How to Hold a Handstand

originally posted at
Since I challenged the ASU men’s gymnastics team to a pommel horse circle competition a few months ago I’ve learned a great lesson about flexibility. I was training on a mushroom leading up to the day I went into the gym, but after doing 74 circles on the mushroom I was only able to do 46 circles on the pommel horse when I went to the gym.

Then I began training with the mushroom top on the floor, but after a week or two I hit a barrier at 39 circles and realized that my inflexible wrists were preventing me from keeping my legs straight. Because of this, I decided to stop doing circles and focus on my wrist flexibility. I decided that I would be ready to do circles again when I was able to hold a handstand for a minute or two, so that was my goal and today I did a press handstand, got it on film, and posted my first video on Youtube:

Posted in Flexibility, Skills, Training Plans | 1 Comment

The Key to Flexibility is Untimed Stretching

originally posted at

When I was a freshman in college, I sustained a head injury from a car accident which required me to relearn many basic functions, including walking, talking, and writing with a pencil. Arizona State University (where I went to school) has a very good disability support system. Due to my injury which happened over Christmas break, I was allowed to take untimed tests that spring. For most classes that didn’t matter, but for Physics that is the main reason I got an A in that class – hardly anyone finished those tests, but I remember sitting in the disabilities center for about 3 hours to finish each one.

That semester I didn’t get to compete on the gymnastics team either, but I did spend time in the gym, mostly stretching. Once I was able to workout again I was more flexible than before, which was great. I learned a great deal about how to improve flexibility from the times I was injured in college and could only stretch.

Giraffe Stretching

I learned that holding a stretch for 30 seconds or a minute during group stretches (where everyone is doing the same stretch) is much less effective than settling into a stretch and just relaxing and letting the world go by as if you weren’t there. Reading a book, talking to a friend, or even watching TV while stretching is great, so you can take your mind off it and relax.

These days, as I am doing circles on my mushroom almost everyday, I stretch for awhile soon after doing circles when my heart slows down a bit, and I also stretch at night before going to bed. I was just stretching at night, but since I’ve started doing circles again I know that I need to stretch my wrists right after working out in order to not tighten up. That way my nightly stretching can be helping me get more flexible instead of just catching up from the workout of the day (working out tightens muscles in general, so stretching is good to do after any type of workout).

So the next time you workout and feel the rush of endorphins, take the time to stretch and enjoy the natural, relaxing, good feelings of a healthy body. It will help you keep the good vibes going longer. If you want to gain flexibility, also pick another time in the day when you can either relax and meditate, or engage your thoughts in something else (like a book, homework, tv, or talking with a friend) while you stretch.

Posted in Flexibility, Training Plans | 1 Comment

How to Overcome a Mental Block

originally posted at
Mental blocks can come in many forms, but they all get fueled by the thoughts we think. Writers get “writer’s block”, actors get “stage fright”, and gymnasts (as well as other athletes) can develop an irrational fear about one specific trick or movement – like doing back handsprings on floor or beam, or doing release moves on the high bar or uneven bars. Depending on the skill, some may argue that fear is very rational, but it is still a mental game whether the fears are rational or not.

I often get asked about how to overcome mental blocks by gymnasts or their concerned parents over at allexperts, so I thought I would write a thorough post about the subject here that I can refer to.

Fear is a very powerful emotion that takes a little while to overcome. On the emotional scale where feeling empowered is at the top (love, joy, and appreciation are all empowering), fear is at the bottom. The following list of emotions is taken from page 114 of the book Ask and It Is Given (see amazon link to the right):

1. Joy/Appreciation/Empowered/Freedom/Love
2. Passion
3. Enthusiasm/Eagerness/Happiness
4. Positive Expectation/Belief
5. Optimism
6. Hopefulness
7. Contentment
8. Boredom
9. Pessimism
10. Frustration/Irritation/Impatience
11. Overwhelment
12. Disappointment
13. Doubt
14. Worry
15. Blame
16. Discouragement
17. Anger
18. Revenge
19. Hatred/Rage
20. Jealousy
21. Insecurity/Guilt/Unworthiness
22. Fear/Grief/Depression/Despair/Powerlessness

There are over 20 powerful processes detailed in that book which can help you move up the scale of emotions, and I’ve tried most of them successfully. It is a wonderful reference for practical mind games you can play to help you feel better about any subject.

I remember going hiking with my ASU gymnastics teammates about 10 years ago in Oak Creek Canyon. There was a waterfall at one point of the hike and we stopped to take a look. Some of the guys decided it would be fun to jump off the ledge right next to the waterfall (about 30 feet up) into the pool down below.

I looked over the edge and was gripped with fear, so I sat back on a rock several feet away while others jumped off and climbed back up a few times. I gave no indication that I was going to jump, so eventually people stopped egging me on. I sat very still and calmed my breath, focusing my attention on the ground beneath my feet. After awhile I had calmed down and was able to focus on the fact that the others were jumping and safely landing in the water below, and I worked my way up to feeling hopeful that I could do it too.

Waterfall like the one we jumped off in Oak Creek CanyonSo without any warning, when there was no one getting ready to jump or getting out of the water I stood up and quietly walked off the ledge. My teammates were freaking out when I re-emerged because they didn’t expect me to jump and I had barely missed the rocks on the way down (because I didn’t jump I just walked off), but I didn’t care because I had done it and I was done. 🙂

I remember having several other mental blocks with specific gymnastics skills (like every release move I ever tried on high bar!), which are actions to take over and over (not just once with the cliff jumping example above). The most success I had overcoming these mental blocks happened over periods of time when I could “play” with different aspects of the skills (either in my mind or on the equipment) but not really focus on them or bring attention to the fact that I was playing with them. Just like in the example above, I had to remove myself from the situation and work my way up the emotional scale on my own (without the pressure or attention of anyone else) before I could approach it from a different perspective. Then once I felt better about it I would try it on my own (or ask for a spot or a belt if I was ready for that), but without much fanfare.

Regarding specific gymnastics skills (like backwards tumbling, cartwheels, kips, jumping from the low bar to the high bar, release moves, etc.), I believe that when a mental block is developed a break is needed from whatever skill it is to focus on others that are easier and very comfortable. Recently I’ve been skateboarding for fun at a skate park near my house, and it helps me to do something like that which is totally different from my work or family life in order to gain a fresh perspective on whatever I’m stuck on, whether it’s a programming issue or a parenting one.

The length of the break really depends on how long it takes to feel better. In the example above I was able to feel better about jumping off a cliff in a matter of minutes, but when fearful thoughts are practiced over time about a given subject it may take some time to believe different thoughts that are more hopeful and empowering.

It can help to talk about the subject if the people you talk with can help you reach for thoughts that feel better, but it is not necessary and will hinder progress if the person you talk with is frustrated about the situation. When I was training in gymnastics I learned how to block out my coach or teammates at times when I was ready to try something again after taking a break, because they were usually still frustrated about my previous attempts.

Posted in Skills, Training Plans | Tagged | 66 Comments

Learning a Glide Kip – it’s all about the Swing

originally posted at
I have received quite a few questions about glide kips over at allexperts, so I thought I would write a summary of my suggestions in one place that I can refer people to. It is a skill that is tricky for many people because it is not based on strength, flexibility, or balance – it is the swing that matters most.

The kip can be tricky to learn, but the trick is to use your body to your advantage. Here are the 3 key movements I think it helps to think about:
1) When you scoop your feet under the bar just above the floor (depending on your height), you want to get your feet as far up as you can and extend your body as far as you can from the bar before you change direction.
2) As soon as you feel yourself coming back down, you want to get in a tight pike with your feet about a tennis ball away from the bar (and your hands) while your nose is almost between your knees
3) As you swing back, you’ll want to start pulling the bar towards your hips (after you pass under the bar) but keep the bar right next to your straight legs while pulling it.

I’ve tried it on a trapeze before and actually hit my head with the bar the first time because I was used to a stationary bar! After a few tries I was able to do a kip on the trapeze, though I had to adjust my swing and keep my arms straight in order to get up without hitting my head.

But on the playground or in a gym, the proper swing will take you up to a hip support on top of the bar, which is fun and feels very satisfying for me even after 24 years. 🙂

Posted in Skills | 1 Comment

My After Workout Drink

originally posted at
I remember in college one day a nutritionist came and spoke to the gymnastics team and told us that it is important to eat within an hour after working out. He said this would help the muscles rebuild faster. I noticed afterwards that I didn’t feel so wiped out if I ate soon after working out. So 10 years or so later, as I’m trying to get back “in shape”, I have a drink that helps me feel nourished after working out. I don’t spend hours working out now like I did back in college, but I still feel the effects of a half hour of fun, strenuous activity (whether it’s raking leaves or warming up to do circles on my mushroom).

My nourishing after workout tonic is actually a type of medicated milk. I have been allergic to milk for as long as I can remember (I grew up eating cheese-less pizzas, soymilk in my cereal, and “Dreamy Tofu” was my ice cream), but I learned about medicated milk from Dr. Vasant Lad at an Ayurvedic cooking seminar I attended (where I learned how to make poha and chapatis) in New Mexico back in March. The seminar was based on the book Dr. Lad wrote called Ayurvedic Cooking for Self Healing, which I had been trying to learn from for several months. In the book there are actually a few different kinds of medicated milk, but the one that I like the best is the one with turmeric. The picture above is what I made the other night after doing 45 circles on the mushroom. Here is the recipe (from Dr. Lad’s book, pictured to the left):

“1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup milk
1/4 cup water
Mix all ingredients and heat to boiling point. Continue to cook on medium heat, stirring constantly, until there is 1 cup of liquid left.
*This is good for pharyngitis, laryngitis and hoarseness of the voice. It is also effective for acute tonsillar congestion and acute kapha-pitta conditions of the lungs. It is a natural antiseptic.”

When I prepare it I don’t use that much water and I cook it on high since I have an electric stove (unlike Dr. Lad who insists on gas stoves, even in the cooking class). I also put the pot into a larger pot or bowl of cold water after cooking to cool it down faster while I keep stirring to prevent a skin forming on the surface.

I was amazed when I tried it for the first time, it actually helped reduce my allergies. I used raw goats milk from a local farm, which we happened to have because we wanted to give Nickalus something better than commercial formula (he joined our family last year when he was 4 months old). I’ve tried pasteurized milk from the store and I reacted badly to it, so I stuck to the raw milk (see for a source near you).

Posted in Diet | Tagged | Leave a comment