Friday, September 21, 2007

More on Mind-Body Connection

There’s a multitude of things about the fitness and exercise world that just drive me nuts and strikes me as just not right. From the insistence on weight training as the only legitimate way to get strong to the bizarre diets to the supplement world to the steroids to the gym culture just strike me as nothing more than hindrances in getting yourself fit and healthy. I made a list of the biggest problems in the modern fitness world as I saw it several months back. I could just saved your time and hit on the biggest problem of all: The lack of a mental and physical connection in exercising.

It wasn’t always this way. Nearly a century ago when bodybuilding (physical culture) sprang to life, several of the leading bodybuilders espoused the need for a mind-body connection in exercising. There was a sense that they operated independently from one another. For a brief period of time, amongst the pioneers of physical culture, the mind and body became equally important. It didn’t stay that way for long, especially with the advancement of supplements and the discovery of testosterone’s effects on the human body.

In a way, many of these physical culturists were far ahead of their time. They realized that the more intensely that they focused upon the muscles that they were exercising, the more that they’d develop those muscles. Sandow, Atlas, Swoboda, and Jowett all noticed this. What doctors and scientists are now discovering is that the mind, when focused upon a physical movement, will send much more intense nerve signals to that muscle group. This in turn sends more stem-cell laden blood to the muscle which helps create a thicker, more powerful muscle fiber. Simplistic as it seems, thinking about muscle is the first step in strengthening it! Unfortunately, this has been disregarded and much of the muscular development today is little more than an exercise in chemistry.

There are many more reasons for cultivating a mind-body connection than sheer muscular growth. What most fail to realize is that neither the body nor the mind are more important than each other and in a healthy person, each does their part to support the other. In a perfect world, the mind will send all of the proper signals necessary to coordinate the functions of the body, telling it what to do and when to do it. The body in turn will keep the mind nourished and reduce the amount of stress it endures in a day. Really, which is more important than the other? They can’t live without each other and neither functions properly without both working together.

This brings up another wonderful reason for establishing a firm mind-body connection while exercising: Alignment. Alois Swoboda realized that all of the body’s organs and systems, if not properly stimulated, will act in their own best interests and not in the interest of the body as a whole. In other words, our physical instincts that are supposed to help us live now serve to help us die slowly. Take, for example, the instinct to eat. We are driven to eat to feed all of the cells in our body as well as grow new ones. If this instinct isn’t properly controlled, it leads to bad health. If we don’t exercise, the body will not convert the food to new muscle. Instead, it becomes fat. Furthermore, we may be driven to eat for the pleasure rather than necessity, again rendering us fat. Exercise should serve as an activity of aligning all of our body’s instincts for the greater good of all.

Of course, if we don’t strive to put some thought into the exercises that we’re doing, we won’t render any of the health benefits that I’ve just mentioned. Strive every single workout that you do to put as much mental effort and thought as you do physical effort and you will get so much more benefit out of your exercise.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Great read. I am the same person who posted under the deadlifts article about my back injury. I have found with my bodyweight training that the mind-body connection is very much stronger then it ever was with weight lifting. I'm no expert but I do know my own body, and I know that I must concentrate a LOT more on the bodyweight exercises then I ever did on most weight lifting exercises. I believe this is to do with the fact you have to utilise your entire body so much more completely for stabilising the movement throughout the entire range of motion.

For example, take the bench press verses the pushup; On the bench press you use your chest, shoulders and triceps, everything else lays on a bench and doesn't do much at all. While doing a pushup though you have to engage your entire body length to stabilise yourself and maintain the correct form or else you will sag or bow at the abs and/or legs. It makes all the difference in my mind and explains why bodyweight training enhances total muscular synergy and co-ordination much more effectively then weight lifting.