Monday, December 27, 2010

How to Sleep on the Plane - Traveling Happily

For those of you faced with lengthy airline travel, sleeping on the plane is the only redeeming factor to look forward to after crowded airports, mediocre (at best) airline food, and TSA.  If you can't sleep on the plane, you're screwed.  What to do?  Learn.  Follow these guidelines to help you get the most possible rest before reaching your destination...

Before you go.  Try not to sleep too much before you get on the plane.  It helps to be a little tired if you're going to have to sleep sitting up.  This may sound obvious, but many people try to be too well-rested before they get to the airport.  This makes sense if your flight is going to be less than three hours, but I can't imagine why anyone would think they can sleep on the plane after already having a full night's sleep.

At the airport.  Try to stay calm.  Getting all wound up is just going to make you have to wind down before you can get to sleep.  Try not to let anything that happens at the airport bother you.  You're there.  You have your ticket.  You find your gate and wait for your turn to get on the plane.  No big deal.  Let security hassle you if it makes them happy.  Tune out the family with the annoying kids.  Have an overpriced beer if you must.  Just don't worry about anything.

Getting comfortable in your seat.  Okay, you've found a place for your carry on and now you're in your seat.  Chances are, your seat is uncomfortable.  For some reason, seat designers for both cars and airplanes have decided that seats that make you sit like Mr. Burns are the most cost-effective.  I don't know why, so don't ask.  The solution to this is to use a little airplane pillow, a folded up sweatshirt, or some other soft thing that can fill some space and stuff it behind your lower to mid back.  This should help you straighten out a bit.  It should also help your neck fall back at a more natural angle when you get the go ahead to recline your seat back the full five inches or so that it's designed for.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Scoot your bum all the way into the back corner of the seat.  You are much more likely to get mid to lower back pain if you let there be a space between you and the seat for your lower back to sag into while you sleep.

Dealing with space confinement.  This is a really difficult one for a lot of people.  Feeling confined is very psychological.  Here's an example... a lot of people move to island paradises and get "island fever", which is a term used to describe the claustrophobic feeling of knowing you're stuck on an island and can't easily go anywhere.  The interesting thing is that most of these people never drive more than two hours worth of distance (so not stuck in traffic) in any direction in their home town.  They stay in their city most of the time.  They only start to panic because they are suddenly aware that they can't leave even if they wanted to.  That said, a lot of discomfort on an airplane really comes from knowing that you can't move around much.

Here's what to do.  Find a reasonably comfortable position to sit in.  If you know you're sensitive to light or sound, bring an eye mask or earplugs accordingly.  Take a nice slow breath, and let your body sink into the chair.  Try not to move other than just breathing.  This will help you avoid feeling restricted.  If you chose not to move, there is no problem.  Once you're in this relaxed position, try to just let all the thoughts in your head fall in importance.  If you think of something, just remember that, "Yeah, who cares?  It's nap time."  Consider those imposing thoughts a phone that keeps ringing as you are trying to sleep.  It's best to not answer, even better to turn it off.  (Yes, I just called that better than best...)  So stare at the back of your eyelids if you must.  Think about how much you just can't wait to sleep.  Think about how happy and relaxed you are.  Pretend you just got into bed after a long, hard day.  Before you know it, you will probably be asleep.  If not, even just being calm in this position will help you avoid discomfort and feel rested by the time you reach your destination.  When you do reach your destination, try not to snap to attention.  Take a moment and let your thoughts come back and plan out what you need to do next before you start moving your body around.

Being restless.  There are two remaining things that ought to be addressed.  The first one is the restless body.  If you find yourself trying to relax, but your body won't cooperate, give your body what it wants.  Take a moment from your reasonably comfortable sitting position and tense every muscle in your body.  Hold it until it gets difficult to hold.  Repeat if you must.  Once you find yourself losing power to stay tense, let go of all that tension and just relax.  Hopefully, that will get out that physical antsiness and let you get to sleep.

Another thing worth trying is a solid stretching and relaxation session before you leave your house.  I do this any time I'm going to be in a car or on a plane for more than two hours.  It helps my ability to sit still for long periods of time without becoming uncomfortable.  A good work out is recommended for those of you who are energetic.  Also, airport gates have plenty of floor space.  I'm not above stretching for twenty to thirty minutes between flights if need be.  It helps kill time during a layover and it feels wonderful.  Most people just ignore me while I do this, although I've had a few people join me once or twice.  I will never see those people again anyway, so I don't care at all if they think it's weird.  My traveling experience is much more pleasant than theirs, so I win.  If you are traveling with a close friend or significant other, it doesn't hurt to trade a little neck and shoulder massage while you wait for your flights.

The second thing is mental restlessness.  Similar to the body, sometimes simply relaxing isn't enough and you need to sort of "burn off" whatever tension needs to get out.  Choose something that is strenuous for your mind and do it.  Try to visualize math problems and solve them mentally if that works for you.  Visualize folding up a piece of paper, punching a couple of holes in it, and try to figure where the holes would be located if you unfolded it.  Try to remember all the signs you saw on your way to the plane.  Whatever it takes, just tire your mind so it is willing to submit to relaxation.

If you have any questions about your particular sleeping challenges while traveling, place them in the comments below and I would be happy to help you come up with solutions.

Friday, December 10, 2010

My Core Sequence, Part 3: Lower Body Figure Eights

If you haven't already, first read Core Strength and Me and Introduction to Isolating Movement.

Figure eights are probably the most complicated and difficult movements in the sequence, so make sure you have a good handle on Lower Body Linear Movements before you get yourself frustrated with this.  Do not attempt to learn this without a mirror.  Remember to start with ten movements on each side, or twenty total.


Basic Figure Eights

Remember the Pendulum?  This movement comes from that.  The difference is that you will not drop your hip on your way back to zero position.  You will keep your hip up until you get to zero position.  So essentially, you will be making a big upward circle on one side, then another on the other side.  Start in the same position as you would for the Pendulum, do not forget your good posture.  Bring your hip up as you let it slide out to the side as usual.  Now slide your hips back to your centerline without dropping your hip.  This should remind you of Up and Down.  Now that you are here, come back to neutral position and repeat the movement exactly on the opposite side.  When you put both sides together into one movement, you should see your hips making a sideways figure eight (or infinity symbol) in the mirror in front of you.

Inverted Figure Eights

This is to the Inverted Pendulum as the previous movement is to the regular Pendulum.  You will start the movement exactly as you would the Inverted Pendulum only maintain your hip down as you return it to your center line (also like the Up and Down).  You will pass through neutral position on your centerline as you repeat the movement on the other side.

Stationary Twist

This is not a figure eight, but has the same relation to the Twisting Figure Eight as the Up and Down has to the Figure Eight.  Stand at neutral position in good posture.  Without moving from your center line (neither side to side, nor forward or backward) facing the mirror, twist your hips such that one hip comes forward and the other goes backward.  Now repeat on the other side.  It can be difficult to do this in good posture if you're not used to it, so really fight for it.  It will be impossible to keep your whole rib cage still with this particular movement, so just try to keep your chest and shoulders in the same place.

Twisting Figure Eight

The figure eight in this movement will be parallel to the floor, with each hip making one of the circles and the center being at neutral position.  Start from neutral position.  Do one side of your Stationary Twist.  Now, bring your rear hip in a circle, parallel to the floor, toward the front as you twist.  Now that hip should be in front, your other hip to the rear, and you should be back at your centerline.  Repeat the movement on the opposite side, bringing that hip in a circle from the rear to the front as you twist and return to your centerline.  Again, try and keep your chest and shoulders still.

Reverse Twisting Figure Eight

This is exactly like the previous movement only you will bring your hips in circles that travel from the front to the rear as you twist.  Do not move your chest or shoulders.

Bicycle Hips

This is a tough one.  There is no figure eight in this movement.  Your hips will make alternating circles in a forward, downward motion just as your feet would if you were pedaling a bike.  You will be using a combination of Up and Downs and Stationary Twists.  This is a smaller movement, so you should be able to keep still from the diaphragm down.  Start with the first half of your Up and Down motion so that one hip is high and the other low.  Now, twist your high hip forward and your low hip backward while your bring both hips level with eachother (parallel to the ground).  At this point, you should be half way into a Stationary Twist and your Up and Down will be neutral.  Continue the downward, forward circular motion with the hip that was up, and the backward, upward circular motion with the hip that was down until the low hip is up and the high hip is down.  That is one half of the movement.  Repeat on the other side.  Your hips should be circling forward and down to mimic two feet pedaling a bicycle.  Your body should not be moving up and down or side to side.  All the work will be in your legs for movement and your lower torso for keeping your upper torso still throughout the movement.  It is easy to lose posture during this movement, so once you get a feel for it, really fight for that good posture.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  This really is a lot of leg work.  Stretch those legs, especially your quadriceps, before you do your Core Sequence.  It is a good idea to also stretch out your hips and torso in any direction you can think of.  Take a break and shake out your legs if they're starting to burn.  As you become comfortable with the movements, you will make be able to do a greater range of motion, which should slowly increase your flexibility.  Stretch.

Reverse Bicycle Hips

No explanation required.  This is exactly the same as the previous movement only your hips will be pedaling backward.

Snake Hips

I know, snakes don't have hips.  What you're looking for is a rolling movement that, from the side, resembles a figure eight combined with a pendulum.  It definitely rolls more than a pendulum, but it is not as clear as a figure eight.  It is snake-like movement.  Remember the Front to Back Slide.  Start with that.  Bring your hips forward.  As you reach the end of your motion, tilt your pelvis upward.  Now, when you go backward, try to do it in a rolling motion starting from the middle of your back and ending at your sacrum.  As you bring your body forward again, start by pushing out your stomach just below your diaphragm and rolling all the way out to your hips.  When your put the whole thing together, you should have a nice rolling motion that is equal on the front and back sides.

Inverted Snake Hips

This is the same idea as the previous motion.  Starting from neutral position, tilt your hips upward and push them forward.  When you reach the extent of your range, tilt your hips downward and push them out toward the back.  Tilt them forward again as you bring them forward.  This should help you achieve the upward rolling motion with your body that should move from your pelvis to your middle back.  Try to keep your chest and shoulders still, more if you can.  Make sure that you count these like the figure eights, one count for the front and one for the back.  That helps you mentally emphasize both sides of the movement instead of focusing more on one half or the other.

My Core Sequence, Part 4: Upper Body Linear Movements

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Acing the ASVAB: How to be a Good Test Taker

I was helping a friend study for the ASVAB the other day and I think I understand why he has always been, as he says, a "bad test taker".  This is a very common ailment but I had never really thought about why until then.  So, to all of you future service members (Army, Navy, Air Force, Marines, Coast Guard, National Guard...), I present this guide to doing your very best on the ASVAB, and any other test you take from this day forward.

I'll use my friend as an example.  He's neither unintelligent, nor uneducated, so there is no reason why he should ever do poorly on this test.  His problem, and I suspect most "bad test takers'" problem, is that he goes about taking a test in a way that makes it more difficult and more stressful on himself.  In other words, he both does things the hard way and gets in his own way emotionally over it.  For example, let's say he has a word problem (math) that he's trying to figure out.  He's worried about time, so the first thing he does is rush in and try to start figuring numbers.  Next, he realizes that the numbers are too difficult to deal with without a calculator and take too long to compute anyway.  Half way through, he finds out he's not really sure what the question is asking because he rushed into it.  He may or may not come up with a good answer eventually, but by now he's getting flustered and makes a simple error of not converting feet into yards.  Reluctantly, he chooses and answer but is really worried about whether it's right.  He hurriedly moves on to the next question, still thinking about the last possible failure (and the clock), and starts layering on stress and frustration with each new question.

Wow.  I made this journey with him through about three questions before I realized that he actually intended to do the whole test this way.  I can't imagine anyone ever doing well on a test with that attitude.  Stress and frustration have a nasty habit of clouding your mind and making you more stressed out and frustrated.  I like to skip that part.  Here's how...

Stop.  Smile.  "Okay, we're about to answer some questions.  This should be fun.  Let's go!"  This may sound very strange to you, but this is the way I look at test taking.  I am great at taking tests, so maybe this method has merit.  Hear me out.  Your attitude greatly affects your mood and your ability to learn, focus, perform, etc.  When I go to take a test, I only bother to think about stuff that's going to help me.  I ignore things that will not.  The ASVAB is a great test because it is multiple choice, there is no point penalty for answering incorrectly, all of the math is meant to be done without a calculator, and everything is at a level meant for people who just passed high school.  In other words, the test is meant to be passed.  That's the good news.  There is no bad news.  Just remember not to waste too much time on any one question because you may run out of time.

Multiple choice tests are the greatest.  On the ASVAB, there are four options to each question.  Normally, you can eliminate one or two of those questions without having to do much work, if any.  If you're looking at an English question, at least one answer is always ridiculous.  In math, if you take a moment to see what the question is really asking, there is always at least one answer that, if you even just estimate, is not even close.  What that means to you is that when you inevitably come across a question you don't really know the answer to, you can make a blind guess between the two or three answers that look reasonable and still have a pretty good chance of getting it right.  That said, there is no need to panic whatsoever.

Speaking of math, keep in mind that, as mentioned, all of the questions are meant to be able to be done in a reasonable amount of time without a calculator.  You have scratch paper.  You'll be fine.  Just remember that if you're getting too caught up in strange numbers that are difficult to calculate, you're probably working too hard.  Who wants to work too hard?  I don't like dealing with strange numbers that take me too long.  I don't even like dealing with familiar numbers that take me too long.  If I don't know 13x9=? right off the top of my head, I don't waste my time trying to remember it.  I know that 3x9=27 and 10x9=90.  It's much quicker and easier to at 27+90 than try to remember multiplication tables, so I skip that part and do the easy adding instead.  There's no pride here.  I don't get hung up on why I can't remember my multiplication tables from third grade.  I don't care.  I can get that same answer much quicker my own way right now when it is needed.  In fact, after I add it up, I know that 13x9=117, just in case that comes up in another problem later on in my test.

It is also a good idea to glance at the answers before reading through the problem so you have a good idea of what your answer should look like when you're finished.  This will help you make a decision if you're unsure exactly what to do with the information they give you.  At least you'll know if they're asking for a dollar amount or a square footage of carpeting or a time or temperature.  Also, if the answers are just a number value and each one is very different, you shouldn't even have to do any real math.  You can just estimate and choose the one that is closest.  That way, you get the answer really quickly and save some time for the questions that will actually require a little scratch paper.

There is a section pertaining to shapes and spacial awareness.  A lot of people panic when they see this, but you don't have to because I'm about to tell you how to finish it quickly and get them all right.  If you sit and stare at all the shapes in front of you, you won't see anything but a bunch of odd shapes staring back at you.  Most of what you will be doing is matching up shapes in the example with shapes in the answer options.  Step 1: Pick a detail in the example.  If there is a particular shape of triangle, or a particular angle or side or arrow sticking out of a square or something distinguishable, find it.  Chances are, each answer will offer some version of this.  Most likely, upon closer inspection, two of the answer options will have a different version of this detail.  Immediately, you can eliminate those two answers.  Now you are left with only two to choose from.  Step 2: Pick another detail.  Which one of your two remaining options has the correct version of this detail?  That's your answer.  If you can do those two steps, you can avoid confusion and get all of those questions right, every time, in a timely fashion.  You are left with absolutely nothing to worry about.  Congratulations.

The most important thing for you to do is to stay in the moment.  Do not dwell on any previous questions.  In this test (if you take in on the computer, like I did) you will not be able to go back and change any of your answers.  Stay away from stressing about anything you can't change because it doesn't matter.  My friend was getting hung up on two basic things.  The first one is that he would answer a question and then really want to know what the real answer was.  Who cares?  You answered it.  Move on.  You won't know.  They will give you a number score when you're finished and that's it.  That question is over and effectively no longer exists.  Next.  The second thing is that if a question was vague, or let's face it, stupid, he would actually be judging both the test itself and the people who wrote it.  Again, who cares?  Just answer.  Guess if you have to.  Eliminate two answers and flip a coin.  You can get a great score without getting every question right, so let it go.  The sooner you answer the question, the sooner it's out of your life forever and you can move on to the next one.  The sooner you get them all done, the sooner the test is over and you can move on with your life.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Feel free to just guess and move on if you feel like you're getting too frustrated over one question.  If you're stuck on something you honestly don't know or remember how to do, make your best educated guess and save yourself some time and frustration.  Once you choose an answer, be sure to feel satisfied with it and relieved that that question is now gone.  This will help you move on to the next one with a positive attitude.  Remember, you really can get a great score without getting every single question right.

All of this is related to Emotional Discipline, which is another article for another day.  In a nutshell, just calm down.  You can't fight your emotions.  You can't try to force yourself to not get upset.  You can't get mad about getting frustrated.  Those are all just ways of trying to fight fire with fire.  The only way to lower your emotional level is to calm down.  Whatever it is, it's not helping you, so it doesn't matter right now.  You can get all worked up about it when the test is over if you want, but right now you need to focus on the task at hand.  Whatever it is you're worried about, let it go.  Maybe you're thinking about how much pressure you have on you to get this one question right because you need to get a good score to qualify for the job you want which is your future and your career.  What if you fail?  The military was your plan.  Now what are you going to do with your life?  How are you going to pay for school?  Ahhhh!  Deep breath.  How about we skip that part?  All of that pressure is stressing you out and clouding your test taking brain.  Plus, all of those thoughts are distracting you from your work.  The military does not ask you for a particularly high percentile to qualify for pretty much any job you want to do, so don't worry about it.  All you have to do is take your test.  You're not allowed to panic unless the test is over and you actually failed.  Even then, you have the opportunity to just study up a little and take it again.  No worries.

If you do feel like a little studying would help boost your confidence, offers some untimed practice tests and a little more information about the way the ASVAB is scored, etc.  ASVAB for Dummies gets pretty good reviews, so feel free to study up before you take your test. has a free online test that is timed, so that may help you.  If you have any questions about math or word meanings, a quick Google search should put your mind at ease.

Good luck on your test taking future.  Please remember that that ability to stay calm under pressure will help you at basic training, during your whole military career, and throughout your life.  Keep your head and it will look after you.  Thank you for your interest in serving in the US military.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Sick Dog Who Won't Eat or Drink?

After nine years, my dog has finally gotten sick enough to be cause for alarm.  Normally, she drinks water constantly and will lie to me just to get a second helping of food, so when she refused to eat or drink I was concerned.  It all started off with what appears to have been a sinus infection.  After about a day, she was becoming lethargic and disoriented.  I noticed she was drinking significantly less water, so I figured she was just dehydrated.  We switched her food to chicken soup, which she loves.  Fever ensued.  After about another day, she refused to even eat that.  What with the arthritis on her back legs, she was just stumbling around sideways like a drunken camel.  Not so good.

We took her to her doctor and he prescribed her an antibiotic in a pill form, which is hard to feed a dog who doesn't want to eat.  I snuck it in with the eggs and tuna that I had to actually put inside her mouth, but after another day she wouldn't even accept that.  Even after her fever broke, she still refused to eat or drink.

Running out of ideas, I went online to look for some more information about dogs who won't eat or drink, and I stumbled upon this article, which talks about feeding dogs maple syrup and water or chicken broth via syringe or turkey baster.  I must say, I felt strange injecting a maple syrup and water solution into the back of my beast's cheek, but she liked it.  After a few minutes, she was willing to take a short walk, which opened up her appetite for a little more tuna and turkey (in which I hid her pill).  She even ate some by herself out of her bowl and then had a little water.  This morning, she had more maple syrup, plenty of water, and some puppy treats with a few bites of tuna.  The puppy treats she's willing to eat on her own.  We will take another stroll soon and hopefully open up her appetite a little more.  She's definitely on the mend.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Spoil your dog when they're sick.  Just give them whatever is necessary to get them to eat and drink and take their medication (if applicable).  Try not to think about how impossible they will be once they're both healthy and well-accustomed to eating gourmet dodo bird eggs drizzled lightly in unicorn tears and served up on a gold platter.

Update:  Osa is eating just fine now and drinking plenty of water.  Now it's just a matter of weening her from being picky, now that she's used to all the special treats.  I let her be hungry all morning and she finally ate her food.  We had some blood drawn a couple of days ago to test for Lyme Disease, which is quite possible in coastal California, just in case.  Just waiting for the results.

Update on Lyme Disease:  Results- negative.  (No more excuses... ;) )

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

My Core Sequence, Part 2: Lower Body Linear Movements

If you haven't already, first read Core Strength and Me and Introduction to Isolating Movement.

Linear movements are fairly simple and easy to do and a good way to get yourself ready for more complicated movements like figure eights and snake-like rolling movements (called "camels" in belly dancing).  Lower body linear movements work exactly how they sound.  They involve moving your hips back and forth or front to back in specific trajectories and articulating from varying points.  The articulation point determines what area is not involved in movement, meaning from which point your body will be staying still.

Don't forget that all of these movements should be initiated with your legs. The core work will come from keeping your articulation points still. And keep your eyes on that mirror! It really makes all the difference.


Back and Forth Slide

The first movement is a simple back and forth.  Starting from good posture (lifted chest, tucked hips), give your knees a little bend and get low in your center.  You will articulate from the ribcage (at about the diaphragm) down.  Slide your hips to one side as far as you can without moving the ribcage.  This movement will be done with your legs.  You should feel a little stretch in your side.  Once this is achieved, push the other hip out to the other side.  Again, nothing from your ribcage to your head should be moving.  Keep a close watch in the mirror to make sure this is the case.  You will notice that the muscles in the ribcage are working not to move your hips but to counter the movement in your hips.  This is a result of having an articulation point above which nothing moves.  This is where the core work comes from.

Up and Down

Starting from good posture and low in your center, you will be lifting one hip while lowering the other simultaneously.  The articulation point in this will be a single point located in the center of your pelvis.  The movement will occur by bending one knee, and then bringing it to neutral while bending the other knee.  This is an important motion to get as it will be the basis of many other related movements, so give it some attention and make sure it feels comfortable.  Your torso should not be moving.


This motion will combine the previous two.  Slide your hip out to one side.  As you reach your full extension, incorporate your up and down motion so that your hip lifts on the side of the extension.  Because of the extension, you may need to come up on the ball of your foot a little on that side, but the other foot should be firmly grounded.  Let your hip come down and you return to the neutral position and repeat on the other side.  With your ribcage still, your hips should appear to swing as a pendulum would in the mirror.  Check to see if your movement looks like this.

Inverted Pendulum

This movement is a little trickier than the pendulum because it feels less natural and involves a bit more of a stretch.  You will do this exactly the same way as the pendulum only your hip will drop down instead of lift at the extension of the hip.  Again, make your best efforts to maintain posture and not allow your ribcage to move from around the diaphragm up.  At the very least, your head and chest should be still and he ribcage will follow with practice.  If you were not moving side to side, your articulation point would be at your pubic bone.

Front to Back Slide

The concept here is exactly like like the back and forth slide only it is front to back.  Try not to roll over your heels or toes.  Do your best to keep your ribcage from moving.

Pelvic Thrust

Men love this one.  Try to articulate from about your belly button down.  If you were to do this sideways in front of the mirror, it would bare resemblance to the pendulum motion you were doing a moment ago.  Start from the neutral position.  Bring your pelvis forward and slightly up as far as you can go without moving anything just above the belly button.  Now bring it back to neutral and mirror the motion for the same distance in the opposite direction.  You should feel a squeeze in the lower abs when you move forward and probably a little butt squeeze as well.  You should feel the same thing on the lowest part of your back as you move backward.  That's it.  You've got it.  You're a rock star...

Pelvic Rock

This one is also really good for your lower back and is excellent for training yourself to keep your pelvis centered (not tilted backward, which is the tendency).  Like the Inverted Hip Circle and Inverted Pendulum, the articulation point will be at about the pubic bone.  Rock your pelvis forward from that point so that your belly button pushes forward as far as you can without losing technique.  Now reverse the motion pushing your lower back out while pulling the belly button area in.  Your pubic bone should not be moving forward and backward in space and the ribs up should not be moving either.  This is a tricky one so give it some time and practice.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Since linear movements are done on both sides of the body, all linear movements must be done twice as many times receive equal attention as neutral movements like circles.  Left and right or front and back each count as one.  So, if I were doing ten each of my circles, I must do ten per side or twenty total of each linear movement (and figure eight, as you will see in the next installment of this series).

My Core Sequence, Part 3: Lower Body Figure Eights

My Core Sequence, Part 1: Lower Body Circles

If you haven't already, first read Core Strength and Me and My Core Sequence, Introduction to Isolating MovementIf you're having a hard time with circles, start with Lower Body Linear Movements.  It may help you get a feel for it.

There are many ways to make lower body circles.  You can articulate your circles from different points on your body, but they are all circles.  That means that whatever part of your body becomes the widest part of the circle, it should stay an equal distance from the center line you would have if you were standing up straight.  This is important for the circle to stay fluid and also important to ensure that you are working and stretching the muscles on all sides evenly.  For example, if you push your circles more out to the front than to the back, you will be doing more work on the front than on the back and, therefore, develop unevenly.

Awesome Tip of the Day:  Remember to keep good posture throughout the movements.  Lift your ribs and tuck your hips.  Letting your back or shoulders sag or curve unnaturally can put undo strain on specific vertebrae, which can cause you pain or exacerbate pre-existing injuries.  None of these movements should hurt.


Big Circles

Big circles articulate all the way from your head.  Your stand from good posture and lean to one side while sticking your hip out to the other side.  Try to keep your head in the same place.  It will be impossible to keep it in exactly the same place, but do your best.  Now try it on the other side.  Once you see how this feels and looks, try it to the front and to the back, making sure that when you stick your hip out in any direction, the end of your movement places your hip at the same distance from your center line as it would in any other direction.  Once you have a feel for that, try taking your hip in a big circle connecting all the dots from side to front to side to back.  Do maybe ten and then try it in the other direction, making sure that your head is staying in the same place as much as possible.  Big circles should resemble the big hip circles one does to stretch before working out.

Upper Hip Circles

The idea of these is exactly the same as the Big Circles only instead of articulating from below the head, you will articulate below the ribs as viewed from the front (so right around your diaphragm).  That means that from the ribs up, you should not be moving.  Your hips will still be the outside of the circle.  You may just jump into this if you feel up to it.  Otherwise, try the same approach of feeling each side individually before connecting the dot.  Do the movement slowly in front of the mirror.  As you move in a circle, you will notice that the muscles surrounding your given articulation point will engage in attempt to keep that area still.  Those muscles are countering the movement that you are doing.  Keep your movements even and controlled and those muscles will build strength and control all the way around your body.  Do ten in each direction.

Middle Hip Circles

When you first start, it is difficult to drive distinction between upper, middle, and lower circles.  When you get used to it, you will see that they engage very different muscles.  Middle Hip Circles are exactly like Upper Hip Circles only the articulate from a lower point.  This point should be around where the lowest ribs are (located on the back side).  On a woman, this will be around your natural waist (smallest part of the waist).  On a man, this will vary.  Same as before, feel it out carefully and then do your circles, ten in each direction.

Lower Hip Circles

Same thing.  Your articulation point should be around where your belly button is.  You will notice that the circles are getting progressively smaller.  Try to keep your good posture.  Do your ten in each direction.

Sexy Hip Circles

These circles are a little bit different.  Some people find them easier and some people find them confusing.  Imagine your pelvis is a plate, parallel to the floor.  You want roll around the edge of the plate.  To illustrate, drop a coin on the table.  Once it falls to once face up, it will roll around its edges (staying in one place) before finally laying to rest.  This is what you will be doing with your hips.  If the center of that coin or plate was in the middle of your pelvis, facing up, you will be making that same motion.  Everything above that area should be still.  The movement will be coming from your legs, as usual.  You should feel the muscles working very low on your abdomen and back.  Do your ten in each direction.

Inverted Hip Circles

This is the most confusing one and the one my ladies will probably find very useful.  This one articulates from below the pelvis (around the pubic bone) up.  Everything until this point has been from a given point down.  The widest part of your circle will not be your hips, it will be probably around the height of your belly button.  At first, this is all you need to worry about as it is difficult enough to figure out what you're actually doing in this movement.  Once you figure it out, try to do it keeping still from at least the chest up.  For a visual, imagine that your pelvis is a bowl.  Do the same rolling motion with the bottom of the bowl that you did with the plate.  Do your ten in each direction.

My Core Sequence, Part 2: Lower Body Linear Movements