How Stephen Hawkings challenged his illness with mind over matter
Your thoughts become your beliefs
Your body is aching. You've trained 2 hours a day, six days a week, for more than 6 weeks straight. You continually push through the 'no pain no gain' barrier for faster results.
You know you should slow down but this punishment is given for the reward of rock-hard abs and a tight butt.
You took some time off your regular tennis classes last Christmas and got comfortable. You are rapidly gaining weight and losing muscle tone as the months pass. You are well-versed in the ins and outs of tennis, but you can't seem to find the motivation to pick up that racket and ball.
You know you need to head out and do a work out, but that snooze button is being thwacked at a consistent rate most mornings. And you roll over.
You love your yoga class. You've been going for a few weeks now and you feel like you're getting into the flow of it. If only you were as flexible as that long-legged, muscular dude who practices at the same studio.
You strain to touch your toes with straight legs, ignoring the teacher's instructions to move slowly into the pose and bend your knees to protect your lower back. You feel a twinge in your lower back, but ignore it and go deeper.
You might be a mathematician, an astronaut, a psychologist, a counsellor, an artist, a performer, an IT professional.
You might have an average to high IQ - intelligence quotient. You might have an enviable EQ - emotional intelligence.
You may be vibrantly skilled in any number of the multiple intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983, such as musical or linguistic intelligence.
However, in order to have a thriving physical life, you really need enhance your BQ - your body intelligence, according to Margaret Moore, MBA, and Jim Gavin, Ph.D., in the November 2010 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal (Gavin and Moore, 2010). While Garner highlights that kinesthetic and spatial intelligence are key to an athlete's impressive and graceful abilities, Moore, founder of Wellcoaches Corporation, argues that BQ requires much more than that.
BQ is considered to be the combination of 3 important skills, or pillars:
somatic awareness - knowledge - engagement
Somatic awareness means how aware you are of your body; knowledge, what you know about your body; and engagement, what you do for and with your body.
This subtle and finely-attuned form of intelligence brings you in touch with what your body feels, needs, and knows, things which are uniquely different for each of us. It seems that this type of knowledge is essential for both enhancing your personal wellness, but also avoiding injury and illness.
You may know people who have a vast amount of knowledge about the body's physiology, anatomy, or perhaps even information in one particular skill, such as a football coach, or a dance instructor. Yet, when they themselves go to train, they push far beyond their own physical boundaries, causing micro-tears or strains that may eventually lead to long-term damage. Despite their incredible knowledge, they aren't tuning in to their own body telling them when enough is enough.
Or perhaps you know a brain surgeon or a famous mathematician who works well into the night, ignoring their own physical needs, the need to move, the need to hydrate, to the point of self-destruction.
Where do I get off making statements like this?
The truth is, I am one of those people. I admit it. I believe my BQ could be better, and I'm willing to bet it's the same for many of you. Most of us are lacking in at least one of the three pillars which make up a well-rounded body intelligence. Becoming aware of BQ and identifying where you are falling short could be the key to living with vibrant health for the long-term.
I can safely say that my BQ has improved over the years, especially after I began yoga and, much like anything you begin to pay attention to, I'm quite sure it will continue to improve. There's no end point to building this intelligence really, so there's no reason to put it off for later. You can begin to improve your BQ right now.
The question is, where are you letting yourself down? Is it one pillar, or two...or perhaps all three! Let's find out more...
Somatic awareness is the level at which you are tuned in to your body and listening for subtle shifts and signs of change. If your body could speak, these tiny sensations would be the words, or messages, telling you what the body needs and feels. Wilber (2000) distinguishes different kinds of sensations from subtle to gross.
Subtle sensations incorporate awareness of depleted or heightened personal energy, the awareness of where joy or sadness sits within the body, or the shifts in energy of the environment around you.
Gross sensations include the feeling of muscle tension when stressed, a limit to your range of motion, or muscle and joint stiffness.
Sometimes your awareness can be raised on either a gross or subtle level after eating a particular food. Perhaps this food gives you satisfaction and sustained energy, it may give you a quick rush and a massive dive, like processed sugar, or perhaps it gives you indigestion or stomach upset.
Developing awareness around the gross and subtle messages from your body allows you to make quick decisions and shifts in action, so you can guide your body to a safer, happier, and hopefully healthier place.
Somatic awareness and yoga
Having awareness of the subtle and gross physical sensations within the body is a key player in most yoga classes. It may be the first time that you have listened, really listened, to the inhale and exhale of your breath and noticed whether it is calm and gentle, or rapid and rasped, or somewhere in between.
It may be the first time that you have slowed down and paid attention to the sensation in your hamstrings as you stand and fold forward in Uttanasana.
It may be the voice in your mind, noticing the signs from your body and telling you to hold back from going into a full headstand until your shoulders and torso are strong enough to hold you safely.
A good yoga teacher will ask you to tune into your bodily sensations in each class, becoming aware that you are not on autopilot and that a pose which was accessible one day, may not be there for you the next day, like the balance needed in a standing pose. If the balance isn't there for you, you don't need to force yourself into it. It's simple. Yet it is so hard for many to let go of the need to push through it, and stop and really listen to their body's messages.
You don't need to go to a yoga class in order to develop awareness of the subtle and gross sensations from your body. See below for some tips on how to develop somatic awareness on a day to day basis.
Knowledge is a confusing subject in the internet age. And yes, I can say 'the internet age' because I remember a time when there was no internet!
So, on the one hand, we are able to access the answer to pretty much anything with a few key word searches on Google. This is an amazing thing. We can bring the University into the home and educate ourselves! Yet it can also lead to a self-proclaimed expertise in almost any subject area, including Google Doctor self-diagnoses, and remedies and concoctions to cure illnesses which are unproven and sometimes downright dangerous.
Using Google searches can lead to an overwhelming amount of information, resulting in 'analysis paralysis' as we sit like a rabbit in the headlights, unsure of what to do with all the Google 'answers'. Despite this, enhancing our knowledge, and connecting with like-minded people all over the world, for free, is an absolutely incredible achievement.
So much can be gained, and shared through the internet.
So we have all the information we need at our fingertips. All the knowledge in the world. Yet still people engage in unhealthy choices. As Gavin and Moore (2010) state, 'most people live as if the rules did not apply to them'. Are you one of those people?
Body knowledge is also known as 'health literacy' and considers things like, your level of knowledge over health standards and guidelines; how well you know generic scientific information and the application of it to your personal health; knowledge of scientific facts and practices; knowing what the appropriate actions are to diagnose and treat physical conditions, or what to do in the case of not knowing.
Let's try this. Can you answer the following questions:
What is the recommended amount of sleep per night?
What is the minimum amount of water you should drink every day?
What should you eat or drink to be healthy?
What is the maximum amount of alcohol you should drink per day or week?
How much exercise should you do?
What is appropriate exercise for you?
How should you sit when working or studying?
Do you know when an illness can be managed at home and when you should see a doctor?
Building knowledge can definitely be done with the help of Google. There's no doubt about it.
The important thing to be aware of though, is where you get your information from. I'll be the first to admit that sourcing knowledge from a blog is a murky place, sometimes more of a bog than a blog.
There are many experts or trustworthy people (plug plug) who write blogs. However, if they are providing evidence or new knowledge, just make sure they give you the source of their information. Check the source. Is it reputable? Is it from a scientific journal or reliable source?
These things matter
Because what Joe Bloggs says in Joe Bloggs Blog can't be taken as evidence unless they can show you it is true in scientifically controlled conditions or, at the very least, published by an academic or professional in the industry. And if it can't be taken as valid evidence, you are taking a very big risk in blindly following the advice.
Ok, I'm going off on a little tangent here I guess! But it's still related. It's all about knowledge. Grow your knowledge around health. Use your brain to determine whether the source is trustworthy, and give more weight to the information which has been proven. It is done to protect you. Phew! Ok. Moving on.
Knowledge and yoga
Yoga is another minefield altogether. Yoga can help you to build knowledge alongside awareness of your physical body. As you learn the strengths and limitations of your physical body and mind, you may also learn more about certain poses, and the philosophy that is the foundations of yoga, because the physical practice is really only one small part of it.
Having said that, these days you can have yoga asana in virtually every form.
I'm surprised I haven't seen cooking yoga yet... you heard it here first!
As there are so many yoga styles, and so many teachers around, it is easy to try something new. The only caution I would add to the pillar of knowledge is to check out the knowledge of your teacher also. Yoga seems like a very passive and harmless practice, but it is easy to sustain long-term damage to the body while doing it. Please practice in an environment which is safe, with a teacher you can trust.
Where to begin when building your knowledge? Scroll down for some tips below!
If you are able to tune in to your body and understand what it needs, and then actively engage in it, you are performing 'engagement'. There are no rules as to how long or how much you need to do something in order to be engaged. For some who rarely exercise, a short walk around the block - because you know you need to start moving - is a form of engagement. Being fully aware of what your body needs, and then actively participating means that you are totally tuned in to the fruition of awareness and knowledge through engagement. The other two pillars cannot function effectively without this pillar.
It is important to remember that, based on knowledge and awareness, your engagement can change all the time. You may start with a short walk, and then become aware that your body is used to it and can move more. You may then progress to a longer, brisker walk, taking into account all the time, that this may change, based on what your body needs each day. Awareness is about understanding when your resistance is psychological, and when it is due to a true physical barrier, and then engaging accordingly.
Yoga and engagement
If you practice yoga, you are probably familiar with your teacher saying something like, 'honour yourself for showing up', or 'yoga isabout showing up'. What does this mean?
Like any physical practice, you probably have many days where you'd rather stay at home in your pj's. For many, even getting changed and making your way to class is an act of engagement in your own wellness, and you should be proud of yourself for doing it.
Showing up to the yoga class when you are aware of your body and know what it needs - this is engagement.
Then, within the poses, bringing your full awareness and attention to the sensations of the pose, bringing your wandering mind back to the present moment of engagement in that pose - this is engagement.
Check out the tips below to build your pillar of engagement.
Putting it all together
I hope I have given you some sense of what Body Intelligence is in this blog. There is a lot more to uncover, but I wanted to share the basics with you. I am constantly focussed on improving all three pillars but, really, there is so much more to learn.
The first step is really to have a think on your own practices to determine whether you are not paying attention to one or two particular areas.
Perhaps you know very well what you should be doing, but you are not making the time in your day to do it.
Or perhaps you've recently thrown yourself into a boot camp, when really your body needs to start with some gentle walks and swims first.
No one is perfect and there are plenty of ways for us all to build our BQ.
How to build your pillars
- Stop and notice - set up regular points during the day to stop and notice how your body is feeling, especially during any physical activity.
- Perform a mental scan of your body - perhaps do it before you exercise, after you exercise, and a few hours later.
- Start a journal on your physical practice routine. It doesn't have to be long, just a few points on how you feel before, during , and after the practice.
- Find some reputable journals and news sources to build your health literacy
- Join the mailing list of a news health website you can trust
- Participate in a knowledge-building workshop, whether it is for healthy cooking, a first aid course, and so on.
- Find yourself an exercise buddy you can check in with. You don't necessarily have to exercise together, but you can check in weekly and help each other to stay accountable.
- Book yourself in to classes or sports. When the time comes to do the class, you can scan your body and decide whether it is appropriate for you.
- Have a go at a new kind of exercise. There are plenty of free trials around. You might find something you like!
As a coach, I can work with you to identify the pillars you should be focussing on, whether it is one or all three. Together we can build a plan to help you gain confidence in your own body. I'm happy to chat with you about it at any time.
Disclaimer: As always, please see your GP before engaging in any new forms of exercise, especially if you are suffering from a medical condition.
Gardner, H. 1983, Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Book Inc.
Gavin, J., and Moore, M., 2010, Body Intelligence: a guide to self-attunement', in Idea Fitness Journal, November 2010, accessed 19 March 2016, <http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/body-intelligence-a-guide-to>
Wilber, K. 2000. A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.
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So if you or someone you know needs to unwind, you want to treat your friend to a secret Friday escape, give me a buzz and we'll set up an appointment.
So... I popped out earlier today to pick up an avo for tonight's salad....and I ended up with this mound of fresh fruit and veg! I just couldn't resist the specials, and we had visitors over the weekend, so I guess my planning was a bit wonky this week. Woops...
You know, I love fruit and veg but, to be honest, this sort of thing rarely happens!
...Why? ...Because most days of the week, I have already planned and bought most of what we will be eating for the next 5 or 6 days. The weekdays are usually just for picking up the odd thing we've forgotten or run out of, that's it!
Does that sound boring??! Seriously, I know it can look that way, and actually, those who know me will agree that...
I am NOT a planner and I tend to love my creative and spontaneous time every day. But, truth be told, there are SO MANY reasons to make a basic meal and shopping plan for the week.
Here are just a few reasons below. Can you add any to the list??
1. Doing one big shop a week on whichever day is the easiest for you will save you time over the rest of the week, as you will have less need to pop in to the supermarket (unless you have forgotten something, and if so, it can be a quick and painless trip in and out without pondering and second-guessing).
2. Sitting down and planning your meals and then making a shopping list means you will be less distracted by unhealthy snacks and products that are not on your list, and you can actually plan simple and healthy meals into your weekly diet.
3. Having a list in your hand means you can choose healthy options based on your meal plan BEFORE you get anywhere near the food. If it's not on the list, you probably DON'T need it!
---> This sounds a lot like #2 above, but they are different in that #2 is all about healthy planning before you get to the shops, and #3 is what happens at the shops when you have a healthy plan in your hot little hand! Just want to make sure that's clear.
4. Knowing what you are eating saves sooooo much time and energy. If you are like me and flat out with work and projects for the week, the last thing you need to be thinking about is what you're going to eat when you get home, or whether you have enough ingredients for it, or whether it is healthy enough. Knowing ahead of time will save you time in planning, time in buying, and time in thinking it over. My hubby and I have a rotation of a few simple, healthy meals we make on the weekdays. Something we can whip up in less than 30 minutes, knowing we are meeting our dietary needs.
(We save our more adventurous and relaxed cooking for the end of the week and weekends when we have more time to experiment and savour the meal!)
You'll notice that the big thing I emphasise here is the idea of saving time and energy. Ultimately, saving yourself time and energy through some simple routine planning will save you a great deal of stress in the long run. Make it simple for yourself and there is less to stress about.
---> Less stress about time constraints in a busy week, less stress about what to eat, less stress of regretting your meal choice or shopping choice, and less stress in trying to coordinate with your partner or friends about what you are eating (as it's already been planned).
Ok, so I'm not saying you should follow my plan exactly, but I do suggest you think about how you can structure your shopping days a little more so that you can save time and money and make it easier for yourself to choose healthier options. There's a lot of talk about 'will power' in avoiding certain kinds of foods. Why not make it easier for yourself and just not have it in your cupboards at all??
The easiest way to do that is to head to the shops with a list in your hand, based on a healthy meal plan you've made at home, away from all the distractions!
So...what about you?
Do you have a regular shopping day? Do you find it easy to follow a bit of a routine when shopping and eating? Let me know in the comments below!
The New Year...
Oh that exhilarating time when we can choose to throw out old habits and start anew! There's something so enticing about a fresh start, a chance to review the year past in a bid to have a better year moving forward. A better year can mean so many things, a better relationship, a better diet, a better exercise program...such noble and positive desires that anyone even contemplating them should be applauded. Being reflective and looking for ways to improve are fantastic qualities and important skills to develop if you want to engender real change in your life. But there is one fundamental error that people make at this time which, ultimately, becomes their unraveling. That is, the failure to plan SMART. We will look at this from the case of Bob and his new year plan to handle stress better and, as you'll see, Bob's success really depends on how he focusses on his vision of change, and how he plans the next steps.
Meet Bob. Bob is almost 40 years old. He has been married for 10 years and has 2 kids under the age of 8. He has been working in an office in the city for the last 15 years and is pretty close to paying off the whole mortgage on their small suburban home, however the family is struggling financially, living in an expensive city and struggling to keep up with bills, payments, and living costs. A few years ago Bob realised that the only way he and his family will be able to improve their financial situation is if he moves from his office job into a higher role or a different company. So, last year Bob started studying in the evenings and on weekends. To say the least, Bob had a Very Stressful Year, juggling work, studies, kids and family life, and, truth be told, he didn't always handle his stress well. When he reflected on this over a glass of wine with his wife on New Year's Eve, he boldly proclaimed: "Next year, I won't get so stressed with you and the kids. Things will be different. This is my resolution".
Boom! First mistake right there! Ok, that's dramatic, but I got your attention didn't I? Now consider the following: rather than exiting from a poor habit, create your plan to be something you are moving towards, something enticing!
"I won't get stressed with you and the kids..."
In this scenario, Bob, like most people, focusses on something from the past that he doesn't want in his life anymore. Bob announced that he doesn't want to get stressed anymore. This is ok, but really what he's deciding then, is to take something out of his life, call it 'the deficit', but he isn't considering what he wants to bring into his life, call it 'the positive'. Still, he has a bit of a goal, which is better than nothing, and he pushes on resolutely with his new, hopeful vision. He may even write some things down and follow through on it with some action.
Here's what happens next. Choose from Option 1 or Option 2. Which do you think is more likely to succeed?
Option 1: The typical approach - all or nothing
Bob has already identified that he got too stressed with work, study and family life last year. He may have seen it take a toll on his relationship, his family life, or maybe his wife or a friend even told him. Whatever the case, he has identified the issue and declared that he wants to move towards a life vision which doesn't include this way of handling stress. Bravo Bob! It's not the most enticing or alluring vision, but the fact that he has even considered change is a positive step forward. Many don't even get that far, so let's give him a pat on the back for being open to change.
Bob realises from talking with his wife, that his stress is coming from 3 main areas of his life: time management issues, quality family time issues, and lack of exercise and relaxation. So, in the first week of January, he joins a yoga studio and, not knowing which is best, he buys a bunch of books and CDs on meditation and mindfulness. It seems like a positive step, doesn't it?
Then, because he knows over-work is contributing to his stress, he makes a vow to leave work every day at 5pm on the dot, no excuses.
To improve his family life, he sets up a plan with his wife to spend an extra 3 afternoons a week with the kids and go on a day out as a family every Saturday.
This is something along the lines of what many people do when they decide to make a dramatic change in their life in the new year.
Option 2: The 'Bob is set to thrive' approach:
In this scenario, Bob is again aware of his problem with stress management and spends a good deal of time thinking of his dream living situation. He has realised that the way he deals with stress is having a negative impact on his life, his health, and his relationships, so the motivation to change it is strong. He begins by writing down a clear vision of what he wants. He is aware of what he doesn't want, that is to be stressed and have stress rule his life. So he asks himself what he wants to replace it with.
"I want to not get stressed with my wife and kids" becomes something like, "I want to manage my stress levels and find ease and flow in my day to day life".
Can you see how that moves the goal from wanting something gone, to striving for something new and positive?
The next step is to really focus on the WHY. Why does Bob want this? What are the drivers behind it? Clearly Bob, with a little soul searching, has identified his strong connection to his wife and family and has already realised how important it is to have a positive relationship with them. So, in this case, he may say something like: "I want this so I can have easy, relaxed and fun times with my family and appreciate their presence in my life". So you can see there he has tapped into his personal values, for something outside of himself. He has dug a little deeper to find a really compelling reason to tie his vision to and, in that way, he is setting himself up to have a stronger motivation to succeed. He might even pin a photo of his family above his books in his study to remind him of his goal.
Next, the goals. Remember Scenario 1? Can you guess what might be the danger in the way he set up his strategy in the first week of January?
You got it, it's the goals themselves. They need to be SMART goals and they need to be part of a plan. A SMART goal is as follows:
S - Specific
M - Measurable
A - Achievable/Attractive
R - Realistic
T - Time-specific
So, what can Bob do? Well, to start with, he can be reasonable with himself. With all his good intentions, perhaps Bob really should just take a step back and be honest with himself. He might ask, "What could I be doing in 3 months time to reach my vision of managing my stress load?", and, based on that, "What could I reasonably expect to do this week to move me towards those goals?".
If you want long term change...Be Realistic! If you don't, the main person your harming is you! If you have a dream to run a marathon and you've never run one, would your first training session be a 3km run, or a 30 km run? It's logical! Start small and build up.
Doing it this way, this is something like what Bob's first week of January might be:
- On meditation and yoga, "Am I ready to join a yoga studio and go on a meditation retreat?" - No, I'm not up for it yet.
Ok, what can I do this week?
1. Take the flyers of 3 local yoga studios and talks with the manager of each one about the classes and how they might help him with stress management.
- On leaving work every day at 5pm, "Is this possible right now?" - No, I'm not ready.
Ok, what can I do now?
2. Schedule a meeting with his boss on Wednesday to talk about the distribution of work tasks to see whether some tasks can be taken up by the new Junior Office Worker.
- On scheduling more family time, "How much time can I honestly spare right now, outside of my work and studies?" - Probably no more than one afternoon right now, while I sort out my work load.
3. Plan a picnic for next Saturday afternoon from 1pm with his wife and children.
See how much more manageable this is?
Which option is more likely to succeed in creating long term change? Something broken down into easy steps, or something that start off the size of Mt Everest?
The idea is to start small.
Don't try and do everything at once.
And slowly build on each successful step forward in order to create momentum.
Despite his gallant efforts in Option 1 to become a gym junkie, yogi, family man, there's a good chance that Bob will not be maintaining the strict schedule he has set up and, worse still, if he doesn't arrange things properly around his work and study tasks, there is a good chance that he'll focus on his family and new found yoga, only to have the pile of work building in his absence! If he really wants to manage his work and study time so that he has time and energy for his family and is able to manage his stress, he needs a clear and well laid out strategy, with SMART goals.
So, here's a little game plan for Bob, and for anyone else who has made a bold resolution for the coming year:
Step 1: Get a piece of paper and write down a very compelling, positive vision.
Step 2: Spend some time thinking and writing about your why, your motivation for change - use visuals to really get your heart moving on it!
Step 3: Think about and write down what you would like to be doing in 3 months time to get yourself closer to your vision - and make it SMART!
Step 4: Think about and write down what you can do in the next week to take you your first step towards your vision - and again, make it SMART!
Step 5: Take the first step! Then take another small step, and another, and another and after a while look up and you'll see that you're well on your way to reaching your long term goal!!
***** I hope you get something out of this little story about Bob. Just a little disclaimer here. I've simplified Bob's story and Bob's game plan right down to make it more palatable for a little blog post. In actual fact, it often takes quite a while to really nut out the Whats and the Whys of making a big change in life. In our first 90 minute coaching session we explore this and more, such as blocks, strategies, and value systems in order to really help you define and shape your vision of success and make a clear and compelling strategy to get you there. We've managed to condense the simplified version into Bob's Story, but I'm sure you'll appreciate the basic concept and use some pointers in your own goal-making. *****
Best of luck!!