AuthorMyotopia

Secret Sauce: Part 1

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Firefighters have a uniquely challenging job. They have to move powerfully and efficiently with little time or space to warm-up, move unbalanced, heavy loads even from awkward positions, and perform strenuous, repetitive motions over years of service. This leads to orthopedic injuries, such as shoulder impingement syndrome or chronic back pain. Orthopedic injuries such as these were the leading cause of worker’s compensation claims for a Fire Department in Southern California.

My business partner, Trevor St. John, and I were brought in to consult with the fire department and work directly with 110 firefighters. Our brief: could we lower the number of orthopedic injuries suffered? To address this query, we developed a unique program for firefighters called Preparation for Chaos (PFC).

After a year of using PFC, the fire department reported an 80% decrease in the number of days lost due to injury and a 65% decrease in workmen’s compensation claims.

I’d like to let you in on the secret sauce. (more…)

Postactivation Potentiation: Built-in Neuromuscular Tuning

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Postactivation potentiation (PAP) is a normal, regularly occurring feature of a dynamic, healthy neuromuscular system. One does not need an exercise professional, massage therapist, or any other specialist to elicit PAP any more than one needs a doctor in the room in order for blood to clot in a wound. However, with an understanding of the characteristics and purposes of PAP, professionals can use the PAP to enhance strategies for helping clients reach their goals. This is the first in a series of articles that will explore PAP and how it may be used to understand and manage aspects of exercise programming and design.
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A Culture of Helpfulness

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When it comes to problem solving and improving ideas, products and services, Margaret Heffernan1 presents evidence that a culture of helpfulness “routinely outperforms individual intelligence”. As she eloquently describes this culture of helpfulness, she notes that it is not for the faint of heart because it will include plenty of conflict. But as she says, “Conflict is frequent because candor is safe.” This is a culture that I’d like to cultivate.

I’d like to invite you to help my colleagues and I create a culture of helpfulness. An environment where we all have a chance to share our ideas. And instead of being fearful that someone will shoot them down, we will have a supportive community who will help us understand and test the the limits, greatness, and necessary improvements needed to make our ideas viable. We may even find that some of our ideas need to be let go, but that will be a safe, fun thing to explore! Here’s how we can do it.

Here’s the idea: “Helpfulness means I don’t have to know everything, I just have to work among people who are good at getting an giving help” (Heffernan). So, first, we need a large, diverse community of generous, honest, resourceful people, like you!

Second, “What drives helpfulness, is people getting to know each other”(Heffernan). So, spend some time on the MyoTopia Instagram or Facebook feeds and website. Comment freely. Lets get to know each other. And when you have a chance come and study with me.

These social connections lead to the next important ingredients to a powerful culture of helpfulness: candor and open communication. As I mentioned earlier, conflict is a necessary, healthy part of this culture. Heffernan says it the best:

This isn’t about chumminess and it’s no charter for slackers because people who work this way tend to be kind of scratchy, impatient, absolutely determined to think for themselves because that’s what their contribution is. Conflict is frequent because candor is safe. And that’s how good ideas turn into great ideas. Because no idea is born fully formed. It emerges a little bit as a child is born: kind of messy and confused but full of possibilities. And its only through the generous contribution, faith, and challenge that they achieve their potential.

So settle into the scratchiness, camaraderie, and wonder and lets get this culture going so that we can get out ideas out there, clean them up, nurture, and test them. Even ideas that don’t pan out are valuable learning opportunities. No fear, candor is safe (That’s going on a T-shirt).


  1. https://www.ted.com/talks/margaret_heffernan_why_it_s_time_to_forget_the_pecking_order_at_work

Training Your Body is Training Your Mind

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I enjoy moving my body in a variety of ways: trail running, climbing, weight training, biking, mountaineering, playing games, etc. I find it satisfying to experience the challenges that these activities present and the strength, speed, agility, and skill required to manage those challenges. Some days the challenges feel more inspiring than others, but the idea is to always strive for improvement in some way. About 9 years ago, I began to wonder if there were ways to train the mind to be more flexible, creative, pleasurable, and less irritable. To my delight, I found several wonderful tools to train my mind. What surprised me was that training my mind made me question how I trained my body. I began to wonder if the “more is better”, “always strive for improvement”, “good things come to those that suffer”, “go hard or go home” mentality that accompanied my physical training was necessary to achieve my goals. I also wondered if there are consequences to training within that context.

Then something clicked for me. Here’s what I mean. The brain is very much like skeletal muscle in that it adapts according to how it is or is not being used. The parts of your brain that you use a lot get bigger, richer, and more fortified. The basic structures of the brain (neurons) can change size and how they connect to each other based on when and how much they are used. That means if your circumstances trigger the “I’m stressed out” parts of your brain a lot, the areas and structures responsible for the “I’m stressed out” experience will get bigger and more efficient. By the same token, if your circumstances do not trigger the “I feel great” parts of your brain, “I feel great” areas will get smaller and less efficient. So there seems to be an anatomical reason for why regularly practicing positive thoughts tends to make us feel better for longer periods of time and why when we are sad or stressed for long periods of time, it is hard to feel better. But wait, there’s more.

It turns out that the same parts of the brain that are active in cognitive function – which include the emotional centers of the brain – are active during movement. In other words, exercise not only trains the musculoskeletal and cardiovascular systems, movement also trains the brain. Specifically, exercise trains the brain to think, feel, and perceive in the way that is chosen (by default or intension) during the exercise. In this way, the mental processes that are active during exercise (including your emotions, attitudes, perspectives) are being encouraged to develop. The more we practice those mental processes linked to the physical exercise, the more our neuroanatomy shifts toward the structures needed for those processes. In addition, muscles contracting during exercise produce hormones that, among other things, travel to the brain to help the neurons grow and form the connections needed to fortify the practiced experience. In other words, as we exercise the body, muscles produce hormones that provide the opportunity to the shape the brain. As the brain changes, so does the mind (and vice versa). What this means is that there is no separation of body and mind. Your mind is being trained as you move your body whether you know it or not.

We have a plethora of opportunities to train the continuum of body and mind. In meditation, we are mindfully still. What about mindful motion, especially in challenging physical environments like exercise? Exercise is a huge opportunity to train the mind to be supple, creative, open, resilient, generous, and compassionate even under challenging circumstances. How can we orchestrate salubrious interactions between the continuum of non-physical mind and physical body? By strategically placing our minds as specifically as we place our limbs and move our joints. By paying attention to the pulse of the mind with the same awareness as the pulse of our hearts. Making choices about our attitudes and emotions during exercise is just as important as proper physical form and posture.

This continuum of body and mind training is typically associated with yoga or Tai Chi; however, training the mind is always happening while training the body. No matter the type of exercise (Pilates, power lifting, weight training, hiking, running, etc.) you can choose to focus on perspectives that are life-affirming, positive, and compassion toward self and others. For example, contracting the muscles that extend the spine can be associated with dignity and self-respect. Positioning your feet, knees, and hips in preparation for a squat could be paired with thinking about the way you relate to your community and your commitment to your community. During a workout we can strategically create opportunities to condition our minds as specifically as we are conditioning our bodies.

That’s a Mighty Fine Brain You Have There. What is it For?

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There are a growing number of neuroscientists who believe that our brains are big and complex compared to other species because our brains support a complexity of motion unrivaled by other species. Neuroscientist Dan Wolpert of University of Cambridge, puts it like this, “I would argue that we have a brain for one reason and one reason only. And that’s to produce adaptable and complex movement. There is no other reason to have a brain. […] Things like sensory, memory and cognitive processes are all important, but they are only important to drive movement.”

If we have brains so that we can dexterously and creatively move, it seems to follow that muscle and its ability to contract efficiently becomes a focal point of all of the processes of the brain. Indeed, motion can involve all regions of the brain, including the sensory, motor, cognitive, memory, and emotional centers of the brain. The relative amount of activity in these areas depends on several variables of the motion. The brain and the systems with which it interacts are orchestrating the use and necessary support of the contractile-connective tissue continuums, i.e. your muscles. When this orchestration is executed optimally, we feel alert, strong, capable, compassionate, and present. Furthermore, specific types of movement initiate hormone cascades that prepare the brain for learning, tune emotional responses, and train memory. Victorio Gallese, Professor of Human Physiology at the University of Palma italy goes so far as to say, “I move, therefore I think”.

I have become, in the words of Professor Walpert,  a “motor chauvinist”. More specifically, a mindful motion chauvinist. If you want to get smarter, shift your attitude(s), transform your body, and change your world, get moving. But not just in any old way. The number of failed diets and exercise programs and the general trend towards more sedentary lifestyles, indicate that traditional exercise models are not compelling or do not work for most people or over a lifetime. There is, however, compelling evidence that mindful motion is the key. To explore and strategically use mindful motion, I am compiling a list Essential Variables of Salubrious Movement. Here are a few of them.

1.) Have fun!
However you choose to mindfully move your body, be sure that it is something that you enjoy. You do not have to be skilled at the activity, it is more important that you simply enjoy it. If you do not know what you enjoy, experiment. Try out a few activities and note how many times you smile, laugh, or feel uplifted. If you need to hire someone to make sure you show up, that is not a good indicator a enjoyment.

2.) Choose a sustainable activity (even if it is seasonal).
Painful or uncomfortable activity is not sustainable, so find something that feels good to you. Your friend feels great when they run, but your knees hurt every time you try. For you, running -at this time- is not a sustainable activity. Keep trying out different things until you find one that immediately feels workable and painless.

3.) Pace yourself.
To reach your health and fitness goals, your body must adapt to the stimulation imposed by your activities. Consider doing just a little bit more than you did yesterday. Add a little more time, motion, or intensity. Too much too soon is never better.

4.) Try to find something to appreciate and celebrate about yourself as you perform your activity.
Focus on those attributes, use them well. As disparaging thoughts and attitudes arise, bring your mind back to the activity and see if you can rediscover what you like about it and what you bring to it.

There are an infinite number of ways to be mindful while moving; from the choice of the motion to what you are thinking about while you move. As we move more mindfully, there will be some powerful changes happening on the inside which will be radiantly projected by your smile on the outside.

A quick word about CNP

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Comprehensive Neuromuscular Preparation (CNP) is a fully customized, interdisciplinary process that strategically enhances the performance of the neuromuscular system. It is an assessment and exercise progression that develops the strength, flexibility, and control the client needs to be, feel, and perform at their best. Exercise scientists have shown that achieving the benefits of exercise depends on specific changes in the neuromuscular system. Without these changes, exercise is a frustrating and often futile endeavor. So my colleagues and I from around the country scoured the literature to find the best ways to stimulate the necessary changes in the neuromuscular system. Our examination of the literature and years of investigation led to the development of CMP. It is at the core of the programs that I design to help my clients get what they want from their body and mind. The FNS series addresses the theories, research, investigation, and application of each of CNP’s elements.

Read This First!

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“Authority is not truth, when it comes to Science.”1 Dr Lisa Feldman Barrett.

Welcome to the FNS articles and thank you for your interest. You should know that:

  • I do not claim to be the authority on anything. I am simply sharing my current understanding of the material. Feedback that will help me better understand, communicate, and/or utilize the presented ideas and information is welcome.
  • Footnotes like this2are clickable. Try it. They offer clarification or further explanations of the topic or provide the reference for the information.
  • I will provide references for the ideas, facts, and figures that I share.
  • I’ll make sure to tell you when I am making something up, sharing an anecdote, taking a guess, or hypothesizing.
  • If there are things that you would like to know more about, I’d like to hear from you.

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  1. Campbell, G. (2017, July 31). Brain Science Podcast 135 [Audio blog post]. Retrieved October 12, 2017, from http://brainsciencepodcast.com

  2. That was easy!

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