Learning: Mind, body, and exhaustion

As the school year begins, like most of you, I start reminiscing about the past summer and what I have done.  These past few months have been dedicated to learning new things. I wanted to share some of thoughts around learning that participating in these experiences has brought to the forefront.

Recently, I have taken up a new form of exercise – Bikram yoga. And like anything new, I have struggled with learning the novel ways of bending my body and thinking through the exercise.  I started thinking about this merging of body and mind and how we often think this only occurs during exercising.  But this merging also happens whenever you are learning something new.  Have you ever taken up learning a new hobby and had to readjust how you do something?  For example, keeping your wrist straight when bowling or shooting a gun? Or how to physically approach a horse you are riding or a dog you are training?  Or how to breathe as you trim and attend to a bonsai tree?  All of these learning experiences require you to adjust the way your body moves and you must be mentally present in order to make sure that you are doing the activity correctly.  By unifying body and mind, it makes the experience more meaningful and the learning deeper.

This summer, I also took the time to learn how to row.  It is a lot more difficult than it looks.  First, there is a specific technique to rowing that I never would have imagined as an important part of the sport.  It is not all in the arms as many would think, but requires a precise pattern of movement to maximize the stroke.  (For a detailed explanation, go to https://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=oP6OR-G7AxM#t=14.)  The thing about rowing is that as you are learning and practicing the technique, you must do it in cadence with other rowers.  This adds the aspect of team work into an already complicated experience.  But let’s face it – learning is often like this.  If you are in a classroom and doing a whole group activity, you must learn the content by yourself but at the same pace as the rest of the group.  This can be complicated but it is important part of the academic learning experience in this country.  Can you think of other non-academic experiences where learning is a whole group as well as an individual endeavor?

Finally, as you move along a learning experience, there comes a time when you start facing physical and mental exhaustion.  How you move through this exhaustion can also bring in elements of the spiritual and/or philosophical to the learning process.  I have faced this with swimming.  I love to swim, but the thought of pre-swimming ritual makes the whole activity daunting.  Someone recently shared with me that at times when he faces exhaustion, negative and self-defeating thoughts start creeping in.  The way he counters these self-defeating thoughts is to see them as a challenge and face them down.  He does self-talk that contradicts the negative thought and then imagines the thrill of climbing over the destructive hurdle.   Discovering how to overcome the hurdles of negativity is an important part of a learning experience.  Often we will face self-doubt and exhaustion when learning new things.  But being gentle with yourself as you learn helps the concepts to come more readily and makes the experience more enjoyable.  Or you can be aggressive like Tim Ferriss.  (http://www.ted.com/talks/tim_ferriss_smash_fear_learn_anything.html)

How about you?  What experiences have you had this summer and what have you learned about learning?