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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
My guest today, Srini Rao (@unmistakableCEO), is an author and the founder and host of the popular podcast, the Unmistakable Creative, where he’s interviewed over five hundred creative people. Former guests on the show include Tim Ferriss, Simon Sinek, and Seth Godin. His first, self-published book The Art of Being Unmistakable got the attention of media personality Glenn Beck, sold over 15,000 copies and hit the “Wall Street Journal” bestseller list.
My conversation with Srini starts and ends with surfing, which we both have a passion for, and forms the outline for his new book Unmistakable. Srini credits surfing with the launch of his podcast and the Unmistakable brand, and using surfing analogies to teach the principles of creating unforgettable work. We discuss behavior change, and how incremental steps add up over time – whether in a physical practice like surfing or in building a brand or business. We discuss the art of the interview, and what Srini has learned about people – and about learning – from conducting over 500 interviews.
I hope you enjoy this interview with my guest, and host of the Unmistakable podcast, Srini Rao.
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!
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.
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.
In May I gave a presentation at Ignite to a packed theatre on the tools I use to help parents of children with special needs around the world. But there was a catch: the presentation was limited to 5 minutes and 20 autoforwarding slides.
The talk was on the simple tools that account for improved performance. What I’ve found from my years working with children with disability is that the tools that can help kids are simple, and applicable to everyone.
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?
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.
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.
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.
The Attitude that Works is how I describe an attitude I bring to my coaching with special needs children, and try to apply everywhere, in any learning environment. The attitude consists of three parts:
For background, I’ve been developing an attitude that works for years. When I talked a guy down from jumping off a bridge in college, this is what I was using. This philosophy is what makes me effective in coaching children, and also throughout my physical studies. I am by no means perfect – far from it – but formulating guiding principals has been extremely useful as a reminder of what creates an effective environment for learning.
When I began working with children with autism I discovered that they often lack the social standards that we take for granted. I found that the only way to work with these special children was through being completely compassionate to their experience, even if I didn’t know what that experience was. These children rely on their sense of those around them – their intuitive feel for the attitudes held by others – instead of just the social niceties. It turns out that we all sense the attitudes held by those around us, whether we recognize them or not, and that these attitudes profoundly shape how we behave. When we are compassionate or loving with someone else we are much more inviting to that person, and more likely to foster a connection. The rule holds true for ourselves, as well: when we are compassionate with ourselves our brains are literally more available to process new information and form novel connections.
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.)
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.”
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.
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!)
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”.
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.
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!
In the Fall of 2011 I took up gymnastics. This is the sport that boys start at 6 years old and most adults believe they can’t ever begin because they didn’t start young enough. I began by experimenting with gymnastics apparatus: tumbling, trampoline, parallel bars, pommel house, and high bar. This last – the high bar – has consumed the last six months of my training and in this post I’ll detail how I’ve learned to complete a Giant in six months – a skill that is taught over the course of a decade in most pre-professional gymnastics training programs.
Movement has always been at the center of my pursuits and practices. I now have the honor and privilege of taking more than two decades work of experience and applying these skills to children with special needs. Through an understanding of the basic science of human motor learning acquisition – or how people learn to move better – I apply the skills I have acquired to help children learn to move better.
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.
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!
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.
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.
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…
“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.
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!
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!”
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.
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!
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.
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 allof 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 duringpractice. This means that they are getting less out of their practice than they might otherwise.
Let’s look at a couple of the reasons:
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.
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?
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?
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.
I spent the weekend at Anat Baniel’s “New Fitness” workshop. My new conceptualization of enthusiasm, vitality, and fitness: A baby learning to crawl. I, for one, have never seen anyone in a gym look so eager nor move so well.
I just watched Aditi Shankardass discuss neurological diagnostic techniques for learning disorders on TED talks. This seven minute clip is worth seeing.
Finally, I’m continuing to enjoy the writings of Jonah Lehrer. Specifically, in September he summarized a paper about the importance of practice. Here’s the link and here is the conclusion of the paper:
On a practical level, the present results suggest a means by which perceptual training regimens might be made markedly more efficient and less effortful. The current data indicate that it may be possible to reduce the effort required by participants by at least half, with no deleterious effect, simply by combining periods of task performance with periods of additional stimulus exposure. If this proves to be a general rule of nondeclarative learning, it could help to explain how potent instances of learning can arise when sensory stimulation is not always coupled with attention.
After many years, last evening I again dabbled in the “the dance” as I once heard Argentine tango described. While I had planned to continue today’s post with further discussion of the muscular sets which the fitness industry usually ascribes to the core, I cannot help but throw in last evening’s revelations.
Other links will described more accurately and in greater detail both the general attributes of Argentine tango and the somatic-sensory experiences of the dance. My purpose in bringing tango into the discussion is begin to broaden the discussion and understanding of thoughtlessly used terms towards definitions which may further not only general intellectual understanding but also an individual’s personal and physical experiences.
From the moment I stepped onto the dance floor last evening I knew that something in my own awareness had dramatically changed since the last time – years previously – I was a tango floor. Without being told, I knew that the most important aspect of me in the dance was my relationship to my center of gravity. (I attribute this new awareness to my training under Anat Baniel and will elaborate in some later post on how that training has changed my perception.)
As my friend and colleague, Pilates master practitioner Connor Aiken, has pointed out on several occasions, “center of gravity” is a term echoed in different words throughout many different traditions. Center of gravity is how science describes the area approximately two inches beneath the navel. Joseph Pilates described this zone as the core. In Hinduism the same region contains the sacral chakra.
Regardless of the name, it was my own connection to this zone and through me to my partner which dictated the quality of each dance I shared last evening. If I was not fully connected, my partner, regardless of her (or his) prior dance experience, felt it and our dancing suffered. However, on those occasions where I wasn’t too distracted by dance floor traffic negotiations or stepping musically to pay attention to my center, I experienced a degree of groundedness and a clarity of physical communication with my partner which is unique in my dancing experience.
Center of gravity, core, sacral chakra, or one of a dozen others; what matters more than a name is how we choose to use the area. I suspect that many on the tango floor last evening have considerable more use of their cores than do those work tirelessly in a gym to build the appearance of a beautiful abdomen. This is not to say that building the ubiquitously desired six pack cannot run in concert with greater body awareness. I would merely encourage exploration – not necessary just of tango – of any form of movement which allows connection to this intriguing aspect of the human body.