Monthly Archives: June 2009

UPDATE – Hardwired for Rhythm

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How fortuitous to make mention of the Music Instinct in yesterdays blog. Some of the best interviews in the documentary often came from the mouth and mind of Neurologist Oliver Sacks.

As it happened, Dr. Sacks made an appearance on, of all places, John Stewart’s the Daily Show last night. Glad to know John and I share similar interests…or at least the person who books his guests.

Promoting his Nova special Musical Minds, which airs TONIGHT on PBS. Check your local listings and set your DVR for a mind-blowing exploration on the plasticity of human brain and our instinctual connection to rhythm and music.

(Excerpt from pbs.org)

Can the power of music make the brain come alive? Throughout his career Dr. Oliver Sacks, neurologist and acclaimed author, whose book Awakenings was made into a Oscar-nominated feature film starring Robin Williams and Robert De Niro, has encountered myriad patients who are struggling to cope with debilitating medical conditions. While their ailments vary, many have one thing in common: an appreciation for the therapeutic effects of music. NOVA follows four individuals—two of whom are Sacks’s case studies—and even peers into Sacks’s own brain, to investigate music’s strange, surprising, and still unexplained power over the human mind.


Hardwired for Rhythm

Music is powerful.

We are all born with a certain level of instinct in regards to music, rhythm, dance. It would stand to reason why young children often move to music before they can speak or walk. But why? Scientists are still trying to understand. What they have discovered is the amazing power of music and dance to aid in healing movement, speech, and even memory. It is even possible to change the shape and use of one’s brain with music. The plasticity of the brain, is much more changeable than once believed, regardless of age.

A new documentary premiered on PBS this past weekend on this subject, “The Music Instinct: Science and Song”. Many of the topics, from the unified field theory of physics ,to human cognition and healthcare are explorable on the website. It is a documentary worth checking out. Music is weaved into our everyday lives much more than we realize.

According to research, your brain can create the same endorphin “high” listening to a favorite song, similar in scope to falling in love or taking certain drugs.

If nothing else today, do this for yourself: Crank up your favorite song, let go and dance around a bit. It doesn’t have to be “good”. Just jump around.

Your body and brain will thank you for the release!

If you are seeking new music inspiration,  I recommend checking out the song of the day here.

140.x600.dance.festival.open…And don’t forget to let go!

Let Go – Releasing tension essential for balance

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Feel like life is fueled by stress?

Without it, would nothing get done?

Is life about constantly running from one event or meeting to the next?

Long for a week or two vacation,  just sitting on the beach?

Welcome to the party.  You are one of the millions of tension junkies that believe this is what normal life should be.

Yeah. We need stress. It’s the necessary fight or flight instinct.  In modern life, encountering dangerous situations is rare, but, the instinct is always there. The human body is prepared for disaster. Tension junkies live in disaster mode everyday.

Among innumerable symptoms, prolonged stress breeds muscle atrophy and joint imbalance. Keeping the body in a high alert state creates significantly greater risk of petering out quickly…In other words, illness and ultimately death comes much faster. Nice thought, eh.

Constant stress and tension is unnecessary energy expended. It’s like running your car in the garage, day in and day out, keeping it ready because of the fear it might not work if you turn it off.  By learning to release stress, muscles lengthen, energy in the mind and body is preserved, and happiness ensues.

As a tension junky, here’s the most important realization to grasp right now:

The biggest challenge in modern society is to stop, relax and turn inward. Letting go will be the hardest part.

There it is. Challenged defined. Once realized, begin to attempt simple relaxing techniques. Whatever can be done, be it 20 minutes or 2 minutes, will get you on your way to being a more centered person.

progressive relaxation

progressive relaxation

#1. Find 15 minutes of solitude to practice progressive relaxation. It’s kind of like reverse psychology for yourself. Lying down is best for this, although you can sit up. Spend a few moments investigating each part of the body, inhaling and contracting, or bracing the muscles. Slowly exhale, releasing the bracing completely. Letting the muscles feel warm and heavy, completely relaxed. Try it a couple times from head to toe. After, scan to see if there are any remaining tension spots and focus extra attention on them.  Don’t skip a muscle: eyes, jaw, abdomen, even your toes.

#2. Find 10 minutes to focus on your breathing for relaxation. Inhale and take in fresh air and relaxation, slowly exhale out muscle stress and mind clutter, feeling your body sinking into the ground or chair.

#3. Find moments throughout the day when your stress responses are triggered. Your heart beats fast, breathing is shallow, flinching to avoid traffic, or the brain feels stressed. Recognize these moments and take a second to recover, breathing slowly, relaxing the muscles, and let your mind and body know that everything is okay. Being flexible and able to lower stress levels at will is great stress management.

Keep your brain in your body! Science has long separated the brain from the rest of the body. It is slowly bringing the two back together. Tension is not just held in your mind, it is held in the body, in every muscle and every cell. Research is beginning to coordinate movement, breathing, aesthetic therapies, even music and language skills, to create a more centered body and mind…a more healthy individual.

With that said, here is another stress lowering technique:

#4. Enjoyable exercise or activities brings stress levels down, and keeps the mind and body in balance.I must stress enjoyable. Treadmills might not cut it. Go Outdoors, swim, play an instrument, play with children, paint a picture, dance to music, find an outlet. Create your own release.

From an exercise perspective, effectively letting go of neck and shoulder tension, or hip tension, allows true movement from the center of the body. Keep this in mind when exercising. Explore different muscles in the core, by simply breathing and letting go.

Everyday life should be a balance of vacation and work, of stress and calm, of chaos and silence. Balance and flexibility make for a happier lifetime.relax-linea

Weight and Fashion – And Michael Jackson?

My plan was to blog about the plus size fashion industries rise…finally appreciating the fact that most are not over 5 foot 9 and under 110 pounds…crystal_italian_vogue_1

Let’s face it, most of us are not Kate Moss.

Slowly. Very slowly, the cultural and social awareness of this fact is beginning to catch on. We all appreciate things that shine. We would all love to emanate beauty and confidence.

Gaultier

Gaultier

Here’s a pretty good piece on Fashion geared toward larger women, from the Daily Beast.  Although, the said self procaimed  “fatshionista” term, seems self depricating. It may just be a first step in claiming an identity and taking a stand.

I especially enjoyed the mention of Kate and Laura Mulleavy, sisters and creators of Rodarte, probably the best fashion line in the US.

Laura and Kate Mulleavy

Laura and Kate Mulleavy

In a strange twist of fate, Michael Jackson died. And another end of our societal disorders spectrum emerged.

0828_michael_jackson_gettyPoor Michael Jackson was the epitome of image conscious disorders and self loathing…think of the various surgeries, health frailties, and ultimately his lack of weight. Think of how many people surrounded Michael Jackson, and yet, how ultimately lonely he seems to have been. His death is untimely, but please think of it as a cautionary tale in the vein of Heinrich Hoffmann. Speculation about MJ or not, if you know of anyone who demonstrates the signs of an eating disorder, health issues,  anxiety, or depression, please do not think twice about trying to help, whether a friend, neighbor, or relative.  Awareness, individual or public, will always be the first and hardest step to addressing a problem.

Thriller was the first album I bought. And Michael, yours, was the first poster I ever chose for my bedroom wall .

Thank you for your amazing lifetime of art and inspiration to the world.

poster on my bedroom wall

poster on my bedroom wall

Too Hot to Workout?

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Throughout a large part of the country the temperatures are soaring. If you are in these temperatures. Beware of working out outdoors, and follow a few simple guidelines.

Working out indoors is preferable in 100+ temps, or days with bad air quality.

Cut back your regular routines until your body adjusts.

Early morning workouts are best right now. The temperatures are lowest. Evening workouts come in second.

Drink plenty of fluids. Dehydration is a big factor.

The older you are, often the greater the risk for heat stroke, dehydration, etc. Use caution.

Take our workout time and practice focused meditation and deep breathing. This can be even more rewarding to your overall health and mind!

If all else fails, a mint julip on the front porch with a friend isn’t a bad idea either….

Stay Cool!

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Want a stronger back? Stop fixating on abdominals.

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An article appeared yesterday in the New York Times Magazine discussing the myths behind doing deep abdominal crunches for a strong back.

I couldn’t agree more. When repetitively overdone, such exercises can create new injuries.

DON'T DO THIS

DON'T DO THIS

Think of your core as your entire trunk, front, back and sides, beginning just below the collar bones and going all the way down to the back of the inner thighs, just below the gluteus maximus. Your whole body coordinates to create a length, strength, and flexibility.

Here are a good guidelines to keep in mind.

#1. Don’t over do one exercise. There is no magic exercises creating perfection. A few well done, thoughtful exercises are better than 50 sloppy ones.

#2.  Play with gravity in your movements. Make sure to strengthen and lengthen all the muscles of your trunk. Do some sitting, standing, lying down (front and back), or balancing.

#3. Mix up your routine. Don’t get too comfortable in one series of movements. Challenging your brain and muscle memory is key in staying strong. Every muscle counts, each one helps another to do its job.

#4. Moderation. Start small, slow and steady. If you push out the gate too hard, you could injure yourself, or get frustrated very quickly.

DO THIS

DO THIS

Here are some excellent moves from the New York Times online article. Anyone who takes mat classes with me will recognize several of these movements. These movements can be modified based on injuries or weaknesses. For more beginning exercise routines, check out the post on The easy tv workout.

A Letter to President Obama on Smoking

Dear President Obama,

Hey. How’s it going?

Word on the street is you got a full plate. What with; the economy, a new dog, auto-makers, global warming, Iran, banking systems, North Korea, a young family, national health care,  social issues of various shapes and sizes…and not to mention you’ve been at your new diggs for little over 5 months.

I’d be smoking if I were you.

Smoking can be construed as cool. (Picking your nose could be cool too, i just don’t know that guy) I certainly thought so at one point.  Anyone who smokes knows it is true at one point in their lives. Be aware, the strongest propaganda can back fire.

At 21, anti-establishment, within collegiate reason, was my rule.  An on-air personality for an Illinois NPR jazz affiliate, I longed for a deep sultry voice, and the character of Frank Black – the 60 year old construction worker from Mississippi who hosted the weekend blues show, just without his hardships.  I started drinking coffee, smoking cigarettes, and hanging in dingy diners, where locals would roll their eyes at another college kid coming through. I fell in love with Tom Waits, John Lee Hooker, Billie Holiday….all the good raspy voices with lots of soul and artistic angst.

My relationship with smoking began, because it was art romanticized. Smoking seemed soulful and pensive. Many times it was the only quiet moments spent with my 1000 mph thoughts. Smoking was a mediation.

Problem is, my body doesn’t consider smoking to be artful, and neither does the world around me. It’s hard being a pilates instructor and a smoker at the same time. (Though I’m sure President is worse). Covering up the scent, sneaking them in the car, hiding behind the building. I work out. I eat better than most. Couldn’t I have my vice? (I still feel my logic isn’t totally flawed here.) Attempting to stand defiant, my conscience always felt off.  Damn it.

The decision was to quit once. Only when ready. Otherwise, just keep smoking. About 11 years after I started, on April Fools day, 2007, it was time. I quit. I just stopped. And it sucked.

Green tea curbed the nicotine cravings. Sitting down to a routine pot of tea and mandarins in the evening instead of cigarettes and wine on the back porch helped.  Locking myself in the bathroom for 5 minutes, or stepping outside, and inhaling deep breaths, as though smoking, to relax helped.  Keeping a notebook to jot down thoughts or expletives when frustrated or “full-brained” helped.

President Obama, sounds like you have some pent up energy and stress. Try finding decompression alternatives. I know you exercise, but try channeling the smoking energy into new personal ceremonies, habits, and/or meditations for yourselfnot for the greater good of the country. Yeah. Easier said than done, but keep it mind, OK? You have to own personal habits…or disown them as the case may be.

I still think smoking looks cool in certain contexts. But, I choose not to be cool in that way anymore. There’s gotta be other ways to identify artistically…other ways to be anti-establishment without hurting…other ways to have meditative moments without hiding.

Good luck and don’t quit if you’re not ready.  It won’t work. You’re still cool no matter what. I got your back.

Hey, best of luck with everything!  If you need a movement instructor to help you and the White House staff, I’d be happy to start the Mind/Body Fitness Movement from the White House. Imagine the health care savings from lowering stress levels!

…just adding another side to your plate.

Best Regards,

Stephanie L. Ellison

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