Practice News and Calendar – August (2013)
PRACTICE WITH FOCUS
Dear Practice Friends,
Last week, while working with Gwynn Rannenberg on some of the more challenging exercises in the intermediate reformer repertoire, I noted that she had made great gains in the past couple of years and that one thing she does very well now is focus on the fine points of each exercise. She replied immediately, “that is one of the reasons I like coming here, and why I like doing Pilates. To do it well, I have to let go of all the clutter that builds up in my head. It feels good to really focus on what I am doing for a little while.”
I couldn’t have said it better myself. Last month we looked at the quality of awareness, which I described as a state of non-distraction, where we can be grounded in our bodies and in the environment and in the present moment all at once. You can think of it like sunlight that fills a room in an instant.
Focus is more like a spotlight that is used to target an object in your awareness, whether that object is a part of your body, a mental image, a feeling, or something something external to you that you observe using your senses.
Both Pilates and yoga are considered mind-body exercise modalities because they help us to focus on one aspect of the body or a movement pattern without sacrificing the awareness of the environment around us.
This very simple act, of bringing the mind to focus on a target over and over again pays dividends outside the studio. In the working world, we are expected to multi-task, which by definition suggests doing more than one thing at a time. But let me make a provocative statement: we can only think of one thing at a time. We can train our limbs to do different things at the same time, and we can think really really fast, but we process one thought, one feeling or one sensation at a time. When we practice staying focused on something, we actually feel calmer, less distracted, less stressed. This state feels naturally healthy, whereas being mentally harried feels bad. So why do we do it?
The reason we play ambient music in the studio is to provide you with a sound-track for your session that doesn’t pull your focus away from the important work you and your instructor are engaging in. The cues that we give during the class are designed to direct your focus on different aspects of your posture or the movement pattern, or your breath.
Every once in a while I meet a person who seems to have an uncanny ability for focusing, and I am impressed by this. When I talk to them about it, what I find is that many had made a conscious choice to be more focused and then employed a way of practicing it until it became a habit. You can get better at it, but like with Pilates and yoga, it takes effort at first.
Try an experiment: Sit in a comfortable chair in a room that doesn’t offer a lot external distraction and try to focus on your breathing. You can even try counting the breaths, with one full breath being an inhale and an exhale. Be aware of the sensation of the air entering and leaving your nose or your mouth as you breathe. If you can honestly get to 30 breaths without losing being distracted by a memory or an errant thought, you are good. If you get to 60, you are amazing, and if you get to one hundred, you are a rock star.
You will get distracted, everyone does; don’t judge or criticize yourself, as this is just another distraction. Rather, when you catch yourself (it’s your awareness that recognizes that you are distracted – how cool is that?), simply return to the breath and start the count at 1. When you get good at counting your breath, you can move your focus to other things, like an object on the table, or sounds.
Focusing feels like listening with your body and your mind, and is often associated with a sense of mental stillness. Making some time for focus is one of our goals for all our clients at Practice, not only because being focused feels good, but it also helps to bring us into more authentic communication, and therefore better relations, with the people around us. Good for business, good for family and good for friends!
Have a great August!
Fitness for Life
Monthly Class Calendar and 2013 Rates
No class changes for August. Yay!
Research: How Exercise Can Calm Anxiety
From Gretchen Reynolds in the NY Times “Well” section come new research on mice that suggests “exercise leads to the creation of excitable brain cells, but it also creates neurons that can quiet parts of the brain and counter everyday stress”:
Research: How Aspirin Might Stem Cancer
From Nicholas Bakalar in the New York Times: “The use of aspirin significantly reduces the risk for cancer, but no one knows why. Now researchers have found that aspirin and similar drugs slow the accumulation a type of DNA change that lead to uncontrolled cell growth.
Research: Dementia Rate is Found to Drop Sharply, as Forecast
From Gina Kolata in the NY Times: “Two new studies out of Europe have confirmed what researchers had long suspected: rates would fall and mental acuity improve as populations grew healthier and better educated.”
Research: Exericse in a Pill? The Search Continues
Once again from the NY Times’ Gretchen Reynolds: “Two recent studies investigate the enticing possibility that we might one day be able to gain the benefits of exercise by downing a pill, rather than by actually sweating. But the question of whether it’s wise remains.”
Research: Overweight? Maybe You Really Can Blame Your Genes
From Gina Kolata at the NY Times: “Researchers have found a genetic mutation that may help explain why some people can eat the same amount as others but gain more weight.”
Research: The Search for Meaningful Markers of Aging
This article by David Stipp, in the NY Times is very interesting: “Recently researchers have identified some particularly good indicators of time’s largely hidden toll on our bodies and how fast it’s increasing.”