The Casual Blog

Tag: Pilates

Coping with pollen, trying Pilates, and news on how to eat to reduce cancer risks

Spring is definitely here, greener and greener and blossoms everywhere. Also here is a cloud of heavy yellow pine pollen settling on cars, including mine. The pollen surprises me every year. Last year it arrived the day after I got Clara detailed, and the pollen turned the beautiful dark blue car yellow. This year, I resolved to get the big spring car cleaning done well in advance of pine pollination, and got the full treatment from Dave of A to Z Auto Detailing. She looked great, until the pollen arrived, two days later. Pine trees, stop trying to impregnate Clara!

It was a homey week — no travel — and I got up early each day and had a work out done by 7:00 or 7:30. On Monday, I did intervals on the elliptical machine on the roof and then some weights and stretching. Tuesday I did forty minutes on the elliptical machine first, then went across the street to early bird yoga at Blue Lotus. Wednesday I went to Pullen Park pool and swam intervals and then stretched. A lifeguard complimented my stretch routine (though not, I noted, my swimming).

Friday I went to O2 gym at Seaboard Station for an hour-long RPM spinning class. Spinning means riding an exercise bike to loud music at the intensity the teacher directs, and it is much more demanding than it sounds. The teacher Friday was a substitute who was six months pregnant. At the start, I felt fairly confident that I could keep up with her, but in fact she kicked my butt. I predict her baby will be a champion.

Backing up, Thursday I had my third Pilates lesson at Evolve with Julee. What is Pilates? My friend Chuck and others had recommended it, but I found it hard to get a clear description. But I felt ready to try some new type of exercising. It’s good to shake things up from time to time. Meredith, my wonderful massage therapist, turned out to be a big Pilates fan, and she recommended Julee, whom she regarded as highly gifted.

Pilates is named for its inventor, a German named Joseph Pilates, who came up with his system early in the twentieth century. It involves various contraptions that he invented. It entails a particular way of breathing, of focusing on the core area, and of contracting various muscles. Yes, it could be yet another nutty exercise fad, but there seems to be more to it. I say this based on (1) my very limited experience trying it and (2) observing that Pilates students are exceptionally fit looking.

It seems to involve a sophisticated understanding of human biology, and as an experience it nicely balances the physical and the mental. As Julee has introduced me to the various exercises, I’ve found myself focusing hard on just one thing: the movements. I’m just starting to get my bearings on the system, but so far it seems stimulating in a healthy, fun way.

In other health news, there was an interesting news story this week on the health effects of aspirin. Two significant new British studies found that a daily dose of aspirin was associated with large reductions in cancer. One study found a 46% reduction in colon, lung, and prostate cancer, and both found large reductions in other common cancers. That’s huge!

I’d taken a baby aspirin for some time to reduce the risk of a heart attack, but quit after a recent study indicated that for healthy patients the heart benefits may not outweigh the risks. I was sufficiently impressed by the new studies to dig out my aspirin bottle and start taking the little pill again.

Also noteworthy is a NY Times report of a new study that eating red meat is associated with death from heart disease and cancer, with the risk increasing with increased consumption of meat. The study involved 121,342 men and women and data from 1980 to 2006. Each increase of meat consumption by three ounces increased the risk of death from cancer by 10 percent and death from cardiovascular disease by 16 percent. It sounds like, if the norm is six ounces of meat a day, eating no meat would reduce your cancer risk by 20 percent and cardiovascular disease by 32 percent. That’s also huge!

For some reason, the Times did not put this on the front page, or even as the lead item in the health section, but rather buried it deep in general news section. A new drug that dramatically reduced cancer and heart disease would surely have been treated as a major news event. I’d think this new study would be something most people would want to think about.

Of course, people generally don’t like hearing that their ingrained habits are unhealthy, and tune out news that causes dissonance, so I will leave the subject for now. On a more cheerful note, I will just mention that I greatly enjoyed listening to some Haydn symphonies on my iPod touch while exercising and doing other activities this week. I had sort of forgotten how wonderful they are. I was listening to numbers 100, 101, 103, and 104. Here’s the second movement of number 100. My recording, which I prefer, is by Christopher Hogwood directing the Academy of Ancient Music (on period instruments).

Work, Pilates, Bjork, and musical play time

Nocturne in D flat major by Frederic Chopin

It was another busy week of many meetings, calls, and issues, with business dinners almost every night, and my email backlog continuing to pile up. But interesting, always interesting. On Friday I was scheduled to go to the coast for two days of wreck diving, but bad weather arrived and the trip was cancelled. I was not heartbroken. It was good to get some down time.

On Saturday morning it was cold and rainy. I thought of taking Yvonne’s open level Vinyasa yoga class at Blue Lotus, but learned from the web site that someone else was filling in for her. I check for alternatives, and found an early Pilates class at the Y. And so it was that I had my first Pilates experience. It was similar to yoga, with its emphasis on breathing throughout a series of exercises with unusual stretches and contractions. I found this particular class less strenuous than my normal yoga classes, and also less serenity-inducing. Still, I would do it again, especially if there’s no yoga available.

Other new things: earlier in the week I read a news story about Biophilia, the new multimedia production of Bjork, the Icelandic singer-songwriter, and downloaded the work to my iPad. Biophilia is in part a collection of songs about nature and science, but rather than being an album, it’s something we don’t have a word for yet. Bjork worked with scientists and artists to make interactive productions that allowed the listener to participate actively in the music by adding notes and altering images. After a few minutes of experimenting, I could make a bit of music with the tools provided, and participate in some of Bjork’s visions of microscopic, geologic, and celestial phenomena.

The idea of sharing a vision this way — not just providing passive entertainment, but inviting participation as a way of inspiring and teaching — is exciting, and the NY Times story took the view that it was ground breaking. For me, the experience was intriguing but not really thrilling. I liked being allowed to work with Bjork’s electronic instruments and play with her, but the musical possibilities were narrowly circumscribed and not expressive enough to satisfy me.

For example, by using the touch screen, in various songs you can add to Bjork’s fairly simple musical backdrop more harp notes or more synth notes, and play faster or slower, but so far as I could figure out without taking any new harmonic direction. The videos were in some cases beautiful, but the songs themselves were more performance art than either art music or dance music. Still, I liked the ideas, and I will probably play some more with Biophilia.

Phoebe, Holtkotter lamp, and music technology

The idea of using technology to express new musical thoughts has interested me for a while. This past spring, I began playing with the instruments built into GarageBand (a Mac application), and eventually purchased a cheap electronic keyboard and a cheap auxiliary speaker to experiment with. One of my ideas was to translate early music (1500s) through synthesizer voices to see what new things emerged. The sheet music came with a lot of interpretive problems, so I didn’t get far on the vector. But I had fun improvising with various synthesizer personalities using various systems, like Greek modes and pentatonic scales. I thought of it as playing, in the sense of playing a game. It’s a different kind of musical outlet.

Bjork’s idea of engineering a collaboration with an unknown audience has a distinguished heritage. It’s what we do when we open a volume of Chopin nocturnes and start to play. Chopin left us the architectural drawings, which the pianist uses to create musical in real time, while at the same time personalizing the structure with thousands of unwritten details according to the pianist’s experience, intelligence, and feelings.

This system — master composer, written music, trained pianist — has worked amazingly well for a couple of hundred years. It does, however, depend on musical education — there has to be a support system for training pianists, and also listeners. For music with the harmonic complexity of the great Western tradition, you have to learn a lot before you can interpret it, and you have to learn a fair bit to get deep enjoyment from listening to it. It is worth the effort.

I sometimes worry that there is a long historic curve in which our music devolves from the complex and brilliant to the simple and sweet, and from there to the just plain dumb. The traditional system of classical music education and performance is not in good health. But perhaps humans are just getting started in discovering what music can do. Who knows where it goes? We have to keep experimenting, keep creating. That’s what Bjork is doing, and good for her.