June 1, 2013


Closing the Monkey Gym at the Australian National University, part I

The advanced crew had an incredible work out last night. Readers of the Stretch Therapy forum will know that I have been experimenting with speedskater squats and Cossack squats over the few month or so; in combination, these are simply the best gluteus maximus development exercises on the planet I believe. And I am using both in service of perfecting the single leg squat. This is not the place to explore this any more deeply but if you’re interested in learning more about what we do in this facility, then please head over to the Forums.

I have been teaching continuously at the Australia National University for 26 years. I had my 30th birthday in Japan in 1983 and I lived in Japan for exactly 4 years, to the day. And as I noted in the first edition of Overcome neck & back pain, I started my exercise classes the following year just to make sure I got enough exercise myself. Their growth and spread has surprised me.

Our facility at the ANU has been my laboratory for more than 25 years. Olivia estimates that we have taught (between past and current teachers, and myself) over 25,000 people in that time. All the current teachers used to come to the the advanced stretching class every Tuesday night; the beauty of this system is that if any one of us had a good idea, it would be workshopped that evening, taught to the students that week, and next Tuesday the feedback from that experience would be shared. This instant ground truthing of any technique has meant that the system has learned at an accelerating rate. In fact, as part of my PhD research, I used the advanced stretching class as an example of an efficient learning machine: one objective and two constraints comprised its sole tool set.

We have had two complementary streams ever since we began: one we called stretching and the other we called strengthening. In one sense this separation is artificial but it has been very useful. So, on the stretching side, improvement of one’s flexibility is the goal. The constraints on achieving that goal are safety and effectiveness—if there are two techniques equally safe but one is more effective, the more effective one gets the vote; similarly if we had two equally effective techniques but one is inherently safer than the other, it gets the thumbs up. Exactly the same thing happens on the strengthening side but the objective is different—the method is exactly the same.

Having a passion for an impersonal objective is extremely useful. If one’s passion is being used in the service of the impersonal objective, then the usual criticisms of subjectivity and its alleged ‘taint’ are removed completely. Originally positioned as the quest to distinguish between doxa and episteme (belief or opinion vs. ‘truth’, first articulated clearly by Aristotle), the subjectivity–objectivity distinction is alive and well today. If you want to dip into it in a bit more detail just google subjectivity versus objectivity. The typical style of any scientific paper will show you just how much this enterprise values the appearance/flavour of objectivity over subjectivity (just think of the use of the passive voice: “it was observed that”…). Who was observing, exactly, and what did he or she feel at the time?

I will not get into “evidence-based” medicine  here, but it is a theme that I will return to perhaps in a later post. All I will say now is that on all the important aspects of the experience of being alive science has very little useful to say. For example, consider the taste of an orange or the sensation of kissing someone you love: like the finger pointing to the Moon, words have literally nothing useful to say about either of these things. No amount of understanding of the chemistry of citrus fruit will in any way connect you with the sensation of biting into a sweet orange; and as for the sensation of a kiss, nothing useful to say whatsoever. No, both of these will have to be experienced directly by your good self!

But our facility at the Australia National University is ending at midnight June 14, 2013. I thought it might be useful,  possibly even interesting, to reflect on why I decided to finish the enterprise, at least in the form that it exists currently. But I also see that it’s already 9 o’clock (a.m.) so I will have to postpone this journal until another day. My brother Greg will be arriving at around 09:30 with the trailer so that we can pick up scaffolding from another friend and go over to the ANU—where we will erect the scaffolding (after carrying it up three flights of stairs) so that we can reach the 17 foot high ceiling of the Monkey Gym, and start removing of the installed equipment. We will only be doing the high parts today. More to come.

Later this evening: KL resting on the “Phat rope”, post its earthward passage; YouTube viewers will recognise this amazing grip strength and upper body strength tool:

KL using ‘Phat rope’ as pillow

Photographer’s credit: Dr Greggie. Miss O’s feet in the background; we are all beyond tired now. All the high mounted devices (rings, ropes, the pipe climb) have been taken down, and this involved schlepping the broken-down scaffolding up and down three flights of stairs—and did I mention it was raining? All scaffolding returned to its owner: thanks Mark B.

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