Whole Mind Fitness
In the fitness world, there has been talk of moving from very specialized movements like barbell lifting or running marathons to more whole body types of movements, such as crawling, rolling, climbing and carrying things around. This is an important step in reclaiming our human abilities that have often become dulled by a life of sitting, driving and minimal amounts of movement in controlled and comfortable environments.
While specific movements in controlled environments can be very useful for developing certain kinds of strength, they can also be limiting. Barbell lifting is a good example. Let’s say you go to the gym and lift a barbell, gradually increasing the weight over several months. By being able to control how much weight you have on the bar, you can be very consistent in monitoring your progress. You probably also use some chalk to help you grip the bar because your hands can be warm and sweaty.
That was in the winter and now it’s spring. You’re feeling good about the progress you’ve made and decide to do some gardening. There’s a large rock that you’d like to move and you estimate that it can’t be any heavier than what you’ve been lifting in the gym so you give it a go. But wait, you can’t even get it off the ground. The rock is an awkward shape and your hands keep slipping on the moss that’s grown on the sides. Why didn’t nature make rocks with bars?
Here’s another example: Last fall, you and a friend decided to enter a 10K running race in the spring. You download a cleverly designed training program from the internet and use your Fitbit to monitor your heart beat. Of course it’s winter so you run on the treadmill in your health club. Your friend doesn’t like health clubs so she’s been running outside when she can. Now that the weather’s getting better, you decide to go for a run together. You tell your friend about how many miles or kilometers you ran on the treadmill last winter. Your poor friend is feeling a little apprehensive because she wasn’t able to run as much and sometimes had to run slower than the training pace, because the paths were slippery. She takes you out on a forest path and you find yourself struggling to keep up. The ground is uneven so your balance is a bit shaky and going down those little inclines is hard on your knees. Your friend however, was able to pick up the pace because for her, the conditions were ideal.
There is something called the S. A. I. D. principle: Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demand. This means that your body and mind adapt to the demands you place upon yourself. If you only lift the barbell, you may lose the ability to carry rocks, sleeping children and help friends move sofas. If you only walk or run on flat and regular surfaces, you may lose your ability to react to changing terrain.
It’s clear that our bodies, in order to stay capable, need a variety of challenges. But what about our brains? Our brains need variety as well. An article,
in the Huffington Post shows this clearly:
“The evidence strongly suggests that the natural world increases physical competency linked to mental acuity, increases ability to see patterns where others see chaos, offers new disciplines to collect and perceive knowledge and apply it, and expands the palate of possibilities,” said Louv, who wasn’t involved in the study.
Running on that treadmill or picking up the same barbell week after week, month after month can literally be mind numbing. You see the same floor, lighting and probably TV show. When you go outside, the view changes, you hear sounds and smell scents. You will be much more alive and awake outside.
To experience this myself, I recently began running in the deep forest once in a while. No trail or path, just pick a direction and go. I have to stay alert because there might be a fallen log trying to trip me, or a low branch trying to scratch my face. The ground sometimes looks firm but turns out to be a bog and my lower leg sinks into mud. Grab onto that branch to jump over a stream and, “snap,” the tree was rotten and now my feet are wet. Get too involved in the nearby surroundings and you can’t remember how to get back. All of my senses became alive and I felt very awake. Not surprisingly, I was quite tired in body and mind the next day. Of course it doesn’t have to be a forest, you can take a different route instead of your regular walk or run around your neighborhood. Try climbing over some tree stumps, low walls or balancing on a line on the sidewalk. Notice the sounds, feel the surface under your feet and what color are the houses?
Now that summer has officially started, I hope you’ll have some nice weather to go out and explore. Even if it’s raining, once you get over getting wet, you can explore and feel the rain drops on your face. Put down the iPad and go outside! I’m doing the same now!
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