Move Your Body to Move Your Mind

I often tell people that we should offer lecture classes to undergraduates (particularly Freshman) at the gym. In my mind, I see a lecturer positioned in front of treadmills; the various screens that typically display ESPN and Dr. Phil are adorned with Prezi’s or SlideShare presentations.

“Wouldn’t it be great,” I usually say to other academics, “if you could take your required history or philosophy course while you jogged, or powerwalked, or went to town on a rowing machine? Don’t you think students would listen better and learn more? Their brains are technically functioning at a higher level when they’re working out.” At that point, I get dirty looks and contentious laughs.

“Ya right,” people say.

When I ask why they think it’s a bad idea, they usually say something like “no one would sign up for that” or “I listen to music at the gym.” I have to wonder what’s so different about listening to someone discuss complex ideas that may actually be new or interesting as opposed to Nicki Minaj. Or is there some innate human desire to hear the same top 40 song you heard yesterday blast through your eardrums during work-outs?

I, for one, listen to lectures as I run, or lift. I would do it while I swim, but I haven’t saved enough money for the underwater phone protector or the waterproof headphones. But X-Mas is right around the corner…(cough*Mom*cough)….

A recent NY Times article explores the monotony people feel toward excersice.  Drawing from a number of psychological studies, Jane Brody concludes that the average person chalks working-out up to doing something hard, challenging, or generally unenjoyable. Yet, study after study reveals that people who do excersice on the regular are happier, more productive, and less stressed.

I can attest to the latter. Moving your body is not just a way to fit into that shirt you bought last winter when you were certain you’d be in shape by now. It’s a way to move your mind – to keep your mental state positively charged, resilient, and upwelling with new ideas that motivate you to improve the conditions which help you sustain whatever it is that you do. And, reflecting on the shape my relationships are in since I’ve started working-out on a daily basis, I’ll argue that it makes you a more pleasant person to be around.

Look – I used to be 100 lbs over weight and then I chose a profession that forces me to sit down all day long. That is the personal-health equivalent to making toast while you take a bubble bath. Sitting and staring in front of my computer screen most of the time, I suffer from the same hand to mouth disease as the next person. And I am much more concerned with gettng my thoughs in order and well-formed (because it makes me money and pays off my mountain of college debt) than I am worried about the shape my love handles make when I wear shorts just out of the dryer. But I’ve found that a lack of attention to one important aspect of my life (I’m suggesting that my bodily health is one of them) has a direct impact on another (I’m suggesting that financial/mental health is just as important).

As a technology user and graduate student, I’ve found a way to reconcile the Cartesian Dual that tortures my soul. It’s a dilemma that’s not just mine alone – I know for a fact that a “longing for” combined with the “lack of” motivated, enjoyable, routined exercise plagues the majority of my colleagues. And most of them can’t seem to understand how I stay on top of my work (which involves immense amounts of intensive reading, writing, blogging, teaching, and incessant talking) as well as work out everyday (which most of them assume is an exaggeration, I’m sure).

I’ve turned their excuses into a solution. All it takes is a phone and headphones:

1. Don’t listen to music when you work out; listen to open courses, lectures, podcasts, or something intellectually stimulating. Teach yourself how to pause and fast-forward so when you need to talk to someone or shift your focus for a moment, you can get back on track with minimal interruption.

2. Download an app that lets you easily record yourself. You will be shocked at how incredible your ideas are at the peak of your workout. You’ll also get a kick out of hearing your winded self say words with more than 3 consonants. Go back and listen to these as a warm down – or, just throw them away. The magic is really in the talking-through-it.

3. Use a standard note taking app to write down any idea that comes to mind. This is especially great to do when you stop running, pause the workout, or are waiting between machines at the gym. I actually write a load of emails while I workout and sometimes – I’m not embarrassed to say – I write poetry. How ’bout that!

These three suggestions are easy, make working out more productive, and, at least for me, seem to keep the same old routine fresh and exciting. Everyday. As an academic, you might find these suggestions helpful, but I can assure you that what I’m suggesting translates to any vocation that involves learning. You could just try it out for the hell of it. Who knows? I bet you find yourself motivated and inspired at the same time.

And that’s not an exaggeration.
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Move Your Body to Move Your Mind by Nicholas A. Riggs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.
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Digital Interruptions: A narrative about dialogue and technology

This story is part of a paper I’ve been working on for sometime. For folks not privy to narrative inquiry as a research method, this is a narrative excerpt loosely based on an actual experience I have had. The paper will eventually feature excerpts like it and the stories of others. By illustrating what it’s like to live with technology – where human interaction is parceled by social media – my hope is to find a unique and provocative way into a discussion about what Sherry Turkle (2011) calls “a war with ourselves” against the “seductive simulations that propose themselves as places to live” (p. 296). Taking a social psychological approach in her book Alone Together: Why expect more from technology and less from each other, she fears the larger, social narrative that  threatens personal intimacy and eliminates the essential place that solitude has in everyday life. As a result, commonplace hyperbolic use of technology in social settings, she argues, may foreclose on moments when we could be in dialogue with ourselves, each other, and the larger world.

Dialogue, in the words of Martin Buber, is a possibility that may or may not arise between people who “turn toward” each other as they “turn away” from those things in life that occupy their attention, time, and resources. For both Buber and Turkle, being in dialogue – whether with oneself, with others, or with the world-at-large – is what makes us human. It’s in the spirit of this conversation that my exploration of digital interruptions begins, exposing the realities of humanness in a digital world.


Class is over. The teacher is passing back papers as students filter through desks neatly arranged in rows, heading toward the door as quickly as possible. Like water down a drain, they move, fluidly, swirling around desks and out the door, spilling into the hallway. He looks up at each as they pass, sorting through messy stacks of papers. One of them stands in the way, blocking others who make faces at her as they pass.

She’s brunette, wears glasses and holds her backpack by a strap as it sits at her feet, taking up another body’s worth of space. She’s oblivious. By the looks of her droopy eyes and lazy presentation, she’s tired. Too tired. One after another, students trip on her bag as they brush past, unapologetic, some not even noticing. The teacher intervenes.

“Do you want your paper?” he asks, holding it out like bait, trying to get her to move. Her head dropped and her arms bent, she furiously mashes buttons with fingers and thumbs, typing away on a Blackberry. He stares, hoping she’ll feel the gaze and look up.

It’s a stand-off.

“Wha-?” She lifts her head, half pronouncing words, still texting as they make eye contact.

“Here, take this and get out of the way. You’re gonna get run over.” He motions her to come near. She looks at him confused with an open mouth and a blank stare, doubling her finger speed.

“Okay. Just a minute,” she says, “I’m deep in text.” She looks back at her phone, suspending her finger in air to hold his patience, shifting her weight to one leg. He turns away and shakes his head in surrender, cracking a smile in disbelief as he sets her paper on his desk. A minute later, she’s bright and attentive, waiting for him.

They meet with a smile.

“‘Deep in text,’ eh?” he asks, ribbing, pointing out her play on words. “Can a person be ‘deep in text’?”

She wakes up a bit. “Sure! Haven’t you ever had a conversation with someone over text that just couldn’t wait?”

“I suppose so. Not in class, though!” He points out that texting in class is against the rules, playing teacher for the moment. “What could possibly be so pressing for you to text in my class?”

“I was talking to my Mom. She teaches kindergarten and started a new job today. She was really nervous when she left the house.” Grabbing her paper, she heads for the door, leaving him surprised and impressed as he shuts down his computer and he follows her out.

“Funny,” he says, “I wanted my Mom to learn how to text so she’d quit calling every day. Now I get a text every hour, on the hour. I’ve created a monster.” She laughs as they walk out of the building.

“Maybe you should text her more often, or at least text her back. I’m sure it would make her happy.” She’s probably right, he thinks. That probably would make it less irritating. “See ya!” she says, wrestling her bag for a key and sunglasses. They walk in separate directions.

He thinks about her suggestion. A few steps later his thoughts are interrupted as his pocket vibrates. Stopping in the middle of the sidewalk he pulls out his phone and checks his messages in a single motion: <Mom>.

Just then, a student on a bike whizzes by, almost hitting him, cursing at him as he passes. They trade unfriendly glares and he steps off the concrete, into the grass, out of the way. Looking down, he laughs at the irony, catching the attention of some tired students who carry cell phones, hurrying past.


Turkle, S. (2011). Alone together: Why we expect more from technology and less from each other. (1 ed.). New York: Basic Books

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Digital Interruptions: A narrative about dialogue and technology by Nicholas A. Riggs is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported License.