Sunday, August 13, 2006

Mind and Body

As my parents are coming into town on Tuesday, and spending the night at my place, I clearly need to clean up my apartment so I don't hear about how much of a slob I am for the next 47 years. And as I didn't particularly have any other plans today, the idea was nominally to do laundry while turning my apartment upside down and shaking it, perhaps with some bleach, so that it is as spotless as possible.

Needless to say, I stumbled upon the brilliant idea this afternoon (when faced with the choice of Doing Stuff or sitting on my couch watching Babylon 5 or The Twilight Zone) that my purposes would be much better served if I waited until tomorrow to go on a cleaning rampage. So I watched a DVD, wasn't in the mood to have my laptop on my lap for another two hours, and yet still had to come up with something to put off the impending doom.

So I exercised. I lifted weights, I went for a run (nearly ten whole minutes!), and I even stretched. Now, you have to realize, this never happens. Every few weeks, I resolve to "get in shape" or to "go running every other day" or to "at least lift weights to work on alleviating RSI." But it never happens. Even when I do get the occaisonal whim to try to do something physical, it's not strong enough to, you know, actually get off the couch and do something about it.

Today the random though got took control of me when I started off by trying to meditate for ten minutes. I really like the idea of meditation, of solidifying the connection between the mind and the body. This is a connection that is often ignored, even eschewed, in western culture. It's got a bad reputation. To concentrate on or care about such an intangible is what hippies do (and no one actually takes hippies seriously). Even simply caring about the capabilities and explorations of the mind is thought of as weird, or linked with drugs (and, as we all know, drugs are bad). The whole language surrounding how the mind and the body are linked reeks in fou-fou nonsense (e.g., "energy flow") that can't actually be backed up by, you know, science. Nevermind that that's because science just hasn't gotten there yet.

I first became interested in the idea of "meditation" (the term I'll loosely use for the idea of exploring the mind-body connection, though they are clearly distinct) when in Thailand for the first time, in January 2004. My father and I were motorcycle riding around the mountains in northern Thailand for about two weeks, and since this was a vacation after all, we had an hour-long massage each afternoon. Sometimes two. I got hooked on the Thai massage; it's an interactive experience, full-body (starting at the feet and moving up to the head and face), complete with various stretches. "Normal" (i.e., "Swedish") massage often focuses on relaxation, on having you be as calm and peaceful and out-of-it as possible by the end. Thai massage is entirely different; at the end of a good Thai massage, I feel indescribably alive, ready and able to do anything and everything, envigorated and enthused about life itself. This result, to me, is the desired outcome of a deep meditation. I want to learn how to funnel what energy I have into action, into thought.

The basic idea is simple: if I can become a happier, more productive, more energetic person by focussing on not merely what my mind is doing, but also my body, then, well, I should give it a try. I might even become healthier in the process.

Obviously, it's unreasonably, on a whole host of levels, for me to have a daily Thai massage while in Columbus, Ohio and trying to change the prefix adhered to my name. I know I am, in general, guilty of completely ignoring my body until it starts complaing that it wants something or doesn't like something else. Most of the time, it's just this thing I use to take my senses from one place to another, and, most of the time, said senses are merely used as information gatherers. Not exactly a two-way channel. Sure, there's comfort food, which isn't exactly healthy per se, but it's amazing how much better a bag of Doritos can make me feel (let alone a Coke or a nice cup of coffee, but caffiene is a whole other matter for consideration). And it's true, like most people, I get a mild euphoria after running for even five minutes (but it's very difficult to use that as a motivating factor before-hand). Similarly, I have also considered taking up dancing; the summer I spent at Caltech, I went swing dancing several times, though I can't definitively say that was a source of my high productivity and energy levels that summer.

So... what about meditation? How does it work? Everything I can find on the internet is about "relaxing" and "letting it all go" and "de-stressing." Uhm, no thanks. While sitting Indian-style with good posture does feel good for a little while, it doesn't exactly make me want to go figure out how the universe works. Is there a type of "meditation" that energizes instead of puts to sleep?

More along the lines of (mentally) concentrating on physical movement, there's qi gong, which I have mostly heard about from a friend for whom it has been most effective. I have had trouble with RSI (repetitive stress injury) for several years; while it's not as bad now as it used to be (at one point I was unable to open plastic bottles or doors with circular knobs) I still have to be careful not to hurt myself. I don't know much about qi gong, but I am interested in learing more. Apparently, all this would require is getting up early on Wednesdays, as the OSU medical center has recently started offering free weekly classes on qi gong.

But all of these ideas require actually doing something in order to, you know, do. And garnering the motivation to do stuff isn't exactly one of my fortes lately ...


Stephen said...

A recent CBC radio podcast, recently reposted to cover summer vacation, talks about exercise in a very interesting way.

Quirks & Quarks

TM is relaxing. When the mind and body are working together, then one has a better base from which to experience and correct the rest of the Universe.

Never put off until tomorrow what you can put off for good. I have not yet gotten around to sending in my membership application to the Procrastination Society of America. And yet, my motto is Gratification delayed is gratification diminished.

Swedish Massage Enthusiast said...

I have discovered that Swedish massage is a great relaxation tool, especially if to enjoy it weekly. Regular massage calms nerves and has many other great benefits