I have been back in my hometown for the last few weeks, and it’s weird. I told my Dad that I feel like a dinosaur that lived a little too long after the ice age – the scenery is familiar, but a lot of my friends have left…This is a little college town and I graduated two and half years ago, so I recognize only the upper classmen on campus. But, thankfully, there are some things that haven’t changed. My best friends that I grew up with are still here, my family is here, and I love being home.

These weeks at home have given me opportunity to re-engage in two of my favorite activities; Ceramics and Track and Field. I know…weird combination? Yes. But hold on, there is a common denominator here.

Throwing on a pottery wheel is one of my favorite activities ever. It is messy, meditative, and addicting. I love it. I can make a bowl or a mug or plate or a jar or a vase out of a lump of mud and some centrifugal force.  I was a little bit afraid that I had forgotten how to throw because I hadn’t done it in a year. But after a couple of tries, my hands began remember what to do.  I was soon feeling comfortable with the clay again and I could relax into making things without having to think about my every move.

Quick clip of a guy who really knows what he is doing on the potter’s wheel:

Also, I have been working with the Track and Field team at the College. I used to be a Javelin and Hammer thrower while I was a student and an assistant track coach while at grad school.  This is another highly specialized activity that I haven’t done in a year. I was actually really nervous the first day I went to practice. I had almost forgotten how to visualize the throwing techniques, how was I going to be able to coach anyone? But it happened again: I walked into the throwing area and it all came back to me. I was able to demonstrate turns and pick apart throws and give some pointers to the athletes.

Some of the best hammer throwing your will ever see

What is that helps your body to remember how to do things after so much time? It’s called Muscle Memory and it is going to be the subject of my next few blog posts. Each person has a “vocabulary” of thousands of actions that they perform on a daily basis. You can brush your teeth easily, without even thinking about it because it is something that you do every day (I hope).  But do you remember the day you first began to learn an instrument? Each finger position had to be described to you, your movements were slow and halting because you had never done them before. It took months of practice before you could just sit down and play.

That word “practice” is the key to muscle memory. Repetition cements certain actions into our repertoire of movements.  I was able to remember how to make pottery and how to throw the hammer because I had spent endless hours engaged in those activities in the past. They had become second nature to me.  And after a little initial rustiness, my muscle memories were quickly refreshed.

A little bowl from last week’s work

A little bowl from last week’s work

One more thing, although muscle memory is usually a positive thing, it does have a dark side. Dun Dun DUNNN!!! (That was the text version of dramatic music). We will talk about it next time – along with a few tips on how to build the right muscle memories so that your body can perform at its top potential.

Until then, walk well.