Category Archives: Exercise

Pushing upwards

Post #9 of 27, revisiting and slightly refuting “The Zen of Exercise: Stop Counting Push-ups” with some inspiring videos:

30 Day Push Up Challenge – Day 30 by Alexia (Two Tough Sisters)

Notice how she pauses a bit as she approaches push-up #30… but does manage to push past #40. Ah the power of a number to motivate the mind over muscle.

Still need encouragement?  The good folks at #giveit100 have this very motivating piece for you:

Girl does push-ups for 100 days (time lapse)

GiveIt100 is a brilliant concept. People record themselves struggling to learn something for 100 days and build a virtual community around it.

Then again, perhaps you’ve done your 100 days already. In that case it’s time for you to level up:

How To Do Aztec Push Ups (Touch Your Toes In The Air) by Barstarzz

…and even after you’ve leveled up, remember:  there’s always more to learn.

Explosive Push Ups by Brendan Myers

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Coffee, Chocolate and Love Songs: Mindfulness for the Cynic

What’s the significance of our thoughts or feelings, if music or food can alter them so easily? (#2 of 27 revisited blog posts, replaced one image with a new and more text-related photo)

Dan Spira

When we were teenagers (assuming you the reader are not currently a teenager or a preteen), we often experienced music in a peculiarly personal way. Listening to a given song, it might seem like it was composed JUST FOR US and that whoever wrote the song UNDERSTOOD US PERFECTLY, UNLIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

This perception magnified whatever feelings we already had, especially when we were smitten by a girl/boy… or angry at our parents/friends… or feeling excited about an upcoming competition/performance… or experiencing any other part of that angsty roller coaster ride known as adolescence.

iPhone HeadphonesFor those of us who aren’t teenagers anymore, we’ve moved on from having that experience…. okay, well, most of us have moved on… most of the time. For my part, I can still get pumped up by a song here and yanked down by a song there, however I recognize that these songs are entirely manufactured…

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Coffee, Chocolate and Love Songs: Mindfulness for the Cynic

When we were teenagers (assuming you the reader are not currently a teenager or a preteen), we often experienced music in a peculiarly personal way. Listening to a given song, it might seem like it was composed JUST FOR US and that whoever wrote the song UNDERSTOOD US PERFECTLY, UNLIKE EVERYBODY ELSE.

This perception magnified whatever feelings we already had, especially when we were smitten by a girl/boy… or angry at our parents/friends… or feeling excited about an upcoming competition/performance… or experiencing any other part of that angsty roller coaster ride known as adolescence.

iPhone HeadphonesFor those of us who aren’t teenagers anymore, we’ve moved on from having that experience… okay, well, most of us have moved on… most of the time. For my part, I can still get pumped up by a song here and yanked down by a song there, however I recognize that these songs are entirely manufactured, carefully crafted to create predictable emotional effects. Take a tiny spark of genuine artistic pathos, inject it into words alluding to some form of unrequited love (which is really just a fancier term for plain ‘ol love), throw it all onto a 4-chord progression [ I-V-vi-IV ], give a little twist of something different and new, and presto!  Our reticular activating system (RAS) will take care of the rest.

And yet, even while knowing all this, I refuse to be cynical.

The song may be manufactured, but I am not manufactured.

My RAS may be looking for familiar patterns within a vaguely-worded poem written by a stranger, but my RAS is pattern matching against me, or rather, some aspect of myself that I (may) want to bring to the forefront of my consciousness.

Better living through chemistry

cupajoeIt’s the same thing with coffee and chocolate. Those are manufactured goods with the chemical triggers of caffeine and anandamide (one of the main active ingredients of chocolate, named after the Sanskrit word for bliss) which can change our mood and mental focus.

However, to write off their effects as mere chemistry is to miss the point:  As triggers, coffee and chocolate magnify something that is already there within us, a latent potential.

Better chemistry through living

empty gym on New Year's Eve - a space between resolutionsIt’s not just music, coffee and chocolate. We can experience a change of emotional state just by focusing our thoughts or actions. Certain activities have predictable effects not unlike coffee or chocolate: cardiovascular exercise, socializing, sex, learning, playing and gift-giving are just a few examples of voluntary activities that can generate feelings of well-being, exhilaration and connection.
In contrast to chocolate and coffee, many of us assign greater value to emotional triggers that require high levels of effort and personal investment.

However a deeply cynical person can dismiss any emotional experience as the contrived effects of a prior stimulus, whether it’s a love song, a shot of bourbon or a 5k run. The unrepentant cynic is a former idealist who got hurt, someone who will happily focus on proximal causes and superficial effects. It’s just easier that way.

Yet all of us are susceptible to a kind of cynicism engendered by logical explanations and scientific knowledge. The understanding of, “I feel like y because I just experienced x,” presents us with a decision, a follow-up question of, “So what?”

So what?

“So what” is a question about significance and consequence.

How we answer the question of “so what” determines a lot.

A weak answer to “so what” can put us onto a path towards alienated cynicism, or send us floating down a river of meaningless gluttony, or drive us up a precipice of terrified asceticism, or have us rotating between all three of those places.

A strong answer to “so what” brings heightened awareness and mindfulness. The more mindful we are of the emotional triggers and our (initial) reactions, the more we can fine tune our experiences and responses, maximizing meaning, purpose and satisfaction. It also helps to develop good taste.

Yes, coffee helps me wake up… but a hot shower does the trick too… and exceptional coffee trumps mediocre coffee… and white chocolate is an abomination (just sayin’). When I give a gift, I give it with both hands and make eye contact. I look, listen, touch, smell and savor the details of these things. I dial down the frightened rationalist living in my brain, and I tune in to the wisdom of my heart.

Close the Gap – Creative Perseverance

A short and sweet video pep talk for aspiring creative types, by Ira Glass:

A creative person is often a sensitive person — a person who is keenly aware of all of their senses, all of their feelings and thoughts. This is because creativity is linked to a refinement of the senses.  Want to become more creative?  Start observing more carefully what you see, hear, touch, smell, taste and think.  It’s a process of improving discernment and mindfulness. Yet, this sensitivity comes with a risk:  To be able to produce great work, a creative person must not be so sensitive that they can’t tolerate the pain of initially producing crappy work.

(Corollary for Managers of Creatives:  To develop your team’s talent, you have to be patient and encourage them to persevere through disappointing output.) 

Tolerance of Pain

The Kalenjin tribe of Kenya dominate the world in long distance running competition. According to some authors, this tribe has been environmentally, culturally and genetically optimized for long distance running… optimized not just in physical skill, but also in mindset. The tribe has longstanding rite of passage which select for pain tolerance. If you can’t tolerate extreme pain, you’re kicked out of the tribe.

You'll have to knock a bunch of these down at first... and yeah, it's gonna hurt.

You’ll have to knock a bunch of these down at first… and yeah, it’s gonna hurt.

To become a strong athlete, a big part of it is learning to overcome physical pain.  If you can overcome that pain, you can stretch your goals and continually improve.

To become a talented creative, a big part of it is learning to overcome mental pain of disappointment in your own work. If you can overcome that pain, you can keep practicing and eventually produce something inspiring.

Ultimately, it’s about overcoming the false dichotomy of  being a strong versus a sensitive person  — be sensitive to the product and strong in the process.

 

The Zen of Exercise: Stop Counting Push-ups

“You can’t hire someone else to do your push-ups for you.”

– Jim Rohn

The best things in life cannot be bought with money, but even still, they are not free. The best things in life require effort.

Mindfulness, loving-kindness, sense of belongingness, physical fitness, and probably a few other “ness”‘es —  all of these require different forms of effort and mental discipline.

In the pursuit of improved physical fitness — and in an effort to “walk my own talk” — I make an effort to do at least one set of push-ups daily.  My goal is to do, at minimum every day, the same number of consecutive push-ups as my age in years.

The thing is, I’ve been holding steady at 30 push-ups for a while… and while 30 is a nice round number, it’s (ahem) short of my goal.

Perhaps it’s a deeply buried denial about the inevitable marching forward of years… or perhaps it has to do with getting too focused a number.

Breaking Past 30

Here and there I get up to 31 or 32 push-ups… but then I slip out of the routine for a bunch of days and then I’m back down to 30 push-ups.

Recently however, I noticed that I never slipped back to 29 push-ups.

Always… with my very last… bit of… energy… and… Captain… Kirk-like… strain…just… barely… made… it… to…  30.

Hmmm.

Or much lower…. 20 push-ups if I was really tired.

Still, 20 is a suspiciously round number.

Hmmm.

So the other day I stopped counting when I approached the number 25… and, by my reckoning, made it past 35…

..until I realized it, and then I stopped, exhausted.

“The knack of flying is learning how to throw yourself at the ground and miss.

(…)

Clearly, it is the second part, the missing, which presents the difficulties.

One problem is that you have to miss the ground accidentally. It’s no good deliberately intending to miss the ground because you won’t. You have to have your attention suddenly distracted by something else when you’re halfway there, so that you are no longer thinking about falling, or about the ground, or about how much it’s going to hurt if you fail to miss it.

It is notoriously difficult to prize your attention away from these three things during the split second you have at your disposal. Hence most people’s failure, and their eventual disillusionment with this exhilarating and spectacular sport.”

– Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy

Today I resumed counting and was up to 38.

Onwards and upwards.

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