Archive for August, 2008

Focus Focus: More on Mental Practice, Meditation and Michael Phelps

August 21, 2008

 

Phelps, 2008 Bejing Olympics

Phelps, 2008 Bejing Olympics

On the question of mental practice, meditation and athletic training:   I noted yesterday that the great Olympic star Michael Phelps was seen as a child who lacked the necessary focus to 3rd grade academic tasks.  With that in mind, much made of the fact that Phelps was diagnosed with ADHD and it was the practice of lane swimming that helped him “channel” his all over the map energy.

                         (See http://www.additudemag.com/adhd/article/1998.html)

I won’t debate the cultural psychology or politics of the ADHD diagnosis, but its safe to say that in listening to Phelps speak about his own training methods, we hear the mantra “focus, focus, focus.” Dedicated goal setting, avoiding negative mental chatter, and being with the very moment of his action (a.k.a. the ole Ram Dass mantra “Be Here Now”) — this is the stuff of Olympic athletic mental training.

We also learn that Phelps has the gift of maintaining a relaxed state before a meet and there’s talk that he produces less lactic acid build up in his muscles that most athletes.   No doubt, there are many online (yours truly included)  who are curious to comb through the details of Phelps Olympic genius.

And what can we learn from this athletic genius?  Mental training of Olympic athletes has long been of interested to sports trainers, kinesiologists and sport psychologists but more to the point: Phelps’s own minimalist theory (“Set a goal. Focus only on that goal”) insinuates the brain technology involved in peak body performance.  Sports psychologist Steve Ungerleider offers a somanautic perspective culled from years of researching Olympic athlete training:: 

From his 1996/2005 book MENTAL TRAINING FOR PEAK PERFORMANCE:

Breath, Meditation and Forming Mental Snapshots are two of the four mental practice traits shared amongst Olympic athletes. (The other two being building confidence by means of positive self-talk and learning to use relaxation to cool down and revvv up!)  Yep, taking time to find the natural rhythm of ordinary breathing and picturing the goal — using your imagination to see the goal accomplished — even visualizing all of the steps in getting to the goal — the power of creating a mental “snapshot”  cannot be under-estimated by anyone engaged in sport or movement training.

Here then are glorious mind/brain/body fruits for digesting:  Those fascinated by the challenge of peak performance, be you swimmer, biker, dancer, designer, entrepreneur,  corporate leader or yogic journey woman/man of health, fitness and well-being, the kernel of Olympic truth seems to lie in the story told by those who have imagined and accomplished their goals:

SpaceSuit Yoga/Olympic Mantra:  

Make a goal.

      Focus on the Goal.

          Breath into the orchestrated unity of Mind/Body/Brain.  

                Visualize the Goal.  

                         Feel into the Goal.

 

                                     Be the Goal.

The vast frontier of mental practice is before us — with neuroscience unlocking the neuronal mysteries of the brain/body mapping, and showing the neural networking engaged by meditation, guided imagery and right brain talents like mental practice visualization — students, parents, teachers, coaches, thought leaders and all those seeking the 21 century path of enlightenment are bound to reap the benefits!   

May the Breath Be With You!

Dr. G.

Meditation or Mental Practice: Michael Phelps and his Olympiad Success!

August 20, 2008

The Platform:  2008 Bejing Olympics

The Twitter:  Brain Training for Gold Medals and more!

The Application:  Meditation, Mental Practice, Attention and Awareness Training (AAT)

 

 

A recent article in the New York times noted Michael Phelps’s 3rd grade teacher extending congratulations to Phelps and his family for the gold medal success.  As we learn, Phleps in his early years had the teacher worried that he had “no focus” in his studies. (What 3rd grader has “focus” in academic studies?!!!) With Phelps now drawing world-wide attention to the glory of his strategic swimming, the teacher apologies with a realization: Phelps just had to find the subject that drew out his focused attention.

Expectations of 3rd graders aside, Phelps’s victory is his to savor for years to come for he has proven to himself and to the world that consistent physical and mental training over time can transform our lives in ways that reach beyond our imagination.

 

Clearly, Phelps and his swim team buddies have mastered the art and science of “concentration” or “focused attention” — practices that might be considered comparable to the astounding feats of attention practiced by Buddhist monks submitted to recent neuro-scientific studies.  Turning to the neuroscience camp, we learn the years of focused attention, of bringing “mindfulness” to our actions makes significant neurological changes in the brain.  As science writer Sharon Begley reminds us in TRAIN YOUR MIND, CHANGE YOUR BRAIN,  the matter of morphing brain tissue comes down to a simple fact: You’ve got to want to change it for the brain to change.

No doubt, Phelps and his crew wanted to break records, win gold medals, perform at the top of their game.  The reason for such bold desire? We can leave that to enlightened or nefarious speculation, for the real story here is this:  Hot, passionate, and inspired human desire enables dedicated action.  Dedicated Mental Practice transforms the brain….and body.  

I vote for inviting Phelps and the American men’s swim team into the brain labs of UCLA, University of Washington, or Wisconsin to test their neuronal abilities to “pay attention.”  And then let’s bring in full tilt Olympic education into the school system so that 3rd graders can be inspired to do their thing.

Michael Phelps: You Go Girl!

And to all of the somanauts out there, a SpaceSuit Yoga tip for mental practice:

1) Best way to begin: Pay close and intimate attention to breathing, whether you’re walking, swimming, or lying down.  Notice the feeling of breathing — whether breathing takes up a lot of room or very little room, whether breathing feels fast or slow.  Visualize  breathing — get a sense of where it actually takes place in  your body.

2. Set aside a little time each day to “pay attention” to your breath and use a timer, so you don’t have to keep track of the minutes.   Master one sequence of time before adding more minutes.

 

 

 

3. Keep a written record of your time so you can 1) notice the sequence of improvements and 2) make a felt, embodied connection between your inner sense of mastery with an outer account of recorded time.

4.  Invigorate yourself with reading on how to motivate and change your brain!  Several suggestions have already been noted in this blog.   For history buffs — check out the “Zen and the Art of Archery” — a classic on mental practice and meditation.

May the breath and brain be with you!

Dr.  G.

Brains Down Under!

August 9, 2008

The Platform: AUSTRALIA, 2008

The Twitter: The Brain Makes Culture; Culture Makes the Brain

The Application:  Art and Design

It’s a rainy afternoon in Melbourne Australia and the subject of the embodied brain finds new avenues of discussion.   I am down under, here to lecture on “neuroaesthetics in art and design” at universities in Sydney and Melbourne, where the question of the ënculturated brain has come to the fore:  Sitting at the Chocolate Buddha Bar, eating yummy gyoza and kingfish sashimi, I had the chance to speak with a couple who took an interest in the idea that art has a direct”, phenomenal impact on the actual neural structure of the brain.  They posed the question:  What affect do different cultural art forms have on the human brain? Or to ask it another way, are Australian or Chinese brains different if they are raised on a different set of visual images?

If anyone was watching the opening ceremony of the 2008 Summer Olympics, one might be quick to say, the proof is in the pudding! Thousands of years evolution have clearly contributed to the neural networking that produced Chinese trapeze and firework aesthetics!  But does that mean Chinese brains are structurally different than Australian brains?

Neurologists of art and neuro-aesthetes tell us that “the brain makes culture and culture makes the brain. The reciprocal feedback that takes place during the course of an artist’s education is bound to take on both neural and cultural dimensions, especially where values of light, space, color, line, scale  — the fundamentals of visual composition are concerned.  Likewise, the novel human experiences like watching the bedazzling opening Olympic ceremony surely affects the brain, especially if one has never seen Chinese art, Chinese film, Chinese opera, or experienced the thrilling spectacle of fire-works.   Novelty, after all, is a hall-mark motif of those conditions that are ripe for changing brains. (Think of the Anti-Aging Benefits!)  Newness, the “first ëncounter,the stunning effect of unique invention –graps our ear and our eye and most assuredly our brain!

To the extent that neurologists can detect the differents in the ways in which different cultural traditions affect the human brain, is the extent to which we can begin to understand the value of culture and cultural tradition in training the brain.   Let us remember that as humans, we phylogenically share the potential to grow a brain with the same structural and developmental likeness, and with the structural capacity for neuroplasticity.   And as a specie, we have the capacity to grow a neural network that challenges our ethnocentric inclinations and enables us to share language, food,  music, images, sport — and as my  good Ozzie compadre Nick Tsoutas reminds me — love. (If you’re in Sydney, check out Nick’s latest efforts at Casula Powerhouse, entitled “Äustralian”.)“Nike Sawas, “Ätomic full of love, full of wonder”

SPACE SUIT YOGA LATE SUMMER/WINTER Neuroaesthetic TIP:   Seek Novelty! Expand Your Brain!

*Travel down under (or to any “foreign” country for that matter)

*Learn a new language 

*Test out your mind’s eye on a challenging piece of art

*Play Suduko during a 13 hour trip to Oz

*Surf the great oceans of the world!  (For you Ozzies, compare L. A. surf to Sydney Surf;  for all Northern Hemisphere folks, check out the azure blue waters of Bondi!)

 

From Aussieland,  where the most civilized and the most ancient meet ….. may the breath be with you!   And in these days of Olympic contest and glory,  may all brains be inspired to make culture so that culture inspires the growth and well-being of the each and every embodied brain!

Zoom Zooom!

Dr. G. a.k.a. M. A. from L. A.