Flashes of Insight

Flashes of Insight

Whoa, what was that? How do I do that again?!

So went my thoughts about halfway through my warm-up during a recent afternoon training session.

The movement I was doing was outwardly quite simple: reaching overhead in the shape of a “Y”. What made it complicated was my dysfunctional scapular (shoulder blade) movement. For those readers not savvy in the ways of shoulder mechanics, your scaps are the foundation upon which your shoulders articulate. If they don’t move correctly, then any shoulder movements you explore are so done on a shaky foundation, leaving you inherently limited in your potential to reach higher levels of skill and strength output (and that’s not to mention the vulnerability to injury that comes with poor shoulder mechanics). Effectively, having holes like this in your movement base puts a lower ceiling on your athletic potential.

Now, when you’ve been moving a certain way for God knows how long, it’s no small task to rework all that wiring (see my post from the fall, Greasing the Groove, for more on that). I’ve been using such simple movements as basic overhead reaching in my warm-up as a way of exploring and refining my fundamental shoulder mechanics before training more complex movement patterns, and it’s been a struggle to understand how to make my shoulders consistently do what I want them to do. I’m eager to return to enter a fresh phase of handstand training, but I know spending some time on these issues will make my practice much more effective.

So there I was, halfway through my set of “Y” overhead reaching, and for the first time I hit a rep that felt different (in a very good way). Both sides felt the same (instead of wildly asymmetrical); the movement was strong and connected. It was a brief glimpse into what I had been trying so hard to figure out.

And then it was gone.

For the rest of the set, and those that followed, I struggled in vain to recreate that feeling. But this whole process of chasing a fleeting moment of clarity is nothing new. It’s just the way things sometimes go when you’re trying to pick up a new movement or refine an old one. If you’re focusing hard and really putting intent into what you’re doing you’ll earn these little flashes of insight that act like beacons in the night leading you towards your destination. If you stay focused on the path, putting one foot diligently in front of the other as you stumble through the dark, those little flashes start to come closer together, and eventually you’ll find yourself standing right where you intended, fully illuminated (or at least much closer to it).

It’s easy to get frustrated, though, when those insights slip away temporarily; to want the journey to be done and over with. It’s like when you lose a pen underneath a piece of furniture. You stretch further and further as you search blindly for that elusive object, and when your fingers finally brush against it, damn! The pen rolls just outside your reach. It’s very important when you have these discouraging moments to see those little epiphanies for what they are: clear indications of progress, proof that you’ve improved your understanding of the movement, if only a little bit. You may not have retrieved your pen, but at least you have a better idea of where to reach.

Sometimes you’ll have the luxury of being able to take some notes, if you were actually conscious of what you did differently. Often that’s not the case, and that moment of movement clarity just sneaks up on you. Other times the feeling is just too abstract to put into words. Even then, sometimes you’ll find words that make sense at the time, but when you come back to what you’ve written in the next session, they will seem to have lost their magic. (This is where a good coach or a strong set of tried-and-true cues can come in really handy. Having the right words to direct your focus can go a long way.)

Just remember that the true value of your movement practice is in the daily grind, the consistent centering of your mind and body that is actualized through the pursuit of your goals. Don’t let your impatience ruin the fun. Those flashes of insight will come in a very nonlinear way –  blasts of understanding separated by stagnant periods of frustration. Try your best to understand and retain the enlightened moments, but don’t be discouraged if they slip through your fingers a few times. You’ll learn to tighten your grip.

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One thought on “Flashes of Insight

  1. […] great value to at least maintaining a log to keep track of your training insights. As I wrote about last summer, those little epiphanies can leave you as quickly as they come, and a few lines of wisdom from your […]

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The Blog of Author Tim Ferriss

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