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Posts Tagged balance

Experience Life Magazine

SUMMER STRESS DETOX! Week 4: Reboot & Realign, Step 8: Reconnect with Purpose

This blog is part of our “SUMMER STRESS DETOX!” Series

Time to clear your slate—and start the summer season refreshed and revitalized. To that end, Experience Life has partnered with meQuilibrium, the first-ever online stress management system, to bring you this 8-part series on detoxing mind, body, and spirit. You’ll discover strategies for everything from rethinking your diet to clearing clutter and shifting your stress response so that you can feel lighter, cleaner, and healthier than ever. (Learn more about the 28-day summer stress detox challenge!)

WEEK 4: REBOOT & REALIGN 

Step 8: Reconnect with Purpose

You did it! You’ve completed the four-week summer stress detox! You’ve cleaned out every aspect of your life—from food and fitness to your closets and your planner—even your relationships. You’ve worked hard to extricate yourself from the vice grip of bad foods, bad thoughts, bad habits, and bad mojo.

But removing the junk is only part of the job. The other part of a detox is putting measures in place to keep you on track—by reconnecting with your purpose and yourself.

Know this: When stress closes in, it’s hard to maintain perspective, let alone keep healthy habits in place. The point isn’t to just go back to where you were pre-detox, but to avoid lapsing under pressure. Here’s how.

Take stock of what worked. What change had the biggest impact on you throughout this process? Perhaps you’re already good at saying no to obligations—but not so good at turning down cookies—and the detox diet helped you shift your habits. Or, maybe you were already a clean eater but felt a big release when you tossed some old stuff. Pay attention to how great that felt—and make it a point to stick with that change.

Get—and stay—engaged. When you identify what changes were most significant for you, and focus on the effects, it’s easier to stick with them. In other words, what’s motivating you to continue your detoxing ways? A clearer head? Some significant weight loss? What has this process inspired you to do next?

Set a new goal. Maybe you were inspired by one change to make an even bigger one elsewhere in your life—whether in your relationships, your career, or your health. You can certainly do this four-week program over again, but in order to keep it vital and exciting, you need to set new goals for yourself. Maybe you want to try going vegetarian or gluten-free, based on how you felt during the detox. Consider these four weeks as you setting the stage for your next big change.

Tap into the group. Nothing helps you maintain momentum like support. So why go it alone? Enlist a few friends who want to detox their own diets or closets or relationships and stay accountable to each other.

Take time for yourself. Part of what allows you to grow and change is a willingness to seek a little solitude—regularly. This doesn’t mean locking yourself away for days or hours on end, which is probably not all that practical. But you can take some time away to regroup, to read, to write, to do the things that bring you back to yourself. No one can manage your stress for you, and checking in with yourself is key.

Want to make an even more dramatic change? Take the 28-day summer stress detox challenge!

Jan Bruce is CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, the new digital coaching system for stress, which helps both individuals and corporations achieve measurable results in stress management and wellness.

Experience Life Magazine

Whose Voice Is That In Your Head?

You know that voice in your head? What’s the deal with that?

Where’s it come from? And is it possible to shut it off? Is it the voice of reason or is it sabotaging reluctancy? Perhaps the biggest question is… Whose voice is it really?

“Pain of mind is worse than pain of body.” – Latin Proverb

The voice in our head is running our life. It tells us what outfit to wear and debates between indulging in chunky-monkey ice cream or sticking with the slender salad option. It calls the shots (Patrone or wheatgrass). The moment we wake up, there it goes again – yappity, yappity, yap…

The voice says what we should and shouldn’t do – both right now in this moment and with the rest of our life. It’s obnoxiously over-opinionated – like an anorexic Ethiopianfoodie. Obscure reference, yes, but how can we ground ourselves in confidence while knowing what’s worth swallowing and what’s toxic to ingest?

WAIT… You what? You wanna stop prostituting your soul, leave your job, and turn your passion into your profession? You wanna make a difference in people’s lives with a deep purpose while simultaneously stacking paychecks?

[Here comes the voice...] “But it’s just *TOO* risky, and besides, are you really smart enough? What if people found out about that time in 6th grade? Our family just doesn’t do things like that.”

WHAT… THE HELL… IS GOING… ON?

I work with people like this nearly every day – people who in some way are controlled and constricted by that voice in their head. Sometimes it’s subtle, like a snarky, condescending co-worker. But other times it’s unbearably brutal for peeps. They’re trapped in a state of intellectual-totalitarianism, involuntarily confided to a mental territory that’s terrifying them. Who’s the heartless war lord that’s running this operation?

The coaching work we do together raises awareness. Without consciousness, that voice dictates their destiny.

The voice professes all types of preposterous claims:

  • It tells you sex is shameful and not to talk about your desires.
  • It tells you good things don’t last, so be prepared for the storm.
  • It tells you you’re not smart enough to make a living following your heart.
  • It tells you to keep your problems to yourself.
  • It tells you not to show emotion cuz that’ll show people you’re weak.
  • It tells you not to date people you know cuz it will complicate your life.
  • It tells you not to date people you don’t know because they could be creeps.
  • It tells you being vulnerable is a *horrible* idea.
  • It tells you “real men” don’t do those kinda things.
  • It tells you if you’re not ripped, rich, and riding in a Range Rover, you’re defective.

The danger of this voice is:

  1. We think we are that voice.
  2. We think that voice is ours.
  3. That voice runs our life.

Let’s explore these ideas.

1. YOU ARE NOT THAT VOICE.

For the first 24 years of my life, I thought my thoughts were me. In other words, I identified what I thought with who I was. So if I had a thought that was crazy, it meant that I was crazy. Get it? Crazy thoughts equal a crazy person. Crazy person is the person whose writing you’re reading right now.

Then I took my first long-term trip and something strange happened. I was 3 weeks into my tour, relaxing in Rome, when suddenly I had a startling realization… Those thoughts were gone! Which ones? The ones that used to torment me daily. The ones I thought were an integral part of my identity. The thoughts I thought were me.

“What a liberation to realize that the ‘voice in my head’ is not who I am. Who am I then? The one who sees that.”
-Eckhart Tolle

In many ways, that moment was a core catalyst which planted the seed for Sensophy to sprout. In a sense (ophy), I had internalized what old-school philosophers and new-school scientists agree on: our minds are malleable. In fact, our brains are like a muscle which adapts to the habits we train it with. Thoughts are habits – habits of our mind.

One of the most ground-shattering psychological findings in the last two decades is that we can choose our thoughts. Yes, we can learn optimism and control the content of our consciousness.

2. THAT VOICE IS NOT YOURS.

The voice in your mind didn’t just magically manifest – it came from a combination of factors. One of the most influential determinants is how people spoke to you as a child, both directly and indirectly. Another influence is your environment which laid the foundation of your conscious and unconscious beliefs about what’s both realistic and ethical. For example, if your mom made squeamish faces and implied sex was sinful, it’d wouldn’t surprise me if you’re ashamed of your sexual desires and keep them secretive.

(And you wondered why your love life wasn’t rockin’…)

I once read a quote that went something like this…

“Watch how you talk to your children.
One day they will talk to themselves the same way.”

Any time you doubt yourself and notice you’re thinking self-limiting thoughts, ask yourself “Whose voice is this really?” Is it mom’s or pops’ or big sis’? It could also be another authoritative figure who was instrumental in your life’s development.

A quick note on doubt: Doubt is normal. In fact, everyone feels doubt. It’s a human universal. Our biggest doubt? Yup, it’s that we’re not good enough. And if we’re not good enough, we won’t be loved. Don’t doubt your doubts – we all get ‘em at times.

The voice in our head that we wrestle with isn’t just our immediate family.

For years I wrestled with the voice of masculinity. It told me to posture and position my body in “manly” ways: uncross my legs and keep my feet firmly planted while I protrude my chest making slow eye contact. I’ve wrestled with pop culture telling me that my favorite pair of jean shorts (jorts) we’re unequivocally out of style. Ditch ‘em. I’ve wrestled with societal norms which told me I needed to go to college soI could get a respectable job. The voice of religion and our family’s cultural lineage is a frequent visitor too.

3. STOP LETTING THE VOICE CONTROL YOU.

Here are a few things that can help you to gag that voice and take your life back.

  1. Awareness. When it comes to conquering your thoughts, consciousness is your biggest asset. Step in and question the voice! “Yo – who dat?” Do this daily – even hourly – if it seems appropriate. Make it a habit to challenge your thoughts when they feel self-limiting, constraining, and like they’re depleting your soul’s secret sauce. Seriously. It’s simple, just ask yourself, “Whose voice is that?”
  2. Journaling. Imagine your ideal day. If, in a year, your life could look any way you wanted it to, what would it look like? Now ask yourself why it doesn’t already look like that. Write down the answer you give yourself on paper and pay close attention to the answers. Again, whose beliefs are those? Where did they originate from? Are they rational? Are they facts or opinions? Are they objective or subjective?
  3. Meditation. Perhaps the most powerful force in mastering your mind is meditation. It cultivates your ability to put your mind where you want it, when you want it there. It helps you choose your thoughts, and to step in between life’s situations and your responses to them, allowing you to pick the most beneficial and empowering action. (I’ll be writing a how-to post on this soon.)
  4. Coaching. If you’re serious about succeeding, work with a coach.

“Your worst enemy cannot harm you as much as your own thoughts, unguarded. But once mastered, no one can help you as much.” -The Dhammapada

So, whose voice is in YOUR head?

And what’s it saying? What are some of the biggest challenges you face with it and how do you deal with them?

Leave a comment below. I’m looking forward to dispelling these illusions together :)

On Purpose,
Jacob

Jacob Sokol is committed to living an extraordinary life. He is a blogger and author of Living on Purpose – An Uncommon Guide to Finding, Living, and Rocking Your Life’s Purpose. 

Experience Life Magazine

Paying Relaxed Attention

The closer I get to birthing another baby, the more drawn I am to the practice of relaxed attention.

But what on earth is relaxed attention?

It means to be fully alert and awake to our present experience, and simultaneously totally at ease in our bodies and minds, and unencumbered by whatever happens to be arising.

Believe me, no small feat!

What I’ve witnessed over and over again in myself, clients, and friends is this sort of overwhelming hyper-vigilance that often descends once we’ve committed to a more mindful way of being. It’s as if we imagine that being conscious, more alert humans also translates as being edgier and tenser than the average bear.

Yet, in my psychic preparation for labor and beyond, I am continually reminding myself to find relaxation in the middle of heightened presence, while I sit, do yoga, and frankly do anything. It may seem sort of off the cuff and obvious now, but when the pain of labor begins, wow will this be the most poignant of tools!

Today, I entreat you, even if things are flowing beautifully, practice relaxing yourself from head to toe in the midst of your intense on-the-ball focus, and consciously melt deeper into gentle ease with each breath.

This sort of softening and receptivity will not in any way dampen your smooth-rolling acuity in the grandest of times, nor will it somehow eclipse your efficiency when things get rougher and tougher. In fact, quiet surrender is essential to the awakened state.

Go out there and see for yourself. Your job description is clear and simple: Inhale in steady relaxed attention, exhale in breezy mindfulness. Now do it, heck, live it again and again and again. Wake up and relax. Stay alert and be chill.

Need I say more?

This is my quintessential labor project. I am now less than five weeks from my due date and only a couple weeks from official maternity leave, so let’s all practice this softened awareness together while we have the chance.

I am so here, so ready, so open. Are you?

In sweet and relaxed attention,
Maggie

 

Maggie Lyon is a writer on wellness and spirituality, a motivational speaker, and a holistic lifestyle consultant. 

Experience Life Magazine

Forgiving Ourselves Just As We Are

If there was ever a time to cut myself some slack, it has arrived. I am just not able to be the perfectly humming, organized, and get-things-done machine I am used to being. Scratch that, I am not even close!

 

Being so pregnant has not only initiated major slowing down and doing less, but it has also asked me, heck, forced me, to look steadfastly at the ways I borderline tolerate my slower pace and productivity by shedding bright lights on the missing link: abundant love for, acceptance of, friendliness toward, and forgiveness of my waddling, napping, less-timely self.

I am hence using this post as my pledge towards greater nurture, greater willingness to say, hey this is who I am right now. Instead of falling into half-forgiving resign to my now necessary daily rest and my frequent bowls of vegan ice cream, I am letting myself delight in and downright lap them up!

My wish for you is exactly the same: PLEASE, no matter how much you feel yourself lagging, not measuring up, or just plain lolling, CELEBRATE it and you. Don’t just tolerate who you are today with a companion eye roll, but fully forgive and indulge yourself for not being the super-charged, fantasized notion of greatness that is made entirely of illusion anyway. You already are greatness incarnate. Believe me.

You’ll be surprised – I am certainly astonished every day – how life doesn’t fall apart at the seams when we are not on our most proactive game. The universe actually flows quite wonderfully without our anxious push.

We might as well nurture and act warmly towards ourselves as is then, no? And scrap the critical and intolerant voice in our heads, however sloth-like or behind the beat we are acting…

After all, there really isn’t any race to be won here. The Olympics are officially over. Go ahead and give yourself a break. Cut yourself some beautiful rippling slack. More than anything, be your very best, most adoring and open-armed friend. I’ll join you, right after I wake up from my afternoon snooze.

In sweetness and adoration,

Maggie

Maggie Lyon is a writer on wellness and spirituality, a motivational speaker, and a holistic lifestyle consultant. 

Experience Life Magazine

A Powerful Change of Mind

Most of our thoughts come and go without, well, much thought at all. They float in. They float out. Our patterns of our thinking become so familiar, and so subtle, that they often go unnoticed.

Typically, they grab our attention when our emotions flare up. On the bright side, we have inspired thoughts that spark ideas that immediately feel energizing. We feel an expansion that fills us and propels us forward in life. These positive thoughts unleash a cascade of neurochemicals that bolster our mood, attention, perception, motivation, action, memory and learning. (Clearly, a good thing!)

Other times our thoughts can be completely draining. They become filled with self-judgment, worry or some other strain of fear. We become trapped in negative thought patterns that release a completely different cascade of neurochemicals that dampen our mood, motivation and energy. (Clearly, breaking free from this habit is a good thing.)

We’ve all experienced it.  Thoughts powerfully impact our emotions, actions, health and well-being. What we sometimes fail to recognize is that our thoughts are within our control to direct. We have the power to change our mind, change our thoughts and change our experiences. So, why not positively change your mind for the better.

Here are two daily practices to help you ingrain positive thought patterns. Each is designed to help you create the positive emotions and experiences that naturally direct your thoughts in a positive direction.

You may have heard them before. But if you’re not actively putting them into practice, it’s like you don’t know. So, give them a try for a week. They are simple. They make you feel great. And they always work when applied.

• Positive Mental Rehearsal – Before you fall asleep, visualize how you want to experience you day tomorrow from beginning to end. See everything falling into place. Feel the positive emotions that fill your day.

• Highlights – Make a list of everything you enjoyed and appreciated about your day. Share your highlights with your family and friends over dinner.

“Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.” –Thich Nhat Hanh

Get good at living®,
Maryanne

 

Maryanne O’Brien is the founder of Live Dynamite, a life skills program that inspires, empowers and supports people to bring the best of who they are to everything they do.

Experience Life Magazine

Access Your Inner Wisdom

One of the most important relationships you’ll ever have is with yourself. By connecting with that wise being that dwells within you, you tap into your full power, energy and insight. You learn to access your higher self, move beyond rational thought and create with clarity.

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Your inner wisdom is innate and always present. When you learn to listen to your inner guidance you’ll find it is much easier to create positive changes in your life. It simply takes a willingness to slow down, move beyond your conscious mind and connect to your inner guidance.

We’ve all experienced it. Think for a minute. How many times have you wished you’d trusted your initial instincts? How often have you said to yourself something along the lines of, “I knew better,” or “When will I learn to listen to myself?”

Now, think of the situations where you did listen to your intuition. The times where you felt a strong, clear direction and followed it, despite what your mind was telling you. Remember how everything seemed to fall right into place? This is when you said, “I had a feeling.”

Through a simple daily practice, you’ll learn to quiet your personality, create space and open to your intuitive mind. You’ll experience consciously connecting your whole mind and personal energy with all of the fields of information available to you. You’ll discover how to listen within and discern what actions are in your best interest. And you’ll begin to recognize your higher guidance in all of its form – thoughts, emotions, impressions, words and images.

Here’s a daily practice that will help you to tune in and establish a connection with your higher self. As you practice this connection technique, you will gradually find your inner wisdom is with you more and more of the time.

• Get in a comfortable position. You can sit or lie down. Keep your spine straight. Close your eyes and relax your body. Take several deep breaths through your nose – gently and slowly. Feel the air move as it moves through your nostrils and fills your lungs. As you exhale, feel all of the tension and stress flow out of your body.

• Now, imagine that your breath is flowing in and out of your heart. Think of a time when you felt great happiness, love or peace. With each breath, feel those positive emotions grow and spread throughout your body. Keep visualizing and breathing this way for about a minute.

• Silently say, “I am connected to all of my inner wisdom. I am so grateful for this guidance that is always there to assist me.”

• Take a few more deep breaths, in and out of your heart, and establish a strong connection with your higher self.

• Consciously tune in throughout the day to strengthen your discernment and make decisions using all of your inner-knowing.

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Get good at living®,
Maryanne

Maryanne O’Brien is the founder of Live Dynamite, a life skills program that inspires, empowers and supports people to bring the best of who they are to everything they do.

Experience Life Magazine

Goodbye, Mother Guilt: The Secret to Staying Committed is Letting Go

If you’re like most moms, it takes more than good intentions to stay committed a fitness routine. Don’t let that occasional cookie get you down. What’s really standing in your way is an overdose of something much more toxic: Mother Guilt.

Overcoming Mother Guilt–maybe just locking her in the closet for an hour at a time–is essential if you want to carve out time to get fit. First you need to free up a little mental space so you are strong enough to make the appropriate compromises.

Lose the Preconceptions and Misconceptions
Start by identifying your preconceptions of motherhood; you’ll probably realize what you thought were parenting no-no’s might actually have a place in your life. For example, maybe it’s not so bad to let your kids watch television if it means you can jump on the treadmill or tune into FitTV for an hour. Junk food might be okay if it gets your kids into the jogging stroller. Perhaps you can miss a soccer practice to go for a quick power walk or run. The point is to challenge what you’ve accepted as parenting truths and get realistic about what life is really like.

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Take Inventory
Take some time to write down what’s important to you, what values you want to impart on your children (hopefully health and fitness are near the top of the list). Then, take inventory of one or two typical days and see where you’re actually spending your time. Like it or not, top entries for your day translate into your top priorities. Work to make health and fitness an actual, not just perceived, priority. Then, remember who is watching because, like it or not, we lead by example.

Protect Your Priorities
Once you’ve established what your actual priorities are, it’s easier to fight to protect them. Allocating the right amount of time to each of your priorities leads to a certain type of contentment; the alternatives are resentment and (you guessed it) guilt. Saying “no” to something that isn’t a priority starts to feel good when you use the time freed to attend to something that is. You’ve likely fine-tuned your ability to say “no” walking the aisles of Target with your kids. It’s time to put those skills to good use and clear a little clutter from your life.

Remember it’s a Balancing Act
Learning to say “no” is important because sometimes we have to say it to something that is a priority–including fitness. When life throws you a curve ball, make a decision on how you will react. If fitness doesn’t fit in during a particularly hard week, let it go. In making that decision, you stay in control–there is no resentment, no anger, no feeling like the victim. Keep those priorities in check and realize it’s okay to experience temporary imbalances. Sooner or later, you’ll find equilibrium again and your fitness will return.

If you’ve had a hard time maintaining a regular fitness routine in the past, try focusing some attention on the mental components first. Physical fitness requires mental training; knock Mother Guilt out of the picture and the possibilities are endless.

Laurie Lethert Kocanda is an endurance athlete, mom and co-author of Hot (Sweaty) Mamas: Five Secrets to Life as a Fit Mom.

Experience Life Magazine

Why MovNat Matters Even More Than You Think – Part 2

Enter MovNat
What struck me immediately when I came across MovNat almost a year ago is the similarity between the movement patterns they emphasize and the movement patterns/motor skill milestones children naturally and automatically cycle through in the first few years of life if they are allowed the freedom to do so. These are the patterns which are simultaneously helping generate the neural connections that will allow children to do those academic-type things easily and fluidly – like read, write, work out math equations, solve complex problems, communicate, etc.

The following movements are from the list posted on the MovNat website and they mirror, in macro form, what infants and toddlers will naturally strive to do: moving on all fours, walking, running, balancing, climbing, jumping, lifting, carrying, throwing, catching (some might even add swimming, since infants introduced to it take to it easily).

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Anyone who has had a child or spends time with small children will recognize these movements – they look different in an infant and toddler than they do in an 11-year-old or a 40-year-old – kind of like acorns are to saplings and then to oak trees – but, it’s all the same. And they are instinctual.

Long ago, the movements that naturally drive our development from the time we are infants would have been tied to our very survival, as well. We would have needed to access them on a daily basis, utilizing and refining our wide range of movement patterns and abilities throughout our life in a constantly challenging, sensorily-stimulating and often unpredictable natural environment.

It is no different today as far as our mind-body system is concerned – rich sensory environments, intelligent, complex movement, and a ‘fit’ mind go together. For life. Meaning – there is no natural movement expiration date. Play and movement outdoors and indoors is good for you – literally good for the whole picture of human health – for a lifetime.

Recent research actually shows that all of the sitting we do in these modern times is ‘killing’ us, shortening our life span. Studies on how sitting for long periods without movement breaks or access to recess and PE are learning killers and stress elevators for children are easily accessible with a quick Google search. It’s no different for adults. We’ve just adapted to it – poorly. Like the mother in my children’s class.

(For a short Humor Break that also introduces you to the science of movement and the brain, you might enjoy the clip “We Ignore How the Brain Works” by Dr. John Medina, neuromolecular biologist, brain researcher, and author.

But just in case you need more convincing that MovNat matters, I have some rat (and people) studies that might interest you ….

Your Brain on Movement: It’s All Good, But Sometimes It’s Even Better….
Dr. Marion Diamond conducted some seminal research out of Berkley in the 1980′s, demonstrating how different kinds of environmental input (enriched or impoverished) can alter the structure of the rat cerebral cortex and consequently, behavior.**

Her research shows that enriched environments can increase the dimensions of the cellular constituents of the cortex at ANY age from prenatal to extremely old age, (equivalent to 90-year-old people). Four days of enrichment can create statistically significant growth; just as four days of impoverishment can create statistically significant decreases in cortical development.

Dr. Diamond was pursuing her research before BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) was identified. If you are not familiar with BDNF, I offer you Dr. John Ratey’s short and sweet definition: “miracle gro for the brain.” Neurotrophins, such as BDNF, build and maintain neural circuitry, the infrastructure of the brain itself. In a nutshell, BDNF improves the function of neurons, encourages their growth, and strengthens and protects them against the natural process of cell death. And – key for us – it is released in excess when we elevate our heart rate (that’s code for ‘exercise’).

Once BDNF was discovered in the early 1990′s, an increasing number of researchers began investigating it. In 2007, a notable experiment showed that cognitive flexibility in human subjects improves after just one 35-minute treadmill session at either 60 or 70 percent of maximum heart rate. Cognitive flexibility is an important executive function. It reflects our ability to shift thinking and to produce a steady flow of creative thoughts and answers, as opposed to a regurgitation of rote responses.

In contrast, a control group of movie watchers showed no change in cognitive flexibility.
So, put rats and/or people in an impoverished environment (movie theater or rat cage without a wheel or other interactive object/obstacle) and we get no change in cognitive flexibility. Add running on a treadmill, wheel, or any simple aerobic activity and you get significant improvement.

This is great news, but what happens when we put our rats in an enriched environment? Enriched Environment (EE) is a code phrase for a situation where a wealth of stimulation in the form of physical activity, social interaction and challenging and intrinsic learning opportunities exist, such as might be encountered in the ‘rat race’ outside of the lab. These opportunities can be varied and controlled for different emphasis, but EE means more than just social opportunity or just aerobic opportunity.

Dr. William Greenough worked on multiple experiments with rats in various EEs starting in the 1980′s and ongoing. Repeated in various ways are experiments in which running rats are compared to others that were put in environments that encouraged them to engage complex motor skills, such as walking across balance beams, unstable objects, and elastic rope ladders. In one such study, after two weeks of training, the acrobatic/EE rats (vs. the rats who only had access to a wheel for running) had a 35% increase of BDNF in the cerebellum.

We are now in the realm of coordination of movement AND thought patterns. That’s even better. The wheel rats got increased benefit, which is wonderful, but it was the rats in the enriched environment, who experienced an increase focused in the cerebellum and hippocampus (memory and learning), Ratey, p 55.

In other words, hands (and paws) down, the enriched environment and complex movement wins when it comes to the most cognitive and physical benefits.***

Rich sensory environments, free exploration, and play come up ‘winning’ in another study – this one a longitudinal study on humans. One hundred and thirty three subjects were followed from infancy to adulthood. It was discovered that competency in adulthood stemmed from three major factors in the early learning environment: 1) rich sensory environments, both outdoors and indoors, 2) freedom to explore the environment with few restrictions, and 3) available parents that acted as consultants when the child asked questions.****

Imagine that.

“Learning is Experience. Everything Else is Just Information.” Albert Einstein
What begins to stand out more and more in the work we do and in the research we pore over are two key facts:

1. We are not fixed creatures – from birth to death we are capable of changing, of adapting. Neuronal growth is a constant gift – we have only to provide beneficial, rich sensory environments in which we can move, explore, and interact freely.

The most beneficial environment may just be right outside of our door and in our personal and extended communities: the classroom of nature and relationships. This lifelong classroom is free; its simplicity hides amazing complexity – an infinite playground of learning and growing for the human body, mind, and spirit. Add what you will to your life’s classroom, if it proves beneficial. We humans will ever be making tools – from the first rock used to smash a coconut open, to the spear, hammer, wagon, the car, the computer, etc. We keep making new tools and artifacts. Some improve our life and add significant value, others may serve in different ways that may not be as positive. In the end, you have to make wise choices for yourself and your family, because tools (technology) are not going away.

2. Our neuronal connections are always strongest and most active during sensorial learning experiences. And once a motor skill was mastered in these studies on learning and neural activity, much of the neural activity decreased.

This is why natural environments, constantly changing and presenting new challenges, movement and sensory, continue to be some of the very best for our brain. The more senses engaged – the more connections, and the more learning. Even fantastic playgrounds get mastered, but forests, rivers and mountains, oceans, coastlines, plains – all natural landscapes – are subject to the change of seasons, shifts of weather, the tread, wriggle & hop of beasts, insects, birds, worms, the sprouting of new flora, etc., displacing, rearranging. Constantly transforming, they invite us to do the same – to explore and engage wholeheartedly – to play – as children do. And so we continue to learn and grow. There is always something different – a new path to travel, a new obstacle to overcome, a new problem to solve, a new horizon to unlock – not only with our body and mind, but with our spirit, as well.

The Perfect Combo
On the final afternoon of the workshop, we switched to an indoor environment. Clifton divided us into two groups and instructed us to create a combo that could be practiced indoors using five of the basic MovNat movements. I still don’t know if he divided us up the way he did on purpose or if it was just coincidental, because the results were telling.

Jen is a former rugby star, super strong and dedicated to fitness. On her team were two personal trainers and a Crossfitter. On our team, were me (a yoga teacher/kids movement specialist), my business partner, Wendy, who works in the same fields, and a Crossfitter.

Jen’s team hit their five movements quickly. They were strong and solid: lifting, carrying, jumping, climbing, and crawling.

Our team (remember the Crossfitter was outnumbered, 2-1) focused on balancing, precision movements, jumping, crawling, tumbling and then finished it off with a med ball slam (thanks to our Crossfitter).

When we stepped back to look at what we had created and to comment, the preferences of each team were clear. Jen’s group created a tight, sharp strength-focused course. Our team (overwhelmed by yoga types used to playing with kids), created a balletic, flowing course that went over the movement limit (because we were having so much fun) and focused on slower and precise movement, with Adam’s med ball slam ending it all with a bang.

As Jen tweeted to me later, “Together, we would have designed the perfect combo.”

liz & jen monkeybars.jpg

Balance and destabilization, randomness, integration and disintegration, sensory diversity. Stepping through Team Jen’s combo reminded me of how I felt discovering a new patch of woods to explore when I was a child. The unfamiliarity was exciting – my body and my mind were working as a unit and I had to use muscles in a combination/sequence I was both unfamiliar with and that called on more strength than I normally engage.

My team’s combo made Jen and her colleagues slow down, be more aware of their environment and use more control in varied ‘terrains’, which was also a less familiar and predictable training experience for them, and so challenged them in new ways.

Whatever the differences between our styles, our preferences, what we thought we should be good at, and what we thought would make us the strongest, the best, etc. … it all became unimportant as we moved through each other’s sequences. The learning experience was so sensorily full – the body, mind, and personality all engaged in the challenge of the experience, in the particularly absorbing joy of learning and mastering. Everything else falls away.

I’m all for immersing oneself in any kind of fitness or movement modality that calls to you: Kettle Bells, Crossfit, Yoga, Pilates, Martial Arts, Dance, Tai Chi, etc…there are so many. We tend to fix on what calls us, though. And as much as we believe we are open to experiencing other things, there is a tendency to be tugged along a narrow path by our personal inclinations – for strength or marathoning or Martial Arts or Eastern practices, etc.

The foundational movements are a seed planted in us, though, for a reason – optimal development reasons, optimal lifelong physical and cognitive health reasons. Nature is the cradle we have tested these movements in over millions of years of evolution, and they sustained us, meeting Nature’s sometimes playful, sometimes indifferent, and often challenging randomness with amazing adaptability, physical and cognitive; with curiosity, wonder, and creativity. Over and over again.

Do what the spirit moves you to do, by all means, but I would also offer this: consider our natural movement foundations, how they tie in with the health of our whole human system, and how it all fits into this lifelong health and happiness puzzle we are still piecing together. And if you’re intrigued, take a closer look at MovNat, find a workshop or make one happen. Experience, as you know, trumps intellectualizing any day of the week.

Liz Bragdon teaches yoga and movement exploration for all ages.

Note:
A special thanks to my business/creative partner, Wendy Piret. She quotes John Ratey by heart, has an uncanny ability to hold large amounts of fascinating research data in her head, and she often says what I mean to say before I say it. Her help with this post was invaluable.

**Basic Info on Dr. Diamond (http://ib.berkeley.edu/people/faculty/profile/more/mdiamond.php

***(For more information on Dr. Greenough and the results and potential significance of EE studies, visit http://www.dana.org/media/detail.aspx?id=7142). Wikipedia also has a very basic summary of EE research and its implication for primates & humans. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Environmental_enrichment_(neural

****Thomas, Alexander & Stella Chess. Genesis and Evolution of Behavioral Disorders: From Infancy to Early Adult Life. American Journal of Psychiatry, 141(1), pp. 1-9. http://psycnet.apa.org/psycinfo/1986-30307-001