Since developing the Soul Seat, I've discovered two keystone behaviors glued together with a concept that have a profound and lasting effect on flexibility, productivity, focus, and general health. They are "keystone" in the sense that the more you practice them, the more able you are to realize their benefits with less effort. They are their own virtuous circles whose positive results ripple out into the rest of your daily activities. When combined with the concept of Throughput, its a self-reinforcing positive loop.
B is for Belly Sleep, maximizing the amount of time you sleep on your stomach. L is for Lotus pose, either half or full, and T is for Throughput. (I hope to post in the future specifically about throughput). Throughput is the more esoteric of the three, but it is key to measuring your progress towards more and more of B and L, as well as helping you to perceive the positive effects of the B and L in various facets of your life. I use throughput to keep me focused on my progress in mastering Lotus and Belly Sleep and then again to measure how these two key behaviors impact the rest of my goals and aspirations. Throughput is a way to amplify the often incremental and subtle progress in any health regimen to keep motivation in place.
I know that sleeping on your stomach is controversial. Any Google search on the topic will produce plenty of opinions in both directions - pro and con. From SIDS to neck problems, sleeping on your belly is thought to be contraindicated. Some people swear by it and even suggest that babies sleep better on their stomachs. I'm not qualified to wade into the SIDS controversy. I want to talk here about choices we have a grown people.
I first started experimenting with sleeping on my stomach a couple of years ago as I was working toward my goal of mastering the Lotus pose by my 50th birthday. My routine was to focus my stretching before bed on Lotus and then again first thing in the morning. I found that I lost less ground overnight if I had spent at least some time laying on my stomach. At first, I wasn't comfortable enough to sleep in that position but after a few months of progress, I discovered that it solved a snoring problem. I only woke myself up with snorts when on my back. A few months ago I got even more motivated when I woke up from a dream of drowning, drenched in sweat and gasping for air. I had been on my back and believe I had a sleep apnea incident. I'm now able to spend 2-3 hours a night on my stomach with no pain or discomfort in my neck. The benefits are a greater range of motion in my shoulders and arms, elimination of chronic neck pain and 10 minutes knocked off my morning throughput to full lotus and a less sleep deprived spouse.
The first thing I'd like to say about the Lotus pose since achieving my goal of spending 40 minutes a day in it is that it's no big deal. At the same time, I want to say that it's a really big deal. What in the world do I mean by that? It's no big deal in the mystical/magical/spiritual sense. It's easy to project all sorts of anticipated effects, states, or capacities onto the one who sits placidly in lotus pose. I want to demystify all that and point out that I could just as easily plot the downfall of the Sisters of Mercy from a lotus pose as I could meditate on world peace. There's nothing inherent in the posture, or the gaining of the posture that cements any particular spiritual path or flavor of enlightenment. I'm the same flawed straight white Midwestern male with receding hairline that I always was.
Having said that, I also think that Lotus pose, used within the context of the wireless internet cloud is the most potent killer app for knowledge workers to come along since desktop publishing. I would like to see the Lotus pose recognized for the tool it is, stripped of all the pseudo-religious trappings and magical thinking in order that more people can gain the benefits without the pretense of enlightenment.
However you choose to maintain your health, progress beyond the initial gains is often slow and incremental. Once you settle into a routine, increases in benefit level off, making them harder to perceive. This is particularly true with stretching, Yoga, and Pilates, where increases in the range of motion and flexibility would be measured in millimeters. Adding to the trouble is the fact that your "edge" always feels the same even though you may have to move twice as far into any pose to experience it. However, if you measure time as well as space, you get a better picture of where you're making progress and why. This will facilitate the motivation to stick with your goals.
I measure the throughput of key poses in my Yoga practice with a simple stopwatch and track them on a spreadsheet. Even though it may not feel like I've made any progress from day to day in Cobbler pose, for instance, my times prove that my knees land on the floor now in 30 seconds rather than the ten minutes of six months ago.
Throughput itself deserves a book-length exposition to do it justice. And if you're interested there's a great novel "The Goal" by Eliyahu Goldratt. It lays it all out in story form. However, you'll most easily recognize it by more familiar names such as "Burn rate" or "transit time" or even "entropy". Throughput is a measure of the effectiveness of any system by tracking the amount of time that elapses while something is processed from raw material to finished good. Transit time is often throughput applied to your digestive system. How long before the body transforms food into waste, nutrition, and energy. Burn rate is how quickly a rocket engine processes it's fuel into forward motion, or how fast or slow a start-up company transforms seed capital into a fruitless effort, pointless marketing, despair, and failure.
Combining Belly Sleep Lotus Pose and Throughput is one of many recipes for a virtuous loop of self-reinforcing healthy behavior. What other reinforcing loops have you discovered?