I was feeling particularly sore and sat down…slowly…wanting to write about recovering from a workout. If you search ‘ways to recover’, you get a very typical North American array of suggestions: everything from eating well, stretching, hot baths, music, and drinking water. I wrote down a fancy list that went as far as turmeric and sent it to Vali for a SYSTEMA twist on the matter. I get a one-word reply. “Tricky”. Oh boy.
He has a mild amusement in his eyes when we meet, as he starts “the SYSTEMA approach is quite the opposite and is steeped in Russian traditions.” We start with my diet suggestions. In addition to the religious context, people in Russia had to pace themselves for the feast and famine farming lifestyle. So it’s not so much about eating, it’s more about not. We discuss, in depth, routine (and instinctive) fasting, complete with methodology, and no mention of turmeric.
You couple fasting with cold water dousing and these two should be a part of regular practice, with a goal of cleansing and re-balancing alongside physical, psychological, and spiritual benefits. “Take the bucket, good breaths, good thoughts, as the water hits you in a controlled way, exhale. Don’t rush back in. Be thankful for the pain and difficulty. Learn to suffer well (but don’t drag it on uselessly).” So much for the hot bath. “You want hot water? OK, but we’re talking boiling hot, something you can’t be careless with.”
I’m still pushing the nutrition point and he says, “In a long-term practice, we are always reminding students not to become fanatical about anything. It’s nice to keep health in perspective, but not when the approach to eating is unhealthier than eating unhealthy. And technically a warrior should be able to function on anything and even nothing.”
How about massage? The perception of massage isn’t that of the western concept. Its very different- Russian massage is apparently its own thing. After a hard workout, if it’s your nervous system that can’t calm down? “Whip therapy.”
Stretching? “The warrior is always ready, and doesn’t have time to stretch before a fight. Being fit and flexible is important, but there is too much attachment to stretching and it can actually be detrimental depending on what you’re about to do. Stretching feels good but the quality we strive for is being free. Freedom of movement and maintaining it under stress is more important.”
Sleep might be the most important thing for emotional and psychological processing as well as physical restoration. Something from my list made his! You are better off doing without food than sleep. Vali explains how the ways of falling asleep or ways of waking up matter: your first and last thoughts, breath, and the first and last minutes in bed. How you spend your first hour sets the tone for the rest of the day.
Processing stress. Psychological cleansing. Breath and prayer. These topics are endless and each one has an associated SYSTEMA methodology (even the consumption of alcohol, which was on my list, but only in the avoid category). “When someone starts training, while we don’t hold anything back from students, we don’t just scare them with all of this right away. We slowly contextualize all of these practices.” Of course, all of it depends on whether a student is in it for light practice or self-discovery.