Get Flexible Without Stretching (Limited Spots Available!)

In February 2013, on a whim, I built a program for 10 close friends on how to learn the splits without any stretching. Sounds impossible, right? I promise it is not. Building flexibility without stretching is a part of what I do in my personal training and together I and my group of friends turned my in-person instruction into a digital study-course.

See the original program offer here. (Please note, this offer has expired.)

Stretching

The idea that stretching is outdated isn’t new but has generated more momentum recently in mainstream media. Skim this article in the New York Times on the potential damage caused by static stretching before working out.

The course lasted for 30 days and included more than 45 custom-recorded lessons in which I taught my participants how to train in such a way that they discovered dramatically increased flexibility, without the potential damaging effects of too much stretching!

Now I’m making this program even better…

Continue reading “Get Flexible Without Stretching (Limited Spots Available!)”

Try Something New – Robin Discusses Working with a Tantrum

I recently gave a lesson to a little girl with autism. Part way through our series of lessons together she had a tantrum. She is normally very calm. I hadn’t seen this before and I asked her mother if this behavior is usual or unusual. Her mother said that she didn’t really know what was going on so I suggested we try something new. Right there I applied variation. When something isn’t working, try something new! What we tried was stepping out of the room, leaving the girl to tantrum. There wasn’t any way for her to hurt herself or anybody else in my office. So we just waited. It is fascinating to watch this on camera. I have this footage recorded. At first she continues to kick and scream. And then after maybe a minute when she realizes that no one is paying attention anymore she got really quiet. And then, two minutes later, she opened the door, walked out, and said clearly: “I want to continue my lesson,” closed the door. I walked in and we continued our lesson together.

Interested in learning more? Robin works with children with autism in San Francisco and around the world. Learn more at http://moveautism.com.

The Impact of Applying a Loving, Compassionate Attitude with Autistic Children

I love working with children with autism. I do are not just because I get to witness sometimes subtle and other times profound transformations for the children that I work with. I enjoy what I do because selfishly I benefit in my own life to work with these special needs children!

Through practicing an attitude of loving and accepting the children that I work with I feel happier in my own life and can have an even more profound impact with the children that I work with.

Learn more about the loving attitude that works with autism in my discussion of the Attitude That Works.

Everything There Is To Know About Autism, On 1-Page!? (Plus: A Competition)

I’m a fan of the author Tim Ferriss. He published a recent book called the The 4-Hour Chef, which teaches his theme of skill hacking through the medium of cooking. I’ve never looked for outside help with cooking – in college my quiches received rave reviews and my sister teaches cooking professionally at hip cooks – but I love Tim’s story-telling, flair for the dramatic, and most of all his simple, practical ideas.

One of the tools I’ve implemented since reading The 4-Hour Chef is Tim’s “prescriptive 1-pager.” The prescriptive 1-pager is essentially a next-steps reminder for the things we want to learn or implement within a given area. For example, I’m currently studying tango:

Tango Prescriptive 1-Pager by Robin Peter Zander

I like lists. Not just for the grocery store but also of the tools and skills I need in order to master some large goal. Recently, I do lists differently. The above picture is the Tango prescriptive 1-pager I wrote up for myself upon my return from an autism outreach in Buenos Aires, Argentina. This page doesn’t cover everything there is to know about tango. It isn’t meant to. What it does is serve as a quick reminder for all of my current areas of focus. I  glance at this page before a night of dancing and choose 1-3 areas that I am going to focus on for the evening.

Continue reading “Everything There Is To Know About Autism, On 1-Page!? (Plus: A Competition)”

Learning 12 Martial Arts in 1 Week

I recently went on a binge. I’ve never studied a martial art to speak of – surprising considering how many other sports I’ve tried. The last time I trained in something even remotely aggressive was soccer. And I quit soccer in 5th grade when the guys started using elbows.

Photo: Edward Dalmulder
(Photo: Edward Dalmulder)

Image my surprise last month in discovering sabre practice once each week resulted in my greatest productivity that week. By process of elimination I realized that it was the aggression and competition of sword play that resulted in my increased results. I began to investigate what else I might learn to supplement my physical training…

Enter the crazy. In 1 week I tried:

Clearly, I’m a bit of an odd case. I don’t recommend you learn all of these. But I thought it would be useful to describe a bit about each of my favorites.

Continue reading “Learning 12 Martial Arts in 1 Week”

Parking in San Francisco is Easy (Or How to Hack Any Task)

There’s just one secret that anyone parking in San Francisco needs to know. Read the fine print first!

No Parking

I use my car to travel throughout San Francisco, a city that has twice as many cars as parking spaces. I was recently parking in the Inner Sunset – or attempting to. I circled the area six times before stopping in front of the sign that clearly read “No Stopping” with more text too small to see in the dark. It turned out that the sign was only valid until 6 PM and I parked within 30 feet of my destination. Read signs thoroughly before deciding whether to follow the directions.

But let’s also take a moment to extrapolate. So often we make things out to be difficult and then – low and behold – they are.  I was taught that a workday goes from 9 AM until 5 PM (okay, maybe 8 AM until 6 PM). For many years I worked between those hours even if that work was unnecessary. Now, I make a habit of looking for the shortcuts that other people don’t see. This doesn’t mean short shrifting. Actually, I do more than I did in years past. The difference now is that before doing those many hours of arduous work I look for shortcuts that other people might have overlooked. Whether parking in San Francisco, improving my business, or improving the life of a child with autism I find shortcuts that save time and produce better outcomes. Think before you act and find the options that other people have mistakenly assumed are against the rules. What shortcuts have you discovered that other people overlook?

Why Does Movement Matter?

When you hear “human movement” what you think of? Something kinesthetic, related to the human body in motion. This is a great beginning – and limited.

Try this exercise:

Play some music that you don’t ordinarily listen to. Play louder than you usually listen to music. Begin to jump up and down asynchronous to the music. Simultaneously, slap your right thigh with your left hand. Now add to that blinking your eyes open and closed very quickly. And finally add in reciting aloud your 13 times tables. Hard to do, right? Now a juxtaposition: lie on your back on a comfortable floor in a quiet room and see if you can, easily and gently, count your 13 times table. Is it easier to do? To do something that is challenging or to learn something new it is much easier to decrease the demand we place on the brain. This is essential to consider if working with children on the spectrum.

Movement is related to everything. Digestion is the movement of food through our body. Speech is the movement and articulation of air pressure through our vocal cords. The perception of speech is the movement of our neurons for the purposes of interpreting that air pressure. The human body breaks down and reconstructs the entire skeletal system over the course of every seven years? Neat, huh? Movement really is everywhere and everything we do. Movement is an entry into the conversation of learning. Whether we’re talking about learning to ride a bike, drive a car, interact socially, eat food, or behave in a way that society deems normal, improving movement improves learning and improves life.

My brain is constantly processing the floor, the air around me, and whatever it is that I can smell and see and hear. If I’m wearing shoes my brain has to make sense of the shoes on my feet. And standing! Standing is complicated; just think about how long it takes babies to learn! If I am lying on my back on the floor I/my brain can take more time and attention to process the feel of my back on the floor, my bottom, my legs, feet and head. Children with autism often have difficulty with their environment and sensory integration. Our brains are constantly organizing and making sense out of all of these inputs – that is a lot of work! The autistic brain is often not able to make sense of the floor, the wind, and all of the rest of these sensations that you and I take for granted. By helping these children to make sense of their own movement patterns through decreasing demand we inherently help them make sense of rest of the world, too!

Children with Autism Improve – Reports from Parents

“What is the Anat Baniel Method?”

“How does it work?”

“Does it make a difference with children with special needs?”

These are among the most common questions we hear. To begin to answer some of these we’ve compiled stories from the March 2013 Free Children’s Clinic of parents and children discussing their experience.

Option Process® Dialogue – The Practical Philosophy Tool

I spent the month of January 2013 at the Option Institute – an international learning center and home of the Autism Treatment Center of America. I am now one of 125 people in the world ever to be certified as an Option Process Mentor. I’ve brought in a friend from the Institute – someone who spent the month of January on the other side of my training program – to describe what is like to be an Explorer within the Option Process Dialogue and why this process can be life changing.

What is it like to be an Explorer in The Option Process® Dialogue?

Enter Shannon:

Being the Explorer in an Option Process Dialogue is a bit like being in the driver’s seat of a really nice car with a good friend and trusted companion in the passenger’s seat. You’re in complete control of the conversation and where it’s going. The Mentor is merely there to ask where you’d like to go next. They’re along for the ride, ready to follow you anywhere you want to take them. The most amazing part of having a Mentor as your passenger is that you can feel at ease because, with them, you’ll never get lost.

Mentor-Graduation

I’d like to share with you my experience of exploring with Robin, who I had the pleasure and privilege of Dialoguing with when he was in Mentor Training at The Option Institute.

The volunteers who were scheduled to Dialogue with our Mentor trainees would sit in a room, waiting patiently for our Mentors to arrive and whisk us away to our Dialogue room. Robin, always smiling, popped his head into the room, gave me a grin, and cheerfully led me to the room where we’d be spending the next 50 minutes talking about what was going on for me at the time.

Continue reading “Option Process® Dialogue – The Practical Philosophy Tool”

Splits Without Stretching – 10 volunteers to test-drive design

I’m building a program that trains the splits without stretching. The concept has come out of my own rehabilitation and return to peak performance with the Anat Baniel Method, and my practical philosophy training from the Option Institute. The idea is simple, no impact, and I want your help!

But first, some theory…

Read Anat Baniel’s recent article on the myth of stretching in the Huffington Post.

This video was recorded with a group of competitive runners. Try this 2 minute exercise yourself and you’ll be better able to touch your toes at the end.

 And now, the rules:

  • First 10 enthusiastic volunteers will
  • Work with me for 30 days
  • For less than 1 hour each day (average 30 minutes)
  • Including before and after pictures
  • Doing movement – that does not include stretching – with the end goal to have front/back splits
  • As an added bonus, these 10 volunteers get personal coaching with me – in person in San Francisco or by phone – for the duration of the 30 day program.

Want to participate? Email me at robin (at) robinpzander (dot) com.

Continue reading “Splits Without Stretching – 10 volunteers to test-drive design”

Running 100 Miles “Because It’s Fun”

January is the biggest month for personal trainers everywhere. February and March make up the largest number of discarded fitness goals every year! When I am continually successful within any new discipline it because I really want to act and enjoy the process. So I’ve brought in my friend Kiwi to talk about how she runs 100 mile runs “because it’s fun!”

Enter Kiwi:

Robin asked me to write a guest post about my ultramarathon runs.  So I’ll tell you about the best run I ever did, in 2008, on the Western States Trail in California.

Every June some of the most hardcore trail runners in the world complete this 100 mile trail running race starting in Squaw Valley near the Nevada border, reaching a height of 8500 ft on the mountain trails of the Sierra Nevada, traversing a series of deep canyons, usually in sweltering heat, and finishing in Auburn, California just outside Sacramento.  I’m not as tough as many of these ultra-runners, but I reckon I have more fun than most.

Continue reading “Running 100 Miles “Because It’s Fun””

Introducing “Fuse” – San Francisco’s first Fusion Performance Company

In August 2012 I met with my casual acquaintance Todd Elkin with the thought of co-founding a performance company. In September and October we danced together and met with several possible candidates to join us in founding a dance company. Since November four of us have been learning and developing Todd’s choreography. We debuted at Mission: Fusion and Shades of Blues in December 2012 in San Francisco. Enjoy!

 

Lessons Learned and Future Steps – Ushering in 2013

I ushered in the New Year on the social dance floor – until 5am. There is nowhere I would rather have been and no people I would have preferred to be with. 2012 has been the best year of my life, so far. In the last year I’ve formed more close personal relationships that I’ve ever had before, trained myself to a higher level of physical condition (and founded a dance company), been consistently more joyful in my life while doing more. My experience upon waking today was a combination of thrilled and humbled – I am profoundly grateful to be living my life. All this has me thinking about where I’ve been and what’s coming next. To start off, here’s where I was in December 2011 (this from my introductory SF Toastmasters speech)…

Four Things I’ve Learned in 2012:

1. Play to your strengths. Though I’ve had people hinting at and hitting me over the head with this idea for years I’ve just begun to apply this concept in the last few months. The best discussion of these principles I’ve seen is the book Now, Discover Your Strengths. In the simplest form, examine what you are good at and master that. Ignore or delegate the rest.

2. Attitude is Everything and Attitude is a Choice. Earlier this week, as a complete novice I tried 15 types of Ballroom Dance for the first time. You might not believe me but one of biggest fears in 2011 was social dancing! Last month when a little autistic boy adjusted himself and then pressed himself against me, I judged him, quickly got over it, and went on to make amazing progress with him. What I’ve come to see is that I’m in control. I’ve just begun my study of what I call the Attitude That Works. What I’ve learned so far has radically improved my life and I’m thrilled for more. Take aways: Act from love. Be more grateful. Accept yourself and others. Ask questions.

3. Really Good People Matter. I’ve heard it said that you are the average of the 5 people you spend the most time with. In the last year I’ve cultivated many remarkable people and I am continually in awe of each of them. I still think I have to solve some problems myself  but more and more I’m relaxing into the recognition that we are in this together. There’s no shame in developing relationships that compliment your own strengths. Be the friend, lover, spouse, family to those you want and they respond.

4. Do the work your love. In the last eight years I’ve built an amazing set of skills to help neuro-challenged kids and improve the performance of high-level athletes. I don’t start work at 9am and finish at 5pm. I never will. I don’t ever stop practicing, and I don’t ever start, because ever moment I live my practice. If you haven’t discovered something you love that will support the lifestyle you want yet, keep looking.

Two Things I’m Going Towards in 2013:

1. Business. I want more. I currently have a lot of projects underway. As my housemate said: “Give 175%. Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks. Prune from there.” I am writing a book, putting on a workshop, running a practice, building an educational product (more on this very soon!), and in my spare time performing dance and studying practical philosophy. This year I want a steady stream of clients in my private practice (an average of 40 lessons each month) and an equal portion of my income from product sales. I want to teach workshops in 2013 and put into practice the public speaking practice I’ve accumulated in 2012.

2. Humility and Gratitude. Over my life I’ve flip-flopped between bouts of depression and thrilled euphoria. Remember that scene in Oh Brother, Where Art Thou? with Babyface Nelson?

Yeah…

I have days when I don’t want to get out of bed and other days that I get more done than most people do in a week. This is me. And I am slowly, slowly learning to love myself throughout. At my best I celebrate the highs and apologize when I bump into other people, on and off the dance floor. I am going to continue practicing gratitude, even for my low moments, and humility, even during my highest of highs.

Thanks for sharing this journey with me and here’s to an even better 2013!

How to Know Where You Are Going (Steve Jobs Looks Back to Connect the Dots)

This is from one of my favorite commencement addresses – by Steve Jobs at Stanford University. His dissections of his life lend a lot towards all of those – from any generation – struggling to find their next steps.

I mention this now because I’m in a conundrum. Fresh out of college I began studying with a woman brilliant at teaching a way of working with disabled children. I’ve flourished in the four years I’ve been studying and practicing the techniques I’ve learned – both in my own physical endeavors and with the adults and children with whom I’ve worked. And now I’m done. After 4 years and 75,000 hours.

When I left school I didn’t know how my passions for circus and cognition could possibly fit together. Looking at the eclectic combination of teaching, performing, and movement therapy I practice – they have come together after all. Today I don’t know how my current private practice will fit with my the book I’m writing on autism, with my dance performance company, with my interests in marketing, sales, and teaching. How do these pieces fit together?

Watching Job’s discuss his life – a life so celebrated upon his death last year – I’m reminded that I don’t have to know how I’ll connect the dots to know that they will come together. Though I don’t know where my trajectory is heading and am periodically upset and frustrated by that unknown it is fun to look at a similar problem from one else’s perspective to gain a bit of wisdom and insight as I go forward from here.

One Habit That Will Change Your Life – What Went Well

Gratitude works. What I mean by this is if you want to have a good life – be grateful. Try this short exercise: think of one thing in your life – be it a friend, an object, or an experience – that you are grateful for. Picture that thing clearly. I find it helps to write out a short paragraph. I guarantee that as you describe this thing that you are grateful for you will feel good. It is not possible to feel bad while simultaneously experiencing gratitude.

Gratitude? This holiday is about food! (Photo: Ruthanne Reid)

So here’s your homework. Three things each day that went well for ONE WEEK. That’s it. If you do this for five days you will have an amazing week. If you do this every day for the rest of your life your life will improve beyond recognition.

You might be saying: “That’s a nice idea Robin. But come on…”. In this I have clear scientific evidence to back me up. Remember last week when I was reading Marin Seligman‘s Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being?  Next time I see Marty shopping at Whole Foods I will shake his hand. He has conducted exhaustive research proving that as little as three statements of gratitude written each day substantially improve many different aspects of well-being. (Well-being, in this case, is a technical term.) And I have a couple of extra bonuses, even more exciting. One of my concerns is about building the habit. I might do an exercise for a week but who’s to say I’ll continue? Marty addresses this by discussing how a vast majority of tested subjects from universities, middle schools, and the US Army all maintain the practice of writing down statements of gratitude because doing so is extraordinarily implicitly rewarding. Best of all Marty has done the work for me of coming up with an acronym that I will never forget. WWW stands for What Went Well. Write three things that went well during your day just before you go to sleep at night. You’ll get a profoundly better outlook on life.

Happy Thanksgiving everyone!

Books I’m Reading This November

This month I’ve been reading several amazing books. “Flourish” is the new term a world-famous happiness research is calling a set of criterion which describe a person’s well-being. Mieville continues to describe complex and beautiful worlds unlike our own, yet intriguingly similar. And Richard Branson is himself – extraordinary…

Just a few new books (Photo: Natalia Osiatynska)

On a flight from New York to San Francisco I read a fair portion of Flourish: A Visionary New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being by Martin Seligman. This exceptional psychologist has spent more than 40 years researching behavior and emotion using everything from rats pressing levers to reforming a private British school into a Happiness University. Seligman now researches what he calls “flourishing” which consists of several factors that make up the well-being of a human. In this exceptional book he describes the development of his research and teaching at University of Pennsylvania and provides a wide variety of extraordinary tools that his readers can begin to apply immediately to improve their own lives.

Note: my favorite of these is his gratitude training exercise. Seligman has conducted extensive longitudinal research proving that as little as three statements of gratitude written per day dramatically increase positive outlook on life. What are you grateful for?

I have recently started China Mieville latest work of speculative fiction Embassytown. As always, I am amazed at Mieville’s unique capacity to draw his audience into a world recognizable and alarmingly different from our own. His landscapes are beautiful, rich, and compelling. His characters tell the story of their worlds through the narrative of their lives. Embassytown is a compelling addition to Mieville bibliography – hauntingly beautiful and more relevant to our lives than the made up world initially appears.

Another favorite this month is Losing My Virginity: How I Survived, Had Fun, and Made a Fortune Doing Business My Way by Richard Branson billionaire, entrepreneur, and passionate Brit.  Branson is the founder of the Virgin group (which includes the airline Virgin America and the Virgin record label, among many others). Losing My Virginity tells the story of Branson’s life from his earliest days founding the magazine Student through the birth of the Virgin records and into the modern day. Richard Branson’s humor and fun loving spirit pervade and make this story of one man’s success fun to read and useful to learn from for all.

Hope you enjoy these!

What Will You Make of Your Life?

In 2004 I set some life goals. Among the highlights were:

  • Become a monk
  • Live (and grow) through heartbreak
  • Professional physical trainer
  • Save a life
  • Write a book

I haven’t become a monk. I haven’t raised a child though I do help others do so, professionally! I did stop that guy from jumping off that bridge. And my first book is going to be published this December. Realizing that I’ve accomplished most of the goals I’ve set for myself I decided to aim higher and get much more specific. I created the following for a Tim Ferriss competition.  I hope you enjoy:

A question that I sometimes ask myself is what would I do if I knew that I could not fail.  I don’t know that I won’t fail this time, or next time. I do know that as long as I enjoy the process each iteration is going to get better. My first book won’t be my last. And my next workshop will be even better than my last. And in the meantime, I’ll keep going!

I would love to hear from you. What are three goals that you would set for yourself if your weren’t afraid to fail? Leave a note in the comments.

Try a Radical New Idea: Celebrate Autism!

I love autism! This sentence begins my first book (an ebook to be sold via Amazon). I know it isn’t a typical idea or a normal philosophy. I’m sharing this idea because it is useful!

“Reach out to children with autism” (Photo: Arturo de Albornoz)

In the beginning, I think the notion of celebrating autism rang true for me because I’d been “poor baby”ed so many times in relation to my own injuries. People pity those affected by autism and then avoid them. The idea – in short – is that having a child with autism is terrible and there ends the conversation… with an awkward silence. I am just side-stepping the issue. It isn’t a matter of the “truth” about autism, whether it is hard or not, but of the outcome of these two different view points. Let’s look at what happens when we view autism as devastating and a disaster. As soon as we say “It is unfortunate that…” we get unhappy!  We want our neuro-typical children to keep up with their peers, excel at music or math, and graduate Harvard with honors. Why? For our satisfaction and happiness. So we can know with joy or pride that our progeny will succeed!

I choose love and joy with autism because it is more fun, more efficient (I am always for efficiency) and there are more options available. Of course, there is a lot of learning and effort necessary to care for of a special child. And as soon as autism is an opportunity we get to ask the question “How is this good?” and a whole world of opportunities open up.

Let’s take a look at how we benefit from viewing autism as an opportunity:

  • I get to learn so much about what works for me whenever I work with a child with autism. When something changes everything changes. In my life when I started new physical activity I change physiologically to match that activity very quickly. If I start swimming today, two weeks from today my body will be measurable changed to accommodate for swimming. I wasn’t always able to recognize these changes but through working with children on the spectrum have learned to watch for and appreciate all of our capacity for dramatic, dynamic change.
  • A child with autism is such an amazing way for us to see ourselves more clearly and to learn about ourselves. Autism is an amazing mirror. If I turned up frustrated, the child – lacking our social standards and relying on attitude – is going to move away from me. If I am going to be effective with a child with autism I have to turn up loving and accepting them because that’s the only way it works. In working with these children I get to practice being loving, present, and non-judgmental.
  • There are so many factors to consider: digestion, social behaviors, physical self regulating behaviors, what we can guess of their mental states. As we look at and work on any one of these factors all of these factors are affected.
  • Every child with autism is different. Additionally, a child on the spectrum can be radically different day to day. Every moment is a new experiment with what works with this new individual and their brain at this moment!
  • I can spend a couple of weeks with one child working on a specific movement pattern. Not only does that pattern become much smooth but other factors, seemingly unrelated, change too. Social behavior improves. Or digestion is impacted. What is going to change is not predictable but that there is going to be change is nearly certain. This is true for all humans but because the characteristics of autism are so pronounced and because we are all so focused on all of these characteristics in our desire to change them, the changes are very noticeable.

So try something new: celebrate autism! Why not try it?

Learn How to Overcome Discomfort (by Jumping into Ice Covered Lakes)

I’ve always gone swimming in really cold water. I’m not sure that I really enjoyed the swimming part but the thrill afterwards kept me going back for more. From an age when I was still learning how to walk I would follow my father into High Sierra snow melt.

There is one lake that I didn’t go in that I still haven’t lived down. It was completely covered in ice at 10,000 feet in June. I was – maybe – nine years old. My father jumped in. My sister went in up to her waist. I vividly remember taking off my shoes and deciding that this lake was just too much for me – while my mother spoke to me consoling from the shore.

Today I am the 0nly member of my family who jumps in naked and screaming to every body of water below 50°. Every year I go camping with my family in the Sierras and those cold water dips are a highlight of each and every day. Friends often goggle as I dip into very cold water on our first night, often well after dark. (By the end of the trip those friends have usually learned to enjoy my ice baths too!)

But all of this serves as back story to my current exploration: I have recently begun taking very cold baths in my home in San Francisco. I grew up taking baths, Japanese-style in scathingly hot water. This was my mother’s ritual every night bed and I’ve adopted it. In the last several months I have begun to add cold water to my regimen. Since I acquired an infrared sauna in February 2012 I have had less desire for long soaks in hot water. Over the summer I regularly took cold showers after exercise and sauna. I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that I began to elaborate on these showers by making my baths cold, as well, but I am shocked at how much I’ve come to enjoy them!

What is particularly interesting to me is the diminishing of discomfort that I experience in very cold baths. They keep getting more comfortable – almost cozy – and the transition has been remarkably quick. I’m at this moment just out of one and tingling with a warmth that I know well from my time in mountain streams. But tonight – four weeks after having started taking cold baths at least four out of every seven nights – I got out of the bath, realized I wanted more soaking, and got in again for another few minutes. Granted, I’m a bit odd for wanting ice-covered lakes and cold showers to begin with. But wanting more time soaking in middle-of-the-night very cold bath water?

My take away from this is the use and utility of looking at fear and discomfort and facing them head-on. I’m not advocating ice cold lakes or other extremes for all people. I am suggesting to take a second look at those things we fear or avoid. The discomfort lasts a very short time and the benefits of getting over that discomfort last a lifetime.

I’m often afraid of a freezing cold lake in the middle of the night and ice bath were only slightly more appealing. But I know that at the end of a long day of hiking in the mountains a cold dip feels good and that the feel after a cold shower is exquisite.

So what if I want to exercise more this month or write more? How do I change something I don’t want to do into something I look forward to doing daily? I want to know how I can apply what I’ve learned to other areas of my life: getting up early, writing 3000 words a day, running a marathon.  What did I do to learn to enjoy my ice baths?

  • Started small. I began with short showers and I built up from there.
  • No push. I didn’t take a cold shower except when I wanted to. This isn’t a thing anyone I know does or thinks they should do. The magic of the experience for me has been the increased desire to bath in freezing cold water.
  • Variation. I didn’t bath cold unless I wanted to. I still vary it up between hot and cold.

I am going to take these ideas into new areas of my life. I’d like to run a marathon so I am going to start with running a few miles just a few days a week. I’d like to write 3000 words a day. I am not going to write that much tomorrow and that’s okay! I’ll start with editing my book and beginning another blog post. Say, 800 words.

And languor for 20 minutes in a very cold bath – something I would have swore I would never do four months ago – you bet I’ll  do that!

Sweaty and Frustrated – Shortcuts to happiness

As I write this I am covered in sweat having spent the last hour pushing a 600 pound motorcycle up San Francisco “hills.”

This is my angry face! Photo courtesy of college classmate and tanguero William Henner.

Had I stopped–paused for just a moment–and considered why the bike wasn’t starting up I would have realized that I had forgotten to turn the fuel valve back on. No gas, no engine. Instead of taking that moment to reflect I pushed 600 pounds of steel up a steep hill, rode it down and it died at the bottom every time. I was dead set on fixing the problem now (or maybe just getting home and taking a shower) that I didn’t take the moment I would need it to recognize my error.

So what could I have done differently? Things turned out okay: I’m home, safe, sweaty and the bike is fine. And I could have saved myself a lot of effort! But how–in those moments of stress–could I have done it differently?

Call a friend
I could have called a friend. I have a few people in my life who would have gotten really upset that I was having so much trouble. The owner of the bike. My mother. But most people would ask me a few questions starting with “What’s going on?” and “Why are you upset.” A calm voice in the background would’ve been enough for me to reconsider my situation.

Ask a question
I could have asked myself a question. Just like those in the previous paragraph asking “what,” followed by “why” would have led quite quickly to (at least) a distraction from the current situation and (at best) happiness and calm leading to a quick resolution.

Change the channel
I could have stopped. Just that. Stopped, taken off my sweating gear, walked around the block and then come back. What was I pushing the bike uphill for anyway? So that I could get home, take off the gear, and take a shower! Why not do that first and then reconsider the situation?

I didn’t because I was regarding the sweaty motorcycle situation as urgent. If I were on a train track with the train bearing down on me I would not have time to call a friend, ask a question or change the topic. I would need to act! Now! I was treating this motorcycle stall as a life-and-death situation, one that I needed to resolve immediately. But why? This is a motorcycle, stalled on a quiet road with plenty of parking and walking distance from my house. I could leave it for days! I was treating it as a life-and-death situation because that is how I know to handle what I label as “important” situations. Like the old adage “When all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a jail” one of the tools in my belt is the idea that important situations should be solved now! In my childhood there was often a feel of urgency. Our culture, too, that doesn’t teach that slow and gentle are the best ways to handle the unexpected. It was assumed that I would be nervous when I was taking AP exams. I was taught in college that stress is good for you. More recently I have found many ways in which this is untrue. I learn movement best by going slowly and with great care. As a result I love learning and learn very quickly. And in some places – like with the motorcycle today – I treat the important with urgency and upset.

As a take away for this whole affair, I have a couple of new skills. Next time my bike stalls I’ll recognize my own freak–out, call a friend, ask a question, or take a break. I live, I learn and I keep improving. And you can be damn sure that I won’t leave the fuel valve off again!

I would love to hear from you: what is the situation (the more specific the better) where you freak out and what are some tools you use to calm and learn yourself out of the situation?

FREE Autism Workshop in San Francisco – Oct. 13, 2012

I’m really excited! I am going to be teaching an autism-focused experiential workshop. I’ve been looking for ways to teach parents the principles of the Anat Baniel Method and the Option Philosophy when I am not seeing their children. I also want more practice teaching groups! Thus, I am offering a ninety-minute workshop on the principles of learning applied to autism. There will be movement for you to do, exercises to practice at home, a unique combination of the Option Process and the Anat Baniel Method, and time spent addressing your particular challenges and questions.


What:
Autism Workshop incorporating Option Philosophy & Anat Baniel Method
Where: Metronome Dance Studios, 1830 17th Street, San Francisco, CA
When: Saturday, Oct. 13th at 4pm
Who: This will be a workshop for parents so this time please leave your children at home. Do invite anyone and everyone you think might be interested. Parents, practitioners who work with special needs children, new parents (the tools offered will be relevant for neuro-typical kids, too), and the general public interested in Option Institute and/or Anat Baniel Method. Have you been looking for a way to teach your friends and family about your special child? Bring them!
Cost: Free!

I hope you can make it! I will be teaching more workshops in the future and I’m not sure how many of them will be open to the public. (Plans include teaching at UCSF and Google!) Do you know of other organizations or groups who might like for me to teach similar workshops? Please let me know! Call if you have any questions.

Regards,
Robin

You’re Doing It Wrong! Practice versus Performance

I watch a gymnast work on her handsprings. Or a blues dancer try to learn the “pulse.”  Over and over again my initial response upon watching someone practice something new is an internal shout: “You are doing it wrong!” There may be some hair pulling involved. Then I calm down, decide if the person would benefit from my feedback, usually decide that they won’t and go back to what I was doing.

Want to perform better? Stop making practice matter! (Photo: Martin Gommel)

I do know that “You’re doing it wrong” isn’t the most useful way to teach. Mea culpa. Of exactly the style of teaching I am writing about. We can all of us do better. And I have exciting news: a little change goes a really long way.

There are many studies within the study of motor learning that demonstrate that practice is not the same as performance. Common sense! Less intuitive is that when we demand high quality performance during practice we get poorer overall results.

First off, what do I mean by the terms practices versus performance? A practice or training interval is the period during which a person is attempting to improve at an activity. The performance interval is crunch-time – that period when the person puts practice into practice. In real life this means the basketball player above is about to score (or miss?) game point!

It makes sense that sports typically place a lot of emphasis on how well people perform during practice. That is an easy metric because the results are right there, right away, for everyone to see. When I watch people train I see them place a great deal of importance on their performance during practice. This means that they are getting less out of their practice than they might otherwise.

Let’s look at a couple of the reasons:

  1. Regular feedback during practice distracts from the process of learning. Most often feedback is given regularly during practice. A basketball player is inherently given feedback after each practice shot – did the ball go it or didn’t it? Similarly, the gymnast or the blues dancer attempting is learn a new skill will often be given feedback after each attempt by her coach or peers. Put yourself in the place of the student. If you have someone giving you constant critiques while you are trying something new – constantly pointing out what you are doing wrong – are you going to be focusing on and excited to learn the new skill? Probably not! The fix is simple – much less feedback, much less often.
  2. Emphasis is placed on the end outcome, resulting is less attention to the skill itself. Thus the skill isn’t ever learned as thoroughly as it could be. Even during practice it is all about results. I’m all for results but not when the purpose of practice is to learn the new skill. If we are talking about scoring the winning point in the basketball NCAA championship, by all means do whatever it takes! But practice need not be urgent. By simply shifting the focus from results to experiences during practice, when it does come time performance will increase enormously.

And back to me. After I stop pulling my hair our and before I decide not to contribute to feedback overload I often take a moment to marvel. I am amazed at how well what we use does work! Getting feedback after every single iteration gives a student far more material to work on than can be absorbed in so short a period of time. Regular and consistent feedback doesn’t create an environment where the student is able to really attend to what they are doing. And despite our self-imposed handicaps we are all learning machines! Before I go back to my own workout I dream about how much more we will all learn through a few simple adjustments.

What skill or activity would you like to learn with greater ease? Within that skill or activity I suggest getting really excited about the exploration of it! Don’t let others give you feedback and don’t critique yourself. (You can always get feedback later.) Immerse yourself in experience of the new skill. Be easy in your practice. Play more. Look to learn. I would love to hear from you in the comments! What are you working on and what have you found that works?

Mastering Gymnastics: Non-Attachment to Outcomes

When I took my first gymnastics class at 18 years old I was told that it would take me 10 years to learn the basics: front and back flips, front and back handsprings. I gave up ever trying them again after a life-threatening injury in my twenties. Here’s me doing front and back flips today:

 

 

I’ve trained gymnastics 62 hours over the last 11 months. I began at nothing. Here’s where I am today (September 2012).

 

They aren’t perfect… I’m not quite ready to try my front flip over concrete. And I’ve learned all this in less than 2 hours each week, in less than 1 year. I’ve actually gone back and counted and I’ve spent 62 hours training gymnastics between November 2011 and October 2012. When I returned to gymnastics last November I was petrified of front and back flips (having broken my neck attempting them in 2007), simply couldn’t do a front handspring, and could do a back handspring only with the help (and muscles) of a spotter.

Nearly at the year anniversary of my very successful return to gymnastics I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what factored into this remarkable learning experience. There are many factors: enthusiasm – I’ve dreamed of excelling at gymnastics since I was 5 and a background in a variety of physical activities. And the single biggest? Non-attachment.

When I watch my colleagues train gymnastics I see many of them attempt the same activity over and over for months, often with very minimal improvement. I see a man attempting a new event (for example: the high bar) and working himself to the point of exhaustion. I recognize it because I’ve been there too! I have been so dead-set on accomplishing a goal that I’m beat to pieces – and still haven’t gotten it.

When I’m most successful is when I am not attached. Let’s start by looking at what happens when I am determined to get something specific.

Instead of training with determination I find it most productive to train with curiosity and interest. When I don’t get something on a first try my initial response is “Neat! Why not?” followed by “How could I do that differently?” These questions lead to profoundly different results than the statement “I can’t get this” (said with frustration).  My questions create a profound flexibility that contributes enormously to the end outcome.

Stepping away from gymnastics for a moment I have also found that not being attached to outcomes is essential in working with children with autism. As an exceedingly brief synopsis, kids on the spectrum tend to exhibit “stims” or “isms,” self-regulating behaviors that are regarded as distinctly not normal by most of society. One of the big efforts of parents of these kids to get to their child to stop stim-ing and to fit it. I don’t see a problem with wanting a child to fit in with his or her peers. But how these children are taught are startlingly similar to how my peers (and often me, too) train gymnastics – the end goal is the only goal.

Have you ever while riding a bike or driving a car seen something in the road and – intending not to hit it – gone straight into it? By saying: “I should get my front flip now” or “This kid oughtn’t to behave in that way” or “Don’t hit that object in the road! Don’t hit it!!!” we head directly at that which we say we want to avoid!

So what’s the solution? What might we do instead of aiming at what we’d like to avoid? For a start, ask questions. Instead of “I get that [expletive] back flip” or “My child isn’t keeping up with his peers” let’s try changing these into actual question:

  • “Why have I, thus far, been unable to do a back flip?”
  • “Why isn’t my child doing like her peers?”

As soon as contextualize these questions without the frustration and judgment the solutions become much more clear. When I start to inquire why I haven’t done a back flip I realize it is because I’m scared, or because when I’m upside down I loose my sense of direction. Asking that question in working with an autistic child leads to a whole variety of possible explanations, which help me to get closer to her.  It isn’t that I want the back flip less, but I do need it less. It isn’t that I don’t want the child to learn but I’m no longer tied to that outcome happening now right now. I no longer upset myself for that thing not having happened yet.

I’m not enlightened. I’m actually really impressed with how much I can improve at gymnastics even when I’m determined to get it now; at how much an autistic child can function even while being judged from all sides for behaving differently. (As an amusing aside: I’m absolutely not pushy with the kids I see even when I’m still frequently need an outcome in gymnastics.) Long and short: what we do works – well enough. But when it comes to improving high performance, learning skills in record time, and training the unattainable (most people believe that autism is forever, I know otherwise.) not being attached to one specific outcome in the moment results in much larger leaps in learning over time. I am going to continue practicing gently. What have you found that works?

 

Masterful Marketing – How Jay Abraham sends emails I’m thrilled to recieve

This resource is something I’ve wanted to share for a quite a while. I’ve described this man and his resources to individuals and groups dozens of times in the last year. Whether you are in business, work for someone else, or think marketing and sales are evil words there is useful information in Jay’s ideas and give-aways. Take a look!

 

I’ve never met Jay, though I intend to. I haven’t even read all of his books or used all of his products. I’ve also never paid him and he currently offers very little that I even could spend money on! He works almost exclusively with seriously large (multi-billion dollar) corporations.

That said, there is one audio recording in particular – of Jay Abraham interviewed by Tony Robbins – which is worth more than… most anything. I’ve certainly received more value than I paid for it – because is free! One of the many aspects Jay talks through in this particular interview is the usefulness in business of contributing far more in value than is expected or than we take in payment. I currently employ this in my private practice by charge of consulting two weeks after working with clients – and not at all if effects of my work have not been observed! I have found that this policy is a very useful incentive for new clients. There are hundreds of similarly useful lessons for business and for life in just this two hour audio interview.

I received an email tonight from Jay that explained that I will be receiving 9 emails from him in the next nine days. In the year that I’ve been on his email list I’ve received less than one email a month. My enthusiasm for this man is such that – even though he specifies that he will, for a change, be marketing a product – I can’t wait. I am excited to hear what’s next and what this brilliant man has in mind. I should reiterate that I’ve never spent money on any of his products or services. I may never. The thing that Jay does brilliantly, and the reason I’m excited to hear from him again soon, is deliver enormous value ever step of the way. Jay detailed that in addition to the nine emails I’ll be receiving a report which breaks down of his career in marketing with specific tools he learned at each step in his career (from selling dust carpets to advising Fortune 500s), as well as 4 hours of fresh footage of him reviewing and deconstructing other businesses. Throughout this endeavors Jay builds in value.

Update: Even as I’ve begun to receive the series of emails Jay breaks down how and why he’s organizing the emails for optimal persuasion. Also, though I know that I can always unsubscribe, he explicitly details the number of ways I don’t have to participate or continue receiving his emails if I so choose. Even Jay’s selling techniques provide useful tips!

Here’s an example of the enormous value he brings to the table: This link is to a page which depicts an overwhelmingly large number of products that he has created over the last couple of decades. Enter your email (it can even be a throw-away account) and get access to the identical page except that each product description links to the actually product. My favorite by far is Tony Robbins interviewing Jay Abraham but published books, CD and DVD training programs, and reconstruct-a-business videos are just a few of the products available.

Another note: Try out the audio, even if you’re turned off by Jay’s land page. The products he gives away are invaluable!

I really want you to listen to Jay’s interview by Tony Robbins because it has been completely transformational in my own business. I make a percentage of my monthly income as residual from work that I’ve done for other companies in the past year. I have contributed marketing or sales strategy to these companies and helped them improve their business for a percentage of the profits I generated. In other words, I’ve used one of the models that Jay describes to supplement my income. It was easy and fun work and you can do it too!

Visit http://abraham.com/gifts/ and give this audio a try. This is the most useful marketing tool I’ve discovered in years of learning about marketing and sales. I frequently describe to nearly everyone I meet and I think it can be useful for you, too.

Just as an aside: though I have no financial investment in anything here my reasons for sharing are entirely self-serving. Next time I go to describe this resource to anyone I can just tell them to check my blog! And I’m always interested in sharing business ideas and discussing effective marketing strategy. My hope is that sharing these resources will fuel the discussion!

Stimulus Belief Response (or How to Be Happy at a Funeral)

We’re upset when someone we love dies. Why?

I wrote the following in preparation for a speech I gave on the usefulness of choosing beliefs. This is philosophical approach I subscribe to because I find it useful and I’ve often been surprised with how violently people respond when I put it into action! I’m not endorsing being happy all the time (though that is an option). I think we get to decide all the time how we want to feel.

While you read this consider: how would your peers respond if you weren’t upset at a funeral?

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.”

This quote is from Viktor Frankl, a medical doctor and psychiatrist who survived the holocaust by keeping his spirits up. He regularly gave speeches in front of imaginary audiences as a way to validate his own importance!

 

What is a stimulus?  A stimulus is anything, in our environment, internal, external, person, place, thing that we are aware of, react to, interact with.  Our response: how we respond to that stimulus.

 

I find it useful to believe that in between a stimulus and our response there is a space, and in that space is a belief.  We form beliefs and change beliefs all the time.  Raise your hand if you have believed in an imaginary figure?  In Santa Claus, in elves, in fairies, in the Easter Bunny?  How many of you believe in those today?  Everyone here has believed in an imaginary figure and nearly everyone no longer does.  We change our beliefs!  Where do they exist?  If you cut me open you don’t find beliefs floating around inside of me!  Beliefs are make-believe anyway.

 

If I come up to a beautifully dressed woman and say “you are a terrible dresser” she might take offense!  If I come up to a man who appears to have brown hair and say “I can’t stand your bright pink hair,” is he more likely to be confused or angry?  What determines these responses?

 

I think that it is a belief that they hold about themselves.  This woman might be dressing up because she cares about her appearance.  She comes to a speaking club and want to look good?  She is perhaps believing that it is important that she looks good.  So if I say that she has bad taste, and she reacts, she is reacting to her own beliefs about her appearance.  However, he believes with some certainty that he doesn’t have pink hair.  There’s nothing in my statement of pink hair that lands on him.  He doesn’t judge himself as a pink-haired individual.

 

If we lived in a stimulus – response world everyone would react to the same stimulus in exactly the same way.  If I tell everyone in the room that “I love you!” everyone would experience the same feelings and respond in the same way.  My experience is that if I tell two people the same thing I am more than likely going to get two very different responses.

 

We make up beliefs moment, by moment by moment.  The job of the brain is to make sense of our environment, to make sense of the world that we live in.  We do that through the creation – moment by moment – of beliefs.  And these made-up beliefs affect every aspect of what we perceive and what we respond to.  And this is great news!  This means that we are not bound to our responses.  We are not determined – fatalistically – to respond forever in the same way.  We have seen that we have all changed beliefs at some point in our lives.  Given different information, different evidence we change beliefs all the time!

 

Feeling whatever we experience: responding with anger, with sadness, with frustration, with joy.  These are choices based on how we view the world.  Based on specific belief.  “Santa Claus isn’t real?”  “You are very poor dresser.”  “I love you!”  How we respond is based on the beliefs we hold.  By examining our beliefs we can change our responses and change our life!

 

Viktor Frankl celebrated the space between stimulus and response.  I find it useful to identify that space as a belief.  Frankl survived the holocaust by internally validating himself, by making believe that he was talking in front of imaginary audiences of thousands.  He survived to go on to do so!  Frankl survived the holocaust by creating inside himself a feeling of importance. How might we examine our beliefs, change them – if we want to – and thereby fundamentally change our responses, and improve our lives?

Reflections on “Suggestible” (Ditch skepticism, curiousity is more useful)

I had a conversation after Toastmasters this evening which had me thinking about the usefulness of persuasion and the power of positive thinking. As an academic I was taught to be skeptical. Skepticism was regarded the highest courtesy among my scientific peers. Tonight, after giving a speech which I intended to my audience to try out a service I was offering, my companion expressed nervousness over being inaccurately led to overcome pain or limitation. In this post I’m going to try to tackle this concern from two perspectives: from the “being misled” skeptic’s mentality and from a perspective of potential usefulness.

I certainly understand and share hesitation over a hard sell. When someone approaches me with a “purchase, or else” mentality I routinely take the “or else” option, sometimes even though I might have otherwise been interested. In this situation, though, we were talking about the potential for the free 3-4 minute movement lesson I taught to create false freedom from pain or inaccurate perception of increased mobility. I had fun exploring, fleshing out, and verbalizing my opinions on the subject. I hope this is useful to you, too!

The lesson I taught went as follows:

Please close your eyes. And notice how you are sitting in the chain right now. Notice the contact of your pelvis on the right side and on the left side. Notice where your spine is. Are you leaning into the chair, are you forward in your seat. Notice your head. If your eyes were opened would you be looking at the wall in front of you, at the floor below you, or at the ceiling above you. And place your left hand, specifically the top of your left hand, underneath your chin and support – just a little bit – the weight of your head with your left hand. And turn, slowly, using your left shoulder and your left arm, turn your head and your shoulder and twist in your spine a little bit, to look to the right. And then come back to the middle. And do this once more attending now to your pelvis in the chair, attending to your feet on the floor. What can you do, what can you twist, want can you turn, to make this movement so that it is not a turning sharply in your neck but a gentle easy twist through the whole length of your spine. And then come back to the middle. And we’ll do this just once more, this time take your eyes in the opposite direction. So as you twist to the right you’re going to take your eyes slowly and gentle to the left. Maybe think about following something, maybe a gecko, walk on the wall opposite you. So as you twist to the right you are watching this gecko walk slowly to the left, just a little bit! And then the gecko walks slowly back to the middle as you turn your head, and your chest, and your left arm to the middle. And then stop this. And let down your left arm. And rest in sitting, with your eyes closed still. And again notice the ease, the feeling you have in yourself. Do you feel easier in sitting now? Are you more aware of the contact of your spine with the back of the chair? The contact of your feet with the floor. The left side of your pelvis and the right side of your pelvis.

This is a directive movement lesson. I wanted participants to experience greater ease after the lesson is over. I invite them to feel more comfortable, more relaxed. My friend tonight was nervous though that she would experience these changes “inaccurately.”

If I were in a Spanish class and was told that my instructor wanted me to notice the difference between the sound of the word “ser” and the word “estar” that would be perfectly natural. My instructor is giving me two words which both mean “to be” and helping me to puzzle out the difference between these new sounds. However, if I am in an environment anywhere where someone is trying to persuade me of something, the instructor or salesperson wanting for me to create distinctions is what…? At least a reason for caution, often a reason to run for the hills. Why is this?

Back to my example of the evening. I asked participants to notice if they felt more easy, with the assumption that that was one of the possible outcomes. Why? Because when we are quiet, easy, and comfortable in ourselves our brains are primed for learning. We are literally more receptive. What this means is that neural pathways in the brain are more ready to spring into action, often in new and more efficient ways. My friend was skeptical that by my suggestion she might feel more comfortable. In academia I was taught that this might be a bad thing and that was what she believed. So in our conversation I explored this further. Say she feels more relaxed because I suggested it. She learns more because I said it was a possibility. Afterward she either leaves, goes home, and forgets all about it or (much more common among people I have worked with) she continues to experience small shifts, gets curious about them, and they magnify to become profound changes. I then took my extrapolation to athletes. An athlete is in pain, does some gentle movement, imagines that she feels easier, and thus learns to experience greater ease more often until she finally overcomes her injury. Or take a child with Autism. This child is – of course – suggestible. I can invite the child towards what I want: great communication and connect with his family and peers. By my belief and suggestion that such connection is valuable comes his interest in going towards such interactions. In my conversation tonight I then came back to myself. Five years ago I dislocated a vertebra in training for the circus. Medically speaking, I broke my neck. I haven’t been in pain in several years and have gone back to gymnastics in 2012. That said, am I suggestible towards pain? Yes! It would probably take me 10 minutes to put myself in an intense level of pain similar to what I experienced five years ago and I am sure I could do it. If I sat in a room with someone who told me to imagine my vertebra out of place and pain radiating down my spine, and if I did as this instructor suggested, I would end up hurting and probably remain in pain for several days thereafter. I am absolutely suggestible.

I understand my friend’s skepticism from the beginning of our conversation. I was trained to think that way, too. I do believe that profound curiosity is essential to the scientific process and skepticism is often used to reach a similar perspective. And I had delicious fun fleshing out my new beliefs about suggestibility tonight. I am absolutely suggestible. To a Spanish teacher helping me puzzle out the difference between two new words, for a child with Autism or a professional athlete, towards or away from anything that I want in my life I am suggestible and want to remain so! I have freedom from pain, enormous pleasure in my work and in my personal pursuits, and find myself happier ever day than ever before. I find deciding I’m going to live that way and persuading myself along the way to be the best route there is!

Movement with Attention for your child

Note: this post is intended for parents of children with special needs. If that isn’t your cup of tea there are lots of other posts that may be.

Anat Baniel’s first essential is Movement with Attention. The question is how to apply this essential with your child. What’s one new way?

1. Touch your child with curiosity. What does it feel like to touch along his/her spine? Towards the top of the spine vs. the bottom of the spine? What differences do you feel? As you begin to feel differences you awaken your child (regardless of age) to the possibility of experiencing and learning differences too!

2. Join them. Do what they do. If they roll on the floor, sit up, crawl – try doing that too! As you join them in what they like you’ll bond with them, get more engaged with them, and come to see aspects of what they do in a new way!

3. Lie on your back on the floor for 3 minutes and scan yourself. Notice the contact of your feet with the floor, your head with the floor. As you begin to feel yourself more you wake up your brain to the possibility of new experiences. This will then powerfully transfer over to how you are with your child, how you touch your child, and how you attend to your child!

4. Who’s next? What’s another area you apply Movement with Attention?

Anat Baniel Interview

A very authentic interview of Anat on the Anat Baniel Method and Kids Beyond Limits. I love how straightforward she is in sharing her wonder at everyone’s capacity to change. Anat clearly and concisely discusses the difference between mechanical systems and the human brain, which is a learning, information-gathering system. She uses the metaphor of fixing a flat tire: the idea being that we simply cannot fix a person like we might fix a car. Humans are built to grow and learn, not to be solved. Her discussion of teaching the usefulness of “I wonder” is just as I experienced it in her training. As an aside, it is the same way I was taught to not presuppose and to approach questions with an open mind in science. All in all this interview is a loving, open-minded and fascinating glimpse into Anat’s thinking process and the Anat Baniel Method. Delicious and useful!

Stretching and – For a Change – Getting Sore

I’ve always been very movement-oriented and since I started studying with Anat Baniel my previously conceived notions about movement have changed dramatically.  They continue to change all the time.

I recently spoke to a community of runners in San Francisco about the brain and mobility.  I combined a mini-lecture on the pedagogy of motor learning with a short demonstration of a different way to gain mobility.  In 5 minutes the participants  gained significant flexibility in a simple “bend down, touch your toes” exercise.  Over the hour that followed a lot of runners came to me and asked about the “magic trick” or about how they had changed so rapidly!  It was great fun!

 

 

I was taught by my running coaches in high school to stretch before and after exercise.  My coaches, well intentioned and compassionate as they were, taught us a lot of what they themselves had been taught over the course of their running careers.  I took those lessons to heart and always warmed up and cooled down with stretching.  When my physical career took a turn toward circus and dance I learned even more the importance of stretching to increase mobility and protect against injury.

Over the last few years my physical training has been somewhat spontaneous and very eclectic.  I don’t regularly go for 6-10 mile runs anymore; I don’t follow any discipline in a regimented way.  I also haven’t been sore in years.  There is a deep, bone wear and contented sore that I used to experience after a good race in high school and after a circus performance in college.  I associated it with “working good.” Over the last few years I’ve condemned that feeling of sore to “damage.”  It is a fact that soreness in muscles is caused by damage.  (There is a wide range of research that shows that DOMS or Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness equals damage to musculature.)  There is contention among the scientific communities that study such issues whether that damage is also beneficial.  (The argument goes that through the course of building the muscles back up they become stronger, bigger, more mobile, more integrated, etc.)

After my talk at Sports Basement I went for 7.5 mile run.  This in itself isn’t entirely unusual for me in recent years.  However, when I run solo I stop and walk, I chat with passers by, I admire the view, and I always stop, even just briefly, when I feel my body aching.  On the Sports Basement FunRun I pushed myself harder than I usually do, in part because I was enjoying the community and conversation of the other runners.  (The other part, of course, was my own competitive streak!)  As a result, I was sore at the end of the run.  Very sore!  For two days after I felt a lot of tension in my calves everywhere I went – running and walking.  What surprised me in this was how much I enjoyed being sore.  The endorphin release the day of and the day after the run were really really pleasant, but I already know how much I like my endorphins!  What I didn’t expect was that same feeling of ease and quiet and comfort through the course of my own soreness.  Wherever I walked – for days after the FunRun – I ached and I enjoyed it!  How could it be that I’ve damaged my muscles, they are day-after-a-race kind of sore, and I loved it?

I don’t have a satisfactory explanation to this question. I enjoy not aching  more than I enjoy being sore.  I don’t believe that an aching muscle is well organized and I am dedicated to increasing efficient organization (my own and others).  And I enjoyed the ache!  I’ve entering a new layer of the conversation and really quite excited to see where it leads!

Reflections on Skiing

I went skiing in February 2011 for the first time in many years. I’ve made several trips to the mountains since and expect to continue playing in the snow even as the weather in San Francisco shifts rapidly towards Summer. Quite apart from my tendency to fixate on whatever novel movements I happen across (over the last year my enthusiasm has encompassed a range including foosball, the manual dexterity necessary for cadaver dissection, and rock-climbing), in skiing I have enjoyed the opportunity to explore the topics of movement with attention and enthusiasm.

I began skiing shortly after I could walk, plummeting down hills without consideration for danger or parallel turns. While my family did not live within convenient proximity to the snow, we made it a point to get out to the mountains several times each year. In high school I realized how expensive skiing could be and decided to explore more accessible means of expressing my zeal. This year I have re-discovered an activity I had thought lost to childhood memory.

I did some small amount of mental preparation prior to that first ski trip – imaging what it would be like to wear skis again, visualizing parallel turns on a downhill slope – but I had no idea whether I would be starting from scratch. From the fact that I write enthusiastically of returning to the mountains it is easy to guess that I hadn’t lost my old habits. But since then I have been pestered by the question: Why?

When I stepped off the lift at the top of the mountain (Kirkwood, for the record) I truly did not know whether I would head down a black diamond slope or back down the chairlift. What I did was take my time; not timidly but with attention and enthusiasm. I raise these last two points because they are – in my experience – essential to any learning process. If I had stepped off the lift full of judgement I wouldn’t have lasted an hour. I thought back to what skiing had felt like as a kid. I recalled the feeling of ease that accompanies memories of my early days of skiing, of fearlessness, and the capacity for fixation that is necessary for any young child’s development. I indulged in my experience, both current and historic, and took my first slope without expectation.

These “Essentials” are by no means my own invention. Anat Baniel teaches that Movement with Attention, Enthusiasm, and others are essential for learning. But I began to apply these without planning to and gained some insight on how I might recreate positive experiences in the future.

Since that first trip I’ve given some thought to how best to prepare myself for a day of skiing. I’ve created a short YouTube video to depict some of the activities that I now use to get ready for a day of skiing. I can’t remember the last time I saw someone “warming” themselves up to ski so I thought I would do something small to encourage “warming up” on the slopes. I hope you enjoy this video as much I enjoyed rolling around in the snow to create it!

What have I taken home with me besides a renewed appreciation for skiing? I found myself applying some basic precepts in unexpected ways. Instead of trying to control my first experience of skiing, I entered into the experience wondering “What is this going to be like?”. I re-created the feelings of ease that I experienced as a child. I was passionately enthusiastic. I put these thoughts forward as tools to consider going forward into any new activity and learning to move the way you want.