Can Strength Training improve your emotional intelligence?
Thu, Nov 22 2012 10:46 | Brain, Emotional Intelligence, Interoception, Nervous System, Neuroplasticity, Strength Training
Strength training may be strengthening your body-mind's capacity for interoception just as much as, perhaps more than, it is strengthening your muscles, connective tissue, and your neurological capacity to innervate muscle fibers through your motor units.
So while strength training is often focused upon conventional measures of strength, power and endurance I propose that strength training may also be effective at strengthening your ability to identify, assess and control emotions.
Interoception, or the perception of the inside of the body, is a central foundation in strength training. The process of feeling down into your body (or part of your body) creates a more "vertically" integrated nervous system. The prefrontal cortex
- the seat of your conscious awareness and decision making center of the brain - connects through the insula down into the body to receive all sorts of information such as heart and breathing rates, tension and fatigue in the muscles, pressure upon the skeletal system, pH levels in the digestive system amongst many others.
Strength training vertically integrates the nervous system which is very similar to the neurological wiring needed for self-awareness and social attunement. So while you may be focusing on lifting more weight, the interoceptive process required to do so may be fine tuning your neurological capacity for a larger emotional intelligence.
It's likely that through the process of staying calm, open and relaxed in the face of high levels of pain and intensity during your training that some important neurological changes may be under way.
The assessment of when to be reactive and to be receptive that happens in the brainstem might be undergoing some sort of change making you a more receptive human being even under immense stress. As your posterior insula registers your bodily states during your training a more robust connection to your anterior insula (the part that is invariably activated when you are aware of your bodily states) may be developed as you consciously focus on the direct and immediate sensations of training.
This in turn may introduce stronger connections between the anterior insula and your prefrontal cortex. Spindle cells are responsible for precisely this and research supports that as spindle cell density increases, so does the experience of self-awareness.
Strength training, it's usually focused upon waist lines and muscle tissue, but perhaps as we outgrow these limiting orientations we will discover how strength training brings greater plasticity to the nervous system and shapes a more integrative human being.
Fitness, Spirituality & The Quality of Your Life
Spirituality has two basic drives. It's first drive is for you to be not as defined by the the circumstances of your life. We can call this freedom. You need to be less governed by the events, people and contexts that you find yourself in. When you don't have freedom, the quality of your life suffers and you remain entrenched in the limitations of your life as it presently is.
The second drive of spirituality is for you to be more present, connected and engaged with your life. We can call this fullness. While you need to be less governed by the circumstances of your life (freedom) you also need to be more present to what is going on in your life. The quality of your life erodes when you become less connected and engaged with what is happening. Attuning to your relationships, vocation as well as your self that is in the world improves your life and the quality of the lives of those around you.
Fitness used to be optional. Generically speaking we can say that "back in the day" evolutionarily speaking movement and survival were intrinsically connected. You had to move to hunt and gather, often times throughout much of the day light. Today we live in a different world where many of us are what we can call "knowledge" workers. If you are a knowledge worker you gain the means to support yourself by creating, following and managing information flow. If this is you then you can spend large portions of your life without moving much. You can spend the vast majority of your days inside a small circumference facing some piece or pieces of technology and or people. In the meantime, movement spikes while walking to the bath room, someone else's movement circumference (office) or to get into your car to then sit still while technology loco-motes you.
Lifestyles that support sedentary patterns will kill you.
Biologically speaking inactivity sends powerful messages to your body and they sound like this: "you are sick" or "you are dying." Chronic persistent inactivity meant you were sick or dying 10,000 years ago. Today ongoing inactivity sends the same biological messages.
The result, many of us need fitness. Our lives depend upon it in a very direct way. You need an intentional period, each day, to rigorously move your body. Please note, I said "each day" as 3 days a week is not enough. Each day you are not vigorously moving your body you are likely shortening your life. Fail to move and you are actively drawing death just a bit closer to you. So whatever you do, move!
But it is not enough to just move your body every day. Fitness needs spirituality. Movement needs to refine both your ability to be more free from the circumstances of your life as well as your ability to be fully present in the circumstances of your life.
Sadly much of the movement that happens as people move their bodies is an expression of dissociation. Movement that is divorced from attention is a form of dissociation. If your attention is not placed on or into your movement you are likely dissociating from your fitness. I often see people on the stair stepping machines, stationary bicycles, treadmills and the like exercising as they read the latest issues of fitness, fashion and sports magazines. Occasionally I see folded up sections of the today's newspaper in front of glazed over eyes. Or, better yet, they are watching TV as CNN's latest coverage of the political campaign to the White House flickers before their eyes.
Fitness is often riddled with dissociation. Dissociation is a function of not having enough freedom yet simultaneously being unable to be present in life. You dissociate precisely where you are too controlled by the circumstances of life and unable to be present in your life. That's when you "check out" so to speak.
The body is perhaps one of the most challenging dimensions of life. Most adults have tremendous difficulty not being dictated by the embodied circumstances and thus they have immense limitations when it comes to being present to their embodied sensations (this shows up by stunting results yielded in fitness and in every other facet of adult life). Many adults have yet to grow, reinforce and strengthen the neurological wiring and processing power to be genuinely free from their body yet at the same time present in the fullness of their body.
Fitness is an ideal training ground to grow the faculties of spirituality. Next time you train, don't “check out” to what's going on in your body. Check in. Turn your attention into and upon the embodied sensations of movement. You'll find that you will yield much more in return.
Habituation, the enemy that is closer than we like to admit
Thu, Nov 15 2012 10:50 | Aliveness, Change, Comfort, Discomfort, Fitness, Freedom, Habituation, Pleasure, Strength To Awaken, Strength Training
A few weeks ago I was visiting my parents discussing how my book is landing with their congregation and friends. My mom said to me, "one question I've gotten a few times is, What is habituation?" Considering I mention "habituation" or "habituated" over 160 times throughout a 263 page book, this question is a big deal.
Here's how I define it: "habituation is at its essence an automatic response."
I continue on to say, "It's opposite is the conscious presence and agency for intentional action. Habituation has two sides. On the one hand some of your automatic conditioned responsiveness is absolutely necessary for your fluid functioning in life. On the other hand some of the automated responses deteriorate your conscious presence and erode your capacity to intentionally direct your life."
I spend so much time exploring habituation for a few reasons.
1) Habits stand squarely in between you and the change your heart genuinely desires.
2) Some of the most entrenched habits you possess are organized around how you move & don't move.
Interestingly, I have not seen books on fitness or strength training that adequately address how to work with the immensity of habituation (yet another reason why I wrote Strength To Awaken).
3) As those of you who have read part one of Strength To Awaken know, some of the root habits your conventional self uses to define itself are organized and structured to keep you from the happiness you simultaneously desire. That's right, these habituated attempts at happiness actually wall you off from true happiness.
So, if you want heartfelt change that matters to you, if you are interested in embodying these changes in a full way throughout the movements of your life, and if you're interested in happiness then habituation is something to investigate with rigor, right now.
Some habits support. Notice that the fluidity you may feel as you walk has a lot to do with habituation. There's a plethora of neurophysiological processes that make you proficient in walking. It took you years to master this. This is just one example of how habits can support higher level functioning. To a certain extent, we need habits.
Yet, some habits inhibit, close down, and collapse your conscious presence, ability for autonomous functioning and capacity for adaptation. For example, you may waste energy as you hold unnecessary tension in your shoulders, hips, back and legs. This chronic tension rigidifies your body and mind in both subtle and not so subtle ways. This habituation may stem from a neuro-psychological defense pattern established early on in life.
One massive habituation, one of the most pervasive enemies that you, me and most of our friends, family and colleagues keep too close, is the habituated preference for comfort. Sometimes your habituated strategies to be comfortable are completely harmless and should be celebrated. Other times, though, these unconscious strategies steal your larger capacities as a human being.
When you withdraw from life - whether that be in your training, relationships, and/or professionally, because of some uncomfortable experience - you may be stepping back from the life you are more deeply called to be living. This is where comfort stands in distinct opposition to one of your life's greatest pleasures: living your purpose.
Next time you see your habituated preference moving you toward the most comfortable route, evaluate it. Do not blindly follow and trust your automatic responses to be comfortable. Pause, feel into the discomfort, and assess whether going through the discomfort may be of service to your larger purpose in life.
Regardless of what you discover, freeing yourself up from habituation strengthens you psychologically. Every time you see your habits (and thus are not identified as them) your self gets bigger (more inclusive), more flexible, and more capable. Liberating yourself from the comfort habit enables you to trade in for greater aliveness. Does this greater aliveness have more pain? Often times it does, and it also comes with greater multifaceted pleasure as well.
Why You Can't Learn Your Way Out of Limiting Habits
Mon, Nov 12 2012 03:23 | Development, Habituation, Intimacy, Leadership, Learning, Muscle Gain, Weight Loss, Well-Being
Habits are a challenging obstacle for everyone. Whether you are trying to get to the gym more consistently, attempting to change how you show up in an intimate relationship, growing out of some old patterns that are holding you back at work or simply trying to attune to your child that's challenging your preferences, habits hold you back.
My book Strength To Awaken is an in depth exploration of how to work with habituation for precisely this reason. If you want to change in any area of life, you must confront the habits that hold you. In many challenges learning new strategies, applying new techniques to some area of your life or training yourself to behave differently largely fail. To put this into the words of Robert Kegan, Harvard's professor of Adult Learning and Professional Development, you don't need "technical change" but instead you require "adaptive change." Strength To Awaken is an adaptive approach to working with limiting habits.
If you needed technical change you wouldn't still be struggling with trying to change. Learning a new technique or appling a different strategy would have already worked. The persistent challenges, the type of change that bumps up against your more entrenched habits, requires adaptive changes. This means you must qualitatively grow the complexity and size of your psyche. If you don't grow, that is undergo adaptive change, the habits of your life have you, possess you and thereby govern you. Instead of being captured by your habits you need to possess your habits.
This all important shift is the process of growth and development. One psyche is smaller than the habituations thereby allowing limiting habits to have, hold and govern you. The psyche that has undergone adaptive change is larger, more complex and thus capable of holding, governing and mediating habits. Instead of struggling with limiting habits adaptive change allows you to set limits on your habits which is a remarkable transformation.
When ever you are working toward changes that require adaptive growth, consider a these points:
1. What would you have to experience if you actually did change?
Typically your habits are organized around you NOT experiencing facets of yourself and your history. Deep change work (whether that's losing 20 pounds of fat and gaining 10 lbs of muscle, taking responsibility for creating intimacy in your relationship and self-regulating yourself in the face of contact that creates anxiety or establishing new leadership capacities in your organization that require you to hand off greater responsibility and freedom to your team) almost always places you face to face with facets of experience that you are equally if not even more so committed to not experiencing.
Identify what you are likely to experience, physically, emotionally and mentally as well as socially and perhaps economically. Moving this commitment into your awareness shifts essential dimensions of your limiting habits from subject (that which holds you) to object (that which you hold).
2. Make an explicit commitment to yourself to metabolize these unseen and guarded facets of your experience.
If you don't feel through and welcome these facets of your experience you will likely not change. Move neglected, guarded and strategically avoided facets of experience into awareness. Clarify these objects and make commitments to experience these parts of your life without manipulation.
3. Live into the decisions that most serve your life (not necessarily the ones that most serve your habituated sense of comfort).
Move habits from subject to object. Learning new strategies, approaches and or techniques will not result in the change you desire if the change requires adaptive growth. Learning adds tools but often fails to bring underlying habits into the light of your attention. This movement from subject to object frees you up to live into the decisions that support your well-being, excellence and elegance as a human being.
The Fitness Revolution
Thu, Nov 8 2012 10:34 | Cycling, Embodiment, Fitness, Liberation, Meditation, Revolution, Strength Training, Yoga
When we think of fitness revolutions our minds habitually go toward some "fad" or some "new" trend that does indeed change the landscape of "fitness" for a short while.
This isn't what I am talking about.
Most fads and "new" trends in fitness adhere to the same socially conditioned aims. As long as a fitness movement does not have a genuinely novel orientation, one that is liberated from the social habituations that we are all scripted in, there is no revolution in sight.
None at all.
Fitness as I am re-framing and re-claiming the term here is not interested in shaping your body in some socially habituated aim.
This isn't to say that through this fitness movement, your body may begin to shape and inhabit joy in ways you never considered and perhaps in the process some of these changes may shape you in ways that society looks at and says "yes, I want that" in a deeply conscious way. But, this is not the point.
Maintain your clarity and do not fall into an unconscious loyalty with your social conditioning.
Fitness actually has little to do with the way you look or appear. Fitness as I invite you to relate to this term and practice is something quite different.
The fitness revolution I invite you into is your capacity, ability and skill to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this moment. Here it is again…
Fitness is your capacity to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this, and every, moment.
This is your true "fit-ness" and, as you can see, this does not have much to do with the shape of your body, the measurements and stats your body possess nor the desires and aims you aspire to.
This fitness revolution serves your liberated embodiment.
If you're like most people you require training for the type of fitness I am pointing at requires you decoupling yourself from your unconscious habituations. We are not trying to get your body "more fit" in the conventional sense. We are cultivating your ability to fit your conscious participation into the larger immediacy of your life.
It is "hot!"
Meaning, this is an alive, liberated, joyful and deeply engaged embodiment of the full unmediated immediacy of your life.
The next time you find yourself looking at something that's claiming to be "revolutionary" put it to the fire to see if it's aims are genuinely liberated from social conventions. Likely you will see that it's the same old intention, aim and goal wrapped in a new costume jumping around like a clown saying "get me and you'll be happy!"
I recommend using these as wake up calls.
There are many!
If you're like me, you need MANY!
Say thank you and move on, cut through and deepen the participatory immediacy that is always already holding you, co-merging with and as you.
And if you're like me, you can use a conventional tool - strength training - to yield unconventional aims with unconditioned results.
Explore fitness from this lens. Engage your yoga from here, ride your bike from here, sit on your meditation fusion from here, cook dinner tonight from here, write your e-mail from here, run from here, read this blog from here.
Fitness, the ability to FIT with, merge into and participate as the direct immediacy of this moment.
Enjoy your revolution.
Performance or Preference, Which Do You Serve?
Performance, genuine elegant performance, requires that you step beyond your habituated preferences.
Performing within the sphere of your conditioned preferences is never an expression of your highest levels of elegance and achievement, but instead rote repetition. While repetition is necessary for performance, it is not sufficient.
Habituation serves adequacy. Preferences are most often in slavery to comfort. Performance moves with elegance. There is a mysterious effectiveness and grace that is simple, direct, fluid and refined. Look into your peak gestures of performance, I think you know what I am talking about. Put simply performance celebrates what is beautiful - not our cultures conventions around beauty - I'm talking about the heart and essence of beauty. I'm talking about your complete rapture in and as the simple movement of joy.
When you train today, when you pick up injunctions to engage your full embodied experience, start with the intention to explore your experience outside of the boundaries and limitations of your habituated preferences. If your preference is not to train the larger sphere of the elegance that is your emergent beauty, all the better!
Cut through preferences and I think you'll find something much more precious, or rather something precious will take hold of you.