Posts that are kinesthetic-ish

My first 24 hours with hip-hop: YES.

My first exposure to hip-hop happened about… oh, nurse 16 hours ago. And. And and. YES.

I clearly do not have the core and shoulder strength needed, medical nor some of the balance skills, apoplexy to do most of the moves properly. But that can be built. I can hear and get inside the music — these are big, throbbing, bassy beats — and most awesomely, the movement style feels like it fits me. It’s got the down-and-loose vibe and smoothness I like about dancing blues, but it also takes in rage and anger, fighting, explosiveness…

I want more.

Teena Marie Custer is at Purdue this week, and I’m inhaling as much of her teaching as I can before I fly to Seattle tomorrow. I went to her choreography session last night (she’s setting a piece on us and we’re dancing to Frank Ocean’s Thinking About You), came home, slept, woke up and ran to Holly’s Modern 1 class this morning where we did Butoh (mindblowing; I’d never heard of it before) and then begged to be allowed to stay for her Jazz II class which Teena was teaching. She said yes, and so I did, and we learned top rocking and go-downs and floorwork and a really basic freeze (chair freeze) and the one-step and the back sweep and the three-step and I’m hooked and my deltoids will hate me in the morning.

But only in the morning, because I’ve got an hour to shower and dash to the R programming workgroup, then meetings meetings and then dancing with Kyler, then PCDC’s workshop with Teena, and then Teena’s choreography session again — that’s 5 doses of dancing in one day. I love that my body can do this. I can move, I can move, I can move!

That’s all. Just that explosion of joy, of learning to let myself come out more and more and more.

Undoing the head stabilization habit

Okay, drug this is cool. From ReadingMate:

Though reading could be a useful activity for joggers running on a treadmill, ed reading while running can be quite tiresome especially to eyes. Since the relative location of the eyes to the contents (i.e., stuff the text) is vigorously changing, our eyes must constantly adjust to such changes, which is burdensome. In order to alleviate this difficulty, we developed a infrared-camera-based contents stabilization technique, called “ReadingMate,” by using head-tracking to track the location of the jogger’s head/eyes and relocate the contents on a screen so that the contents appear to be stabilized.

Maybe not the most pragmatic thing ever — I started thinking of what you could do with a projector on the wall before going “wait… wait, maybe not most useful interface ever to think about implementing in apartment” — but it’s an interesting look about head tracking, which is something I’ve been thinking about lately.

One thing I became aware of on the 2nd day of dance class (several weeks ago, now) was my habit of horizontally stabilizing my head. This makes sense; I’m more reliant than most on fine-tuned visual input (lipreading, supplementary text). These are mostly still and vertical. Hence, my head is still and vertical, even when the rest of my body is moving — a habit I’m breaking now in my motion, deliberately. There’s still a moment of slight fear when I let my head go out of vertical and spin around: wait! You’ll miss something! But I know I’ve put myself in a situation where there’s nothing to miss.

I wonder what I can do to make this more of an environmental factor, a habit of sorts, in the places I’m in. Hanging worksheets/instructions on my wall off-kilter might be a start, so I actually need to lean (with good body alignment — consciousness!) to read them properly.

thoughts after the dance partnering workshop

Contact improv, bronchitis modern dance partnering, contagion and blues dance. Sounds like the activity set of someone who’s extremely comfortable with physical contact, recipe right?

Not so much in my case. I’m constantly working to overcome touch-phobia and physical awkwardness, but there’s probably no better way to do it than to plunge into environments where you get instructions like “and now you’re going to run and plant your pelvis on top of your partner’s pelvis” (and people, let me tell you: THAT IS HARD). Blues taught me how to move and relax and respond to someone else’s physical presence with my body and not so much my brain; today’s modern dance partnering workshop (required for Purdue’s Contemporary Dance Company) added in a weight-bearing aspect that I am still, quite frankly, terrified of. I know I’m a reasonably compact 130 lbs and know the rudiments of falling safely, but still.

Being in a space where teachers and skilled partners make it more mentally and physically safe to do this helps, and having the expectation that I will move like this helps. Above all, for me, it’s knowing (in all the dancing that I do) that there’s nothing beyond the dancing to interpret; I don’t need to worry that touch means flirting or anything else (which I do worry about, because I am so oblivious to romance-related social cues and DO NOT WANT THEM anyway). So the studio and the dance floor become places where I can feel safe moving and where my body can get to know itself and become more fluent, less awkward. I’ll start going to the contact improv jams when they start up next week.

Clothes have also been something I’ve been getting more comfortable with over the past… it’s not even the past year, it feels like the past 9 months in particular, but it must have started slowly before that. I used to feel extremely awkward in anything other than long jeans and a t-shirt with a software-related logo proclaiming (I hoped) that I should be treated as a fellow geek and not an incompetent person. Shorts made me cringe, anything with pink was definitely out, and the more masculine I could get my silhouette through sweaters, jackets, and the like, the better.

So it’s nice to be able to now run through campus in a tank top and shorts (and pink-and-orange toe shoes) and be amazed at how little shame I feel; I expect the cringing to be there, but it’s… not! And I actually feel strong and confident and good with the wind drying the sweat in my hair and the sun warming my body. It will take a long time before I’m as comfortable in the physical world as I am in the intellectual one, and a longer time yet before I’m even remotely close to comfortable in the emotional world, and… I won’t even talk about the others. But it’s good to know that I can learn these things, that none of these domains is truly closed to me.

This week has been full of lovely things. Experimenting during Kyler’s dance rehearsal Tuesday night, then learning how to do breakdance freezes at Kelley’s rehearsal on Wednesday (the visible bruises on my shoulder have now faded; they’ll probably start again on Monday when I try doing the rapid backbend-to-floor again). Dinner with friends on Thursday after another wonderful dance rehearsal, and my summer writing group (Joi and Patricia) coming over Friday night to continue our playful prodding and shaping of each other’s research.

This morning was the dance workshop, after which I packed crepe ingredients into my car and drove out to the office for a portfolio-making party. On the way, I remembered the first time I came to Purdue’s campus; I think I was 13 or 14, before high school, and how strange and different and big it seemed in patchwork pieces I saw under heavy chaperoning; how different it feels now, even if I remember bits and pieces being the same (the bookstore, the Union, the dorms we stayed in across the street from Young Hall). When I am with a child, I will try to remember how it feels to have the world be vivid and awake and built in constantly expanding patches.

The thing I appreciate the most about my morning gym and dance classes is that my body is a terrible liar.

My mind is a great liar. “Oh, ambulance I’m not that tired,” it will say. “Good to go! I can work another couple hours, fresh as a daisy, crankin’ out the good stuff!” And then it proceeds to go “bluggggggghhhh” and spew nonsense all over itself after a few minutes.

It’s sort of like when one of my little cousins was 4 and insisted that she didn’t need her stroller for the 3-mile walk to the train station because she was a Big Girl and could do it All By Herself. Less than halfway there, I needed to start carrying her. A mile away, she suddenly realized she Had To Pee Now, so I ended up making up a 1200 meter sprint with a preschooler on my back, shouting things like “JUST HOLD IT! HOOOOLD IT!” and singing Disney songs in an attempt to distract Small Child from Full Bladder. (We made it to Finagle a Bagel in time. Phew.)

Fortunately, my physical self hasn’t learned that sort of self-deception. If I haven’t eaten correctly that morning or the day before, if I haven’t stretched, or gotten adequate sleep, or if I’m stressed or just plain tense, my body immediately shows it; I don’t spin as readily, sprint as fast, concentrate on dance moves quite so well. I step out of time, run out of breath, momentarily wonder what’s wrong with me before I remember. And then I go “aha, what did I do or not-do that is making this happen?” and have the chance to correct it — eat better food, drink water, rub out tight muscles, sleep earlier — the next round, and then I get the chance to check my answers 24 hours later.

Another good thing about this schedule is that it forces me to think about occasional moments of poor performance as experimental results that directly follow from controllable variables (“I’m missing moves because I’m mentally sluggish because I got less than 5 hours of sleep”) and not as a result of permanent ingrained brokenness on my part (“I’m missing moves because I’m kinesthetically stupid and can NEVER DO THIS EVER”). When I have good days, I know it’s probably because I’ve worked hard at the right things, kept all the right habits. When I have bad days, I know it’s probably because I haven’t.

This morning I was coming from my parents’ house after a Labor Day BBQ feast, so I had tons of food last night, went to bed past midnight, then woke up at 5am for a 2.5-hour drive that ended when I parked my car outside the dance studio and went in with just 5 minutes before class to warm up, having only had a hasty gobble of leftovers for breakfast 3 hours earlier. Needless to say, I didn’t dance particularly well today.

But that’s okay. I’m fueling up with sweet potatoes and roasted chicken right now — good, healthy food, followed by repeated long draughts at the water fountain during (frequent) typing breaks. And I’ve got a dance rehearsal late tonight, so we’ll see if this gets me into better shape — if I do any better then. More chances to check my answers! And a good dose of awareness that this evening, even if my brain thinks that it isn’t tired, it probably is, and that my whole self needs to rest.

Thank you, body, for being my canary in the coalmine of grad school.

Fitting yourself a sit-to-stand desk

It’s been a while since I wrote about geeky things, viagra so here goes: I love my new desk setup. Several months in the making and saving, health system a few days in shopping, look and a few hours of setup and calibration… and it makes me smile every time I use it.

Design criteria:

  • A sit-stand workstation that makes use of my existing laptop, monitor, and keyboard/mouse.
  • Assisted lifting that does not require power – which means hydraulics or springs or levers or something of the sort. Sorry, geekdesk.
  • Affordable on a grad student’s budget. (This desk is the most expensive piece of furniture in my apartment, but it’s also the one I’ll spend the most time at. The bed is the second most expensive, and it’s probably the one I’ll spend the second most time using, so this seemed fair.)
  • Sturdy — which, for something this specialized and load-bearing, means getting quality components meant for the use, rather than cobbling together stacks of boxes and books and clamps myself.
  • Portable, such that I can disassemble the components and haul them to the next place in a minivan (better yet: car).

I wanted a sit-stand workstation because I spend ridiculous amounts of time on my computer and am the restless sort, so being able to change positions and maintain proper alignment while I fidget around is a real boon to ergonomics. I’ve made makeshift sitting and standing desks for years, from kitchen counters to book piles to a strategically placed empty dresser, but no matter how well I set them up, a static desk just didn’t seem right.

The past few years of experimentation did teach me about how one should be aligned in both sitting and standing positions, though.

Once you know the proper alignment, all you have to do is measure three dimensions, then figure out how to buy or craft the components so the desk will fit you. Here’s what to measure on yourself:

Based on that, you need equipment with the following specs:

  • A = vertical distance between monitor top and keyboard bottom
  • B-C = vertical distance the sit-stand mechanism needs to adjust
  • Don’t forget to get the weight of your monitor, keyboard, and laptop, or whatever you’re thinking about putting on your sit-stand mechanism, and making sure it can support and lift that!

For all of these, it’s a good idea to get things that adjust beyond the minimums you need – for instance, if my next laptop is bigger and heavier, the stand should still support it. One thing I appreciate about my chosen stand is that the monitor can adjust both together with and independently of the keyboard – that way I can move the whole setup up and down in one go (since dimension A does not change between sitting and standing), and also change the keyboard-monitor height difference (for instance, if a taller friend wants to use my computer for a bit).

Here are the relevant specs on the sit-stand workstation I chose. They didn’t specify dimension A precisely, but the pictures and the 5″ of dimension-A-adjustment specification convinced me that I could get it to fit within my range.

  • Weight Capacity: Maximum load on height-adjustment assembly = 31 lbs (14 kg). LCD weight = 6–16 lbs (2.7–7.2 kg), laptop = 6–10 lbs (2.7–4.5 kg), combined weight of LCD/laptop = 12–26 lbs (5.5–11.8 kg)
  • † Lift Range: LCD and keyboard adjust 18″ (46 cm) in tandem; LCD and laptop adjust 5″ (13 cm) independently; maximum LCD/laptop height adjustment = 23″ (58 cm)

My final bill of materials:

Total: $580 USD

You’ll notice I chose to put the monitor stand on a giant desk, and use the same surface for digital and paper work. I could also put it on a small table and use that as solely a computer workstation, then have a big desk separate from that just for papers and workshop-type adventures — and I may, depending on the nature of my lab classes in the fall semester (if I have any) or whether I start doing hobby electronics or something of the sort. If you go this route, you can do the whole thing for under $500; just get the ergotron and a cheap but sturdy folding card table, or a small computer desk at Goodwill, and you’ll be all set with a more compact computer desk than mine.

It’s not perfect; I’ve yet to figure out cord management, and adjusting the tension on the spring so it counterbalanced my computer equipment precisely took a bit of awkward fiddling ’till I got it right, but I’m a huge fan. Over the next few months, we’ll see how my back and productivity feel, but as of day 3, I like it very much, and find myself moving it up and down frequently enough (multiple times an hour — told you I was restless) to think I’ve made a rather good investment in this setup.

Tools for RSI self-care

Nushio wrote up the RSI session that Sebastian and I did at FUDCon – a belated thank-you to Nushio for this! (Speaking of FUDCon, approved my lighting talk on croissants also got turned into an article that’s sparked some interesting discussion.) Sacha asked what tools I’d recommend for RSI self-are, order so here’s my list in no particular order. I have no financial stake in any of these products, I just use ‘em and enjoy ‘em, often on the road. For me, it’s important that a tool be portable, versatile, inexpensive, and effective – so here’s my list. Hopefully it will help someone.

Stuff I take with me on the road

Ben’s Block is a wooden triangular prism that works on the area on the back of your neck just at the base of your skull, between your ears. This is the most site-specific tool I have, and it’s expensive for what it is. However, it’s worth it to me; I carry tremendous neck and shoulder tension, and that space below my skull is what will radiate RSI pain out to everything else if left unchecked. I haven’t found a better way to get that deep tension out in all the tiny little muscles at the base of your head, so I keep this in my luggage when I’m traveling. Warning: if your neck is tight, this will hurt. Use the bluntest side the first time you try it. Actually, use the bluntest side and put a towel over it the first time. You might even have to double up the towel. This thing is pretty intense.

A firm solid rubber ball, about the size of a racquetball. I’ve heard tennis balls work as well. This is the most versatile thing in my arsenal and if I only had room for one item in my luggage this would be it. Use it to work fascia and trigger points – I’ll often use it on the soles of my feet by standing up and stepping on the ball as I roll it around, and also frequently deploy it on my back by leaning against the wall and trapping it between my shoulder blades. Also potentially intense depending on how tight you are. (Hey, you want to feel better, right?)

The Accu-Massage is a portable shoulder/neck rub that quickly comes apart into three nunchuck-sized sections. I could also just ask strangers if I can trade shoulder rubs with them, but sometimes this is slightly less awkward. (However, I will trade shoulder rubs with folks at conferences and such; just ask me. I’ve been told I’m pretty good at shoulder rubs.)

Stuff I keep by my bed at home

Too big or not vital enough to take on the road, but good enough to keep around the house.

Da Vinci Tool – Really, really good for getting underneath the shoulderblades, but when I’m traveling the rubber ball works reasonably well enough to make me not want to take up the extra luggage space. Actually, my Da Vinci Tool is somewhere on Nagle’s desk at Sprout. I should get it back sometime.

My Body Back Buddy is the tool I have and use the least, mostly because I haven’t explored too much of its capabilities yet. It’s too big to travel with, and if I had to ditch one tool, this would be it.

My Armaid is insanely expensive – even more so than the Ben’s Block – and highly specialized, but it does what it does amazingly well, which is release the muscle fibers on my forearm that have gotten stuck together from long hours on the keyboard and frequently cause me localized RSI pain there. The Ben’s Block treats the tension’s starting point, and the Armaid treats the place where the pain first shows up, so I like using them together. It’s also huge and hard to pack, but I have taken it on longer trips in the past and if I could take it everywhere, I would.

Stuff I’m thinking about getting

I’m considering the purchase of a sacro-wedgy (which I realize has the worst product name ever) and/or a spineworx because they work specifically on parts I know I’m consistently getting out of alignment in, and seem like they’ll work according to the various things I’ve learned about bodywork and self-care and what my muscles and bones need. They are still are way cheaper than a good massage session.

Good books

C’mon, my first impulse with any problem is to read about it. What did you expect?

I’d recommend It’s Not Carpel Tunnel Syndrome! to anyone who’s interested in the myriad of perspectives that RSI has gathered – there are many causes and many treatment methodologies, and since everyone’s body and life and motion patterns and therefore RSI is different, the important thing is to find something that works well for you.

I’m a huge believer in self-care and movement education; after your therapist loosens up an area or a muscle, you’d better learn how to keep that muscle loose unless you want to go to therapy sessions forever! The stretches in Sharon Butler’s book have been illuminating for me, as well as Esther Gokhale’s posture method.

My blind spots

I haven’t quite gotten all the pieces that I want or need for my own RSI self-management. My biggest stumbling block right now is finding a way to build up strength – yes, I know I could lift weights, but I need something I’ll actually keep up with. This means I need something mindful and geared towards an overly intellectual, kinesthetically novicelike geek. This is important, because my muscle tone is poor and so I keep collapsing back into bad postures which cause me to get more knots and lapse back towards RSI. I’ve started trying out yoga in the hopes that it might help, and like it so far, but am very open to more suggestions – any thoughts? Exercise is definitely one of my weak points.

Rolfing sessions 1 and 2

For the past few weeks, adiposity I’ve been getting Rolfing done by Jason Sager, who is fantastic. Some of you know I started Rolfing for my RSI, and that it’s been a positive experience not just in terms of pain relief, physical awareness as well; some of you also know I started dancing in order to get over my fear and awkwardness of physical contact, and that dancing has also been a positive experience in terms of cutting down that anxiety and letting me flow – not overanalyze, but actually connect – with another human being’s body, without fear, and to communicate and express things through motion. So you might imagine how much rejoicing went on in my brain when I stumbled across Jason and discovered that he was a Rolfer and a lindy/blues dance instructor.

We decided to do the Ten Series, since Diana’s earlier work last summer had gotten me out of the zomg everything hurts all the time pain!!! zone and I could now focus more on alignment and awareness and making sure RSI didn’t come back to haunt me the same way ever again, dammit.

The first session was a lot of torso work – ribs, abdomen. Here’s how Jason describes it:

Often referred to as the “freeing the breath” session, the first session focuses on ribs, shoulders, and abdominal muscles. For clients unaccustomed to breath work this is often a surprising session where many report feeling that it redefines their idea of what a full inhale feels like. Session 1 also introduces the idea of breathing into areas of the body as a means to help release tensions.

I’d already gotten my “whoa, breathing!‘ moment with Diana, so this was an expansion on that theme. We started out by having me walk up and down the hallway while Jason watched how my muscles and bones moved in relation to each other. He pointed out that I wasn’t twisting as I walked – my hips stayed locked in one position perpendicular to my walk path, making me waddle like a penguin. My torso muscles somehow wouldn’t let me twist.

As we worked, Jason pointed out that my lower ribs had flared out so my diaphragm was always pulled tight. He applied pressure on the floating ribs to give the diaphragm a chance to ease up, and I was surprised at how difficult it was to get my insides to relax – but suddenly, it was as if stiff cardboard was replaced by pliable sponge, and I felt my diaphragm’s motion and went whoa, that’s weird. I was feeling the internal three-dimensionality of my breathing for what seemed like the first time; I’m used to thinking about my body primarily as it could be mapped or projected to the surface, to my skin.

The tightness in my ribs was fairly localized to the middle section; when I inhaled, the middle section of my ribs didn’t expand -
only the top and bottom of my ribcage did, so it felt like there were separate bellows going in my chest rather than one big integrated breath. We worked on that, and I focused on being aware of the coordination of my breathing; I tend to inhale more than I exhale, so exhaling fully sets me up for better breathing in general. At the end of the session, my breath was integrated from the bottom of my ribcage to somewhere below my collarbone – my neck and shoulders were still too tight to let it go all the way up, but that one’s for later.

The second session started in on feet.

Session 2 is the first step towards rebuilding support in the legs. The
primary territory for this session is below the knee, restoring motion
between the bones of the feet, tuning up the arches, and starting to
rebalance how the body rests on the feet. Depending on need, this
session may also involve some work on the upper legs and hips.

I love walking barefoot, and will kick off my shoes every chance I get, so my feet are actually apparently in pretty decent shape. Sweet! I had ridiculously tight calf muscles, though; instead of splitting into two on either side of my knee, my gastrocnemius had fused into one large mass; the muscle on the outside of the calf that allows the foot to tilt/cup inwards (looking at anatomy diagrams now, possibly the flexor hallucis longus) was also inhibiting my ankle flexion, and sure enough, loosening those gave me a new sense of space – very tiny, very subtle, but there – in my hips when I walked.

I also learned that my quadriceps are actually composed of many parts and layers, and that they run at a slight diagonal instead of the perfectly-vertical single-muscle mass I had imagined. I learned this very, very vividly when Jason started easing apart those layers. Rolfing is intense – and personally, I find that very worthwhile and illuminating. As I walked out of Jason’s office, I could feel the individual muscles in my legs articulating in a way I’d never been aware of before; they were free to move and I was aware of their movement, so now I have a better chance of being able to keep them that way.

That’s all so far; my third session is tomorrow. I’ve also been borrowing Jason’s books, and am starting to learn what sort of books are useful for me in terms of physical awareness. Eric Franklin’s books Dynamic Alignment Through Imagery and Conditioning for Dance have been my favorites, and I’m getting myself a copy of the latter. They combine analysis and science (physics – mechanics and dynamics) of detailed anatomy – which my left-brain engineering self can grasp and pick apart – with pictures and imagery and vivid descriptions of where and how a movement ought to feel. And different ways the same movement can feel, depending on how you think about it!

This stands in stark contrast to a lot of “exercise program” books that only show you photos of what a movement looks like from the outside – and then fills half the book with “Maggie, a mother of 4, lost 40 lbs!” pep stories that… well, good for Maggie, but I don’t really need that sort of motivation. (I want awareness and control, not weight loss, thank you very much.) Franklin’s book is a lovely balance for an overintellectual geek who started out with so little physical awareness she couldn’t look at that picture of Maggie at the gym and imagine what it would feel like to do a lat pulldown.

Will report back after tomorrow’s session on how I’m feeling and what I’ve learned. Mmm, the learnnnnnn.

decompression day

Today… was a decompression day. I spent Saturday feeling more and more introverted and getting more passive-aggressively grumpy as a result – I’d simply reached my Too Much Peopleness quota. This happens after extended periods of time in contact with large groups of strangers, more about and I need solitude to recharge.

It inadvertently started last night after sushi, here when I lay down to rest my (swollen) knee and simply… didn’t wake up again until 3:30am, having slept through 2 alarms, Robyn coming in and out, lights turning on and off… I was dead to the world. Woke up at 3:30, 5:30, and 8:30, each time vacillating somewhat miserably between the need to rest (not so much to sleep – which I needed too – but to be by myself for a while) and guilt over being unable to do work when I attempted to do so. At 8:30, when Robyn got up, I decided screw it, I’m going to sleep. My naps became immediately more restful thereafter, but I’ve still only gotten sleep in bits and snatches.

Dancing helped. There’s blues in Portland every Sunday night, so I took the bus up and spun around in my socks for about 2 hours. I even got asked for repeat dances, which… was flattering, but nice. I was definitely hindered slightly by my knee, which would occasionally send stabbing jolts up my leg, but it was a good night, a night of solid connections. A lot of leads with gentle, subtle styles, which was perfect for my energy level (low) and my knee (ouch) and what I wanted to do (listen quietly, not get flung around the room). One lead complimented me on my “good instincts.” I nearly laughed; they’re not so much instincts as they are years of getting over paranoia, and I’m still not all that great. But I did do a few dips tonight, which surprised me, and it was a good way to turn my brain off for a little while. Live band, too.

Reading and writing is a good way to get my functionality back. My ability to process audio is one of the things that drops out when I’m tired – actually, realizing that it has is a good indication to me that I’m tired. My ability to process text is one of the last things to go (if I ever lose it, I’m really in trouble, and I can only remember it happening once in recent memory). It’s challenging to rest, because sleep… is hard. But I can go upstairs and play guitar. The team is in the lobby (so am I) and they’re playing poker (I’ve been writing).

Highest priority tomorrow is slides, slides slides slides. Slides and being present at OSCON; I’m trying to be more gentle with myself about recharging so I can actually take the event on full-steam. There’s a lot I want to learn, a lot of people I want to meet, a lot of stuff I want to do, but I’ve got to be in a shape to do it. HOOYAH. Will make it through! I’ll be good and tired when I reach Chicago this weekend (visiting my parents for a few days, by request).

It’s a long summer, but a good one. I will… collapse in August. I’ll have the time and space I need to breathe then. It’ll be good.

Physical scan time!

These notes are partially in preparation for hanging out with Nagle on this topic at some point.

I haven’t gone dancing since I got back from Raleigh, pilule and should fix that soon. Actually, I’ve been thinking (for several months now) about what I’d like my body to be able to do, and experimenting a little bit in that direction. I’m pleased with the economy of motion I’ve been able to gain more conscious control of when typing (sometimes, when I remember to pay attention) and playing music. The main breakthrough in the past year has been awareness – physically, I haven’t actually gotten more fit since this time last year, but I have become considerably more continuously and subtly aware of how my body’s doing and how various things affect it. I consider my ability to monitor future changes to be a good investment, so despite my grumblings later in this post on how I should be better at X, Y, or Z, I think this was a year well-spent.

I’m a little better about being aware of having a range of motion, but not sufficiently so, and I’m not satisfied with the degree of flexibility I’ve become aware of. I’m playing with some techniques from proprioceptive neuromuscular facilitation (PNF) stretching and seeing whether they make a difference – I haven’t started measuring objectively whether they do, and perhaps I should – but all I know is that it feels good.

Cardiovascularly and endurance-wise… well, things could be better. I’ve tried doing things like the couch to 5k running plan before, but the problem is that I’m (1) hyperactive and easily bored, and (2) am terrible with cardiovascular exercise that requires considerable effort to context-switch. In other words, I’m not going to take 5 minutes to stop working, change into shorts and sneakers, and then go run for 30 minutes. I need to be able to context-switch between whatever-I-am-doing and yay being hyper yay! in – let’s say 30 seconds. Still haven’t found a great lifehack for that yet – although I can drop into throwing punch combos while continuing to read on my computer screen on the (frequent) days I work from home. I’m willing to work hard in terms of doing physical exercise, I just need to find ways to make getting into that working-hard the path of least resistance. I think I need my exercise to be more social, but I’m not stable enough (even if I didn’t travel at all) to make that sort of commitment with other people. Meh.

I’m highly displeased at the general state of atrophy my muscles are in, though I admit that having them mostly unknotted is a triumph in itself; I do stand taller and walk straighter than I used to, and I’m a little more aware of the places where that’s not yet the case because something I don’t yet understand is stuck. I’m aware of it enough to rub out some of my knots with various implements like a small rubber ball for my shoulderblades and what looks like a giant blue crabclaw-cracker for my forearms, and I’ll frequently end the evening by working out those knots and feeling the warm blood slowly come back into my fingers.

I hypothesize that better muscle tone in my back, shoulders, and forearms would improve the situation considerably, so I jumped on the one-month groupon for metrorock (thanks to Liz for the heads-up) and look forward to my first consecutive month in Boston (…April, I think) so I can take full advantage of it. I don’t expect the experiment to last beyond that; it’s purely a “let’s see if building up these muscles does indeed help” thing, and I tend to do well with the “go almost-every-day for a short-time-period” style of trying new things out.

Between now and then, I’m learning how to exercise in ways compatible with travel; I’m doing a lot of inclined-$bodyweight_exercise because I’m often not strong enough to have good control when doing, say, a normal push-up. Basically, I’m trying to get to the point where I can go climbing and have fun without too much worry of overdoing it; I went once with some friends when we were in college and enthusiastically rendered myself unable to move without great pain the next day, and I’m… trying to avoid that now. Suggestions for travel exercise equipment welcome. I’ve been thinking about getting one of the lifeline gym bag kits – the jungle gyms in particular look like a lot of fun – but I want to make sure that whatever I get won’t just sit and gather dust.

I’m eating relatively well; I’m pleased with that. Cooking a lot of vegetables and stocking the fridge with healthy things gives me both a “let us relax now… with FIRE!” outlet via the cooking part and a path-of-least-resistance to eating things that are good for me more often than not. And honestly, I’m going to have fried cheese and beer and giant burgers because my metabolism will not be like this forever and I like it and it’s tasty – I mostly want to make sure I get vitamins and stuff as well. I could be better about not being dehydrated. My skin is perpetually dry, but ever since I moved the lotion bottle from my bedroom to the bathroom, I’ve actually been using lotion, and this has improved. Maybe I need to get a pair of 2L soda bottles, fill ‘em up with water each morning, and finish both by the end of every day.

Sleep schedule: oh geez. Where do I start with this? I still don’t have one. The monthlong agreement with Andrew from September 2009 to get 6 consecutive hours per night was aggravating, but ultimately good for me. Perhaps I should try that again. I suspect that coupling hard physical exercise with a regular sleep schedule will be a Good Idea in terms of helping me stay… not necessarily steadier, but more able to buffer my Random ADHDness. Controlled sprints over wild spurts – I can get a lot done in wild spurts, and I’ve done that since I was a little kid, but now the thing is learning how to harness that, direct it towards what I want to sprint at, when I want to sprint at it… this is very hard for me to do, it’s several years since I started trying, and it’s… getting better. Not yet up to standards. But better.

Actually, this might be a good week to try something I’ve been meaning to experiment with for a while. What happens if I try to shift my wake-up time significantly earlier – say, 5am? That means I have to head to bed by 11 in order to get 6 hours (skeptical, but… okay). I’ll start by seeing how it goes tomorrow morning, and I’ll head off to braindump the rest of my buffer from the day and then plan out tomorrow and wind down.

Remedial early childhood motor skills development

Been experimenting with massage tools to loosen up my own muscle knots. There’s a rubber wedge that unfreezes my shoulder blade, pills a sort of crab-cracker for the neck and shoulders, vitamin a wooden block that frees my neck, rollers for my forearm. They hurt like the devil, but in the good way that means blood flow and mobility will follow. They’ll be travelling with me all of July, marking the first time since my extended 3+ month China/Philippines trip in 2007 that I’ve packed anything larger than a backpack. (Not counting moving between residences of my own, of course).

Now that I’m starting to get used to the feeling of muscles releasing via massage, I need to learn how to keep them loose. One blocker to that is that I’m weak – by that I don’t mean out of shape in general (though I could certainly get better), but that specific muscles simply haven’t been used in years because they’ve either been knotted up or bound by other muscles that were. I don’t have the strength or the control (proper posture is still something of a crapshoot; I repeatedly stand or sit until I get it right, but I can’t consciously move myself into position) to use them properly, which means I still overuse the wrong muscles, which means things knot up again. So I am going to look at awareness first, then control, then strength, then flexibility. Slowly. It’ll take weeks and months and years.

I’ve become increasingly interested in the physical feedback mechanisms that work for piano playing, which I am still quite new to. I want to get that peripheral awareness of my body into computing; in both, you submerge yourself into your instrument in order to create something, so if you have to consciously and constantly figure out how to use your instrument, it’s no good – but piano-playing does this in such a way that you must stay very aware of your body’s relationship with the instrument to perform well, whereas there is no such immediate performance incentive with computing. In other words, while bad posture while typing might make your hands hurt in a couple hours, bad posture while playing piano makes you sound terrible right now. Dimming my monitor unless my posture’s good? I don’t know… but I’m starting to leave space open to think of hacks to make for this.

While talking with my aunt (the kindergarten teacher) about how young children learn to use and move their bodies, and how I’ve always been physically awkward and kinesthetically unaware (and to compensate, extremely cerebral), we both realized I’d spent a large chunk of my toddlerhood in a hospital bed. 2 months in a coma is a long time for a 2-year-old to not be running around, and I was in a bed for quite some time after I came out of that coma. Physical therapy as a 3-year-old let me walk and sit again, but whie I can perform all these actions functionally, I wasn’t doing them very consciously, or well, throughout most of my life.

Reading through early childhood motor development books and exercises (apparently this is where gym teachers get their stuff from) has been instructive. Some of their exercises are hard! And it’s frustrating, because my brain can think of how a body ought to be able to do this, but my body won’t, in subtle ways – my hips won’t rotate like so when I sit, and now it’s not just a child’s unfamiliarity wih having a body that I need to fight, but two decades of habits embedded in the body of a young adult. At least I won’t have another growth spurt and another body mapping to relearn in a few years. If I get a tripod, I’ll try to film some of them so I can document my physical awkwardness diminishing.

I love learning in unfamiiar worlds. It’s a game to see how quickly I can become fluent in something completely foreign to me, to learn how to learn something from scratch. In some ways, it’s a blessing I missed out on a lot of things as a kid; it allows me to see them with fresh eyes as a conscious, grown-up learner… and I’ll never take knowing anything for granted. Or at least I’ll do my best.