Creating Your Own Circular Connection to
By Sonia von Matt Stoddard
Rainbows, halos, rings, wheels and tables, as well as circle “dances” abound in history. The circle is a symbol of unity as well as mobility. It projects from outside boundaries and protects what is within. With no beginning or end, it is often considered the perfect, ultimate geometric symbol. The circle is also the easiest geometric figure to draw accurately, both on paper and in movement.
When we think of a weight or resistance-training program, we rarely think in terms of circular shapes; however, when you look around, circles are abundant in nature. When we train, we usually struggle to overcome the various machines, rather than working in concert with them. We push, we pull, we throw and we exert great amounts of force. We don’t work with them; we work against them. It often boils down to the “us-versus-it” mentality. We seldom think of weight training as gentle or even nurturing, but instead we overcome and conquer the obstacle that is the weight.
If someone told you that you could achieve the same, if not better, results from a weight-training program by incorporating circular movement (instead of fighting with weights and machines) would you believe them? Given the magical quality of the circle, you might want to give it a try.
Stone Shelton, a personal trainer and developer of The Alignment, a Santa Monica, California-based mind-body fitness program, specializes in helping his clients develop a visual and causal relationship with each movement, before the movement even begins. “One of the main things I hear from clients is that they are not seeing any change in their body. Even though they have been dieting and training for what they feel is a long time, they are not seeing results. Instead of visualizing the shape of the movement, and going with that natural flow, they are fighting the movement. This amounts to minimal progress and a reduction in any gains they might be achieving.”
Most of us who are involved in resistance training spend so much time on the resistance part, we fail to notice that we are not making gains. Stone adds, “People are in constant pain. Instead of moving within their comfortable and natural range, they are placing undue stress and strain in areas, especially at critical juncture points like elbows, shoulders, hips and knees. Contrary to some popular belief, pain within a movement is NOT natural and is your body’s way of telling you that you are not in sync with that movement. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
How do we unblock, unwind and become pain free? Following are just a few sequenced exercise examples. While practicing these movements, think about the following key concepts, which will help you not only perform the movement, but also to eventually master it. Remember to stay in the moment and keep checking yourself throughout.
• Understand that the body works in circles.
• Visualize the shape of the movement; keep visualizing the circle.
• Allow the movement and shape of the movement to facilitate the movement.
• Let your eyes focus on a shape to create the visual plane.
• Let your body follow in its natural flow and range of movement.
It is important to understand, Stone tells us, “Strength training aids in building functional strength. The three main areas of focus are simply lower body, core, and upper body. All three areas work simultaneously and are dependent on one another. You cannot focus your training on one area and not the other two. Each area must be trained so as not to have a deficiency in another. Balance brings on balance.”
The following move sequences are designed to work your entire body, in harmony
with its naturally-circular movement, without any equipment, either
free-standing, sitting, or on the floor. You may want to invest in, and progress
to, free weights at some point, when you master the movements and feel you want
to move to the next level. At minimum, you will want to invest in a 55 or 65cm
(depending on your height) exercise ball. It is a versatile tool, with a myriad
of functions. You can get a quality ball for under $20 and it will provide you
with a very effective surface on which to continue as you progress. All you will
need for our second exercise is a dowel or broomstick that is a little wider
than shoulder width.
Before you begin, find and focus on your mind-body connection.
The first thing you will want to do is check in with your posture, proper alignment and grounding. Proper positioning of your body — placing yourself in balance — will help you achieve maximum benefits from subsequent movements. Finding your linear alignment is an important part of this exercise, so spend some time thinking about and feeling the movement.
• Start with your feet. Place them about hip width apart. Feel your heel against
the floor. Next, wiggle your toes. Stretch them out and feel the ball of your
foot against the floor. Visualize the entire foot bearing your weight, as
opposed to one section over the other.
• Now, focus on your ankles, then move to the knees. Bend your knees, ever so slightly. Do not keep them locked. If you have an appropriate bend, your hips will naturally fall into the correct place.
• Pull your stomach in and tuck your rear end slightly. Breathe normally and naturally.
• Release any tension in your shoulders and drop your chin slightly. Move your tongue to the roof of your mouth.
At this point you should be in proper, comfortable alignment, with your shoulders directly over your hips and no stress areas in between. Now, you are ready to create some circles!
Upper Body Sequences:
First sequence: Stand in alignment as described above. Start with your hands at your sides. Starting with your right hand, casually let your eyes look at your hand. Move your hand slowly, as in a swimming movement, up and over your shoulder. Keep watching your hand. As long as your eyes are following the movement, they will tell you if you are doing this correctly. The movement happens naturally and the eye coordination keeps it in the correct flow. Do this flowing motion a few times, then do the same with the left hand. You may also do this with both hands at once. Follow your hands with your eyes as long as you can, then let your head follow naturally back to the starting position.
Second sequence: Stick exercises are manual-resistance exercises designed to develop upper-body musculature using a wooden dowel or other cylindrical object (such as a broomstick or baseball bat). The wooden dowel used in stick exercises provides an added degree of comfort and control.
Using the same general movements as the first sequence, hold a stick or dowel in
both hands, a bit farther than shoulder width apart, palms down. Stretch your
arms gently forward, then lift the wand up and over your head with your elbows
straight. Move slowly up and over your head and back as far as feels natural.
The dowel should barely brush the top of your head. Feel free to move your arms
closer or wider apart. The movement should feel comfortable through the entire
Lower Body Sequences:
Third sequence: Lie down on the floor in a modified bridge position, with your feet hip width apart, knees bent. This is a slow, total body, core movement that may resemble a sit-up or crunch, but you are not going to focus, at all, on your abs. Start first by feeling the floor under your feet, back and shoulders. Your hands, crossed lightly on your chest will start the circular movement through to your feet. This is an exercise that can also be done on a bench or a ball for variation. Move your chin to your chest, which will create a compression movement to the ribcage. Slowly roll your upper body to meet your hips, then to your upper legs, knees and feet. Your feet stay anchored to the floor; they don’t come up to meet your elbows at any time, like a standard crunch.
Fourth sequence: Repeat this both ways, to complete the circle. Reverse the process by staying as close to your center as possible while slowly lowering your upper body back to the floor. Keep your chin to the chest at all times and keep breathing. Try not to lose the hip connection at any part along the way. Your muscles will follow you to complete the circle.
Stone reminds us that, “Done correctly, your spine will hinge at the correct point naturally. This movement helps to alleviate tension in the back, mobility in the ribs and the spaces in between. Remember to keep your tongue at the roof of the mouth and your chin as comfortably close to your chest as possible. This will also help you understand how you incorporate your neck muscles in doing abdominal or core work so you are not creating any undue pressure on either one.”
He adds, “Remember to keep your knees neutral, not locked. It is OK to use a towel as a neck support. The entire series is supposed to be easy and done at an ultra-slow pace. It may help to visualize an apple, gently cradled but not crushed, under your chin. This will help to maintain a neutral position in the hip and neck at the same time.”
Of course, these are only a few examples of circular full-body exercises that can be done, at first, with no equipment or weight and can be modified as your stability and flexibility, as well as muscle strength increase. Movements like these serve to stabilize your entire body. Stone promises, “Your core is being turned on organically.” And, he reminds us that, “It is important to keep the visual. Visualize the circle during each movement. One supports the other.
It is OK to experiment with a movement. There is no right or wrong movement as long as it flows, doesn’t hurt, and encourages you to delve completely into it, while you are in the activity. You may want to simply run through this sequence once or twice, as long as you feel comfortable. Eventually, add a bit of weight so you build muscle and increase muscle tone. Regardless of the resistance you employ, your level of improvement and well-feeling will gradually become apparent.”
Important note: The exercises and stretches suggested here are meant to be done slowly and carefully. If you feel pain or discomfort, stop immediately. If you haven’t moved in a while, or have any physical limitations, before beginning any exercise program it is recommended that individuals seek advice from their physician or a certified exercise professional.
Sonia v. M. Stoddard is a free-lance writer, book author and reviewer. She is a principal of an independent lease finance company, Stoddard & Associates, offering equipment financing to business owners. She is also owner of FitnessWitch Botanicals, which custom creates 100% organic essential oil blends and body products. You may e-mail her at Lease@StoddardAssociates.com and visit www.FitnessWitch.com Stone Shelton, The Alignment, is available at.
©Sonia von Matt Stoddard 2006.
Return to the January/February Index page