Posts Tagged ‘sparring’

One of the things that started me thinking along the lines of “Reconcilable Differences” was a pretty firm case of “Context Matters” with a sprinkling of “Language is Hard”. I was working on Triangle Pose (Trikanasana) in yoga and the teacher kept telling me to isolate my upper body. Well in the competition dancing that I did as a youngster, the phrase “upper body isolation” was almost always used to refer to making your ribs go in the opposite direction from your hips. This is of course different in different kinds of dances, but for the kind of dancing that I did, it was a core enough concept that this kind of upper body isolation was part of my routine warm-up.

So when I heard a very similar phrase in yoga I immediately started moving my chest away from my upward hip, which body-feel-wise was amazingly close to the Latin dancing upper body isolation that I’ve done a million times. And of course, that was the exact opposite of what the teacher intended. In order to achieve Trikanasana, the chest has to be aligned with the upward hip and by moving it away I was making the problem worse. After several repetitions and a physical correction from a very patient teacher, I figured out my mistake. And since I have spent a lot of time doing “upper body isolations” I was able to make a good deal of progress quickly once I understood the issue, although this is still really hard. And dealing with nuances of language that have been heavily skewed by years of dance while trying to hold yoga poses is still really hard too, but it is really cool when something filters through my excessively think skull.

And while I’m thinking about dance and “Context Matters,” I have to relay my very favorite example. It is in the different ways that one “Partners” in ballroom dancing and Kung Fu. In Ballroom, the lead (which is the role I danced nearly exclusively) does everything possible to project to his partner where he is going. This is very very important to avoid foot trampling and other unfortunate incidents. But when sparring, you want to do everything possible to prevent your partner from knowing what you are about to do. This is very very important to avoid injury and humiliation even in a ‘friendly’ sparring situation. So I guess it’s a measure of my insanity that I actually went back and forth between doing these two kinds of partnering for years. Perhaps I should have switch to following in dance?

So while drawing on past (or even present) experience that seems relevant to what I’m currently working on is useful, understanding where they are different is equally important.  And of course language always matters!

But whatever.  I was definitely walking the line that could land me in front of the yoga studio pulling at a locked door.I was running a bit late to make it to yoga this morning.  For no particular reason.  I had done some speed reading and Spanish studying and was catching up on email and just lost track of time.  But whatever, I was definitely walking the line that I might end up in front of the yoga studio pulling at a locked door.  So it’s not like I hyperventilated or anything.  But I was definitely and obviously a visible ball of stress when I walked in the door.  And I had forgotten my yoga mat.  You know, one of those things that is pretty essential for the yoga practice.  Fortunately I had just forgotten it in the car and was actually early enough to run back before the door was locked.

But of course the point is not that I spaced out and had a close call in making it to yoga this morning.  At just about every level I realize that missing a particular yoga class is in no way going to affect the scheme of things in my life or in the lives of others.  Really.  I mean that.  But my fight or flight mechanisms definitely kicked in an didn’t stop until I was sitting on the mat in the studio.  This is definitely not an optimal way to live life.  And not only does it take some time off my life every time this happens, but those around me have to deal with the crazy person who is not quite hyperventilating for no apparent reason.

This isn’t a new thing, of course.  But my hope was that after a decent part of a year without exercising that particular set of muscles they would atrophy and fall away.  I guess that does make me an eternal optimist.  Since that didn’t happen it’s probably time to check in on that particular aspect of my life.

I think that one of the reasons that this particular reaction is so ingrained is that it actually worked for me in my early days as a software engineer in a naturally high stress job.  Here’s how it went.  Something would happen at work that blocked progress and caused stress.  This could be anything from finding a nasty bug to get a crushing flame mail from a highly placed moron elsewhere in the company.  I would grab one of the other guys that I worked with that smoked (or chewed) and we’d head out for a cigarette (or two).  That would bring the stress level down to a low roar, I would have the opportunity to talk through the issue with someone I trusted (after all as a smoker, you trust all other smokers, right?) and then I’d use the combination of the slightly dulled stress reaction and the nicotine buzz to power through the next couple of hours, no matter what time of day or night it was.

Now of course I have no desire to start smoking again and honestly there are so many things wrong with that picture at so many levels that I bring it up only as a way of digging into why I react the way I do now.  I believe there are some things about that scenario that can be useful without dragging in nasty smelly habits.  For instance, one of the aspects of smoking that I have seen batted around in a number of places is that for people who for whatever reason aren’t great breathers, smoking helps them remember to draw deep breaths.  So figuring out a way to naturally breathe deeply when something unexpected and possibly stress inducing happens is probably a good lesson to take away.  I spent a considerable number of years sparring (as in kung fu fighting) and while I was never great, I learned in that context to breath rather than hyperventilate or hold my breath when someone came at me with fists and feet.  So I can certainly do this in non-smoking situations, again the key here is to generalize a recognized ‘cure’ so that I do it naturally in all situations.

Another lesson to learn from my early pattern is that talking through a stressful issue with a trusted friend is often the best way to deal with it.  And you don’t have to go outside or down to the garage to have that kind of talk (if you don’t need to light up a cigarette).

The final aspect of that situation was the ability to channel the stress energy into constructive work.  I did a lot of constructive work in those days.  I can’t quite figure out how to translate that into my current healthier lifestyle.  Perhaps yoga and other things will help me have better energy and be more productive in general?  Any thoughts?

In any case, I’m going to try to change my default setting to mellow but dangerous, so watch out world!

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about focus lately.  It’s one of those things that I started thinking about  a bit a while back and is now popping up at every turn.  I’ve generally been very good about being able to focus in very closely on a task, but I’m now convinced that this is an overlearned skill, at least for me.  Or perhaps it’s a borderline hyperfocus issue, although I really do try to avoid self-diagnosing psychological disorders, otherwise I’d drive myself crazy.

There are about a dozen aspects of this concepts flying through my head (so much for being overly focused), but lets start with three.

Speed Reading:

I am interested in increasing my reading speed.  I mean, geeze, there are like a million fiction books on my to read list and then there is all of the technical reading that I can’t seem to keep up with.  And that doesn’t even count getting lost in the internets for extended periods of time.

One of the techniques I’ve seen that makes a lot of sense is to learn to scan down the page rather then scanning each line horizontally.  This would involve learning to de-focus enough that you register an entire line at a time.  Now to add a bit of weight to this idea, one of the fastest readers I know says that when reading a old fashioned paper book (remember those), she would routinely register spelling errors on the right hand page while she was still reading the left hand page.  Pretty impressive, no?  In any case, I’ll take that as at least anecdotal evidence that a particularly speedy reader is utilizing a wider focus than I.


I spent nearly a decade practicing Kung Fu.  One of the core skills is to be able to spar.  It was never my favorite part of the class, I was much more interested in learning forms – the choreographed set of movements that at least in theory one could then decouple and use whilst sparring.  In any case, while I was never great at sparring and I’ve heard many times that some people are ‘fast-twitch’ and some are ‘slow-twitch’, one thing that really helped was to defocus my eyes.  Just look at in the general direction of the person I was sparring, not at any particular part of them.  Or looking at it slightly differently, focusing too much on a particular aspect of your opponent is a really good way to miss some other part of him or her heading your way.

Sight Reading:

As I’ve mentioned before, I am diving back into music after half a lifetime  of not practicing.  Or perhaps I’m just sticking my toe in the water to check the temperature?  No, I’m pretty sure I’m doing a cannonball.  Anyway, one thing that I was never very good at was sight reading, so I’d like to correct that this time around.  Sight reading on the piano is quite a task.  Here’s just a very simple sample of  a piano staff with lyrics for those of you that don’t read music.

Piano Staff

The notes on and around the top five lines or treble clef are generally played by the right hand, the notes on the bottom five lines or bass clef are generally played by the left hand and the words in the middle are sung (okay, duh on the last part).  It’s not uncommon for a number of verses to be written in the middle so that the distance between the clefs is greater.  There is also a common variation where the melodic line and the lyrics are written out above the piano part, but I think that’s generally intended for someone other than the piano player to be reading.  It’s relatively easy once you’ve got the basics down to read any of the three components.   It’s a matter of practice to get fingers (or voice) to reproduce what is written.

The thing that I’m obsessing about right now though is the ability to follow all three things at the same time.  I know people who can do this cold, so it’s definitely humanely possible.  I have no doubt that there is a large component of practice in that ‘cold’ is a bit different for someone that has been reading music for decades than someone who is just starting (or restarting).  If for no other reason than that as a beginner focus has a tendency to shift to one’s hands on the keyboard and then all hell breaks loose. But it seems like there is some fundamental ability to track those three things slightly separated on the staff that I should be able to get to click.

So that’s where I am.  I need to figure out how to defocus.  I’ll probably not go back to sparring, but I am going to take another run at speed reading training to see if I can find a tool or program that works for me.  And I might take another pass at improving my touch typing speed while I’m at it.  After all there are all those books out there just begging to be read.