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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!

 

http://www.psychologytoday.com/articles/199707/finding-flow

http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/19/the-music-of-flow/

http://www.flowgenomeproject.co/x-prize-of-flow/

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Dubai’s first hooping festival: Hoop-la Dubai

16 Dec

Editor’s note: Since it has been almost a year since my Dubai adventure, and because the holidays can involve a ton of traveling, I’ve decided to repost an entry I wrote last year. This post was written on my first day in Dubai. Having never traveled out of the country besides the Bahamas, this was a big deal. A little break from health/science and  little look into my hula hooping life. Enjoy!

Hello loyal followers,

I know I have not posted in a while due to the chaos that is called the holidays. I have been living out of my car, people’s couches and in about 4 different cities over the past month, but I am far from complaining.

For the next twelve days I will be steering away from my normal health and science articles and sharing my experience working at Dubai’s first festival dedicated to hula hooping. That’s right, Dubai. For a girl who’s only adventure out of the country was an hour boat ride to the Bahamas, a trip to Dubai seemed almost impossible, until I saw an awesome opportunity on Facebook.

About three weeks ago, I read a post that was asking for two people who were passionate about hula hooping to travel to Dubai to help with the festival (mainly helping people who wanted to learn.) The job was unpaid, but the trip was all expenses paid. I had to go for it. After sending the email, writing a brief description about why I love hula hooping, and sending a photo, I heard back from Stuart at Dolphin Creative (the company organizing the event) saying I was chosen and I would have my flight details shortly.

Wow. That email came fast! I didn’t know whether to be excited or scared. My journalist cynicism kicked in and I worried that it was all a scam. After doing multiple google searches, I found out to the best of my knowledge that it was legitimate and decided to take a risk. I went for it, but the knots in my stomach from nervousness wouldn’t cease.

After a 22-hour day of traveling, with a layover in Germany (yay, two countries in one trip!) I landed at the Dubai airport, not knowing what to expect. Then came the passport line. I waited an hour and a half only to have my passport refused.

“It’s not going through the machine,” the man working the counter said. “Go to office number one,” he said.

I walked hesitantly to the office and handed another man my passport.

“Where are you staying?”  he asked.

Uh oh. Andy, another organizer of the event hadn’t told me the name of the hotel yet, mainly because the agency booking our flight and hotel was so last minute, what I’ve learned is a common trait in Dubai.

“Um. . . I’m not sure, someone is picking me up and taking me to my hotel,” I said.

After one more look over, he handed back my passport and let me proceed to baggage claim.

After I gathered my luggage, I went outside and started reading what seemed like a hundred name cards. None said Rebecca Burton. Once again, panic set in. But, after looking back inside I saw Andy, and recognized him vaguely from Facebook. We introduced ourselves, he handed me spending money and took Gabbi, the other hula helper and me in a cab to our hotel in Bur Dubai.

The first day of the festival was cancelled, which gave the performers (Lisa Lottie and Polly Macfarlane) and the hula helpers some time to get to know each other. We toured Dubai Marina Mall where we would be working, and then went to a bar in the middle of the water on Jumeirah Beach to watch the sunset.

Now that I have written probably way too much background info, we come to the first day of the festival. My eyes are closing as I am writing this, so my future posts will give a bit more detail.

But, the first day exceeded my expectations. Men, women and children of all nationalities and ages picked up hoops and were immediately inspired. Some, stayed for hours at a time, asking where to buy one. I know how hooping changed my life, and have always tried to show others how it can help their minds, bodies and spirits. I am truly blessed to have been able to spread the hoop love to a country  that perhaps has not had as much exposure as the  U.S.

Although my feet are aching and I am in desperate need of a shower, I am ready  to go back tomorrow and leave an impression on the Marina Mall patrons. Sorry for any typos/bad grammar/sloppy writing. It’s late, and I’m exhausted but I just had to share! Stay tuned for more stories of my journey, written more like a journalist.

Part 2:

Hooping has no language barrier

From “ice cream socials” to science: Creating confidence in young journalists

15 Oct

banner_final2.jpgDuring the past few sleep-deprived months, I have been attempting to reflect on my role in science communication–as a journalist, as a blogger, as a future mentor and as a grad student. For those of you who don’t know, I started Layman’s Terms Media because I have always had a passion for science.

Ever since I was about five years old, my elders have encouraged me to write. They said I was good at it, that it came naturally to me. I guess my first-grade journal entries about what I had for dinner the night before were impressive. I could always expect to receive at least one new trendy journal at every birthday party.

To me, writing was just a way to express myself and the world around me, I never thought about pursuing it professionally. It was my vice, my learning tool and my sense maker.

My early career aspirations ranged from being an Olympic gymnast to other common childhood dreams such as being a doctor, teacher or movie star. I ultimately decided to attend journalism school not only because writing came fairly easy to me, but I also saw it as a way to learn a little about a lot of things.

I originally started Layman’s Terms Media as a senior project–one of which I predicted would be live only until grades posted, eventually doomed to get swallowed in the abyss of the Internet, never to be found again (except, maybe by some obscure search terms).

While interning and freelancing at multiple “mainstream media” outlets, I exhaustively tried to pitch stories about science, but I was constantly rejected. Instead, I would be told to cover the typical “ice cream social” (a word journalists use to describe an irrelevant, fluffy, feature story). Those types of stories are fun at first, but they aren’t the kind of scoop that gets your adrenaline going.  I decided to take matters into my own hands. I wasn’t going to progress with science writing as a non-scientist unless I started writing it for an audience, no matter how big.

And then it dawned on me….publishing is free on the Internet!

I guess I should’ve thought of this sooner since I had been blogging about nonsense since I was 13 via ancient blogging sites like Xanga and Live Journal.

And then I thought: Why not use that to my advantage and write what I want to write about? I mean, I had formal journalism training why not use it to learn and grow as a science writer?

From there, Layman’s Terms Media kind of turned into my personal platform to do so. With no editor (except myself) I began writing regularly. I set deadlines for myself as if this blog was an ACTUAL publication. I pretended I had readers, and would (and still do) post my stories on Facebook and Twitter in attempts to get some sort of critical eyes.

And here I am, two years later.  I have a steady readership–it’s modest, but it’s something–and I can honestly say that writing for this “publication,” although not mainstream, has satisfied me in ways I’ve never experienced while covering “ice cream socials.”

The point of this post is not to ramble about my personal mission to become a science communicator, or share my narrative about how this site came to be. Rather, this post is to explain where I would like Layman’s Terms Media to go. I am writing it publicly so that you, the audience, can hold me accountable for the vision I am about to share. Continue reading

For the love of flow: I owe my followers a hoop video

29 May

With all of the nonsense (but truthful) stuff I write about hula hooping, I decided it was necessary to give my followers a sample of what I’m talking about, in case you only think hula hoops are for your waist, or for 5-year-olds. I’ve been at it about 2 years now and still need a lot of improvement. But if you like what you see and are feeling inspired, grab a hoop and start spinning.

Also refer back to my post on flow, to see the mental benefits of this activity.

And, click the link below to see the video (for some reason I had trouble embedding this).

Another note: this video does not reflect my editing skills as it was thrown together at odd hours of the night. Enjoy!

Poolside spinnin’

 

 

Fat Tuesday Special: Healthy moon pie recipe

12 Feb

As you may or may not know, I was born and raised on the Gulf Coast. And, people along the Gulf are avid celebrators of Mardi Gras. So, as I sit here writing this right now, I am simultaneously daydreaming that my neck is covered in beads as I catch moon pies that are thrown at me, but instead I am in my office writing and researching the day away. Since it is midterm and my time is kind of tight today, I decided to have a fun post today to those who may want to celebrate Mardi Gras, and eat a moonpie. Naturally, since my posts are about healthy living, I will give the low cal recipe so you won’t have to feel guilty for splurging on a Tuesday (although this particular Tuesday it will not be frowned upon). So, check out this recipe below from www.vegetariantimes.com (only 101 calories per pie) and Laissez les bons temps rouler! Continue reading

Days 7 & 8: Desert hooping, camels and dune bashing

11 Jan

My trip to Dubai wouldn’t have been complete without a camel ride, sand boarding and hula hooping in the desert, so I just had to splurge and spend the 250 dirhams on a desert safari. It was more than worth the money and a truly surreal experience.

Our morning started out at the crack of dawn yesterday. After gobbling down some breakfast, Gabbi and I headed down to the lobby. Someone from the desert safari was supposed to pick us up between 7:30 and 8 a.m. from our hotel, but I was more than skeptical after the phone call I had with the company at the time of booking.

The man had a heavy accent on the phone, and sounded like he was driving as he was taking down my information. After asking my name, hotel, room number and how many people, he told me what time he would be there and quickly hung up the phone. I guess since I am so used to the formality in the U.S., the fact that he didn’t even ask for a credit card number frightened me.

But, sticking to his word, a dark heavy-set man walked into the hotel lobby at around 7:45 a.m. He walked right up to me.

“Are you Rebecca Burton?” the man, who we later found out was named Victor, asked.

“Yes,” I said.

Without one more word he signaled us to follow him and we all walked quickly to the 4×4 Jeep that is used for dune bashing.

Victor informed us that the other two people who were supposed to join us on the trip had cancelled last minute. So we surprisingly got a VIP safari.

After driving for about 30 minutes, we stopped at a gas station. Victor walked in and came out 5 minutes later with some waters, orange juices and sandwiches for us to eat.

He then drove about 15 minutes more, and without warning simply drove off the road and into the seemingly never-ending dunes. After passing the UAE military base we drove another 10 minutes or so until we saw one man, dressed in traditional desert wear, standing with a single camel.

“Now, it is time for the camel ride,” Victor said. “After that, I will take you where we can sand board.”

Victor took some pictures and short video of us mounting the camel with my phone and his iPad and then got back in the jeep and drove ahead as we were guided on the camel.

The serenity was indescribable. The man who was guiding us did not speak English, so not a word was said. The only sound was the sand blowing from the gustier-than-normal wind that day. The desert did not have cacti, but rather little melons the size of apples scattered about the horizon. We saw other camels, which looked a great deal skinner than the one we were riding, wandering the dunes.

After about a 30-minute peaceful ride, we got back in the jeep and headed out even further to the “real desert” as Victor described it. The dunes were bigger, and the land seemed even more deserted without a tire track in sight.

“The dunes were facing the other way yesterday,” Victor said. “They are always changing.”

For some reason, this thought really stuck with me, and I began to ponder deeper meaning as we continued on.

Next came the sand boarding. A sand board looks just like a wakeboard or snowboard, and the premise is pretty self explanatory. You stand up and glide down the dunes. I succeeded my first try, but after the first walk back up the dunes, I was finished and completely out of breath. Walking up a desert sand dune is a great way to lose 10 pounds. Victor asked if I wanted to go again.

“I would, but that walk back up killed me,” I said.

“No problem, I will drive down and get you and bring you back up,” he said.

Awesome, I thought. I gave it a few more tries. An admitted adrenaline junkie, I like anything that involves motion and boards.

But, my usual love of motion became motion sickness during the dune bashing. Victor really knew how to manage to drive the jeep really fast up and down the countless dunes without getting stuck or flipping. But, my stomach didn’t manage.

Note to self: dune bash on an empty stomach next time.

Nonetheless the safari was everything I would’ve wanted and worth the money. Victor stopped at another high dune to take pictures. Gabbi pulled out her hoop so he could take pictures of us hooping. The photos came out great, and he said he wanted to feature us on the company’s website. We graciously agreed. He told us this was the first time anyone had ever brought a hula hoop on the trip.

On the way home we all made small talk, and Victor told us horror stories of getting stuck, flips and deaths that happened from time to time in his 14 years with the company.

“One time I got stuck and when I tried to dig out the sand, my whole arm was burned,” he said, referring to the summer months when the desert reaches about 140 degrees.

To my surprise, I learned that the roll bars had only been installed in the jeeps two years ago due to several deaths. You would think they would’ve thought of that solution a bit earlier.

At the end of the day I had an unforgettable experience and never would’ve guessed two months ago that a desert safari was anywhere in my near future.

Last night at work was quite busy since Thursday is the start of the weekend there. I really think hula hooping is catching on here. I recognize more faces than not and have had more than 20 people ask about lessons. Goal achieved, except for finding someone who teaches classes here.

After the busy night, Lenny, Andy, Gabbi and I went out for a couple drinks at a beach club called Baraciti. With booming house music, and outdoor beds lining the beach, it reminded me of Club Bed in Miami. We all sipped on cocktails, smoked sheesha and compared and contrasted the different countries we are all from. It is really an eye-opening experience to hang out and have true conversations with people who live on the other side of the world. Sometimes, I feel Americans are isolated on this continent.

Andy said he would love to hire Americans for more festivals, but the work visas are too hard to obtain.

Today’s hula play area was just as crowded as yesterday and went smoothly even though Lenny wasn’t there to work the lights and sound. I stepped in and with Andy guiding me on the phone, I somehow managed to get them working. I would write about today in more detail but this post is already far too long and I have to be up in just a few hours to tour the world’s tallest building and be the first person to hoop there! Until tomorrow (my last day in Dubai!)

Or the next day, I have to catch my plane home right after work.

Night folks.

 

Days 5 & 6: Learning about Arab culture from a former rockstar

9 Jan

After a couple of cocktails at the first bar that seems to put alcohol in their drinks in Dubai, I was too tired to write last night. But, here is a recap of day 5 of my Dubai adventure.

Before work yesterday, Gabbi and I went to a restaurant in the Bur Dubai souk called Bait al Wakeel. Her tour Dubai book recommended it because it is one of Dubai’s oldest buildings and is located along the creek. The view was beautiful and really gave a feel of old Dubai, similar to the Gold Souk we visited before. Wooden water taxis glided across the water packed with people sitting shoulder to shoulder.

Although the food was no better than mediocre, simply sitting along the creek was a nice change from being at a mall for 6 hours a day. Work was steady, and once again I saw genuine interest from many in the art of hula hooping, including two British women about my age who picked it up quickly in 6 inch heels.

After work the whole crew got burgers and then Gabbi and I went with Lenny, the sound guy, to his favorite bar. Although alcohol is illegal in Dubai, there are loopholes with bars in hotels and club compounds, and they are able to serve it. The bar was called Trader Vic’s and mimicked an island tiki bar with rum-based cocktails. And, unlike the posh bar we went to the first day on Jumeirah beach, these bartenders were generous with the alcohol. This also could have been because Lenny was a regular and everyone knew him on a first name basis.

After chatting with Lenny for a bit, I learned that he used to be a band member in the biggest rock band in the Middle East, Juliana Down. But, after signing with Sony in the U.S., who wanted the band to use backup tracks, Lenny quit the band in the spirit of keeping real rock and roll alive. I felt honored to be hanging out with someone who followed his passion of alternative music, even after growing up in such a conservative place. I later googled his band and discovered that they were written about multiple times in Rolling Stone. Maybe I should’ve gotten an autograph!

But, as we sat there talking loud over live traditional Spanish music, Lenny was answering any questions we had about the Arab culture. To my surprise, women in the bar were dressed like they were going to a club in Miami, tight dresses and skyscraper heels. He explained to us that in bars, the rules of covering your shoulders and knees don’t really apply. If you swear at anyone, or give them the finger though, you could easily go to jail. Holding a man’s hand or dancing with him in the parking lot could also result in jail time if you’re caught.

But, the most interesting and surprising fact I learned on this night out was that here in Dubai, a camel’s life is worth more than a human’s. While a human’s life is monetarily worth about 200,000 dirhams, a camel’s is worth 800,000 dirhams. Weird.

Funny how bar chats can become educational experiences.

Today, after sleeping in past breakfast I went to the China Mart with Madgy, another hula helper who has appeared on Arab’s Got Talent and teaches acrobatics in Cairo, Egypt. China Mart is a big warehouse filled with stores that sell merchandise made in China. I bought a cheesy souvenir snow globe and a case for my phone at only 5 bucks. But, the stuff made in China was anything you could think of, including fake iPods and iPads.

At work tonight I had another repeat visitor, a little girl about 5 years old who was brought to the play area by her nanny. She followed me around, constantly asking to do the routine I taught her yesterday. She then ditched the hoop and just started dancing and saying she wanted to be just like me. It feels good to be a role model and really touched me for her to say that. But, enough with all the mushy stuff, I have to get to sleep stat for my desert safari at the crack of dawn tomorrow! Stay tuned for pictures of sand, camels and the like!