Archive for the ‘Wellbeing’ Category
April 21st, 2013 by Emma
How does the art of pulling coffee relate to the body and physical practice?
At Di Bartoli Home Barista Centre in Bondi Junction, Renzo Castillo, our Peruvian coffee maestro, taught us some basics, and so, being ever the physical “analogist”, this is how I consider the principles of making a good cup of coffee can apply to movement and embodiment (abbreviation = dance).
In coffee making and in dance, you need to know your instrument and how to play it, how to read it and to adapt it to changing situations. According to Renzo, there are four variables in coffee making.
• The beans. Where they were cultivated. When they were roasted. How they were roasted. How long they have been left to mature
• The machine – and its delivery of water – the perfect heat and the perfect pressure.
• The grinder and the grind. How coarse? How fine?
• You. You (the maker) take the majority of the responsibility. All things being equal, it is up to you to balance the elements and make them work harmoniously together.
Lesson 1: Building consistency.
Practice! Practice makes perfect. If you are consistent with how you pull your coffee from how you fill the filter basket – the number of times you “tap down” the coffee, the number of times and how much you draw from the grinder, and finally, how you “tamp” it down, then you will be able to understand what other elements, other variables, are altering its quality and flavour.
In dance you also build a consistent approach – a consistent practice – and through that consistency learn to recognise the variables effecting our performance.
This doesn’t necessarily mean we have to adhere rigidly to such obsessive practices as Ashtanga Yoga or classical ballet or run 12km everyday (although this form of consistency works for many committed people). But we can be physical everyday; and this helps get to know our bodies, our instruments. Through consistent physical work and attention to ourselves within that work, we can read ourselves better – get to know our own physical ebb and flow and how to adapt to it.
Lesson 2: Quality over quantity.
Renzo watched and timed us pulling our own coffee a couple of times, aiming for the “ultimate” 30 second flow for a double shot pour (under 30 seconds – too quick therefore too watery; or over 30 seconds – too slow and therefore burnt). That essential 20-30 ml espresso shot is where the flavour and quality resides – any more and you are beginning to mix in diluted and burnt residues. Pulling coffee you must be absolutely on your game, as it truly is about not too little, not too much – timing and quality.
Here, I would draw a parallel to the quality and time management of your practice – your attention to it and investment in it. My experience in the majority of dance company rehearsal rooms was TIME WASTING! Rather than working with quality – focused and attentive, we would work in an overly ‘diluted’ fashion. Admittedly it is hard to focus attention within the studio with so many egos and bodies bouncing about – but that is the role of the rehearsal director – the trainer – the coffee puller – to be in charge of the task at hand and know how to manage it to get the perfect 20ml dose, the most useful quality filled rehearsal or period of exercise. My all-time favourite rehearsal director was Pat Neary, who came to Scottish Ballet to set Balanchine’s “Four Temperaments”. Pat managed the room with a quality and overall professionalism that meant she could get the most out of us – her coffee beans!
Equally counter productive is too short or dense a rehearsal or practice from which the mind and body are left frustrated and overwhelmed by too much information with no processing time.(This does not apply/extend to the current trend of HIT – a blast of energy to wake up the body – which I would liken to consuming a hit of coffee!) I am referring to the learning and application of physical information in too short a time period with too great an expectation of outcome.
Lesson 3: Check. And check again.
A good coffee maker will test the coffee throughout the day – at least four times according to Renzo. This is because changes in atmosphere will affect the way the beans behave – so you may need to change the grinder setting to a coarser or finer grind. You may need to change the beans themselves.
A little like dancers (moving embodied people) warming up and cooling down their bodies throughout the day. We often do not listen closely nor regularly enough – check our instrument. The body and mind tire throughout the day – not just due to physical exertion, but to the number of decisions the brain has to make from morning to evening, our general mental fatigue. The occasional subtle adjustment helps keep it “aligned” and focused (little stretches, openings and shifts, re-engagements with the core and re-awakening the senses).
Perhaps, and this is just a suggestion, we could be more attentive to our instruments, spend a few moments a few times a day re-embodying ourselves with small actions to get the “pull” just right.
March 29th, 2013 by Emma
I met Peta in 1996… We both were founding members of the NSW Ballet Company, a courageous effort by Fleur Letitia to take ballet to regional NSW with a small troupe performing A Midsummer Night’s Dream. We felt rather like old- fashioned troubadours arriving in country towns, unloading the trucks and putting on a show. At this time Peta and I also bonded working for Harry and Cherie of Gusto Deli in Bondi. There were worse places in the world to pull coffee and serve exclusive highly-priced sandwiches!
A tiny bit of biography… who is Peta Green?
I’m originally a Brisbane girl and moved to Sydney in 1996. I was a dancer –professionally dancing with Sydney Dance Company and the Australian Opera plus a few other smaller independent companies.
How did you discover Pilates and what method and where did you train?
I first started Pilates as a dance student but it wasn’t until I came to Sydney and studied under Cynthia Lochard that I really became interested in it. I decided to finish my Pilates study in New York at a studio where one of Joseph Pilates’ disciples taught – her name being Romana Kryzanowska. I completed my final exams in New York and continued to teach there for about 12 months at a studio in Soho called Re:Ab. I’ve been teaching in Sydney ever since and now have my own studio at White City Tennis Courts in Paddington.
Did your training and does your teaching change the way you think about the body and other peoples’ bodies and fitness?
Yes, absolutely! From a dancing background Pilates movements were so easy and natural, whereas other people (non-dancers) have all sorts of physical difficulties and restrictions, for example lifting the leg and holding it – many people have tight hamstrings, or tight hips. Most people I see have tension and strain in the lower back. My teaching has brought me a new understanding of other people’s abilities. I see teaching as a partnership between the trainer and client, helping each other to come to more understanding of movement and how to progress with their bodies.
How long have you been teaching and what has changed over this period in your teaching methodology? What sorts of lessons do you learn from your clients?
I’ve been teaching since 2001, so 12 years now. Gradually my teaching method has evolved – instead of sticking to the traditional method I like to add a variety of movement drawn from yoga and certain dance ideas, always going with the flow of the person on the day – listening to their energy levels and what they need, rather than rigidly sticking to rules and set methodologies. I am constantly learning and adding to my “repertoire” of movements. Now, my teaching is an amalgamation of the Pilates method with my own movement experience, plus what clients bring me and what new trends have to offer.
The primary lesson I learn from my clients is empathy. People’s situations are different everyday – which affects their mood and so their physicality. With experience, you gradually learn to read people better. Coming from dance it really didn’t matter how you felt on the day, you had to pull it out and just bash through. But as a trainer, I believe you get more out of people if you go with them rather than force them. And there’s the skill of learning to read when to push through and when not. There’s a great deal of psychology involved.
Another thing I have developed/learned through teaching is the skill of leadership. I found it scary at first – the responsibility of it, and taking initiative. My training, and predominantly my years of teaching, have helped me become creative with my practice, using my intuition and really listening to people.
Do you think that peoples’ approach to movement and the body is changing?
I do think people are becoming more self aware. I am noticing more of an interest in fitness in general – and in diverse forms of fitness. I heard today about someone teaching yoga on paddle boards!
In general, people come to me with injuries. Back problems predominantly. That is what I have found – most people have something wrong with their backs, and their lower backs in particular! A lot of women have scoliosis which makes them become more one sided and twists the spine.
People these days seem more open to different ways of dealing with injuries – acupuncture, Pilates and yoga. There are so many different kinds of body work available so people no longer necessarily go to see a physio.
The sad truth about exercise and fitness is that mostly people train to improve their body image – they want to stay skinny, or lose weight or get buff. So they over-exert, over-train and stress their minds and bodies – and then they injure themselves and it comes full circle!
It is more important for people to learn to appreciate their bodies and know their limitations – so that they can extend themselves within their personal limits…
What do you think about current trends in exercise and fitness?
Bikram Yoga is very popular and is all about weight loss – people are not there to follow the yogic path! There are currently so many trends! You can try just about anything. In the end it seems people are really looking for exercise to lose weight whereas I think a better approach is to exercise for your overall health, strength and flexibility. I think it is essential to find a balance in your routine. This aids both mind and body. You feel more satisfied, like having a balanced meal, with a healthy balance of activities. It’s like the Yin and Yang of energy mirrored in exercise.
What is one valuable lesson about body practice and movement you would pass on from your experience?
My most valuable lesson would be appreciate your body and look after it – it’s the only one you’ve got. I had a serious skiing accident. It sometimes takes such horrible events to make you realize these things. You really start to appreciate your health and how fragile the body can be. So don’t abuse it and learn and work to treasure, nurture and nourish it!
What one of the most enjoyable things about your life at the moment?
At the moment I am relishing experiencing different forms of exercise and doing different things with my time and energy. I am constantly challenging myself in new ways and am thoroughly enjoying outdoor activities. Everything in life right now is opening my eyes to different ways of moving my body through a range of experiences.
March 21st, 2013 by Emma
Lift up your hands. Rub the surfaces of the fingers together sensitively. Allow the thumb, in its opposition, to explore the surfaces of the other fingers and notice the sensation. Then let the fingers run further, into the palms of the hands more forcefully, pressing the fingertips into the flesh. Squeezing the palms and clenching the fists. Making tight, juicy and rich sensations in contrast to the delicate touches before. Start to circle the wrists with the clenched fists, and feel how tight and intense the gesture is. And now open the palms as wide as you can. With that same intensity built up spread the fingers apart keep exploring the movement in the wrists so that that hands are softly waving through the space with air brushing past and over all the surfaces. Notice the extreme stretch sensation and opening and awareness. Now stretch and soften the palms a few times each time building awareness of the heat and release as you tense and relax your hands.
This one movement exploration can be echoed all through the body and practiced wherever you are, whenever you feel dull or tired or uninspired. Our hands are agile, strong and sensitive and they sometimes long to be noticed and attended to!
March 14th, 2013 by Emma
The back of the body – a seldom acknowledged space, though ever present and visible for all the world behind. We don’t often think about it as we look forward at the objects of our attention.
“His back arched.”
“The hair on the back of her neck stood on end.”
“I got shivers down my spine.”
“She had eyes on the back of her head.”
Such expressions draw attention to the responsiveness of the back of our bodies – alive and reacting. A vast, rich terrain for dance and expression as it arches and curves, feels and extends, ripples and pokes. The back of the body articulates sensation with clarity and honesty.
But we seldom give it due respect – from how we carry and sit on it, to how we cover/clothe it. We pay much more attention to the hair that frames our faces than to that which sculpts the nape of our necks.
But that line which is drawn from the crown of our head down our back is of enormous importance, describing to people our health, happiness, openness and sensuality. How our hair tumbles down the back of our head and shapes that line matters. So too the clothing horizontals, cutting across the neck and the back and moulding, scooping, and enhancing our derrières.
In movement and dance, our backs speak volumes through contortion, muscularity and striving for the impossible. As viewers we experience a potent empathetic reaction to seeing backs arch, stretch, ripple and squeeze into extraordinary forms as silhouettes explore terrains and possibilities which we “sense” in our sedentary, forwardly broken postures, must feel liberating. And they do. Like the Bridge and other back arch posture in Yoga practice – energizing and powerful. Those who practice know that awakening and strengthening the back through such poses is a wonderful sensation.
And so to ballet’s arabesque – that ever so difficult line that we make as we stand on one leg and extend the other away into a space we cannot see. From a young age, we practice putting one limb behind us and through repetition beginning to grasp its correct placement – when precisely behind the shoulder, or over-crossed, or too wide. And so we build an awareness of what is taking place in that back space we cannot see. Gradually lifting the leg higher and higher – tilting the pelvis ever so slightly, and finally arriving at its fullest expression, curving luxuriously and deeply from the tip of the toe to the crown of the head, balanced proudly over the supporting leg, the pivot.
We tend to move forward through space and time, towards people and events, and likewise, our actions and movements. But even while we do, remember that world of space and possibility that lies behind us. By being aware of it, sensing it, exploring it, you never know what you might find there – who you might encounter or what ideas could open up.
January 24th, 2013 by Emma
Rising at 5:30 am is the hard part. When the alarm sounds surprising you out of dreamland, your eyelids heavily slip back down. But it’s too late – the mind’s been brought into the world and conscience kicks in.
And then it all seems right.
The world has a stillness, a calm huskiness. A grey light. Different to other times of day. And fresh, as yet untarnished by activity and over-thinking.
Approaching the beach, the body’s weight and sleepy numbness gradually, naturally start to lighten as you become more aware of the world around you . And then you see the ocean – a blue grey expanse stretching to the horizon, meeting the sky. Open, released, constant.
Now, there are people – moving, walking, meandering forms. And textures too, air and wind. brush skin. Just as the space around is opening and becoming dynamic, so too is the body. The soles of the feet, not yet in the sand, are carrying the body’s weight and opening and stretching with each step, gripping the flip-flop between the big toe on lift off, releasing on descent. Your joints are remembering motion, loosening.As you remove your layers of clothing, revealed skin freely breathes. And then your feet touch the sand.
That magic moment. Commencement. Commitment. The decision to work, fully engaged.
Sense of time is different during the 6am beach jog. Although there’s a forwardness, knowing where you are headed and why, its duration structurally bound by distance and action, there is also horizontality . The breadth of the world around you seems to be matched by the spaces within the body broadening. And as they do, the mind flows into a meditation on movement, sensitivity and breath.
Through the walk and into the run. You have to power your body to push beyond a gate, once through, you find a new liberation.
Knowing just how far to push beyond the gate is an exercise in judgment. Listening to sensations. Learning about them. Being sensitive to them and what they are telling you.
The sand is beginning to reflect the glow of the rising sun. Just on the tips of its undulating crests, left by wind and tide. You weave through, between, behind and across other beach joggers, walkers, swimmers, surfers, admirers and meanderers ever gradually more aware of their presence and purpose – their different forms, movements and energies.
Through spikes of energy release and restraint, back and forth you leave marks in the sand, swiftly overturned by others. The home-run, full of contented empowerment leaves you back by your clothes in their little crumpled pile collecting grains of sand. Now your skin is moist, your heart is pumping, your flesh is alive and agile, like a celebration of being human.
In this mindset you discover your own body playground.
January 17th, 2013 by Emma
I have just returned from Israel where I was taking part in the GaGa winter Intensive being held at Batsheva Dance Company.
GaGa is the movement philosophy or approach Batsheva’s Artistic Director, Ohad Naharin, has been developing over the course of his 30 odd year career making, teaching and doing dance.
The philosophy is not so much revolutionary as it is contemporary and evolutionary. “Availability” is the term thrown about… Availability and attention. The idea is that through listening and awakening your body you are able to fill your movement with such a full presence of mind and matter you take greater joy from the dance and move with greater “honesty”.
The philosophy is one thing, the class is another.
GaGa classes have been developed in two streams: GaGa/Dancers and GaGa/People. They follow a similar structure of guided improvisation work flowing through series of imagination and visualisation movement “drivers”. The instructor guides you through these drivers using a system of energy spikes – peaks and troughs of size, form and speed with each different motivation. As you progress, you accumulate layer upon layer of information and discovery within the body so that by the end you are filled with movement possibilities as you embark on your own improvisation dance.
50 dancers (and some non-dancers) flew in from around the world to take part in this winter intensive. For me, the most powerful component was being in Tel Aviv and learning at the source. There, one fully grasps from where the ideas have grown. Although I would argue the philosophy is not unique to Israel and to GaGa, it is the approach to the philosophy, its application and the abandon and joy one finds through the movement that are intimately linked to the place of its birth.
I experienced learning from a great many teachers – and as is always the case, some worked better for me than others. The success of the class is very much reliant on the ability of the teacher to transmit the ideas both physically and vocally. The teacher must have both a physical embodiment of the practice, that can be observed and responded to, as well as an intuitive skill with movement metaphor. Naturally, as we are all different, we are all going to respond differently to different bodies and ideas. However, there were certainly some teachers who unequivocably appealed to everyone.
Most of the teachers were either past or current Batsheva dancers, and as is the way with the “approach”, they each develop the class and the philosophy through their own individual voice. In this way, it is an ever growing and evolving practice as new discoveries and motivations are constantly being found and incorporated.
I thoroughly enjoyed my experience in Tel Aviv – not just the course, but the new cultural encounter. The people, the food, the language, the place. Back in Australia, I am looking forward to incorporating more and more of the ideas I gathered into my own movement practice, as well as communicating these ideas through the classes I offer.
From my first taste, GaGa felt familiar and intuitively sympatico, like I’d come home. For me, the body is a playground. It has always been one!
This recent experience of GaGa has provided just another way to explore the body’s toys and tools- its slippery dips, slides and swings- finding ever more possibility, courage and joy.
September 7th, 2010 by Emma
Few people could have missed the fact that this year’s So You Think You Can Dance Australia was sponsored by the Australian Banana Industry, advocating a healthy snack alternative.
Why are bananas so good for us? The short answer is that they are nutritious, low GI and satiating.
Your average Joe banana (100g peeled) contains around 370 kJ (90 cals) therefore sits happily in that “under 100 cal snack range”. It teases us with its creamy texture but has no fat or cholesterol. On top of this it also contains a good dose of fibre for good bowel health … and there’s no one more uncomfortable than a constipated dancer!
Bananas are also a good source of potassium and folate and are the best fruit source of vitamin B6. Pertinently for us dancers, bananas are rich in carbs to fuel our muscles and brain. So we can keep working well through class, rehearsals and performances, we really need a good store of glycogen in our muscles to burn as fuel. When this fuel depletes, so does our strength and focus. Bananas are an excellent, natural way to energise our bodies and maintain our concentration and power those leaps and turns and lifts.
For your own curiosity
It is interesting to learn that archaeological evidence suggests bananas were cultivated as long ago as 5000 BCE at Kuk Swamp in Papua New Guinea. They reached Egypt 1000–2000 years ago and it wasn’t until 1899 with the establishment of the United Fruit Company in the United States that bananas became a familiar fruit the world over. Today, they are the world’s fourth largest fruit crop.
Another interesting fact is that as they ripen, bananas give off more ethylene gas than any other fruit. This gas stimulates ripening in other fruit which is why it is recommended to put unripe fruit in a brown paper bag with a banana.
Personally, and contrary to many, I like mine on the unripe side…
Mashed with brown sugar and milk; sliced on top of a piece of toast with ricotta; chopped over cereal, ice cream or yogurt; in a fruit salad with strawberries, mangoes, passionfruit and a squeeze of lime juice.
Thanks for the info on bananas to dietitian Glenn Cardwell www.glenncardwell.com and for even more information on bananas visit http://www.australianbananas.com.au/
September 4th, 2010 by Emma
I never was a child who had to be told to eat her fruit and veg…always loved them. Mostly I loved apples and pears – cores and all. In latter years, however, my allegiance has shifted towards the satiating, energising and easily digestible banana… Stay tuned for more on this golden fruit!
July 12th, 2010 by Emma
To me one of the most interesting facts to turn up in the research for this blog post was about how hydration and dehydration affects our brains.
Nutritionist Glenn Cardwell referred to a couple of studies conducted on children’s mental performance in his blog post “Water for the Brain”. In these studies children who were given water 20 minutes before cognitive tests out-scored those who were not given water proving “watering” enhances mental performance. Glenn also notes that adult cognitive function begins to decline when they are 1% or more dehydrated (that’s a 70kg adult losing 700 mL of sweat).
As dancers we are often concerned with our physical abilities and endurance but we forget that it is our cognitive functioning (motor control, co-ordination, decision making and concentration) that keeps us performing to the best of our abilities.
It was during my experience working with dancers on SYTYCDA that I realized just how much of the competition (and of a dancers’ life in general) is about the ability to pick up steps quickly, master complicated co-ordination, make the body understand pathways it has never encountered before and stay focused and fully engaged over long periods of time under physical duress. How fascinating to then apply the above information on cognitive functioning and hydration to a dancer’s progress in the studio!
Attention to lifestyle
People assume dancers lead healthy lifestyles abstaining from booze and cigarettes – hmmmm!
Okay, there are some who control their intake of caffeine, alcohol, nicotine and other substances – but many do not. And dancers wonder why they are frequently moody and exhausted! Is it our artistic temperaments or could it be a combination of poor nutrition and dehydration on top of a physically and emotionally demanding job?
A lot of it is, indeed, artistic temperament, but a proportion is mental and physical fatigue related to poorly managed diet. Naturally it doesn’t all come down to hydration but it is certainly worth bearing in mind.
While sports people are constantly monitoring what they consume and are watched closely by their coaches, dancers tend only to obsess when they think they are piling on the pounds – and then it is about taking away the calories not about keeping up the fluids.
What can lead to dehydration?
Drinking too much alcohol, or even a little alcohol, can lead to mild dehydration. Being a diuretic, alcohol encourages the body to lose more water than it takes on by halting the production of the body’s anti-diuretic hormone, vasopressin. Without this hormone you feel the urge to pee excessively and therefore lose fluid.
On top of this we often don’t realize quite how much fluid our bodies’ are losing to the air-conditioned atmospheres in which we work and through our physical exertion. Even if we are not sweating profusely, we are still active enough to lose water through heat and evaporation.
On top of the loss of cognitive functions, dehydration brings on irritability, headaches, faintness and fatigue none of which are conducive to the best performance in the studio and on the stage.
So how best to hydrate?
For a start, remember alcohol consumption the night before won’t help.
The Australian Institute of Sport reports that fluid uptake is enhanced when beverages are cool, flavoured and contain sodium. Most sports drinks are therefore an ideal choice during physical activity, although they are pricey.
Juice, cordial and soft drinks are also good although when the carbohydrate content of the drink increases, gastric emptying is slowed which can cause discomfort and lessen the uptake.
Of course water is a perfectly good option– it simply does not stimulate fluid uptake to the same degree as sports drinks. It is most definitely the best choice when sitting around and relaxing.
Funnily enough, and contrary to the belief of many, tea and coffee do add to your daily fluid intake. The caffeine only induces mild diuresis; a cup of tea may encourage 50mL pee production but you still have 200mL of fluid on board.
The Australian Institute of Sport has a comprehensive article on their website, “Fluid – Who Needs It?” with more research in this area. Glenn Cardwell’s blog post called The Dehydration Myth is also worth a read for further illumination!
July 11th, 2010 by Emma
Next Page »
I am a coffee drinker. I probably drink too much coffee- or I rely on it too heavily. The next ‘wellbeing’ post has been inspired by my curiosity about whether or not my coffee drinking habit is drying me out too much… Stay tuned…