How I Developed An Undying Love For Gymnastics

How I Developed An Undying Love For Gymnastics

Gymnastics is about more than just flips.
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Gymnastics is my sport. It has always been my sport, and will always be my sport. Even when I am too old to continue competing, it will still be my sport (although at 22 I have no intentions of stopping).

How do I feel when I tell people I do gymnastics?

Proud, strong, unique, respected, grateful.

I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was about 7 years old. I'm 22 years old now, which is supposed to be way past retirement age for a gymnast... but I don't care.

I can assure you that the reason I’ve been doing gymnastics since I was 7, the reason why I competed for my club and high school teams at the same time, the reason why I continued in college, and the reason why I am now planning to compete with an adult gymnastics team is because the gymnastics experiences I’ve had have always been about the love for the sport. And yes, in case it wasn’t clear, I LOVE gymnastics. It is a hard sport, and without the undying love I have for it, I wouldn’t still be doing it.

I’m proud of the skills I have and for the fact that I do the sport at all, and couldn’t be happier with my overall experience. Yes, the Olympics are incredible and every so often I wish I could do those crazy skills Simone Biles does. But I’ve never had any intention of being that committed to the sport to reach that level. It’s not for me.

What is for me? Going to gymnastics where you can’t wait to see your coaches and teammates, because they are your best friends and the people you most enjoy spending time with. Laughing at practice because you’re having fun. Learning new skills where the process is just the right balance of challenging and gratifying. Competing at meets and showing off the skills you know how to do, the best you can do them.

I am thankful for the gyms I’ve attended and for the coaches I’ve had (who know who they are) who have cultivated a supportive and fun atmosphere surrounding gymnastics, and have allowed me to thrive in a sport which tears many down.

Gymnastics is not a sport you can sugar coat with adjectives that make it sound any less difficult than it is. There is of course the physical strength required to be successful in gymnastics (or even to be semi-successful). You will get nowhere without muscles that you may not even know you have. Take a break from gymnastics for a week or two, or even longer? You will feel those muscles the next time you are back in the gym. You’ll feel where they are lacking, and you will absolutely feel the soreness afterwards. And don’t even get me started on the calluses on your hands…

No one can deny the physical aspect of gymnastics. But I would argue, as I believe many others would, that the mental aspect of gymnastics is even more important. You could have all the strength and fitness in the world, but without mental toughness, you will not be able to do 99% of the skills in gymnastics. Gymnasts who make it to the Olympics have minds of steel…they are able to get up on that beam in front of the world and throw flips in all directions like they are on the ground. (I can’t even do those flips on the ground…)

If even for a minute you let yourself think how crazy a skill is, or how things could go wrong, you’re screwed. I know from experience that the mind will shut down, and there will literally be a wall between you and the skill. It doesn’t matter if you’ve done it a million times or if you have the strength and flexibility for it. Once your mind says no, you’ve fallen to the bottom of a hill, and you’ve got a long climb in front of you.

Throughout my gymnastics career, I’ve had many mental blocks, which, at any other gym, might’ve irreversibly hurt my progress and burnt me out mentally. Fortunately, with the coaches I’ve had, I’ve been able to slowly work through those blocks, and as I got older and my gymnastics career became more independent, I was able to move on to other skills that I wasn’t afraid of.

This is not to say that my mental blocks weren't incredibly difficult to deal with, but their existence did not become the one thing standing in the way of me continuing in gymnastics.

Gaining mental toughness isn’t easy, but it has benefits in all facets of life. I’ve faced so many challenges, physical and mental, had to push myself through grueling conditioning, searing pain on my hands while on bars, tears when my mind wouldn’t allow me to do a skill, feelings of accomplishment when finishing a beam routine without a fall, unrestrained joy when doing a skill for the first time, and on and on. The ups and downs inherent to gymnastics teach you how to roll with the punches, and fly high when something goes well.

With all the tough physical and mental challenges gymnastics brings, you’ve got to have people going through it with you…

I have made many lifelong friends from the sport of gymnastics, several of whom I would consider to be my best friends. These are the people I trust, the people I go to, the people I laugh with, the people I cheer for, the people I cry with.

Gymnastics has been my free time activity my whole life, so it is inevitable that I am going to spend lots and lots of time with my teammates. In college, I spent so many hours with my friends on the UVM Gymnastics Team, they were the hardest goodbyes (but actually see-you-laters) at graduation.

And I believe that the people I have met along the way are the reason why I am still in this sport. I love gymnastics in part because of them. Practicing gymnastics alone does not sound fun at all…but practicing with my closest friends who understand just how hard the sport we’re doing is? There’s nothing else I’d rather do.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that gymnastics defines me, but I would say that I have been shaped and developed for the better because of the sport.

Check in with me in 5 years to see if I’m still competing… odds are, I will be. :)

Cover Image Credit: Cassandra Albrecht

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Driving While Stoned: Can Police Prove You're High?

What police are using to test your THC level... and what happens next.
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Recreational and medical marijuana are becoming increasingly common throughout the country, as more states pass statutes allowing it in certain instances. This includes Colorado, California and Nevada. As a result, the laws regarding DUI and operating under the influence of intoxicating substances are also evolving.

Driving high is not a new concept, but it’s becoming the source of more media attention as using marijuana becomes more widespread. Here’s what it means if you’re pulled over for marijuana use and if police officers have the right material.

Traffic Stops and Marijuana DUIs

Driving high is dangerous, just as operating a car under the influence of alcohol is dangerous. Marijuana use delays your reaction time, interferes with your ability to pay attention while on the road, and put you and others on the road at risk of getting into a car accident. Police officers realize this and are subsequently cracking down on marijuana use before driving.

Most DUI arrests result when a driver gets pulled over for a traffic violation. Regarding traffic stops, it’s important to note that a police officer must only have a reasonable suspicion of intoxication. In other words, he or she doesn’t need to see you strictly break any traffic laws.

A police officer may pull you over if you’re weaving around in your lane or even driving very slowly. This alone can serve as evidence of impairment and provide the police with enough suspicion to complete a traffic stop.

A police officer is trained to know when someone is under the influence of marijuana. They may determine you’ve been using by the smell or the presence of mental confusion. Just like with alcohol, you may be required to complete field sobriety tests.

Marijuana is unique in that there is no reliable breath test. If an officer suspects you’re under the influence of the drug, you’ll have to submit to blood testing which will confirm the presence of THC in your system. A high concentration of THC will serve as evidence for a prosecutor to file a DUI charge for impairment.

In San Diego, police officers are now using a mouth-swab device to confirm the driver is under the influence of marijuana. The Drager Drug Test debuted last year and it takes less than 10 minutes for results to come out.

After an officer gives the test and results are positive, they will then take the driver down to a police phlebotomist for a blood test to check precise drug levels. Police say if you smoked marijuana two days before taking the test, there would be nothing to worry about since the machine only tests for active THC compound that is responsible for getting you high.

There are laws in 13 states that prohibit a driver from operating a motor vehicle with any amount THC in their system. An additional five states set a legal cutoff for THC concentration – for Colorado and Washington, its 5 nanograms per milliliters of blood – for Ohio and Nevada, it’s 2.

The rest of the states, including California, prohibit operating a motor vehicle incapacitated by or under the influence of marijuana, which is vaguer and leaves the charges up to the prosecutor.

What About Medical Marijuana?

Some people might assume that the rules exclude medical marijuana use, but this isn’t the case. Operating the under influence is dangerous whether you have a medical marijuana prescription – in fact, there have been some cases where people have been charged with DUI for using other prescription medicines such as Ambien.

Still, this is an evolving area of law. A recent appeals case in Arizona found that people charged with DUI with a medical marijuana prescription may have additional protections from prosecution. In this case, medical marijuana patients in Arizona may be able to contest charges of DUI by providing evidence that they weren’t “too incapacitated” to operate a motor vehicle.

Future DUI Convictions for Marijuana Use

The laws surrounding DUI and marijuana will continue to evolve as use of the substance becomes more widespread. If you live in an area that allows medical marijuana or recreational marijuana use, never use a motor vehicle after smoking.

If you do get behind the wheel of a vehicle after using, you could put yourself at risk of getting a DUI – as well as putting yourself and others on the road at risk. Think of smoking and driving like drinking and driving – find a designated driver or stay at home.

Cover Image Credit: Photo by Tobias Zils on Unsplash

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Are Magic Mushrooms The Key To Understanding The Brain?

An Academic Perspective
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Mushrooms that, when ingested, induce “mind-manifesting” effects are categorized as psychedelic. They are colloquially referred to as “Magic Mushrooms." The main psychoactive component of these fungi is psilocybin. Here, the term psychedelic is describing the compound’s ability to manifest underlying aspects of the mind; it’s etymology deriving from the Greek words psychē and dclôsē, meaning “mind” or “soul” and “to manifest,” respectively. Western countries first became aware of the “magic mushroom” in the first half of the 20th century when a western traveler came across one in Central America. Psychedelics became popular with the generation of Americans who were disillusioned with government, as the Vietnam War broadcasted on television and had forced conscription. The government targeted anti-war protesters, often identified as hippies through the illegalization of psychedelic drugs. As with many illegal substances, the “magic mushroom” continues to be abused for recreational purposes. Non-western nations, specifically those indigenous to the Americas, have an ancient history with psilocybin, which was often used in sacred ceremonies, as well as for healing purposes. Whilst it is often implied that western medicine is more legitimate, that narrative is founded in cultural biases held by the people who invaded and settled on this land. Nevertheless, this paper focuses on current western research into psilocybin, as interest in the therapeutic aspects of psychedelics have had a resurgence in these countries. It induces a similar state to Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep. Unlike experiments performed during REM, however, those performed under psychedelic influence can be mechanistically and scientifically controlled. Inspired by the mysteries of the brain, this article explores the possibility that psilocybin may be the catalyst for marrying analysis of the brain on the cellular level and on the metacognitive, conscious one. It is the first part in a series of academic articles on the topic.


Because psilocybin is structurally similar to the neurotransmitter 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT, serotonin), it produces psychedelic effects by binding to 5-HT2A receptors. One study suggested that 5-HT2A receptors may live in the plasma membrane of pyramidal cells that project onto interneurons, possibly contributing to the decrease in neural activity associated with higher level thought. A study done in people found a statistically significant increase in the likelihood of layer 5 pyramidal neurons firing after consumption of magic mushrooms. Nevertheless, the former study disagrees on how, proposing that excitation of 5-HT2A receptors has an inverse relationship with that of pyramidal cells. It is notable that 5-HT2A receptors are most densely expressed on pyramidal neurons, specifically in the neural regions associated with cognition and perception, as opposed to ones associated with more basic functions, such as the motor cortex. Whilst the underlying mechanisms of psychedelic effects at the receptor level aren’t clear, the impact on neurobiological mechanisms, believed to be involved in higher-level thinking, have more of a consensus across studies.

One study used arterial spin labeling fMRI and blood-oxygen level-dependent fMRI imaging techniques to look at the changes in cerebral blood flow (CBF) as it correlates to the specific regions of interest in the brain over time, as well as to the subjective intensity of the effects of the psilocybin administered. Associating CBF with neural activity, they found that decreases in CBF were localized to the posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), the medial prefrontal cortex (mPFC), and the thalamus.

All of the aforementioned function as important connector hubs in the brain, associated with high level cognitive functions. Specifically, the PCC is a vital component of the default mode network (DMN), a system of highly correlate brain regions critical for cognition and the perception of self; the ACC is involved in executive function, connecting the emotion-linked limbic system and cognition-linked prefrontal cortex; the mPFC functions in higher order memory and decision-making processes; and the thalamus relays sensory signals to the cerebral cortex and regulates consciousness. The statistically significant correlation between these decreases and perceived potency of psilocybin, as well as the significantly decreased positive coupling of the PCC and the mPFC suggest that classic psychedelics may function by fracturing brain networks to alter a person’s state of waking consciousness.

Consistently receiving greater CBF and energy than all other regions of the brain, the default mode network (DMN) has a functional centrality as it integrates and routes information from different brain networks, excluding sensory. The DMN, in fact, may be the highest level of functional hierarchy, engaging in metacognition that encompasses: self-reflection, theory-of-mind, and mental time-travel. This metacognition, the discernment and/or control of one’s own thoughts and behaviors, is commonly only attributed to humans, and may be thought of as “self” or as “ego” in Freudian terminology. A recent study used fMRI to investigate the medial temporal lobe (MTL), including the hippocampus, which is involved in the formation of long-term memory, and its interaction with the DMN. Functional coupling between the MTL and DMN decreased post-psilocybin delivery into the bloodstream, further supporting the hypothesis that the psychedelic state is a regression from executive control. Studies on meditative states, long thought to be similar to psychedelic ones, have found the same phenomenon.

This desynchronization of cortical activity can be observed via the modulation of alpha oscillations, deduced to be a result of psilocybin-excited 5-HT2A receptors. Related to temporal framing of perception, alpha oscillations were found to regulate both cortical excitation and N170 visual potentials that appear connected to visual hallucinations. The decreased alpha power values post-psilocybin absorption in the body demonstrated a statistically significant relationship with both general increased excitability in the absence of stimuli, as well as the formation of hallucinations, which is consistent with known psychedelic effects. The latter is likely because psilocybin attenuates N170 potentials, which help translate natural images into clear and meaningful structures. Moreover, another study found that this decrease in alpha power positively correlated with subjective ratings on both the disintegration of “self” and the “supernatural” quality of the experience. The presented pharmacophysiological mechanism underlying these results submit that oscillatory rhythms constrain spontaneous firing of individual pyramidal cells, upholding structure to brain activity and supporting the theory of “self-organized criticality.”

The entropic theory of consciousness, known as the entropic brain hypothesis, relates system entropy in the brain with “self-organized criticality.” Entropy refers to system disorder. “Self-organized criticality” refers to a complex system (the brain), in which the properties as a whole are not those expressed at the level of an individual unit (neuron). The entropic brain hypothesis purports that a mature sense of self-identity or personality, related to metacognition, suppresses entropy in the brain so that humans can have more advantageous control over the natural world. We'll talk more about the entropic theory of consciousness in the second part to this article.

Share if you've learned something new! I've put references below, if you'd like a more thorough understanding.


Disclaimer: The information in this article is not intended to condone the use of illegal substances, or replace individual research. The author takes no responsibility for the actions of readers.


References:

  1. Carhart-Harris, R. L., Hellyer, P., Shanahan, M., Feilding, A., Tagliazucchi, E., Chiavlo, D., Nutt, D., (2014). The entropic brain: a theory of conscious states informed by neuroimaging research with psychedelic drugs Frontiers in Human Neuroscience. U.S.A. 8, 1662-5161, DOI=10.3389/fnhum.2014.00020
  2. Carhart-Harris, R. L., Erritzoe, D., Williams, T., Stone, J. M., Reed, L. J., Colasanti, A., et al. (2012a). Neural correlates of the psychedelic state as determined by fMRI studies with psilocybin. Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. U.S.A. 109, 2138–2143. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1119598109
  3. Yu A-M. Indolealkylamines: Biotransformations and Potential Drug–Drug Interactions. The AAPS Journal. 2008;10(2):242. doi:10.1208/s12248-008-9028-5.
  4. Dinis-Oliviera, R.J., Drug Metab Rev. 2017 Feb;49(1):84-91. Doi: 10.1080/03602532.2016.1278228. Epub 2017 Jan 31.
  5. Zhu JJ. Maturation of layer 5 neocortical pyramidal neurons: amplifying salient layer 1 and layer 4 inputs by Ca2+ action potentials in adult rat tuft dendrites. The Journal of Physiology. 2000;526(Pt 3):571-587. doi:10.1111/j.1469-7793.2000.00571.x.
  6. Sporns, O., Chialvo, D. R., Kaiser, M., and Hilgetag, C. C. (2004). Organization, development and function of complex brain networks. Trends Cogn. Sci. 8, 418–425. doi: 10.1016/j.tics.2004.07.008
  7. Euston DR, Gruber AJ, McNaughton BL. The Role of Medial Prefrontal Cortex in Memory and Decision Making. Neuron. 2012;76(6):1057-1070. doi:10.1016/j.neuron.2012.12.002.
  8. Freud, S. (1927). The Ego and the id. London: L. and Virginia Woolf at the Hogarth press, The Institute of psycho-analysis.
  9. Chialvo, D. R., Balenzuela, P., and Fraiman, D. (2007). “The brain: what is critical about it?” in Collective Dynamics: Topics on Competition and Cooperation in the Biosciences, eds L.M. Ricciardi, A. Buonocore, and E. Pirozzi (New York, NY: Vietri sul Mare), 28–45.
  10. Ardila, Alfredo. (2008). On the evolutionary origins of executive functions. Brain and cognition. 68. 92-9. 10.1016/j.bandc.2008.03.003.
Cover Image Credit: cg trader

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