Just like any participant in the dance of nature, humans tend toward the path of least resistance, and our culture has cleverly begun abandoning the necessity for robust movement as a means of survival. Modern-day hunting and gathering has transformed into sitting and staring—a devolution that has our biology confused.
Physical movement is as crucial to assimilating nutrients as chewing—the expansive movements utilized to climb a tree to snag an apple release the perfusion of blood into the deepest joint structures, organs, and muscle fibers. The full muscular range of motion as our eyes gaze over the horizon, the shunting of blood to and from the viscera to skeletal muscles during temperature changes, and even our flight-or-flight fear response—all these are beautiful byproducts of becoming moved by our natural environment.
Unfortunately, our culture appears to be experiencing a technological hangover from too often choosing the path of absolutely no resistance. The more tech-savvy navigation toys we create, the more impoverished our own internal technology becomes. Welcome to a world inundated with panacea pharmaceutical solutions to treat bedsores, without exploring how to get people out from under the sheets, naturally. It is every individual’s responsibility to participate in guiding the ship of mankind—so let’s explore some options!
Cold Is Your Friend
Let your systems flex their thermoregulatory potential by exposing yourself to the elements more often. Instead of immediately retreating to the cover of central air, embrace the perils of a hot or cold day. A study at the University of Arizona showed that exposure to high heat can have antidepressant effects and can help to “reset” our body’s temperature regulation. Depressed individuals have the tendency of raised body temperatures, but they don’t sweat effectively to cool down. The same way inflammation can impact mood, so can possessing a wacky thermostat.
We also find a similar up-regulation of our body’s nervous, cardiovascular, and immune systems when we’re exposed to cold temperatures! The next time you’re feeling a bit uncomfortable, instead of immediately escaping it, try to explore that sensation. With the right intention and inspiration, you can, in an instant, reset your perception of what is good and what is bad.
Rather than constantly depending on external solutions like a thermostat or a puffy jacket, investigate your ability to heat your body from the inside out. Go for a jog, do some push-ups, practice breathing, throw on some music, and do a little jig! And change your perception of cold temperatures, looking to them as opportunities to become a more-efficient organism. You will reap the benefits of increased immune function, feel-good neurotransmitters, and overall ability to remain comfortable in a wider variety of environments.
Hack Away the Superfluous
Just like with being too hot or too cold, as soon as movement becomes uncomfortable, it’s easy to call quits—instead of savoring the sensation of your effort’s up-regulatory benefits. Vladimir Zatsiorsky, a professor of exercise physiology and exercise science, estimates that folks generally tap into about 65 percent of their muscular potential, and that with practice powerlifters are turning about 80 percent of the lights on.
We are all walking around with the potential strength of a gorilla on steroids—a potential only some individuals realize. Michelangelo insightfully said, “I saw the angel in the marble and carved until I set him free.” Yes, your potential is wrapped up in the stone of limitations, instilled by cultural normalcy, and it’s going to take a bit of sweat and precision to shed the rubble.
Don’t worry about what you can add, look at how you can remove the superfluous and refine the skills you already possess. You already have a big ol’ block of stone, your body, so start carving away—instead of attaching new stones only to see them fall away, like so many fads do.
Come back to refining the range of motion, focusing on each individual joint, or reassess what it means to squat with support from head to toe. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of aikido—a Japanese martial art—was notorious for teaching the intricacies of seemingly simple techniques, and his bolder students would sometimes complain that they had been doing the same technique for hours. Ueshiba would reply: “You idiot! Each and every one was different. When you perceive the difference, that is when you will be making progress in aikido.”
All In Your Head
Even something as objective-seeming as our sense of fatigue is a learned pattern, and a lack of boundary-pushing practice will permit it to close in on us. As Francis Bainbridge said: “The sense of fatigue is often a very fallacious index of the working capacity of the body. There is not necessarily any correspondence between the subjective feeling of fatigue and the capacity of the muscles to perform work.”
How much of our perceived sense of how we’re feeling is congruent with our actual physiological potential? Everyone has had the experience of a second wind, or that light feeling we get at the last lap of a race. Generally, fatigue can be linked to the expected duration of the exercise we’re attempting, and then during competition we often can push harder than during practice. Tim Noakes calls this the “central governor” of endurance: “Fatigue is not a physical state of the body but rather an emotion that is used by the brain to regulate exercise stress.”
To maximize our potential, each of us should step back and examine whether our current state is a habituation of previous suboptimal patterns, or whether we’ve found a congruency with our inner potential and our external output. Don’t just do this once, the meditation should become a daily experiment—and there’s no better time to start than right now. Explore putting yourself in new surroundings, finding different training partners, or adding any new stimulus to your day, in all these scenarios pay attention to how you respond. You may find that by shifting your routines, with time you’ll discover a new appreciation for what you had.
Laziness begets laziness—and this is no exception, as the same is true with every other emotional or physical state. Work to put some intention into stretching your limitations just a smidgen in every instance for a month, and see what comes of it. Too busy to make eye contact and smile with that person in the checkout line? Stretch a bit and make it happen. The water a bit colder than your liking? Force yourself to make the heroic decision and jump in!
Embrace awkward moments instead of immediately reaching for alcohol in order to grease the social experience, or instead of staring deeply into the bionic eye of your cellphone—both are a form of escapism. Next time you feel lonely in this modern stimulus overload, investigate this sensation and recognize it for what it is, instead of just changing the channel.
Avoidance of our less-than-preferred emotional states has the short-term effect of quelling the feeling, but long-term, the impacts of missing the lessons offered by the discomfort can be terrible. Instead of sitting at home and being a social media butterfly, force yourself into uncomfortable situations, like taking a dance class or joining a social meet-up.
What is the purpose of the continual bombardment of advertisements, occupying our peripheral stimulus and dictating to us what we should own? And is there any merit being perpetually fed images of others having a better time than you on social media? This turns into a competition of what Alan Watts calls “my game is more interesting than your game,” and it seems to lead to an inherent dissatisfaction with the fortune we have in front of us. We are all in this thing together, and it would be in humanity’s favor to drop the “Facebook perfect” facade and expose a bit more vulnerability.
Technology Works for You
No doubt, modern technology is amazing and indispensable—and needs to be wielded with great responsibility. Like with any tool, we can use it to build a mind-expanding structure or a dangerous weapon. The outcome depends on the sophistication and intention of the user. Fortunately, we can diminish the punitive consequences of misused technology with a few simple tips.
- Start habitually exercising your cellphone’s airplane mode, whenever you can. If it’s not necessary, there’s not much logic in continually blasting your crotch or face with EMFs (electromagnetic frequencies).
- Get yourself a pair of headphones for phone calls instead of microwaving the side of your brain.
- Use phone calls as an opportunity to go for a walk and explore your own movement practice. Stack health-promoting factors in every instance, and it will add up!
- Start respecting the natural rhythms of daylight and darkness. Our body operates on circadian rhythms that are queued by blue light emitted by the screen you’re looking at right now. Get yourself some mood lights and blue-blocking glasses, and set a curfew for screen gazing.
Start capitalizing on every moment, and make sure technology works for you, instead of the other way around.
3 Ueshiba M, Stevens J. The Art of Peace. Shambhala Publications (2007).
5 Noakes TD. “Fatigue is a brain-derived emotion that regulates the exercise behavior to ensure the protection of whole body homeostasis.” Frontiers in Physiology 3 (2012): 82.