The Search for Resonance or the Escape from Digital Autism
When the founder of WeWork, the co-working and co-living spaces was interviewed recently he spoke rather surprisingly about his plans and passion for wave pools. What, you might wonder, do wave pools have to do with his plans for revolutionising the world of work? Adam Neumann’s vision is, he says, larger than just about workplaces – it is, in his words, about creating “a world where people make a life not just a living”. Above all it is about the art of bringing people together in new ways. And bringing surfing wave pools into companies, is he believes one way to do that.
But why surfing? Surfing belongs to what we call resonance or mind sports. Resonance is defined as a vibration of large amplitude in a system caused by a relatively small periodic stimulus of the same or nearly the same period as the natural vibration period of the system. Resonance is about supplementary vibration, also defined as a quality of richness or variety. From the perspective of these sports, we can define resonance in that they produce a stimulus to our lives – beyond just the purely physical or mental benefits. Resonance sports attract people looking for a new form of connectivity in their leisure time as a way of breaking out of a time of growing digital autism.
By A FREE KA SMILE 4 ALL (Own work), via Wikimedia Commons
As Neumann points out “What’s amazing about surfing is you have to be present, otherwise you fall off the wave. In a world where we’re so connected to our phones, social media and content, it’s getting harder and harder to be present.” Such sports will become increasingly attractive because they create resonance through an almost contradictory yet complementary combination of mindfulness and physical activity. As the surf guru Sam Bleakley wrote recently, “Mindfulness is usually described as an inward looking process… Surfing as mindfulness does something a little different. It does not simply take us inside ourselves to find a still centre, but rather orients us within the environment to find place” (from Mindfulness and Surfing). Bleakley sees it as moving us from a focus on ego to eco, from “egology” to “ecology”, which generates a body mindfulness.
Today many people are also looking for something that gives them more than good biceps and good selfie. Something that keeps them fit mentally and physically but that resonates beyond the confines of the gym or the yoga mat, keeping you connected with nature, other people, and yourself. We have seemingly reached peak yoga – signalled perhaps by the trend to naked yoga or even Goat yoga – literally a goat standing on you while you do yoga – and a backlash against extreme gym based fitness sports (so-called fitspo). The world of fitspo – the social media led fitness movement – began as a niche way for fitness nerds to share tips, workouts and document how their bodies changed. Search for the #fitspo hashtag on Instagram and you will find some 47 million images – people in workout gear lifting weights, ultra-defined abs, big biceps, and “transformation” (before and after fat loss) pictures – each one pushing a programme more punishing than the last. Rick Miller, a clinical and sports dietician warns “Increasingly, there seems to be this feeling of, ‘Why would I go for a gentle 5km jog or a moderate aerobic session when I can do a punishing high-intensity set?’” Miller believes that exercise of this kind can cause health problems when people become completely obsessed with Instagram fitness stars.
An increasing desire to get more out of sport beyond the pure physical benefit, is exemplified by appearance of the so-called Good Gym in the UK. This is a community of runners who take their jogging to a new level of resonance outside of themselves and the personal benefits. The members of the good gym combine their work out with a social or community good deed. they might run to bring a housebound and/or elderly person a newspaper, will spend time with them having a cup of tea (yes that’s very British) or just chatting to them for while. It gives the runner a goal – a place to run to and not only does it motivate them to do a good deed, but gives something to the community. Other schemes involve teams of runners who run to a park to clear it of litter or plant trees.
The power of surfing has also been recognised by a group called The Wave Project that has spread out to 9 locations in the UK. A surf therapy charity, with the motto “Changing lives through surfing”, they help young disadvantaged people to reduce anxiety and improve confidence through surfing. According to an independent evaluation the results over three years show transformation as well as progression and a conclusion is that young people change from isolated and vulnerable to being engaged, motivated and more resilient. A key impact for young people is that a more enjoyable, capable and active identity emerges as ‘A surfer’ and as ‘Part of something’ (the Wave Project). There was also resonance back into the community as the clients may end up ‘giving back’ through volunteering. Key to resonant effect of surfing as therapy is the ethos of acceptance, support and non-competitive challenge and the sensory, revitalising elements of being in the sea. The report concluded that “The combination appears a powerful one and benefits accrue for the client, the immediate family and wider community”.
We are seeing a growing interest worldwide in resonance sports not just surfing, but recently in SUP (Stand up Paddling), amateur choirs, and dancing of all kinds. In contrast for example to the trend sport of yoga, these are more extrovert activities, about external as well as internal connectivity. Another meaning of resonance is “a quality of evoking response”, and whereas in many sports such as yoga there is an introverted seriousness, these resonance sports are by contrast extroverted and joyful, and in many cases creating a kind of infectious happiness response (did you ever see anyone smile, laugh or connect openly and meaningfully to anyone else during a yoga class?).
SUP is a good example of a fast-rising resonance sport. It is a growing because as an antidote to our digital lives it involves and incorporates balance, nature, mindfulness, and is yet physically demanding. Appealing to young and old alike, it has seen a huge boom in the last few years because of its combined benefits: improves balance, increases overall strength, is low impact, and reduces stress through the sensation and psychological benefits of “walking on water”. Furthermore, it is quick to learn and can be done on rivers, lakes, canals as well as in the sea. As well as a good workout, it is fundamentally a sociable activity as you can chat to whoever is paddling next to you. Such resonance sports – where the sum of the whole is bigger than the parts – makes them particularly attractive as an antidote to burnout as well as a global digital generation more concerned with collecting experiences than things. As one fan said, “In the end, SUP is all about exploration, both on the water and in your own mind. On the board, you can get closer to nature and see things in a new way. You can practice on any stretch of water, from the ocean to an urban canal. The roll of the waves and the tug of the wind lull you into a state of total focus, melting away the worries you feel on land and freeing your thoughts.”
SUP is also, unlike yoga or football, more egalitarian and popular amongst both men and women. Similarly, though very different in tone (so to speak), is the rise of the so-called amateur choirs. From classic church choirs to rock choirs and even work choirs, there is a boom in groups of people getting together to sing once or more a week.
It is said that when we sing together our hearts start to beat together – we feel close to each other we lose ourselves and yet at the same time gain a bigger voice. The Psychologist Stephen Clift says that the reason why is singing together is important to all of us is that it appeals to a basic part of human nature. We know historically there is evidence of singing and music even 40,000 years ago. Our need to sing together today has ancient roots and is crucial to our ability to create a bond in a community, for people to feel part of a group, especially in a time where mobility and less traditional family or “tribal” structures mean that people need to find new methods of finding their community.
We sing to summon communities, and it is estimated in the UK alone that each week 2 million people meet together and sing together in choirs.
The philosopher Roger Scruton says that singing is about bonding in a way that celebrates tradition, and the sound of a choir is a fundamental atavistic experience (this bonding effect is also exactly the reason that some religions and terrorist organisations ban singing and dancing). This primitive response is what makes it a resonance sport. Choir singing – whether rock songs or more traditional music, is not only a profoundly spiritual experience but is a shared and organised way to express emotions that might otherwise remain repressed.
Choirs at Work Ltd is a UK company that is bringing the idea of the choir to the workplace. Because in the UK, as in many countries, people today are highly mobile, and move around, between towns, countries or perhaps just work part time, it is an effective tool for companies to create a strong community in the workplace. Coming together at lunchtime or after work to sing, not only do the employees benefit personally but it resonates throughout the working environment bringing not only departments together but hierarchies – from directors and secretaries to young and old, male and female.
Similarly, the Rock Choir is a hugely growing phenomenon – with already 350 groups across the UK. Coming together to sing rock songs in the style of a choir is the modern adaption of the role of the church. Meeting usually once a week for an hour or two, the organisers of one group said when discussing their perfect choir – it is the one that laughs together. A key characteristic of a resonance sport. Another of the resounding characteristics about such amateur choirs is that it is democratic, works across social class, and all level of talent. Anyone can take part – however well or badly they sing – and feel part of the community.
Perhaps trampolining is not the most elegant sport, but it is one of those sports where it is impossible not to smile or laugh and it appears to be experiencing something of a revival – and crucially not just amongst children. In America there is a new wave of trampolining classes for adults with their children – recognising the bonding effect of such activities. One mother, Judi Kettler recently writing in the New York Times International, described trampolining together with her 8-year-old son as, “that moment of pure joy with your kid you always want as a parent and berate yourself endlessly for not creating.” While she had found it easy to bond with her daughter writing and drawing, she lacked a way to bond with her BMX biking and computer games playing son. Flipping on a trampolining together gave then a way to bond. It was not only something that empowered her, made her “sweat like crazy and feel more alive” than she had in year, but that resonated with them both and created a new bond between them.
Not only are fitness studios are incorporating the joy of trampolining into the workout and fitness sessions, but there is a revival in public spaces. As part of the rise in the development of civic living rooms – public spaces with a purpose – trampolines are providing a unique outdoor experience in places such as the SeeStadt development near Vienna and more recently in Tenri, Japan. The CoFuFun Tenri Station Plaza was developed by Nendo architects and has tt the heart of the development a huge public trampoline that is aimed at both young and old. As the name CoFuFun suggests, it brings cooperation, community and fun into the public space experience.
The core reason why we are today focusing more on these resonance sports is summed up by Hartmut Rosa author of Resonanz, Eine Soziologie der Weltbeziehung. “Today’s permanent need to optimise and push forward means that the quality of resonance with school, work, politics and family has, for many people been compromised. Meanwhile sport as a means of finding resonance is increasing in importance.” Or put more simply, “With resonance sport the spirit feels freer and the body revived in a completely different way.”