Sunday, March 28, 2010


Biofeedback is a fascinating subject. It involves learning to control your body with your mind. It is essentially controlling bodily processes which are usually considered to be involuntary. Some people can lower their heart rate, blood pressure, muscle tension, skin temperature, stress levels, and even pain perception through regular practice. Usually mechanical instrumentation and sensors are used to help provide the feedback, but you can measure some results like heart rate with something as simple as a watch with a second hand.

Biofeedback creates greater awareness and control of your body. It's kind of like using the feedback you get from a heart rate monitor, but the changes are initiated with your mind rather than by adjusting the intensity of exercise. When I first heard of this I was a little skeptical until I tried it. Sometimes we forget how powerful our minds are. Have you ever awakened from a nightmare sweating or with your heart pounding? There was obviously no physical exertion on the body, but the dream was perceived as real so the body responded accordingly. If you envision yourself in a fight with someone or in an intense emotional situation, your heart rate, respiration, sweat, and adrenalin may start flowing. Biofeedback is just learning how to control those things to a certain degree.

When this skill is developed, it's almost like having a superpower and being able to control the weather like Isis could. (For you younger readers, she had the same powers as Storm from X Men) Some of the reasons people learn to practice biofeedback are to control anxiety, motion sickness, high blood pressure, asthma, incontinence, migraine headaches, pain control, etc. There are now even video games and computer software programs to help people practice biofeedback.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Achieving Balance

I have always been intrigued with the concept of balance. I think the idea of being well rounded is appealing to most people. When it comes to physical fitness, balance is obviously important. I have seen some people with incredible strength, but they have little or no cardiovascular endurance. Others might be conditioned for aerobic activities but have no flexibility. It's hard to be perfectly balanced in every area, and if you are training for a sport specific or preferred activity, you obviously have certain areas you want to emphasize, but you don't want to be deficient in other areas either.

When an athlete is lacking in one area of a sport, it can be an obvious weakness. There are some NBA players who routinely get yanked out towards the end of a close game since they are such poor free-throw shooters that they become a liability to their team. This blog obviously focuses on the Physical aspect of your health but you should also consider the following four areas of development.

Mental-Many people stop reading after high school. Find activities that challenge you and are intellectually stimulating. Learning about new ideas and concepts will help you grow mentally. If you found a topic you know very little about and spent a few minutes studying it each day, you could soon become an expert on that topic.

Social-The ability to interact and work with others is important. Some people are obnoxious, overbearing and rude, while others are withdrawn and extremely introverted. Since we interact with others regularly, it is important that we get along with other people and are comfortable doing so.

Spiritual-This is one of the hardest areas to analyze since you can't just measure it by taking your blood pressure or stepping on a scale. Spiritual health means different thing to different people, but having a spiritual aspect to your life is important. People who ignore this aspect are often unfulfilled.

Financial-Like physical health, this one is a little easier to measure and analyze. Money is not everything, but it gives you options. It is more difficult to maintain good health if you are living in poverty and can't afford proper health care, nutritious food, or don't have free time to participate in healthy activities.

These 5 different areas often overlap and affect one another like the sections of the rim in the photo above. A friend once advised me to "find the one area where you are the furthest behind in your life and that is what you should work on." I challenge you to analyze your life in these different areas and work towards creating better balance; (as if you didn't already have enough things to worry about.) You will have a better quality of life if you focus on body, mind, and spirit, as opposed to just your physical health.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Self Sabotage

When we work towards improving our health and fitness, we tend to focus on the physical components of exercise and nutrition, but we often forget the importance of your mind when it comes to being focused and committed. Many times our battles are mental and psychological and, at times, we can be our worst enemy, as we are guilty of sabotaging our own efforts.

Since it takes effort to change, you should stack the cards in your favor and avoid doing the things which will sabotage your efforts and slow down or reverse your progress. Here are a few things to consider.

Do you have conflicting goals? Some people want to run a marathon but also want to bulk up and gain a lot of muscle mass. It is not very likely that you can do both at the same time.

Do you surround yourself and hang out with people who are not supportive of your fitness goals and who encourage you to participate in unhealthy activities? That's like an alcoholic looking for support at a bar.

When you go shopping, do you find yourself buying junk food because it's on sale even though you don't really intend to eat it? Do you keep unhealthy food around you during the day at home or work which makes it harder for you to eat clean? I'm not pointing fingers at anyone here. On February 15th I was at Rite-Aid and they were discounting their Valentines candy for pennies on the dollar. I didn't want or need it, but it was such a good deal I had to buy a bunch! Doy to me.

If you are going to indulge in occasional junk food, then make it inconvenient. We all know it is cheaper and easier to keep a 5 gallon container of Rocky Road ice cream in your freezer at home, but if instead, you drove to Baskin Robbins and pay $9.00, or whatever they charge these days for an ice cream cone, you would probably indulge a lot less often. Remove the temptations.

Are you afraid of reaching your goals and actually succeeding? I don't want to get into psychology mumbo jumbo, or make anyone feel like they have a split personality like Norman Bates, but that is an important question to ask.

What is your self image? Do you see yourself as a healthy, fit person, or an out of shape person who is just pretending to live a healthy lifestyle? I have an acquaintance who was a heavy smoker for years. One day he had an epiphany when he realized he was a neat freak and very clean and his filthy habit was not congruent with his self image. He was able to quit smoking when he realized this and focused the image he had of himself instead of the habit he had been addicted to. It's never too late to change your self-concept.

The changes we make in our lives can be difficult. It requires effort to overcome old habits and negative thought patterns. This applies to all aspects of our lives, not just weight loss and developing healthy habits. When you mess up, don't think "all is lost". Nothing good ever comes from an attitude of defeat. Don't beat yourself up either, just move on. If the number of days you do well working towards your goals exceed the number of days you goof up, then you will make progress.