Archive for September 2007

Mastery through Physical Freedom

September 20, 2007

Have you been watching From the Top? What a show! Sometimes I don’t know why anyone watches anything except PBS. (Well, I can see switching stations for “The Sopranos” and “Six Feet Under,” but they’re both swimming with the fishes now.)

I’m still thinking about a show I watched about two weeks ago featuring Peng Peng, the teenage piano prodigy from China, and other kids, one as young as ten, performing in Carnegie Hall. (See photo of Alice Burla, the youngest student at Juilliard, below.)

Christopher O’Riley, the pianist/host who graciously introduces and interviews these child prodigies and knows just when to step off camera and let them shine (most of the time,) asked Peng how he had managed to create such VOLUME while playing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Presto from Six Moments Musicaux, Op.16.”

“Oh, that’s easy,” said Peng. “You just relax the arms. The only thing that stays stiff is the fingers. The arms and shoulders are totally relaxed. That way, you have the FREEDOM to play really loudly.”

He then demonstrated the difference between banging on the keys, using force generated by the whole arms and hands — fruitlessly trying to coax big sound out of the instrument — versus letting the arms be free and relaxed, which resulted in some loudly glorious chords.

I paraphrased that quote from memory, but he definitely used the word freedom. And you could see that freedom in his arms.

Inspired, I tried letting my arms be “free” the next day while playing golf. It didn’t improve my score any (that’s impossible – I’m stuck at 90 forever) but it sure made swinging the club more fun.

Recreational tennis players oughta experiment with this principle. And all of us who sit at computer keyboards.

I’m sure professional athletes understand it, though they might not articulate it as clearly as Peng. It’s intrinsic to shooting a basketball — the arms must be free; only the fingers are stiff — but most of us try to muscle our way through sports, and even through fitness activities such as Pilates and yoga.

Martial artisists “get it” too. Their bodies are flexible. flowing. Free.

What are others’ experiences, I wonder, of physical freedom that results in satisfying or even beautiful results?


Girl in blue dress plays piano.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Food Choices: Not as Easy as Pie

September 15, 2007

“Just make healthy food choices,” diet gurus say. As if choosing to be well nourished and svelte were simple.

Brian Wansink, a Cornell professor and founder of Consumer Camp, studies food choices in Cornell’s Food and Brand Lab. An article in this month’s Stanford Magazine (“Mind Over Platter”) desribes some of his fascinating (and helpful) findings:

1) We eat more M&M’s when they’re sorted by color.

2) We eat more nuts or candies from a jar when we can see through the jar than when it’s opaque.

3) We eat more popcorn if given a huge bucket than we do if given a medium-sized bucket. Same goes for plates.

4) We value food more when it comes with pleasant surprise, even a simple thing like a plastic toy. (Parents filling school lunchboxes, take note. Also anyone planning a dinner party. Airline dieticians – ignore this! We’d really rather have edible food!)

5) We prefer food with exotic, descriptive names – such as Bavarian Dark Forest Chocolate Cake – as opposed to chocolate cake. Same goes for Starbucks’ “grande chai soy latte” and infinite other variations on that theme.

The “takeaway” lesson? We’re not as “in control” as we might think we are. Our choices and perceptions are greatly influenced by the subconscious, which has its own ideas about what it likes and wants. Therefore, pay attention not only to food, but to how it’s prepared and served and described. And if you prefer not to eat a lot of popcorn, never buy the big bucket.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Leg Lifts in the Hospital (Mom, Continued)

September 11, 2007

Yesterday morning Mom, last seen Sprinting Up the Staircase at 83, had to return to the hospital for more major surgery, again involving general anesthesia.

It’s not about her knee this time – that’s working fine – but nor is it the kind she wants her daughter blabbing about on the Bodies in Motion blog.

Fine. We won’t go into specifics.

We’ll go directly to the story: Mom’s surgery takes place three hours later than originally scheduled. So Mom and Bernie, her husband, have to wait. Mom’s already got her hospital gown on, and she’s supposed to be lying on the guerney like any other compliant patient, waiting.

Except Mom’s never been the sort to lie around.

Especially when she’s still post-op from the knee surgery, and concerned that too much lying around is going to make the knee stiff.

So, even though she’s already got an IV dripping into her arm, Mom wraps the hospital gown around her, hops off the guerney and starts doing some exercises – wheeling the IV bottle and its metal cart behind her. “Nothing fancy, just some leg lifts, toe raises, flexion and extension, that sort of thing,” she explains to me later, when we talk about it.

I bet the nurses are still talking about it too. As they walked by, they were overheard exclaiming,

“What is she doing?”

“Is that the patient?”

“Why is she kicking her leg like that?”

“She looks like a New York City Rockette.”

“I think she’s EXERCISING.”

“Isn’t she, like, 83 or something?”

“She can’t be.”

“Have you ever seen such a thing?”

“No, but I’ll bet you one thing: She’s going to recover in record speed.”

And she did.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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