Archive for the ‘Physical Intelligence’ category

Fit Tip #27

September 7, 2009

“What could be more sensual than paying exquisite attention to your own body?” Christopher McDougall, Born to Run (great book!)

Fit Tip #14

July 12, 2009

You tell me you can’t face the scale. I understand, I say. But losing or maintaining weight begins with truth: Go weigh.

Fit Tip #13

July 10, 2009

Rest is one Fit Tip you’ll sure need to know. Let’s see: Stretch, strength, balance, endurance: Just 4 to go!

Fit Tip # 12

July 9, 2009

If you are an athlete you think you know best. But often what’s missing is time off: Called rest.

Fit Tip #11

July 7, 2009

Older and stiffer? Older and sore? To avoid that fate: Do stretches galore. (Yoga, too: Good for U! :-))

Fit Tip #8

July 5, 2009

Problem with workouts: work. A much better option: play. Get out of the gym; go dance. Take a glorious bike ride today.

Fit Tip # 3

July 1, 2009

Get a trainer. Get a doctor. Input can be fun. But listen to your body: Be “experiment of one.”

Fit Tip #2

July 1, 2009

One third of us have too much weight; another third: obese. The skinny third has problems too; remember that, oh please.

Back in the Swim

September 28, 2008

Here’s a love story:

I don’t know when I learned to swim but I must have been three or younger because the year I was four, I broke my arm and spent the whole summer standing awkwardly in the shallow end of our neighbor’s pool, holding my plastic-wrapped heavy white cast above the splashing water and watching forlornly as my siblings and neighbors frolicked.

I swam in my first meet at age five. Mom reports that my first question, upon arriving at the end of the pool, was, “Did I win?” (No.)

I swam on competitive teams every summer until I was sixteen, when I had to choose between swimming and basketball and chose basketball – not because I loved it more, but because, relative to other kids, I was better at it (i.e. more likely to win.)

At 24, I retired from a basketball career that had included Stanford University and professional teams, and immediately returned to the pool. I discovered that “masters swimming” includes people as young as 19, and that I still loved swimming, with or without the added bonus of trophies. Diving into the pool again, soaring out over the water in a racing dive, felt like coming home.

I swam on masters teams for another 26 years, until I turned 50 and accepted a job with a thirty-minute commute. Though my masters team practiced from 6:30-7:30 at a pool en route to my new workplace, the schlep didn’t work for me. I tried it: Get up at 5:45, pack the car with swimming bag, the day’s work clothes, and drive to the pool. Swim, shower, dress, eat breakfast in the car, and arrive at work by 8:45. After work, unpack the wet bathing suit and towel, which had been moulding or freezing in the car all day, and re-pack everything for the next day. After a while, my life seemed to revolve around packing and unpacking clothes, swimming gear, and food.

Though I never forgot to pack my underwear or other key articles of my professional attire, I worried about it constantly, left some duplicates in my office locker, and more than once selected and packed a professional outfit I no longer wanted to wear when — too late — I tried it on in the swimming locker room, miles from home.

After a year of this, I stopped swimming, and remained out of the pool for a year. I felt less exhausted and stressed out but missed my swim team: Coach John Flanagan and teammates Sue, Cindy, Mei Mei, Karen, Beth. Even more, I missed those racing dives and my long strong strokes through the water. My heart actually ached for that freestyle motion. When swimming freestyle, the water hugs your chest, somehow, and the balanced, rhythmic motion is satisfying on a deeply primal level. 

I stayed in shape through yoga, weight-lifting, cycling, walking. But I never stopped craving swimming. Switching from showers to baths in a vain attempt to satisfy my need for total immersion did not help. Nor did “imaginary swimming,” an exercise I found myself doing on my way to sleep. Nor did occasional ecstatic swims in the ocean, three hours from home. 

Finally, it occurred to me that I could swim at the local high school, one mile from my house, shower there, drive back home, dress and eat breakfast at home, and still get to work on time without having to pack my work clothes or eat breakfast in the car. 

For about six months now, I’ve been back in the swim. It’s a very different experience than my swim team training, which had been intense, competitive and highly structured. Now I do my own thing, talking to no one and coordinating my laps with no one.

Since I work with people all day, this non-competitive, almost anti-social swimming provides just what I need these days: an hour just for me. Though surrounded by other swimmers, I feel alone in the pool in the best sense of the word alone: solitary, self-contained, quiet. I focus on my breathing, my stroke, my strength. It’s swimming as meditation: deeply satisfying in a way I almost didn’t know swimming could be. 

And throughout the day I feel immensely better: more physically balanced, spiritually centered, at peace. No matter what happens in my sometimes hectic and demanding job, I always have that morning meditation to refer back to. Swimming doesn’t “ground” me but rather buoys me, supports me as I swim through the rest of my life. 

I’m euphorically happy to be back in the swim.

May everyone find a form of exercise they love this much.

Whole Foods Diet Experiment

November 14, 2007

To heal my gall bladder and prevent surgery, I just switched from a very healthy no-meat diet to an even-healthier no-meat diet without fish, eggs, dairy products, fried foods, or processed foods. Oh yes, and also no caffeine or alcohol.

I am avoiding all the things that were triggering attacks (Chinese food, iced tea, eggs, tuna, salmon) and while I’m at it, avoiding the things I’m allergic to (dairy products) since some experts suggest gall bladder attacks are mostly a result of allergic reactions.

While this may appear to be a terribly “restrictive” diet, it doesn’t seem that way to me. It seems quite rational – like the way I was meant to eat.

After about 10 days I feel much less hungry – surprisingly. I would have thought a vegan diet would make me more hungry.

I wonder if I was chronically hungry in the past because I was hungry for the nutrients I was not receiving.

Eating used to be almost annoying; I’d eat simply to make my hunger go away. Now I’m eating to give my body what it needs, and am surprised to notice that food tastes better, more satisfying. I seem to be waking up to the deliciousness of simple things: apples, Clementines, even broccoli.

I’m not sure if this will heal my gall bladder but it’s an interesting experiment!

Also I have no cravings (so far) for anything except what I’m thinking of as whole foods.

A colleague told me that there are many things people ingest that “the body does not recognize as food.” That rang true.

I’m determined to only put things in my mouth that my body will not only recognize as food, but welcome.

I’d be interested in others’ experiences, experiments, or responses.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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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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Tooth Grinding and Mouth Guards: An Alternative

June 10, 2007

Your dentist says, “Do you grind your teeth at night?”

You say, “Yes.”

Or you say, “No.” Doesn’t matter.

Your dentist says, “You need a tooth guard.”

You say, “Okay.” The dentist then sells you an expensive rubber contraption for your mouth, or you buy a cheaper one that doesn’t fit as well from the grocery store or the internet.

But you do have another option. This option is: Stop grinding your teeth.

I say to my dentist: How about if I stop grinding my teeth?

It’s clear from his response that he’s never heard of such a thing, and doubts if it’s possible.

I persist: “Surely, with all the tooth-grinding patients you see, there are some who have taught themselves to relax their jaws at night?”

“It’s hard to change an unconscious behavior that happens when you’re asleep,” he explains.

Well, sure. But worth a try. So on the way to sleep, I relax my jaw. There are many muscles in the jaw, and it’s an interesting experience to try to release the tension in all of them. It’s…. relaxing!

Then, if I wake up at night, my first thought (besides “I wonder if I really need to go to the bathroom or can wait”) is, “Relax the jaw.”

After about a year of this, I’ve noticed these things:

1) Jaw tension happens during the day too.
2) I have significantly decrease tooth-grinding through this awareness campaign
3) my entire head, neck, and even shoulders feel better when I relax my jaw.

Better than a mouth guard? You bet!

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Writing and Moving: Possibilities of Change

June 8, 2007

Here’s what David Grossman, author of Her Body Knows, says about writing: “Writers know that when we write, we feel the world move; it is flexible, crammed with possibilities…

“When I write, even now, the world is not closing in on me, and it does not grow ever so narrow: it also makes gestures of opening up toward a future prospect.”

Any writer will relate to that. While writing, all things are possible. Writing offers an altered stated of consciousness that is pleasurable in itself.

Athletes know that the same is true for movement. Athletes know that when we move, “we feel the world move; it is flexible, crammed with possibilities… ”

When we move, “the world makes gestures of opening up toward a future prospect.”

Grossman’s quote was from the Arthur Miller Freedom to Write Lecture, which he delivered at PEN’s World Voices Festival on April 29, 2007. It was adapted for the New York Times Magazine (May 13, 2007) as “Writing in the Dark.”

I haven’t read Her Body Knows yet, but I have to wonder what Grossman knows. Has he noticed the similarity between writing and movement: how both transport us to a place where all things are possible?

Have you?

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Stress Positions: Are You Torturing Yourself and Calling It “Life”?

June 3, 2007

In an article called “Bodies Under Stress” and other writings, author Mark Danner delineates the euphemisms the United States government uses to describe torture.

“Stress positions”: people hung by their wrists, men standing naked with women’s underpants wrapped around their faces.

“Use of dogs to induce stress”: Trained attack dogs biting and threatening to bite prisoners.

“Waterboarding”: the practice of holding someone’s head underwater for long periods of time – then repeating the practice.

“Sleep adjustment”: Forcing people to stand on a box for hours, believing they’ll be electrocuted if they fall off the box.

“Enhanced interrogation techniques”: a compendium of abuses that any rational person (especially on the receiving end) would describe as torture.

Danner is the author of “Torture and Truth: America, Abu Ghraib and the War on Terror”and “The Secret Way to War: The Downing Street Memo and the Iraq War’s Buried History.”

What this brings to mind for me (besides a fervent desire for a “regime change” in the United States government) is this: Into what “stress positions” do you choose to contort your own body?

What do you call it when you starve yourself, stuff yourself with unhealthy foods, “beat yourself up” with negative thoughts, or remain sitting for hours on end, depriving yourself of the oxygen, blood flow, and muscular activity you know your body needs?

Do you justify these self-torture techniques as “necessary”?

Am I comparing military torture with personal bad habits?

You bet.

You don’t have to be a political prisoner to put yourself on a medieval sort of “rack”: allowing over-commitment to pull you in all directions at once until your joints ache, your head hurts, and you can’t think straight.

The only comforting thought, when reading about torture, is, “At least it’s not me.”

What I’m suggesting is this: Maybe it is you. Maybe you are imposing your own “stress positions,” your own “sleep adjustment,” your own “waterboarding.”

Maybe you’re drowning in work or worry. Maybe you’re placing extreme stress on your body through prolonged inactivity and neglect – then failing to face the reality of the situation.

I hope not. But as a lifelong athlete, I know that I succumb to self-destructive behaviors myself sometimes: sit too long, for instance, when absorbed in the task at hand. Place my shoulders or back in “stress positions,” ignoring the pain while pursuring other pleasures, such as golf. Drink “grande Chai soy latte,” even though I know it will result in “sleep adjustment” that night as I needlessly fret about deadlines and commitments.

Most of us have the privilege of never being physically tortured by others.

Let’s not do it to ourselves.

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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Every Day Your Body Changes

June 2, 2007

At the end of Karen Voight’s Yoga Sculpting DVD, after you’ve done Warrior One and Warrior Two and Downward Facing Dog and Chair Pose until you’re literally blue in the face, Voight says, “Just notice how your body’s feeling. Every day it changes.”

Every day your body changes.

Why? Because of how you feed it, water it, stretch it, strengthen it. Because of how you take care of it, or don’t. (And yes, Karen Voight is INCREDIBLY buff, and no, looking like Karen Voight is really NOT the point, and NOT achievable for most people.)

One of the greatest miracles is the miracle of an individual human’s evolution: from infant to toddler, kid, teen, young adult, older adult, old person: every day our bodies change.

But this is not “automatic.” How we grow – straight or crooked, healthy or sick – is largely a function of how we treat these sensitive organisms called our bodies.

This miracle of growth and change — all the sensations of skin and muscle and breath — should be, if we’re paying attention, sufficient to prevent all boredom forever.

More importantly, this miracle alone – the fact that our bodies are changing every day — should be, if we’re paying attention, sufficient motivation to persuade us to be kind to these miraculous bodies.

This seems to be Karen Voight’s point. Pay attention — without judgment. Every day your body changes. A simple fact. Are you doing everything you possibly can to facilitate positive change?

Are you paying attention?

Mariah Burton Nelson
American Association for Physical Activity and Recreation

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