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Can Better Body-Awareness Improve Your Workout?

Research explains how feeling the burn can ruin your workout.

Posted Dec 03, 2017

In our meeting, my publisher confesses that she is dreaming of taking a hot bath: Her body is in
serious pain after her CrossFit workout the day before. Wow, I wonder quietly, is it good to
exercise this hard, particularly, as my publishers work does not require extremely high level of
fitness? After the meeting, I leave to go teach my Pilates class. At the end of the class, my
participants suggest that they needed harder exercises as they did not feel their muscles burn.
"The burn," as I remember, was the buzzword in Jane Fondas workouts in late 1980s that were
criticized as leading to injuries. Why do my participants still long to feel the burn? Why did my
publisher have to work her body into such pain? Is it possible to have a good workout without an
accompanying body ache?

"The burn," as we commonly employ it in our exercise parlance refers to a burning sensation in the
muscles. It is a sign of fatigue: The muscles ability to produce work has decreased. As such, the
burn should be an obvious sign that it is time to stop because continuing to work can lead to
muscle tissue damage. Exercise scientists further explain how pushing beyond fatigue can cause
muscle damage.

It is common to experience some muscle soreness after working out. Such pain, however, can be a
sign of exercise-induced muscle damage (EIMD). Exercise science details the mechanism for EIMD
as follows: Muscle fibers are able to contract, to work, due to their structure of sarcomeresthe
functional units of the musclethat are further composed of filaments. The filaments slide to
contract the muscle fibers and then slide back to release the contraction. EIMD is a result of
mechanical strain that overstretches the sarcomeres beyond the filaments gliding range (Peake &
al, 2017). This is more likely to happen during eccentric muscle work when the muscle works while
lengthening (think of, for example, the lowering phase of a biceps curl). Peake and his colleagues
(2017) note that the muscle damage is greater and recovery slower when exercise is performed in
the following ways:

With increasing numbers of eccentric muscle contractions at long muscle length.

Using a single joint.

Using the arms rather than legs.

Such damage directly reduces a muscles ability to work and also creates inflammation and muscle
swelling. It also causes delayed onset muscle soreness (DOMS) that is at its peak 1-3 days after the
exercise bout.

Due to the damage, the muscles need time to recover. In their review, Peake and his colleagues
(2017) suggest that mild EIMD (decrease in muscle function less than 20%) requires two days for
full recovery but even moderate EIMD (reduction in muscle function more than 20%) requires
seven days for full recovery. While EIMD results in inflammationphysiological, cellular, and
molecular changes within injured muscle tissueassociated with damage, pain, and delayed
recovery, inflammation is also a key process underlying muscular repair and regeneration. Peake
and his colleagues (2017) explain that this is the repeated bout effect: After an initial bout of
muscle-damaging exercise, a muscle adapts and the damage is less severe and recovery faster
after subsequent bouts of exercise. However, they emphasize that only low-intensity eccentric
muscle contractions that do not cause (or only induce minor) symptoms of exercise-induced
muscle damage (p. 561) have the protective effect on the muscle.

If we want to avoid EIMS, that some scientists consider the most common exercise injury, how do
we know when a workout has been effective? Pain is always a sign that something is wrong and
thus, should not be the indicator of a beneficial exercise routine. What other ways are there to
know how to stop exercising before muscle damage?

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One way is to learn to become more aware of ones body. Good body-awareness is difficult to
measure scientifically, but can teach us how to recognize a strenuous workout that, instead of
leading to pain and injury, improves performance, muscle balance, and everyday functionality.

A good exercise program is designed to improve physical fitness, muscle balance, and the bodys
mechanical efficiency. However, if we can assess its effects only based on the amount of pain it
produces, we are unable to maximize its benefits. On the other hand, we often enter into an
exercise program with existing damaging stress from daily living. Even a balanced exercise
program can exacerbate that damage, if the only bodily feeling we can recognize is excruciating
pain. It is not necessary to engage in a cycle of pain, EIMS, recovery to benefit from exercise, but
to exercise more efficiently and avoid or recover from pain, we have to learn to take more careful
note of how the body feels.

This means that we have to become more mindful of what we are doing when exercising. This
requires an attitude adjustment from the no gain, no pain dictum to appreciating more carefully
designed exercise benefits. It requires a further change of attitude from external rewards after
exercise to appreciating moving itself. Many exercisers do not actually enjoy working out, but
persist because as a result, they look good and feel good (Markula, 1995). It is common, thus, to
use music, for example, to take ones mind off from exercise while on an exercise bike or
treadmill. To be attuned to ones body, however, requires that we actually think about what we
are doing during exercise. This might mean taking off the headphones or turning off the TV to
focus on ones body sensations instead. However, if pain is the only bodily sensation we recognize,
turning into mindfulness is a novel and complex challenge. There are, however, a number of bodily
messages, besides pain, that our brain registers on a regular basis.

The brain receives constant messages from the body. The sensory receptors called proprioceptors
that are located with the muscles and tendons, provide information to the brain about the
location of specific body parts in space as well as muscle tension and length. The brain then
registers this sensory input. We often have become so used to this information that we ignore it
until it becomes unbearable pain. As the brain actually directs muscle function and thus, also body
positions, the popular term muscle memory is incorrect: Muscles do not remember or have
memory to store movement patterns, it is the brain that registers movement sensations.

Proprioceptors are sensory receptors for our kinaesthetic sense, the sense of bodily movement, in
a similar fashion that our eyes are receptors for vision. While vision is important when moving (we
obtain about 70% of movement information through vision), individuals with good kinaesthetic
sense are typically good movers who know how to perform in an efficient manner.

Body awareness is the subjective aspect of proprioception (Mehling & al., 2011). Mehling and his
colleagues explain that body awareness involves an attentional focus on and awareness of
internal body sensations (p. 1) that then enters conscious awareness. Body awareness
incorporates also such mental processes as attention, interpretation, appraisal,
beliefs, memories, conditioning, attitudes and affect (p. 1). Body awareness, thus, involves both
the body and the mind. That is, it involves both psychological and physiological sensations.
Phenomenological researchers often call the simultaneous experience of having a body and being
in a body (the mind), embodiment. Through an embodied sensation, an individual integrates the
body, mind, emotions, and personality to acquire the benefits of holistic exercise.

It is not difficult to see that body awareness is necessary for an efficient mover. Dancers for
example, often define good body awareness as an essential quality for mastering the intricate
skills of an expressive performance (Markula, 2015). This does not mean, however, that dancers
are pain free. In her ethnographic study Aalten (2007), for example, was bewildered by the harsh
ways professional ballet dancers treated their bodies. They, Aalten concluded, had become
disembodied when driven to achieve the ideal looks of the thin, hyper flexible ballerina
by dieting and excessive training. Dancers attitudes to pain also revealed that they often ignored
their bodily sensations. They believed that to be a good dancer, one has to suffer: Pain was a sign
that one worked hard and improved oneself physically. Due to these factors, the ballet dancers
systematically silenced their bodies that disappeared from their awareness. If this happens to
professional dancers, no wonder we become unaware of how we abuse our bodies to be "good
exercisers" who work themselves up to the burn and suffer from DOMS.

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Body awareness, the sensitivity to ones bodys internal sensations, is at the core of many body-
mind therapies or movement forms such as yoga, Feldenkreis, Alexander, Tai Chi, or Pilates. While
we can practice body awareness in these types of classes, why not have it inform all of our
exercise practices or even our everyday movement experiences. This means more attention to
how we perform exercises. To do this, we can add a few small pointers to our workouts:

Perform each exercise in a slower pace to carefully observe each part of the exercise. This
strategy helps to employ both the concentric phasemuscle contracts while working
and eccentric phasemuscle lengthens while workingof each exercise.

Perform each exercise with less intensity. Carey (2005) recommends 50-60% of our
maximum for an optimal intensity. This helps to avoid damage to muscle tissue.

Perform multi-joint exercises that use both arms and legs. This helps to avoid overloading
one muscle and trains body awareness.

Observe carefully where you feel the exercise to further train body awareness and avoid
muscle tissue damage.

If group exercise classes are your way to exercise, look for classes where the instructor ... :
pays attention to where the exercisers feel the movements.

gives advice on how to perform each exercise correctly.

explains the function for the exercises.

provides modifications for intensity and timing.

includes exercises for muscles other than the mirror-muscles (e.g., abs, butts, and legs).

Exercising body-awareness can make workouts more enjoyable: Instead of hoping it was all over
as quickly as possible, we can learn to enjoy the various ways the body can become stronger and
more mobile. This type of exercise attitude can also appeal to beginner exercisers who do not
need to go flat out to only feel frustrated and inadequate after an exercise bout. Instead of
recovering from EIMS, we can exercise more frequently, but more efficiently.

Acquiring body-awareness, nevertheless, is a learning process that can take significant time. Like
all learning, it requires patience, but the reward is a significantly enhanced exercise experience, a
more efficient workout, and improved, pain free, quality of everyday life.


Do You Talk to Yourself?

Of course you do (LOL).

Posted Dec 03, 2017

The Minute Therapist blog invites you to examine your inner self-talk and the underlying beliefs
that form the foundation of your inner speech. The suggestions and techniques described here are
opportunities to challenge and correct distorted ways of thinking and self-defeating beliefs that
often lead to negative emotions such as anxiety, worry, fear, anger, depression, and guilt. In
clinical practice, I find that many patients are at first reluctant to seriously examine their inner
dialogue because of a negative stigma associated with self-talk. They may even be embarrassed to
admit that they talk to themselves under their breath. Are these types of beliefs holding you back
from having the kind of inner dialogue that can lead to meaningful change? If so, lets try out a
little Q & A about self-talk.

Aren't you just saying, think positively?

Yes, to the extent that positive thinking means thinking of positive alternatives, of seeing the
proverbial cup as half full rather than half empty. But this does not mean walking around all day
with a foolish-looking grin on your face or denying the grim reality when truly bad things happen.
If a loved one dies, it's reasonable to experience grief and profound feelings of sadness. These are
genuine emotions that are proportional to the situation at hand. Likewise, if you are canned at
work, its ludicrous to pretend this was the best thing that could have possibly happened to you
unless, of course, there's good reason to believe it was the best thing to happen to you (as it was
for me as a young man when I was fired from a boring job that I had hated to the depths of my
being). But jumping for joy when true disappointment occurs is a form of denial, not rational
Aren't people who talk to themselves crazy?

Nope. We all talk to ourselves under our breath. Sometimes we even talk to ourselves out loud,
such as when we stub a toe and scream obscenities to ourselves and anyone else within earshot.
In most circumstances, however, self-talk remains internal private speech. We may perceive our
self-talk to be a kind of faint whisper we hear in the recesses of our mind, of words said under our
breath, or silent thoughts.

Have you had any good conversations with yourself lately? What thoughts go through your mind
when you're alone with yourself? Allen Ginsberg, poet laureate of the Beat generation of the
1950's, posed the question, "What do you say to yourself lying in bed at night, making no sounds?"

Whatever form this inner dialogue takes, it's part of the constant stream of daily consciousness. By
the way, people who suffer from serious mental disorders, such as schizophrenia, also engage in
self-dialogues, and they may be observed carrying on conversations with the voices inside their
heads. This is a very different form of self-speech in which ownership of inner speech is attributed
to other persons or forces outside oneself.

Aren't you saying then that I'm responsible for my own misery because of the way I think about

No again. Having a knee-jerk reaction of blaming yourself whenever something goes wrong that
affects you or someone else is one of the most common forms of distorted thinking. Our belief
systems are influenced by what we others tell us about ourselves, especially the significant figures
in our lives such as parents, relatives, friends, and teachers. Your thinking style is no more a
product of free choice than is your hair color. But like the color of your hair, you can change your
thinking style so that you gain better control over your emotions.

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But then whos at fault my parents?

We noted that there are many who believe that psychotherapy has three general aims to
understand yourself, to then forgive yourself, and then to forgive everyone else. We also noted a
common misconception of patients in psychotherapy that the answer to their problems will only
emerge when they find out whos at fault. Fault-finding covers over the true challenge of
psychotherapy, which is to stop replaying tiresome old scripts with new people playing various
familiar parts, a pattern that keeps you locked up as a prisoner of the past. This blog is an open
invitation to reappraise yourself in a new light, putting aside who did what to whom in favor of
what you can do in the present for yourself and others.

Aren't you just saying you should rationalize away your concerns?

What's the difference between reasoning with yourself and rationalizing? Lets put it this way:
Reasoning with yourself involves testing your perceptions against reality to form more objective
appraisals of situations you face. On the other hand, rationalizing replaces rational thought with
exaggerated, distorted thinking. Consider the example of taking an important exam. Its rational
to size up the situation objectively and understand what's clearly at stake without blowing things
out of proportion. While telling yourself that doing well on the examination is important, it is
rational to recognize that your whole future doesn't hinge on any one exam. Practicing rational
self-talk when taking an exam helps you calm down and focus, while exaggerated or
catastrophizing self-talk stirs up a stew of anxiety.

When we rationalize our behavior, we fail to test our perceptions because we hold to a fixed,
unalterable view of reality. During an exam, you might rationalize to yourself by thinking, "It's no
big thing, so who cares how well you perform?" Minimizing the importance of the situation can be
just as destructive, and as discrepant from reality, as exaggerating its importance. When we
rationalize we may put up a false front of indifference. This can be easily shattered when reality
doesn't confirm your preconceived attitudes. The rationalizer in the test-taking situation may
apply only a minimal effort, which can lead to poor performance and negative consequences. A
string of disappointing outcomes may follow, as one failure builds upon anoth


The Practice of Mindfulness

Three tips for living a life that is more grateful and in the moment.

Posted Nov 21, 2017

In a time where we are constantly bombarded with information and demands for our attention,
the practice of mindfulness calls out to us as a goal for soothing cluttered lifestyles. According to a
recent article in the journal Developmental Psychology [1], mindfulness can be defined as "paying
attention, on purpose, in the present moment, nonjudgmentally." When you make the conscious
decision to notice where you are, in the present moment, how you are feeling, and take in your
surroundings with gratitude, you are given a gift. That gift is the ability to recognize that, as Dr.
Wayne Dyer said, "You have everything you need for complete peace and total happiness right
now. [2] The everyday worries of the world - your bills, your troubled relationships, the upstairs
window that needs fixing - can be set aside and you can realize that the gift of life, and the
blessings you have experienced, are yours to enjoy.

It's so easy for life to float by without awareness, for the days to be repetitions of "mindless habit
and automaticity." Just today, as I was walking to work, I was lost in thought about all of the things
I had to do today, listing them, trying to figure out how I would get them all done. When my mind
realized that one of the things on that to-do list was to write about mindfulness, I looked up and
noticed the beautiful temperature, the rich blue of the sky, and the frenetic meanderings of a
squirrel, and I laughed. How ironic, to be lost in thought, missing out on the opportunity to take in
my environment and just be grateful, when I was about to advise others to do exactly that!

How fear can trap us in our thoughts

The opposite of mindfulness is living inside of our fears. Our minds can unknowingly get trapped in
a realm of anxiety. There are so many things that could happen and if we get distracted by the
possibility that they might occur, we are no longer living in the moment. Instead, we are living in a
world that our mind is creating, where everything bad that could happen has already occurred.

The vast majority of the world's religions encourage us to "fear not." A great Hindu philosopher,
named Krishnamurti, wrote something that changed my life. [3] Krishnamurti made me realize
that almost everytime I am anxious or afraid, I am perseverating on things that haven't happened
yet. I may be worried that I won't do well in my next tennis match. I might be thinking about what
I'll do if my child doesn't get accepted to some program. I might start freaking out about a member
of my family dying, and how terrible that would be. And then, when I can be mindful about my
thoughts, my emotions, and my current reality, I can realize that I haven't played the tennis match,
my child hasn't applied to the program yet, and my family is safe and sound.

Developing the ability to be increasingly in a "zone of potential awareness," where you can reflect
on your thoughts and feelings without judging them as wrong, and where you are more apt to
notice where you are in this current moment, is the heart of mindfulness. I value a life of
mindfulness and have experienced moments where being in this zone brings peace of mind
and increased well-being.

Three practical tips for being more mindful:

I wish to practice the art of mindfulness and, in so doing, model it for my own children. In the spirit
of teaching what I myself also need to learn, here are some guidelines for how to live a more
mindful life:

1) The art of listening is the art of paying full attention when your child is speaking. If your child
wants to say something, and you cannot currently give her that level of attention, tell her so, and
let her know when you can listen. "Carla, I am in the middle of something. Can you give me three
minutes to finish this email, and then I'll listen to what you have to say?" And then, stop what you
are doing in three minutes: "Thank you, Carla. I'm done. So, what did you want to tell me?"

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Too often, someone is speaking to us and our mind is busy thinking about other things: the
laundry, the shopping list, how tired we are. When we can be mindful about the fact that we are
actually not even in the room where this conversation is taking place, we can recenter our
attention on the conversation and have the opportunity to reconnect with the present. Our
children will best learn how to be good conversationalists when we show them how by listening to
them when they are speaking with us.

2) An old friend of mine once taught me that feelings were not wrong or right. It was how we
reacted to our feelings that often got us into trouble. Have you ever been so enmeshed
in jealousy or anger that you acted in ways that were outside of your normal values? There may
have even been a part of you, in the back of your mind, saying, "This is not a good idea." The
ability to recognize your emotions and then look at them, acknowledge them, and delay taking
action until they settle down, can serve you well in times of distress.

When we engage in conversations about our feelings, and how we intend to behave in accordance
with our values, rather than having a knee-jerk reaction to our more immediate emotions, we can
teach our children the important skill of emotional regulation.

3) Life is filled with chances to be grateful for what surrounds usif we are aware enough to
notice. The trick is to try to be where you are. When you're walking to work, get out of your mind,
and focus on your sensations. What do you see, hear, smell, feel, and taste? Do you see the faces
of the numerous people around you? There is a sky above your head. What does it look like?
There are buildings to your right and left. Can you appreciate the detail work that went into
making them stand?

"Just pretend you're in the South of France."

A long time ago, I heard a saying that I use when I want to practice being in my body and
experience the inspiration that I feel when I am present and alive right now. It was, "Just pretend
you're in the South of France." I remember reading that saying, and thinking about how, when I'm
visiting a new place, I'm looking around and really taking in the new sights, really enjoying the
different foods, and authentically appreciating these strangers who are living their lives in this
different place. In other words, when I'm somewhere new, I am mindful, paying attention, living in
the present.

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Alternately, when I'm just walking around my hometown, I've seen the trees lining the main street
hundreds of timesboring! I've already walked around the local park and talked to my children as
we threw stones in the lake on dozens of occasions. Yawn! My family and I have been past the
monuments in the center of town on a weekly basis for years. Whatever. But if I wasn't from
here and I was seeing those things for the first time, I might be enchanted and welled up with
appreciation and wonder.

I can guarantee that you have not processed the sights and sounds that make up your everyday
life in their entirety. There are details about your immediate world that you have not noticed and
specific experiences you can have with a different perspective because you are a person who is
older and differently alive than you were the last time you truly opened yourself to them.

A good part of parenting is building memories. Don't let your family be just another sight to which
you have habituated. Get out there and experience life anew like it's the south of France, perhaps.
Teach your children and yourself how to live life attentively, intentionally, and gratefully.

Be mindful of this life you are living. It is going to happen, day by day, until it expires, regardless of
how you approach it. Might as well enjoy the ride.