Categories
Creative Goals Physical Performance Podcast

Founding the Global Phenomenon of AcroYoga with Jason Neymar

My guest today is the co-founder of the global phenomenon of AcroYoga Jason Neymar (@jasonnemer). I’ve followed Jason’s work for years, having watched the rise of AcroYoga at a distance over the last 10+ years, so it was a pleasure to sit down and talk about physical practice, the healing arts, AcroYoga, and much more.

I’m in awe of the global movement Jason has built, and we dive deep into some of the things he has done – and is doing – to make AcroYoga one of the most friendly and welcoming physical communities I’ve experienced.

I was connected to Jason by his co-founder and my dear friend Jenny Sauer-Klein. If you haven’t, I highly recommend listening to that conversation, as well.

As a physical nerd and athlete, I’ve long looked forward to talking about AcroYoga and I hope you enjoy this as much as I did. Here is Jason Neymar.

Show Notes

2:30 Finding gymnastics and acro yoga
6:00 Designing AcroYoga to be accessible
10:00 Jason’s physical practice
12:00 Inclusivity and play
16:30 Discipline met with openness
19:00 Gymnastics as a gateway to movement
22:15 Pros and cons of social media and the internet
25:45 Remedies to cyber addiction
27:45 Healing arts of acro yoga
33:15 Emotional cycles in healing
36:30 Touch and gender barriers
41:00 Art and science of acro yoga
43:00 Physical disciplines Jason recommends
45:45 Find AcroYoga:
Website
Youtube
Facebook
48:30 Future of acro yoga
50:30 AcroYoga Fest: Divine Play

If you enjoyed this episode with Jason Neymar, I think you will enjoy my previous podcast episode with AcroYoga co-founder Jenny Sauer-Klein.

Categories
Creative Entrepreneurship Physical Performance Podcast Responsive

Mark Fisher on Serious Fitness for Ridiculous Humans

My guest today is Mark Fisher, who regularly shows up wearing a unicorn head – atypical of someone who runs several gyms in midtown manhattan. Mark is the co-owner of Mark Fisher Fitness and the consulting group, Business for Unicorns.

Mark and I share a common background in the performing arts, and it was fun for me to hear how Mark has taken that background and applied it to his entrepreneurial efforts both at his gyms and as a consultant. As someone who has long thought of creating a gym or physical center, I loved this conversation. Even more so, though, Mark’s passion for culture and people shone through.

I’m also pleased to share that Mark Fisher is going to be one of our speakers at Responsive Conference 2018, which will be taking place on September 24th and 25th in New York City. Pick up a ticket to hear him speak live.

I hope you enjoy this conversation as much as I did!

Show Notes
3:30 Balancing ridiculousness at Mark Fisher Fitness
9:15 Starting a fitness business
12:30 Combining creativity with vision execution
15:00 Business for Unicorns
19:45 Soft skills in hard systems and the Unicorn Society
22:00 Current state of fitness
26:00 Advice for building a gym
31:00 Books:

33:30 Loving community
38:00 Cultural health
40:00 What’s next for Mark
43:15 Constant improvement
48:00 Find more about Mark:

Categories
Physical Performance Podcast Zander Strong

Zander Strong Ep. 5 – How to Surf

I’m Robin Zander, and you’re listening to Zander Strong, a podcast about movement in the modern world.

Today: the story of how I learned to surf, and the simple tactical steps that you can use to begin surfing right away.

It has been an eventful last couple of years! In February 2016 I came up with the idea to run a big event. In September 2016, having sold 250 tickets and raised sponsorship from the likes of Microsoft and Accenture, I put on the 1st Annual Responsive Conference. Somewhere in the middle, I also opened up a café.

Meanwhile, throughout this, I’ve maintained a physical practice. Over the years this has meant a variety of things: ballet, martial arts, gymnastics, other forms. At the end of August, I re-discovered surfing.

I grew up around the ocean, and first tried out a surfboard on a beach in Costa Rica in 2003. The board was terrible — waterlogged, the surf rough — but I’ve always planned on going back. I visited the San Francisco Bay Area’s Linda Mar beach this August, and have been out surfing almost every day for the last few months. Here are a few things I’ve learned.

Form Follows Function

I’ve long believed that “form follows function” meaning that good form — including posture, positioning, or physique — follows from the movements we do. What I haven’t explored before is how significantly my mental state follows from my physical practice.

Surfing can be scary, don’t get me wrong. But there are also long stretches of peace, sitting on a board out on the waves. Surfers don’t generally talk much — at least not to a newbie like me. And there is something inherently pacific about sitting on the ocean, looking for the next big wave.

Emotional Matching

September 21, 2016 was a big day for me. It was the day after my 250-person Responsive Conference. For more than 3 months I had worked 7 days a week to make sure that the event was a success, and throughout that time had practiced Thai Kickboxing — an aggressive martial form that I tackled in intense 50-minute bursts.

Walking into my fight gym the day after the conference, I was hit by the familiar smells of old sweat and testosterone. Leading up to my conference, the aggression of Thai Kickboxing was exactly what I needed to combat the intensity of my work. That afternoon, I was surprised how unappetizing they were. I realized I no longer needed such physical intensity, closed my account, and went surfing.

Surfing Culture

As I do when I become obsessed with a new physical form, I’ve read a lot. By far the most engaging book I’ve read is the 2016 Pulitzer Prize winning Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life. This autobiography is a coming of age story about the author’s relationship with surfing, of waves from around the world, and about an addiction that I’ve just begun to explore.

Another little tool that has been incredible in learning the ins and outs of the surf scene is Surfline. This free app shares buoy data and live video feeds of prime surf spots. It has gotten so that when I ask a local about the surf at our favorite spot, he’s likely to say “Fair to Good,” quoting the app.

The Moment

Even as a young surfer, just beginning to transfer to an intermediate board, I’m struck by how much catching waves and not falling off comes down to mindset. As I’ve grown more confident, I’ve attempted larger waves — 6ft, 8ft, even 12ft. In the moment that I’m looking down from the top a sheer face of water, if I can control my fear I’ll be alright. When I remain calm, I stay on top of my board and don’t get pummeled. But even on 3–4ft days, if I get frightened and let that emotion run unchecked, the wave lands on top of me. My mental and emotional state, in that fraction of a second, shape the entirety of the experience.

Awe

Even amidst some professional success, entering in an entirely new industry, and managing two teams totaling more than 15 employees, some of the most memorable moments in 2016 and 2017 have occurred on the waves.

In mid-September 2016, amidst 16-hour days of event planning and logistics, I stole a few hours on the surf. Pacifica was fogged in, and I could hear fog horns in the distance. The waves were breaking 50 meters offshore, and birds were circling further out.

After 30 minutes on the water, it became clear that the birds were circling with purpose, and looking closer I thought I could see something in the waves. Then, a whale breached. For the next hour, I let promising waves go by to catch glimpses of the mammoth of the sea, slowly making its way north.

As usual, when I find a new physical form, I’m enamored. Whether this new love affair lasts weeks or years, it is special and new.

How-To and Mental Resilience

There’s a moment of thrill when you catch a wave, whether that is a two foot wave or a ten. The moment when you go from moving at the speed of your own arm strokes to be carried along as fast as the wave can carry you. Sometimes I experience a moment of panic, other times I am so much in the zone – in flow – that there’s just bliss. Of all of the parts of surfing, I believe that catching waves is probably the most important for a novice surfer. Getting familiar with the moment of riding a wave and that transition from powering yourself to be carrying by the wave is the hardest to describe and the most essential to understand. That said, don’t try to put all of the pieces of surfing together your first day out. It is not important to catch a wave in the moment that it breaks and try to stand up and try to steer all in one go. Go out on a slow day and rather than try to swim out past the point where the waves are breaking, ride some of the chop after the wave has crashed and as the waves are coming in towards shore. I am no expert, but I recommend a beach break where surfers gather in an area where the ocean breaks onto a stretch of beach, so that you don’t also have to contend with rocky terrain, shallow rocks, or coral. It’ll become a common mantra, but don’t try to tackle all of the aspects of surfing, or any physical form, in one go. Instead, find that small step – in this case the feel of catching a wave – and work to understand that experience and hone that skill.

Close your eyes. Notice how you are sitting, standing, or lying at this moment. Notice how you feel. Imagine that you’re lying on your belly on a surfboard. There are seagulls above you, the sounds of the ocean around you. You are in the lineup which is the area where waves begin to break. You see a wave growing behind you, and you begin to paddle towards the shore. It’s big but not so big that you are scared. You look over your shoulder and see the wave behind you and paddle even more furiously until suddenly you are no longer moving yourself but you’re being carried on the wave downhill and very fast. It’s almost like the wave has slingshotted you down the face of the wave.

Here are a couple of pointers that will make your entry into surfing much easier.

  1. Start small. If you try to do every aspect at once, you’ll have no fun and won’t keep coming back for more. However, if you tackle small steps at a time, you’ll see much easier successes and begin to find the joy and the small victories that will keep you coming back.
  2. Don’t go out on a big day. As much fun as it is to surf big waves, even as a novice, start smaller. You don’t have to go out in your first couple of surf sessions on the biggest days in order to catch waves or even practice standing up. Instead, go out when the waves don’t look intimidating, and even try to surf waves that have already broken so you are really just riding the white water into shore. Even those experiences can give you a taste of the thrill of catching a big wave and learning to steer.

If you’ve enjoyed Zander Strong, I’d love to hear about it! It would mean the world to me if you could leave a review on iTunes.

 

Categories
Learning Physical Performance

Beyond Violence – Fighting, Aggression and My Study of Muay Thai

I took up Thai Kickboxing towards the beginning of 2016, after several years dedicated to the study of ballet. I had wanted more Muay Thai (the formal Thai name for the sport) ever since having tried the form for a few intense weeks in 2013. 

Early 2016 was a transitional time for me. I had just quit my full-time job for the educational company Socos, was exploring what would become the Responsive Conference, and looking for something to compliment my training in gymnastics and ballet. I joined “El Niño’s,” a fight gym in San Francisco owned by professional fighter Gilbert “El Niño” Melendez. Thai Kickboxing is an unusually effective form at the intersection between sport and practical self-defense. I had never thrown a punch and wanted to try.

As is often the case when I begin a new physical practice, I quickly began to take class 3 and then 5 days a week, and to practice ‘shadow boxing’ (sparing without a partner or bag) while on phone calls or in the shower. It was fascinating to see how much the intensity of the martial form complemented the rest of my life, and I found myself wanting more.

Muay Thai is called the “art of 8 limbs” because in addition to kicking and punching, the form uses elbows and knees. In traditional Thai fights, there is a great deal of ritual, followed by some of the most abrupt violence I have ever witnessed.

I have never been prone to violence. Growing up, my mother taught me to believe that violence should always be avoided. It wasn’t until my early 20s that I considered the difference between the concepts of aggression and violence. The practice of a deliberately violent sport was far outside my experience. In Muay Thai we train with heavily padded gloves and pads, and it is still scary to throw my weight into a punch at someone’s head. Above all, my study of the form was as an exploration of fear — the fear of getting hit and of hitting another (albeit, consenting) person.

I’m not proud of everything that came out of my time practicing Muay Thai; I experienced significant downsides. And through my daily study of controlled violence I discovered a level of confidence and courage that will serve me well for years to come.

From 4th grade until early high school, I was an outsider — the “sensitive” kid in a community that valued hyper-masculinity. I sported boy-band long blond hair in defiance of the buzz cuts of my peers. I was called “girl,” which was the biggest insult any of us could think of. I remember one day in 5th grade getting invited to play basketball, only to have the ball thrown at my face, breaking my nose.

Fortunately, I grew out of those years, and it took a decade to find an appreciation of team sports and even longer to begin practicing martial forms. That today I enjoy watching professional fighters compete would have shocked my 10- or 15-year old self.

I remember the first time I felt like a predator at El Niño’s. My fight gym has some world class fighters who practice with us. Merely hearing their exhalations when they strike is enough to make me want to take a step back, and the force of some of their explosive kicks against a bag makes me cringe.

In my first month, I was paired with a fellow — call him Miguel — who was in his first week. He was a few inches shorter and maybe 10 pounds lighter than me. We were taught a sequence of punches, kicks, elbows, and knees designed to help us practice a specific type of attack and defense. It wasn’t especially challenging to hold pads while Miguel executed this series against me. When it came my turn to attack, it was clear that he was tired and bit scared. Like a tiger sensing prey, my aggression spiked and I went after him more intensely. This aggressive drive continued to spiral, until I found myself thinking — through a fog of effort — “I could kill him!” While he was never in any danger, that fleeting thought — that I was capable of causing physical harm to another — rocked me.

I don’t walk around afraid anymore. When someone attempted to steal the tip jar at my café a month ago, I had no compunction about stopping him physically. I was also surprised at how angry I became.

In August 2016 I spent a week camping with my family in the Sierras. One evening we found ourselves in a heated discussion, and I got increasingly angry to the point that I literally punched a tree. My parents were shocked, in 30 years never having seen me angry to the point of violence. I was surprised, too, and somewhat bewildered by my own actions. My bloody knuckles were a useful reminder for the next several days.

This and similar violent outbursts could be attributed to the stress of my professional life — opening the café, running the Responsive Conference — but that would be false attribution. It was tied to the daily practice of violence and aggression. When I walked away from Muay Thai in September, I left behind the intensity of the practice and the anger.

I’m glad not be practicing Thai Kickboxing for the time being, and I’m extremely grateful for the range of experiences, practice facing fear, and understanding of violence I learned.

This post was originally published on Medium. If you’ve enjoyed this article, join my newsletter for a short weekly updates with articles, stories about building culture at Robin’s Cafe, and more.

Categories
Learning Physical Performance

I’m 29 and gave up everything to study ballet alongside high school students

I walk into the ballet studio at 3pm on a sunny Tuesday afternoon in San Francisco’s Castro District. I’m 29 and have been dancing ballet 6 or 7 days each week for more than a year. At this time of day, most of peers who work in technology in San Francisco, in science at University of California, San Francisco, or as doctors or lawyers, are looking forward to getting off of work soon and enjoying what’s left of the afternoon with friends. Instead, as I step through the ballet studio doors, I am enter a world filled with 14 year old dancers who have 10 years more ballet experience and better performance to show for it. I will be taking four ballet classes this evening, along side a group of students just finishing up high school.

My name is Robin, I’m 29 years old, and I’m new to ballet.

As you might guess, I did not grow up dancing. While I have always been physically active, on my family’s 4-acre farm and on the high school cross-country team, I didn’t start dancing until college. While attending Reed College, I discovered a love for movement and sports, and quickly started gymnastics, Capoeira, modern dance, and a variety of other forms. After college I attempted to train dance but the siren call of an adult life led me to explore other paths.

In the years since I’ve maintained a physical practice that has spanned gymnastics, Argentine tango, Brazilian jiu-jitsu and many other forms. But eventually I found myself drawn back to ballet, and especially the classical pas de deux and men’s technique that I couldn’t get outside of a very strenuous pre-professional ballet program.

In the last year I have made sacrifices to accommodate the schedule I now enjoy. I haven’t been able to enjoy the perks of a well-funded technology company or attend graduate school because those wouldn’t allow time for my practice of ballet. On the other hand, I did recently finish a 10-week contract performing with the San Francisco Opera’s Les Troyens.

My goal in sharing this story is to inspire others who have similar hesitations — at any age — to explore the things we believe we are too old to begin. You are never too old to start something new. I don’t have time right now to share the entire story. I have to get to class. But if my example can serve in any way, I hope that it can show that if you want something enough, you can get there.

This post was originally published on Medium. If you’ve enjoyed this post, join my newsletter for more on fear and physical learning.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Physical Performance Podcast

How Charles Best Created DonorsChoose.org – A New Kind of Non-Profit

Charles Best (@CharlesBest), is an American philanthropist and entrepreneur. He is the founder and CEO of DonorsChoose.org, a crowdfunding platform for K-12 teachers in US schools.

Charles launched the organization seventeen years ago out of a Bronx public high school where he was teaching. Since then, DonorsChoose.org has become one of Oprah Winfrey’s “ultimate favorite things” and was named as one of the “50 Most Innovative Companies in the World” by Fast Company. For three years, Fortune magazine has also named Charles one of its “40 under 40 hottest rising stars in business.”

I’ve gotten to know Charles over the last year, and every time we dig a bit deeper in conversation, I’m impressed with how systematic he has implemented so many Responsive practices.

In this interview, we dive into how Charles built one of the first crowd-funding non-profits, and hustled his way to prominence. He shares surprising findings about where and why donors give to classrooms and what he hopes to accomplish with DonorChoose.org in the long run.

I hope you enjoy this interview!

 

Show Notes
2:30 Stephen Colbert’s engagement with DonorsChoose.org
7:00 New ways of funding for nonprofits
9:00 Connecting with celebrities
13:00 Core model is the same after 17 years but always experimenting
17:30 Charles’ decision to become a teacher
20:30 Challenges for Charles
22:30 DonorsChoose use of data and transparency
26:30 Founding story of DonorsChoose
31:00 Finding personal connections for donors
34:45 Charles’ and Robin’s passions
37:45 Humility as an organizational core value
41:15 Experiments within the organization
45:00 Charles’ enthusiasm
49:45 Charles’ book suggestions:

Teach Like a Champion by Doug Lemov
Confederacy of Dunces by John Kennedy Toole

Learn More:
DonorsChoose.org

Could you do me a favor? If you’ve enjoyed the Robin Zander Show, I would really appreciate a review on iTunes. Reviews help others find the podcast, and more importantly let me know that you’re enjoying what you’re hearing. Thank you!

You can also keep track of the podcast, Robin’s Cafe, and all of my projects via the newsletter.

Sign up here!

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Creative Entrepreneurship Physical Performance Podcast Writing

Jenny Blake on Fear, Physical Routines and Learning to Pivot

 

Today’s guest is my friend Jenny Blake (@jenny_blake) an author, career and business strategist and speaker who helps people organize their brain, and build sustainable, dynamic careers. She is the author of PIVOT: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One and led a workshop at the 1st annual Responsive Conference in September 2016.

Jenny combines her love of technology with her superpower of simplifying complexity to help clients pivot their career or business.

Jenny is brilliant at building simple systems which delegate responsibility and automating decision making. We break down what that means early on in the interview! and she shares a lot of specific personal examples.

We discuss her regular yoga practice, and how a physical routine have helped her build a sustainable career.

Jenny and I also discuss fear, a theme embedded throughout her book PIVOT. We discuss where fear has impacted her business and her personal life, and how she thinks about tackling those.

Whether for an organization or person looking to PIVOT, or just for tactics for simplifying decision making – and life – I hope you enjoy this conversation with Jenny Blake!

Show Notes

02:30 Finding systems
06:15 Explaining systems and delegation
12:15 Jenny’s flow and new book PIVOT: The Only Move That Matters is Your Next One
14:00 Robin’s flow
17:15 Writing
20:00 Jenny’s trends for writing: Toolkit
22:30 Jenny’s family
25:30 Jenny’s desire for teaching and business as a child
28:00 Jenny’s physical practices
29:30 Fear
33:00 Jenny’s relationship
36:00 Fear in physical activities: muay thai and surfing
42:30 Personal responsibility:

Loving What Is by Byron Katie
The Seat of the Soul by Gary Zukav

44:30 Jenny’s coaching
47:30 What’s next for Jenny:

Building Pivot

50:30 What’s next for Robin:

2nd Annual Responsive Conference
Robin’s Cafe
Leadership Retreats

53:00 Find Jenny:

Pivotmethod.com
Toolkit – for authors
Pivot Podcast


If you enjoyed this episode with Jenny Blake, I think you will enjoy the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference this September 18-19th in New York City. 

 

Could you do me a favor? If you’ve enjoyed the Robin Zander Show, I would really appreciate a review on iTunes. Reviews help others find the podcast, and more importantly let me know that you’re enjoying what you’re hearing. Thank you!

You can also keep track of the podcast and all of my projects via my newsletter. Just visit RobinPZander.com and click Newsletter.

Categories
Entrepreneurship Physical Performance Podcast

Diversity, Inclusion, and Company Culture with Jennifer Brown

My guest today is Jennifer Brown (@jenniferbrown), author of the recently published book “Inclusion.”

Jennifer runs Jennifer Brown Consulting, a global consultancy that working with Fortune 500s to improve their diversity and inclusion initiatives.

Even more than her work in D&I though, I’ve been impressed with Jenn’s enthusiastic immersion in all of the challenges to do with the future work.

Jennifer has been a frequent attendee of many of my Responsive events, and presented at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference in 2016.

This is a wide ranging two-sided conversation about diversity, what makes an effective company, the role of the body at work, and much more.

I hope you enjoy this interview and discussion with my friend Jennifer Brown.

Show Notes
02:00 How Jennifer and Robin met
05:00 Openness without judgement
08:30 Inclusion without self-blame
10:00 Robin’s Responsive Unconference
12:30 Educational systems
14:00 Robin’s background in gymnastics and the circus
18:00 Physicality in life – Reference to Amy Cuddy
21:00 Innovative technology that tunes into bodies and self awareness
26:00 Robin’s Cafe
29:30 Leading with love
32:00 Robin’s work with kids with autism
34:30 Building responsive companies and holacracy
40:00 Risk, privilege, and emergent organizations
44:00 Diversity
48:30 The challenge of time when hiring
53:30 Inclusiveness and gender equality
59:00 Jennifer’s background as a singer
1:02:00 Transitioning into leadership development
1:05:20 Where to find Robin and Jennifer:
Jennifer’s book Inclusion: Diversity, The New Workplace & The Will To Change
Robin’s 2nd Annual Responsive Conference
The Robin Zander Show Podcast
Robin’s Website
Robin’s Cafe
Jennifer’s Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn
Jennifer’s Website
Jennifer Brown’s Podcast

 

If you enjoyed this episode with Jennifer Brown, I think you will enjoy the 2nd Annual Responsive Conference, which will be taking place this September in New York City.

Categories
Physical Performance Podcast

Chris Fussell: Former Navy SEAL shares how leaders build a Team of Teams

My guest today is former Navy SEAL and New York Times best-selling author Chris Fussell (@fussellchris).

Chris is the co-author of Team of Teams and was a speaker at the 1st Annual Responsive conference in September 2016. I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know Chris over the last year.

Alongside General Stan McChrystal, Chris runs the McChrystal Group – an organizational design consultancy that works with companies all over the world to do in industry what Stan, Chris and the US Military did during the Iraq War. In the book Teams of Teams Stanley McChrystal and Chris outline how they took the special operations branch of the US Military – a stereotypically bureaucratic organization – and transformed it into a adaptive, agile system.

Chris’s new book is called One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams. In it, he outlines the tactics and tools they used during the Iraq War, and are now teaching in larger organizations. In reading the book, I’ve enjoyed tactics like their multiple-thousand person daily video conference, and the emphasis placed on how to build an underlying narrative throughout an organization of diverse and distributed teams.

In this interview, Chris and I also dig deep into what it meant for him to be a Navy SEAL, his upbringing and family, how he and his wife maintained contacted their relationship while he was deployed overseas, and how he thinks of an emphasis on what he calls “physical readiness” happening in cycles throughout life. Chris and I went pretty personally into a lot of aspects of his life in the service that I’ve always wanted to ask about.

Over the time I’ve known Chris, I’ve been really impressed. He’s unflappable, but also humble. He presents solutions to some of the most complex problems facing organizations today, but also talks candidly about challenge and what is need for transformation – whether a single person changing their mindset, or an entire organization changing their operating system.

I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did. Here is… Chris Fussell.

Show Notes

3:30 Team of Teams and the military
8:30 Navy SEALs
11:30 Chris’s upbringing and training
14:30 Going through BUD/S
16:30 Early experiences as a SEALs
19:30 Being humble and good at listening
26:00 Chris’s remote relationship
33:15 Physical practice
39:30 Outlets
42:30 Closing down emotion
46:30 Transition back to family life
50:00 One Mission
57:30 Operations and Intelligence Forums

Books

Team of Teams: New Rules of Engagement for a Complex World
One Mission: How Leaders Build a Team of Teams

For more from Chris

If you enjoyed this interview with Chris Fussell, you might enjoy his presentation at the 1st Annual Responsive Conference. Sign up for the Responsive Conference newsletter here.

Categories
Learning Physical Performance

Physical Culture with Cody Fielding

Cody1.1

D. Cody Fielding is a professional coach who has worked in the fields of fitness, wellness, and performance enhancement for more than 20 years. I met Cody in 2008, shortly after moving to San Francisco, just as I began my own career as a personal trainer, and he had a profound impact on my own thinking about movement and the body.

We conducted this interview in Cody’s private studio in the Mission District of San Francisco. Cody’s backgrounds includes the study and practice of biomechanics, posture, nutrition, evolutionary biology, psychology, and physics. He has worked with and studied the works of everyone from Joseph Pilates, Moshe Feldenkrais, Scott Sonnon, Mel Siff, and many others.

I’ve been consistently impressed with Cody’s diligence and examination of how to improve performance, but also the subtler elements that make a peak performer. Once, over coffee, Cody interviewed me with a quality of complete focus that contributed to my own desire to learn to conduct interviews. Similarly, over the course of one memorable hour Cody taught me how to throw a football, which is something I had never done previously. His thoughtfulness and thoroughness made learning to throw a football effortless, and for the first time, fun.

Cody and I delve pretty deep into what he calls “physical culture,” which is to say the study and practice of movement and the human body. I have learned an enormous amount about performance, movement, and the body from Cody and I hope you enjoy this interview.

 

Categories
Learning Physical Performance

The Life of a Circus Artist and the Art of Hand Balancing with Cory Tabino

Much of what I know about hand balancing I learned from today’s guest – professional acrobat Cory Tabino. To celebrate I’ve re-released my book How To Do A Handstand and just this week I am giving it away for free. Visit fearlesshandstands.com for your own free copy.

Now, onwards with the Show!

I’m thrilled to share today’s guest – Cory Tabino – who is a professional circus performer and acrobat. Cory was my first hand balancing instructor and paved the way for much of my performance career since.

Cory has been a professional circus artist for more than 20 years, having done performances ranging from sideshow to Cirque du Soleil. He is full of hilarious stories about the life of an acrobat, and he shares them throughout the show.

Back alley surgeries?
Stage fright?
Training with Marines?

This episode has it all!

Categories
Physical Performance Podcast

Co-Founding AcroYoga, How to Create a Global Movement, and the Courage to Start Over with Jenny Sauer-Klein

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Jenny Sauer-Klein has accomplished something few ever do. She co-founded and created a global movement, AcroYoga, which has millions of practitioners around the world.

What is even more impressive is that Jenny also has the humility and courage to have build AcroYoga and then let it go. After 10 years of traveling and teaching, she has now embarked on her next program, Play On Purpose, through which Jenny helps rapid-growth companies integrate new talent quickly and create the trust and connection necessary for creativity to thrive.

Categories
Physical Performance

Humanities Curriculum on the National Stage (or How I Spend My Spare Time at the Opera)

My radio silence since early May is due to my recent work with the San Francisco Opera’s production of Les Troyens which opens this Sunday, June 7th. To give a sneak preview of what I’ve been working on, here is a video from the Royal Opera House’s production of this five-hour long masterpiece:

Les Troyens, written by Hector Berlioz in 1856, is based on Virgil’s epic poem the Aeneid. For me this is a long sought victory: the performance of my undergraduate Humanities curriculum on the national stage!

There are six of us acrobats onstage throughout the show: as Trojan and then Greek soldiers, builders of Carthage, hunters, and more. The entire opera is a huge endeavor with 12 dancers, 90+ members of the choir, children, and a stunning array of principals. The set alone weighs 32 tons.

If you are able to visit San Francisco in the month of June Les Troyens at the San Francisco Opera is a once in a lifetime experience.

Categories
Learning Physical Performance

“Unstuck” E-book Available for FREE Today!

I’m thrilled to announce the FREE release of my second ebook today: Unstuck. Check it out on Amazon!

I’ve been hard at work on this project for many months, and in many ways it is actually the work of a decade. In Unstuck I describe the trajectory of my last ten years of physical activity and exploration, breaking down specific tools I’ve cultivated in a wide variety of sports and physical activities.

Unstuck_small

 

Here’s a condensed version of my History of a Compulsion
1998 – I began as a runner by attempting and failing to keep up with family marathons
2000 – Competed in my first cross-country race
2002 – Achieved Varsity Cross-Country status, high status among runners but not in high school.
2003 – Began juggling, which did not elevate my social status but did introduce me to the world of circus arts

Gymnastics

November 2003 – Walked off the cross-country team at my peak, began rock climbing, fencing, enrolled in dance classes, discovered gymnastics
November 2008 – Landed on my head on a trampoline, thereby ending my aspirations of a career with Cirque Du Soleil
November 2012 – Hesitantly reentered a gymnastic gym
2013 – Mastered my gymnastics giant, front and back flips, handstands, and more

Blues Dancing

2011 – Hesitantly walked into my first Blues dance venue
2012 – Co-founded Fuse, a social dance performance company
2013 – Took multiple trips to Buenos Aires, Argentina to study tango

Martial Arts

1995-1998 – Repeatedly bullied in middle school
1999 – Helpless in the face of a pit bull attacking me and my dog Sandy
April 2013 – Attempted to learn 12 martial arts in 1 week
2013 – Continued to study and compete in Muay Thai, and Brazilian jiu-jitsu, despite leaving sessions shaking with fear and adrenaline
2014 – Wrestled with a pit bull, fearlessly

2014 and Beyond

December 2013 – Took my first ballet class since 2009
January 2014 – Abandoned gymnastics, jiu-jitsu, Blues dance, and all the rest in favor of classical ballet
August 2014 – Joined a pre-professional ballet training program 30 hours/week
April 2015 – Contracted to perform with the San Francisco Opera

Categories
Learning Physical Performance

How to Do a Handstand List of Resources

This week continues to be a wild ride! On Monday, I published my first book, “How To Do A Handstand” which hit the #1 Fitness Ebook on Amazon! In case you missed the excitement, here’s the description and cover photo. Below, you will find a ton of additional resources, including a Slideshare I created to teach handstands, and 36 short videos which detail all of the incremental steps. You can download the book for FREE on Amazon through Friday.

Handstand Ebook Cover

Step-by-Step Guide to Mastering Handstands in 20 Days

Handstands are a common exercise that are almost never learned correctly. Balancing upside down is something most people tried as children, but which adults have long since given up on. When handstands are attempted by adults they are done so in just one way: push up against a wall and hope for the best. Handstands need not be learned through this method of repeated failure.

Why Everyone Fails

Those who do attempt to learn handstands as an adult do so through throwing themselves up and hoping that they’ll be able to manage to balance. The result is discouragement, embarrassment, and pain. No one has been taught the simple steps necessary to learn to balance, or the mental and physical impediments they will encounter along the way.

In How To Learn A Handstand Robin teaches all of the steps necessary to go from novice to expert in 20 days, and shares the 3 reasons most people never master a fearless handstand.

How To Learn A Handstand includes a day-by-day breakdown for learning how to balance a handstand in 20 days. The book includes 36 videos, 50+ images and a worksheet which details every step.

Would You Like To Know More?

You don’t have to fail repeatedly in order to eventually succeed. Follow this 20-day plan and make gradual progress to master your own fearless handstand. You will come away with the concrete knowledge of how to progress from where you are to the next level, overcome any fear you have of being upside down, and have fun! Download now, and begin to practice your own fearless handstands.

 

Slideshare presentation on several of the most important topics covered in the book.

The “How To Do A Handstand” YouTube Playlist.

Categories
Physical Performance

How To Do A Handstand Available Free On Amazon, Including Bonus Give-Away

The day is here! My e-book is live and FREE on Amazon. Find it at http://www.fearlesshandstands.com. To celebrate the release of my first book I am offering something special, in addition.

Handstand Ebook Cover

The Rules

Everyone who downloads “How To Do A Handstand” TODAY (Monday, September 22, 2014) and sends proof that they have done so, will get 15 minutes FREE in-person or video coaching with me in the next month.

Simply download the ebook, take an image of the confirmation page, and attach that image in an email to [email protected]

Small Request

It would mean the world to me if you would leave a short review of the book on Amazon! Go to http://www.fearlesshandstands.com, click “reviews,” and then “write a review.”

Categories
Physical Performance

36 Steps To Mastering A Fearless Handstand [Video]

Taking small steps towards the ultimate goal is the fastest way to progress in any new skill. Unfortunately, handstands are almost never taught according to this dictum. Especially with a physical feat as unusual as standing or walking on your hands, every student and most teachers want the outcome, the end result of balancing upside down, very quickly. It is human nature to see a goal and attempt to accomplish that outcome now. But in the case of handstands, this impedes our progress.

Consider how infants learn to walk. They take innumerable incremental steps, while maintaining a sweet curiosity that keeps them from becoming overwhelmed. We’ll explore the value of curiosity later (it is an important skill), but for now know that if you fail repeatedly and then get frustrated, this actually keeps you from quickly achieving your ultimate goal. Instead we’re going to look at all of the incremental steps that make up learning handstands, just like an infant learns to scoot, crawl, and cruise before walking freely on her own. Have patience, and follow the steps. I promise that if you do, you’ll learn your fearless handstands very quickly!

As part of my new book “How To Do A Handstand: Learn To Balance a Fearless Handstand in 20 Days or Less” I have created 36 short videos, which teach all of the incremental steps necessary to learn handstands.

You can watch the complete Handstand playlist here:

Some of my favorite videos include, how to make a game of moving around on all fours. Everyone takes handstands seriously, instead of ‘playing’ and enjoying being upside down. Kids learn by having fun. We can, too:

Handstands are often practiced up against a wall. There are (at least) two different ways of using a wall to practice – facing away from the wall…

And facing towards the wall, which is more representative of how it feels to do a handstand without the wall for support.

Facing towards the wall in a handstand is more complicated maneuver. It is possible to carthwheel into this variety of handstand…

Or, perhaps easier, is to walk the body up the wall.

Posture is also essential to learning a safe and fearless handstand. Fortunately, handstand posture is very similar to standing posture, and includes 2 primary elements.

The pelvis, and what I call the “bottom-back” maneuver:

And the fingers, which is how to make subtle adjustments in handstands:

If you like these incremental steps to learning handstands, check out my new book at http://www.fearlesshandstands.com

Categories
Physical Performance

“How To Do A Handstand” E-Book Comes Out On September 22, 2014

Most people believe themselves incapable of doing handstands, and even those who can balance invariably learned in the worst possible way. Traditionally, students are taught to throw themselves against a wall and hope that they don’t fall over. The result is that almost everyone gives up in frustration, and those who don’t get injured.

Handstands need not be learned through iterated failure. It was for this reason that I’ve written “How To Do A Handstand: Learn To Balance A Fearless Handstand in 20 Days or Less.”

Handstand Ebook Cover

I didn’t grow up in the circus, and took my first gymnastics class at 18. I began learning handstands, just like everyone else, through trial-by-failure. But, eventually, I realized that repeated failure isn’t the most effective technique for learning, and broke handstands down into their components parts. I realized how much fear of being upside down was holding me back, and took steps to alleviate that, as well. I’ve created a simple process for learning handstands without the usual struggles and pain.

“How To Do A Handstand” comes out on Amazon on Monday, September 22, 2014 and I couldn’t be more excited! The book includes more than 50 instructional images and videos. I’ll be linking to several related resources and guides over the coming weeks. And, best of all, the book will be FREE for the first five days of release. Stay tuned…

Categories
Physical Performance

What Jiu-Jitsu Has Taught Me About Success and Failure

When I started in the martial arts I went a bit extreme and tried more than a dozen forms in under a week. After that wild skirmish, I came away practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu (BJJ). This is a violent sporting form – which means it is designed to submit without incapacitating the opponent permanently.

The Value of Attention

Since I first started Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu I have learned a lot about attention. It isn’t enough to want to win, or even to have perfect technique. It is important to pay attention to what you are doing, too. I have noticed three categories into which practitioners fall, depending on their experience: adrenaline-fueled fight-or-flight novices, especially aggressive intermediate practitioners and the very advanced practitioners, who are almost always very calm, collected and intentional. I have heard it said that “crazy” wins every time, and it is my experience that when I feel like I am fighting for my life I will do so twice as hard, and often overcome by sheer force of energy more advanced opponents. But against the most advanced, who are invariably calm in the face of my high-energy, I don’t stand a chance. This is due to the amount of attention that these most advanced students bring to bear on a situation: they are better at seeing what is actually in front of them, not put off just by high energy assaults.

brazilian jiu jitsu
Photo: Michael Holler

The value of attention has extended well beyond the martial arts into many other areas of my life. Since noticing how quickly I failed against the advanced opponents, I have begun to be more aware of similar fight-or-flight instincts that I have outside the sparing arena. By observing my patterns in jiu-jitsu I have become aware of how I engage similarly in the rest of my life. To give just one example, I recently went in to a job interview that I very much wanted. As I entered the door I felt a surge of adrenaline and experienced an almost hallucinatory experience of being outside my body. I recognized the amount of adrenaline I was experiencing and considered the consequences of such behavior in jiu-jitsu. Invariably, the novice will not see the next attack coming and lose. By realizing what I was experiencing in that moment, I took a couple of deep breathes, reconnected with my enthusiasm for being at the job interview and proceeded more calmly.

Awareness has the power to dramatically improve our result, on and off the mat. Practice being aware of your habits in one environment, and they will transfer elsewhere in your life.

Categories
Physical Performance Practical Philosophy

Always Be Cross-Training – How Multiple Disciplines Will Help You Succeed

I am always cross-training. I’ve just returned taking letters to the post-office, meaning that I ran there and ran back. I could have used Shyp or driven to the Post Office but it took less time to run, and besides, I was cross-training.

I don’t mean cross-training in just the traditional sense. While I do find it valuable to run in addition to studying ballet, I was actually doing a lot more. If we could have fMRIs while I was running we would have seen a lot more activity than from just my running circuits. I was training. Specifically, I was training  jeté en tournant.

I cannot actually do jetés nearly to that degree, but I was mentally rehearsing even while running. A little like the scene in Billy Eliot where he is leaping down the street, whatever it is I am doing, I am always practicing.

There are always more obstacles, bigger challenges. You’re always fighting uphill. Get used to it and train accordingly.

The Obstacle is the Way by Ryan Holiday

There is always going to be someone more talented than me. So I practice getting used to it, and train accordingly. I didn’t start dancing ballet at 8 years old like most professional dancers, or drop out of college to work for entrepreneurial titans like marketer Ryan Holiday. Consequently, to make up the time, I think critically and hustle.

Think Critically

Cross-training doesn’t just mean doing an activity that complements a primary purpose, like running might complement ballet. It also means thinking hard about specific directions you’d like to go. Though I’ve flirted with the idea of starting a new company, I haven’t done so because I’m not convinced that doing so is the best use of my time, talent and resources. Instead, I’ve begun to advise several other companies, simultaneously learning, cross-training a skill-set applicable for my own business, and helping out. All for a few hours a week.

As a result of a talk I gave at Design For Dance, I’ve begun to explore Design Thinking. Instead of spending $40,000 and two years in school, I’ve begun to get acquainted with the domain by readings – a lot! I might found another company company in the future and I might go back to school in design. Right now, I’m thinking about what I’m interested in and looking for the connections across disciplines. In other words, cross-training.

Categories
Physical Performance

Ah-Ha Moments and Flash-Bulb Memories

Where were you when you first heard about the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks?
What were you doing when you learned about John F. Kennedy’s assassination?

Research psychology has identified what are called flash-bulb memories, memories formed in moments of extremely strong emotion that remain vivid long after. What’s especially interesting about flash-bulb moments is that while an individual will insist as to the accuracy of the memories, the memories are often very inaccurate. The reasons for the formation of flashbulb memories are covered on Wikipedia and the reasons behind this inaccuracy disparity I’ll leave as an exercise for the reader. What I’m going to explore today is the usefulness – regardless of accuracy – of this sort of memory-formation for the enhancement of physical and metal performance.

Your memories of Sept. 11, 2001 are probably inaccurate.

Though people remember flash-bulb memories with a high degree of clarity, the accuracy of those memories are usually flawed. I’m curious to explore whether, flawed or not, we can use those memories to jump-start the learning process to improve performance.

Ah-Ha Moment

Today, during a private ballet lesson I had an ah-ha moment. It occurred in the deepest part of my plié, when my teacher/coach corrected a minor misalignment of my pelvis and thighs. All of a sudden the position made much more sense, was profoundly more functional, and required less effort. Had I gotten nothing else out of the 45 minute lesson, that moment of clarity would have been sufficient. The reason being: if I can retain and use that new-found clarity, or even just a part of it, my ballet and physical functioning in general will be vastly improved.

Moments of Clarity

I aim to have a moment of clarity like this within any given training interval – be it language learning, my work with children, or ballet. But I’ve also seen – time and again – that those moments may be fleeting or have a long-lasting impact. What creates this difference? What can we do to ensure that such profound, positive experiences have a lasting impact on productivity and performance?

Visualize

Since that moment in ballet I’ve repeatedly visualized doing the exact movement with my new-found alignment. I haven’t attempted the movement in action yet, but the act of briefly visualizing helps me retain the difference and change.

Pause and Reflect

I have also learned to take a moment just after such profound shifts in my understanding to pause and reflect on the lesson learned. I’ve found that teachers – excited for a student’s quick response to direction – will enthusiastically continue on without considering what might be the most useful to solidify the learning for their pupil. By taking just 5 seconds to reflect on changes, a student is better able to internalize the physical feeling of change.

Stop There

Sometime when a light goes off and I ascend to a new level of understanding I stop the lesson there. I share our cultural myth that more time spent practicing is usually better. If I’m taking a private lesson from an instructor it should last for an hour, right? Certainly a 15-minute lesson is insufficient! But what if there is just one flash-bulb moment during a learning interval or lesson? Might it not be more efficient to end on that extremely positive note, rather than run the risk that the student will continue, and never return to that peak of high performance. Shouldn’t we end well?

I don’t know for sure that ah-ha moments in the learning process are formed similarly to flash-bulb memories. But just as flash-bulb memories have a profound emotion tied to an experience, we do experience profound moments within the learning process and our memories are form accordingly. If the goal is to improve performance, emphasizing memories of those peak performance ah-ha moments is an extremely efficient addition to the learning process.

Categories
Physical Performance

Pick Your Music Carefully: Your Performance Depends On It

Over the last 6 months of daily training I’ve changed a lot of little daily habits. This month I made one new change that surpasses all of my other experiments. The new addition? Music.

Play Music that Triggers a Performance Mindset  (Photo: Fe Llya)

Simple things like arriving to my ballet class 15 minutes early to mentally prepare have made a huge difference in my ability to perform at a high level. Now that I have seen the impact of small changes, I’ve begun looking elsewhere for practices that will expedite efficiency in other aspects of my life. Here are a few that I’ve experimented with:

  • How I get out of bed in the morning
  • First activity upon rising
  • Last thing I do before sleep
  • Exact times I eat meals
  • Drawing daily
  • Mindfulness Meditation

Earlier this month, by happenstance, I played one song on repeat for my 10 minutes drive to the dance studio, and as I walk from my car. The result was immediate. By hearing the same, energizing song over and over I arrived at ballet ready to perform. I had one of my best ballet classes ever. After this singular experience, I questioned what made it so impactful. Here’s the song that I originally used to trigger my performance:

Throughout my experimentations, I have been giving a lot of thought to mindset: the most useful mindset for parents with kids with special needs, an athlete about the start performing, or the CEO of a company in the midst of a heated meeting. Today I’ll be detailing how I’ve begun using music to effectively trigger a performance-ready mindset.

Your Mindset Matters

A few words about mindset: it matters! When I am entering ballet or my office, if I’m in any way distracted or distraught it can take me minutes to acclimatize to the new environment. In professional dance those minutes can mean the difference between being warm and lose, and getting injured. In business that can mean the difference between closing a sale, and going bankrupt. I have discussed the mindset necessary to perform well but I’ll spend a moment specifically on the idea of presence.

Categories
Physical Performance

Attached to the Outcome Means You’re Going to Fail

I’ve failed a lot in the last year. I have failed to:

  • Remain calm in the face of losing $10,000
  • Publish a book
  • Not use the word “umm” in a presentation at Stanford University
  • Not break a bone
  • the list goes on

As I’ve reviewed these and many other example it is interesting to see that there is one primary cause behind all failures: the outcome. When we are fixated on a predetermined outcome we’re likely to fail. As always, I’m going to use my current physical study (ballet) as exemplar of this concept, but this principle applies far and wide beyond the relatively narrow scope of motor learning.

First though, I’ll introduce my current nemesis, the pirouette:

Attached to an Outcome? Doomed to Fail.

In my daily ballet class there is a one student exemplifies fixation on an outcome. Every time she goes for a pirouette, she attempts a triple. There are many people in my class who can do triple pirouettes with ease, but this woman can’t. She can barely complete a double. And she is so fixated on getting a triple that she has stopped improving. You don’t need to understand the pirouettes for this process to sound familiar. We have all wanted an outcome different than our current reality so much that we tried to deny the current state of things. I see this denial among special needs parents, with athletes, and in companies who want a different reality. And I certainly recognize it in myself. It is understandable, and I’m excited to say that there are new opportunities available.
If there is one pivotal difference that I see between children who overcome their setbacks, athletes who make quick progress in fitness, or companies that tackle their challenges, it is mindset. Mindset is so rudimentary that most everyone’s reaction is “of course!” but when I coach or mentor, this is the single area where I see the greatest (and easiest!) lasting difference.

Categories
Dance Physical Performance

When Practice Makes You Worse

I was on the dance floor, having repeated the steps half a hundred times. The beautiful woman opposite me was still smiling, but it wasn’t just my imagination: the corners of her mouth had started to turn up into a sneer. The teacher to my side, said “No, like this!” and demonstrated one more time. It was a simple dance movement, a Swing dance step that thousands of people know by heart. I tried, and failed – again. I just couldn’t get it.

I went to bathroom to splash some water on my face. I had come out to try a new type of dance as a fun experiment, and here I was stressed out and making zero progress.

Robin-dance
As I stood facing the mirror, I thought for a moment about practice. I imagined all the times I had failed to learn to flip. And those times attempting the gymnastics giants when I had fallen on my head. The frustration of doing tango poorly in Argentina or of feeling out of place practicing Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu. In that moment, something gelled and I realized that most of what we know about practice is wrong.

Here are some of the ways that my practice was actually making me worse:

  • Less variation over time
  • Rote practice resulted in less retention
  • So much feedback hurt performance
  • Creativity was dampened
  • Lack of community
  • Frustration
Categories
Physical Performance

I “Should Have” – What I Learned In 6 Days Not Working on a Caribbean Beach

We all have “should haves.”  Any time we want something we repeatedly tell ourselves ways that we “should have” done better. I am recently home from 6 days in the Caribbean and I “should have” practiced more ballet.  In this post I’m going to explore some of the intentional and unintentional positive consequences of taking time off, and how unrelated skills can transfer to a primary focus.

The view from my patio

The Value of Rest

Less than a day home and I am reflecting on how I might have used my time abroad better. However, I’m also examining how what I did will supplement my training. Like most who work hard in their domain I am not great at taking time off. While the idea of relaxing with a mojito on a white sandy beach might sound like fun, I spent much of my first day in Mexico fretting that I wasn’t practicing ballet or building my business. I found several different ways around this dilemma, which I’ll detail.

Why It Is Hard to Turn Off

Before going into the reasons, though, let’s look at some of why it is hard to take time off. I’ll start with a fitness metaphor. I believe (and scientific studies confirm) that training different parts of the body on different days is valuable, and that even a rest day is useful every week or so. Why then was it hardy to let go of work on the beach? I believe rest is useful in fitness, but why not then in another? As soon as I let go of my self-blame over not working I was able to ask that question without judgement and realized I derive some satisfaction from the feeling of productivity, even if that internal worry concern is just the circling of a treadmill. What this meant is that I while I can intellectually rationalize the value of rest, when it comes to resting on the beach I didn’t actually believe that. A short series of questions enabled me to apply what I believe about variation and rest days in exercise to resting on the Caribbean. Here are a couple of specific stratifies for enforcing rest:

Categories
Physical Performance

Becoming a Ballet Dancer – How I Study Ballet 7 Days A Week

I have been taking ballet class every single day for more than three months. This is an accomplishment the lack of which I often hear people bemoan in their exercise routines: they want to do more, but don’t. I’ve been there, too – wanting more exercise than I actually do. How, then, have I managed this seemingly heroic feat of fitness proficiency?

I also record regular videos of my practice at GiveIt100.com
I also record regular videos of my practice at GiveIt100.com

My answer is simple: I haven’t. It hasn’t felt like a challenge. It is no longer an insurmountable task for me to try to accomplishing a regular fitness schedule. It has not been a challenge. I see this also in my personal training clients – going to the gym and working out daily strikes many people as an impossible feat, but when they are actually exercising regularly it feels easy. What changed?

Pleasure in Movement

The biggest difference I see between people who exercise regularly and those who don’t is the pleasure in movement. This by itself won’t make the exercise habit, but the lack of pleasure will probably break it. If you haven’t found a form of movement or exercise that you enjoy, yet keep looking. I went through a dozen martial arts before find some that I wanted to study. I also have some thoughts on community, that shape the kinds of training I do.

Start small

Using the TinyHabits.com model, I made one small change at a time. Since I was already somewhat familiar with ballet, this meant taking one ballet class. When I found that I liked that, I scheduled one more. I had planned to just take one a week for three months. I quickly moved to 2 a week, 5 a week and now take between 7 and 9 classes each week. It is hard to believe at first, but when we start with (and celebrate) small changes, they quickly grow bigger and then can go exponential.

Begin With Yes

The next biggest thing is that I never ask myself “would I like to go to ballet.” Sometime if I’m injured or ill or out of town for work, I am not able to make a class. But when I’m home I never “Would I like to go” because sometimes the answer to that question is “No, I do not want to take ballet today. I do not want to get out of bed!” Instead, the tacit assumption I hold is “I’m going to ballet.” Or even: “I am going to ballet.” Starting from this standpoint it is much easier to actually get to class.

Categories
Physical Performance

The Last Three Movements

I recently listened to an interview of Josh Waitzkin by Tim Ferriss. Josh Waitzkin is the subject of the book and movie Searching for Bobby Fischer and the author of The Art of Learning, an elegant account of the journey from novice to peak performer. The podcast is action-packed, but here is one specific take-away that I have started applying, and that anyone can use.

Josh talks about Billy Kidd, former Olympic Gold Medal downhill skier. Billy Kidd once asked Josh: “What are the three most important movements in any ski run?” Josh explains that the most important are the last three movements because they shape the muscle memory that the skier remembers as he makes his way back up the mountain.

The last moments of any physical activity are so easy to do sloppily. Many times at the end of a ski run I have found myself finishing with shoddy, ill-considered movements. And yet that poor performance at the end does have a lasting impact. If the last movements are sloppy, we continue to practice sloppily. However, if we execute with fineness, we are much more likely to maintain that same pattern thereafter.

I remember as a cross-country runner in high school running races with no chance of being overtaken or overtaking the next runner. It was tempting to stumble across the finish line, to not give the last 100 yards my all. Over time I learned that the internal reward for finishing at my very best shaped  my whole experience of the race. I found myself wanting someone to compete against, or short of that creating an imaginary runner to struggle against. By creating additional pressure at the end of the race I encouraged myself to try up until the very end and came away feeling better about the whole experience.

As I put together Josh’s account and my experience running I remember a cognitive bias know as the Peak-End Rule. It turns out we do not evaluate past experiences based on anything sensible like an average of an overall experience. Instead, as a heuristic, we remember a combination of the peak experience and the very last moments. Take, for example, an experimental subject who is subjected to painfully cold ice water for 5 minutes. If the ice water is kept at an extremely uncomfortable temperature for exactly 5 minutes, the subject will report the experience as more negative than if they experience the same water for 5 minutes plus 1 additional minute at only a slightly less agonizingly uncomfortable temperature. That is to say, someone who experiences 6 minutes of discomfort, where the last moment is slightly improved will report a better overall experience than someone who just experiences 5 minutes of discomfort! This is a wild bias but explains Joss’s theory of physical performance – that the last three movements matter a great deal.

In recent months I have been practicing ballet every day. Ballet classes are designed to end with the most dynamic movements – my favorite. But now more than ever I will strive to make those last three movements my most precise of all.

Categories
Physical Performance

Finding Flow – How I Quadrupled My Writing Output In A Day

In line with my goal to write more regularly this month I have been making a red X on my calendar for every day that I write at least 500 words. Last week I made a strange and wonderful discovery that more than quadrupled my writing output. I usually struggle to put pen to paper (or keys to keyboard), but last week, in between bouts of hands-on coaching with a little boy, I found myself completely immersed in my writing, coming away with as many of 4000 words in an hour, when I normally average about 500. What’s more, the content is clear, concise and insightful. (I’ll be posting it everyday on the Move Autism blog for those interested.)

I draw a  red X when I write at least 500 words that day. Hat tip to Nathan Barry for the idea!

It just so happened that as I was working so prodigiously I was also spending a lot of time commuting, which meant time to catch up on podcasts. Somewhere during the week I listened through an interview of Steve Kotler on the James Altucher Show.

Steve Kotler is among the word’s foremost experts on Flow, having himself recovered from lime disease through enter flow states while surfing. For background, flow is a term in psychology that describes a heightened state of performance, accompanied by energy and complete immersion. As I understand it (and please comment if I have anything incorrect!) flow is characterized by the release of seven different neurochemicals, of which dopamine is just one. Simultaneous, and perhaps because of this release, the brain exhibits alpha-theta waves and is termed to be in a “flow state.”

In the podcast interview and in his book The Rise of Superman: Decoding the Science of Ultimate Human Performance Kotler explores the fascinating domain of optimized performance, which is what I experienced in my own humble way during my more-than-quadrupled daily writing output.

I’ll delve more into the background and science of flow another time. For now, I’m more interested in making these big idea applicable to all of our daily lives.

First off, these are some of the aspects that I find appealing about the various physical activities I study (including gymnastics, handstands, riding motorcycles, jiujitsu, muay thai, ballet, tango, and others):

  • Challenging, but not impossible.
  • There is no perfect point at which the art is “done.” Performance can always been improved.
  • The stakes are high. Not always life threatening, but high.

I am currently training ballet, which fulfills all of these characteristics.

Stakes

While there is nothing that I do daily in my practice of ballet that is physically life-threatening, I have intense self-judgement around many different aspects of the dance form. One of the reasons I continue to training is to go through the process of overcoming those fears. (I also simply love to dance!)

Challenging

The scope of the art form, especially when I am dancing alongside dancers from the world-renowned San Francisco Ballet, is not easy to ignore. I have a lot of experience in training dance, but did not begin my training until 19 years old and haven’t practiced regularly over the last decade. I am dancing alongside people who have trained every day of their lives for over 30 years and are among the 0.01% best in the world.

 Performance Can Always Be Improved

Ballet can always be done better. It can more easily measured by what can be improved, than by an objective scale.

These three aspects are essential elements to entering a flow state. Challenge, increasing complexity, and high stakes are essential to triggering the release of neuro-chemical cocktail and entering “flow”.

Slight Variations

Kotler also discusses the amount of challenge required within a given activity. It is not effective to demand a many-fold improvement over what is currently possible. As I’ve discussed before, had I tried to do a gymnastics giant on my first try I would have landed, literally, on my head. For those of us who are over-achievers, it might actually be best to try for less rapid growth because the most successful range of challenge is about 4% increase on what is already possible. If I can do handstands for example, then perhaps a next step might be to do a handstand on a horizontal bar just a foot off the floor?

Given my current levels of ballet dancing, it is pointless to aim to keep up with a dancer from the San Francisco Ballet. Instead, I am identifying my own areas of improvement and working on those.

Application Everywhere

The elements I’ve discussed so far also fit align with how I coach children with special needs. The little boy I was working with last week had periods of stillness amidst very rapid and somewhat uncontrolled running around the room. While I did not try to forcibly change his behavior, I did encourage him towards stillness and more focused attention. Expecting him to adhere to our own capacities for attention just aren’t realistic. Instead, the question I asked myself was: “What are his next steps for learning to concentrate?”.

During my work with children I often enter a state of intense focus, where I am not substantially aware of what’s going on around me. Many of my software developer friends speak of entering this level of concentration when solving an exciting problem. This concentration isn’t necessarily anything more than what we all feel when reading a really good book. (But as an aside, that concentrated attention focused on a child almost always results in the child increasingly interested in me and our activities. If you want someone to pay attention, given them your concentrated attention and see what happens.)

Last week, when I came out of those periods of intense focus with the little boy, I drove to a local coffee shop and settled down at my computer. When I looked at the clock again I found that I had written many thousands of words, completely lost track of time, and had little memory for anything other than my writing. I don’t know for sure that this state of enhanced performance is the same as that experienced by TRX bikers flying down mountains, but it was a different kind of attention that I have ever experienced before while writing.

I’ll be continuing to pay close attention to my behavioral patterns around physical and creative practice in the near future. My goal is to regularly duplicate last week’s performance!

Do you have experiences of flow to share? Share your stories in the comments!

Categories
Physical Performance

Beginning Ballet

I vividly remember the first time I stepped foot into a ballet studio. I was 18, a freshman in college, and so excited to have discovered a new world of dance. I was wearing tight corduroy pants that day and coming in off of my psychology 101 class. Curious, excited and not at all knowing what to expect I stepped into the ballet studio.

Now, I wonder how I ever went back after that first day. Shamefaced and humiliated to find that I was the only guy in a class full of beautiful women, doing movement that I had not known previous was possible for the human body to do. And I was trying to “dance” in corduroy, where my teacher and all of the students in the class were wearing tights.

And yet, I did go back. Something about that first class and my early exposure caught my imagination. The pointe shoes, the elongated legs, the fluidity of the students taking their arms in elegant circles. The students’ limbs seemed almost to reach beyond the boundaries of the room.

Pointe shoes (Photo: Kryziz Bonny)

I continued taking class all of the rest of that year and in fits and starts through the rest of college. Rarely did I step away from the barre, as ballet offered at Reed College was just a twice-weekly barre class – no practice working off the barre, no center work, and no leaps. And yet even that little bit was enough to instill in me an appreciation of ballet that has lasted more than ten years, and that will, I don’t doubt, last the rest of my life.

Categories
Physical Performance

Do Less, Move Better & Learn More

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

2005 8
Robin on a German Wheel cerca 2005

This is relevant because it 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.

If I am standing up my brain has to process 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, the shirt I’m wearing on my arms, on my chest, on my back, on my belly. Not to mention that I am standing! 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. Our brains are constantly organizing and making sense out of all of these inputs–that is a lot of work!

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 out of time to this music. Simultaneously, your right thigh with your left hand. Blink your eyes open and closed very quickly. And now finally add in reciting aloud your 13 times tables.  Hard to do, right? In 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. It easier to do? To do something that is challenging or to learn something that is new it is much easier to decrease the demand we place on the brain. In other words, when you are trying to learn something new, try less hard and you’ll get better results.