Is Space the Secret to a Good Workout?
When we think of space, we think of emptiness or a void. In our western world we often times rush to fill that space, as if by filling it we avoid a feeling of emptiness. But space is more than just a void to be filled. Space is what defines the world. How we fill this space when doing yoga, running, cycling, or any other activity defines the workout. To fully understand this we must understand the importance of space.
Solid objects, or the material world, is inconceivable apart from space. Space is what defines the objects we see in our everyday lives. Otherwise everything would be a big long blur. To understand this a little clearer let’s look at musical space. The interval (space) between notes creates the melody. However, when you play music you don’t hear the intervals between the notes. You only hear the music as if it is one long sequence, but without the intervals the melody could not be heard. If you don’t hear the intervals you don’t hear the melody. In just such a way, space is a part of everything and is in fact the defining element. Space is not just “nothing”; it is the opposite of what we call “something.”
Whether I am teaching yoga or Spin/cycle, I like to bring this concept to my students. It teaches them to focus on the here and now and trains them to experience the streaming of one moment to the next. It is this ability to focus and stream, that enhances the workout and allows them to maximize their energy. Each time we lose our focus, whether it is in a yoga pose, running, lifting or cycling our energy slips and the space between widens. The melody or the workout becomes discordant and fragmented. We lose our momentum and our rhythm.
It has been proposed that the human mind can only hold a focus on one thing without parallel thoughts for a maximum of twelve seconds. As I often remind my students, focus is a dying art. We are so inundated with information and constant change that we sometimes find it impossible to simply sit quiet, clear the mind and focus on the task at hand. Music is one of the great tools that we can use to release our mind from thought and learn to focus. Add the right music to the right workout and the participant has the opportunity to slip into the zone.
The zone, also known as being in the flow, is that place where you effortlessly apply your energy to the task at hand. It is the place where you are able to let go of the world around you and focus. It is sometimes called the “sweet spot” because it creates a physical and mental high. Time flows without awareness of the space in between. Things flow like an endless stream and the melodic nature of this level of consciousness creates the Zen experience of, “being here now.”
We all struggle to maintain focus in our daily lives. Home, family, work and technology vie for our attention. But when you get lost in a project, or a moment of concentration, your brain shifts from overload and goes into a two-step process to bring about a state of focus. First, it visualizes the big picture and then it focuses on one aspect of the visualization. In my Spin/cycle class I have the students close their eyes and locate themselves physically on the bike. When the eyes are closed we stop darting around the room and pull inside ourselves. By physically locating yourself in time and space, you begin the process of focusing. Then, I ask them to empty their minds and listen to the music. The body and the mind become totally in tune with the music and thus the moment.
Breathing is also a big part of staying focused. The mind will slip away at the first chance. It likes to run wild like a monkey; jumping from one thing to the next. The breath can train you to come back to the moment and refocus. Taking a deep long breath and then releasing it into the moment clears the mind. When the mind is clear, the body moves with ease, and in this hypnotic state, neurochemicals are released flooding the body-mind with a rush of feel-good energy, and as it collides with the flow, you reach the zone.
Being in the zone creates the seamless movement from one moment to the next without awareness of the space in-between. In this seamless stream, stress is reduced, output is maximized and creativity flows. I call this the “Zen Ride.” And even if for only a moment, the rider gets the flow and touches the zone, it is time and effort well spent.
Countless times my students have told me to never stop doing that “Zen thing.” They tell me it is the one time in the day when they are able to really let go. They let the space between thoughts define them and those intervals between thoughts are what create the melody of life. Stay in the zone!