“Who won’t be ruled by the rudder must be ruled by the rock.”
– English proverb

Said Wilhelm Reich, people actually have an enormous fear of letting go. But when we finally do, our hard features of character disappear and we become soft and yielding. At the same time we begin to develop an elastic sort of strength. Garfield, by the way, has noted that the entire issue of 'letting go' has been oversimplified by some sports psychologists.

Some people are afraid, especially in the clutch or in personal relationships, that if they "let go" they will lose control of themselves, fearing that letting go is to lose identity. They will no longer be the person they have so carefully and conscientiously trained themself to be, so they’re permanently on guard. If it's any consolation, the New Age movement assures us that to the degree we can let go, we will be guided by powers greater than ourselves.

“Show me a guy who’s afraid to look bad, and I’ll show you a guy you can beat every time.”
– baseball hall-of-famer Lou Brock

“To live a creative life we must lose our fear of being wrong.”
– Werner Erhard

“When you’re afraid of failure you’re more likely to fail.”
– Gordy Ainsleigh, California chiropractor and ultra-marathoner

“The guys who make game-winners are the ones who aren't afraid to miss them.”
– John Calipari, head basketball coach at University of Kentucky

“Confidence comes not from always being right but from not fearing to be wrong.”
– Peter McIntyre, New Zealand painter

“Artificial manners vanish the moment the natural passions are touched.”
– Maria Edgeworth (1768-1849), Anglo-Irish novelist

“The greatest weakness is the fear of appearing weak.”
– French proverb

“I don’t talk about my weaknesses. I work on them.”
– Fedor Emalienko, mixed martial artist from Ukraine

“If you could improve your weaknesses, you would improve your game. The irony is that people prefer to practice their strengths.”
– Harvey Penick, And If You Play Golf, You’re My Friend, 1963

Unfortunately, the majority of us have been trained to distrust the initial stages of success when they begin to emerge. Although we may have intellectually discarded blockages long ago, they still grip us at deeper levels, and the blockages can pop up (the yips) when we least expect and need them. It is deep relaxation that helps provide a mechanism, a sea wall as it were, for shutting down this counter-productive chatter in the mind and the unwanted "pop ups" it throws at us during competition.

“The depth of your relaxation, your ability to let go, determines the height of your creativity.”
– Dr. Harold Cooper, The Power of Five, 1995

“Whatever success I’ve had is due to being so perfectly relaxed that I can feel my jaw muscles wiggle.”
– Bobby Morrow, three gold medals in track, 1956

“The most relaxed sprinter of all time.”
– Edward Sears, Running Through the Ages (2001), regarding Morrow

“I felt like a waterfall.”
– American skier Diann Roffe, after winning gold in the Super-G in 1994

If and when we do achieve higher levels of performance outside the starting point of deep relaxation, we're more likely to experience a shorter-term type of success that arises out of agitation (and the mind). Moreover, the limited successes we do achieve will not approach the higher levels of accomplishment that are available to us. According to Loehr, these successes are truncated in both height and depth precisely because we've taken the shortcut of not operating from a deeply relaxed state of intentional down-time. We've sabotaged our ability to let go during the next round.

“When fire and water are at war it is the fire that loses.”
– Spanish proverb

“Repeated practice and increased physical conditioning reach a point of diminishing return ... another approach is needed."
– Dorothy & Bette Harris, Sports Psychology (1984)

As a possible tip-off that we're actually approaching the point of "letting go," studies have shown that at the point of peak performance there is a lessened awareness of the immediate surroundings, as Maslow has demonstrated. We’re letting the space take over (we're letting the ship do the sailing); we’re allowing the space to tell us what it needs, just as a master woodworker lets the grain talk to him. On the other hand, when we’re “stuck” in some aspect of life, when a bothersome situation refuses to budge, it’s a pretty sure bet that the space is trying to tell us something we've yet to consider. It needs us to offer a bit more of ourselves, slightly beyond the comfort zone, before the stuckness gives way.

“The game will tell you what to do on the floor.”
– Russell Westbrook, NBA All-Star and MVP, L.A. Lakers

“Stuckness shouldn’t be avoided. It’s the psychic predecessor of all real understanding.”
– Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (1974)

“How wonderful that we have met with a paradox. Now we have some hope of making progress.”
– Niels Bohr, Nobel Prize winner in physics, 1922

“A paradox is only a truth standing on its head to attract attention.”
– Alan Watts, British philosopher and Zen educator

“It is in the realm of uncertainties that progress, if it is ever encountered, must lie.”
– Edward Searles, architect (1841-1920)

“The sure-thing boat never gets far from shore.”
– Dale Carnegie, American self-improvement writer

“Life begins at the end of your comfort zone.”
– Neale Donald Walsch, author of Conversations With God

“We are addicted to being the way we are.”
– Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements

This diminishment of full conscious control, this altered level of awareness, is the point that some athletes fear, and we invest a lot of energy fighting the experience. Through our training regimens, we have the opportunity to discipline ourselves to be in control in order to accommodate the loss of control, the letting go, that often accompanies the moment of breakthrough, as this momentary loss can be a terrifying prospect. Note also that we’re dealing with limitations of language here, since we’re attempting to express realms not often talked about, at least not with any degree of effectiveness and precision. Notice also that the author of this page exhibits an annoying fondness for run-on sentences.

“Discipline yourself and others won’t need to.”
– John Wooden, former basketball coach for UCLA

“Basketball is a team game, but that doesn’t mean all five players should have the same amount of shots."
– Dean Smith, former basketball coach for the University of North Carolina

“As a coach I play not my eleven best but my best eleven.”
– Knute Rockne (Notre Dame), who helped popularize the forward pass in American football

“Inequality springs from placing mediocrity on a level with excellence.” (or egotistical on the same level as humble?)
– Pierre-Joseph Proudhon (1809-65), French politician/philosopher

“The worst form of inequality is to try to make unequal things equal."
– Aristotle

“When I was a young coach I used to say ‘Treat everybody alike.’ That’s bullshit. Treat everybody fairly."
– Bear Bryant, legendary football coach for the University of Alabama

“The clever combatant looks to the effect of combined energy…. He takes individual talent into account, and uses each man according to his capabilities."
– Sun Tzu, The Art of War

Roger Bannister, the first runner to break the four-minute mile – one of the most celebrated breakthroughs in sports history – attributed much of his success to the mental side of preparation rather than the mere physical and philistine. Said Bannister in 1993: "No longer conscious of my movement, I discovered a new unity with nature. I had found a new source of power and beauty, a source I never dreamt existed."

“Focus on stillness rather than on movement.”
– Morihei Ueshiba, founder of aikido (1883-1969)

“I'm not interested in how people move. I'm interested in what generates movement.”
– Pina Bausch, German dancer (1940-2009)

The obstacle that must be overcome before breakthrough can be achieved is often an unconscious decision made in childhood (for instance, “I can’t win and maintain my integrity at the same time.”) Some of us throw out a red flag as if to inexplicably say, "Stop now." This may be a function of an anxiety that surfaces, without warning, from the unconscious. We can call this the "brick wall phenomenon," as if someone is perched on the edge of a cliff but just can't fall over. However, we won’t stop to analyze such a primal decision rationally. We don’t have enough time or academic journals at our disposal.

“A drug is a substance which, if injected into a rabbit, produces an academic paper.”
– Otto Loewi, German psychobiologist, winner of the Nobel Prize in 1936

“The greatest impediments to change in our traditional roles seems to lie not in the visible world of conscious intent, but in the murky realm of the unconscious mind.”
– attributed to Roman emperor Augustus Caesar (63 BC to 14 AD), considered one of the greatest leaders in human history

“Your fixed convictions concerning the things that really matter mold your destiny.”
– Emmet Fox, ‘New Thought’ leader (1886-1951)

“Life is traveling to the edge of knowledge, then a leap taken.”
– English writer D.H. Lawrence (1885-1930)

“Obstacles are those frightful things you see when you take your eyes off the goal.”
– Henry Ford

“It’s all in the eyes. In a fight, if you look down out of fear you’ll certainly be defeated.”
– Korean karate master Mas Oyama

“Show me your eyes and you may as well show me your cards.”
– Doyle Brunson, professional poker player

“He who shows his hand will surely be defeated. He who can prevail in battle by taking advantage of his enemy's doubts is invincible.”
– Cao Cao, Chinese warlord, second century AD

As psychoanalyst Alexander Lowen has noted, some people develop acute anxiety (choking/yips) in clutch situations where success appears just within sight. Others actually experience some form of breakdown the moment the goal first approaches the radar screen.

“The history of sports is filled with reports of bad-luck athletes who always faltered on the threshold of victory.”
– Dr. Arnold Beisser, The Madness in Sports, 1967

“Then you reach the final torment: utter despair poisoned still further by a shred of hope.”
– Stendhal (1783-1842), French novelist

“It is rightly said that the most difficult thing in chess is winning a won position.”
– Vladimir Kramnik, Russian chess grandmaster

“Under no circumstances should you play fast if you have a winning position.”
– Pal Benko, Hungarian-born chess grandmaster

If it’s any consolation, one of the key findings of the human potential movement is this: “Breakdown (invariably) precedes breakthrough.” It takes periodic success and incremental degrees of progress to gain the trust that we can reliably let go and “storm the citadel.” This is an acquired skill, based on the discipline an athlete has built into their training regimen.

“People do not decide their futures. They decide their habits and their habits decide their futures.”
– movement educator F.M Alexander

“It is the habitual, not the periodic thought that decides your destiny.”
– Wallace Wattles (1860-1911), 'New Thought' writer

“Losing is like smoking. It's habit forming.”
– Puggy Pearson, professional poker player

“It’s the non-athlete who’s afraid of discipline.”
– Bill Foster, basketball coach at Duke

“Good players crave discipline.”
– Tom Izzo, head basketball coach, Michigan State University

“Discipline strengthens the mind so that it becomes impervious to the corroding influence of fear.”
– field marshal Bernard Law Montgomery, British army

“One of the primary purposes of discipline is to produce alertness.”
– general George Patton

“If it was, Army and Navy would be playing for the national championship every year.”
– Bobby Bowden, Florida State football, when asked if discipline was a team’s most important trait

Definition of Florida: God's Waiting Room

Says performance psychologist Jim Loehr, experience and considerable research suggest that setbacks are an intrinsic part of any significant change process. To this end, they are actually an indicator that we're making progress. Loehr quotes James Prochaska of the department of psychology at the University of Rhode Island. Prochaska has discovered that in most any noteworthy endeavor, people often fail several times before succeeding in a sustaining way.

"Every strike brings me closer to the next home run."
– Babe Ruth

“Failure and rejection are only the first step toward succeeding.”
– Jim Valvano, former basketball coach for North Carolina State

“Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor.”
– author Truman Capote

“A hitter’s perfection consists of failing only 60 percent of the time.”
– Ted Williams, Boston Red Sox

"All accomplishment is constituted by a series of resolved breakdowns."
– Werner Erhard

Dr. Cary Middlecoff, writing in the April 1956 issue of Esquire magazine, wrote about this phenomenon from the point of view of professional-level golf. He said that the "winning feeling" is the secret. Describing the Masters Tournament of the previous year, he recalls how his feet were in the same position and his grip was the same. However, there was "something about the way I felt that gave me a line to the cup just as clearly as if it had been tattooed on my brain. With that feeling, all I had to do was swing the clubs and let nature take its course." Middlecoff obviously was in the process of giving up excessive conscious control, and one of his rewards was a lessened sense of separation from his physical surroundings. He melded into them. From personal experience, the "winning feeling" is not one more empty slogan. To the prepared, it is a palpable state, genuine not imagined, contextual not "content-ual."

"Picture yourself vividly as winning, and that alone will contribute immeasurably to success."
– Harry Emerson Fosdick, American preacher (1878-1969)

"I no longer wanted to be the painter, I wanted to be the paint."
– Vincent van Gogh

"It is impossible to imitate Voltaire without being Voltaire."
– Frederick the Great, King of Prussia (1712-1786)

"I have to think AS Bugs Bunny, not OF Bugs Bunny."
– Chuck Jones, famed animator for Warner Brothers

“No house should ever be on a hill, or on anything. It should be of the hill.”
– architect Frank Lloyd Wright

“Color possesses me, I don’t have to pursue it …. color and I are one.”
– German artist Paul Klee (1879-1940)

"You’ve got to make sure the horse thinks you’re a part of him."
– jockey Eddie Arcaro

“You cannot travel on the Path before you have become that Path itself.”
– Book of the Golden Precepts (ancient Buddhist writings)

"Action and becoming are one."
– Meister Eckhart, renowned mystic (1260-1328)

"Just like the front and back of your hand, being and action are distinct yet inseparable."
– Werner Erhard

"You cannot expect the form before the idea, for they will come into being together."
– Austrian-born composer Arnold Schönberg (1874-1951)

Composite description of letting go, per sports psychologist Charles Garfield: "I feel insulated from all distractions. Even though things are moving fast, I have all the time I need to respond well. Confidence, or lack of it, is not an issue. Feelings of failure and fatigue fade into the background. For the moment, fear is recontextualized into a positive force."

“Thinking will not overcome fear, but action will.”
– self-help writer W. Clement Stone (1902-2002)

Use your fear … it can take you to the place where you store your courage.”
– aviator Amelia Earhart

“80% of all choices are based on fear.”
– Dr. Phil
(If we get this figure down to 70% we've made great initial progress.)

“90% of the people in the world make their decisions based on fear.”
– James Van Praagh, expert on the paranormal

“The root of prudence, in the majority of men, is timidity.”
– Carl von Clausewitz, On War, 1832

“If you lose the nerve you lose the sport.”
– Shawn Johnson, gold medal in the balance beam, 2008

“If you don’t have the balls to brake later, that’s your problem.”
– Lewis Hamilton, five-time Formula One world champ

Per Gallwey, it is the very act of letting go that improves our accuracy and power. We feel more relaxed, even during rapid movements.

Conclusion to this section: A massage that does not foster the experience of letting go, at least from a sports context, carries all the significance of a Maroon 5 concert.

“The art of living lives in a fine mingling of letting go and holding on.”
– Havelock Ellis, English physician/scholar (1859-1939)


Back in 1952, the renowned Norman Vincent Peale released his all-time classic The Power of Positive Thinking. In a passage about “trying too hard,” Peale quotes an unnamed university rowing coach: "To win this or any race, row slowly." (Eile mit weile.) Rapid rowing tends to break the stroke, and when the stroke is broken it is with the greatest difficulty that a crew recovers the rhythm necessary to win. Meanwhile other crews pass the disorganized group. (In retrospect, Peale spoke with a forked tongue, given his 1960 tirades against the candidacy of John F. Kennedy on the grounds that no Catholic should be elected president.)

“When I first started racing, my father said, 'Win the race as slow as you can.'  ”
– NASCAR icon Richard Petty

"The way to run faster is with four-fifths effort. Just take it nice and easy."
– Bud Winter, track & field coach, San José State University (California)

"Train, but don't strain."
– Arthur Lydiard, New Zealand runner and world-class coach

"Nobody running at full speed has either a head or a body."
– William Butler Yeats, Irish man of letters (1865-1939)

To climb steep hills
Requires slow pace at first.
– Shakespeare, Henry VIII

Winners tell funny stories, and losers yell, "Deal, dealer. Deal!"
– poker saying

"Winners tell the jokes and losers talk about the run of the ball."
– anonymous

Peale also mentions Branch Rickey, the baseball executive responsible for bringing Jackie Robinson into the majors. Rickey would bench any player he found guilty of "over-pressing," and baseball managers of today would be wise to heed his approach.

“A full mind is an empty bat."
– Branch Rickey (1881-1965), general manager for the Brooklyn Dodgers & St. Louis Cardinals

“You swing your best when you have the fewest things to think about."
– Bobby Jones, World Golf Hall of Fame

“You must be mindful – but not thoughtful – as you swing."
– Percy Boomer, On Learning Golf, 1942

“The more fatuously vacant the mind is, the better for play. It has been observed that absolute idiots play the steadiest."
– Sir Walter Simpson, The Art of Golf, 1887
(‘fatuous’ = clueless ... and smug about it)

Contrary to “pressing,” success in the major leagues requires a flow of easy power through every action. The muscles must be flexible. Try to kill the ball and you will slice it or miss it altogether, and this applies equally true in golf and tennis. Note that by the year 2012 baseball great (depending on your point of view) Alex Rodriguez of the Yankees basically abandoned heavy lifting in favor of Pilates and yoga.

“If you make a fist and hold it up for two hours, you won’t be able to pick up a glass because you’re so weak. Let’s stay loose."
– Lou Holtz, head coach, Notre Dame football

“I get as much fun as the next man from whaling the ball as hard as I can and catching it squarely on the button. But from sad experience I learned not to try this in a round that meant anything."
– Bobby Jones, World Golf Hall of Fame

"He plays a game with which I am not familiar."
– Bobby Jones, on Jack Nicklaus

“Gambling is illegal at Bushwood, sir, and I never slice."
– Judge Smails, Caddyshack, moments prior to slicing

Psychologist Charles Garfield (University of California, Berkeley) has systematically studied the characteristics of world-class athletes and other peak performers. After years of observing elite athletes at those moments when they were performing extraordinarily well, Garfield concluded that an essential condition of peak performance, and the one most often mentioned by athletes, is "a sense of inner calm" (the antithesis of pressing). The athletes also reported that along with their sense of energized calmness came higher levels of physical relaxation and loose musculature (Peak Performance, 1985).

“One’s ships come in over a calm sea.”
– Florence Scovel Shinn (1871-1940), artist & 'new thought' writer

“Self-control is strength. Right thought is mastery. Calmness is power.”
– James Allen, British 'new thought' writer (1864-1912)

“My favorite piece of technical writing:
'Assembly of Japanese bicycle require great peace of mind'.”
– Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Garfield describes the experience as one of a force now acting through us, without us as the prime mover (definition of ego), as if we're merely a participant. An Eastern observer might conclude that the ki gates are now open and functioning as nature intended, and perhaps he can gloat that he's stumbled upon the physical corollary of egotism a few decades before the legions of academics currently laboring away in the field of psychology.

“Egotism is the anesthetic that dulls the pain of stupidity.”
– Frank Leahy, former head football coach for Notre Dame

“To act, but not to rely on one’s own ability.”
– Lao Tzu, sixth century BC

“It's a sense of power, of command over distance and gravity, and an illusion of no longer having to move because movement is carrying you.”
– Sonja Henie, three-time gold medalist in figure skating for Norway

“Once I’ve started the putter in motion, it’s as if it’s swinging itself.”
– Ben Crenshaw, World Golf Hall of Fame

“You get to the stage when you're almost looking down on yourself. When you get into that state, it’s the best state ever.”
– Stirling Moss, English Formula One racer, describing a high space known as 'observation'

“When I play my best golf, I feel as if I'm in a fog: standing back, watching the earth in orbit, with a golf club in my hands.”
– Mickey Wright (LPGA), World Golf Hall of Fame

“Identifying with the awareness that observes our thoughts, rather than with our thoughts themselves, provides the spaciousness to respond with perspective rather than react compulsively with the urgency our thoughts often seem to demand.”
– sport psychologist Joe Parent, Zen Putting, 2007

A common belief is that to arrive at peak levels of performance we must usually expend considerable physical effort, that pressing is necessary. The traditional aim is to intensify the efforts until the goal is achieved. This involves repeated mechanical movements of the musculature, which get faster and faster. As an unintended byproduct, this hyperactivity/pressing actually builds up tension, which compresses energy in the body, restricting it to smaller regions instead of the body as a whole. Our field of vision is now restricted as well. To arrive at more powerful levels of performance, we need to be more and do less.

“In the realm of sports training, the development of muscle control often takes precedence over skeletal balance. Gaining speed at the expense of mounting tension is often the goal.”
– Liz Koch, The Psoas Book, 1981

“It is a great art to saunter.”
– Thoreau

“Tension is what you think you should be. Relaxation is who you really are.”
– Chinese proverb

At this point we become more relaxed and methodical in our movements, experiencing an outward radiation and expansion of energy throughout the entire body. We're now enabling ourselves to tap into energetic flows that get covered up by overexertion and pressing, as tempting as this traditional route is to travel. Without this radiation and expansion our movements become more unconscious and aggressive, decreasing our sensitivity and potential with every move we make, as Branch Rickey discovered decades ago. (This paragraph sounds like a mating ritual, but frankly we're not going to go there.)

“When a living organism is suffering from ill health, the remedy is found by connecting with more of itself.”
– Francisco Varela, Chilean biologist

Regarding inefficient physical activity, the muscles most often found to be over-contracted are the gluteals (butt/caboose/derrière), plus the quads and adductors of the legs. So says Dr. Barlow, mentioned above. Barlow had worked closely with Alexander for over ten years and was a consultant to Britain’s National Health Service. During the sports massage to be outlined later on this site, we will pay special attention to each of these three muscle areas. As per the gluteals themselves, we hone in on the gluteus medius, which is typically the most tense of the group. Accessible at the iliac crest and deep to the gluteus maximus, it controls the lateral stability of the hip joint and is in constant use during running activities.  Many athletes consider the quads their most important muscles, yet it’s the gluteals that should take center stage. Their muscular component is very strong, so most injuries are found around the distal attachments (Ylinen/Cash).

Per John Gibbons (Vital Glutes, 2014), athletes are sometimes told they need to strengthen a weak gluteus medius. Instead, he says, they should focus on the shortened and tight tissues of the adductors, TFL (tensor fascia lata) and QL (quadratus lumborum of the lower back, though some would argue that it's a pelvic muscle as well). As a result, the glute-medius should shorten and regain strength – on its own – within a couple weeks. This sure sounds preferable to a time-consuming regimen of leg presses that might wind up muscle tissue even further. Per Davies, when a muscle is weak and stiff, that’s part of the protection that its trigger points are trying to provide, so let's not undermine the process.

Trainer/therapist Gibbons talks about spontaneous release through the MET (muscle energy technique) route. Davies discusses similar effects via the trigger-point approach, and both methods have a track record of settling down renegade signaling from muscle fibers. Loehr touches upon the topic in terms of our frame of mind, asserting that upper-range performance is a "natural consequence" of the right kind of "internal feeling/climate." A cursory review of the non-academic massage literature suggests that the MET camp and the trigger-point camp are touchy about sharing the same tent, though some academic inroads have been made in this regard. Let us suggest therefore that the future of sports massage will further involve and refine the optimal collaboration between the MET and trigger-point approach, to a point where both methods combine to form a constructive role in everyday practice. Loehr's mind-set, meanwhile, will continue to operate as a contextual backdrop.

Says Barlow, even the most prepared of athletes can find that he is thrown out of gear by muscular distortions which seem to appear for no apparent reason. These muscular contractions gradually and insidiously build up in a person until they become part and parcel of the character structure. If we take a liberty or two with Barlow's analyses, we may be able to justify the conclusion that pressing first shows up in the butt. However, if we're inclined to lean toward the conclusions of Barlow's teacher, namely F.M. Alexander, we'd have to move upstairs to the neck. Regardless, we can safely assert that pressing entails a physical component that can be addressed pre-competition, and this is the conclusion we'll take to the bank.

Another important figure in the field of movement education, especially during the mid-to-latter 20th century, was the oft-referenced Moshe Feldenkrais, an Israeli physicist born in Ukraine in 1904. Feldenkrais noted that in athletes, as well of course in much of the general population, our lower spinal erectors can be held fixed in a habitual state of contraction. As a result, the normal oscillations of the pelvis cannot achieve their full amplitude (Body & Mature Behavior, 1949). We experience this contraction as stiffness in the lumbar (lower back) region. As a result, when the natural pelvic-muscle oscillations begin, a prerequisite for superior performance (presumably during competition, not mating), there is a sense of apprehension of the unknown, similar to that which prevents people from losing consciousness. We are now maintaining complete conscious control (pressing and choking) at the expense of achieving our goals. Clearly, a well-designed sports massage must also address the lower spinal erectors, particularly from the sides, where they are more accessible.

Working these erectors helps break up congested thoraco-lumbar fascia, which can be up to 25 percent thicker in people suffering from lower back pain. Working here also promotes the "sliding potential" of deeper fascia, per Helene Langevin of the National Institutes of Health. (Cited in Leon Chaitow, Fascial Dysfunction, 2nd edition, 2018)

“By advancing into unknown territories, I entered into my life.”
– Isabelle Eberhardt, Swiss explorer and author (1877-1904)

“The more clumpy the longissimus thoracis ‘cables’, the less differentiated is movement of the spine." (The longissimus is the largest of the spinae erectors.)
– Earls & Myers (2010)

Wilhelm Reich discussed this phenomena as well, going so far as to claim that dammed up energy predisposes one to neurotic behavior. He said lower back pain has been attributed to too much activity, when in actuality it's a matter of too much holding on. Letting go, giving up pressing, is the key. A generation earlier, William James had said it a little differently: "Relaxation, not intentness, should be now the rule" (The Gospel of Relaxation, 1889). James said that modern man was too anxious, too concerned for results, and that there's a better and easier way. If James were alive today he may have deduced the role of trigger points here, for in and of themselves active TPs wield the power to delay relaxation.

“The harder we played, the behinder we got.”
– Bum Phillips, NFL coach

Signs of progress in letting go

One indicator that we’re approaching higher levels of physical performance – or at least the potential for it – is when we can feel a certain tingling, a buzz, a current of energy emanating from deep inside. Energy channels are now opening inside the body. The pelvis, belly, chest and throat can all feel more open. We experience more awareness and limberness in our toes, particularly the big ones. Unfortunately, the systematic opening of these channels may be a lost art. Said author Peijian Shen in his 1996 book Massage for Pain Relief: “Opening the energy channels, a basic precept of Chinese medicine, is an approach relatively unknown in the West, even to those practicing alternative medicine.”

"Training is, in some ways at any rate, just cleaning the channels through which energy flows."
– marathoner Arthur Newton, 1947

"Beware of health books. You may die of a misprint."
– Mark Twain

Once these sensations open up in our body, we needn't try to repress them, nor would a normal person want to for that matter. Steered by visualizing our goal, anchored by our training programs, we can now give the body permission to virtually move by itself. Garfield, by the way, has discovered that most all peak performers in sports are visualizers. (As mentioned by Covey in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People.)

"I could take it as a general rule that whatever we conceive very clearly and very distinctly is true."
– René Descartes, Discourse on Method (1637)

"If you want to be a champion, you'll have to win every race in your mind a hundred times."
– Marti Liquori, Olympic track competitor/commentator

"I used to play every pitcher in my mind before I went to the ballpark. I started getting ready for every game the moment I woke up."
– baseball hall of famer Hank Aaron

"Whenever I heard the song of a bird and the answering call of its mate, I could visualize the notes in scale, all built up within my consciousness as a natural symphony."
– W.C. Handy, ‘father’ of the blues (1873-1958)

As Jack Nicklaus once said: A successful golf shot is 50% visualization, 40% setup, and only 10% swing. Because his type of visualization was a total-immersion procedure of sorts, not just tapes running through his mind, Nicklaus liked to call the process "going to the movies." As per his ongoing regimen of systematized relaxation, after most shots Nicklaus would "descend into a valley," analogous to putting a computer into sleep mode momentarily. On his own, it would appear, Nicklaus mastered the Soviet one-two punch of relaxation/visualization, whereas the typical Western approach glorifies the latter without benefit of the requisite former.

"There is no material for the analyst’s couch from Jack."
– P.J. Ward-Thomas, British golf writer

"Great ideas originate in the muscles."
– Thomas Edison

"All the really good ideas I ever had came to me while I was milking a cow."
– Grant Wood, painter of 1930's iconic American Gothic

"Our best ideas come from clerks and stockboys."
– Sam Walton, founder of Wal-Mart

"Everything important I learned, I learned as a dishwasher."
– celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain

"More discoveries have arisen from intense observation of very limited material than from statistics applied to large groups."
– Australian microbiologist William Beveridge, The Art of Scientific Investigation (1950)

"Every good laboratory consists of first-rate men working in great harmony to insure the progress of science. But down at the end of the hall is an unsociable, wrong-headed fellow working on unprofitable lines, and in his hands lies the hope of discovery."
– Ernest Rutherford of New Zealand, Nobel Prize winner for chemistry, 1908

"All human advances occur in the 'outlaw' (nonconformist) area."
– Buckminster Fuller

"More than half of all great remedies known to medical history have come from empiricists – 'irregulars' – of no or little scientific training. There is no reason to believe that conditions have essentially changed."
– Alexis Carrel, Nobel Prize winner for medicine, 1912

"The world’s greatest thinkers have often been amateurs."
– Havelock Ellis, English physician/scholar (1859-1939)

"A few observations and much reasoning lead to error; many observations and a little reasoning to truth."
– Alexis Carrel, French surgeon/biologist

Sports researcher and psychologist James Loehr, reporting in Sports journal, also noticed how gifted athletes seem to discover this state on their own, at least on the American side of the equation. Author of The New Toughness Training for Sports, Loehr remarks that relatively few athletes are aware of what he calls the ‘optimal performance state’ or the ‘ideal internal climate’ (equanimity) for performing, This state is the prerequisite for achieving results at the upper range of one’s potential, and the elements of this state are fundamentally the same for all athletes and all sports. Competitive toughness, he says, is essentially the capacity to maintain this state regardless of circumstances, a hallmark of top pros. It combines high intensity with inner calmness, a point periodically described in the literature of world spirituality and an indicator that Qi channels are opening.

"Nothing gives one person so great an advantage over another as to remain always cool and unruffled under all circumstances."
– Thomas Jefferson

“The world belongs to the enthusiast who keeps cool.”
– William McFee, Casuals of the Sea, 1916

“The ballplayer who loses his head, who can’t keep his cool, is worse than no ballplayer at all.”
– Yankee icon Lou Gehrig

“Soberness, coolness, strength of will, and the power to control oneself are the qualities I admire most. I try to educate myself in them.”
The Diary of Nelly Ptaschkina (1923)

“You can't be dependent upon your opponent's will, but must try to impose your will on him.”
– Soviet-Swiss chess grandmaster Viktor Korchnoi

“One must make every effort to combat the thoughts and will of the opponent.”
– Mikhail Tal, Soviet chess grandmaster, 'The Magician from Riga'

Jari Ylinen and Mel Cash, authors of 1988's Sports Massage, touch upon this same point from a different angle. In the preface, the authors explain why they don’t categorize massage methods, unlike other books, according to the specific needs of various sports. They note that even within the same sport, training methods and body conditioning may vary, so such a list would be misleading. Say the authors: Treat the sportsman, not the sport.

"Play the music, not the instrument."
– anonymous

"Once you have selected a sport or a creative activity, the rules are pretty much the same."
– Bill Toomey, gold medalist in the decathlon, 1968

"The unity of all science consists alone in its method, not in its material."
– Karl Pearson, English mathematician (1857-1936)

This guideline helps clear up one of the raging and unresolved issues of massage therapy today: Purists argue that each and every massage should be different, tailor-made to the needs of the person on the table, and they are correct. Masseurs who work in spas and on cruise ships see tremendous value in the cookie-cutter approach, where each massage is virtually the same, and they are correct. If the American politician Henry Clay (1777-1852), "The Great Compromiser," were alive today, perhaps he might guide us in this direction: "Work on every client differently, the same way."

"Jazz is the only music in which the same note can be played night after night but differently each time."
– jazz composer Ornette Coleman, winner of the 2007 Pulitzer for music

"No two balls ever come over the net the same way."
– Billie Jean King, Tennis Hall of Fame

Higher levels of performance carry another indicator, a feeling of having overcome something, let go of something, transcending some kind of limitation – or perhaps just an awareness that we've left a petty part of ourselves behind or lost a couple pounds of weight. As Roger Bannister revealed in his quest to run the four-minute mile, we feel we’ve tapped into a higher power; our whole body responds. We feel it in our bones, not just our head.

"Power is given only to him who dares to stoop and take it ... one must have the courage to dare."
– Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Crime and Punishment

"It's not enough to be nice in life. You've got to have nerve.” (moxie/gumption)
– artist Georgia O'Keeffe

"If you trust your nerve (chops) as well as your skill, you’re capable of a lot more than you can imagine."
– Debi Thomas, physician and bronze medalist in figure skating

"The fifth set is not about tennis, it's about nerves.”
– Boris Becker of Germany, tennis Hall of Fame

"Guts win more games than ability.”
– Robert Zuppke, head football coach at the University of Illinois from 1913 to 1941

"Nice guys are interesting. For about 15 minutes."
– Werner Erhard

"Elegance is good taste, plus a dash of daring." (Derring-do)
– Carmel Snow, one-time editor of Harper’s Bazaar

"The meek do not inherit the sky.”
– astronaut Gordon Cooper

Also, we’re operating more in the present moment, not five minutes in the past or future, a distinction that helps teach us the difference between mere activity vs. effective action. Said the Indian spiritual teacher Osho (1931-1990), in one of his few original thoughts, activity is an irrelevant pouring out of restlessness carried over from the past ("Attention K-Mart shoppers!").

"I have never liked the regular quarterback (to hold the snap.) Just the fact that we’re trying a field goal means that he missed a third-down play. He’s not concentrating on the snap. He’s wondering what went wrong on the last play and worrying that it might happen again."
– Pete Gogolak, kicker, New York Giants

"Fretting about the shot you just made will get you another just like it."
– Al Henderson, former coach of the U.S. Olympic archery team

"The next shot is more important than your last mistake."
– tennis adage

"To want to forget something is to think of it."
– French proverb

"A busy life is a wasted life."
– Francis Crick, Nobel Prize winner, 1962

In this sense, mere activity limits performance because it emanates from a hyperactive and non-relaxed starting point. Effective action, on the other hand, stems from a cool and silent mind. It is an appropriate response to a present situation, and if you think about it, it saves us a lot of money on gas.

"No mind is much employed upon the present. Recollection and anticipation fill up almost all our moments."
– Samuel Johnson (1709-1784, and Johnson just gave us some of the best insider information ever available: stay focused in the now)

"For those of us who believe in physics, this separation between past, present and future is only an illusion, however tenacious."
– Einstein

“If I had to live my life over again I'd be a plumber.”
– Einstein

“Plumbers don’t bite their fingernails.”
– heard at the hardware store

On a practical level, we're not looking at our watch or checking the phone for messages every couple hours. We are suddenly operating on purpose.

"Anything I do, I always have a reason for."
– hall-of-fame quarterback Johnny Unitas

"Dances without purpose have false starts and stops."
– Hanya Holm, American dance educator

"Either this man is dead or my watch has stopped."
– Groucho Marx, A Day at the Races, 1937

Alpha / beta

This frame of mind that we describe as “cool and silent” can also be defined as a state of equanimity, and one way to define equanimity is this: “evenness of mind under pressure.” (Picture a captain in stormy seas, guiding his ship and crew through peril as selflessly as the skipper on Gilligan's Island.) It is a mindset that lives not days or even minutes in the past and future, but right now. In China this demeanor can be expressed as "Black Heart" as discussed in 1992's Thick Face, Black Heart by Chin-Ning Chu. Writes Chu, "The fear of success is more powerful than the fear of failure. Most people don't even know that they're afraid most of the time."

"Our fear of loss is often greater than our desire for gain."
– Zig Ziglar, Ziglar on Selling, 1991

"It is easier to adjust ourselves to the hardships of a poor living than it is to adjust ourselves to the hardships of making a better one."
– insurance executive Albert Gray, 1940

"The (New York) Jets used (quarterback) Mark Sanchez to keep them from losing. The Eagles use him to win." (See the difference?)
– former Cowboys quarterback Troy Aikman, December 2014

"When building a team, I always search first for people who love to win. If I can't find any of those, I look for people who hate to lose."
– Ross Perot, business magnate and presidential candidate

"If you play 'not to lose' – you lose!"
– business consultant Dan S. Kennedy

"The majority of players are looking for reasons to fold. I am looking for reasons to play."
– Daniel Negreanu, professional poker player

"The turning point in my career came with the realization that Black should play to win instead of just steering for equality."
– chess grandmaster Bobby Fischer

"We are not going to play them; they are going to play us."
– college and Olympic coach Henry Iba, member of the Basketball Hall of Fame

“Losers visualize the penalties of failure. Winners visualize the rewards of success.”
– Robert Gilbert, professor of sports psychology, Montclair (New Jersey) State University

Minds that operate in cool-and-silent mode can be said to resonate on a more subdued brainwave frequency known as alpha, a more mature and creative zone than mere beta, where most of us spend too much time. Within alpha we can actually expand those briefest of moments between stimuli and response, or in Buddhist terms, the moment between the spark and the flame. It’s the zone from which we “see the ball” better; our playing field seems to shrink; the net no longer looks like our enemy. Fortunately, an hour on the massage table is a reliable way to induce the alpha state on a predictable basis.

“Creativity is the sudden cessation of stupidity."
– Edwin Land, co-founder of Polaroid

"Boredom always precedes a period of great creativity."
– Robert Pirsig, author of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

"Boredom is a very high state.”
– Werner Erhard

"If you are bored, you’re not paying attention.”
– psychiatrist Fritz Perls (1893-1970)

"Meditate more.”
– standard advice from monks in southeast Asia to massage students who complained about being bored

"If you think you're boring your audience, go slower, not faster.”
– Gustav Mahler, Austro-Bohemian composer (1860-1911)

"You have to be as fully prepared for the dull game as you are for the great game, or else you won't be prepared for the great one.”
– classic-era baseball announcer Red Barber

"Discipline and concentration are a matter of being interested.”
– Tom Kite, World Golf Hall of Fame

Whether our focus is sports performance or life in general, we spend most of our waking hours in a run-of-the-mill state of beta brainwaves. We spend only about an hour in the more productive alpha. The immediate challenge is, can we simply double this amount of time on a daily basis, especially prior to performance? On a side note, Erhard once pointed out that most of us operate at an inefficiency level of 99%, meaning that we spend most of our time in the realm of what he calls "titillating inconsequentials." Therefore if we can add but one percent to our efficiency, arriving at a mere 98% level of inefficiency, we've just doubled our output.

"I give 98% of my mental energy to chess. Others give only two percent."
– world chess champion Bobby Fischer

"The neurologists have shown us that no human being has ever made use of as much as ten percent of all the neurons in his brain."
– Aldous Huxley

"The greater part of our daily actions are the result of hidden motives which escape our observation."
– French social psychologist Gustave le Bon (1841-1931)

Said José Silva in his classic The Silva Mind Control Method (1977), it is indeed fully possible to conduct everyday (beta) activities, including speech and thinking, from within the Alpha state. This can be a deliberate undertaking, aiming for more equal distribution of function between the right and left hemispheres of the brain, and then pulling this energy downward, out of the head. In the process we re-balance an otherwise unequal preoccupation with left-hemisphere function when attempting to solve problems and achieve goals. In psychological/philosophical terms this preoccupation is a form of solipsism (mental masturbation), interpreted by others as egotism, cluelessness, perhaps even physical clumsiness. It's also the Alpha state that recharges us almost as well as sleep, if not better at times. (Go tell this to a sleep-deprivation clinic.)

"Helping to correct the solipsistic tendencies of abstract contemplation is one of the most important roles of bodywork."
– Deane Juhan, Job's Body, 1987
(One problem with the word 'bodywork', says Juhan, is that it makes us sound like people who repair dents on cars.)

"When the brain is whole, the unified consciousness of the left and right hemispheres adds up to more than the individual properties of the separate hemispheres."
– Roger Wolcott Sperry, 1981 Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine

"At beta we prey on each other; at alpha we pray for one another."
– José Silva

Massage author Fiona Harrold (The Complete Body Massage, 1992) expresses the same sentiment, cluing us in that she probably had Silva's book on her shelf: "The more anxious and angry we become," she says, "the higher we go into beta. If we stay there too long, we not only undermine our immune system but become fatigued and accident-prone. Deep relaxation takes us into the much slower alpha frequency, a meditative, trance-like state that recharges us even more than sleep. At the time, Harrold was director of the London College of Massage.

"Your opponent can dominate and defeat you if you allow him to get you irritated."
– sword master Miyamoto Musashi (1584-1645)

"Don’t over-react to the troublemakers."
– Warren Bennis, famed business author/professor/consultant

In the realm of sports, evidence is pointing toward this conclusion: The more elite the athlete, the more time they spend in alpha. Novices and weekend warriors hardly get there at all. Whereas the beta state is thought oriented – the realm of the rookie – alpha is more intuitive. It's also more inclusive, able to take in the bigger picture, as Leonardo observed, to see the dynamics of the entire field in one swell-foop, a phenomena some athletes may describe as seeing the play develop before it happens.

“He hits open men who didn’t realize they were open.”
– journalist Chris Lydon, regarding hockey-great Bobby Orr

“Chess mastery essentially consists of analyzing positions accurately.”
– Mikhail Botvinnik, Russian grandmaster, World Chess Champion 1948-1963

“The key to pitching is to have the ability to throw a strike when they’re taking, and throw a ball when the hitter is swinging.”
– hall-of-famer Greg Maddux

“A pitcher needs two pitches: one they’re looking for and one to cross them up.”
– hall-of-famer Warren Spahn

“Part of the art of bowling spin is to make the batsman think something special is happening when it isn't.”
– Australian cricketer Shane Warne

“These are the prerogatives of genius: to know without having learned; to draw just conclusions from unknown premises; to discern the soul of things.”
– journalist Ambrose Bierce (1842-1914)
(To draw accurate conclusions from minimal evidence; to quickly penetrate the essence of a situation.)

“The central problem of our age is how to act decisively in the absence of certainty.”
– Bertrand Russell, philosopher/mathematician

“Most people wait for the decisive moment, whereas people of power are decisive in the moment.”
– Werner Erhard

Where beta is concerned with “doing,” alpha (elite) leans toward being. And whereas beta is concerned with calculation ("figuring things out," even the "un-figure-outable"), alpha fosters imagination. When a fastball is screeching toward you at 96 miles per hour, you don’t have time to “figure things out.”

“Imagination took the reins, and reason, slow paced, though sure-footed, was unequal to the race.”
– Fanny Burney, English novelist, 1752-1840

“A good hockey player plays where the puck is. A great hockey player plays where the puck is going to be.”
– Wayne Gretzky

“A good quarterback knows how to get the ball where it isn't.”
– Werner Erhard

"In football (soccer), the worst blindness is seeing only the ball."
– Nelson Falcão Rodrigues, Brazilian man of letters (1912-80)

“Reason, you’ll always be half-blind.”
– Marguerite Porete (1250-1310), French mystic

“Conclusions arrived at through reasoning have very little or no influence in altering the course of our lives.”
– Peruvian-born author Carlos Castañeda, The Fire from Within (1984)

"You can’t trust reason. We threw it out of the ad profession long ago and have never missed it."
– science fiction writer Frederik Pohl

Said Silva, when we are working dynamically in Alpha we are more in touch with a Higher Intelligence. We're also more in tune with our subconscious, which may be one and the same as Higher Intelligence or is at least our gateway toward it. By clearly visualizing our goal from within this Alpha state, with conviction, as a result already achieved (the land of declaration), we are now causing things to be. Our experience of time is altered; linearity gives way to kairos. Show me a weekend warrior who can intentionally cause an inspiring result on a regular basis and I’ll show you a quaint and charming neighborhood in Newark.

“Blessed is he who has been able to win knowledge of the causes of things.”
– Virgil, first century BC
(perhaps a more precise translation, one that offers greater insight, is “to learn how to cause things to be”)

“There's a second neural system that makes good decisions, maybe better than the linear cognitive one that we normally use.”
– Dr. Fran Pirozzolo, sport psychologist

“If you want to reach a goal, you must ‘see the reaching’ in your own mind before you actually arrive at your goal.”
– Zig Ziglar, sales motivator and author

“You have to drop your sales mentality and start working with your prospects as if they’ve already hired you.”
– Jill Konrath, sales specialist and author

“Life can be pulled by goals just as surely as it can be pushed by drives.”
– Viktor Frankl, author of Man's Search for Meaning

“I've known my results for a long time, but I don't yet know how I'm going to arrive at them.”
– German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss (1777-1855)

“We try to equalize before the others have scored.”
– Danny Blanchflower, captain of Northern Ireland, 1958

In Zen, this higher state, unattainable from within Beta, is described as one of “knowing” as opposed to “hoping.” The modern-day human potential movement has termed this zone one of “natural knowing,” rather than “I’m pretty sure, but....” Regardless of approach, we can now establish that the Alpha state is more conducive toward producing practical results. Wishful thinking is left behind. As John Dewey observed, we have enhanced the environment for translating intentions into reality.

“The value of an idea has nothing whatever to do with the sincerity of the man who expresses it.”
– Oscar Wilde

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the shadow.
– T.S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

“The space between isn’t empty.”
– Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements

Whereas elite athletes are more experienced at generating this Alpha state at will, the rest of us may have to rely upon meditation (even during performance) and focused massage. Frances Tappan, former massage instructor and associate dean at the University of Connecticut, notes that with deep relaxation, which in this context means a well-structured massage, there is an increased intensity and frequency of alpha brain waves (Healing Massage Techniques, 1998). We’ve now recovered feeling and the ability to experience the world directly – in the present – before these sensations become "interpreted" (conceptualized and watered down) by the brain. (From The Complete Guide to Pilates, Yoga, Meditation, and Stress Relief, 2002).

"Experience devolves into concept. Concept begins to determine experience. Now you're eating the menu, not the meal."
– Werner Erhard

"The map is not the terrain."
– Alfred Korzybski (1879-1950), Polish engineer/philosopher

"Reality is always the moment of vision before the intellectualization takes place."
– Robert Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

"Intellect confuses intuition."
– Piet Mondrian, Dutch painter and abstract pioneer (1872-1944)

"I see every insight degenerating into dogma."
– journalist I.F. Stone

"Symbols have a trick of stealing the show away from the thing they stand for."
– Henry S. Haskins, stockbroker (1875-1957)

Note that it’s easy to slide down the ladder from the higher rungs of alpha back to beta again. All it takes is allowing some event to overly irritate us, especially when our body is loaded up with caffeine or other diuretics, as a mere 2% drop in body water can trigger fuzzy short-term memory and difficulty in focusing. (From Indian Head Massage, 2003, by Denise Whichello Brown.) If we stay down there in the Beta ghetto too long, we not only undermine our immune system but become fatigued and accident-prone. Curiously, if we stay in Newark too long our car may not have enough working parts left to get out.

"The first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the parts."
– Paul R. Ehrlich, biologist

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