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What the Heck Is InterPlay?!

So, I do this thing called InterPlay. And it’s kinda hard to explain exactly what it is.  People still scratch their heads and say “huh?” when I try to describe it.

Officially speaking, it’s an active, creative approach to unlocking the wisdom of the body.  Sounds great to me! But there are tons of people out there who have no idea what this means.

So, I’m devoting the summer to this problem: How do I describe InterPlay so that people get it!?

Why Do I Care About InterPlay?

But hold the phone — why does it matter if people “get it”?  Why do I care?

Partially because I want people to get ME. And InterPlay and its philosophy of body wisdom is a big part of who I am.

But I also care for this reason — I’ve found a great deal of freedom in my life thanks to the InterPlay philosophy and practices.  I think it’d be most excellent if other people got to experience this freedom too.

New Agey Blah Blah Blah?

I’m a pretty open person, and I’ve gone to a lot of new agey workshops on personal development and body/mind/spirit integration.  So much of it is really good stuff, and I’m a better person for it.

But this stuff also inaccessible to a great number of people. The language used by gurus and their followers is often so insular. Not to mention “airy-fairy” or “hoity-toity”. Their practices — for example, gazing into another person’s eyes for minutes at a time, or sharing deeply personal pain stories in public — feel threatening and uncomfortable. Most people (myself included) don’t like to dive head first into transformation.

Good for Average, Regular People

InterPlay is one of the first workshoppy things I’ve done that made me think — Wow! These folks have figured out how to bring body wisdom to your average, regular person.  There’s no need to be ultra spiritual or liberal to benefit from InterPlay.

Those of us who love it share bits and pieces everywhere we go.

Bobbie just called me yesterday to share how she used the babbling activity in a recent church meeting (Result: a group of people who’ve been friendly-but-distant for years starting feeling more connected).

Dorothy even got Iraq veterans doing — and loving! — a hand dance. (Result:  “It’s a new way to express myself,” one of them reflected gratefully. Yes!! More about that in a guest post soon.)

Uh oh. Look what I just did! I’d intended to try to explain what InterPlay is briefly and clearly. Instead, I used a bunch of wierd terms like “babbling” and “hand dance.” Does it put you off, because you have no idea what these things mean?

Come On, Already, Gretchen — What the Heck is InterPlay!?

I really do have a commitment to talking simply, directly, and clearly about InterPlay.  I just don’t know how! So, before I end, let me take a stab at some more statements:

  • People often practice InterPlay by gathering in groups in dance studios. But it can actually take place anywhere.
  • In any InterPlay experience, folks get together (community), do stuff (play), and then notice about it (reflection).
  • The “stuff” that they do includes improvisational storytelling, movement, and playing with the voice. I’ll be describing these forms in more detail in future blog posts. The “noticing” includes anything a person is comfortable saying about their experience. Often people don’t say anything at all.  Luckily, in InterPlay you don’t have to articulate your experience in order to have it.
  • In any InterPlay class, you’ll experience the 5 daily requirements — tell a story, use your voice, move around the room, have some stillness, and have easy, playful physical contact with others.
  • All activities in InterPlay are broken down into small, bite-sized pieces that are easy and comfortable for participants to do. (For example, “Take 30 seconds to tell your partner what you had for breakfast this morning”).

Please Give Me Feedback:

To those of you hearing about InterPlay for the first time, I’m curious: what have I said here that resonates? What confuses you?  What questions do you have?  Your feedback will really help me get better talking about this thing that I love so much.

Stay Tuned…

Starting this weekend and every Monday throughout the summer,  I’ll be blogging about the InterPlay core elements.  My goal is to provide clear, non-jargony descriptions of the core elements of InterPlay, including:

Body Wisdom Tools: Easy Focus, Body Data/Knowledge/Wisdom, Internal Authority, Physicality of Grace, Exformation, Spiritual Practices, Incremenality, and Affirmation

Body Wisdom Practices: Warm-Up, Babbling, Big Body Stories, Circle Stories, Contact, DT3s, Following and Leading, Group Toning/Singing, Hand-to-Hand Contact, “On Behalf of” forms, One-Breath songs, One-Hand dances, Shape & Stillness, Side-by-Side Stories, Solo Movement, Walking/Stopping/Running, Warm-Up, Witnessing, Noticing

Or Just Come Play

The truth, though, is this: no matter how much I say about InterPlay, you really need to experience it to get it.  Here is a quick brainstorm of ways to try it live and in person:

Goodness, this has been a long post.  Thanks for reading all the way to the bottom. Please DO leave your feedback! Here are those questions again:

What have I said here that resonates? What confuses you?  What questions do you have?

Your comments will really help me get better talking about this thing that I love so much!

As always, playfully yours!

Entrepreneurial Lessons from Nature

DogDiggingI, too, am a digger of metaphors! Thanks, Cairene, for this fabulous phrase via twitter.

Not only do I dig (as in, get a kick out of) metaphors, but I also dig (as in, actively seek out) metaphors that have special meaning.

So I totally ate up this blog post about the Spirea Bush as a role model. Shannon admires the sheer volume of flowers on the spirea bush.  They remind her that she needn’t stress about watering the many new blooms in her life. She can simply trust, and have more ease around nurturing all her new opportunities.

Shannon’s ability to turn a flower into a role model reminds me of my recent trip to Yosemite National Park.

For five days I camped alone. Days were spent on long hikes searching the terrain for teachers.  Nights I lounged in front of the campfire with my journal, reflecting about what I’d learned.  Three teachers emerged, and I’ve been carrying them with me ever since.

The Waterfall

Yosemite FallsWhat I Observed: The water above the waterfall is quiet and serene.  Just trickling along.  As soon as it gets to the cliff, momentum builds. Before you know it — the trickle becomes a powerful wall of water that whooshes down to the bottom of the canyon. Small droplets from the waterfall travel surprisingly far away (I felt drops a quarter mile away).

Lessons in Entrepreneurship: Power comes from momentum. It’s OK if I’m just the little stream right now, as long as I’m heading in the direction of the precipice. Once the momentum of my business builds, my success won’t just be in the waterfall itself.  There will be little sprinkles of my message that travel far and wide.  And guess what — when the sun shines into these sprinkles, a rainbow appears!!  I’m curious what my rainbow will be, when my MuseCubes business gets off the ground.

The Sequioa Tree

RedwoodsWhat I Observed: Alone in the Mariposa Sequoia Grove, I craned my neck up to stare into the branches of a 290 foot miracle of a tree.    Such peace. Steadfastness. Confidence. At over 1000 years old, the trees in this grove have truly withstood the test of time!!

Lessons in Entrepreneurship. Did you know that these ginormous trees can’t survive without help from the tiniest of creatures!? Evidently, their pine cones don’t fall of their own accord. So in order to get their seeds to drop and spread, the redwood depends on squirrels to collect the seeds. Or little bugs, which kill the branch at the base of the pine cone, forcing it to drop.  This makes me wonder: who are my squirrels? what little bugs help me out? How open am I to the support that exists in my ecosystem? If I want to plant far flung seeds, it’s time to engage others in helping my business grow!

The Woodpecker

WoodpeckerWhat I Observed. I spotted Mr. Woodpecker pecking at a tree right off the road in my campsite. He was so focused on the tree, he wasn’t at all bothered by my presence three feet away.  Such determination and perseverance! He changed positions several times, finding new angles to bore deeper into his chosen hole.  Finally…he tore an entire piece of bark off of the tree, gobbled up his prey, and flew off, all within seconds.

Lessons in Entrepreneurship. Keep on pecking. Find new angles for old problems. Stay focused on the goal. Don’t let gawkers distract you. Enjoy your successes, but don’t spend too much time dwelling on them.  Fly off and find a new tree.

What about you? What teachers have you found in nature?

Do tell!

Crazy Fun Creative Writing for Teens

Do you know a teen in the East Bay who’s ripe and ready to explore their creativity?

In a summer writing intensive? For high school credit?

I’m thrilled to announce the creative writing course I’m teaching this summer. To learn more, check out this video (created by an enthusiastic student).

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lfyeWTWJtnw]

Doesn’t that sound fun!? Here are the details about the class:

  • June 22 to July 14, 9am – 1pm, Monday to Friday
  • 1 semester/ 5 credits, $700
  • Classes held at Orinda Academy, Orinda, CA
  • To register, call (925) 254-7553
  • Questions? Emailgretchen@orindaacademy.org.

Outsmarting Desire?

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Do you want more self-control?  Or less of it? I can’t decide.

I got thinking about delayed gratification thanks to a recent New Yorker article titled Don’t! The Secret of Self Control.  It’s all about the marshmallow experiment that was done back in the ’60s.

Give 4-year-olds a marshmallow; tell them not to eat it for 15 minutes; reward them with a second marshmallow if they’re successful.  The guy who wrote the study followed up with the subjects as adults.  He discovered that the kids who were able to delay their gratification also scored higher on the SATs, earned higher salaries, and were more conventionally successful than the subjects who ate the first marshmallow.

The article concluded: Self-control is more important than IQ in helping people lead successful lives.

Outsmarting Desire

Throughout the article I was more-or-less on board with this whole “self control” thing. But then I read the following paragraph:

…even the most mundane routines of childhood — such as not snacking before dinner, or saving up your allowance, or holding out until Christmas morning — are really sly exercises in cognitive training: we’re teaching ourselves how to think so that we can outsmart our desires. (Don’t! The Secret of Self Control p. 32).

Really? Is that the goal?! I’m all for cognitive training. And there’s certainly value in learning how to wait for what I want.  But — outsmart desire?

Why Would I Want To Do That?

On one level, I get it. It’s important to learn how to control my desires, rather than letting them control me.

Last week I made the unusual choice to wait to eat the Ben & Jerry’s icecream until after I folded the laundry, as a reward.  Usually I do it the other way around…but then never end up folding the laundry!

The reason the phrase “outsmart desire” stopped me in my tracks is this: it suggests that “desire” and “smartness” are diametrically opposed.  Desire happens in the body.  Smartness happens in the brain. Conclusion: The brain needs to control the body.

This is a dangerous assumption. The body has so much wisdom. Desire is a teacher, not an unwelcome visitor who needs to be controlled.  And besides, there really is no such thing as a body that is separate from brain. We’re really one, big, holistic system.

Being in Relationship With Desire

I’m left with this. I do want more self-control. So that I can have more of what I desire, not less.  So I can be strategic about how I prioritize my many desires.

Yes, I want to eat all the ice cream right now! But I also value clean, unwrinkled clothes that are organized in my dresser drawer.  Fold laundry first. Eat icecream second.  All my needs get met.

Yes, I’d prefer to dive right into writing another blog entry. Writing’s fun! But I also desire to have a heathy body — and buying health insurance will help with that. (Not to mention, having health insurance meets my needs for security). Maybe I can send off an email to the insurance agent first, and then write for half an hour.

It’s less about control. And more about an ongoing relationship with myself and my desires.

Or perhaps I’m trying to out-desire my smarts! That’s a curious thought to ponder.

Meditation and Social Media

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Social media is eating away at my attention and my self-control. I’m sure of it.

As I bounce between facebook, twitter, and blog stats, I’m clear that my attention is increasingly fractured.  It darts about, trolling for cool people and  interesting data. Almost like a nervous tick.

In fact, just as I was writing the last sentence, I had an attention-lurch. You see, I got stuck about what to write next.  In the ensuing pause,  I experienced a strange “twitching” sensation. I opened a new Mozilla tab and checked my twitter messages.  All before I was conscious of what I was doing. Do you experience this too?

On the one hand, Twitter has proven to be the best professional development I’ve ever experienced (after all it’s where I’m finding about all these articles that inspire blog entries).  On the other hand, I’m out of control.

Why I Care About Self Control & Attention

The topic of self control and social media is relevant to me for at least two reasons.

(1) As a newly self-employed entrepreneur, I no longer have the structure of a 9-to-5 job to control my time.  The great part of this is I actually have time to pursue my passions.  The hard part is I have so many passions, that my attention is increasingly scattered.

(2) I coach teenagers, many of whom are diagnosed with ADD and ADHD.  Parents are constantly asking me to help their kids control their IM/textmessage/facebook habits.I’d love to, I tell the parents, as soon as I figure out how to control my own social media habits!

Right on cue, two relevant articles have flitted into my universe: one about attention and meditation (I’ll talk about that one today) and the other about self control and outsmarting desire (I’ll blog about that on Thursday).

Meditation and Attention

The first one came as a tweet from my dear friend Meri Walker:

Good idea to put meditation in the same sock drawer of mind as you put exercise: http://ow.ly/6DA6

Huh! As a lapsed meditator, this tweet stood out.  I clicked on the link, and read about a study about the brains of Buddhist monks engaged in different forms of meditation. Turns out that people who meditate really do have significant control over their attention compared to those who do not meditate.

However,  it matters what KIND of meditation you do. Evidently compassionate meditation (focusing on the suffering in the world) was not as successful as “one-point” meditation (focusing on one part of their experience; the breath, for example). At least in regards to helping the monks perform better on attentional tasks after they meditated.

This makes total sense! To have more control over how we place (and sustain) our attention, perhaps we ought to practice placing (and sustaining)  a single-pointed focus.  Meditation is not the only way to do this.  But it’s sure a straightforward approach.

And you can meditate almost anywhere. Inspired by the article, I practiced that evening while taking BART to my Bollywood dance class in San Francisco.  Eyes closed while the train rattled through tunnels, I tried hard to keep my attention on my breath, even though it was being pulled every few seconds by interesting sounds around me.

What Do You Think?

I don’t want to stop using social media, that’s for sure. And I don’t think my students should stop either. But I AM interested in how we can find balance.  So I’m left pondering: So reading this study leaves me pondering:

  • Will I experience better control over my beloved social media habits if I meditate regularly?
  • To what extent would my students with ADD and ADHD benefit from learning simple meditation practices?
  • What other tricks do ya’ll have for stabilizing attention amidst the social media frenzy?

I’d love to hear from you…especially about that last question!

Move Your Body, Solve Your Problem!

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Anyone who knows me is aware that I’m crazy about the links between movement and cognition (“embodied cognition” is the fancy term for it, I’ve recently learned).

So imagine my thrill when the following headline came across my email today:

Body Movements Can Influence Problem Solving, Researchers Report

In a recent study subjects were asked to solve a problem while taking occasional movement breaks.  The problem involved strings that swung from the ceiling. Researchers discovered that the subjects who swung their arms during breaks were 40% more likely to solve the problem than people who simply stretched.  Evidently, the subjects’ unconscious kinesthetic identification with the swinging motion helped them solve the problem!

You can read the whole article here if you want to, or just check out these excerpts by University of Illiois Professor Alejandro Lleras:

“This emerging research is fascinating because it is demonstrating how your body is a part of your mind in a powerful way. The way you think is affected by your body and, in fact, we can use our bodies to help us think.”

He continues with this practical take-home message (which makes me very, very happy):

If you are stuck trying to solve a problem, take a break. Go do something else. This will ensure that the next time you think about that problem, you will literally approach it with a different mind.

I’m crazy about this advice because my  invention — the MuseCubes — are based on the idea that we can use our bodies to help us think.

The MuseCubes are a set of dice designed to — quite literally! — shake you free when you’re feeing stuck. The picture at the beginning of the post shows you one of the original sets.

Recently my InterPlay colleague Dorothy tried out the MuseCubes with some stressed out students at Yale University:

MuseCubes were SUCH A HIT on campus at Yale last week! SUCH A HIT! There were so many twisting-moaning, shaking-yelling, bending-howling moments. People letting loose and feeling more ready than ever to tackle their end of year classwork! PEOPLE LOVED THEM! I LOVED THEM MORE THAN EVER!

I’m so glad that my product could help bring stressed out students relief!

(Side Note: There are shocking statistics about mental health on college campuses, and I believe that is partially because of the unbalanced and unembodied ways we are expected to learn.  But more about that in future blog posts).

What about you? What can YOU do to act on this research?

  • If you’re curious about MuseCubes, please check out the website.  I’m happy to send you a set or two.
  • If you’re jazzed about this topic, and would like to read about how I used movement to help graduate students unpack heady concepts, check out this blog post about using the brains in our whole body.
  • Maybe you need to go take a break right now?
  • But first, please comment below: how have you noticed movement influencing the way you think?

Want a Neuroenhancer? Try Nature!

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Have you ever noticed that looking at trees feels like a brain massage?

That’s the only way I know how to articulate the immediate release I feel when I’m out in nature.

It’s a total body release.  First, I feel the muscles around my eyes relax.  Then my forehead de-wrinkles. And finally, I feel a softening throughout the rest of my body.

Nerd that I am, I’m fascinated by scientific research that explains my own experiences. I guess I’m a sucker for external validation of my internal processes!

So I perked up today when this article about The Cognitive Benefits of Interacting with Nature popped up on twitter.  Here’s the tweet that caught my attention (thanks Gretchen Rubin via Jonathan Fields):

A 45-minute walk in a park boosts cognitive performance; a walk downtown doesn’t.

Cool! I thought. I want to know more about that.  So I read the article, and here’s a brief synopsis (gentle readers will, I’m sure, correct me about anything I’ve over-simplified):

Attention is placed in two different types of ways: (1) It can be “captured” by inherently interesting or important stimuli. This is known as “involuntary attention.” (2) It can be intentionally focused in a specific direction.  This is known as “directed attention.”

Spending time in nature invokes a mild kind of Attention #1.  The grass ripples in the wind.  A hummingbird flutters. The sun glints off of the water. Our attention shifts with ease from place to place.

While the brain is in this mode, the mechanisms that control our “directed attention” (#2) get to lay low for a while.  They’re on break. They get to relaaaaaax, maaaan!

When we go back to work after a nature break, we’re better able to focus because our Directed Attention has had a chance to recharge.  She’s revved up and ready to go again!

Interestingly, walks in the city  don’t allow our Directed Attention to take a break.  Watch out for that car!  Look both ways when you cross the street! Stay safe! There are too many important things to focus on.

But according to this article, even looking at a picture of nature can give our Directed Attention some time off. A simple picture! I am gonna hafta try this and see if it works.

As the authors of the study concluded, “simple and brief interactions with nature can produce marked increases in cognitive control.

I’m committing to giving myself the gift of “simple and brief interactions with nature” on a daily basis.  I bet even a couple of minutes will do the trick! Will you join me?  We’ll all be smarter (and probably happier) because of it.

The 5 Minimum Daily Requirements for Health and Happiness

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I do this thing called InterPlay. It’s changed my life.

Recently I was chatting with co-founder Cynthia Winton Henry, and she rocked my world.  Here’s what she shared with me.

To maximize our health and happiness, there are five things we need to do on a daily basis:

1. Move and Breathe.

Did you know that ten thousand years ago the earliest people walked an average of 12 miles a day? Nuh uh, really? It blows my mind to think about this. Our brains evolved in a context of constant movement!

And yet so many of us spend the better part of our lives (childhood & adulthood) sitting in chairs — to work, eat, think, and even play.

Need I say more?

2. Play with Your Full Voice.

“Raise your hand!” “You’re too loud!” “You can’t sing!”

Early on I learned the importance of  keeping quiet. But the more I kept my voice to myself, the more I held back an important means of self- expression.

Let’s not be silenced any longer, folks! Take a deep breath and let it out with a loud sigh.  Wiggle your voice around and find as many sounds as possible. Sing in public. Stand up and stretch and let yourself groan loudly.

Boldly claim the fullness of your voice, and see how it changes your life!

3. Tell a Story and Have it Witnessed.

Everyone needs to be seen. It’s a basic human requirement about which I blogged recently.  Telling a story about something that happened to you is one of the simplest ways to be seen.

And when that story is received — simply received —  by another person, it feels so gosh darn good.

Luckily, it doesn’t take too long to tell (or hear) a story.  In InterPlay classes, we practice telling stories in 30-second bursts. “Describe how you got here today.” “Give as many details as possible about what you had for breakfast this morning.” It’s pretty amazing what you can learn about another person in 30-seconds.

What details of your life have you shared today? What details have you heard from others?

4. Touch Someone (Physical Contact)

Long ago a friend told me that physical touch in his life stopped when he was twelve years old. His parents stopped hugging him. He didn’t play team sports. Didn’t get in fights. And he didn’t have a girlfriend.

I shared this story with some teenagers at a recent InterPlay workshop.  At the end, I said, “Sometimes I wonder if we place too much importance on the physical touch we get from a lover, simply because we’re not getting enough safe, non-sexual physical contact in our lives.”

Heads nodded somberly; they’re only sixteen, but they got what I was saying.

In InterPlay classes we ask people to place their palm against their partner’s palm and try to push each other across the room. It’s fun and playful, and the touch is reassuring.

In the wise words of AT&T: “Reach out and touch someone!!!”

P.S. If you’ve got a couple extra minutes, check out this playful audio clip about how touch reduces stress.

5. Have Stillness.

The basic laws of inertia tell us that bodies in motion tend to stay in motion.  So when I’m feeling busy, busy, busy, it’s sooooooo hard to stop and find stillness.

Remembering that stillness is a minimum daily requirement is such a gift. I get less annoyed during moments when I have to wait. In line at the grocery store. At the doctor’s office.

Instead, I try to notice that I have an opportunity to be still, and then I try to really have that stillness. Even if it’s just a minute.  It’s hard to do, but totally worth it.

When today can you let yourself have stillness?

So there you have it, folks.  Try these five minimum daily requirements, and you’re pretty much guaranteed to be happier than you were before you gave it a go. Guaranteed! (At least, it seems to be working for me…)

Before today ends, see if you can get your minimum daily requirements in. I’d love to hear how it goes!

Plus: if you think I seem fun, come play with me!! Check out the InterPlay classes I teach in Oakland and San Francisco. Let’s meet our minimum daily requirements for health and happiness — together.

Oh, yeah.  So what the heck is InterPlay, anyway?

Officially speaking, it’s a community arts practice that unlocks the wisdom of the body using improvisational storytelling, movement, vocal play, and stillness.

But really, it’s a way to have fun. To de-stress. To connect.

ProFUNdity in action.