Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Life Lessons from Spin Class

Over the past few months, I've gone to more spin classes than ever before.  For those of you who don't know what a spin class is:  we gather in a small room that has 20 stationary bikes, we turn off all but the violet lights, we pedal through all sorts of moves that our instructor gives out to a soundtrack that the instructor has put together.  Ideally, the music's beat matches what we're supposed to be doing--if we're simulating climbing a hill, the music slows down; a boppy beat might pull us out of our seats over and over again at a quick pace.  In short, it's quite a workout.

As I've listened to the motivational bits that our instructors give us, I've been intrigued by how applicable they are, both to life in general, and our creative efforts.  Here are some examples:

--Your legs are stronger than you think.  I think that as we get older, we assume that certain truths will always be true:  I can't lift more than 5 pounds; I can't write a non-fiction work; it's too late to live that dream I always had; I can't do math; I can't understand quantum physics; I'll always weigh 20 pounds more than my ideal weight.  We accept certain things as the price of being a grown up.

But what if what we think we know is true simply isn't?  In spin class, we push ourselves to the edge, and then, occasionally, just a smidge more.  And it's interesting to me how I can do what I thought couldn't be done.  My legs are stronger than I think.

What would I do if I assumed that all things are possible?  I've been working on dreaming new visions for my future, and I or my friends often disrupt the pleasurable aspect of daydreaming by saying, "How would you afford health insurance?  How could you meet your monthly bills?"  Those panicky responses keep me from focusing on the life I want to be leading.

My legs are stronger than I think.  I have more resources than I recognize.

--Only use the body parts you need to do the work.  During one spin class, our instructor kept reminding us to check in to see if we were clenching our teeth, or hunching our shoulders or tensing our hands.  We only really need our legs and some ab muscles to do the work of a spin class.  Yet many of us get completely fatigued by using other parts of our bodies--and it makes the work of the legs harder.

I see people do the same thing at work.  Many of us could be more efficient.  We spend a lot of time discussing procedures which haven't essentially changed, for example.  We spend a lot of time crafting language on items that will be thrown away:  e-mails,  syllabi, notes.

Do we do the same thing in our creative lives?  How many times have I learned new computer systems, when in my writing life, I'm using the computer essentially as a jazzy typewriter?  And how much have I learned that I didn't really need to learn? 

Where are we expending energy that we don't need to spend?  I spend a lot of time worrying about things that never come to pass--while having to marshall resources to handle the emergencies that I never saw coming.  And you know what?  I can deal with those emergencies, even though I haven't been fretting about them.

Ah, to let go of the fretfulness, to live in the moment--if only I could easily learn that.

--Unhunch your shoulders.  Our spin instructors are always imploring us to unhunch our shoulders.  I go through life with my shoulders hunched up to my ears.  I try to remind myself several times a day to unhunch my shoulders.

--Keep breathing.  If you monitor your breathing, you might be surprised to find out how uneven it is.  Often when we're exerting ourselves, we hold our breath.

If you focus on deep, even breathing, the kind where your stomach pokes out when you inhale and deflates when you exhale, you'll be amazed at how calming the practice can be.  Those of us who spent time in drama class or choir already know some things about breath control and what's needed to project our voices to the back of the theatre.

In sports, too, good breathing is key.  Breathe properly, and you avoid some cramps and side stitches.  Plus, you can go for longer if you're breathing correctly.  Your heart rate slows.  You can recover from exertion faster.

In life, many of us rush around at a hectic pace.  Even if we can't control the pace of our lives, we can control our breathing.  During many a stressful moment, I've focused on my breath.  It's remarkably soothing.

We spend a lot of time focused on what's not important--it won't be important tomorrow or next month or next year, so it's really not important now.  Slow, even breathing keeps us mindful of what's essential.

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