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What do hula-hoopers, big-wave surfers and composers have in common? A state of “flow”

19 Mar

270333_4710143305586_564870044_nFor those of you who do follow my blog, you may have realized I’m a pretty big hoop enthusiast, who also enjoys an everyday runner’s high.

 Although the physical benefits of running and spinning a circle on various parts of my body may seem obvious, it’s the mental state I’m in when I go on a 5-mile run, or do a freestyle hoop-dance to a 10-track playlist that brings me back after a long workday.

The constant to-do list engrained in my brain melts away, and in that moment, I am only thinking of the task at hand.

This mental state, coined by psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, is called “flow.” In short, flow means being completely engaged in a present moment, enjoying that action and letting all other stressors stay in the back of your mind. This state can be achieved by countless activities: playing chess, writing music, skateboarding, painting, and the list goes on. The main point is that the motivation to do these activities must come from within yourself.  But in order to enter this mental state of flow there are several components that must be met:

  1. The activity must have clear goals and objectives.
  2. The task must have clear and immediate feedback.
  3. One must have a good balance between the perceived challenges of the task and their perceived skills. A task too difficult may cause frustration.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi credited more satisfactory lives to those who regularly entered the state of flow.

In this digital age of constant distraction, entering a state of flow is becoming ever more difficult. Looking back, I think in my early writing days circa 1996, I would enter a state of flow while writing—in my Lisa Frank journal– what I had for dinner that night. I just loved the act of writing and putting my feelings physically on paper. But, with Facebook now giving noise notifications, writing has become one of my tasks that I flip through while reading email or sending a Tweet. Perhaps I need to go back to the pencil and paper (if I did this blog post may have been half of the length.)

When flow is achieved , productivity, awareness and learning all come more easily.  For this reason, Stephen Kotler, Jamie Wheal, and their team have started an initiative called the “Flow Genome Project.” Their project aims to map the genome of flow by the year 2020, and to discover how to reverse-engineer flow states. They credit the Montessori school movement with creating effective learning environments which incorporate elements of flow such by using “a prepared environment, auto-didactic materials, and multi-sensory progressive challenges, according to their website.”

“In training bodies and brains, and verifying our findings objectively, we will end up with a more precise and nuanced understanding of what peak performance looks like and feels like and be able to apply this knowledge directly to our lives and work in the world,” they conclude.

This similar idea is even making its way to local (for me, Florida) flow enthusiasts. Casandra Tannenbaum is launching a project called the Flow Arts Movement, which will bring flow arts such as hula hooping, poi spinning, juggling and the like to teach science lessons in areas such as kinetic energy.

“It is primarily focused on education, and cultivating a model for bringing flow arts into K-12 and afterschool classrooms as arts enrichment, integrated into any of the major curricular areas of formalized education,” Tannenbaum said.  “We are also spreading the model of family friendly, publicly accessible flow festivals to cities and communities throughout the states.”

Tannenbaum started hula hooping in 2001, she fell in love with how the activity made her feel, although she didn’t know the scientific term for it and began teaching and spreading the hoop trend throughout Florida, and is the organizer of an annual festival called Florida Flow Fest.

“Flow is winking at God,” Tannenbaum said. “It’s like a full body mind high, earth, the sun and stars, and all the planets aligned to give you exactly what you want, which is nothing more than the most clear and undiluted presence in the moment-to-moment chaotic dance of universal energy and light which is us, exactly, unrestrained and beautifully loving.”

So, a state of flow may be easier to achieve when you’re doing an activity which requires full focus, such as big wave surfing, where distraction could result in a wipeout. The same goes with all extreme sports which all require the athlete to be totally immersed in this state. Hoop dance is also one of these activities, because in order to create a seamless dance while manipulating an object takes complete concentration as well.  In short, because of this mental state that I enter while distance running or hula hooping, I use these activities to be a sort of meditation of sorts. These activities pull me away from my normal brain, which sometimes reflects an Internet browser page with too many open tabs.

This mental state can be entered during any activity, given the right conditions.

If an activity (yes, even writing on a deadline) meets these requirements, it is possible to enter this mental state as long as you are only focusing on that one task. (So having Facebook and Twitter open while writing a work report or research paper may inhibit flow). There are several benefits of flow to take into consideration:

Benefits of flow:

  1. Time passes quickly (Time flies when you’re having fun, or just really concentrated on one thing)
  2. What you’re doing feels important (mainly because you initiated the act)
  3. You’re not self-conscious
  4. Action and awareness comes together
  5. You feel in control (contrary to feeling stressed and not in control)
  6. Your mind feels rewarded.

“Enjoyment appears at the boundary between boredom and anxiety, when the challenges are just balanced with the person’s capacity to act, ” Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi says in his book on the subject, Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

Check out more articles on the psychology of flow!

Editor’s picks for 2013

2 Dec

banner_final2.jpgI know we still have a month left in 2013.

But with finals and holiday break coming up, I felt it would be appropriate to make a “Best of” post highlighting some of my favorite posts. Since a majority of the blog is written by me, I feel this aggregation serves as a reflection on the type of science writing I have done and the posts I enjoyed the most. But, I’ve also had some amazing guest bloggers this year and will also be including some of their posts as well. So check out the stories below in case you missed them! Thank you to all my loyal followers.

P.S. Once my thesis is over, expect big things!

Best of Layman’s Terms Media, 2013 (no particular order)

Breast cancer vaccines are nothing new: By Dorothy Hagmajer   “Am I going to die?”  That was Susan Foster’s first question when her doctor told her she had breast cancer.Continue reading

Science in the city: In the basement of the emergency medicine corridor of UF Health Jacksonville, Robert Wears, M.D., a professor in the department of emergency medicine, scans engineering books and medical journals, taking notes on his cluttered desk. He is carefully piecing together the historical puzzle of hospital safety.—> Continue reading

Eat, love and die. The short, but meaningful lives of love “bugs: Miss Plecia is all dolled up. She has been stuffing herself full of organic material and nectar in her swampy-syle pad for the past 20 days with hopes of finding her lifelong mate.—> Continue reading

What exactly is pus? Find out in 15 seconds.Wendy Corrales joins us this week to explain the gross, gooey liquid that plagues teenagers–pus!—-> Continue reading

What’s the deal with Dengue Fever? If you live in Florida, don’t ignore.As a Floridian I have somewhat become immune to the feel of a mosquito bite. The annoying quick itch sensation is quickly thwarted by the thoughtless reflex of my hand slapping the affected area and then quickly scratching up and down for a few seconds. After that, I pretty much forget about the bite.—> Continue reading

Scientist uses Instagram videos to explain anatomy concepts in 15 secondsI am always looking for people who share a passion for science and genuinely want to get others excited about it too, which is one of the main reasons I’m studying science communication. While I was in D.C. for the Science Online Climate Conference, I stayed with my friend Steph who introduced me to Wendy Corrales via Facebook. She showed me her videos and I was cracking up.—> Continue reading

UF researcher says T cells the answer to cancer vaccines: John “Bobby” Goulding, Ph.D., a postdoctoral fellow in the department of pathology, immunology and laboratory medicine at the University of Florida, is in a scramble to help create safe and effective vaccines to prevent and fight human respiratory viruses.—>Continue reading

Rebecca Burton is the founder and editor of Layman's Terms Media. Started in 2011, this blog has been used to exercise Rebecca's love of science writing. These posts were selected based on how much was learned throughout the writing process, or the stories that were simply the most fun.

Rebecca Burton is the founder and editor of Layman’s Terms Media. Started in 2011, this blog has been used to exercise Rebecca’s love of science writing. These posts were selected based on how much was learned throughout the writing process, or the stories that were simply the most fun.

What’s for dinner? Island fish, brah: Study shows Hawaiian restaurant menus hold clues to reef healthMost of us look at menus simply to make a quick decision about what we are going to consume in the near future and at what price. We then give it back to our server and the menu is most likely forgotten. –> Continue reading

Abusive mothers’ DNA and the economy could share the blame with Florida DCF for recent child deaths: The Florida Department of Children and Families has been under fire for the past couple of years for failing to stop child abuse and neglect, resulting in thedeaths of seven childrenwho the department said were in “no immediate danger.” —> Continue reading

Wearing goggles to surf: Kook status or Florida Red Tide?: I took a deep breath in. Smelling the saltwater has always been my ritual before starting the process of unloading my surfboard. But, this time I did not feel refreshed or enlightened by the beach breeze. My eyes started to water.—> Continue reading

Native Florida wildlife caught on camera: By Michael Stone Wildlife photographer Michael Stone, a graduate student in science/health communications at the University of Florida, posts the different species and subspecies he sees in his online catalog.—> Continue reading

Great whites use stored liver oil to power through ocean “road trips”Bears, sea lions and whales rely on their external blubber to power through hibernations and migrations. For them, a little extra flab is crucial to their survival.—> Continue reading

 Sea turtles are Gulf travelers, scientists sayGulf Loggerheads were always thought to be homebodies. After the females nested, they would make a home at their local beach. They would never travel too far from familiarity.—> Continue reading

AAV: from ‘Almost A Virus’ to ‘An Awesome Virus’: In 1965, adeno-associated virus (AAV) was discovered while hitching a ride into the cell with adenovirus, which is a virus that causes the fretted pink eye, cold sores and sore throats.—> Continue reading

The Skinny on Good Fats and Bad Fats: How both will affect your health: By Megan Khan Karen Diet trends come in waves. One decade we see the rejection of carbohydrates, and we shun animal products the next. Some of you reading this right now may remember the low fat craze of the 90’s–it was then that fat got a bad rep. The reputation has stuck so much that “fat” is now considered an insult.—> Continue reading

Will tiny drones cure Floridians’ cynicism toward hurricanes? Most residents of Florida–a state constantly pummeled by tropical storms and hurricanes—have become overly cynical of the often hyped-up weather news warning that the latest tropical action in the Gulf of Mexico or off the coast of the Atlantic Ocean could be deadly. —> Continue reading

Croaking Cuban frogs Create Competition in South Florida: Southern Florida, particularly the more metropolitan areas such as Miami and Ft. Lauderdale are definitely not known for being quiet areas. The constant honking of horns, people yelling in multiple languages and bold headlines of bizarre news events make South Florida a melting pot of noise. —>Continue reading

Why Nemo would face an inevitable mid-life crisis: A finding Nemo 2 would not be Disney friendlyIf you’ve seen the movie Finding Nemo, and didn’t like it–shame on you! Pixar movies always have the right amount of humor, recognizable voices and great graphics that make them appealing to both children and adults. Their sequels are almost always just as profitable as the originals, and they’re ability to make animation seem like reality is superb! But, although I love this movie, there are serious factual flaws.—>Continue reading

Monkeys in Florida? iPhonatography from a jungle in Central FloridaAs I pondered ideas on what to do on Memorial Day Monday, I decided I needed to explore the land-locked area of Florida I often complain about, being a spoiled coastal girl who is accustomed to living near a beach. A friend mentioned a trip he took where he saw wild monkeys on an island in the middle of Silver River, near Silver Springs, Fla. After doing some preliminary research (mainly hear-say from Gainesville locals) I found out that  Silver River was the filming site the early Tarzan movies. Some of the monkeys escaped, bred and hence that is why there are wild monkeys in Florida.—> Continue reading

When did eating become so confusing? Tips to simplify your diet: By Megan Khan Karen There are hundreds of diets that are said to make you healthier than you have ever been, rejuvenate your body, avoid certain cancers, help you fit in your high school jeans and the list goes on. From the Atkins diet to the current “juicing” craze, we are fed heaps of “truths” about certain diets that are usually based on a tiny kernel of truth and a whole lot of anecdotal “evidence.”—> Continue reading

Warning: Smoothies can cause sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgiaIt’s that time of year again. Summer. Hot. Humid.The urge to swap that hot coffee for a refreshing smoothie may overcome you. But beware, drinking cold drinks can cause a condition called sphenopalatine ganglioneuralgia.—> Continue reading

What do hula-hoopers, big-wave surfers and composers have in common? A state of “flow”For those of you who do follow my blog, you may have realized I’m a pretty big hoop enthusiast, who also enjoys an everyday runner’s high. Although the physical benefits of running and spinning a circle on various parts of my body may seem obvious, it’s the mental state I’m in when I go on a 5-mile run, or do a freestyle hoop-dance to a 10-track playlist that brings me back after a long workday.—> Continue reading

Be swamp-conscious: Pet owners should be aware of deadly pathogen in Gainesville: By Jackson Presser Pythium insidiosum is common in stagnant, swampy water (lakes/ponds with water temperatures ranging from 68F-95F) worldwide, and the very type of water that is a staple of Gainesville and surrounding areas.  Pythiosis affects its host depending on how it is introduced. Dogs, horses, cattle and other mammals can be infected simply by wading or drinking water that has been tainted with the infection. —> Continue reading

‘Catch a Wave’ exhibit brings the beach to Gainesville

24 Oct
My name is Nicole Parra and I am a junior studying advertising at the University of Florida.  Although my major doesn’t exactly scream out “SCIENCE!” I am a certified tree hugger. The environment plays a huge role in everyone’s life and more people should learn to appreciate it. I was very excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media because it gave me the chance to expand my horizons and try something new.  In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

My name is Nicole Parra and I am a junior studying advertising at the University of Florida. Although my major doesn’t exactly scream out “SCIENCE!” I am a certified tree hugger. The environment plays a huge role in everyone’s life and more people should learn to appreciate it. I was very excited to contribute to Layman’s Terms Media because it gave me the chance to expand my horizons and try something new. In the words of Aldo Leopold, “Harmony with land is like harmony with a friend; you cannot cherish his right hand and chop off his left.”

Editor’s note: This is part of a series of contributing bloggers beginning their careers as journalists/public relations professionals at the University of Florida. Please see my earlier post about getting journalists excited about science writing early on.

By Nicole Parra

There are three words that describe the new  “Catch a Wave” exhibit hosted by the Florida Museum of Natural History at the University of Florida: totally gnarly, bro.

The exhibit, which is the closest thing Gainesville residents have to the beach, includes vivid pictures, real-life specimens and hands-on activities. Visitors can almost feel the sand between their toes without the need for sunscreen.

‘Catch a Wave’ is a collaboration between Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, UF and the museum.

“Surfing Florida: A Photographic History” is a traveling exhibit originating from FAU’s College of Arts and Letters. UF and museum scientists contributed to the exhibit by adding a second part, “Surf Science: Waves and Wildlife,” which includes a full-scale shark model, a dolphin skeleton and a display of different Florida beach sands.

Catherine Ward Carey, public program coordinator at the Florida Museum of Natural History, said the museum wanted to add to FAU’s exhibit by including an educational component.

“It was primarily a photographic exhibit, and then we’ve augmented it with natural history including surfing, snails, information on sea turtles and all sorts of cool things that are in the water with us,” Carey said.

Laura Caicedo, a marketing intern at the museum,  said the wave maker–an activity that helps teach visitors the science behind a wave–is her favorite part of the exhibit.

“It’s [the exhibit] a lot different than what we’ve had before,” Caicedo said.

Visitors can also find out their odds of getting a shark bite by visiting the museum’s famed International Shark Attack File, the longest running database on shark attacks.

John Wilson, a 19-year-old industrial engineering sophomore, said he decided to visit the exhibit because he has been surfing since he was 9 years old.

“The coolest things, I thought, were all the trophies and the pictures of the 1983 nationals and the dolphin skeleton,” Wilson said. “They were both very interesting and informative.”

Wilson said that the exhibit did a good job of showing  beaches from the surfer’s point of view while explaining the science behind a Floridian’s favorite place. He said he will be going back later this week.

Carey said the main purpose of this exhibit is to give Floridians a better understanding of their environment, particularly the beaches.

“With anything we do, we hope for a better appreciation and awareness of the natural world around us,” Carey said. “We do tend to focus our day-to-day living without noticing what’s at the beach,” Carey said.

The exhibit will run until January 20th, 2014. Admission is $4 for adults, $3.50 for Florida residents and seniors, $3 for children ages 3-17 and free to UF students with a valid Gator 1 card and museum members.

Gainesville takes stand against bullying

11 Oct

Kids from all over Gainesville gathered downtown Wednesday to take a march against teasing and bullying. Local businesses helped as well, hanging orange flags in their windows to show support. After the march, the supporters rallied in Bo Diddley Community plaza for performances and celebration.

Read the full story here.

Gainesville Pride Parade

2 Oct

Here is my first video assignment for the Independent Florida Alligator. Enjoy 🙂

UM student starts boat-shoe company with friends

15 Aug

A UM student has jumpstarted his own brand of customizable boat shoes, aimed at fraternities.

Read Miami Herald Story here.

By Rebecca Burton

ason Shuman, 21, and his four best friends launched a new brand of customizable boat shoes this summer, and are expanding to have campus representatives selling their product at over 80 universities nationwide this fall. (From left to right: Nathan Shron, 21, Jason Shuman, 21, Greg Karelitz, 21, Jeffrey Shuman, 24. NOT PICTURED: Julien Rousson, 21.) PHOTO COURTESY OF PHOTOS BY PAIGE

What started as a school project in an introduction to entrepreneurship class, has now turned in to a full-fledged business and made Jason Shuman, a 21-year-old rising senior at the University of Miami, the chief executive officer of his very own brand. His four best friends, who have stayed best friends since their elementary school days in Boston, are all part of the operation.

Shuman jumpstarted a business called Category 5 Boat Shoes, which provides the first-ever customizable boat shoes, specifically aimed at fraternity members who want their Greek letters on their shoes. But, Shuman said he is now working to get any logo on the sides of the shoe, including boat names, country club logos and the like. This winter, Cat5 will also launch a women’s line, aimed at sorority members. Continue reading

Hialeah teen named 2012 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Southern Florida Chapter’s Boy of the Year

30 Jul

Four years after being diagnosed with lymphoma, a Hialeah teen is honored for his work to help raise awareness and fund research to find cures for blood cancers.

By Rebecca Burton/
Read Miami Herald article here
When doctors at Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital in Broward told CJ George he had cancer, the Hialeah boy didn’t understand.He had only been suffering from back pain.

CJ George, 13, the 2012 Southern Florida Chapter of the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Boy of the Year, and Matthew Sacco, the organization’s man of the year, at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale, Wednesday, July 25. CJ was diagnosed with Lymphoblastic Lymphoma, which is currently in remission.

“I was only 9, I didn’t know exactly what I was going through,” said CJ, now 13.

His mother remembers how the news affected him

“When he was told he could no longer play sports, he had a total meltdown,” said Dawn George.. “He didn’t care about cancer; he cared about how his life was going to change.”

CJ is now in remission after undergoing two years of treatment for Stage 3 Acute Lymphoblastic Lymphoma. After seeing children his own age pass away, CJ wanted to help raise awareness and fund research to find cures for blood cancers. This year, CJ was named the 2012 Leukemia and Lymphoma Society Southern Florida Chapter’s Boy of the Year.

His sponsor — and the society’s Man of the Year — is Matthew Sacco, president of communications and public affairs for Sunrise Sports and Entertainment, the Florida Panther’s Hockey Club and the BankAtlantic Center .

Each year, LLS names a boy and girl of the year with either leukemia or lymphoma blood cancers. LLS also names a Man and Woman of the Year, as part of a 10-week national campaign to raise funding for critical research. Each candidate raises money on their boy or girl’s behalf, and each dollar raised counts as a vote. Sacco won after raising more than $100,000. Together, the 13 candidates raised $378,000.

“It was a record-breaking year for us,” Rhonda Siegel, Campaign Manager for LLS Southern Florida Chapter, said. “It was the most money ever raised.”

Sacco said he jumped at the chance to get involved and campaign after meeting CJ two years ago at LLS’ Light the Night Walk’s corporate reception, an event aimed to inspire corporate sponsors to get involved. CJ was the honoree that night and was scheduled to speak, after he had just come back from one of his treatments. Continue reading

Doctors Charter students return from trip to South Africa

24 Jul

Ten students from Doctors Charter School visited South Africa this summer.

By Rebecca Burton
Read Miami Herald article here

Top students from Doctor Charter School in Miami Shores visited South Africa as part of a hands on learning experience planned by social studies teacher Kayla Dorsey. (Students from left to right: Kayla Joseph, Ashley Vilsaint, Shellee Baker, in the back Stephanie Bent, Nicole Stallworth, Taniah Goree, Brittany Maglorie, in the back Makana Levy, Brianna Bruny, and John Stewart)

Kayla Joseph, 11, had never left Florida until this summer. Having never had even been on a plane, the North Miami rising seventh-grader prepared for a long flight to South Africa on June 22.

“It wasn’t really that scary,” Joseph said when she returned to Miami on July 2. “It was really interesting to see the kids. The way they live is so sad from the way we live, some of their homes look like huts.”

Joseph was the youngest of 10 students, ranging from sixth- through 12th-graders from Doctor Charter School in Miami Shores who embarked on an educational trip to South Africa planned by social studies teacher, Kayla Dorsey. Continue reading

Brickell woman wins award for raising awareness about human trafficking

16 Jul

Kristin Francisco, 26, won a $10,000 award from Northwestern Mutual to help raise awareness about sex trafficking in Miami-Dade County.

Read full Miami Herald story here.
By Rebecca Burton

As Brickell resident Kristin Francisco, 26, looks at her bulletin board, full of magazine cutouts of her role models and inspiring quotes she calls her “vision board,” she smiles.

Kristin Francisco, 26, speaks with Trudy Novicki, executive director of Kristi House, about her $10,000 award from Northwestern Mutual to help raise awareness about the sexual exploitation of women and girls in Miami-Dade while in the Kristi House medical exam room on Wednesday, July 11, 2012 in Miami, Fla. The hand woven quilt and frog suit displayed on the medical table are used in treatment process of children. Kristi House community relations officer Mary Faraldo said, “The quilt is like Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak. It reminds them of being safe and taken care of.” MAX REED / FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

“I’ve accomplished pretty much everything on it,” Francisco said. “It’s time to make a new one.”

Francisco was awarded $10,000 as a 2012 winner of the Northwestern Mutual Foundation’s 18th Annual Community Service Award. More than 9,000 employees of Northwestern Mutual apply for the award, but only 26 win. The recipients are to use the money to help an organization or charity that they are involved in, and on June 28, Francisco handed the check over to Debi Harris, CEO of Women’s Fund of Miami-Dade. Continue reading

Pet therapy provides comfort to the elderly

9 Jul

An increasing number of senior care centers are opening their doors to companion animals such as therapy dogs. Research has shown regular contact with animals can help elders with medical conditions.

A resident at The Palace at Kendall Nursing and Rehabilitation Center meets Jonah, a mixed-breed-therapy dog, during a pet therapy day at the center, Thursday, June 28, 2012, in Kendall. DANIEL BOCK / FOR THE MIAMI HERALD

By Rebecca Burton

Read full Miami Herald Story here

For Lya Fernandez, 84, seeing dogs around her nursing home in Kendall remind her of being young.

“I had a Chihuahua, a Pekingese and four terriers,” Fernandez said. “Dogs are caring and accompanying. I like that they visit every week.”

An increasing number of senior care centers, places that once wouldn’t let anything with fur in the front door, now welcome companion animals. Continue reading