“As to methods, there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
One objective I have in writing is to share some of my own processes, to give back some of what I’ve learned to a wider audience. This post is the first in a series directly dedicated to that aim. With such posts, whether it be about a daily routine I’ve adopted or a product I use, I want to make it clear that, unless it’s explicitly stated, I’m not being paid or receiving any incentive to do so. As is the case in this instance, I’m simply excited to be sharing my experiences with you and hopefully throwing some actionable information into the mix for you too.
As part of my coaching and mentoring I’ve had the great privilege to learn from Ian O’Dwyer (OD) and Gareth Houley of OD on Movement (ODOM). My introduction to ODOM came as part of my coaching studies with PTA Global and I instinctively knew that I had to learn more about ODOM’s approach to movement, fitness and wellness. The opportunity for me to do so came about last year and so I booked my flights, packed my bags and headed halfway across the world to play with the ODOM philosophy at one of their semi-annual ODOM mentorships.
ODOM, Noosa, August 2015
I have to start by making a confession. Before composing this post I had not reviewed the handouts from the ODOM mentorship. Let me tell you that’s a significant departure for me. Usually when I attend a course or workshop I’m all over the handouts, drafting notes upon notes, each scribble more illegible than the last as I attempt to take down the information being conveyed. This time around my note-taking was practically non-existent. And that was just the start of a number of ways in which my learning experience over the three days of the ODOM mentorship differed from everything I’ve done before in my wellness career.
Suspend All Expectations
At first I was a little surprised to finally see first-hand the facility where OD and his team undertake their transformative coaching. I’ve been in quite a few gyms around the world and was working in a recently opened health club, one equipped with some of the latest fitness technologies. By contrast, with the exception of some vibrational plates nothing here required plugging in. Barely any of the traditional weight equipment either. The comparatively small space immediately felt refreshing and inspiring.
The ODOM mentorship runs every six months. The number of attendees is kept low so as to allow each participant, mentor and mentee alike, to have a high quality experience. Alongside me there were seven other attendees and as a group we represented a mix of ages, genders, cultures, career backgrounds and experience. At the outset we each spoke of our expectations of the mentorship. I stated that my key expectation was simply to be fully present. In hindsight I perhaps didn’t fully appreciate the consequential outcome of what I had just said. For I was placing the responsibility for my experience primarily onto myself, to essentially get out of my own head and be tuned into the group dynamic. To set my notebook to one side, to listen, connect and contribute in the here and now. To physically integrate what I may learn as opposed to analysing it from an intellectual or theoretical viewpoint. To be plugged in.
Forces, Tissue and Motion. And Motivation.
The ODOM mentorship is a mixture of theory and hands-on training. In terms of the theoretical work it was based around the concepts of forces, tissue and motion, in which Gareth and OD guided and mentored us. Before that though we took time to discuss and explore our values and our motivations as to why we do what we do, and to consider if how we currently work was sustainable. What I found intriguing about this exercise was that there was no exercise. Maybe it was down to my prior experiences of this topic that I expected to list values or write down goals. Where I saw myself in X years time. None of that. It was simply a discussion, yet a profound one. One that was far from over.
Tissue: Integration and Isolation
The systems of the body have in the past, for the best part, been viewed in isolation from one another and, when each system has been looked at individually, they have been liable to be considered from a reduced perspective. In discussing tissue, Gareth and OD were taking a different approach, one of looking at the body and its’ systems from an integrated perspective. For example, instead of viewing the hamstring muscle in the backs of the legs in isolation, an integrated approach sees the hamstring as part of a line of muscles stretching from the underside of the toes all the way up the back of the body, coming over the scalp and ending at the eyebrows. Viewing the hamstring (and indeed, the body) from this perspective drastically changes our perception of the hamstring and how it can be influenced. Suddenly tight hamstrings may not simply be as a result of having tight hamstrings. Maybe it’s due to a postural reason in the skeletal system, maybe it’s linked to the nervous system, maybe it’s down to a disordered breathing pattern, maybe its down to tension in the myofascial system. Maybe something else again. The focus was on seeing the human being as a whole and how to enhance one’s state of being.
Tissue: The Myofascial System
To delve into the world of myofascial system (commonly referred to as the fascial system) is more than the scope of this post could hope to address. However it’s worth noting one thing: the fascial system is the largest system in the body and it integrates with all other systems of the body. If you are interested in learning more about it then this excellent reference by Anatomy Trains is a good place to start. ODOM place a great emphasis on the fascial system, the principles underpinning it and tools they use to create change upon it, such as breathwork, fascial freeing techniques – which differ from self-myofascial release (SMR) techniques – and fascial mobilisers. Throughout the weekend there were numerous opportunities to investigate and use the tools, either individually, with a partner or as a group to create positive outcomes and change.
All Movement Is Exercise
Think about that for a moment. All movement is exercise. It seems obvious. Yet our everyday movement patterns, our regular motions that one is asking the body to do can be the very thing that induces varying degrees of discomfort, tension and stress for many people. We could be on top of the world and moving well, or be experiencing a fear to move because movement causes pain. So as well as spending time on considering how motion could be varied to create response in the fascial system using fascial mobilisers and freeing, another tool that Gareth and OD introduced to guide us and our clients to help enhance connection with how they were feeling was the Environmental Effects (EE) scoring system, which is shown below.
The process is to determine your score between 0 (less optimal) and 3 (optimal) for each of the five areas of nutrition, hydration, movement, recovery and emotion. This totals to a score out of 15, which is then used to determine the appropriate programming and type of session to undertake, as is illustrated below:
My EE score stayed between 9 and 11 over the course of the mentorship. The primary reason for this was a low Recovery score. For whilst I wasn’t terribly jet-lagged I’d only arrived in Australia the day before the mentorship started and so was 10 hours off my everyday timezone – I could occasionally feel its’ effects! My highest score was Emotion – I was where I needed to be and enjoying every minute of it. As you can see from above it meant that my training sessions were best suited around being ones where either ‘Recovery and Regeneration’ were emphasised, or where some ‘Light Force’ was introduced. What was great about the EE scoring was that I had used my own awareness to pinpoint where my sub-optimal or Limiting Factor (LF) lay. And it was possible to see the linkage between how the quality of tissue could potentially impact upon the score. During the mentorship we used the EE score to determine the correct programming for ourselves and each other. It certainly showed how useful it was when, for example, we combined our EE score with Heart Rate Variability (HRV) based training; the constant monitoring of our respective HRV with reference to our individual EE scores meant that the intensity of exercise could be changed instantaneously to ensure the programming remained appropriate.
Force At Play
In our discussion and practicals on force, OD and Gareth discussed the principles surrounding it and how varying applications of force can effect outcomes. Scientifically, force is defined as mass multiplied by acceleration. F=ma. So if a movement pattern is sub-optimal could additional force be added? This is where we looked into force further and saw that it was important to consider (i) the point of application and (ii) the direction of application of force, the vectors of force as it were, and how these impacted on the body. In doing so we really brought to the fore the concept of ‘play’. Play is another huge focus of the ODOM philosophy, with the emphasis on seeing play as being permission to simply be, to allow the body to move in all three planes of motion in a challenging, engaging and fun way.
You Never Feel Something That’s Not Moving
There’s such a breadth and depth of application and insight that OD and Gareth share over the course of the mentorship. Golden nuggets of knowledge (like the title above) that can only be fully expressed hands-on, rather than by a handout. How I perceived this was that the flow of discussions and practice is driven largely by the group as a whole. OD and Gareth work as fantastic facilitators in that regard. So what may be a huge talking point on one mentorship may be perhaps only be touched on briefly by another group. What might seem a casual comment may become a pivotal contribution. You’re able to bring up the issues and questions you have and wish to explore or resolve. To enquire, experiment and play with possible solutions to arrive at the outcome or answer you need.
As well as the work (and I associate ‘work’ not with any negative connotations but more so along the lines of learning a craft or a skill) in the studio there was also time to hit the beach at Noosa and play there too, applying the knowledge in nature. On top of all the time devoted during the day, OD and his family kindly hosted everyone on the mentorship at their home each evening for a meal. To be there, sharing food, stories and laughter with everyone was great fun.
Putting It Altogether – Solutions Through Application
The emphasis of the final day of the mentorship was on applying the concepts and principles we’d been exposed to over the previous two days. To attempt to create a transformative experience for each other. Time flew and it was fun not only to coach, but to be coached too. My coaching felt more in sync, largely as I’d witnessed OD and Gareth experiment and play with potential solutions throughout the weekend. They had shown me that it wasn’t necessary to be right first time; it was of greater importance to apply the principles with the person that you were coaching and to be aware of their current state of being. When it was my turn to be coached and after determining my EE score, my coach Cheryl had me playing soccer. OK, it was indoors, it wasn’t strenuous but it was a laugh. My competitive streak harnessed in play of my favourite sport. I felt all the better for it, and it was such a superb way to round off the mentorship.
The Take-Away: Has My Performance Improved And, If So, How?
My performance as a coach has indeed improved. But far more importantly who I am has improved. Considerably. I’m a better person as a result of my ODOM mentorship experience. I resigned from my position one week after returning from Australia. I’d been coming to the realisation that where I was at professionally was unsustainable. The conversations around sustainability on the mentorship gave me an opportunity to listen to the thoughts of everyone on the subject and also to verbalise my own feelings in an objective environment. Whilst the discussion on sustainability during the first morning of the mentorship was predominantly from a business perspective, the focus over the days and meals subtly shifted to how our work impacts on us as individuals. For any vocation is something that one lives, breathes and embodies, not merely something one does. What I hadn’t appreciated beforehand was where I was at personally, and how that was completely unsustainable.
Resigning may seem like a drastic response but I knew I had to take positive action. I’m very glad I did, as in doing so I started having fun again. I’m by nature a largely optimistic, positive person but had found that a lot of the joy I took from my career had diminished. Ultimately I had allowed it to happen and it was my responsibility to address that. It’s no overstatement to say that by resigning I reclaimed ownership of myself, personally and professionally. And whilst one could argue that my forthcoming change of circumstances prompted the shift in my temperament or outlook, I believe it to be a more fundamental change, one that happily remains.
The ODOM mentorship experience also gave me greater confidence to help my clients in aspects that are not limited to merely the physical training session. I found that they and I were more able to discuss what was going on outside of the session, what their obstacles and challenges were out in the real world and then come up with collaborative strategies and solutions.
Guiding clients in adopting the EE scoring system, and empowering them to identify and address their LF, has been and continues to be a revelation. It’s been fascinating to hear clients report that by, for example, addressing nutrition and/or hydration levels when these scores were low, how their pain levels subsequently reduced. It’s made me think wider and deeper on coaching and managing pain and I’m presently working on a number of theories and small-scale experiments with current clients.
It’s OK Not To Know
Something else I’ve taken from the ODOM mentorship and applied is giving myself the space to be wrong. And to be comfortable with it. I believe it’s actually enhanced my rapport with clients and from my perspective this approach has allowed me to have an even greater focus on the person I’m with. I may in the past have been prone to select or change my methods without due consideration of principles. Now it’s the other way around and we all – clients and I alike – see, hear and feel the difference. I still come into each session with a plan, but am increasingly comfortable to set the plan to one side and go with what the client is experiencing right there and then.
What’s In It For Me?
On purely a personal note I use the EE score and determine my LF before each and every one of my own training sessions. I’ve been performing fascial mobilisers at the outset of my day’s exercise since I first became aware of them. I now actively look to have greater awareness, to seek enjoyment in the moment of movement. Perhaps this is why I have found the ODOM philosophy so natural to use, (and maybe why I never felt the need to review the handouts); I constantly apply it to myself. I’ve sought to integrate it into my daily life and I’ve even used the EE scoring multiple times in a day. A good example of this is when I’ve had a full day of coaching clients. I check my score after each session and if it’s flagging somewhere (most likely due to nutritional or hydration requirements) I address that. Perhaps I just need to go outside and breathe fresh air for five minutes. Irrespective of the reason, the EE tool helps me to be objective when I otherwise might be carried away in the moment of my work. It helps keep me grounded.
The OD on Movement mentorship was certainly a wonderful experience for me. One that I, my clients and indeed those around me, continue to reap the benefits from. And you can too, right this instance. The EE tool doesn’t need to be applied exclusively to an exercise routine. Perhaps you have an important meeting to attend, or a project to undertake? Maybe even something as fundamental as getting your day off to a good start? Determine your EE score and, if necessary, take appropriate, positive action to address any LFs. You’ll feel better for doing so and your performance of something that may initially have seemed daunting or stressful will be improved. Play with it, have fun doing so and let me know in the comments how you get on.
If you’d like to learn more about OD on Movement please click on this link.
More information on the OD on Movement Mentorship can be found here.