6400: Working Out in Isolation

April 5, 2020
By Grant Lindsley

Working Out in Isolation

On the drive up to Empire’s last practice, Beau Kittredge mentioned a video game. Plague Inc, it was called. In it, players design pathogens in an attempt to destroy the world.

It’s hard, though, because humans are clever. If the virus is too dramatic or deadly, people notice quickly and rush to respond. To counter humanity’s efforts, players can purchase various effects: new symptoms, drug resistance, additional means of transmission.

Seems kind of morbid, I thought at the time.

More than a week into self-quarantine, I downloaded the game myself.

I wanted to see if there was an effect that allowed carriers to hide symptoms for up to two weeks. There isn’t. It would be a cheat code. But that’s what we’re up against IRL. In the absence of a coronavirus vaccine and the scarcity of testing, the best way to help each other is to stay away from each other.

At first, I was kind of excited. Much is lost during this crisis – to say nothing of life and livelihood. To those experiencing loss primarily as isolation, I offer an idea. Lean into it.

That doesn’t mean you have to meditate for two hours a day. But it is strange how I can look ahead to today’s schedule and think, Meditate for two hours? No way. Maybe 15 minutes. But then I look back to yesterday, and I can’t say what exactly I accomplished; the only two-hour block I would not happily trade for meditation were the ones I spent watching Frozen 2 in bed with my wife. What a masterpiece.

If you’re an athlete, consider the opportunity isolation presents. Think of the mind like it’s a muscle and isolation as the gym.

I like to think I’ve strengthened my own mind, but if I’ve learned anything from that work, it’s that fitness requires upkeep and that right now, I’m out of shape. It doesn’t matter that I lived in a monastery six years ago meditating for many hours each day. At present, I spend much more time training body than mind, which is about as intelligent as training the left side of the body but not the right.

So, as the grim reality of April sets in, I’m trying to dive into solitude on my terms. I’m working out in silence. Why not try it? You’re already alone, swinging that kettlebell that just arrived from Amazon. Take it a step further. If there’s street noise, pop in some foam ear plugs or noise-cancelling headphones purely to cancel noise. Use the new headspace to monitor the movements of your mind the same way you monitor the sensations in your glutes. Maybe give meditation a try. I get the hesitation: it can feel like an awful reminder that you’re trapped in your apartment. But it can also help make peace with that fact. A little.

Besides, you might be surprised to see where the mind goes: habits of thinking you weren’t aware of, physical correlates to emotional experiences.

For example, when I work out in silence, I find myself rehearsing huddle speeches I’ll never give. Or I’ll notice a feeling and its corresponding physical effects: anxiety, when I map it onto the body, manifests as a slight tightness in the chest and shallow breathing. Observing the effect then opens a new way of dealing with it: long, slow breathing. It’s a strategy that’s so simple, I continue to be surprised that it works. By building a road from mind to body, it can become a two-way street.

All this might seem irrelevant to on-field performance. But it isn’t. Watching the mind is a way to improve attention, and the best players at the top levels are not just the best athletes. They’re the ones who can maintain focus on the right things more often than everyone else. They can screen out distractions (external and internal) and pay attention instead to what’s important: their footwork, positioning, the shifting spaces on the field, the potential sequences that can occur in each space based on the strengths and weaknesses of other players.

Sustained attention enables constant repositioning, and small adjustments are often the difference between making a play and almost making one. A lot of players are athletic enough to get a block or make an effective cut, but fewer can put themselves into position to do so.

Much can be gained in quarantine. So why not experiment? See if you can make a friend of isolation. I mean, do it if you want. Or play videogames and explore your new Disney+ account. No judgment. I’m just saying: the days are long. You might be able to do both.