14 July 2011
An important update I failed to mention a week ago: I successfully managed a headstand.
I was back into my daily yoga routine, Day Three, and was in a typical Vinyasa class. Towards the end, the teacher deemed it “play time” and asked us to do whatever headstand, shoulder stand, or handstand we felt would be fun.
Most of the time I would scuttle up to the wall, place my head between my interlocked hands, and lamely attempt a few kicks in order to bring my legs up into the air. I would fairly quickly resign myself to child’s pose.
But it spontaneously happened in this Vinyasa class. I just did it.
Without hesitation (which has never happened before), I tiptoed quickly up to a dolphin pose, elevating my hips into the air, and then controlled my legs up without effort. And I didn’t even need the velocity of a kick. It was so exhilerating. I seriously don’t need to accomplish anything else this summer – this is all I need to walk away with. This passage between fear and space – it’s crazy.
And I won’t even talk about the analogies it has with life. Although I will digress to tell a little story (SORRY).
During my last swim meet of my swim career, something shifted mentally for me. I had promised myself not to think about quitting until the end of the season. This last season was rough – I was still fairly fit, but something wasn’t clicking mentally for me. I’ve had a lot of mental blocks with swimming, and it plays out a lot on the “field” (swim is all mental: you, yourself, and hella cold water).
However for my last competition, I tried to take an approach that I learned from Srini Pillay’s book, Life Unlocked: 7 Revolutionary Lessons to Overcome Fear. I had just finished reading a chapter on relationships with people (completely unrelated, I know), and the main theme was trust. And then I thought: holy crap, just trust the water. Sure you’ve had an awful season, but trust your 12 years of swim practice. Trust your body to take over for you.
At the same time, I also gave myself permission: it doesn’t matter what you think or do before your race. Just let it happen. You can “accidentally” think negative thoughts. Just be right there on the blocks and in the water. You don’t even need to make an effort to “visualize” yourself winning. Just go.
I love my coach, he was and still is awesome, but I think he didn’t realize I thought way too much. He just needed me to tell my brain to shut up and go.
And it was one of the best swim meets of my life. I had a quasi-Michael Phelps moment on the 100m butterfly, where I out-touched another girl by .02 and won first place. I didn’t go my best time, but I did go my best time of the season, and it rocked.
It’s finding happiness in self-development, baby.
So I won’t go into all the details, but it’s a documentary that everyone (yes, including you) should go see. It’s simple, short, but has a message that we all know is true. Intrinsic happiness is what really matters in the end. You can have extrinsic happiness = status, wealth, appearance or intrinsic = self-development, serving a larger purpose, and truly connecting with people. My headstand? My last swim meet? Those fall under self-development.
Also, fun fact from the movie. In Japan, there is an official word for death by work: Karoshi. It’s scary to think that in such a highly developed country, the level of happiness is at the bottom. In contrast, a developing country has decided to focus on GNH, not GDP. GNH = gross national happiness. This country is called Bhutan, and they’ve decided while moving economically forward is important, so is maintaining culture, education, and nature. Pretty sick.
One thing the movie did touch upon is flow, which I mentioned earlier as the brainset stream. A good book I’ve heard to read (I’ve yet to look at it) is called Flow by some Hungarian dude Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi.
That’s definitely a source of real happiness. I mean hey, it’s shows up in brain scans. Your reward center, living off of a source of delicious dopamine, is activated. So there’s no point in denying some strange feeling of happiness. Sure it’s not ecstasy, but it’s better. It’s a consistent contentment. Energies around you shift, your perceptions change, and you lose your sense of self.
So things that generate dopamine in my brain:
- New Experiences/Traveling
Yes, I am in a sriracha chili costume fighting off a boysenberry.
- And oddly enough, swimming. I can’t deny that I’m a water baby.
- Lastly, my research.
I’m starting to trip up when I read articles for my potential research on yoga/meditation programs and their effects on the creative pathways in the brain. I’m reading a book called “The Dao of Neuroscience” (C. Alexander Simpkins & Annellen M. Simpkins), and I think its the only one of its kind, as it was published in 2010. The book presents both a Western view of the brain and its individual parts, but also addresses the Eastern, holistic view of the nervous system.
Ramon y Cajal created the foundation of neuroscience: the neuron doctrine, which identifies a single neuron and its components. Critics stated that this view was too reductionist and atomistic. Cajal battled it out with the other grandfather of neuroscience, Camillo Golgi. Golgi’s theory of “a diffuse nervous network”, which saw the brain as a continous reituclum of functions, was shunned for being too broad and holistic.
But these kids are bringing them back together.
It’s already crazy to think that neuroscience is the closest humans have ever been to understanding the mind vs. body dilemma. We’re wrestling with philosophical questions that have dated back as far as Aristotle, Heraclitus, Laozi, Siddhartha… When does mind and energy cross over to the physical brain with its neurons, and vice versa? How do we understand and define God? What is the link between us and the universe? Does dualism still have a role in our lives? Observing the brain and mind intermingling seems to be similar to quantum physics: when measured it’s measurable, but when not measured it becomes immeasurable.
To physically see the mind in action is complicated. There’s an eastern philosophy of the idea that an object viewed without its context is incomplete. You can look at the individual neuron, but without understanding the function – the moment to moment action it partakes in – you will never understand its true nature. There’s a theory called distributed cognition, which is a study on the brain and how it interacts with environment and people. So it’s important to see the brain on a ton of different levels: neuronal/cellular, fMRI’s, MRI’s, EEG’s, psychologically, physically, philosophically, artistically, and environmentally.
I realize this is me just throwing random things at you guys. But it’s blowing my mind. And the fact that I’ve also chosen to focus on creativity – this is it. Isn’t creativity essentially one of the main factors that separates us and that adorable homeless little puppy with a tie-dye forehead strip that I’m staring at right now? It’s what helped us progress as a human species.We create in every aspect of our lives: science, art, analyzing a text for your junior high school essay, business models, food…
And for me to read reviews and texts on the ancient philosophers’ views on creativity and its origin, but then to now be able to scientifically depict it – it’s crazy. It’s what those old dudes wanted to know for so long. And the human ability to be able to physically change the structures of our brain using just our willpower. It’s like centuries of philosphy, biology, religion, art, invention, and creative genius are building up to this peak. I get freaked out occasionally when I read this stuff. It’s hella trippy.
But I freaking love it. And that’s one of my wine panels.
[Wait, what? You alcoholic.]
I met this coach at the pool yesterday. His name is Greg, and I was so entertained and enthralled by his experiences, that I couldn’t stop chatting with him. We talked about a lot of things: energies, fate, swimming, teaching children, opening one’s heart, amazing Cabernets, his lack of time for painting, etc. He has epilepsy, and just like AJ, had his dreams of becoming a neurosurgeon crushed because his teacher told him: “Greg, you need to rest.” But his life transformed by being a coach, and he loves every second of it.
He told me about a fun little thing he did to really maximize his happiness in life (and btw, I LOVE this analogy because California is a shrine for wine lovers). Imagine your life as a flowing liquid wine (red or white, your pick. I’m obviously a red girl.) It’s in a wine barrell, held up by curved wooden panels. On each panel are the words of some activity you love doing. And if one of those panels isn’t given enough attention, it becomes shorter, and some of the wine spills out.
Obviously don’t take it too literally, as you won’t always have time for everything. But it’s a really cute concept.
I know this was a really random post. So if anything, just remember to keep your wine panels nice and polished guys.
Daily Nutrition Facts
– I am so bummed that I don’t have photo evidence, but I had a beef brain taco at a legit, greasy Mexican bar in the Mission. Um, interesting texture – a little chewy, a little creamy, a little mushy. You know how lamb has a very distinct, strong flavor to it? (vs. beef, chicken, pork, etc.) Well, so does brain. But not in a good way. Interesting experience, but never again. Especially in my delicious crispy tacos.
– I made a grapefruit & olive oil bread this week
– I also SUCCESFULLY MADE SALMON by stovetop! And a beautiful paprika over-easy egg without breaking the yolk. I experimented with baking salmon with lemon & lavender sea salt as well. Derish!
– Aida and I roasted up some kale chips & rosemary potatoes, while having a maincourse of blueberry peach crumble. Luxurious.
Life Lesson of the Day
I like my pretty little wine barrel. Do you?