Archive for September, 2009

How expanding your peripersonal space can benefit you

Posted in health and fitness, optimal performance, psychology on September 24, 2009 by gohelpyourself
Expand your peripersonal space. (photo courtesy of

Expand your peripersonal space. (photo courtesy of

By Anthony O. Alcantara

When something itches, we scratch it. It’s the natural thing to do.

And we know exactly the appropriate finger to use, how to move our scratching tool to the target, the movements to execute, and the right amount of pressure needed to eliminate the nasty itch.

It speaks of our body schema and an awareness of our body in relation to our environment.

In my search for ways to improve my Aikido and guitar-playing, I came across a concept called peripersonal space (PPS), an offshoot of studies on body schema. I first knew about PPS in the book “Think Smart!” by Richard Restak, M.D.

Malleable force field

PPS, as Restak defines it, is “a force field that can be thought of as a virtual envelope around the skin’s surface that extends our body boundaries.”

A force field? Images of Star Wars came to my mind. Anyway, the discovery of certain brain cells that respond to touch and sounds near the surface of the hands and head established the existence of PPS.

PPS is malleable. The area it covers changes when we have clothes on, when we are driving a car or when we have a walking stick. For a blind person, the tip of a walking stick can be as sensitive to touch as the tips of his fingers.

The implications are astounding, at least for me. Our bodies are actually part of our brains, and our perception and control of space can actually be enhanced and extended.

Practical applications

I discovered that improving my PPS can actually help improve certain physical activities, such as practicing Aikido. Most of us are over-dependent on our sense of sight, so I devised an experiment that I think would improve my experience of body movements in relation to the space around me.

I began practicing techniques and movements by stripping them down to their essentials and executing the moves slowly, feeling every nuance of sensation, back-tracking when the movement doesn’t feel right, or if I deviate from my mental image of the perfect movement.

All these I did with my eyes closed.

Control, power, speed

When I finally opened my eyes to do the movements, I could feel a better sense of control and smoothness in execution. I could feel that I can execute my movements with more precision, and there was an increased sense of power. I added speed later on.

I also tried it with suburi, or repetitive cutting exercises, using my bokken, or wooden sword. Same results.

Of course it’s all subjective. I have yet to devise ways to measure the effects more concretely. In any case, my subjective results are convincing enough for me.

I’ve tried it on my guitar-playing, too. By practicing very slowly, immersing myself in the nuances of the sounds and the movements of my fingers and body, and by closing my eyes, I was able to play more difficult passages with ease.

Try it

I believe other activities can be greatly enhanced by expanding PPS. Dancing, running, kicking, jumping, throwing, playing the piano, etc., are some activities you can try.

You can devise your own exercises and adapt them to develop specific skills. Your imagination’s the limit.

Indeed, aside from allowing us to scratch itchy body parts, PPS has far more valuable uses.


Mindset of experimentation

Posted in philosophy, psychology on September 18, 2009 by gohelpyourself
(photo courtesy of

Experiment like a scientist. (photo courtesy of

By Anthony O. Alcantara

All of us should probably be scientists. And experiments should be part of every day life.

For those who are not scientifically inclined, the idea may appear to be either hogwash, weird or interesting. But then it makes perfect sense even for those with artistic proclivities. The word experiment is derived from Latin ex-piri, which means “to try out.”

It’s a simple action that anyone can do—to try out. Wikipedia defines it as a “method of investigating causal relationships among variables, or to test a hypothesis.”

While the scientific sense of the word evokes images of labs, high-tech gadgetry or tightly-controlled environments, the central idea, to try out, is practical, simple and applicable to most things in life.

Experimentation may go something like this:

1. Write down your goal or hypothesis.

Let’s take an imaginary character and call him John. John is a very busy executive who rarely has time for his family. He feels very detached from his wife and two kids. He’s miserable.

So he decides to conduct an experiment. His goal: to feel closer with his family and have an enriching relationship with them.

2. Find a way to measure your progress.

John, who is good with numbers, tells himself that it would be best if he can quantify his progress toward his goal.

After some thought, he decides that counting the number of dinners with his family every week can be a good start. He thinks two dinners a week is a good initial goal. Another possibility is the frequency of arguments with his wife every week. Since he argues with his wife almost every night, he sets a target of only three arguments a week.

3. Research ways on how to achieve your goal.

John’s problem is that he has too much to do at the office. Gathering his creative juices, he comes up with possible alternatives so he can go home early on some days of the week.

He began to delegate more of his work to a subordinate, who is very capable and reliable. He also began to allot an hour every night just to talk with his wife about her activities during the day.

4. Try out simple solutions.

John thinks that his solutions are reasonable. So he tries them out, making a simple record of counting the number of dinners with his family and the number of arguments with his wife.

Each day, he reminds himself of his goal and executes his simple solutions.

5. Review the results.

After one week, John gathers some initial numbers. After two weeks, he compares the results. He was able to have dinners with his family three times a week. Not bad. The number of arguments with his wife has gone down to three a week.

Quite encouraging, he tells himself. He begins to feel good about his relationship with his family.

6. Make your conclusions and take action.

John concludes that his solutions were effective. He plans to continue applying these simple solutions and monitor his progress for a month.

If the results hold, he will continue what he’s doing. If not, he can tweak his solutions to achieve the desired result, or he can look for other alternatives. That’s what a scientist would do.

These steps describe a mindset of experimentation that may help people with almost anything.


Let me caution you, however, that this process of experimentation may also lead to a certain bias. For example, if you study successful and rich people, you may form your own conclusion that all of them are voracious readers. You may find that it is empirically verifiable.

But it could be a trap. Be aware of exceptions. If a successful person exhibited certain characteristics that have been attributed to his success, these characteristics are not guaranteed to lead to success.

There may be exceptions. An unsuccessful person may also exhibit the exact characteristics or behaviors. No one really studies these unsuccessful people. Why? Probably because no one is interested.

And while this may not be essential to the process of experimentation, it’s good to be aware it.

So experiment with this mindset. It may work for you or it may not. You can find out for yourself.


7 survival signs that can save your life

Posted in martial arts on September 10, 2009 by gohelpyourself
(photo courtesy of

(photo courtesy of

By Anthony O. Alcantara

In the Bible, Adam dominated all the fish of the sea, the birds of the air, and the beasts of the earth by taking this first crucial step.

He gave them their names.

I have discovered the same thing with martial arts. I learn more quickly if I know the exact terms to use when executing a movement or technique. And even in the psychological realm of self-defense, it’s the same.

Most people can sniff danger instinctively in any situation involving human interaction. A fleeting expression of the face, certain movements, a combination of words… they can mean trouble depending on the context.

Here are 7 survival signs that I’ve learned from Gavin De Becker, an expert on violence and security. Knowing the names of these 7 survival signs may be useful particularly for women and children.

1. Forced Teaming

This is primarily a way to establish premature trust. When a stranger or a new acquaintance says, “We’re in trouble,” “How are we going to solve this?,” “I’m sure you’ll do the same thing for me,” when there is really no shared purpose or experience, it can mean only one thing: That person wants something else from you.

So we should be wary of strangers saying “we” far too often. Rebuffing the stranger may appear rude. But in this case, it’s the right thing to do.

2. Charm and Niceness

We all like charming and nice people. But people who charm you and act nice to you are not necessarily charming and nice. Even serial killers are “charming and nice.” The message is simply this: inherent characteristics such as charming and nice emanate from within and not from explicit acts of the person.

Therefore, we should be wary of charming acts and nice gestures especially from strangers. It’s one way for somebody to quickly build rapport and get their evil way in the end.

3. Too Many Details

Most people who try to deceive others simply give away too many details. It’s similar to kids lying about their whereabouts to parents. They say they are at their friend’s house because they have to do a project, and that they have solicited the help of a friend’s brother, and that the teacher expects them to submit an excellent project because they had low test scores in the quizzes, and, not to mention their other classmates are doing the same.

Too many details. It’s as if they’re trying to convince themselves.

A person with evil motives will do the same thing. He tries to make small talk and tell you details about a sick cat, problems with the plumber, busted cellphone, etc. The person is a stranger. That’s the only detail that matters in this context.

4. Typecasting

Watch out for strangers who, in an effort to make small talk and build rapport, tell you that “you appear to be too snobbish” or “you don’t seem to be the independent type.”

He’s trying to bruise your ego with little insults, which you can readily refute by, guess what, acting the way he wants you to act. He is manipulating you. The best way to react is to simply stay silent.

5. Loan Sharking

A stranger offering help without you asking may simply be a kindly person. But watch out for other signals. Someone with evil intent expects something greater in return.

Motive should always be on one’s mind. If you are hesitant about letting a stranger help you with your heavy bags, you can always say no politely.

6. Unsolicited Promise

If, for example, a stranger says, “I promise,” when you appear to be doubtful, he is simply trying to convince you of something. A promise is no guarantee.

Filipinos may not be fond of saying, “I promise,” but words that indicate an unsolicited promise to do something, or words that unduly compel you to give in may indicate evil motives.

A rapist tells his victim, “I promise, I will let you go. I just need to wash up.” That’s scary, and that’s not going to happen.

7. Ignoring the Word “No”

When a stranger ignores your “No,” it is a means to control. You know the feeling. It’s as if the person is imposing something on you, and it irritates you.

If a person doesn’t seem to understand the word “No,” just think that he is trying to control you and that he has motives that you can only guess.

One thing that struck me when I learned about these survival signals long ago is that they are often used by people we know… our loved ones, friends, bosses, colleagues. But they don’t usually have evil motives.

Two important things here: context and intuition. My examples illustrate a certain context. But along with context, intuition plays a key role. It always tells us something. It may just be a trivial thing, but it can also be a matter of life and death.