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How-To

Jul 03, 2018

How to Use Your Body: Learn from world renowned artist Erika Lemay

Erika Lemay has used her body as a tool for a lifetime. Here, she talks about how she developed

WRITTEN BY

Erika Lemay

Erika Lemay is an internationally awarded performer and public personality. She is requested for the most prominent events on all 5 continents : Anniversaries, celebrations, TV shows, films, product launches, private functions for VIPs, celebrities, Royal Families, and World leaders. More information can be found on her website.

I was an over motivated 15-year-old, a promising Cirque artist with a strong feeling of invincibility that made me fearless. I remember how brave everyone (including myself) thought I was for performing a highly acrobatic act with a newly subluxated shoulder: two men perched on small platforms, would throw me high in the air above a net. I would execute flips and spins and then they’d catch me. My stubbornness, enhanced by a strong cocktail of painkillers, made it possible for me to perform the act, but at the cost of further damage. Today, I can’t even begin to understand what my immature, younger self was thinking. One of the most significant teachers in an athlete’s career is his or her own physiological feedback. Developing an accurate understanding of our body’s way of expression is one of the most important assets we have to improve our performance, general physical condition and wellbeing.

HOW MUCH CAN YOUR BODY TEACH YOU?

“unless you overcome the belief that listen-ing to your body makes you fragile, you won’t ever be able to use your full range of abilities and become the pro-athlete you crave to be.”

“Body awareness” is a multi-faceted term. It somehow became a taboo expression, especially in cases where we have to push our boundaries daily and often deal with pain in order to reach our peak. However, unless you overcome the belief that listen-ing to your body makes you fragile, you won’t ever be able to use your full range of abilities and become the pro-athlete you crave to be. Body awareness involves sensory awareness—the ability to identify and experience inner sensations of the body (e.g., a tight muscle) and the overall emotional/physiologic state of the body (e.g., relaxed, tense). If you have been working with your body as your main tool for a lifetime as I have (starting as a 4-year-old who took her ballet classes very seriously), you might know the feeling of analyzing every single movement, angle, type and intensity of pain. For many years, my very first thought upon awakening in the morning was: “How painful?”

I haven’t always been reasonable, I have greatly abused my own body for years

I would proceed, from my bed, to mentally quick-scan my whole body without moving and then, further examine every discomfort, recurrent pain and known injury in order to determine how my day would go and how I could adjust my training in order to get the most out of it. I haven’t always been reasonable, I have greatly abused my own body for years until I slowly learned, oftentimes through bad circumstances, to develop a two-way relationship with my body and get the best out of natural biofeedback.

OVERTRAINING IS NOT A MYTH

The first big mistake an athlete makes is to not listen to signs of distress. The human body is an amazing creature, it has the capability to communicate down to the smallest detail what’s right or wrong, giving us helpful hints in order to improve wellness. Knowing one’s exact conditions is a very powerful advantage. The sooner you identify that you are on the wrong path, the less damage you will do. If you put a lot of consistent effort into your training, yet no longer improve and even sometimes regress, you might want to ask yourself whether you are training the wrong way. Should you reassess your techniques and overall plan, or are you simply training too much? I’m no stranger to both mistakes but I can now recognize when my lack of result or my diminished strength, energy, concentration and motivation is not due to laziness but to a wrong approach or simply my body’s cry for help asking for 48 hours of rest.

We should think of body awareness as body intelligence; every input we are given can be used to enhance physical performance, especially the most subtle ones.

In extreme sports, we tend to not give a lot of value to people being attentive to pain or weaknesses. We should think of body awareness as body intelligence; every input we are given can be used to enhance physical performance, especially the most subtle ones. Managing pain and discomfort doesn’t mean ignoring it. I am not implying either that you should back off at the first sign of muscle soreness; be more open and understanding to your own body and use the weaknesses to eventually become more powerful.

MY PERSONAL EXPERIENCE

My relative wisdom is the result of a long journey influenced by many episodes of injuries, overtraining, total loss of body abilities (dramatically thinking my career was over), desperation and eventually getting some common sense. Personally, I’m still an overachiever, highly motivated to improve my physical art. Nonetheless, what has changed today, is that I retain a completely different mindset to the one I swore by when I was that 15-year-old acrobat. I treat my body kindly, and am very sensitive to all its needs. I now rarely suffer from real injuries, because I am able to prevent them by recognizing early signs and acting accordingly. I adjust my nutrition, and my training timings and intensity daily, yet I follow a fixed plan in order to reach new goals.

A FEW TRICKS TO START WITH

Learning to not only hear your body’s needs but to listen to them is the first important step to developing body awareness. This is what I believe marks the difference between a good and great athlete, and improves the duration of one’s career. Start by consciously evaluating and journaling the way you feel physically at the beginning and end of each day, detailing as many aspects as you can notice and remember. There are three basic things that you need to personalize and connect to your journaling: training, diet and sleep. Make sure to monitor these along with the way you feel. This simple task should soon become part of your athletic routine. Secondly, by simply stretching properly, you will improve your brain’s relationship with your muscles and joints and their ability to monitor muscular coordination and function. By improving such connections, the physical screening I’ve described previously will become easier and more accurate. Additionally, meditation can be a valuable extension to biofeedback. The meditative state requires awareness of internal, physical and psychological cues, and thus, may be useful as a mental skills technique especially during stressful situations such as competitions. My message is meant to reach every person, elite athlete or not. Stop listening to what you “should” be doing, and start listening a little bit more to your own body, it is astounding how much it will teach you.

Illustration by Dhruv Vyas

This article originally appeared in the Fitness column of The Outdoor Journal Summer 2015 issue. Subscribe here.

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Adventure Travel

May 19, 2017

Finding Barefoot Paradise on Mafia Island – Part 1

Despite its ominous name, this virtually unknown island has been discovered as a utopia for anyone willing to make the journey—a truly ‘off the beaten track’ experience and a scuba diver’s dream.

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WRITTEN BY

Sarah Kingdom

Dar es Salaam’s airport is not exciting at the best of times, but at 4:30 in the morning, once we had passed through immigration and been ejected into the airport concourse,  the only signs of life were a lady sweeping and emptying rubbish bins. It felt like we had arrived in a post-apocalyptic world. The handful of shops were all closed and we had to spend an hour or so sitting on the stairs outside the airport, waiting for the only “restaurant” to open its doors, until it was time to check in for our short flight to Mafia. ‘James from the UK’ summed up The Flamingo Restaurant pretty accurately on Trip Advisor when he wrote: “being clean and having many plug sockets are really the only two positives to this pretty dire airport restaurant”, which, though clearly not a great review, is decidedly better than ‘Lampan from Austria’ who had this to say:

Looking for hell on earth? That’s as close as you can get”.

We, however, knew this would be our last time ‘roughing it’ before we got to the laid back luxury of the island—not even having to make our ‘breakfast snack’ last for four hours could dampen our spirits.

Our seemingly endless wait over, we eventually boarded our flight for the short hop to the Mafia. Most of the other passengers on our flight were headed further down the coast to the natural gas fields of Songo Songo and so only four of us got off when we touched down on the island.

We were collected and driven the 14km stretch of tar that represents the only sealed road on the island and to the ‘Mafia Island Marine Park’ gates, where we signed in and paid for our permits. This was our last taste of ‘officialdom’; shortly we would abandon our shoes and our cares, barely thinking of civilisation again until it was time to leave.

Goodbye civilisation. Photo by Simon Pierce / Mafia Island Diving

Mafia Island

Contrary to any other thoughts that might come to mind, Mafia Island has nothing to do with the Mafiaosi; the Mafia Archipelago most likely got its name from the Arabic word ‘morfiyeh’ meaning ‘archipelago’, or possibly from the Ki-Swahili ‘mahali pa afya’, meaning ‘healthy dwelling place’. In fact, in precolonial times the island was known to the Portuguese and British as Monfia, and it was only after Germany took control of the island in 1890 that the spelling changed to Mafia. The archipelago lies just south of the Equator and is made up of a group of islands, atolls and tidal sandbars, scattered in the Indian Ocean off the coast of the Rufiji Delta in Tanzania. The largest of these islands is Mafia Island itself, which is approximately 50km long, 15km across and surrounded by a barrier reef teeming with marine life.

This is a virtually unknown destination, a jewel in in the Indian Ocean.

Picture perfect beaches and incredibly diverse marine life make it a divers’ paradise. With a total population of about 40,000 and annual tourist numbers in the region of 4,000, the island is one of the safest and quietest places in the Indian Ocean, virtually devoid of crime and free from the crowds and hustlers that can ruin a holiday in paradise.

Yes, looks like paradise to us. Photo courtesy of Mafia Island Diving

Mafia is a remnant of the old Swahili coast. Very little is known about its early history, but it is believed to have been inhabited for a millennia. The first settlers are thought to have crossed from the mainland to the islands in the 3rd and 4th century. The Mafia archipelago is home to antiquities and ruins ranging from a barrel-vaulted mosque built in the 15th century to a number of well-preserved buildings of the latter half of the 18th century. Relatively recently, a discovery has been made of what appears to be a ‘sunken city’ off the coast. Some believe this could be the remains of a Portuguese fort that was washed away by the sea some time in the mid 1800s. A more tantalisingly hypothesis? One researcher suggests it could possibly be the ruins of the lost ancient city of Rhapta, dating back to pre 50AD. Although unfortunately, this is thought by most to be extremely unlikely.

From the sunbathers to the restless, what to do on Mafia Island:

Mafia has something for everybody. There is plenty to do, but if you want to lie on a beach and ‘do nothing’, you can. In fact, we met a French honeymoon couple doing just that! The newlyweds appeared to spend their time basking in the sun, with the occasional break to head out on a sunset cruise, an ‘introduction to scuba diving’ course or the occasional pampering massage.

Understandable why some people might want to let themselves be pampered while taking in this view. Photo courtesy of Pole Pole, Mafia Island

My husband, unlike the French honeymooners, is ‘allergic’ to lazing on the beach; sitting ‘aimlessly’ on the sand makes him restless, fidgety and, in general, a pain to be around. Fortunately, we had no time at all to test his patience levels. Between boat trips, snorkelling, scuba diving, watching baby turtles hatch, a walking tour of a nearby island, long beach walks and more, we were kept very active. Don’t get me wrong, Mafia is the perfect place to relax and unwind. In fact, the ‘beach sitting allergic’ husband rapidly got into the habit of post breakfast naps, post lunch naps and even some pre dinner naps, while I occupied myself with some early morning beach runs and yoga.

Almost half the coastline of Mafia, about 822km², was gazetted as the first marine park in Tanzania by the Government in 1995. The Mafia Archipelago and the Rufiji Delta form one of the most interesting and diverse marine ecosystems and coral reefs in the world. Both the coastal and marine environments are protected by the presence of this Marine Park. The area has a high biodiversity and is considered an important habitat for endangered species like the dugong and a variety of turtle species. The immensely rich marine life makes for some of the finest snorkelling and diving sites in the Indian Ocean and beds of seagrass and the open waters around the islands support some of the world’s most endangered marine life.

To dive deeper into Sarah’s scuba adventures and all her tips, stay tuned for Part 2 coming next week!

We were lucky to stay in three beautiful places while on Mafia Island and each was unique and special in its own way:

Where to stay

Pole Pole is an exclusive seven bungalow eco-lodge, located inside the Marine Park, where we were pampered by the lovely Paola. Great cuisine, unpretentious and laid-back atmosphere, and warm but discrete hospitality.

Shamba Kilole Lodge is a 6 room eco lodge, on a five hectare plot inside the Marine Park, owned and operated by Marco and Francesca. Marco is known as the island’s most knowledgeable and passionate dive master.

Butiama Beach is probably the best value for money on Mafia. Owned and operated by the indomitable Maura and her husband, Butiama is the perfect place for families—with a seemingly endless expanse of pristine white beach just footsteps from your room.

Mafia Island Diving is run by the highly organised Danielle and multilingual dive master David, and is one of the longest standing dive operators on the Island. They offer scuba certification and both water based and land based activities. /

Feature image by Simon Pierce / Mafia Island Diving

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