Aikido · cycling · fitness · Rowing

The joy of synchronous movement

I’ve been thinking lately about what I miss most about working out with other people. I mean there’s the obvious social interaction and pleasure in seeing friendly familiar faces. Working out has also been for me one of the places where my life crosses work and educational lines. Aikido was the best for that. But cycling too. And the Y, of course. I got to chat with city bus drivers, emergency service workers, car mechanics, teachers, cooks, and working at home parents. There are more people in the world than university professors! It got me off campus, placed me in a context where I’m not an expert, and I get to chat with people about non-academic stuff. See, I can learn things too. I like connecting with the student side of myself.

Okay, so there’s all that and it’s important.

But there is another thing that I miss and that’s the pure physical pleasure of moving in time with other people.

Aikido is all about moving in harmony with other people. We do basic movements together as warm up, each person doing the same movement at the same time. We also match our movement to our training partners in a way that can feel at its best more like dance than martial arts.

It’s also one of the things I love about rowing. When I rowed outside, on the lake, I rowed in a four person boat, in the third spot. I followed the women ahead of me, matched my stroke to theirs. It’s a lot harder and more technical than that but it also just comes down to working together. When we were perfectly synced, we moved quickly and smoothly through the water. Indoors, on the erg, it was a similar thing. We worked on drills together and it was always easier for me if I focused on keeping pace with the other rowers.

It’s true too in cycling. If you’re riding behind someone the easiest thing to do is find a gear that allows you to match their cadence. It’s the best way to ride in group, close behind other people, and avoid running into them without using your brakes.

I’ve been missing that in my Zwift team time trials because you don’t know the other riders’ cadence.

But yesterday I did a YouTube rowing workout and while keeping pace with the workout leader I noticed I was smiling. It makes it easier somehow and more pleasurable.

The pleasure of synchronized activities with other people isn’t just found in sports.

It’s true too in music. That’s part of why singing with other people makes us happy.

Synchronous movements is known to form social bonds across divides. See Moving in sync creates surprisingly social bonds among people. It also just plain and simple makes us feel good. “Many group activities boost our sense of belonging, but research shows that doing things synchronously can build even stronger social ties and create a greater sense of well-being. Crew rowing, line dancing, choir singing or simply tapping fingers in sync increases generosity, trust and tolerance toward others, often beyond effects seen in more disorderly doings. It can even increase people’s threshold for pain.”

When people ask what I miss being physically distant from others, this is one of the things. It took a rowing workout to get me to realize that. Who knows what’s next? Maybe I’ll see if there are any good Aikido basic movement follow along tutorials on YouTube.

People in martial arts wear kneeling outside. Photo by Thao Le Hoang on Unsplash. I can’t kneel any more but I still appreciate the harmony.

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