Moving Forward with Val: Conversations about Movement

"Move” is the single word mission of Yoga Health Center. Movement is such a powerful force that it can bring meaning and purpose to a life. Think about it: Movement is an essential part for living a healthy and happy life. Our bodies and emotions naturally revel in free movement and expression. For example, after taking one of YHC’s fitness or yoga classes, you probably feel a sense of joy from the simple act of moving and celebrating life-in-motion with others who are also joyfully dancing through asanas or moving with the music in other fitness classes. Let’s be real; we are also grunting, groaning and grimacing during the challenging parts. It’s a euphoric and excruciating experience. We smile as we sweat and we bemoan the soreness that we feel a few days later.


I remember (more than once!) after taking one of Val’s classes that I couldn’t walk without pain for days. I LOVED it! Masochism aside, I accepted that the pain I was feeling was a normal part of the recovery process. I imagine that sometimes you can’t wait to mock-complain to Val, sharing with him your good pain story. Val says passionately, “movement is the key to life.” Over the past few months Val and I have shared many conversations about how movement and the movement masters who he admires have been so important in his life. What follows are some ideas that Val has shared with me in those conversations.


Val shares a relevant no pain, no gain story from middle school: “My middle school PE teacher and vice principal Mr. Ford changed my life in 7th grade by giving me a muscle adaptation lesson. I was weightlifting and my chest got really sore from working out, so the next day I asked Mr. Ford if I could rest and he said to lift again and told me I’d feel less sore the next day. I didn’t believe him, but I did what he said. Changed my life. I was amazed at the ability of my muscles to adapt so fast. From that point on I knew that my way to power was by being in the best shape possible.”


Val states ardently, “Movement is my life. I appreciate the value of mobility, not just to look good, but to move well. If you ever stop moving you decay and atrophy.” It’s true. As soon as freedom of movement is lost, impeded upon or compromised in any living system, stagnation sets in and along with it many physical and psychological problems. Depression and/or anxiety can result from the sudden change from living an active lifestyle to a restricted one. We are forced to slow down against our will. We must learn to adapt. Val continues, “You can’t lay on your back and get fit.”


Bruce Lee is one of Val’s greatest movement master inspirations. One of Val’s favorite quotes of Bruce Lee is this one: “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless — like water. Now you put water in a cup, it becomes the cup; You put water into a bottle it becomes the bottle; You put it in a teapot it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” On a metaphysical level Val reflects, “Bruce Lee embodied yin and yang with his intangible spirit of life expression.” And on a physical level, Val forwards that Bruce Lee embodied the idea of functional movement.


“I am astounded by the lack of functional movement of many people at the gym who lift weights only to get big. Athletes are trained to move first AND THEN follow that with strength training. I am inspired by my athlete students at YHC like Brent and Mila. Brent found a different way to move in my classes as did Mila. Participating in my classes helped Mila’s tennis game improve and helped Brent to experience a different movement vibe than he was used to on the playing field.”


Val says with a wry smile, “My students who consider themselves to be fit tell me that they feel out of shape after taking my classes. I tell them that they are cross training which builds adaptive muscle. I have them move in different ways than their body is used to moving. In the old days, movement was correlated with working, not working out. Like farmers.”


Val loves talking about Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan at any chance. Val’s movement metaphor and goal is to move like a dragon. “Jackie Chan was Bruce Lee’s stunt man. Jackie Chan was an acrobat and a master of functional movement. His movement style while doing stunts was a predecessor of modern-day parkour.


Val also was excited to point out that Arnold Schwarzenegger also taught others of the danger of becoming so muscle bound that you lose the ability to move in a functional way. Being the master archivist that Val is, at this point he pulled up a decades old video of Schwarzenegger masterfully instructing an aerobics style class with two leotard donning participants. It was a real shocker! Arnold was moving gracefully, with great agility and flexibility, much like Jane Fonda did in her fitness heyday. Val informed that Arnold advocated cross training with aerobics and light jogging throughout his career.


In his classes, Val focuses on movement stabilizer issues; “You need to work the stabilizer muscles through all sorts of movement patterns and agility training.” Along with Val’s technical expertise, his interest in the general history of movement and fitness also shines through; “The 80s was the era of (muscle) mass and aerobics in gyms. Then the 90s came with DVDs and the gym scene shifted to at home workouts.” Fascinating stuff.


I asked Val to pass along a few movement messages to our readers. “Allow my classes to give you enthusiasm to move in new ways. Your body can do remarkable things. Your mind needs to see it for you to do it. Your mind controls your body. Realize that you can always do better, so move forward.”


And as an extra bonus for our blog readers, below is an excerpt from Val’s upcoming book The Tao of Val which reflects his decades of experience as an athlete and personal trainer, taking fitness to the streets, garages, basements, yoga studios and gyms. Val’s book distills and presents hundreds of hours of his research about movement, martial arts, boxing, weightlifting, the “greats” of fitness, and his countless other interests. The Val is one very curious man! Enjoy and keep moving.


Core Fit: Core & Strength Training

The kinetic chain that allows you to move.


Our core & strength training should contain elements of gymnastics, aerobics, acrobatics, calisthenics, & weightlifting type of training. A well-developed kinetic chain is a must for any elite athlete. Here’s a basic overview: the skeletal, muscular, and nervous systems make up what is called the kinetic chain. All three systems have to be strengthened to have a strong kinetic chain. To be able to perform various tasks in life efficiently or with to an even more extreme extent as you do in parkour/free running (ninja like abilities) allows you to traverse any environment with grace and agility.


A strong skeletal system means having strong bone structure. Obviously your bones are what holds your body up. If you were sick as a child never went out and played, jumping around and developing muscle & bone density through activity, then you will have brittle bones as an adult. One fall now could & would break your bones easily.  The muscular system is what moves the skeletal system. Obviously bones are not moving themselves so having a strong muscular system allows you to move your body the way you want to or need to. And having a fast reacting nervous system means being able to control the muscles that control your bones; therefore linking the kinetic chain.


Some people are just able to react & move faster than others. The reason for that is because the eyes signal the brain. The brain sends an electric response to the body and people are able to react with split-second reactionary  movements. And then there are people who are like a deer in headlights. They freeze up.  Their nervous system has not triggered the appropriate response to the body.  Therefore putting everything together the nervous system completes the kinetic chain package.


Strength and conditioning training can be done on any day at any time I feel. The main excuse people use is that they don’t have time.  Well honestly with time being a factor, I use once again a tactic instilled in me by the Godfather of modern pumpology. Arnold Schwarzenegger. In his movie Pumping Iron (1977), Schwarzenegger references bodybuilders as having the same mind-state as a sculptor would. So just like an art student in school. They would learn techniques in that class but are meant to go back in their own studio and work on your project not only just in class. The artist does it by using clay, metal or another material. The artist would eventually present their project to the teacher.  As a finished product or whatever. Sculpting the shape and form of the human body requires a similar process. Just like bodybuilders do when they enter a judged contest. If you only worked on your project that one hour in class your project would take forever to complete.


To see any results in anything we do in life takes time and dedication. Because one hour as we all know is not long enough; it goes very fast. We don’t just grow & learn from school or training. The real growth truly comes from application. By practicing that training (the world is our gym, as I like to say) we set the foundation of mental & muscle memory, then we can explore the boundaries of our abilities. For example. I normally suggest to my clients who are just beginning strength training to start with is using their own body weight. Mastery of it, balance and control over their entire core muscles.

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