When Less Effort is Better

Trying to apply a lot of effort and straining to do things can push you to learn poor movements.

Your body will find the most efficient way of doing something with what it has right now, not necessarily accounting for what could be built if you worked in a particular way. Straining to lift heavier at the cost of form means your numbers go up, but are you after numbers? Or changes in your body?

Take it easy.

Rest up.

Especially when you’re learning new movements, apply a little less effort and keep your focus at about 60-70% of total available.

Sleep Plants the Seeds of Your Memory

Simon and Garfunkel’s song, The Sound of Silence, describes quite accurately the process by which sleep plants the seeds produced during wakefulness so they can be remembered the next day. Here’s the first verse:

Hello darkness, my old friend I've come to talk with you again Because a vision softly creeping Left its seeds while I was sleeping And the vision that was planted in my brain Still remains Within the sound of silence

The rest of the song is about relaying the days waking events in the form of a vision to the sleeping brain at night:

In restless dreams I walked alone Narrow streets of cobblestone 'Neath the halo of a street lamp I turned my collar to the cold and damp When my eyes were stabbed by the flash of a neon light That split the night And touched the sound of silence

And in the naked light I saw Ten thousand people, maybe more People talking without speaking People hearing without listening People writing songs that voices never share No one dared Disturb the sound of silence

"Fools" said I, "You do not know Silence like a cancer grows Hear my words that I might teach you Take my arms that I might reach you" But my words like silent raindrops fell And echoed in the wells of silence

And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made And the sign flashed out its warning In the words that it was forming

And the sign said, "The words of the prophets Are written on the subway walls And tenement halls" And whispered in the sounds of silence

I’m reading Matthew Walker’s book, ‘Why We Sleep - The New Science of Sleep and Dreams’. It’s opening my eyes in a big way to the importance of sleep. You can expect me to write a lot more about sleep in the coming months.

One more fascinating tidbit of information from that book while you’re here:

If you are sleep deprived (especially REM sleep - where most dreaming occurs), you become bad at reading emotions on peoples faces. You can’t distinguish one emotion from another with accuracy, and it takes your brain much more work to try.

What’s more, because you can’t distinguish the emotions accurately, you tend towards ‘danger’ as a ‘just in case’. You are much more likely to perceive the people around you to be in a bad mood or even threatening even when it’s not true.

If, on the other hand, you have a good nights sleep, your ability to detect emotions in facial expressions becomes much more accurate and much easier to perform.

Dreaming is an important part of the way you process your emotions AND tunes your emotion sensing skills.

I am finding this book to be delightful and surprising.

Rest and Need

A friend of mine had just told me that he was an insomniac. We were eating burgers on a Wednesday night. He’d come straight from work where he’d had shit day. Just before he had to leave for the day, he had discovered a mistake in an important presentation he had prepared for his boss. The mistake was easy to fix, but this was the second time this had happened and both times he had been the one responsible for the mistake.

He was kept awake at night by mistakes like this one. He told me he needed to get more rest than he did, but thoughts danced around his mind making so much noise he couldn’t sleep. To drown out the noise of his thoughts, he watches movies he knows very well or listens to his favourite album.

As soon as I turn on the movie, the thoughts quieten down and I fall asleep in five minutes.

Problem solved. He just needs to distract himself a little.

And yet, he started this conversation by describing himself as an insomniac. He told me he needs to have the distraction because it helps all the while being sure that it wasn’t really helping him. He’d tried a few other things, but the only thing that helped in the moment was the movies or music.

I was drawn to his description of the cacophony of thoughts keeping him awake. As he described it, he brought his hands up either side of his head as if he were trying to decide between swatting them away and putting his hands over his ears to block out their noise. The image of a man tormented. He laughed as he told me, but this was clearly bothering him.

We talked about the benefits of mediation and learning to be okay with being alone with your mind. Pushing so hard against these thoughts only seems to make them heavier. But if you’re where my friend is, you can’t start mediating today and ‘solve’ the issue right away. Amongst many other things, meditation is a process of learning to observe your thoughts, emotions, or sensations. You’re distracted by them constantly, but over time you can learn to observe them a little longer. You learn to be okay with them, even be curious about them and what they have to tell you. Maybe you can learn not be so tormented by them that they keep you awake at night.

You still need what you need right now.

If you’re anything like my friend, people tell you that you should immediately stop watching tv before bed and try something like mediation instead. It’s shit advice. As your thoughts taunt you, how can you suddenly change your relationship with them without knowing anything about how you might do that? Sure, you could start a mediation practice and slowly learn to need something different to get to sleep. It would probably be great for you - why not get started today? But in the meantime, you’ll continue to need what you need until you don’t need it anymore.

This month I’ll be exploring the concept of need. If you want to follow along, sign up below to get my monthly journal and a sneak peak of the idea I’ll be exploring next month.

De-loading your Training for Fun (and Profit)

This month, I’m exploring the relationship between movement and rest. On the last Sunday of every month I meet with other Canberra movement practitioners to discuss our practice and move together. As a community, Sunday tends to be the day we all take a rest from our training.

But there’s a difference between resting by reading a book and resting by moving. We spent two hours learning mobility drills, playing, and dancing together. We weren’t training, but we still moved.

Intense Rest and Play

As it turns out, I’m de-loading my training this week too. As with rest days, in de-load weeks I still move. I move in a way that is less stressful, so it’s less tiring.

I do less volume with the same or increased intensity in what I do. Doing it this way helps you to figure out feels like to do more work without getting tired since you’re doing much less work overall. You can also de-load by decreasing the intensity but keeping the volume the same, but it’s not as fun. When you can work with more intensity, the possibilities open up. Maybe you can experiment with a heavier weight in your squat, or see what it feels like to do more pull-ups in a row. De-load sessions can be a lot of fun as you break through plateaus and see what you’re capable of.

As my movement practice deepens, my understanding of ‘rest’ is changing. I used to think rest was only when you stopped altogether. But rest is so much more than that.

Rest is an opportunity for you to take a break from the work, do less, be a little less serious, and play.

Eating for Recovery

Most of the time when you think about eating to support rest and recovery, you think about protein. At school you learned that “protein is for growth and repair” so it makes sense.

It’s not as though this isn’t true. But, like so much with life and eating, it’s not that simple. When you’re trying to recover and rest, your body uses a whole lot of other nutrients and minerals in addition to the macronutrients. It will depend entirely on you and the specific situation as to exactly which nutrients you need. Honestly, it’s pretty likely you won’t be able to tell what you need. There are some foods that are good to eat for recovery, your body will do its best with what you give it.

Last week I wrote about eating when you’re tired. The post was really about using systems to help you stay on track while you’re tired or otherwise engaged. This very same system is what will support you in rest and recovery. If you’re supporting your body all the time by mostly eating a varied diet of foods that work for you, you won’t need to do anything in particular to help recover.

Timing and specific details on exactly what food to eat to recover from exercise could help athletes. But if your eating system isn’t working for you, what you eat to recover and support your rest won’t really matter to the big picture. To spend time worrying about the specifics is a detail distracting you from the main game.

Eating is about the strategy, not the tactics.

Working In

This month, I’m exploring the relationship between movement and rest.

Last week, I was recovering from an enormous amount of movement. It was also the first week of my new movement program, so I got to the end of the week feeling extrememly tired. So much for resting! That said, I only felt fully recovered once I was able to move fully again. So, this week I’m looking at ways to keep moving while still getting the required rest.

I found something you’ll love: I heard about the concept of ‘working in’ on a recent episode of the Onnit podcast. It’s about doing movements that bring more energy into the body rather than depleting the body. It’s resting movement! This working in article over at the C.H.E.K. Institute goes into a bit more detail about how to do a work-in. Essentially, it’s doing movements that don’t raise your heart rate or breathing above a rested state like gentle forms of yoga, tai chi, or qi gong.