I rarely have other’s material on this blog but every now and then I find something that I just have to share. The piece below was written by my friend Bad Chadio – a brilliant, scary man who has been and done. Enjoy.
Western cultures have traditionally maintained a significant separation between mind and body. As a result, many service members train their bodies and then attend to mental fitness, if at all, as a separate activity. When you improve the connection between body and mind, you can more effectively develop your mental skills – skills that can give you an edge on the battlefield (especially since your mind and body have a significant physical connection). Ensuring that there is a good connection between mental and physical fitness can increase performance and reduce work related stress.
Last week on TV I saw a performance by the brilliant fingerstyle guitarist Pierre Bensusan. He told a story of being offered a contract to perform in Spain. The only condition in the contract was that he improvise the entire show. Being a master of improvisation he signed, but as the date of the show approached he became increasingly nervous. Finally, he sought the counsel of a friend. “Look at it this way,” said the friend, “you won’t forget anything.”
What a relief it is when the burdens our minds create...disappear. To be sure, much of mental skills work in the military – and in the performing arts – is about “using your mind on your mind,” and that certainly can be effective. But it’s not the only way to master the mental obstacles to optimal performance.
Why do we take on the challenges of a physically demanding nature, challenges that call on us to use – and learn – these mental skills? Why do we willingly take on the suffering, the disappointments, the adversity of tough challenges, long deployments, and brutal training? (For the hotties that flock to us after we return, I know, but besides that?)
One of the reasons, even if we’re not aware of it, is frequently this: The body is the Great Equalizer for the mind. When the mind is too dominant, we’re out of balance, and then we often pay the price – with anxiety, runaway thoughts, and so many other kinds of distress. But when we draw on the power and wisdom in our bodies, we can restore balance, bring mind and body closer, and relieve the burdens that our rampant minds so often create.
In Western cultures philosophers such as Plato, Aristotle, and Descartes had a huge impact on the particular kind of dualistic view that separates mind and body. But in the last 50 years, Western civilization inches, and now crawls (or perhaps toddles) toward a more integral view of personhood. Fortunately, it’s been Toddling “under the influence” of Eastern philosophies, among other forces. So when I use the phrase “power and wisdom in our bodies,” I’m not talking about wattage and facts. I’m suggesting that your consciousness – your experience of yourself – is not located only in your heart rate monitor or GPS. Your emotions, sensations, past experiences, self-awareness, and even your thoughts all have a physical component. Discovering and living the physical in everything you experience – what is sometimes called being more in your body – can be the key to better mental fitness, and a better experience/performance under stress. But how?
Led by doctors such as Herbert Benson, mind-body medicine began to guide what he calls the “third modality” in health care – in addition to pharmaceuticals and surgery – for maintaining health and well-being: self-care. And so over the years, health care practitioners, researchers, and the people they’ve worked with identified a number of things you can do to better integrate mind and body for performance, including:
Improving Your Emotional Awareness
Emotions affect health, energy, and strength, and of course the reverse is true as well. If you have even occasional difficulty answering the question, “How do you feel about that?”, you may need to look to your body for the answer rather than your mind. For example, when you’re anxious or stressed or fearful, where do you feel it in your body? Does your chest tighten? Does your breathing get shallow? Do you get knots in your stomach? Biofeedback can build your awareness and skill here. As you strengthen all the pathways to and from your emotions, you give yourself a better chance to handle your emotions, experience them, and use them.
No, I’m not talking about banishing yourself to your room) If you want to be more in your body, becoming more conscious of your physical connection with the Earth is a great way to drive your consciousness downward from your head. In other words, gravity works; so sometimes, when you’re sitting, standing, or walking, practice paying attention to the contact of your feet (or shoes) with the ground. And finally, there’s nothing more grounding than paying attention to your breath – the place, perhaps, where Body and Mind meet.
Being conscious about what you put in your body
Paying more attention to what you eat and drink – the choices you make, the impact those choices have, but also the actual moment-by-moment experience of eating and drinking – can be a great way to narrow the mind-body gap.
Continuing to discover your physical potential
There is amazing transformative power in physical, body-focused experience. You can use your physical training in overcoming adversity or work related stress. You can use your fitness regime to learn what’s possible for your mind and body to achieve. Yet as you stretch your physical limits, perceived or real threats to your body may raise visceral fear and anxiety, perhaps evoking the fundamental mortality that underlies every moment of life. But in facing that challenge by drawing on everything within yourself – from mind, body, and spirit – you go through a crucible and a stronger person emerges.
Many of the most successful competitors, at any level, are set apart from others by mental strength. And your mind will be much stronger when it has a good connection, good communication, and good balance with your body.
The five core skills of mental fitness are: Goal-Setting, Self-Talk, Managing Emotions, Concentration, and Communication. Ensuring that there is a good connection between mental and physical fitness can increase performance and reduce work related stress.
But he is in one mind, and who can turn him? and what his soul desireth, even that he doeth. – Job 23:13
If you have any comments I’d love to hear them.
If they really interest me, I may even post them.
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