How often and when should you take a break?



Who needs a break from work? I do. We all do, probably more than we know. But when should we take those breaks, and for how long, to keep our performance rolling during the day?

When you search online you’ll find a wealth of expert-sounding opinions, with references to a few core ideas that are repeated so often that you almost think they are true.

Should we follow the research on ultradian rhythms (see below) and time our work for 90 – 120 minutes followed by a 20-minute break? Or should we heed the research that says the sweet spot for productivity is 52 minutes of work, followed by a 17-minute break?  Or should we stick to bursts of 25 minutes, using the popular Pomodoro Technique?

Let’s explore these ideas, after tipping our hat to science, (so politically endangered these days), to see what the research actually says.

Ninety minutes on/twenty minutes off

Personal energy guru and leadership consultant Tony Schwartz promotes the idea of improving performance by working with our daily ultradian rhythms of activity and rest. (Ultradian means a recurring cycle of time that repeats over a 24 hour period.) Nathan Kleitman, a physiologist and sleep researcher, did groundbreaking research uncovering the “Basic rest-activity cycle” (BRAC) of 90-120 minutes that occurs when we sleep and, it appears, when we’re awake. Could working in 90-minute cycles during the day help improve performance? Apparently Kleitman thought so, as Schwartz does today. But the research isn’t so clear.

Attempts to scientifically test Kleitman’s idea that working for 90-minutes and then resting improves productivity haven’t panned out. The US Army even commissioned a study in the 1990’s to look at the connection between the rhythms and performance, but the findings weren’t strong.

That doesn’t mean the idea of syncing your work with your ultradian rhythms isn’t intriguing, and the benefits of taking more planful breaks in today’s constantly driven work cultures make sense. Recent research conducted by faculty of the Wharton School of Business found that compliance with safety regulations increases when people take real breaks between shifts, a finding that’s relevant for today’s over-taxed physicians who might otherwise forget to wash their hands.

So taking creative, renewing, or as-needed breaks, without purporting that the magic 90-minute number for enhancing performance has been scientifically proven, seems to make good sense.

Fifty-two minutes on and seventeen minutes off

A couple of years ago a huge media buzz started when DeskTime, a firm that produces employee productivity tracking software, produced research done by the firm showing that the “most productive people work for 52 minutes, then break for 17 minutes.” DeskTime, with access to millions of records that monitored employees’ productivity while at the computer, isolated the “top 10% most productive employees” and analyzed their behavior. The 52/17 rule emerged and swept the Internet like a new gospel.

A bit skeptical, I had to challenge the source of this oft-cited research: a firm in the biz of selling productivity tracking software. They define “productive employees” as “those who had the highest ratio of using ‘productive’ [software] applications for their line of work (e.g., a marketer would indicate social platforms like Facebook as ‘productive’.)”

Did you understand that slog of words? Productivity becomes a function of what DeskTime can measure–”productive” software tied to an employee’s field–not a reflection of creative activity. (Will I be more productive using Microsoft Word to do multiple 52-minute segments or just brain-dead?)

Science aside, I kind of like the idea of working in fifty-two minute time blocks. It fits my rhythm although I doubt I’ll be diminished if I work fifty-three.

Pomodoro and the twenty-five-minute window.

Years ago, the Pomodoro technique was created by an Italian software designer and time management aficionado Anthony Cirillo and popularized all over the world. The system uses a little tomato-shaped kitchen timer (hence the name Pomodoro – Italian for tomato), to measure work that is done in timed twenty-five minute stretches, followed by a short break. The twenty-five minutes can be a motivation to get going on a project, or a way of tracking your work. Many swear by the method. Cirillo did not base his concept on research; it came out of some interesting assumptions he made. Nothing to dispute here – if twenty-five minutes is a good frame for a spurt of work for you, great!

But if the tomato timer goes off and you want to stay put for another ten minutes, nobody dies.

Here’s my synopsis, based on what I’ve distilled about when to take a break:

  • Our bodies do follow rhythms during the day and it is useful to pay attention to them.
  • We tend to barrel through our day ignoring our body’s need to rest.
  • Resting, taking breaks, and enjoying time-off are undervalued in many workplaces.
  • Paying attention to cycles of energy is useful–but prescribing an ideal amount of time to work isn’t.  (Suggesting-good; prescribing-not.)
  • If we don’t periodically shift gears by taking breaks, our ability to focus is likely to decline.
  • When we break, our decision about how long to take, and what to do should reflect the self-knowing we all need to develop out of listening to our bodies, paying attention to our energy, and noticing our focus.

My Suggestion: Know YOUR rhythm.

Different folks will be productive in different ways.

With a tip of the hat to Aesop and his fables, my husband and I have a tortoise and hare contest going on between our different rhythms of work. I am more hare-like, jumping into a project and working in a burst of activity before signing off. I can be very productive, but push me to keep working beyond a certain point and I fall apart. (Either 25 or 52 minutes could work for me.)

My husband, on the other hand, may delay jumping into a project a bit too much for my taste, but when he commits to a piece of work, his concentration and perseverance astound me. He can easily work for at least a two-hour block of work, interrupted only by an occasional bathroom break.

(I’m not sure which one of us would have won the race…)

Fit your breaks to your needs

When to take a break? When you need one. Your body and your mind will tell you.

How long a break? Rather than assigning a prescribed number of minutes to an optimal break (e.g. seventeen minutes), focus on the quality of that break and how it renews your creative spirit.

Sometimes five minutes of stretching may be all you need. Or occasionally, after a lengthy stretch of pressured work, knock off for a day (or if you have to show up at work, do stuff that’s really easy on the mind).

After a stint of mentally taxing work, I’ll probably need to move my body. But, if my work is physical, sitting at a desk is the break I need to physically recover (I’ve been weeding a lot recently–it makes desk work look enjoyable!)

When my work is highly creative, I like breaks that feel brainless and ask nothing of me. I’m experimenting with staring into space or doing yoga nidra (sleep meditation) when I’ve hit a moment of creative exhaustion.

Bottom line: Breaks aren’t just about improved performance, alluring as that might be. Breaks are also about reviving our spirits and remembering the creative, whole people we are.


Who ate your time?

Every day, an army of invaders enters your house; they’re called the conveniences.

Each is disguised to save you time, when in fact…

They’re the computer that allows you to be your own secretary and graphic designer, the software that turns you into your own accountant, the online access that means that you’re now your own travel agent. The do-it-yourself (DIY) or have-to-do-it-by-yourself (HDIBY) possibilities are endless!

In this week’s episode of up-close-and-personal, I’m going to give you an example from my recent experience of buying a pair of shoes.

The old world: How we used to buy shoes

Remember shoe stores? Not glitzy stores at the mall serviced by pre-pubescent clerk wannabes, but the dowdy old store on Main street that smelled of leather, serviced by equally dowdy shoe-salesmen (a career position).

You’d be greeted by the slightly balding Mr. Chinchester who welcomed you in and ushered you to your seat while you waited for him to bring out his magic silver plated measuring slide. Then, he slipped your princess-like foot into it, declared your size, and scurried into the back to gather up two prize selections to offer you.

Of course, they were ugly, but those were the days when your mother insisted on sensible shoes. You picked the pair that worked the best and left. Total time: less than an hour.

The new world

Now we have instant online access to shoes and so much choice. Has that made it easier? Consider the time I’ve spent (to date) to buy one pair of shoes:

  • Talk to sister and three friends about best travel shoes. 40 minutes
  • Internet research on above. 40 minutes
  • Google “best travel shoes” and research top suggestions. Read reviews.  2 hours (at least)
  • Get distracted by click bait and read news about Jared Kushner. Why? (Doesn’t count.)
  • Talk to sister and friends again. 15 minutes
  • Check out “best price” on each model. 30 minutes
  • Attempt to buy shoes online to try at home. (Zappos, Amazon,, etc.) Try to order. Sit online 45 minutes with customer service working through a glitch.  1.5 hours.
  • Receive shoes with enthusiasm, unbox, and try on. 45 minutes.
  • Try again with less enthusiasm, hoping to figure out why they don’t work.  30 minutes
  • Rebox shoes to mail back. 30 minutes
  • Travel to the Post Office to mail back. 30 minutes
  • Give up online and travel to REI where real people can hopefully help me.

That’s over seven and a half futile hours before the trip to REI. Of course, I’m going to end up with the perfect shoes.

Isn’t it wonderful how “convenient” life is?

Sacrificing time and connection for the illusion of convenience

Once we’re captured by the spell of “convenience,” time becomes almost impossible to manage.

Take this little episode and multiply it over the dozens of activities that we “get” to do for ourselves. (Like trying to figure out all of what doesn’t quite work with the software, computer, telephone, cell phone, external hard drive, plane reservations, etc.)

Once we’ve been captured by the spell of “convenience,” time becomes almost impossible to manage.

We’re in a tidal wave of change and our sea of expectations is rising.

I don’t have a magic wand on this one.

If I did, I’d sell it to you with slightly deficient instructions so you’d spend two hours figuring out how to use it, before putting it aside for the right moment when you had time to try again.

Not to leave you hopeless, but here are a couple of things to do:

Have compassion. When you run out of time, realize it’s not your personal deficiency. (ISS — It’s the system, silly.)
Calculate the real time involved in learning and using something. My husband and I are still befuddled by the clicker on our new TV. (My technique of randomly punching buttons is not working.)
Lower your standards.  When Bill Moyers asked the great poet William Stafford how he could possibly write a poem every day, Stafford replied simply, “I lower my standards.” Perfection isn’t possible. Maybe you don’t have to try so hard to get the perfect pair of shoes.

Who ate your time?

He’s probably staring at you with a cute, chirpy smile on his face, deceptively suggesting “here’s something you’re going to love” as you stare at the next can’t-do-without or how-to-do-it-faster-by-yourself convenience.


Got rest?

Despite an otherwise admirable record in my first years in school, I always failed one activity: rest time. Having to lie on a little mat, attempting to be quiet and stay still, was torture.

I didn’t do much better with my next foray into rest time when, at summer camp, we’d be confined to our bunks for forty-five minutes, restricted from doing the fun stuff like swimming or making little objects out of popsicle sticks to give to mother for her birthday, hoping for a delighted, if somewhat staged, display of enthusiasm.

(It was not until I was a camp counselor myself that I understood that rest time was created for counselors, offering a short oasis in their otherwise crazed days.)

Bottom line: I have no creds to talk about rest.

My husband and cat love taking naps together. Which proves that we all come from different species. For me, napping during the afternoon is tantamount to surrender (never!) in the great war of getting things done. I refuse to collapse on the job! (Plus I find it very hard to wake up.)

A growing exhaustion

Yet, I am one of the millions of women beyond a certain age (this may apply to men but I’m not an expert here) who are chronically exhausted. Many suffer from chronic fatigue syndrome, a devastating if poorly understood condition in which the body says, “no go” to most activity.

The National Sleep Foundation reported, in 2014, that a whopping 24 percent of women surveyed said they had not felt well-rested for the past seven days. Studies suggest that the high rates of depression among women may correlate with feeling chronically “on” and not well-rested. (I think they might also correlate with the current imbroglio in Washington, D.C. and decline in national civility, but that is as yet unproven.)

Our need for sleep

Having been sleep-deprived for many years, Arianna Huffington is on a roll to promote the benefits of sleep, as she tells you in her book titled, The Sleep Revolution: Transforming Your Life, One Night at a Time. She has definitely caught the national ear, arguing that our culture’s condescending attitude toward the need for sleep is contributing to faulty decision-making and compromised health. She recommends a set of sleep practices that may make it easier to go to sleep and stay asleep.

But sleep is one thing, rest is another, and it is possible to get sleep without feeling rested, a fact a lot of us, unfortunately, can attest to.

How to get Rest 

Enter two authors with strong perspectives on the importance of rest. Author Marilyn Paul describes the benefits of taking a Shabbat (Sabbath or rest day), as she first experienced it through her Jewish faith. She makes a powerful case for the importance of taking a day of rest weekly. Karen Brody offers a daily practice that can guide us to attain a much deeper level of rest.

Create an Oasis in Time

Answering the skeptics who fear that they would be less productive or efficient if they were to step off the line for one day a week, Marilyn Paul argues that the practice of stopping for a day each week will make you more productive.

Marilyn (We were friends in grad school) learned the need for rest the hard way. Confronted with the over-adrenalized pace and pressure of being a grad student at Yale, she became ill and exhausted. It wasn’t until she discovered the benefits of taking a weekly Shabbat that her health turned around. She has continued this practice for many years, and wrote her book An Oasis in Time: How a Day of Rest Can Save Your Life to bring the benefits of a rest day to her colleagues in the secular world.

As a professional coach, she sees the toll exhaustion takes on many of her almost burned-out clients, wreaking havoc on their family life and health. She’s passionate about the benefits of declaring STOP and turning off otherwise productive activities once a week. (Making meals with friends, walks and family time are still OK.)

Although Marilyn understands that not everyone may be ready to try a full day of rest, between you and me, she’s not willing to stop recommending the idea of a whole day off. But we all need to start where we can! (You can learn more in my upcoming podcast interview with her.)

Dare to Rest

Karen Brody takes a different approach, wanting people to build a practice of rest, one meditation session at a time. She notes that a lot of the things we do in order to chill, such as watching television or reading a book, are still activities, not rest. She writes, “To rest is to surrender from the active, the goals, and the will to achieve something.” While our relaxation activities may be good for us and fun, we still need the benefits of rest.

As a burned-out professional with young children, she stumbled into the practice of Yoga Nidra, a “sleep-based, conscious relaxation, and meditation technique,” and finally found the deep rest she was craving. By doing twenty to forty minutes of Yoga Nidra, a practice done lying down with no yoga postures, Brody discovered a path to rest that can also awaken our consciousness and return us to a sense of our selves.

Brody now teaches Yoga Nidra. Her book, Daring to Rest: Reclaim Your Power with Yoga Nidra Rest Meditation, describes the yogic practices and offers text for the meditations that are the backbone of the technique. Through the meditations, we are offered to drop into a deep level of rest, as we are guided to drop into different subtle levels of consciousness without trying to do anything.

If she could have bottled the sense of deep relaxation and refreshment she described, I would have bought it immediately. Unfortunately, like most things good in life, Yoga Nidra takes practice; her book invites the reader into a forty-day program that can be done at home.

Now the truth

I intend to try both. But the truth is, as a rest-dropout, I need to take my recovery one step at a time. When I used to try to take a rest day a week, a practice recommended by the spiritual group I was in, I got terrible, migraine-like headaches. A sure sign of addiction, one might say.

Currently, I’m taking recovery in really small increments: ten-minutes at a time.  I’m exploring how we might beneficially use our breaks, those unacknowledged ensemble players in the great drama of our lives. Research suggests that our bodies prefer to work in ninety-minute cycles, which says that every ninety minutes (give or take a little) we should be taking a break. Maybe if we learned to take breaks that stimulated our imagination, allowed us to relax, or refueled our intentions, we wouldn’t get so fried and frazzled during the day

I’m writing a book exploring this idea, tentatively called: The Ten Minute Miracle: Finding magic in small breaks. I hope to have it out this summer.

Taking breaks doesn’t mean we don’t still need a practice of rest. 

Which is why I’m bringing out my yoga mat and blankie, and thinking about my kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Johnson, who wanted me to stop squirming. I’d love to tell her that yes, I am finally willing to lie down and rest.


How to start that big project (or how to get the camel to stick his nose under your tent)

Do you have a big project waiting in the wings that you can’t get started?

Maybe it’s de-cluttering part of your house, writing a proposal, redesigning your website, or fixing that piece of equipment that’s been out of commission for two years.

But when you contemplate starting, all you can say is “Ugh!”

Remember that proverb, “Don’t let the camel stick his nose under the tent.” The idea is that once the camel gets his nose in, he’s going to keep coming in.

Although this is usually spoken about as something NOT to do, it might be a GREAT idea if you want a camel in your tent.

Using similar logic, perhaps we can stick our noses into our big project a bit at a time until we find our groove with it.

Big projects can be daunting.

Sometimes our brains resist “big.” We may need to trick them to get started.

In an interview in CU Boulder Today  Colorado University professor of psychology and neuroscience Randall O’Reilly, was quoted as saying:

“The brain is wired to be very cautious and conservative in starting big projects, because once you do start, it takes over your brain.

The brain, researchers think, is wired to track progress towards whatever it is you’ve decided to do, like spring cleaning, which is hard work. You have to make a lot of difficult decisions and the outcome is uncertain.

Your brain recognizes that and says, ‘Maybe I won’t start on that project after all.’

It’s an adaptive property of the brain.”

In other words, your brain smells something BIG and, as a result, puts up a natural defense.

Which is probably why I have found it so hard to get started weeding my mammoth garden.

There’s an alternative: Start small.

Recently, I’ve been contemplating the art of taking very small steps. I invent ways to use the breaks and cracks in my schedule, rather than waiting for the perfect moment when I have time to tackle a project that I’ve tried to ignore.

I tell myself, “you can do this,” and take a bite of work – for maybe ten or twenty minutes. Once I’ve faced the project and begun to chew on it, I’ll probably discover it isn’t as distasteful as I thought.

Think small bites.

At the Pacific Northwest’s famous Bite of Seattle, local restaurants lure you with petite servings you can purchase from their food trucks. They hope that a taste will entice you to try their fuller fare.

In starting your project, ask yourself what you can do to gather momentum so that your brain can relax its defenses, you can earn a little dopamine (feel-good) booster for having achieved something,  and you end up wanting to do more.

In my garden, I gave myself the assignment to  “Go outside and weed for ten or twenty minutes, max.”

In that time, I could only do one thing, so I chose to weed the front walkway. I stayed focused on the weeds that had grown between the bricks, rather than on the jillion other tasks awaiting me in the garden.

It was very satisfying.

I neither exhausted my body nor overwhelmed my spirit.

Ten-minute projects

I’ve become curious about what can be done (or at least started) in the small chinks in my schedule.

I can begin a writing project by composing a few paragraphs, even if I trash them later. With the proposal waiting for me, I can open the document and read the requirements (done in ten minutes!).  With de-cluttering my bedroom, I can start with one drawer. (Yes, I know that some organizers like Marie Kondo want you to tackle a whole area of your house at once…but that can come later.)

I’ve begun to make a cool list of things I can do in ten minutes as I lure myself from avoidance into action.

Now to go find that wandering camel and invite him to put his moist and furry nose under the corner of my tent.

Could we retire retirement?

Did I tell you that I’m writing a book?

Maybe not, because saying I’m writing a book means so little until you actually have a completed draft. But I’m excited about the work and suspect some of you may have ideas to share with me. Besides, I’m a bit obsessed.

The book is about following your calling: working, creating, and thriving as we age past midlife.

I believe we can create a wonderful stage of life if we know how to work with the possibilities it represents.

Nobody told me that the period between fifty and seventy-five, or “the 3rd act of life,” is a time in which we can be more ourselves than ever and thrive as we work and contribute. (Same holds for some of my friends in their eighties.)

Can we retire the word retirement?

I didn’t always understand the potential of working through my sixties and beyond.

When I grew up in suburban Connecticut, I had no clue what I wanted to be–having been told that being a cowgirl wasn’t really a career. However, I knew that at the magic age of 65 someone rang the bell and you stopped working. If you were lucky, you’d be given a gold watch, like the one my Grandfather proudly shared.

Fast forward many years and the word retirement barely makes sense to me.

Why would I want to step away from contributing when I feel wiser, more creative, and more inspired than ever? Not to mention the fact that life didn’t leave me with a big pension to cover the so-called leisure living I see being promoted in magazines.

I’m meeting lots of folks like me who want to keep creating, contributing and working (broadly defined) well past the time the retirement bell was supposed to ring. Even the ones who leave their jobs often sneak back to employment, start businesses, do substantial volunteer work, or follow their creative passions.

In the 3rd act of life, we are older (bodies do creak), wiser (for the most part), and we may not want to keep working in the hyperactive, ambition-filled, ego-driven mode of our thirties. But we haven’t lost our creative drive.

In many of us, there’s still an urge, a longing, a calling that invites us to listen and do the work we are meant to do.

Ignore that longing at your peril–it’s your ticket to vitality and a longer life.

Our new tribe of post-midlifers has an opportunity to reinvent the conversation about working in our later years.

And, it’s about time.

Psssst. Danger. Don’t talk about aging.

There’s such a stigma on aging in our culture that even talking about it puts you at risk. It’s not sexy. People at cocktail parties may run from you. (“That’s very interesting, but I need to go get another gherkin right now.”’)

Our big, fat, cultural myth about the period post-fifty is that it’s about decline. You peak at 50, or maybe it’s 40 or even 35 and it’s just downhill from there. No wonder “aging,” without a positive vision, is a dirty word we want to avoid.

Of course, there’s the counter-myth that you don’t have to grow old or show any of the signs of aging. ($262 billion dollars in anti-aging products support this one.)

I could make millions if….

If I could call my book, Nine Surefire Ways to Stay Young Forever, I’m sure I’d have a hit. Just to be sure, I’d put a wrinkle-free celebrity on the cover and sell millions of copies! (No one needs to know about the repeated facelifts, modified teeth, or PhotoShopping behind her gorgeous portrait.)

I can’t do that. Because it’s fake. We’re all aging. You’ve done it successfully since the day you were born. Denying your age doesn’t keep you from aging, it just prevents you from pondering what the longing deep inside wants to tell you. When you’re in denial, you can’t ask where you’re going, what you really care about, what fills you with meaning and purpose, and how to best use the gifts that come with your age.

Wanting to work, create and contribute doesn’t require staying on the production line, burning ourselves out the way we might have done in our over-amped, adrenalized younger years.

We’re smart. We can choose to invent new ways to work that honor our energy, our bodies, and our knowledge of ourselves. We can let go of thinking we need to change the whole world (alas) and ask what is the one, often small thing we know is ours to do.

What about those employers who still practice covert age-discrimination? Don’t mess with them, if you can avoid them. They have no clue what they are missing. And age-ism? It’s like people discriminating against their future selves because they’ve forgotten that they, too, will hopefully be older some day. Bizarre!

Please share your thoughts

I have a lot to say about this, and that’s why I’m writing a book. Are you with me still? (You may have already gone out for the gherkins.)

Please let me know what you think, or share your personal tale of working, creating and finding meaning in midlife and beyond. I’m collecting stories now.

If you’re younger and already know that you want to work creatively in a wiser, 3rd act way, you can join the tribe.

It’s not age that defines us–it’s an approach to life.

Or, if you’re young and think you can avoid thinking about all this, just remember that you, too, will one day pass midlife. If you’re lucky.






Why you should be dancing

My horses dance. You might say they’re just driven by instinct. But when you see them run into the field on a cool, winter morning, tossing their heads, twirling around, bucking, and lifting their feet in the air, you have to think they’re playing with movement in time to a rhythm in their own heads. For me, that’s dance.

I hear people saying, “I can’t dance” and I’d like to debunk that myth. You can breathe. You can move and you have rhythm within you. Just own it. You dance. It turns out dancing is one of the best things you can do for yourself. Not just for the pleasure it brings, but because it can help keep your brain intact.

A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine looked at the effects of different recreational activities on older adults and their impact on dementia. At the top of the list for protection against dementia was dancing!  Richard Powers, who writes a dance blog at Stanford University speculated on the reason for this: “Dancing integrates several brain functions at once — kinesthetic, rational, musical, and emotional — further increasing your neural connectivity.”

I get it! It keeps you moving, thinking, responding and inventing all at the same time. No wonder it’s good for the brain.

Still, it’s tempting to let the limitations of our bodies limit our desire to dance. I know because that happened to me. For years I danced for fun, but then my back started stiffening and my knees grew more cranky and creaky. I wanted to dance in my twenty-something body, not the sixty-year-old version, and maybe that meant not dancing at all.

Last year I was invited to a meditation and dance retreat over the New Year’s holiday with Karen Nelson, a master teacher well known for her work with a form of dance called Contact Improvisation. I told her, “Karen, it sounds great, but I don’t think my body is up to it. I can’t dance with the great group of younger dancers who will likely be coming.” She nodded empathically, then added, “It won’t be an issue. You can do whatever you can. One woman who always participates is your age and has only one leg. You can work with any limitation.”

I signed up. I looked forward to meeting that woman.

Dancing with a one-legged dancer

The woman, Karen Daly, inspired me throughout the workshop. She lost her leg to cancer in her childhood and with it lost part of her spirit. She learned to cope, work and manage her life using a prosthetic leg. Then, in mid-life she discovered improvisational dance. Dancing transformed her. It made her feel whole. Soon she was putting aside the prosthetic and navigating life more joyfully on one leg.

I watched her at the start of the workshop as we were sitting on the ground, stretching and breathing. She looked as graceful as anyone in the workshop. I asked her to be my partner in the first improvisational dance of the event, and together we explored the space between us, sitting, crawling, rolling on the floor, and occasionally, and carefully, standing. We weren’t jumping or running, but who cared? What mattered was how we tuned into each other’s energy and physical presence. As we danced, I no longer saw Karen as a one-legged dancer. She was a dancer, a beautiful one, and a very courageous woman.

In her new book, Joy Ride, Karen describes her journey from cancer into self-acceptance, and how her life was transformed by improvisational dance.

Even the philosopher Friederich Nietzche, usually portrayed as a dark, cranky, old nihilist, knew the merits of dancing. He said,

“And we should consider every day lost on which we have not danced at least once.”

He also believed dancing helped the quality of our thinking:

“Thinking wants to be learned as dancing wants to be learned, as a kind of dancing.”

Not bad for a guy in pain, who spent the last part of his life confined to an apartment, dying of syphilis. For Nietzsche, dance was not about performance or social dancing. There is no record of him dancing in public. He was caught, however, hopping about his apartment, dancing.

By the way, if you missed this stunning video of two Chinese dancers a couple of years ago, the man missing a leg, the woman an arm, it’s still worth watching.


I’ll balance out Nietzche with a little faith, after acknowledging that his famous announcement “God is dead” has been taken woefully out of context. Lee Ann Womack’s I Hope You Dance also inspires me.

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me that you’ll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out or dance

I hope you dance.
I hope you dance.

Don’t try to be good. Don’t try to get it right. Don’t worry about what you look like or whether you’re a dancer. Breathe. Move. Then move more. You’ll be dancing.

Be like those horses. Dance for the spirit of it. For the hope in it.


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