Mind Fitness Skills for Challenging Times: Non-Judging
This week, we focused on how to respond to discomfort and pain, and the “skill” of Non-Judging. Here is the audio recording.
This week, we focused on how to respond to discomfort and pain, and the “skill” of Non-Judging. Here is the audio recording.
Here is the audio recording for 26 April forum.
Here is the audio recording for our 19 April Forum. (Scroll to 15:20 to begin listening.)
Last week, we explored the three phases of the Fitness Cycle:
To build physical fitness, we have to stress our bodies through exercise. A well-designed training program prescribes the type of stress, as well as the intensity and the duration of that stress.
But after the stress, we need adequate recovery to adapt and improve. If we fail to recover adequately before the next training session, we don’t gain fitness. Instead, we lose fitness from overtraining. We have to balance stress with recovery if we want the improvement of adaptation.
Stress is the essential vector for building fitness. This is true for the strength, health and endurance of physical fitness, and it is also true for life fitness, for growth in every area of our lives. We grow and mature, we gain insight and wisdom through the same cycle of stress, recovery and adaptation.
No stress: No growth.
Our health and happiness is contingent upon a healthy and functional relationship with stress.
Beyond strength and endurance, a daily practice of physical exercise can also help us to develop mind fitness skills. This is a way to really maximize the return on your aerobic investment. These mind fitness skills empower us to respond and adapt to the stressors we experience in our daily lives. Every challenging situation in our lives offers an opportunity to build fitness, if we are capable and willing to respond to the stress we experience, rather than reacting to it or trying to avoid it.
The stressors we experience in our daily lives can be physical, mental and emotional. Each of us is unique in our capacity to respond and adapt to each type of stress – physical, mental emotional. And the mind fitness skills we are exploring in this series are not just for mental stress. They function in our relationship with emotional and physical stress as well.
Last week, we looked at one of these mind fitness skills – Beginner’s Mind.
Sounds absurd, yes? In these challenging times, we need knowledge, facts, expertise. We need answers!!
As a Mind Fitness Skill, Beginner’s Mind does not ignore or refute knowledge, facts, or expertise.
But remember: All knowledge, insights and expertise were built on the foundation of a Beginner’s Mind. All knowledge, all discoveries began with a quest. All solutions began with a question.
That is… they began with not knowing!!
To gain wisdom and insight, we start with curiosity and complete engagement of our senses, our observations and our feelings. Knowledge begins with an open and curious mind.
Curiosity, questioning, the willingness to not know the answer – these are all courageous qualities of Beginner’s Mind.
This passage from Zen says it all: “In the mind of the beginner, there are infinite possibilities. In the mind of the expert, there are very few.”
In these challenging times, we do absolutely need to rigorously engage our scientific knowledge and our common sense. Just remember though, each discovery in science began with not knowing.
To live brilliantly, we need to fully engage all of our senses in each moment so that we accurately perceive what is arising here and now. The curiosity of Beginner’s Mind stimulates and piques our senses. The assuredness of the Expert’s Mind diminishes our present-moment experience. The expert is constrained by assumptions. The beginner is free of assumptions.
Let’s turn now to something that is quite challenging for us to face, something in the forefront of everyone’s experience right now:
Uncertainty is often synonymous with fear. What’s going to happen to us? What does the future look like? Fear is a natural reaction to uncertainty. Uncertainty is a prevailing source of stress and anxiety for us.
And right now, all of humanity is sharing a common source of uncertainty – this pandemic. From war-torn Syria to the “stable” US, we are all in this one together. The people in unstable countries, the refuges, they have more experience and more skills for responding to uncertainty than we do!
Our health, our financial well-being, our daily activities and lifestyles are at stake. This pandemic does not favor or discriminate.
We are isolated and physically distant from one another. Some of us are not even allowed to go outside and exercise.
When we experience change and uncertainty, we naturally seek security and comfort. We look for ways to distract ourselves.
Is there another way to engage with uncertainty?
On the flip-side of the unknown and the insecurity, uncertainty is also a gateway to opportunity. I want to share with you an athletic example from my life:
In May of 1999, I qualified as a local Big Island resident for Hawaii Ironman. It would be my third triathlon ever. From the moment I qualified, I felt the dread of uncertainty: One hundred and forty miles? How is this going to turn out? Am I going to finish this?
I wanted the comfort of reassurance. So I began to train as much as I could, along with the 50 hours a week I was working as a coffee farmer. But no amount of training brought me comfort and reassurance. Every Saturday, I rode the bike course just to convince myself that I could still do it. I ran and biked and swam as much as I could. With no rest days. And then…
Thirty-five days before the race, I woke up on a Sunday morning. Something was terribly wrong with my body. I could barely get out of bed. I felt like I was about to die. My chest hurt. I was terrified. I had inflicted severe damage to the endocrine system of my body in my attempt to get beyond the uncertainty.
Now I had just thirty-five days to recover enough so that I did not die, yet train just enough to possibly finish the event. I’ve never felt so scared, so vulnerable.
This experience exposed the part of me that wanted to “solve” uncertainty to eliminate it from my life. In hindsight, I realize that I had created a strong link between uncertainty and fear. I realize now that, for me, uncertainty and fear were synonymous.
But there is more to uncertainty – and change – than fear and insecurity. If I had avoided facing the uncertainty of Ironman, I would not have completed that quest. I had to be patient and trusting to stay with with the quest of ironman long enough to get to the answer – the finish line.
All of us have committed to do something in our lives that we felt uncertain about. All of us have experienced the quest before. As we approach that day, that event, that duty, we have a choice:
In times of uncertainty, fear can be a powerful resource. A fuel to awaken and stimulate and direct our awareness and attention to what is arising here and now. Certainly we can and should consider, anticipate and prepare for what may occur in the future. But we can only respond in this present moment.
We can’t know ahead of time how things will turn out. We have to give up that hope.
We cannot conquer or stop our fears. And we cannot eliminate change and uncertainty from our lives. Really!
If you knew right now exactly how the rest of your life is going to unfold so there is no uncertainty, no surprise, how much would you actually invest in your life today? Why bother?
With Beginner’s Mind, we find a way to approach uncertainty as opportunity. Young children seem to be more comfortable with uncertainty than adults.
They are much more familiar with the unfamiliar.
Their senses are wide open. They learn and respond quickly. Granted, they don’t have the wisdom we distill from past experience as we grow. But they are not constrained by ingrained patterns of behavior we may develop as adults that won’t help us to respond with innovation and brilliance to the change and uncertainty we experience now.
These challenging and uncertain times require brilliant response, not old patterns.
Let’s look at another skill that can empower our relationship with uncertainty:
Flexibility is an essential part of physical fitness. Flexibility gives us a greater range of motion, fluidity and ease. Ah, freedom of movement!
We can train flexibility for our minds, just as we train flexibility for the muscles, tendons, ligament and joints of our bodies.
Mind flexibility also gives us a greater range of movement, of adaptability. With flexibility of mind, we are less rigid and we can respond more articulately to uncertainty and change.
You can train body and mind flexibility together. Devote 15-30 minutes to some calm and mindful stretching. Turn off the media for this – no podcast or netflix in the background. Just you in your body, and your mind. Calm, soothing music is fine.
Find static stretches – that is, stretches that you can hold for at least 30 seconds – that are appropriate for your current flexibility. Choose stretches you can relax into.
Slowly ease into each stretch until you feel tension in the muscles and connective tissues. Now, close your eyes and hold that stretch as you focus on the sensations you feel. Breathe slowly in and out. If you can, breathe through your nose, with your tongue resting just above your teeth along the gum line.
With your eyes closed, direct your breathing to the stretching tissues. Stay with the sensations you feel and relax into the stretch. With practice you can use this breathing technique to relax the tension in the muscles and connective tissues and lengthen them.
Obviously, your breath is not going directly to the muscles and connective tissues. However your mind-directed breathing is a technique to direct signals through your neural pathways to relax the stretching tissues.
When you do this for your body, it does affect your mind. You can use calm physical stretching to become more flexible in how you respond to the tensions and anxieties of uncertainty. When we tighten up mentally, we loose fluidity, agility, and range of mental motion. Our range of motion for making decisions is limited. We are limited and stiff. Often, a tight mind leads to tight circulation and higher blood pressure.
This body-mind connection isn’t limited to just flexibility. I have use mindful exercise training of my body – including flexibility, balance, stability, strength, endurance and even speed training – to also enhance the fitness of my mind.
You can affect change in your mind through your body. This is the essence of yoga. In fact, the word yoga means yoke or union. The union of body and mind.
Flexibility training gives us greater freedom, agility and articulation as we respond to uncertainty – physically, mentally, emotionally.
We can be less tense and more fluid. We can be less stiff and more agile.
This blog and the interactive webcast series I offer each Sunday are derived from my book series “Kaizen-durance, Your Aerobic Path to Mastery”, especially Book Three.
I acknowledge Jon Kabat-Zinn, Founder of Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction as a source of inspiration and guidance in this webcast and blog series on Mind Fitness Skills for Challenging Times.
I wish you and your family health, well-being and brilliance.
In the first offering of this series, I introduced Three Tips to Enlighten You the Through the Tunnel of Winter:
For this offering I’ve produced a short video to share with you:
I demonstrate the most essential element of the efficient and kinetically intelligent athlete. It will optimize both your physical and mental performance. I call it the
I wish you health, harmony and clear vision for 2020!!
Winter can be a long, dark, cold tunnel for endurance athletes who focus on warm weather sports: swim, bike or run. The guiding light of next season’s goal races is a long way down that tunnel, just a pin hole. So…
Abe Lincoln said, “Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.” That’s four hours of prep time before two hours of performance. So, how do you sharpen your axe for the 2020 season? Focus on “P.A.G.E.S.”
Let me explain:
Conventional training methods emphasize building aerobic base as you travel through that long dark tunnel of winter. Monotonous as this can be, you need to avoid the “auto-pilot” of junk miles if you really want to
Base training is your Golden Opportunity!!
As you roll through the tunnel of winter building that endurance base – on the trainer, the treadmill, and in the pool – make each and every stroke and stride count: Craft each one as “P.A.G.E.S.” as you can:
Every time you train, do more than “hit the numbers”. Improve your technique. This maximizes the return on your training investment: A strong aerobic system driving poor “junk miles” technique leads to injury, not maximum performance.
Book One of the Kaizen-durance series guides you to “sharpen your axe” as you build your aerobic base. No additional time training. It’s your introduction to PAGES.
As an endurance athlete, you train three physiologic systems:
The focus of your aerobic base training is… well, it’s your aerobic system. This is essential. This is your engine. But what about those efficient “PAGES” strokes and strides that propel you from start to finish? What system do you need to train to maximize the potential of your aerobic capacity?
You must train your neural system. The slogan that headlines the back cover of each book in my new Kaizen-durance series:
Our “art” as endurance athletes? Those PAGES strokes and strides. You can improve your PAGES for decades beyond your aerobic prime. You do this when you also focus on neural training. Now you are accruing wisdom as an athlete:
This is the key to maximize return on your aerobic investment – both short term and long term.
Book Two of the Kaizen-durance series is titled “A Guide to Neural Fitness”. While everyone else is struggling through the monotonous tunnel of winter with a narrow focus on aerobic base and “hitting the numbers”, you’ll expand exponentially by building your neural fitness while you build that aerobic base.
Two for one!
You can only perform to the potential of your weakest link. If you narrowly focus on your aerobic fitness, but your technique is weak, you won’t realize your potential. Technique training is neural training.
You may score high for your age in a VO2 max test. But if your mind is constantly wandering or easily upset, your body-mind interface is weak and your aerobic capacity squandered. Mind fitness forges that interface. It is essential for neural fitness.
With mind fitness:
Mind fitness empowers you to maximize your performance by maintaining your PAGES for the duration of your event, at the highest sustainable pace, as you respond brilliantly to the current conditions.
Many athletes train their minds to focus on “hitting the numbers” – heart rate, power, pace, time. This can impair and distract your body-brain interface and decrease PAGES.
Book Three of the Kaizen-durance series is titled “Mind Fitness Training for Endurance Athletes”. It guides you to strengthen your body-mind interface during your training sessions, without compromising your aerobic fitness.
Wise ol’ Abe Lincoln had some sage advice:
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree, and I will spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
But Abe wasn’t really known for his athleticism. So, how can his advice to sharpen the axe help us shift from athletic burnout to artistic brilliance?
I’ve cut down many a tree and lots of brush – as a forester, coffee farmer, helicopter firefighter and wilderness trail hand. Axe, cross-cut or chainsaw, if your tool is dull, it’s not an efficient use of your time and energy.
Well, the same is true for endurance sports!
Endurance Artist: What is your instrument?
Your instrument is your body. This is the instrument you “play” to swim, bike, run. Heck, it’s the instrument you live through!! No body, no life!
And how do you keep it sharp?
Sharpening your instrument begins with sharp perception.
And this is the advantage of age!!
The sharper your perception, the more precision you command as you swim, bike and run. And, the faster you learn. To maximize return on your aerobic investment: Sharpen the axe of your perceptive acuity every time you are training your aerobic capacity.
There are no limits!! Over decades of patient training (and a true love for our craft), we accrue knowledge and cultivate wisdom. Precision, agility, grace and efficiency will continue to improve.
Book One of the Kaizen-durance Series is your manual for sharpening your endurance axe. Preview Book One here.
Go Deep: Go Inward
As endurance artists, we need to focus on sharpening our inner perception: Brilliant performance – for the musician and the swimmer alike – requires sharp inner awareness. We need a seamless interface of body and mind to execute with precision.
Violin technique or swim technique: The precision of both is infinite: There are no limits to perceptive capacity and acuity.
Without the sharp axe of perceptive brilliance, technique is sloppy.
With patience and perseverance we seize the opportunity to strengthen the body-brain interface every time we train – day-after-day for decades, well beyond the aerobic prime of youth.
As endurance artists, the axe we sharpen is our perceptive capacity and acuity.
Brilliant perception leads to brilliant action.
Without brilliant perception, we’re wielding a sledge hammer, not an axe: Maximal muscular and metabolic fitness won’t make any difference as we smash away. Sure, we’ll be able to swing that sledge a bit longer, but we aren’t cutting wood; we’re just bludgeoning the tree… and our bodies.
For the athlete, the focus is mind over matter. For the artist, it’s mind IN matter.
Sharpen Your Endurance Arts Axe:
Thinking “real hard” about chopping down the tree won’t improve the effectiveness of using a sledge hammer. Instead, sharpen your endurance axe! Here are some suggestions:
“Finesse is stronger than force.”
“Athletes decline with age. Artists improve.”
Introduction: Becoming an Endurance Artist
Discover a stronger, more enduring passion for training and a new talent for racing – all with less effort and less time training. In this blog series, I offer tips for your transformation from athlete to artist, based on my decades of experience. In this first blog: Love Your Craft!
Dancing to the Finish Line
I’m 62 years wise now. At age 19, as I pursued a degree in Modern Dance. “Dancing in leotards and tights? What does that have to do with endurance sports?”
I have translated that arts-approach into decades of ultra running and triathlon. How about a 500-mile, 99-hour ultra triathlon in 2016, at age 59? “Moving Beyond ALS” was a solo event to raise money and awareness about ALS. Read more here.
Far more rewarding than the glory of so many finish lines: As an endurance artist for over 40 years, my daily journey of discovery and my passionate pursuit of mastery has tempered the human being I am today. And it keeps getting better!!
Check out the first book ever written about the endurance arts! Book One of my series “Kaizen-durance Your Aerobic Path to Mastery”.
“I just finished reading Book One. Good stuff! It fills a gap that urgently needs filling in the endurance domain–and gave me some practical takeaways to use in my own athletic pursuits.” – Matt Fitzgerald, Author of more than 20 books and former editor of Triathlete and Competitor magazines
Let’s get started with the topic of this first blog of the series.
Love Your Craft!
Great artists are passionately driven to produce brilliant works of art. So, what’s at the heart of that passionate drive? What fuels the masters over a lifetime?
It is the love of their craft.
“Age enhances. Age improves. Age empowers. There are no limits.” Can this really be true for endurance sports?
As endurance artists, we accrue wisdom that empowers highly effective training and inspires brilliant racing. When we love our craft, we invest deeply. We embrace each and every training session as a rich opportunity to invest, discover, and improve. It gets better with age!!
In Book One of the Kaizen-durance series, we explore the wisdom of the master athlete/artist, and how to live it every day.
What is your craft as an endurance artist?
The most essential part of your craft is your technique. It is your ability to craft great swim strokes or running strides with precision, agility, grace and efficiency. Like the painter, you will complete your greatest race as you craft one perfect stroke or stride at a time.
As an artist, there are no limits to the excellence and mastery you can achieve.
Here’s how to love your craft:
For the athlete, the focus is mind over matter. For the artist, it’s mind IN matter.
Are There Performance Benefits?
Like athletes, artists also focus on performance. Here are some of the benefits I experience by pursuing the craft of endurance arts – specifically the art of running:
trail run of the season: 16 miles. I finished the Cayuga Trails 50 strong! And still rode my bike the 5 miles back home. As an endurance artist, you can train less when you intensely focus on perfecting your craft during every session, and still enjoy reaching your goals.
Find Out More
The Kaizen-durance Book Series is your resource for the endurance arts:
Share your experiences as an endurance artist here.
Email me here. I look forward to hearing from you!
Make It Count!
How much time and energy do you devote to exercise? Do you wonder if your devotion is too self-serving – especially if it means less time with family, or interruptions from work?
Well, rest assured! Your endurance-based exercise can go much farther than forging a stronger body. It really can be a worthy investment for your mental, emotional and spiritual health & performance as well.
Maximize the return on your investment: Turn your daily exercise into a PRACTICE.
This won’t require any more time and energy than you already devote to the daily grind of your workouts. But it will feel more like “flow” and less like grind – before, during and after.
Workout vs Practice: What’s the Difference?
We all strive for balance, harmony and empowerment – especially in our relationships, occupation, family, recreation. In a single word, we all want mastery. Endurance-based exercise is an effective practice to develop the skills of mastery we need.
I call this practice “Kaizen-durance”: Lifelong improvement – that’s mastery – through endurance-based exercise: Here’s the most important element of practice: Focus on mindfulness. Why?
Mindfulness is the foundation of mastery.
What is mindfulness? Mind fitness.
Instead of just working out and “hitting the numbers” (like heart rate, miles, minutes and watts) focus on the quality of each stroke and each stride. Make each one count!! Train your mind fitness while you train your physical fitness. Live healthy, pursue mastery.
To live healthy, master the Fitness Cycle.
The Fitness Cycle has three phases:
All growth occurs through this cycle – physical, mental, emotional, spiritual. Like it or not, stress is the essential vector for growth.
We pursue mastery most effectively by developing a healthy relationship with stress.
Each exercise session is an opportunity to strengthen your mental fitness and your skills of mastery. Each session is an opportunity to forge your alliance with stress.
Problem: “I can’t recover from stress. My health is compromised.”
Solution: Transform your relationship with stress. A Kaizen-durance approach to exercise empowers you to do this.
Maximize return on your aerobic investment. When we approach the repetition of endurance-based exercise as a practice of mindful movement, our exercise doubles for both physical fitness and mind fitness. Through exercise, we learn to master the Fitness Cycle and build life fitness.
Be here now. There is no place else you can be but here and now: You can’t be in the past. You can’t be in the future. And, you can’t be anywhere else but where you are. Mind fitness is your capacity to invest and engage all facets of your attention with what is arising here and now.
Want to be brilliant? Be here now.
Get Started Now!
Over the past four decades, I have developed and used this kaizen-durance approach with great results – as an athlete, as an educator, and as a whole, healthy human being. I have also devoted considerable time and energy developing a method and writing a series of books to support you in your pursuit of life fitness and mastery.
Start with Book One of the Kaizen-durance series. It’s a short, entertaining and easy-to-read guide that will inspire and orient you.
Efficiency and grace.
Efficiency plus grace equals bullet-proof? Here are four ways to safeguard your running without wearing kevlar:
(For more on these four, see “Bulletproofing Methods” just below)
If running is a vital lifeline for you like it is for me, you have to minimize your risk of injury. Along with these four tips, there are specific key skills to running that are quite subtle, yet very profound and absolutely essential to lifelong running. I have discovered and developed these over my decades of ultra running. I’ve created methods for teaching them through my extensive experience as a technique coach. Bring them all together and you:
Among endurance sports, running is notorious for injuries. Why? Impact: We get injured when we hit the ground. We blame it on gravity. And yet…
If we forge an alliance with gravity, we transform that enemy of impact into the force of propulsion. Efficient running technique begins with this partnership. It’s the foundation. In The Running Lab, you will learn a sequence of drills and running exercises to forge your personal alliance.
We translate the (vertical) pull of gravity into (horizontal) forward movement. I call this alliance “Effortless Power”.
The primary source of lower joint running injuries (foot, ankle and knee) is a poorly trained and uneducated core. By “core” I mean your whole torso:
“Core work” is not about six-pack abs. Read that heading again: “Educate Your Core”. Muscular strength is only part of a bulletproof core. Design and implement a regimen of exercises that educate your core to be articulate and responsive to all of the forces you encounter as you run – vertical, lateral, fore-aft, rotational. Stop forcing your feet, ankles and knees to compensate for poor core function and instability.
Education is neural. Along with muscle and connective tissue strength, your core education targets neural training. This is the path to kinetic intelligence.
* Yes, your pectoral girdle: Your shoulders, scapulae, upper spine and neck are critical to efficient whole-body running. They comprise your “Swing Set”. In the Running Lab, we focus first on creating a stable Swing Set.
Look at your feet and ankles:
Let’s be honest here: Each foot and ankle is a sensitive and articulate instrument. It is not designed to stabilize the towering hulk of mass that looms and teeters above it.
Your feet and ankles excel at three things when you run:
When your core is educated, your feet and ankles can perform brilliantly. Stop forcing them to be stabilizers. And stop trying to protect these instruments with rigid tension, or with shoes that restrict their articulation or muffle their sensitivity. Let them dance when you run.
Vary the terrain you run. Let your body train and articulate its agility by responding to a constantly changing running surface. Mixed terrain running is the most effective way to improve your running craft: PAGES running strides for all conditions.
Explore PAGES in Book One of the Kaizen-durance Series