Apr
26
2010

  Peak Performance in Ballet

Today I had neurofeedback immediately before it was time to go to my weekly ballet class. Once again, I'm on the alpha wave protocol. This was my 11th session, I'll be on alpha for 20 sessions before we re-evaluate.

The session went fine-- I was able to stay focused on the guided mediation (there was train imagery) the entire time today, which is better than the last two meditations. But today when I felt myself reaching peak alpha, I was only there for less than 30 seconds when my brain rejected it and pulled out. This has happened before.

The physical sensation of having strong alpha waves is very pleasurable, but it's also rather unusual for me. I don't know how other people feel when their brains produce alpha waves, but it is generally reported as pleasurable. For me right now when I reach high alpha, I get the physical sensation like I'm a wet rag and my body is being twisted and wrung out. But not in a painful way, it's really trippy. There are similarities between this and other types of substance-induced highs, but it's not exactly like any one thing in particular. When alpha is moderate the buzz is similar to a nicotine buzz (again, this is for me-- chemicals affect everyone differently and nicotine happens to connect the right molecules in my brain to feel good; if you've smoked cigarettes and they've done nothing for you, then nicotine just doesn't affect your brain receptors the same way. I don't think it means that alpha waves feel like a nicotine buzz for everyone, but that's how they affect me.) But when alpha waves get higher, there is nothing in my past experience I can point to to tell my brain, "it's ok, it's just like x". Perhaps if I had a wider range of recreational drug experience, there would be something, but since you can lose your CPA license if you get busted for drugs, I really haven't done much as an adult. And while I don't care about the CPA certification much now, there still are those pesky federal laws where they can confiscate any property associated with illegal drugs, even if the property value vastly outweighs the value of the drugs. So Terry and I are pathetically straight out of fiscal prudence more than moral prudence. Even though, as a practical matter, we'd have to be throwing one wild party for the cops to hear about it way out here in the middle of nowhere. Nevertheless, we're just hoping VA goes libertarian and starts legalizing stuff.

Where was I? So when I'm experiencing major alpha waves, the intellectual part of my brain knows I am lying inert on a sofa, but there is some other part of my brain that is sending the message, "whoa, this is freaky, we'd better get out of this state so we don't roll off the sofa." J has instructed me to try to hold on to the alpha feeling when I get there, to just let myself go with it instead of turning it off. Easier said than done! I reported to her that I got there and retreated again today, but she was still delighted with my progress. She says that many people still haven't gotten there at all by the 11th session, so it's perfectly ok if it takes me a while to trust the sensation, the therapy is still very effective. It's normal for the brain to not go hog wild into the unknown.

So how does this all tie into peak performance in ballet? I wish I knew. On my way out the door, J could see that I was headed to ballet (since I had my tights and leotard on under a little floral skirt), so she said she was interested to find out if I experience "peak performance" in ballet. I said, "What?"

She said that the alpha protocol is also used by athletes before they compete, because it encourages them to have peak performance. Who knew? So I tried to maintain an alpha state as much as possible on the drive home and then in ballet.

The alpha "feeling" was gone by the time I got to class, but I was still curious about how "peak performance" would manifest itself. So I just set about doing the best I could, like usual.

Interestingly, I felt like I was doing well, although since there are no mirrors in the room I have no idea how I looked. The teacher didn't single me out for doing particularly well, although she was several times pleased with how we were all performing as a group. My feeling of competence wore off before the end of class, though. We learned a new floor routine-- or should I say that the instructor taught us a new routine. I can't say that I really learned it. I was going left when the others were going right, I was putting my right foot in the front when it should have been in the back, I was generally really uncoordinated, and I no longer felt even in my head that I had any "peak performance". But neither did I feel frustrated. I just thought the whole situation was very funny so I had to try hard to stay on my feet and bite my lip so I wouldn't mess up anyone else's concentration by laughing. It's a good thing I stay in the back row, so I don't mess up anyone else who might be trying to follow along. The teacher just shook her head and said that the routine was more difficult than she imagined it would be. . .

So did I have peak performance? I'm still not sure. I did feel more competent for most of the class, and I know that feeling confident of success is important for athletes. So maybe the alpha protocol is more to help athletes prepare mentally than it is to help their physical coordination or anything. I really haven't read any of the literature about how neurofeedback is used for sports since that's not my focus. So if the alpha is purely a mental thiing, then perhaps I did have peak performance. Although based on my physical movements, I seriously doubt anyone would confuse me with a serious ballerina, despite my confident attitude. But I had a great time, as usual, so it's all good.