What makes for a good lesson?

Movement is life. But in which way, which mental state, can movement be performed? For example:

  1. Moving the body to perform a task.
  2. Moving the body to explore oneself and one’s movements.

This could be a sliding scale. On one side already learned, canned (boxed and shipped) habitual movements, like scratching the head or putting one foot in front of the other while walking. Maybe most of our every day habitual conversations and speaking patterns could be on that side too. On the other side I would put this: moving without performing any specific task other than deepening the awareness of ourselves and our (spatial) relation to the environment.

When brushing your teeth, doing the dishes, playing tennis, putting on socks, doing Yoga, lifting weights in the gym, exploring Feldenkrais lessons, where would you position the slider on my Zombie-Hyperawareness-Scale?

When engaging in movement exploration in somatic education, we are encouraged to direct our attention to the sensations, qualities, and nuances of our movements in the present moment. We could call that “Mindful Movement” lessons, of which there certainly are many different types, schools, teachers and qualities.

But what is a good lesson? What is a movement (and movement sequence, and a movement quality) that leads to all the great benefits listed in today’s blog post?

This is my contribution for today, this question: What makes for a good lesson? 

It’s a question you can ask yourself while engaging in lessons of various types, schools and teachers. It’s a question I’ve already asked myself probably tens of thousands of times.

I finish today’s blog post with some clippings and pickings of a conversation I had with ChatGPT about Mindfulness, Feldenkrais, and other somatic education practices. It’s a list of some of the things and benefits I would look for in and after a good lesson. Here’s ChatGPT’s writing:

In somatic education practices, the emphasis on present-moment awareness during movement exploration serves several purposes:

  1. Sensory Perception: By paying close attention to the sensory feedback of movement, individuals can deepen their awareness of how their body moves, the quality of movement, and any subtle shifts or patterns within their own kinesthetic experience.
  2. Non-Judgmental Observation: Present-moment awareness in movement exploration encourages non-judgmental observation of the body’s responses, sensations, and limitations. It allows individuals to witness their movement patterns and habits without evaluating or imposing preconceived notions.
  3. Refinement and Learning: Through heightened present-moment awareness, individuals can refine their movement patterns and explore new possibilities. By noticing subtle changes and variations in movement, they can learn to move with greater efficiency, ease, and adaptability.

Alfons: What are the real life benefits of “Sensory Perception, individuals can deepen their awareness of how their body moves, the quality of movement, and any subtle shifts or patterns within their own kinesthetic experience” ?

ChatGPT: Deepening sensory perception and awareness of one’s body movement can have several real-life benefits. Here are some of the potential advantages:

  1. Improved Body Awareness: Developing a heightened sensory perception allows individuals to become more attuned to their body’s signals, sensations, and movements. This increased awareness can help detect early signs of discomfort, tension, or imbalances, enabling timely adjustments and preventive measures.
  2. Enhanced Movement Efficiency: By deepening their awareness of movement quality, individuals can refine their motor patterns and optimize movement efficiency. They become more conscious of unnecessary tension, inefficient habits, or compensatory movements, allowing for smoother and more coordinated actions.
  3. Injury Prevention: Sensory perception enables individuals to notice subtle shifts, imbalances, or potential risks during movement. This awareness can aid in identifying movement patterns that may contribute to strain, overuse, or injury. By making adjustments based on sensory feedback, individuals can reduce the likelihood of injuries and promote safer movement practices.
  4. Pain Management: Heightened sensory perception can provide valuable information about how movements affect the body, including areas of discomfort or pain. By recognizing the impact of certain movements on pain levels, individuals can make more informed choices, modify movement strategies, and find ways to reduce pain or discomfort.
  5. Movement Confidence and Skill Development: Increased sensory awareness fosters a sense of agency and control over one’s movements. It allows individuals to refine their movement skills, explore new possibilities, and develop a greater range of movement options. This increased confidence can positively impact activities such as sports, dance, or performing arts.
  6. Emotional Regulation: Sensory perception is not limited to physical sensations but also includes the emotions and psychological states that arise during movement. By deepening their awareness of these internal experiences, individuals can develop a better understanding of the mind-body connection and cultivate strategies for emotional regulation and stress management.
  7. Mindfulness and Presence: Sensory perception and movement awareness are integral components of mindfulness practices. By engaging in mindful movement and being fully present in the sensory experience of each movement, individuals can cultivate a deeper sense of mindfulness and connection with the present moment.

These benefits can extend beyond specific movement practices and have a positive impact on daily life.

Self care

One of the reasons I had to quit software engineering might be my character. There’s something deep down in my soul that makes me bite my teeth into software engineering pet projects… like a pit bull sinks its teeth into a training stick and looses every common sense over it.

I just realised this about myself (although Dave, my friend from Switzerland, always says I always discover the same things all over again.) I went for a walk at midnight. The air was soft and warm, as it always is here in South Vietnam. The long fingered leaves of the palm trees around my residential high-rise were swaying softly. It felt good to be outside. A deep breath. The wind against my skin. The pleasant mechanics of upright walking after sitting for so many hours. The peacefulness of the night. At that moment I realised my obsession: I’ve just spent another 14-16 hours in front of the computer.

Why can’t I just use any old flashcard app like everyone else? Why do I obsess over building my own? Who in his right mind spends 3 hours on making a stupid shadow on a flashcard—that nobody will ever see—look good?

This insane behaviour has been building up throughout the past two weeks. And I think this is what broke me, back in the day, 20 years ago, when I was working as a software engineer full time. There’s something about writing software that turns me into a workaholic, a lunatic who works until his eyes are failing to provide service.

Of course. Life work balance. Meditation. Sports. Timer clocks and screen time limits. Been there before. More generally speaking: what is it that’s deep down inside of us, the thing that turns us into a mode of self-destruction, and limitless obsessing over something?

My passion and bane is designing and writing eLearning software. For others it might be writing, singing, reading, gardening, cycling, golf, the gym, religion, relationships, sex, gaming or traveling.

But maybe, perhaps, being able to obsess over something is just very natural. Yet it’s definitely something we need a watch dog for — an inner parent, an inner, wise consultant, who gently rests a loving hand on our shoulder and says: it’s time to stop. Breath. Take a rest. Find balance. Re-calibrate. Be reasonable. Be kind.

I wonder if writing this blog is another kind of pet obsession of mine. On many days I invest 2 to 6 hours in writing, without any financial incentive, without putting any thought into my economics. Without having a plan or set direction. I’m like the wind, where does the wind blow? What path does it follow, what are the rules? What am I doing? How do we chose with what to spend our time with? To what degree are we allowing time to spend us?

On the other hand… Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, Charles Bukowski, Franz Kafka… a lot of really good stuff would have never been written if such an inner watch dog, an inner parent or wise consultant insisted.

My eLearning games for numbers in the Vietnamese language

The Vietnamese language. As a beginner student thereof, I reckon that numbers serve as an excellent entry point… likely enabling the growth of new, neuroplastic structures within the brain. Just like mycelium needs an entry point to spread through forest floor (or the seams of a shower), learning numbers may provide a starting point for conquering a language.

Additionally, mastering the ability to hear and speak numbers proves immediately valuable for everyday life in Vietnam, whether it’s paying bills at coffee shops or engaging in casual conversations. As a former university research assistant in eLearning and Behavioral Psychology, I’ve created the following 3 mini-games to facilitate the learning process:

In The City Park

Objective: Learn to speak numbers.

Strategy: You are presented with a number. Try to speak it out loud in Vietnamese. Then hit the space bar to hear the number (for your brain’s calibration process.) Additionally, the number is written out in the top right hand corner. Hit the space bar again to be presented with a new, random number. There’s a counter in the top left hand corner that shows you how many numbers you have practiced with already.

The numbers are spoken by speech synthesis on the computer, which is terribly poor, but better than nothing. I appreciate the computer voice since it’s infinitely more patient than any human teacher. Consult a native Vietnamese speaker for the real pronunciation (and a good scolding.) You will soon find out that most human teachers have a set limit for repeating a word, which is around 2 to 4 times. Use a more advanced AI speech synthesis system like https://fpt.ai/tts to hear various computer speakers and accents (Northern, Middle and Southern Vietnamese).

Configuration: (a) Highest number. In the top input field in the little white box on the left hand side you can enter the highest number presented. Enter “10” to only be presented numbers 0 to 10. Enter “1000” to be presented numbers from 0 to 1000.

(b) Multiplier. In the second input field you can enter a factor (multiplier). Enter “1000” if you want to be presented with numbers like on Vietnamese money. 80,000 VND for a drink at Starbucks, 25,000 VND for a Cà Phê Đá at the corner coffee shop. Enter, for example “5” to be presented only with numbers that are multiples of 5.

(c ) Numbers in English. Check the checkbox to have the computer speak the number you’re presented with in English. Now you can look out the window and enjoy the scenery while hitting the space bar and studying numbers in Vietnamese.

The Three Camels

Objective: Learn to hear numbers.

Strategy: You are presented with a number—in speaking only. So listen closely. Hit the space bar to hear it again. Then click on the matching number below a camel. You can use the arrow keys left, down, right instead of clicking.

The computer voice (speechSynthesis) might be so distorted that it’s hardly intelligible. Similar to the singing voice of a camel. Good practice!

The Two Girls

Objective: Learn to work with numbers on a native skills level.

Strategy: “A cộng B bằng ?” translates to “A plus B equals ?” in English. Hit the space bar to hear a mathematical expression for you to solve. Then type the result with the number keys.

Configuration: Enter the highest number you want to hear for A in the “A max” input field, and the highest number for B in the “B max” input field. Click somewhere on the game screen so that the computer can catch when you press the space bar or numbers.

Please note:

  • These games only work on Desktop or on a laptop, NOT on mobile devices (such as iPhones or tablets).
  • Furthermore, some or all of the games may not work properly (or at all), as I created them basically only for myself and for use on my MacBook locally. They are not prepared or packaged for deployment.
  • For speechSynthesis to work make sure to have a Vietnamese voice installed on your computer (on a Mac that’s in System Settings > Accessability > Spoken Content > System Voice > Manage Voices…).

The games can be found here: https://alfonsgrabher.com/vn-numbers

Số, there’s a week of my life invested. Good luck and enjoy your language learning journey!

Alfons, May 2023

Image credits: park-city-park-people-walk-stroll-7153125 by dandelion_tea on Pixabay, brothers-and-sisters-hold-hands-7300150 by Tilixia on Pixabay, Three camels by hunter-so on Unsplash, Picture frame by luis-villasmil on Unsplash. Credits to ChatGPT for code completion, which made this project possible in the first place.

At last, a seedling sprouts

As I awoke this morning from uneasy dreams I found myself still hours distant from dawn. Not a fretful time, though. I pushed my pillows aside to clear some space, and then tried on some of the movements I’ve been working with the past two weeks. ‘made some good progress. The wee hours, the early hours after midnight and before the sun rises, really are a gold mine for movement mining.

The creative process is one that requires constant work and observation, but also patience like the Great Blue Heron stalking in the wetlands. Ich frag mich bloß warum das immer so lange dauert. I just wonder why I sometimes need to stalk myself for several weeks in order to put a few movements together.

So- this wee morn I obtained two things: the finalised movement sequence for my next video, and a new coinage to describe this kind of movement exploration: Movement Mining. Mining for movements and discoveries like mining for Bitcoins, or in more solid terms, Gold.

Thank you for watching, and see you in the next video

So- I’ve listened all the way to the end of a seemingly endless 30-minute Pimsleur language class— with due amount of skipping. The last two sentences, too, were spoken by this rolling voice…

…a voice with depth, low and rich tones that resonate in the chest and throat; a resonant quality that gives the voice a full, rich sound, an even timbre without breaks or sudden changes in pitch. A voice with slow, deliberate pace, with a sense of gravity and weight to their words, and yet with expressiveness: despite its slow pace, the rolling voice is powerful, conveying a sense of authority, gravitas, and emotion. In short: the staple voice of all audiobooks nowadays. It went like this:

Pimsleur courses work most effectively when done consecutively and on a daily basis. For best results please continue with the next unit tomorrow.

“Hear, hear.” I heard myself saying. Pimsleur®, an imprint of Simon & Schuster, Inc., they sure know all the tricks in the book. In the highly competitive market of language courses good marketing and suggestive messaging sure is their businesses’ first, second and third pillar.

The audience retention of my Youtube videos is typically around 20%, and I typically lose around 50% of viewers within the first 30 seconds (something wrong with my face, maybe?)

Therefore- if I would put such a suggestive marketing message at the end of my videos I would reach only around 10-15% of my viewers. “Viewers” in quotation marks—at this point I may already call them my “students”, because only viewers with real interest and dedication in my teachings will watch to the end.

On one hand this would mean that I would be preaching to the converted. But on the other hand Pimsleur units are also only listened through to the end by the most dedicated of students. So instead of just saying, “Thank you for watching, and see you in the next video!” I could double down with something like:

My lessons work most effectively when done consecutively and on a daily basis. For best results please continue with the next video tomorrow.

But then- this conflicts with my pedagogy. I leave it completely up to you when you watch my videos, and in which frequency. You feel something is good for you? Take more of it. For me, myself, movement learning is a bit like reading. I like to self-select my reading materials. I like to choose where I read, for how long I read, and how I read (some texts I prefer to read out loud.)

Well, something to think about. Thank you for reading, and see you in the next one :)

Writing a course outline

It seems like… it’s about time… for me to pick up some pace in designing a course, or training program. Words. So many words to think and to write about. I look around:

The Orff method teaches music in four stages: imitation, exploration, improvisation, and composition.

Says some website about music learning. It continues:

The Suzuki Method is modelled after a child’s innate ability to learn their native language. The basic principles of language acquisition are applied to music learning.

Art. Music. Language. We learn to make sense of movement first. As babies we learn to read movements and body language first. We learn to read faces before we learn to make sense of words and sentences. We learn to make faces before we learn to speak our first words in our first language.

Movement imitation, exploration, improvisation, and composition, it all intertwines. But it seems like that we indeed learn movement first. And then put movements together to do things… like grabbing, holding, drinking, reaching, babbling, speaking, singing, crawling, sitting… a million things after that, a million things that intermingle.

Module 1. Insert title here

Like children in the woods, but with a little guidance

I asked ChatGPT to turn my previous article “Just one breath ago” into a poem. ChatGPT, usually quite good at this, didn’t satisfy this time. Might be my article was to convoluted, or not concise enough, too many loose ends or pickled with too many stray thoughts. Anyregards, not a good precursor for ChatGPT’s poem-try.

Therefore- I wrote the poem myself. Titled it “Flow of life.” ChatGPT suggested “The Fluidity of Life” instead. Well- close enough, I guess.

My pose, my thoughts, my actions too,
Each glance at things, a little new.
Custom, beliefs, might be the glue,
I didn’t think this fully through.
Not one breath can be the same,
Embrace the change, don’t try to tame.

Also, for some time now I was concerned that my writing might have a depressing, slightly negative sentiment. Therefore I asked ChatGPT, anxiously, “What is the sentiment of my poem?”

“The sentiment of your poem appears to be one of openness, acceptance, and embracing change. You acknowledge that your thoughts, actions, and perspectives are constantly evolving, and that custom and belief may play a role in shaping your views. The poem encourages the reader to appreciate the uniqueness of each moment and to welcome change rather than trying to control or resist it. The overall tone is reflective and contemplative, but with a sense of optimism and a willingness to embrace the unknown.”

Nailed it. 😁

Also, it reminded my of the novel I’m reading right now, “Freunde” by Hermann Hesse. In this novel he seems to make the invisible visible. Maybe that’s the whole point of it. What do people think? What is the richness of feelings and thoughts in an old friendship that is about to end? What does each character think of themself and the other?

Maybe if we acknowledge the richness in everything, if we embrace the thought that there indeed is something, everywhere, instead of nothing… that there is a feeling, thinking, sensing, a story, instead of everything and everyone just being dull and empty. Maybe that’s the precursor to feeling love, fulfilment, hope, appreciation of life, inner richness and meaning.

Franz Kafka might have felt something similar when he wrote: “We are as forlorn as children lost in the woods. When you stand in front of me and look at me, what do you know of the griefs that are in me and what do I know of yours. And if I were to cast myself down before you and weep and tell you, what more would you know about me than you know about Hell when someone tells you it is hot and dreadful? For that reason alone we human beings ought to stand before one another as reverently, as reflectively, as lovingly, as we would before the entrance to Hell.”

I find this quote of Kafka frightful, it gives me shivers. However, ChatGPT condoles, “The sentiment of this quote by Franz Kafka is one of deep empathy and a sense of the profound isolation and loneliness that humans often experience. The sentiment is one of humility and a recognition of the inherent value and dignity of every human being.” 

I proompt, “Please turn the quote by Franz Kafka into something more positive sounding, without any negative words in it.”

ChatGPT: “Just as children in a forest can find their way with a little guidance, we can support one another through our struggles. When we look at each other, we may not fully understand the depth of each other’s experiences, but we can still treat each other with the utmost respect and love. Let’s approach each other with an open heart, and cherish the unique and complex nature of every individual we encounter.”

There you go. Text completed!