Paying attention = injury prevention

Never too early to start stretching! Kids & Family Class - 2017

Never too early to start stretching! Kids & Family Class - 2017

 

Today's post is about something we all know deep down but may not want to admit to ourselves. And then once we do, we may not really take it seriously enough until things get REALLY bad. What am I talking about? Pain and injuries, which are generally preventable. How?

Pay attention to your own body: inside and outside of it.

Injuries can be usually prevented by the following:

1. Start a training session with adequate warm-up

This can take 20-30 minutes! Get the blood flow going by a light jog, and other dynamic movements using all the appendages and slowly expand the range of motion. Roll out your ankles, knees, hips, elbows wrists. Capoeiristas really push the limits of their wrists and backs, more than other sports. It's wise to activate the right muscles by doing lots of abdominal training as well - crunches, planches, cherry-pickers, supermans, leg lifts, and even push-ups.

Check out the first 8 minutes of this video of a soccer team warming up. They start slow, incorporate their arms, and using different movement patterns. Then they stretch while moving across the field.

2. Stretch regularly, especially after a workout

Make sure to target all the major muscle groups starting from the toes up. Stretch those calves, hamstrings, quads, hip flexors, and glutes. Then go for those arms - triceps, biceps, neck at various angles. Top it off with some cat stretches for the lower back. This is the very minimum. Stretch even on off-days, after a light warm-up. Foam roll, too. Stretching after a workout prevents muscle stiffness and the associated pain.

I have to confess that I am not the most disciplined stretcher and my new year's resolution is to stretch more post-workout and in between workouts. Over the years however, my kicks have gotten higher and range of motion has improved, thanks to the minimual stretching I have done. This also means while training kicks, consistently pushing to the limits of the range of motion. It all adds up over time!

3. Pay attention to sharp pain signals

STOP when they happen. (This is not to be confused with the "burn" of a workout, which sorry, is supposed to hurt a bit.) Athletes tend to be strong of mind and push through pain, and it's hard to know which is "good pain". Ask your trainer if you can't tell the difference.

4. Pay attention to your environment

While playing with a partner in a capoeira roda, you can only control yourself, and in the beginning, not that well! So when playing with a second person, especially a beginner, there is a higher risk of accidental injury.  Be conscious of the location of all of your limbs and those of your partner! This also means controlling the DIRECTION and TIMING of your kicks. It seems obvious but EVERYONE at some point experiences the repercussions of not paying attention and a lesson is learned forever onward...if you get what I'm saying.

So that's the simplest and most difficult thing to do - but if you can manage it, you'll be thankful. Of course, to add to these tips, as we all know, it doesn't hurt to repeat - STAY HYDRATED. It's critical to muscle health. And while you're at it, keep your salt balance in check. Easy peasy. Thanks for reading and I hope you can join us at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness at 8pm and all Mondays until Dec 18, 2017. Hope to see you there!

Let's get moving!
-Megha Makam

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

CONTACT US FOR MORE INFO ON SESSIONS!

Can training be fun? Like, REALLY FUN?!

Training - Capoeira Narahari - Berkeley, CA - 2010

Training - Capoeira Narahari - Berkeley, CA - 2010

Changing gears a bit today to write about the experience of training capoeira. I've experienced a lot of ups and downs, injuries, celebrations, breakthroughs, plateaus, and even boredom over the almost-decade of training with my group. Throughout it all, the part I'm most thankful for is that I've had the good fortune of having wonderful training-mates in our group. As I looked for photos of training sessions for this blog post, I realized most of them were taken some years ago, but most of the folks in the photos are still a part of my life. I've made life-long friends through something that seemed so simple at the time when I first started. I also never would have imagined capoeira becoming a part of my "career" path - I felt so awkward and un-athletic. The thing that kept me going was being surrounded by positive, supportive people who were all interested in some way to improve, learn, and grow together.

If exercise isn't your favorite hobby, capoeira can still be an important part of your life, and even fun! I've always been "active" in the sense, I played sports casually (like swimming, basketball, and rollerblading) but really never made a habit of going to the gym once I went to college and had less free time to play outside. I don't particularly enjoy jogging/running either - unless I am stressed out, then it's a really effective way to let off steam.

Capoeira caught me by surprise. I knew from the outside that I wanted to do all the cool moves, learn the music - but I had never tried anything like this in my life, not even gymnastics. During my first class and seeing everyone move so smoothly, I was inspired and knew I had to be a part of it. But I was scared too - I knew it would take a lot of commitment to make progress. Still, I was cautious because it felt "too powerful". But then I started learning to dance, and playing Brazilian ukulele called the cavaquinho. I started to slowly get enveloped by the cultural foundation that capoeira is rooted in, and before I knew it, I found myself traveling by myself to Rio de Janeiro barely a year after I stepped my bare foot in my first class.

What happened?

I think the only explanation is that I fell in love with the art. Brazilian culture is so rich - the language, the dances, the music, the people - I quickly became a statistic. Like so many before me, I became a Brazilophile.

Now, I don't expect that everyone will have the experience I had or the chance to just escape for a couple months to wander Brazil. But capoeira in isolation is just a bunch of movements. Capoeira within its context is so much more than that - and that's what makes it fun (for me).

We train hard in class - because the movements require strength, flexibility, courage, focus. All these take practice to acquire and maintain. And it is not easy by any means. However, when we keep in mind the final goal - playing with friends (or rivals!?) in a community, it drives us to learn for the future, not just for the present. It gives us the drive to persist through difficult training, even if it takes a year (as it did for me) to do a proper handstand.

Training - Capoeira Narahari - Stanford, CA - 2010

Training - Capoeira Narahari - Stanford, CA - 2010

The FUN comes from the joy of attempting new moves, supporting and cheering on our friends, celebrating victories (as small as they may be) and building our knowledge. Every training session, we may not feel like we made a "breakthrough" but we did our part to maintain consistency, which is ultimately what it takes to progress. Sometimes, the fun comes from the adrenaline kick we get when we are playing in the roda.

Like any activity, training the same thing can get boring or at least, not totally fun. When that happens, it's time to change things up a bit - and there are SO MANY THINGS to learn within the capoeira/Brazilian world, you will definitely find another way to get excited about learning again. Variety is important to learning, and change is necessary. It's totally fine to take a break on learning a particular move and come back days or weeks later. Our brains and bodies are still processing the practice experience much after we do it, and you'd be surprised how something "clicks" even without having drilled continuously for days.

Training - Capoeira Narahari - Brazivedas Studio, East Palo Alto, CA - 2010

Training - Capoeira Narahari - Brazivedas Studio, East Palo Alto, CA - 2010

So I hope you've got a little spark to train with less pressure and more openness. I'm happy to share that our little capoeira family is growing, and I welcome you to join us at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness at 8pm and all Mondays until Dec 18, 2017. Hope to see you there!

Let's get moving!
-Megha Makam

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

CONTACT US FOR MORE INFO ON SESSIONS!

Musings on the musical aspects of capoeira - Part 3

Maculelê - Capoeira Besouro - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 2009

Maculelê - Capoeira Besouro - Rio de Janeiro, Brazil - 2009

There are so many possible topics to write about relating to capoeira and music. It was difficult to choose one for today - but I was looking at old videos from past performances, and I found something that inspired today's post - the dance form of maculelê.

What is maculelê?

This is a dance form where dancers use sticks to accompany the percussion and voices that provide the music. It is a folkloric dance with a similar origin story to capoeira. It's also performed in a roda (circle). To get an idea, here's a clip from a demo we did in 2016:

As you can see and hear, there's a strong beat that the sticks accompany. The songs are folkloric and there are many versions of thesong with this same melody. The dance is a combination of choreography and freestyle - often in shows and demos, groups will choreograph one portion and freestyle another portion, as in the example clip above. Usually, the freestyle portion is between two people while a ring forms around them - just like in capoeira. There's a vocabulary of movements, and they're combined in random order, while maintaining hitting each others' sticks on the 1st beat of the phrase (which has 4 beats).

Here's a music clip so you can hear how it goes:

I am definitely not an authority on maculelê, but from what have read and heard, it has many different origin myths, just like capoeira. Interestingly, it emerged separately from capoeira during the same historical period, but had many similar elements. Much of the time slaves spent was in sugarcane plantations, and the sticks you see here are also symbols of that origin. The interaction between dancers with the sticks is mock-fighting, and sometimes, swords/machetes are used instead. They say that machetes were used originally, but were exchanged for sticks instead for safety reasons. In some professional shows, they still use machetes or 'prop' swords for dramatic effect. Another element of traditional costume includes grass skirts (as seen in the photo at the top of the page).

Over the last several decades, maculelê is increasingly performed together with capoeira - in fact, I've never heard of a group that only performs maculelê (though they could exist in Brazil). Most capoeira groups will include maculelê in their training and performances.

So that's all for now. I'm looking forward to tonight's capoeira session at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness at 8pm and all Mondays until Dec 18, 2017. Hope to see you there!

Let's get moving!
-Megha Makam

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

CONTACT US FOR MORE INFO ON SESSIONS!

Musings on the musical aspects of capoeira - Part 2

A berimbau leans against the atabaque drum, and a pandeiro rests on top.

A berimbau leans against the atabaque drum, and a pandeiro rests on top.

Today's post is a second installment of my "Musings on the musical aspects of capoeira", read part 1 here. I started writing this a week ago but decided to post about our successful capoeira workshop we had last week. In this post, I will introduce one song and its lyrics, as well as share a bit about our recent capoeira event which inspired this post in the first place.

I'm still feeling pretty energized after our open roda just over week ago. The roda (circle) is also the name of the event where capoeiristas come to play capoeira with each other. We try to organize this event at least once per month. We co-hosted the event on Stanford campus with our friends at Capoeira Irmandade in San Jose, and we had folks from Berkeley and San Francisco show up to play! Everyone brought a positive and playful spirit. I was stoked to see that even when games got intense, people kept in control and conscious of space. Here's a clip from our event:

The music here was a moderate-fast tempo, and you can see how the two players interact - their kicks are fast, lots of circular movements, flowing with each other while still trying to catch each other off-guard.

The song that Professor Medusa is leading (on the left, playing the berimbau) is called "Turma Boa". Lyrics can be found here. The chorus of this song repeats after every verse. Roughly translated, the chorus is as follows:

What group this is? What a good group/ Be careful, boy with the rocking of the boat

And the verses:

I climbed up the mountain, and came down the hill/ I saw a group playing capoeira

They played *Angola and *Regional/ They played pandeiro, atabaque, and berimbau

I climbed up the mountain, and came down the hill/ I saw a group playing all night long

*Angola and Regional are two styles of capoeira

The song tells a simple story - someone appreciating a group of people playing capoeira. It makes references to the instruments being played, which are essential to the roda. And from personal experience, when the music is good, you have the urge to play as long as the music doesn't stop!

Que turma boa!

Que turma boa!

The music is what really makes capoeira stand out from the other martial arts - and music also promotes community and cooperation. These are two ingredients to have a really great capoeira experience - both in the roda and outside of it.

For folks training capoeira anywhere outside of Brazil, Portuguese is most likely a foreign language to them. By learning the songs together, singing together, and teaching newer students, there's a subtle bonding experience that happens. Moreover, these songs are sung the world-over, and it's a really special feeling to land somewhere across the ocean and be able to synchronize movements and music together with another person, without ever having met each other!

I'll continue to share my thoughts on music and capoeira in next week's post. In the meantime, I am happy to announce that tonight, we will be launching the regular capoeira session at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness at 8pm and all Mondays until Dec 18, 2017. Hope to see you there!

Let's get moving!
-Megha Makam

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

CONTACT US FOR MORE INFO ON SESSIONS!

New Class Launch: SUCCESS!

Hi again!

I was planning to continue the discussion on the musical aspects of capoeira that I'd started last time, but I am too excited after our first capoeira workshop from Monday night, and I want to share how it went with you all. We had four highly motivated women who came to work hard and have fun at the same time. We covered a lot of ground, from discussing basic history about the art form, fundamental movements and stances, and got comfortable moving across the floor. We also started to apply the moves we learned - how to defend from a kick and escape. We learned a song (while simultaneously clapping) and how to play the various percussion instruments. Finally, we put it all together in a roda, and everyone was able to use their new moves to play capoeira with a partner.

It was inspiring for me as an instructor to see everyone's enthusiasm and positivity while trying a new, strange physical activity for the first time. The beginning of anyone's capoeira journey is inevitably fraught with awkward and uncomfortable moments. But it's amazing to look back a few months later and acknowledge how much we can learn, and how much more that remains to be explored with our bodies! Capoeira is such a dynamic activity, it gives us an opportunity to experiment with ideas related to our bodies in space. Some things work, and some don't...yet. Some movements feel awkward at first, but a few months later, feel like you've always done them. Some movements will always feel strange. Then, there's who whole process of having that physical conversation with another person while playing capoeira in a roda, or even training with a partner. Spatial awareness and timing are two very important ingredients in capoeira, and we get to hone those senses through training. We'll discuss those topics in a future post.

Jon broadcasted the workshop live on Facebook (see below) and I think it's great that these folks now have a record of their very first capoeira class to look back on in a few months or years and see just how far they will have come!

Based on this successful workshop, I'm happy to announce that we will be officially launching a weekly class at 8pm on Monday nights at Hyper-Active Monkey Fitness! Every month, my home capoeira group and neighboring groups organize an open roda - an event where many capoeiristas come to play together, usually in a public place like a park or plaza. Folks training at Hyper-Active Monkey Fitness will be encouraged to participate in those events and apply the skills they learn here out in the "real world". We recently had a roda, and I'll write about it in the next post when I discuss more about the musical aspect of capoeira.

 

Let's get moving!
-Megha Makam

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

CONTACT US FOR MORE INFO ON SESSIONS!

Musings on the musical aspects of capoeira - Part 1

Music is an essential element of the capoeira experience

Music is an essential element of the capoeira experience

Hi again!

Today's post is about an aspect of capoeira that makes it unique in the spectrum of the various martial arts - music!

To talk about music, we must also acknowledge the origin of capoeira from slavery in Brazil. The instruments are of African origin, and the lyrical content of the songs often describe slave experience. There are many scholarly papers and analyses of these topics, and I hope that what I share here will pique your interest to seek out other sources of knowledge - I wrote paper a couple years ago about improvisation and capoeira, and I've referred to several sources of literature if you're curious. In this short post, I won't be able to do justice to the depth of the musical history related to capoeira or even the musical experience of capoeira in the present. So, what follows is a brief description of the musical instruments of capoeira. You may find this information easily in other parts of the internet, but I hope to provide this background here first before diving deeper in future posts.

Capoeira music = songs + percussion

When capoeira is "performed" in a group, it is traditionally composed of a ring of people standing around a pair of capoeiristas. This ring is called the "roda" ("circle" in Portuguese). A few of the people play percussion instruments, and generally the person playing the "berimbau" will also be leading the songs in call-and-response format. The rest of the people in the roda accompany the leader by singing the lyrical responses and clapping their hands in rhythm.

A well-balanced capoeirista is not one that can hold an infinite handstand or do backflips - he or she also leads the roda with songs, and can play all the percussion instruments. Each instrument has a simple, but specific rhythm used during a capoeira roda, with the exception of the berimbau, which is played with many patterns and variations. The berimbau is a monochord, bow-shaped instrument that uses a gourd as a resonator. The string is struck by a thin stick, or baqueta. The pitch can be changed by holding a dobrão and pressing it on the string. Listen to a berimbau sample here. See below for the names and images of the instruments.

Image credit: http://gcbtr.com/en_US/music-and-instruments/

Image credit: http://gcbtr.com/en_US/music-and-instruments/

Songs are a very special part of the capoeira roda. They are sung in Portuguese, and the lyrics can be simple words or phrases, playful jokes, commentary about the roda and its participants, or stories of historical figures and events. They often make references to legendary mestres (mestre = master) of capoeira, gods or deities, or the experience of being a slave in Brazil. By singing these songs today, we preserve, honor, and share the stories of the Afro-Brazilian people who developed the art of capoeira over 500 years ago.

Capoeira roda at Stanford University - you see two berimbaus, two pandeiros (they look like tambourines), one agogô double-bell, and the atabaque drum.

Capoeira roda at Stanford University - you see two berimbaus, two pandeiros (they look like tambourines), one agogô double-bell, and the atabaque drum.

Below is a little promotional video produced by Stanford Recreation for the class we've been holding for the past several years the the Stanford Capoeira Club, my home school - Capoeira Narahari. You can hear the instruments in action, and see the interaction between the capoeiristas and the percussionists. The music sets an implicit tempo for the capoeiristas'  movements - slower tempo usually corresponds with slower movements, while faster tempos inspire faster games. There are no hard and fast rules about this though, and the beauty of capoeira is that the movements are improvised on the spot, inspired by the music, whatever happens, happens!

In the next post, I'll dive deeper into this topic. I'm stoked to be starting a new capoeira class at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness. Our first workshop will be on September 25th, 2017 at 8pm (RSVP here). I will be co-teaching with Professor Marcelo Medusa, who is here from Rio de Janeiro. You can learn about him here. He's got tons of tricks up his sleeves and is a talented acrobat, fighter, dancer, and drummer. We will learn basic movements and songs/percussion. It will be super fun. Mark your calendar, and tell your friends!

Let's get moving!
-Megha Makam

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

CONTACT US FOR MORE INFO ON SESSIONS!

Capoeira arriving soon at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness!

Capoeira mischief: smiling because it's all under control!

Capoeira mischief: smiling because it's all under control!

My name is Megha, and I'm stoked to have the opportunity to start teaching capoeira at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness. I've been practicing capoeira for almost 10 years at Stanford with Mestre Beiçola (Capoeira Narahari). Before I write anything else, I would like to first express my gratitude for having such a solid mentor and teacher, in capoeira and in life. I will continue my own training with him, and with his blessing, I'm now taking on more teaching opportunities.

So, who am I?

Don't we all ponder this question? Ok ok, without being too philosophical, this is the short story...at least, my capoeira story.

I first saw capoeira while I was an undergrad at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, taking an Ethnomusicology course. It blew my mind. I was working too much at the time, and I ended up never taking a single capoeira class. I soon graduated and left the country for 6 months, but the regret of never having tried capoeira kept gnawing at me. The Universe set me up with a job at a research lab at Stanford, and in the fall of 2007, I found myself in Palo Alto, CA. A few months later, riding my bike back from campus, I saw a tall guy walking in capoeira uniform playing a berimbau. I practically ran him over I got so excited to see a capoeirista. His name was Shaun, and he told me to come check out Stanford Capoeira Club training sessions. I went that week and never looked back.

Barely a year later, I decided to spend 3 months in Rio de Janeiro to find out more about this new culture I was slowly getting immersed in. I had begun to learn Brazilian dance as well as percussion and cavaquinho, all taught by Mestre Beiçola. I wanted to see the source of all this magic. I was hooked. I'll save the stories from this adventure for future posts, but it was so awesome that I went back to Brazil the following summer for another 3 months. Over the years, I've had the opportunity to teach capoeira to kids and adults at local schools and community centers, public and private events and fairs, at academic conferences (Seoul, Korea) and in other sports clubs (Ultimate Frisbee team in Bangalore, India).

Now a slight detour...

In 2010 I began my doctoral program at Stanford, and seven looooong years later, I earned my PhD in Biology. My thesis is titled, "Glabrous skin regions as thermal portals for human temperature regulation". If you want to learn more about what I did, you can watch my public defense presentation here. In a nutshell, mammals (like us humans) have specialized regions of skin that help transfer heat with the environment. These areas are found on the palms and foot soles, among others. We can mechanically enhance our ability to remove excess body heat generated by exercise by placing a cooling device on these areas. This presents a major advantage for athletes - fatigue is actually a result of over-heating, or elevated core body temperature, not lactic acid buildup, as is commonly believed. Cooling the body core prolongs both anaerobic and aerobic exercise.

What now?

Anyway, as of this summer of 2017 I'm a free bird, trying to combine my dedication to capoeira, movement, and the arts, with my scientific training. I'm hoping to integrate special "science-enhanced" training features in the near future, but first I need to snag some devices from the lab!

I'm really looking forward to working with Coach Jon at Hyper Active Monkey Fitness and growing a team of spunky capoeiristas...our first workshop will be on September 25th, 2017 at 8pm (RSVP here). The cool thing about this workshop is that I will be co-teaching with Professor Marcelo Medusa, who is here from Rio de Janeiro. You can learn about him here. He's got tons of tricks up his sleeves and is a crazy acrobat, fighter, dancer, and drummer. It's gonna be crazy fun. Don't miss it!

Let's get moving!
-Megha Makam

GMB Fitness - Focused Flexibility

CONTACT US FOR MORE INFO ON SESSIONS!

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A 3-Way Solution To Overcoming Stress and Obstacles

Tough Mudder and Adventure Races are all about overcoming obstacles!

Tough Mudder and Adventure Races are all about overcoming obstacles!

Training is a huge part of my life. Its fun, tests my limits, and is a HUGE stress reliever. But what happens when something key to that chill factor adds to the stress. Living in Silicon Valley, stress is a very common thing. Fear, anxiousness, and doubt are always just around the corner. With the pressures of being around some of the most intelligent people, helping to move the world around, this anxiety and doubt can creep into the oddest places.

Once such occasion happened to me earlier in the week. I was training in Tricking. If you don’t know what that is, its all those cool martial arts guys spinning and flipping in the air while throwing kicks. While working on a normal Butterfly kick but with a new entry, my anxiousness started setting in...

*If you don't know what a B-Kick is, its at the end of the kicking combos in the beginning of the video below.

Fight Day at Tosetti Institute. Fun times lol. Music by Joakim Karud http://soundcloud.com/joakimkarud

A post shared by Hyper-Active Monkey Fitness (@hypermonkey1) on

Its an odd fact, but even I get this way.

I’m human.

With the stress of building a business, personal stuff, and helping clients through their own processes in getting better; the fear, anxiousness, and more started to set in. Luckily with supportive people around me, I was able to push and move forward.

But what do you do if you don’t have that support?

Try these 3 ways to overcome that negativity and keep moving!

Way #1 Move Into The Fear.

It’s all about meeting your fears and facing them head-on. Aim to recognize your fears, acknowledge them and then move through them. Ask yourself what is it that makes you uncomfortable? Have you let yourself get out of shape and are afraid you’ll never get back? Do you have an injury that’s caused you to be afraid of your body? If you can visualize creatively, then you can put your fears in check.  Remember: your body is a beast at baselining itself. Your only job is to trust it and listen.

Way #2 Trust Your Intuition.

It is important when overcoming obstacles and learning to break through barriers that you begin to listen to the still small voice of your body. In most cases, we all want the comfort of having someone telling us what we can and cannot do. However, our highest truth is usually deep down. This is not to say that good opinion of others are not important, but ultimately the decision making comes from within.

When facing a challenge or an obstacle look to how you feel. What are your instincts telling you? Often it is simply your instinct that will move you into a new mindset and raise your consciousness. It’s simply about changing your perspective. Although in order to do this you have to find where your restrictions and boundaries are so that you can move past. Once you know what they are, remember “WAY #1” and meet them head-on.

Way #3 Live Beyond the Boundaries

So what’s the final takeaway from all of this? Staying afraid often keeps us from truly living. Moving forward starts with your attitude. Are you going to keep letting things beat you down and miss whats happening today. Or will you make today the right time to face them.

Life Beyond The Boundaries.

Push past your fears and boundaries and when you’ve settled with that, look for another skill, trick, or plateau to jump.

Stay Ninja!
-Jonathan Magno

If you want another way of facing your fears, try putting yourself in new and uncomfortable positions. A good option to do this is by checking out the  Gold Medal Bodies Vitamin Program.

Stay Ninja!
-Jonathan Magno

 

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