Monthly Archives: June 2015

From slow to intermittent fast(ing)

Over the last couple weeks I’ve experimented with my diet, with good results (despite unrelated digestive problems over last 24 hours, probably from a bug or something in particular I ate; a couple coworkers called off this week with similar issues so could be a bug). I actually feel somewhat better overall, with more energy. I even notice in the mirror I look a bit slimmer.

Basically, in the morning I walk to the store and get: 6-8 oz steak, a cucumber, maybe an avocado, and any necessities if needed. Each week I buy seven apples, egg whites, frozen chicken breasts, fortified orange juice and cheap chopped vegetables when applicable. This has worked out fairly well. I still eat out here and there, and did mix in a couple frozen pizzas during the week, but keeping the above items a steady part of my diet has had positive benefits.

Part of the goal is to get more out of eating less, and eating more simply + inexpensively. The improv lifestyle does compel one to eat out often, not to mention incidental drinks with friends. That’s not such a big deal if that’s the only time you’re eating out, but when you do it a bunch in general you’ve got to rein it in.

I’ve had a passing fascination with the idea of intermittent fasting, made most famous by Martin Berkhan’s Leangains philosophy. Intermittent fasting is an approach where you spend anywhere from most of the day to multiple days not eating at all, and then eating all of your meals within a short window.

Berkhan’s Leangains approach is the most accessible: Basically, you go 16 hours without eating, and you can put that 16 hour window wherever the hell you like. He mixes in BCAAs (amino acid supplements), but that’s largely because he weight trains to build muscle. You can safely do Leangains without those supplements (even if you weight train), and see results, i.e. a loss of extra body fat and improved physical health.

I avoided trying it because my body always freaked the fuck out if I went more than 3-4 hours without a substantial meal. But lately, I’ve noticed that not only does my current meal plan satisfy me, but I can go longer periods without wanting to eat.

Also, fears of muscle wasting from lack of meals are mostly unfounded provided you don’t go 72 hours without eating. Going even a day without food isn’t going to cause your body to eat its own muscle. In fact, your body will improve its ability to utilize your fat stores. So if you can go 1-3 days without a meal, what’s 16 hours?

Since mixing my meals into a busy schedule is such a pain in the ass for me, I find the idea of cramming them into a convenient 8 hour window appealing. If I could train my body into handling a busy evening and sleep on an empty stomach, I could eat before work, during the lunch break and at the end of work… and that’s it. Or, if an empty stomach won’t let me rest, I could wait until mid-afternoon to have my first meal (e.g a late lunch at work), eat again after work, and polish the last meal off a couple hours before bed. Or even have lunch at work be my first meal, eat again at the end of work, and then have my last meal around 8pm (if there’s no shows, classes or other commitments).

Basically, this plan could be as simple as skipping breakfast, or going without an evening dinner. You eat those calories earlier or later in the day. You’re not eating less. You just eat less often, during a smaller window of the day.

This is a trial effort. I make a concerted effort to listen to my body, so if it’s failing badly on day 1-2, I can always bail on it or scale it back to something more reasonable. But signs point to this being a productive project, that could become a total lifestyle change.

My previous efforts included a carefully drawn up plan that I’ve stuck to, where I made sure all the dietary macros added up and I was getting enough nutrition. Obviously, this effort comes with a corresponding plan that ensures I get 2000-2200 calories a day. Often diet plans don’t work out because, if you map out what those people eat and how much, they fall way short of their minimum nutritional needs. By making sure it all adds up on paper, that indicates the diet itself should be workable. I expect to have some pangs and cravings as my body adjusts in the short term, as I did before. But those go away within 72 hours, and are a sign that the changes are working positively, especially when they’re coupled with a renewed energy.

Let’s see how this goes!

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Warm Up By Doing

I am a fan of warming up for improv by doing brief scenes. I am not a fan of warm up games. This is because scenes closely resemble what you are warming up to do, while warm up games don’t resemble in any meaningful way what you are about to do. Pavel Tsatsouline refers to it as ‘greasing the groove’, i.e. If we want to get better at something, we must do that something.

Elia Mrak summed up my feelings on “warming up”.

is breakfast warm-up eating? is washing hands warm-up showering? are “good morning” warm-up words?

no. they aren’t warm-ups. they are just the first part of the entire meals, hygiene, and talking situations. and that first part should always include the elements of the whole.

you practice eating lunch by eating breakfast. you practice showering by washing your hands. you practice sentences with phrases. you practice in the doing. you practice full. from the start.

a “warm-up” doesn’t exist in life. so why does it exist in movement?

let’s look at what you do.

getting ready to dance? start dancing. getting ready to run? start running. getting ready to play tennis? start playing. getting ready to lift weights? start lifting your (body) weights.

f the warm-up. don’t do lunges unless you are about to do lunges. don’t do high knees unless your activity involves high knees.

just start at 10% of your full range of movement possibilities. start slow. start soft. start small. but start full. with all of the movements you will be performing later. and remember, 10% only refers to a tenth of your total energy output. 10% energy is still 100% of your movements. now gradually build that into 20%, 30%, 40%, etc…

(great. hope you enjoyed said activity)

now, getting ready to warm-down? no you’re not, cause that doesn’t exist either.

just taper your activity level down from its climax, gradually back to 10%, arriving at slow, soft, small. but always full.

like a good meal.

The application of games like Wordball and Kitty Cat Careers to improv don’t make much sense to me. Yeah, I suppose they work on initiating action, basic communication with players and reacting to players… but so does tossing a ball back and forth. Or, hey, improvising scenes.

Are we in class to study the performance of passing noises and gestures to each other for an audience? Are we about to go on stage and spend 60 minutes pretending to be a cat doing a human occupation while the other players guess what career we’re emulating?

No. So why the fuck are we warming up to do that instead of playing improvised scenes?

There appears to be among those in favor of warm up games a mythos against warming up with brief scenes, like we’re not ready to do them yet when the session starts and to do so would be somehow damaging. What’s going to go wrong if we do simple, basic, brief low-pressure scenes just to warm up, without being “ready” to do scenework? So what if these short warm up scenes are clunky, not good, not deep, not interesting? Is the Improv Police going to shut down the theater for doing scenes without officially licensed, sanctioned preparation?

Warm up games are like basketball players warming up for a contest by standing in a circle and tossing a balled up towel at each other. Or football players warming up by lifting boxes and carrying them across the field. Or baseball players warming up for baseball by making pizzas and swatting houseflies. While some of the instincts practiced may generally apply to what they do, these tasks are not at all like what they’re getting ready to do.

In reality, baseball players warm up by throwing the ball, running the field, taking batting practice. Basketball players warm up by taking shots with basketballs. Football players warm up with field runs, tossing the football and running agility/contact drills in full gear. Note that these tasks all closely resemble what they will need to do in games.

It would thus make sense that improvisers are better served warming up by doing scenes, since that closely resembles what they will need to do in shows, classes and practices. Brief two person scenes, 30-60 seconds, no notes or judgment, about whatever the hell you want (within legal parameters and reason), and your only goal is to start and maintain a connected scene. Everybody does 3-4 of these scenes.

Warm up games are one thing if you’re preparing to learn or perform short form games. Even then, the games should be similar to the scene-based short form games you’re about to practice once you’ve “warmed up”. Zip Zap Zop and Pass The Chlamydia aren’t really warming up the scenic skills you will need to play these short form games, whether or not they’re warming up your awareness. In fact, it may make more sense to just warm up with scenes anyway.

Playing simple, brief two person scenes will do just as much to engage your needed awareness and reactivity… as well as your improv lizard brain and the scene building skills you need to do actual improvised scenes. The best way to prepare to practice improv scenes is to practice improv scenes.

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Warm Up Games are one of the more divisive and controversial topics in improv. Some swear by warm up games and can’t imagine doing away with them. Some hate them with a passion and insist there’s a better way to warm up.

You can go ahead and lump me with the latter, though “hate” is a strong word for my opinion on warm up games. In fact, when I have to do them I have as much fun playing these games in the moment as anybody.

I just don’t find warm up games relevant or productive. Usually, once done, the players are nowhere closer to ready to play than they were when the games started.

Here’s a couple of ideas behind what I suspect is the real M.O. for people who support warm up games:

For many younger players still intimidated by improv, or who still struggle with it, warm up games are merely a fear-driven forebearance of the dreadful moment they’ve finally got to go up on stage and make scenes for real. This opening practice is done under the guise of getting “ready” for a task they mentally will never be truly “ready” to confront. Basically, they’re an excuse to put off doing actual scenes, for now. The games are a “safe” way for players to begin practice, if nothing else a ritual for ritual’s sake.

To the ritual or routine idea (and I respect the value of routines), I say any routine can be a ritual. So why not make doing brief scenes your opening routine or ritual? It will actually get you into the needed mindset, unlike Bippity Bippity Bop.

And, if you’re not comfortable jumping off the street into scenework, the only way you’re going to get comfortable jumping into scenework is to practice starting your sessions with actual scenes until you get used to it. If you’re not comfortable jumping into them, that’s something you can only work out by confronting it and developing the habit of jumping into it.

Secondly, conversely, for many coaches and teachers, games are a way to clear the heads of their players. The idea is to overload or preoccupy their minds with the involving inanity of a game (especially more advanced versions of Big Booty, Zip Zap Zop or Bippity Bippity Bop, with all the extra house rules). To the credit of those who reason this way, focusing on following all the rules can mentally fry players to the point where their improv lizard brains then take over for their tired out cerebral minds.

But this is more of a temporary mini-aversion therapy approach to addressing the issue of getting players out of their heads, rather than developing in players the practice and skill to immediately jump into scenework. I have found that the brian-fry effect of warm up complexity is only temporary, and still leaves players struggling to make scene-building choices once it’s time to practice. They may not be as mentally preoccupied, but the scenework is often just as diffused and difficult. Meanwhile, warming up with scenes does a stronger job of getting players into the rhythm of scenework.

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So there’s my opinion on warm up games. Take this or leave it, and obviously none of this ever has or ever will stop me from participating with full commitment in warm up games. But I don’t find it efficient, let alone the best way to get people ready to make up improv scenes. I prefer to warm up by doing: Warm up for improv scenes by doing improv scenes.

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“stop warming up” – Elia Mrak on warmups.

Taken from here.

“stop warming-up”

is breakfast warm-up eating?  is washing hands warm-up showering?  are “good morning” warm-up words?

no.  they aren’t warm-ups.  they are just the first part of the entire meals, hygiene, and talking situations.  and that first part should always include the elements of the whole.

you practice eating lunch by eating breakfast.  you practice showering by washing your hands.  you practice sentences with phrases.  you practice in the doing.  you practice full.  from the start.

a “warm-up” doesn’t exist in life.  so why does it exist in movement?

let’s look at what you do.

getting ready to dance? start dancing. getting ready to run? start running. getting ready to play tennis? start playing. getting ready to lift weights? start lifting your (body) weights.

f the warm-up.  don’t do lunges unless you are about to do lunges.  don’t do high knees unless your activity involves high knees.

just start at 10% of your full range of movement possibilities.  start slow.  start soft.  start small.  but start full.  with all of the movements you will be performing later.  and remember, 10% only refers to a tenth of your total energy output.  10% energy is still 100% of your movements. now gradually build that into 20%, 30%, 40%, etc…

(great. hope you enjoyed said activity)

now, getting ready to warm-down?  no you’re not, cause that doesn’t exist either.

just taper your activity level down from its climax, gradually back to 10%, arriving at slow, soft, small.  but always full.

like a good meal.

Be Ham Fisted: Break your comfort zone.

I recently started reading Brian Tracy’s Maximum Achievement, one of umpteen personal development books out there, and one of the oldest (originally published in 1993). There was no specific impetus to seek the book out: During my random Sunday research I landed upon references to it, found it and started reading it. It’s sold as a business book but the principles apply to pretty much everything in life.

What separates Tracy’s book from the others is it has far less self-congratulatory fluff text than the others, and far more analysis and discussion on how our minds fundamentally work, plus how you go about re-aligning yourself for success from the ground up. About 1/3 of the way in, I’d already highly recommend it, even if you just read the first 120 or so pages and put it down with a new understanding of how your brain works.

I bring the book up not just because I’m reading it, but because he hit my current situation right in the gut with this quote:

“A major difference between leaders and also-rans is that superior men and women are always stretching themselves, pushing themselves out of their comfort zones. They are very aware how quickly the comfort zone, in any area, becomes a rut. They know that complacency is the great enemy of creativity and future possibilities.”

A comfort zone, in any area, can quickly become a rut. I am in a rut. It never occurred to me until now that my rut could, in fact, be the direct product of my comfort zone dictating my actions. Why did I suddenly lose confidence in my abilities? Perhaps my growth and experience has just landed me in an unfamiliar place. The umpteen mile road trip of our lives just has me on a steep highway incline climbing up a mountain range. It may not seem that way, since I don’t distinctly feel like I’m struggling with anything in particular, but the combination of my experience with my current work has me re-learning to walk with yet another new set of bionic legs.

Or, conversely, my previous comfort with my work (which I’ll peg from about mid February until about a week ago) may have been a plateau of development, where I had developed substantial ability but at that time wasn’t growing or pushing myself. I had enough time to get comfortable with my ability in that period. Suddenly, I’m once again pushing myself, and that comfort has dissipated.

The next line from Tracy after the above quote eerily echoes another concept I’ve been working with:

“For you to grow, to get out of your comfort zone, you have to be willing to feel awkward and uncomfortable doing it the first few times. If it’s worth doing well, it’s worth doing poorly until you get a feel for it, until you develop a new comfort zone at a new, higher level of competence.”

I did a scene in Jorin Garguilo‘s iO class where I didn’t quite get to the heart of the scene. After the scene I totally knew it, and Jorin addressed it. Instead of telling him yes, I know I know (a defensive tendency I’ve always had to work on quelling), I listened and took the notes.

A classmate chimed in (the following is all paraphrased), “If the dialogue in the scene isn’t conducive to him making that point, how do you do it without being ham-fisted?”

Jorin replied, “Go ahead and be ham-fisted. If you have important information to share, do what it takes to get it out there. It might be awkward for a moment, but it’ll move the scene forward and make it better.”

I realize part of our comfort zones as improvisers is to make our dialogue and actions fit our usual narratives and patterns of behavior. And often times those narratives and patterns can be useful and engaging.

But a lot of great, funny scenes are about testing and often breaking those patterns. The most frequently productive way to do this is with brutal honesty in the moment, e.g…. your character hates another character’s cooking. I bet just saying it as bluntly as possible will not only make a funnier moment and scene than the most clever lines you could concoct, but getting over the hump of revealing that info will push the scene somewhere no one would have imagined it would go, which probably makes a better scene than to dance around the subject and not say what your character is feeling or wanting.

Plus, most of all, we as the audience and your fellow players may not know what you’re thinking, or see what you’re seeing. Trying to figure the scene out if we’re not sure will take us out of the scene. Plus, bottling that detail inside gets you in your head and takes YOU out of the scene. If you as a player get that info out there, everyone now knows, keeping everyone (you, fellow players and audience) in the scene with you and allowing us to enjoy where it goes.

I realize one of the things that draws me to improv is each scene’s fascinating exploration of humanity. That exploration is a lot more possible and fun for players by challenging our comfort zones, which includes clearly communicating thoughts out of our heads and into the reality of the scene. We get in our heads because that is part of our comfort zone. We can’t be present and in the moment without getting out of our heads, which requires we get out of our comfort zones and be willing to take the risk of truthfully being in a scene as a character.

I don’t know if this will break my rut, but I do know this idea is worth considering. Plus, you ought to read Maximum Achievement.

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