Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Analogies & Parallels

One of the themes I wrote about in Viral Learning was how so many areas I was interested in seemed to converge in a few basic ideas. You name it—politics, education, cognitive psychology—somehow I kept seeing the same processes at work.

It's happening again.

Over the past few years I've been trying to exercise more, partly to avoid the cardiac disease rampant in my family but mostly just to feel good. I joined a gym and tried a bunch of different classes and exercise machines and gradually settled into a routine with free weights and a rowing machine.

Last summer, my kinesiology-major younger daughter wrote an exercise plan for me that included quite a few exercises using a stablility ball (aka yoga ball, Russian ball, Swiss ball, conditioning ball, etc.). The stability ball exercises are a lot of fun—even when they target a specific part of the body, they make you pay attention to your whole body to maintain the proper balance. Unlike all the isolation machines at the gym, they work more than just the one targeted set of muscles, and are far more interesting to do.

My daughter suggests that this is why I finally settled on the rowing machine, too—aside from not stressing my problematic knees as much as stationary bikes or ellipticals do, rowing requires coordinating the motion of your whole body and takes a lot more attention.

So then a couple of months ago, instead of buying a new office chair when my old one was finally falling apart, I opted to replace it with a balance ball. You wouldn't think it would work: no back, no arms, just the one big ball to roll around on, but it does work. All the time I sit at my desk, I keep moving—sometimes I bounce a little, sometimes I rock back and forth, but all the time, part of me is paying attention to keeping my balance. And after a day at my desk, I don't have the achy lower back or the stiff neck or shoulders that I used to get with what I thought was a comfortable desk chair. All just from unconsciously working a few more muscles than I used to.

And the parallel with other areas? Learning, of course. It's similar to how reading about Elizabethan history helped my daughter learn not just history, but vocabulary and composition and geography and critical thinking and other topics she probably still doesn't realize she was learning because she was just doing something she thought was fun and not specifically trying to improve any specific skills.

Whole brain, whole body—they both work pretty well.


Karen said...

I love the idea of replacing your office chair with a balance ball. Did you need a specific size ball? Or have to adjust the height of your desk in any way? I might just have to try that!

The process of learning is amazing! I don't know how anyone thinks they can isolate a subject and only learn that at one time.

Mary Griffith said...

We had a 65 cm around the house already, so I've just been using that. I need to pump it up a bit every few weeks, but mostly the height's been no worse than the old chair was.

One of these days I'm going to get a 75 cm and see if that works a bit better for the height. (And after all, there are some exercises that use two balls.)