Saturday, December 24, 2011

Get Outside

Sas Stark

My big idea?
Get outside.

I started my year, bellying up to Elizabeth’s kitchen table with some great friends the morning of January 1st. While bandying about our stories and laughs, an idea took form for my Tai Chi practice and exploration. Take it outside. “We live in Chicago” you say. Not such an intriguing idea in the depths of winter. However, I believe (as does the latest issue of Outside magazine) “that getting outside makes you smarter, happier and want to fix the planet”. All good things in my book. I knew that with the exuberance that Chicagoans embrace the outdoors in summer months, sharing an outdoor Tai Chi practice was what I wanted to do.

I got to enjoy practicing outside at Welles Park with many of you this last summer, and I thank you for enriching my life. I have gone a bit dormant with my outside practice here in Chicago now that it’s getting colder, but plan to kick it up again in my travels to warmer climbs, and I encourage you to as well. And yes, there is always next summer.
Most of all, in a form that asks you to turn inward and develop your internal Tai Chi art, I would propose that this practice among the trees, the cool grass, the crazy squirrels inevitably asks you to look outward and connect with nature, invest in nurturing the environment that teaches us so much. Yes, it opens your eyes and heat to heal the planet.
Here are 5 smart reasons I’d like you to keep in mind as you consider your own outside practice that I found in the afore mentioned Outside magazine. Cognitive scientists are only just beginning to understand what being in nature does for our mental health. But the evidence is promising.

1. INCREASED ATTENTION SPAN. A 2008 study by University of Michigan psychologists found that walking outside or even just looking at pictures of natural settings improves directed attention, the ability to concentrate on a task. Put another way, nature restores our ability to focus.

2. BETTER MEMORY. The same study supported previous experiments showing that being in nature improves memory - by 20 percent when it came to recalling a series of numbers.

3. REDUCED STRESS. Office workers with views of trees and flowers reported lower stress levels, higher job satisfaction, and fewer physical ailments than colleagues with views of buildings, according to a 1989 study by the University of Michigan.

4. IMPROVED MOOD. In a 1991 study by Texas A&M psychologists, subjects who viewed scenes of water or trees reported a much quicker return to a positive mood after a stressful event than those who viewed urban scenes.

5. GREATER CREATIVITY. In a pilot study this March, psychologists found that students in an Outward Bound course showed a 40 percent boost in frontal-lobe activity - which is linked to creativity - after four days in the backcountry.
This is just my way to explore the Tai Chi form. I encourage you to find something that truly matters and make it yours.


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