How To Make Your Body Disappear

Some fun new research has discovered that turning your gym into an oversized, self-propelled boom box can boost your workout performance:

…the results showed that most of the volunteers had generated significantly greater muscular force while working at the musically equipped machines than the unmodified ones. They also had used less oxygen to generate that force and reported that their exertions had felt less strenuous. Their movements were also more smooth in general, resulting in a steadier flow of music.

Directional Flow, artwork by Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli Abstract Design
‘Directional Flow,’ Exper Giovanni Rubaltelli
Abstract Design

Earlier research has already demonstrated that music both inspires workouts and calms the nervous system, improving overall performance. Along with endorphins, it’s a natural pain reliever (as I can attest, having shredded my posterior tibial tendon by running with the assistance of Coldplay.)

But still, most of us treat things like music as incidental–nice to have, when we think about it, but not necessary or integral to our lives.

Music, however, can be a gateway to the state of consciousness known as ‘flow’; when we are so engaged in an activity that our sense of time and identity seems suspended. As Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi describes, in ‘Flow: The Secret to Happiness,’ our brains can only process about 110 bits of information per second. When our brains are immersed in a creative activity, there is not enough bandwidth left over for maintaining a sense of individual identity, and all that goes with it–hunger, fatigue, worry, and pain.

I don’t know how many of you experience this, but during my 20+ years as an artist, I routinely use music as a way to jump-start a state of flow. It’s like hopping on a train. The music seems to obviate doubt and paralysis by providing a clear pattern for moving and thinking. My brain is both attending and translating the sounds into a series of creative decisions which leave no room for extraneous sensations. It’s only when the album ends that I notice I’m hungry and have to pee.

How does this happen for you? Do you ever drop your body while you’re working? What about during a massage?

A Tip for Young Healers

Several years ago, a guy from my yoga class offered me a ‘free nutritional counseling session.’ He was a student at a holistic health program and needed to get practice credits. I said sure, why not–even though I’m pretty confident that my nutritional needs get met, and have the bursting health to prove it, I can always learn something new. Besides, I was suffering from chronic tendonitis in my ankle at the time, and was consulting every available source for some insight into healing it.

When we set up a place and a time to meet, I told him about the ankle, along with some contextual information about the place and time of my Pilates class. It was obviously superfluous and boring to him, because after two more confirmation calls, he showed up in the wrong spot.

I was annoyed. So annoyed that I refused to reschedule an appointment, even though it was ‘free,’ and even though he wasn’t upset about our ‘miscommunication.’ Because it wasn’t a ‘miscommunication.’ The screw-up was entirely due to the fact that in the course of three conversations, he failed to pay attention to 95% of the words coming out of my mouth.

And in my opinion, listening is the most important skill an aspiring healer can practice. If you don’t do that, all your other skills are worthless.

Because however much you know, you don’t know more than a tiny fraction of the information out there. You don’t know what your client knows, or has tried. You don’t know what you’re doing, most of the time. Most problems are things you can’t fix. Very often, the only real service you can provide is to listen, with your full attention, to whatever your client needs to tell you.

This is a service because most people don’t get anywhere near the amount of attention they need. Particularly when you’ve got chronic health concerns, people don’t want to hear about them. It makes them uncomfortable; they want to fix it, they can’t, they get frustrated. Healthcare professionals are overscheduled, overworked and often underpaid.

One of the worst things about chronic pain and illness is the overwhelming sense of isolation it can induce. I was coping with that, in my bout with tendonitis–as a bodyworker living in a fourth-floor walkup in New York City, having chronic ankle problems was literally crippling, on many levels. The last thing I needed was for some jackass to come along and ‘help’ me by inundating me with first-year New Age nutritional information, most of which I’d known since the age of six. I just needed someone to listen to my long, boring saga of Pilates classes, acupuncture, MRIs, chiropractors, glucosamine, chondrotin, ankle braces, orthotics, pain, and loneliness.

That should have been easy. So if you’re getting into a healing profession in order to ‘help’ people by telling them all the brilliant things you know, examine your motives. Who are you really talking to?