Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Skill of Sitting Still

At the Culturlann, Derry
If you follow my social media feeds, you might have noticed I've started learning Irish this year. As someone who speaks several languages fluently and generally picks up languages easily, I was fascinated by how different Irish was from any other language I had been previously exposed to. When trying to grasp it on my own didn't work, I grabbed a friend and signed up for a class at the Culturlann (Irish arts and language center) in Derry. The semester-long weekly evening course was beyond excellent, transforming me from a complete novice not even capable of repeating the strange sounds I was hearing, to actually being able to converse with native speakers about simple everyday things. In fact, I liked the class so much, that when an intensive weekend workshop was offered at the end of the semester, I signed up. Setting off on my multimodal commute to the big city, I was looking forward to two full days of delving into the mysteries of Irish sentence construction and pronunciation.

The Irish workshop exceeded my expectations; the teaching methods at the Culturlann are really quite remarkable! That said, among the things I learned that weekend was a rather startling fact about myself: that I am no longer capable of sitting still for hours at a time! As interested as my mind was in the workshop, my body was rebelling after hour 2 of day 1.

The possibility that this would be a problem never occurred to me when I signed up for the class. After all, I have sat through 8 years of higher education, followed by 8 more years of working in academia! The hours upon hours I have spent in various lecture halls, seminar rooms, faculty offices, libraries and conference venues, not to mention in claustrophobic, dungeon-like laboratories, I could not begin to calculate. How could a teensy, well run 2-day workshop in a topic I am immensely interested in make me feel as restless as a hyperactive toddler?

Then I did the math and realised it has been over 3 years since I've set foot in a university lecture hall, or had any job at all that required me to sit still for hours. In the meanwhile, I have spent a good portion of nearly every day moving around in some way or another. Don't get me wrong, I do work. And as part of that work I spend a lot of time at my laptop - usually writing, editing, and image processing. But working freelance gives me the benefit of spacing out those stationary hours throughout an otherwise highly active, outdoorsy day. In the course of a typical day I do things like ride my bike, walk up mountains, interact with animals, dig in the dirt, climb fences, even crawl through mud. Even a day spent indoors due to extreme weather or illness will involve frequent bursts of movement through the house - be it cleaning things, ripping out old carpeting, painting walls, or running up and down the stairs with armloads of laundry. When I talk on the phone, I pace the room relentlessly. When I wash the dishes, I put on some tunes and do a transey little dishwashing dance at the sink. Clearly, I am at my most comfortable and natural when I move about - ideally in the fresh air, getting soaked and filthy a welcome bonus.

After 3 years of this lifestyle, I suppose it is not that surprising that 6 hours inside a classroom should come as a shock to my system. As civilised humans, we have grown accustomed to thinking of intense physical activity as something we need to work up to, and of inactivity as the comfortable default. But in fact, it is the other way around. The human body is made to be active, to move, to do physical work. Sitting still is a skill we deliberately learn. And, as useful as that skill is in many facets of modern life, I admit that I don't wholy regret losing it.

25 comments:

  1. I just requested a book from the library. I haven't started reading it, but, from the description, it sounds as if the author may have been studying just what you are talking about. The book is called "The wandering mind : what the brain does when you're not looking" by Michael C. Corballis.

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    1. Funny. 10 years ago I worked in the same lab as one of the researchers involved in these studies. She was trying to figure out what went on in the mind when we thought of "nothing at all." (See also: restless brain.)

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    2. One of your fellow bicycle bloggers, the old framebuilder Dave Moulton, wrote a post along such lines not so long ago. It’s what I have to learn.

      http://davesbikeblog.squarespace.com/blog/2015/2/4/chillin.html

      Even if you weren’t a cat lover, you’d have to love the cat in the photo – cool big dude. :)

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  2. The irony of English bike in Irish culture centre has not gone unnoticed!

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    1. No irony what so ever. English bikes are cool. The Irish language is cool.

      (And FWIW I saw a guy on a "tricolour" Brompton on the train the other day. Green frame, orange fork & stays. That's available as a standard configuration I think.)

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  3. Fascinating! A similar thing is happening to me too. Like you, I spent several years in higher education and now work in academia. I am used to long hours of sitting still at my computer. Since taking up cycling, I find a NEED to move during the day. So much so that cycling is no longer enough. I have taken up running too, and am considering swimming lengths at the local pool. In the early days, 30 mins of cycling made me tired and happy ... Now I need to be far more active before feeling that I have achieved a good workout. This is amazing as I was always the non- athletic, bookish type and I NEVER thought I could actually be active and enjoy it. My parents, husband and children can hardly believe it. Neuroplasticity is real!

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    1. "Neuroplasticity is real"

      About time we got an alternative to the "steel is real!" slogan : )

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    2. yep. I've been riding for years, and no it was never enough. Lots of years in academia and I did some years of office work. The university had a pool and a gym, so that helped along with the cycling everywhere and then could still keep swimming as alumni.... But ironically a car accident made it impossible for me to sit still for very long. It's easier for me to be constantly moving. I cannot spend too long on a computer or working at a desk, which has ruled out alot of work, even sitting down to draw, paint etc (studied visual arts) is unbearable which is a bit sad, but I really do love being outdoors, it is so intrinsic to my being.

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  4. I have been for the past two years in a situation where I move from one place of work to another, as I use a bike I take advantage of gaps between these commitments to ride around the lake or cut through the bush lands; I begin my day with a bike ride and 30 minute walk. I have always enjoyed being active but now I just do not feel normal unless I am and I cannot imagine returning to all day sitting, or even being all day in the same place. No wonder children struggle with such restrictions, it is not natural and oh so boring - if I were to take up further study now it would have to be off-campus so I could break up study into small sections, in between activity which is actually active.

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  5. What a well timed post. Two years ago I took up yoga to cope with a tedious office job. That eventually led to cycling, then running, until one day I opened my eyes and realized I was in the wrong line of work! Against everyones advice I quit my job of 10 years (for an insurance company) to work as an assistant for a sportswear designer. Now I am on my feet all day and could not be happier. And you know what? When I come home to my family at the end of the day, I am not as tired as I used to be when I had my old job. Let me tell you, sitting is exhausting!

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    1. So true - and yoga is wonderful - I ride my bike to yoga class every Saturday and just love how it balances my life.

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  6. Please answer this for me: is the proper term Irish or Gaelic?

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    1. If speaking English, the term is "Irish." Gaelic refers to a family of languages, which also includes Scottish, Manx and a few others.

      Just to make it a little confusing though, in Irish the word for "Irish" is "Gaeilge" (pronounced gel-geh).

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    2. As a rugby fan, I watch games on TG4 (Irish Gaelic), BBC Alba (Scottish Gaelic) and S4C (Welsh - not a Gaelic language..) as they have the broadcast rights for some games not shown on English language TV. S4C has an English commentary option but the other two just have commentary in Gaelic - although they switch to English for co-commentators who are usually a current or former player who don't speak the language.

      Even though I don't speak the language, I've come to recognise certain words pronounced similarly in both Irish and Scottish versions... words for penalty, yellow (card), red (card) and (agus...) some others.

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  7. Do kids learn Irish in school? Otherwise it´s dying out.

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    1. This is kind of a complicated topic. It's dying out in some areas, while thriving/regenerating in others.

      Kids do learn Irish in schools. I believe most schools in the Republic, and roughly half in Northern Ireland (where schools are segregated) teach it as a language from a young age. There are also Irish-as-first-language schools, where everything is taught in Irish and only Irish is spoken. These are the norm in native-speaking areas, but are also becoming increasingly popular in non-native speaking ones, including throughout N Ireland, which might change the language demographics over the next generation.

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  8. Several years ago I had some training on giving classes and presentations. One of the things that was emphasized was not to go much over an hour without some sort of break. The reasoning was at about that time, no matter how interesting the material, you're going to start losing your audience because people are not trained or conditioned to concentrate for that long on a subject.

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  9. I was just thinking about this yesterday. I'm in a deadline period and have been sitting more and I've noticed that I need to at least walk around the room (or pace or do alarming dances --shhhh) as well as take a few proper breaks for cycling just around the neighborhood for 20 minutes or my mind starts to turn to mush. I was also thinking about running again just to discharge more energy in a shorter period.

    I also now find that since I began doing most of my errands by bike that I have to go outside first thing in the morning or I am really quite sad. I think it's a circadian rhythm thing. I am really in sync with natural rhythms now in a way that I wasn't before from my writer's bat cave.

    I notice this in my six year old son as well -- it is natural to rest but not natural to SIT all the time. Feels awful!

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    1. Rhythms, yes. At some point I've noticed that I am very much a crepuscular creature. Once that late afternoon/twilighty period hits, I get my biggest wave of energy and need to be outside in that fading light, doing things. Early to mid morning is similar but not as intense. And mid day? I could happily spend holed up in a dark room, writing, especially if it's bright-sunny out.

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    2. Early morning and evening are the best times of the day for me - I will only venture out into bright, glaring sunshine if I must and only for as long as I must - I prefer subdued lighting, also in my home, I just cannot abide harsh lights particularly those of the fluorescent type. I think bike riding is especially pleasant in the early morning and late afternoon, alas I live in a country of sun worshippers and therefore I am considered somewhat peculiar.

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    3. I am the same with going outside at dusk. I love a wander in the garden and in summer I do about an hour of gardening in the evenings. It is the best part of the day.

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    4. A friend used to refer to dusk as "Blue Shadow Time". It's definitely a special part of the day for me, too. Also daybreak.

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  10. Go n-eiri an bothar leat leis an Ghaeilge! Agus go mbeidh an ghaoth igconai ar do dhroim! (nach oiriunach an nath sin!)

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  11. Definitely sign of a full on cyclist, or any athlete I would imagine. I cannot sit still for long unless totally spent and need a nap, or if given the chance I will lie in bed for as long as possible until I get up. I hadn't even noticed how much I would suddenly have to run around the house in spurts like a cat. Even if exhausted I will find some excuse to climb up the hills or down to the beach after riding to and from work. As for work, I could not bear to do a desk job where I sit all the time. So I work in a cafe and am constantly moving, running, pushing myself....so much for all that education! I sometimes have to see a ear nose and throat doctor whom was always very hyper, high energy and he'd rush through the appointment I travelled hours to get to! I had noticed grand fondo posters on the wall, but when I came in a few weeks ago with my helmet and panniers, he just lost it, and was like Oh I wish I was out riding!!!! and then I recognized his behaviour. He's a full on serious road warrior, he definitely has the build, and he cannot stand having to be inside all day. Yet he's a doctor and has to be inside all day, seeing patient after patient.
    And yes, I see it in others, how difficult it is to sit still even for a short meeting, how eyes dart out the windows. I live in a rural area close to a big city with a ferry and some long distances in between. Many commute by bicycle. I do it when I go in, and I love it. I often over hear people complaining about their poor husbands riding into the city all the time, and yet they still have to go for long rides when home!! I think to myself, oh no, they love it! If used to doing a certain amount of activity,
    your body is revving at such a high level and it becomes nothing to ride that long commute, those long hills day after day.
    My mom is visiting and rented a car and insists on driving me to and from work everyday and I am going sooo stir crazy!

    As for rhythms, I am very much a late afternoon/dusk/evening/night owl person. I absolutely love watching the sky change, being outside to hear the birds sing until the very last tweet and then the peeps of frogs begin. I hate being out midday, so when I do work from home, that's when i work, or have a nap. It is a bit difficult because my current job starts very early, which is never my best time and then I am too tired during my natural energy time...and then have to go to bed when I really get going.
    There are arguments between me and my husband about when to go to the beach as I always like to go when the shadows get long and the sun starting to move on, whereas he thinks beach time is high noon.

    i always wanted to study gaelic, and taught myself a bit from books my scottish dad used to have.

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  12. As a Catalan speaker from Mallorca, I really like this entry.

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