The Consequence of Insecurities: What's Not So Obvious

 
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Insecurities are a silent killer. It’s perfectly normal to have them and I have yet to meet anyone without them, so the presence of insecurities would likely not alarm anyone, nor I, but the more I observe myself, the more I see how normalized insecurities have become. Insecurities are what has hurt me in fulfilling my truest potential. Online resources and the billion-dollar self-help industry can attest to the prominence of insecurities, so I’ve never felt abnormal in possessing insecurities. In fact, psychologists can attest that insecurities are a normal part of human development. To some degree I would say yes, but what if insecurities are so inescapable that it inhibits one from moving forward with anything. Yes, humans are prone to insecurities, but the normalization of its existence is what had inhibited me to think there wasn’t another way.

For a while, knowing how normal insecurities are allowed me to let my insecurities dictate my life. What I didn’t think about was the degree of my insecurities and how it inhibited my actions. I used to think outside circumstances or the situation I am in was what was stopping me from being able to feel, be, or do certain things but I realize now that the contribution to these internalized limitations are in fact a mirror to my exaggerated insecurities. My limitations are not concrete. My limitations are not what’s actually stopping me from doing things, but rather I am harnessing unhealthy levels of insecurities which translates into fear and therefore inhibits me from taking actions. I therefore also have stopped myself from optimizing on my own potential. Doesn’t that sound silly?

Looking out from within, it’s easy to see why blaming external factors becomes the coping mechanism of choice (like blaming genetics or blaming circumstance); a sort of denial and aversion to accepting my own autonomy in my actions. Also, another convincing factor to blame something other than myself is that blaming something else shifts the responsibility away from myself. Of course, I am not saying that there aren’t realities that aren’t happening around me which are beyond my control, nor am I saying that there are certain unarguable limitations (like how humans can’t fly-- though humans did invent airplanes and rockets), nor is the outside world completely passive in shaping my actions. What I am highlighting is how I tend to only attribute limitations to external factors before giving room to contemplate my insecurities which are contributing to the limitation I encounter.

Most limitations, for example like “I can’t move to a new city” or “I can’t start a new routine” are all created limitations. It is not true that I can’t do either of these things if I wanted to, which is therefore different to how I can’t fly without a machine assisting me. This fact alone has been a monumental awakening, as I never thought the responsibility to breakdown these inhibiting limitations was within my autonomy. Upon closer observation, my conclusion is that most of the limitations I encounter are in fact created due to my own insecurities. I’ve somehow managed to go through life allowing these created limitations to trap me in my own reality. I forget that the truth of my experience lies in my mind and if I believe I can’t do something, then that’s the truth that will play out.

This is what I’ve struggled through over the years. I’ve struggled by creating limitations in my mind which aren’t actually true. I’ve struggled to take action because of these created limitations and when I look back at my life, I do admit, I sometimes feel regret at the missed opportunities I feel I’ve let gone by. I had allowed limitations and fear dictate how I lived my life and looking back, I no longer want to life that way. I still sometimes lie awake fearful of what tomorrow will bring. I am fearful that I will live a meaningless life. I am fearful I will miss critical opportunities in my personal and professional life. I lie in bed thinking about how insignificant my life feels today and how it may stay the same tomorrow. All these struggles are struggles I still live with, but what I’ve come to realize is how these limitations only exist in my mind.

The liberating truth about all the work that I’ve done over the years on myself and the research I’ve done on this matter is that I now I know that I have the power to change my truth. I have the power to change my reality. I have the power to breakdown my insecurities. I know that it takes serious effort to change and stop myself from inhibiting my own potential, but the light at the end of the tunnel is that I know I can change. That change is possible, that change can happen, that change is within my control, and that change is the responsibility I have to myself. My fixation on limitations due to my insecurities has held me captive for so long, but I now know it only has power over my actions if I allow it.

Jumping out off the corporate world and becoming a full time fitness professional and starting my blog was and is still one of the scariest endeavors I have undertaken. I have no idea where life will take me, but I am optimistic about what the future holds because I am now aware of the power insecurities has over my actions. I now place a lot of effort in debunking my own insecurities as I want to live a life free from regret and what ifs. I want to continue to take actions towards my dreams and ambition and I will continue to work on releasing myself from the captivity of my insecurities; that alone, I know, is a journey that’ll take a lifetime.

 

Why Size Does Not Equal To Strength

 
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FACT: SIZE DOES NOT always EQUAL TO STRENGTH. I understand where the logic comes from. The opposing belief seems viable when comparing a toddler to an adult; in which case then yes, size will likely equal to strength. Here I am speaking about the context of physical fitness and athletic performance in adults because although this principle applies to children and young adults when comparing them within the same age category, it’s hard to compare growing children because neither age group are physically mature yet. The truth I want to highlight is that size is not a true measure of strength due to the complex structures which exist within the human body.

On several occasions, in a group class setting, I’ve had women react with complete surprise at how strong I am for such a small person. In Asia, I would say I’m of average size, but I guess to the rest of the world I am what some would consider petite. I am 160cm (approx. 5’ 2’’) and my weight fluctuates between 47 kg-50 kg (approx. 103-110 lbs), but through my athleticism and commitment to training over the years I’ve been able to develop great strength for my size.

Here’s what’s important to understand. Muscle strength is not a matter of size, rather, muscle strength is a matter of force and velocity, which simply put is what allows for muscle contraction to occur. It’s possible to be small in appearance and size but strong in strength. Force is defined as strength or momentum which propels physical action or movement, while velocity is defined as the speed of the movement.

When training for strength, understand that there’s a whole lot more going on under the skin than just lifting, pushing, and moving. What needs to be classified is whether you’re training for size or training for performance and endurance. This difference in classification is what will differentiate between the type of training that’s best to achieve the desired goal. At its scientific level, muscle hypertrophy or muscle growth can occur in two ways: myofibrillar hypertrophy and sarcoplasmic hypertrophy. Neither of the two are better than the other, nor do they exclusively occur independently of one another, but the distinction creates an emphasis on why defining the goal for training matters.

First understand that each muscle fiber is an individual cell with multiple nuclei. Contraction or shortening of the individual muscle fiber is ultimately responsible for contraction of a whole muscle. Myofibrillar hypertrophy is an increase in the size or thickness of the cellular structures of the muscle fiber through the increase in myofibrils within each muscle fiber. An increase in myofibrils improves the force-production of individual muscle fibers because myofibrils is what contains the contractile (active) proteins: actin and myosin, which what makes muscle contraction possible. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy is an increase in the volume of the semi fluid which surrounds individual muscle fibers but doesn’t contain the contractile proteins actin and myosin. Sarcoplasmic hypertrophy prioritizes on muscle fibers which contain the proteins used for tissue repair and growth. The increase in volume is what people refer to as muscle “pump,” as this situations creates increased cross-section of muscle fibers, but the enhancement in appearance and size is caused by an increase in semi fluid, but the semi fluid does not impact the contractile capacity of the muscle fibers and therefore does not impact force production. This is why identifying the goal to training is important.

Not all training are made equal because beyond the aesthetic and physical efforts there’s a lot of complex physiological, neurological, and chemical reactions and relationships which occur underneath the skin; beyond what meets the eye. This is why cardio may not be the best for weight loss and why strength training is advocated by many health professionals, because if size alone is what’s desired then there are specific methods of training which are more favorable to such goal while the same is true if performance is what’s desired more. At the end of the day, this is why narrowing to more specific goals and having a clear understanding on what the desired outcome is, beyond just being toned and fit is important.


Resources: 

McCall, Pete. “10 Things to Know About Muscle Fibers.” ACE, 7 May 2015, www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/professional/expert-articles/5411/10-things-to-know-about-muscle-fibers.

Neumann, Donald A., et al. Kinesiology of the Musculoskeletal System: Foundations for Rehabilitation. Third ed., Elsevier, 2017.

 

How to Facilitate Positive Changes on The Brain & Mind

 
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The most profound book I’ve read in my recent life is The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson, Ph. D and Sharon Begley. This book was my introduction into the current world of neuroscience and it’s dynamic advances since the time I last sat in a psychology class back in high school. The most significant finding, amongst many outlined in the book, is the fact that our brain has the capacity to continue to adapt and develop throughout all of life, known as neuroplasticity. This is in contrary to the past belief that the brain stops developing after a certain age. This book is my insight into understanding The Real Power Of the Mind and a catalyst to my now near obsession with the understanding and learning about the brain and its capacity.

I state time and time again that the mind and the brain plays a significant role in our lives. It is the core of our humanity; how we operate as human beings. Without the brain or the mind humans are nothing, which is why an understanding of the role the brain and the mind play in our life is important.

Therefore, now that we know about neuroplasticity, that the brain has the capacity for lifelong growth and development, it’s time to take full advantage of the advances made through neuroscience and start applying it. Now the question is, how can I improve my brain and mind?

NOTE: There is a plethora of information and ways to improve the brain and the mind, here I am focusing on methods I have so far adopted myself.

#1 - Meditation

Meditation used to be a space in which neuroscientists were afraid to engage with due to the fear of rejection from their peers. Before, studying meditation was seen as career suicide for neuroscientists. There was a lot of stigmas not to take these scientists seriously, but through the sacrifice and perseverance of pioneering scientists, the science can now confirm the benefits of meditation.

Davidson “found that each of us is… a unique blend that describes how you perceive the world and react to it, how you engage with others, and how you navigate the obstacle course of life.” His scientific journey, “has culminated in the studies on long-term meditators...showing that we have the power to live our lives and train our brains in ways that will shift where we” are. The liberating knowledge is that “you don’t have to wait until you are a meditation Olympian, with upwards of ten thousand hours of meditation under your robe.” Research has shown that even 10 minutes a day can significantly improve a person’s attention, focus, stress level, and general mental condition.

NOTE: There are different types of meditation out there. A quick Google search will be able to assist in outlining the types and benefits of different types of meditation.

"the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally-- in other words, our thoughts and intentions"

#2 - Shifting Internal Dialogue

Davidson found that “the brain can also change in response to messages generated internally-- in other words, our thoughts and intentions…for example, when athletes engage in mental imagery, focusing on the precise sequence of movements required to execute, say, a forward two-and-a-half pike, the regions of the motor cortex that controls the required muscles expand. Similarly, thought alone can increase or decrease activity in specific brain circuits.”

If I’m being honest, how guilty am I of negative and self-defeating internal dialogue? It’s easy to forget the force the mind and the brain plays when it comes to life because although the brain and the mind are how we experience the world, it’s also an afterthought because my inner world is not what’s at the forefront of the experience. It requires a person to pause, to introspect, to look within, and to pursue one’s own internal world to realize the significance it plays in life.

# 3 - Practicing Growth Mindset versus Fixed Mindset

Carol Dweck, a professor who studies Growth Mindset at Stanford University outlines her magnificent findings on the real potential the brain has through her research on children in school settings. First, let’s define fixed mindset, a fixed mindset is the belief that one is born with a set of abilities and talents. Therefore, are static in their ability to learn, grow, and change. A growth mindset is the belief that one has the capacity to continuously develop and improve their abilities and talents through continuous effort and learning. Therefore, even when faced with failure, they understand that failure is only temporary; that there’s always the potential to improve.

This simple shift in mindset is what made the difference between underperforming students and students who excelled. The theory was put to test in underprivileged neighborhoods and school districts and found that “students who were not taught… growth mindset continued to show declining grades over this difficult school transition, but those who were taught this lesson showed a sharp rebound in their grades.” In another “study, we taught them that every time they push out of their comfort zone to learn something new and difficult, the neurons in their brain can form new, stronger connections, and over time, they can get smarter.”

I can relate to this story because back in middle school I went from a C and B student to a straight-A student, seemingly overnight. I even won the most improved student award back in 8th grade just because one teacher believed in me and took the time to tell me that he did. It’s not my abilities or skills that were the cause of this jump, it was the simple shift in mindset. Through my teacher’s belief in me, I understood that I had the capacity to learn, to develop, and therefore improve.

Although Dweck’s research presented findings in school-aged children, the development in neuroscience, which highlights neuroplasticity, a condition available throughout all of life indicates the human capacity for such improvements even in adulthood. The simple shift in the belief that even as an adult, I have the ability and capacity to reconfigure my brain through effort, learning, and knowledge is enough to propel me to invest in improving my cognitive world.

The lesson I draw based on all this information is realizing the brain’s lifelong capacity to grow and develop. That what it takes to improve the condition of my brain and mind is to invest time towards it. If I allocate time and effort towards improving my mental capacity and condition, then the evidence from neuroscience supports the claim, that I will see improvements. The science supports the claim that if I do the work to stimulate and improve my brain, the results will surely follow. That’s a guarantee I cannot ignore.

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Resources: 

Begley, Sharon, and Richard J. Davidson. The Emotional Life of Your Brain: How Its Unique Patterns Affect the Way You Think, Feel, and Live - and How You Can Change Them. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 2012.

 

Let's Talk Mental Health

 
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Every time the term 'mental health' is said, one gigantic dark cloud starts to emerge in most people’s minds. The term conjures up negative connotations, thoughts of crazy people (i.e. people who are mentally ill or mentally insane), almost like a gag reflex or a jerk reaction to the sound of those two words said together; and literally, everyone freezes start to look down, and eventually move away from the conversation.

Here’s the truth. Mental health is exactly what it is. Mental health is about mental health; the health and condition of one’s mind. To be more specific, “mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life,” (www.mentalhealth.gov) but, I think even this is a limited definition as to what’s truly relevant when addressing the topic of mental health. I believe mental health should encompass the health of one’s brain too. The brain is the vehicle which creates the condition, the capacity, and the operations possible for mental health. The brain is the source of every person’s emotional, psychological, social, physical, and physiological health. Humans are nothing without the brain, so even more than physical health, mental health should be everyone’s priority.

"Humans are nothing without the brain, so even more than physical health, mental health should be everyone’s priority."

Let’s for a moment briefly define the brain and define the mind. The brain is an organ of collective nerve tissues which sits in the skull, while the mind is the intellect and consciousness of a person. In my opinion, when discussing the considerations pertaining to mental health, both the brain and the mind are necessary to include because a brain without a mind is not fulfilling its true capacity and a mind without a brain is impossible.

Think about it, without a brain I will be left lifeless, how will the heart know to continue to pump blood? How will I know how to contract and expand my lungs? I will not know how to operate my body. I will be absent from my operational capacity to live. Without a mind I won’t be able to know who I am, I won’t have a sense of identity, I wouldn’t know what identity even is, nor would I even know that I exist. The perspective each individual has of the world and of one’s own existence all exists in the mind. If I am absent of mind, then I will be absent of realizing I have a life to live for.

Let’s use the simple example of exercise and how when I exercise I can cause my brain to produce endorphins. Endorphins are what’s commonly known as ‘happy hormones’ and an increase in endorphins will also cause a feeling of elation and happiness. Think about this more clearly, the brain is secreting hormones that impact my mood. It’s not hard to see why I find the brain and the mind as a necessary pair in the consideration of mental health. Further, why I find mental health as a very important topic to be considered and talked about by everyone at every stage of life.

The breadth of responsibility the brain and the mind touch on in regards to human life is so substantial that it’s a surprise that it’s taken us this long to highlight mental health as an important matter to be considered by the masses. The biggest astonishment of all, of course, is the fact that the topic of mental health is still stigmatized. The positive move now is that more and more people are awakening to the realities of how important both the mind and the brain is, not just to enhance performance or to live optimally, but also in regards to the general health of the brain and mind; especially with the new research available through the advances in neuroscience (The Real Power of The Mind  and The Role of Change in Neuroplasticity & in Lifestyle). Though I would argue that despite the significance the brain and the mind play in human life, the majority of people and the collective attention towards mental health in the world today is still tremendously far from ideal. In 2018, we are still bounded by the taboos surrounding the topic, the social stigmatization, and repelled by the sense of embarrassment and rejection to address the issue. We are only just starting to wake up to the realities, but we’re far from an appropriate, accurate and critical consideration of the matter, especially in terms of the masses.

Everything about being human all stems from the brain and the operation of the mind so the term ‘mental health’ shouldn’t bring up negative reactions, rather it should be an area of attention and action. Mental health addresses the questions and the topics which pertain to the health of the body’s arguably most important organ - the brain!

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This will be a topic I will touch on a lot throughout, because further than just my unrelenting fascination with the brain and the mind, I find that the health of both of these are fundamental considerations to the existence and purpose of us as a species.

 

 

The Role of Change in Neuroplasticity & in Lifestyle

 

First, take a moment to watch this talk by Lara Boyd, a neuroscientist speaking about the discoveries of neuroplasticity at a TEDx event in Vancouver in 2015.

Listening to the talk by Lara Boyd opens my eyes to the magnificence of the human brain. As Boyd puts it, it’s an exciting time for neuroscientists as the age-old belief that the brain stops developing after a certain age is now a disproven fact. The liberating research on the brain reveals that in fact, the brain possesses a quality of neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s constant and lifelong capacity for change. More specifically, “neuroplasticity is supported by chemical, by structural, and by functional changes, and these are happening across the whole brain… Together they support learning and they’re taking place all the time.” In other words, changes in the brain occur all the time.

This is a transformational discovery because what the science identifies is the brain’s real capacity and the human potential for constant betterment. Remember, the brain is where everything I do as a person originates from. The brain is what allows me to experience changes in the world, it is where I process my experiences of the world, and it is what helps me to function in the world. Therefore, if I want to change my experience of the world, if I want to change my perception of the world, and if I want to change my behavior and how I operate in the world, this change must therefore first occur in the brain. But Boyd also warns, that “neuroplasticity can work both ways, it can be positive, you learn something new, you refine a motor skill, it can also be negative, you forgot something you once knew, you become addicted to drugs, maybe you have chronic pain…[the brain is] being shaped structurally and functionally by everything you do and everything you don’t do.” This places the responsibility of the direction of the changes in the brain on the individual. Sure, there are of course things in the world that is beyond our control, like nature or other people’s behaviors, but when it comes to the things within my control, like my brain and how I experience, react, perceive, and operate in the world, science tells me that I am in control.

Further, Boyd’s research is a clarification on the power each individual has over their own lives. It’s an indication on the inherent human responsibility to guide these changes in the right way because if I am currently living a life that promotes unhealthy or negative habits, then the wonderful news is that it is in my power and capacity to change these habits. The way I choose to behave and the decisions I make are all processed in the brain, it is based on my past learning, my current exposures, and my willingness to act on the knowledge I possess. If the knowledge I’ve harbored until now is what’s limiting me from making better decisions, then it is in my power to find the right kind of knowledge that will help propel me to make better decisions.

Change is inevitable. Change is constant. Change is inseparable from time and from the realities of the world, but change is also directional. Change can either be towards progress or towards regression. Change can become an advantage or disadvantage. Now, as Boyd's research and science have proven, we know that change in the brain is possible. Therefore, change in behavior and habits are possible. For everything, I do originate from the brain and the brain indeed possess the lifelong capacity for change, therefore in order for me to change my lifestyle, I must begin from the brain; or more specifically, the mind.

I will have a follow-up post on how to facilitate positive changes on the brain and mind soon. Stay tuned! For now, here's an earlier insight I had on the mind, The Real Power Of the Mind.

 

Why The Most Common Goal Being Set Is A Cause For Failure

 
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It’s time to get specific, very specific. One of the most common things I hear as a fitness professional is “I want to get toned and fit.” That’s a good goal, at least the desire for improvements is there, but that’s also one of the most generic and un-motivating goals anyone can set for themselves. Honestly, it’s a ‘goal’ that sets most for failure. Here’s why:

Reason #1 - The desire lacks a specific goal for individuals to work towards.

Here’s the reality, in the world of health and fitness, there’s no real limit to how healthy or fit a person can get. The longer I work on my health and fitness, the more results, the more benefits, and the more gains I reap. Health and fitness is a spectrum versus a singular achievable destination. I know exactly how long my flight from Singapore to Bali was, but with health and fitness, there’s no real measurement to the distance because there’s always room to do better and there’s always room to improve. I can continue to improve my flexibility, improve my strength, increase my endurance, increase my muscle mass, reduce my fat percentage, etc. because the capacity for improvements is endless.

Reason #2 - The desire is undefinable.

Everyone has a different preference and definition to what “toned and fit” is because it lacks universal identification. Toned and fit is a description, not an identification. Body type preference also comes into play here, what I find toned and fit may be too much or too little for some people’s expectations. For example, some people may want larger bulkier muscles, while others want leaner muscles, or others want bigger butts while others prefer to focus on their abs. There’s a multitude of desires when it comes to what each person wants, so if I can’t even define what I want, how can I expect to achieve it?

Reason #3 - Everyone’s body is different.

Everyone has a different idea of what the ideal body is but the reality is, each person is born with different body types, with different genetics, with different metabolisms, and therefore with different capacities. Before identifying what is my ideal body type, there must be an understanding of the reality of each individual’s body. Each body is beautiful in their own way, but genetics and physiology is something we’re born with, therefore the limitations of this reality are also inherent.

SOLUTIONS:

Solution #1 - Identify the desires and intentions.

Everyone has different desires as to what the ideal body is. Identifying what this means within the context of one’s own body and what this means for each person is key to the success of each individual’s health and fitness journey. This is Why Identifying What Drives You Is Important. There also first need to a be a clear understanding of the why. Why do I want to embark on this health and fitness journey? Understanding our desires and motivations is an important first step because Intention Matters. What I am driven by is different to the person next to me, so I should expect that how I motivate myself is different too. Identifying these critical components will help to identify the goal.

Solution #2 - Come up with specific goals.

Once I understand the why, I am then able to identify specific desires and motivations to help me identify specific goals. “I want to be able to do 10 push-ups because I want a stronger upper body,” “I want to be able to do a 20kg (approx. 44 lbs) deadlift because I want more shape to my butt,” “I want to be able to jog from my house to the gardens without stopping because I want to work on my endurance,” the possibilities are endless, but the main thing to remember here is to come up with one or a few specific goals to keep you motivated and start with the why! Of course, once you’ve achieved the goal, cross it out and set a new one!

Solution #3 - Accept that each body is different.

Accepting and working with what I have to achieve my healthiest and fittest self is the first step to a successful wellness journey, here’s A Beginner’s Guide To Working Out, which explains several criteria to get right in order to aid a successful fitness journey. These criteria listed are what I believe are key components to a successful health and fitness journey. The main point to draw on is on accepting and celebrating the body we have been blessed with and to work on optimizing its potential.

Everyone has the capacity to improve their health and fitness, but there are too many fad diets and fad workouts out there which mislead people’s expectation of themselves. Especially with the rampant existence of media nowadays, there’s a race towards perfection and unrealistic aesthetic reaches.

The shift that’s needed in the health and fitness world is an acceptance towards all different body types. Not everyone is tall and lanky, but that is the projected ideal for females in this world. Not everyone is big boned and chiseled, but that is the projected ideal for males in this world. What’s more important is to keep moving forward towards a healthier and fitter self, because what’s more liberating is the freedom to love one’s only body and to treat it like the holy temple it really is. Meaning to do whatever it takes to help this body I have to achieve its best potential.

Each body is unique, each body is different, each body has its own capacities and therefore its own potential so why not work towards its personal best, rather than drowning my mind and my body with unrealistic and unachievable expectations of what society and media have deemed as worthy?

 

How To Take Your Sweat To The Next Level: The Mind-Body Connection

 

Mindfulness and mindful practice is a force in today’s pop culture: from meditation to hygge (the Danish cultural phenomenon) to meditation apps and meditation studios, the world is pushing forward with strong momentum towards a more conscious lifestyle.

Humans are incapable of living without a functional brain; where dysfunctions in the brain can impact a person’s ability to live and lead a normal life. It’s no surprise then that muscle contraction and body movement depend and originate in the brain.

The basics to movement and muscle contraction is this: the Central Nervous System (CNS), which encompasses the spinal cord, the brain, and the nerves, is a quick communication channel that acts as the control center for movement and muscle activation.1 (Side Note: There are more complex depths to this relationship, but for my current purpose, this brief explanation is sufficient.)

The human body wouldn’t be this miraculous marvel if it didn’t have a brain and the same is true for the brain if the opposite were true. The brain’s capacity is limited to the body it belongs to. Exercise culture tends to focus a lot on aesthetic benefits, but if the body is nothing without a brain and if the brain is only limited to the body that it is in, then what’s more intriguing to understand is how exercise benefits from cognitive function and how cognitive function benefits from exercise.

A study by Duke University found that the prefrontal and frontal region of clinically depressed and older participants were enriched in an exercise-versus-medication study of 84 individuals.3 Those who exercised found improvements in memory, “as well as in executive functions pertaining to planning, organization and intellectual multitasking.” Neuroplasticity, the brain’s lifelong capacity to adapt and change, is part of the reason why this is possible. The relationship and dependency of the brain and the body are what is worth paying attention to because each plays a significant role in defining the capacity and capabilities of the other. The physiological reality is that without the brain humans are nothing.

Here’s why this is important & how this information can help you take your sweat to the next level by optimizing the mind-body connection:

1. To optimize my sweat time, I need to participate in mindful sweat sessions

As highlighted above, the body depends on the brain and the brain depends on the body. If exercise is treated as a mindless activity, where my mind is contemplating about what to wear this weekend versus staying conscious of the movements and muscles I am working, then I am falling short on optimizing on my sweat time. I am putting in the time and most of the work, but cheating myself from reaping the full benefits.

2. To optimize my sweat sessions, I need to think about the muscles being worked

It’s not necessary to know the anatomy of the whole human body, but the more I know the more it helps. Think of it like this, when I first started texting, I had to look at the keypad in order to type. After sometime typing became much more automatic. Now as I type on a touch screen, typing without looking is possible, but I am much more accurate with my texts if I look. This analogy can be applied in regards to muscle activation in exercise; especially when it comes to the more dominant muscles. Although muscle activation can happen quite automatically, especially if the exercise and movements are familiar, thinking about the muscles as I move will create better accuracy.

3. To avoid a plateau, I need to continue to stimulate my brain and my body.

Think back to when toddlers first learn how to walk. Learning how to walk was difficult for everyone. No baby came into this world knowing how to use his or her limbs. It took months of growth, months of practice, and more than a couple of tries before the mind was able to direct the body to walk.

Learning how to walk is the same as learning how to exercise correctly. We all started at zero at some point and everything needs to be learned, but once it’s learned it tends to become automatic. This is why I don’t believe in doing just one type of exercise. I am an advocate for cross-training because it is only natural for the body to adapt. If I want to optimize on challenging both my mind and my body, then I need to also challenge myself with varied types of exercise. The more unfamiliar I am with the activity, the more challenging it becomes for my body and my brain. Therapists and trainers working with older populations have even started to incorporate brain games to help improve overall reception to training.3

4. To help motivate myself to exercise, I should think about the benefits of exercise beyond aesthetics

Aesthetic gains win people’s attention, but aesthetic gains are such a small part of the real benefits of exercise. There’s what feels like an infinite list of the benefits: from physical health to mental well-being, to improved mood, and so much more! (Check out What Happened When I Added Weights and What’s To Gain With Strength Training).

In understanding the essential connection the brain has with the body, it’s easy to see why I like to place emphasis on training beyond the physical body and beyond aesthetics. The mind is a powerful tool and if we want our body to optimize on function and health, it requires more than just physical health, attention to the mind and mental stimulation is also necessary.

Resources:

1. Hargrove, Todd. “The Central Nervous System.” BETTER MOVEMENT, 2008, www.bettermovement.org/blog/2008/the-central-nervous-system.

2. McGrath, Brent. “4 Tips To Help Train Your Brain For Massive Gains: Mind Muscle Connection!” Bodybuilding.com, 16 June 2010, www.bodybuilding.com/fun/4-tips-to-help-train-brain-massive-gains-mind-muscle-connection.htm.

3. Myers, Carrie. “Creating the Ultimate Mind-Body Connection.” ACE Fitness, www.acefitness.org/certifiednewsarticle/1748/creating-the-ultimate-mind-body-connection%20/.

 

 

Why Emotions Impact A Change In Lifestyle

 
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The common belief is that emotions are fixed and that most human beings experience specific emotions in more or less in the same way. Paul Ekman, a leading psychologist, and pioneer to the study of emotions identified ‘core emotions’ through his research as disgust, fear, surprise, happiness, anger, and sadness. Concluding that all human beings more or less experience these pillar emotions in more or less the same way. Ekman’s conclusion is an important pivot in the study of emotions as his work was then widely accepted as the basis to how we understand emotions and therefore how the majority of researchers after him studied emotions. But, can emotions and therefore human experience be generalized this way?

In a podcast I was listening to, titled “Decoding Our Emotions” (TED Radio Hour by NPR Radio), one of the most significant revelations was learning that some cultures are absent of certain emotions. That some languages in the world do not share the same ability to identify the emotions Ekman had identified as ‘core emotions’ applicable to all peoples, in all instances, and in all situations. Lisa Feldman Barrett, a professor of psychology at Northeastern University and a Harvard researcher, uses the example of Tahitians, who do not have a word for sadness or Russians, who have multiple kinds of sadnesses. Being bilingual I can relate to this experience, as there are feelings in Bahasa (the language spoken in Indonesia), that aren’t translatable into English. There are feelings in which I can express in Bahasa with one word, that I must dive into an elaborate explanation for when I am trying to explain the feeling to a non-Bahasa speaker. This highlights the subjective, contextual, and cultural boundaries in which emotions are felt, expressed, and identified. This also identifies the inherent boundaries language can create, as Barrett made the point that if an emotion is not available linguistically in the mind, then such emotion will be harder to surface due to the limitation on naming that particular emotion. Barrett concludes that emotions are not universal for all peoples, in all instances, and in all situations, rather emotions are subjective and contextual.

Barrett asks an important question: “does a human brain come pre-wired with the capacity to make anger, fear, sadness, disgust, and so on...the answer is no.” What is clear is that “there’s no single objective fingerprint, single objective measure for any emotion that holds across all instances, across people, across cultures” and that emotions are experienced by how the “brain is basically making predictions, guesses, that it’s constructing in the moment with billions of neurons working together.” In other words, humans have “the kind of brain, that allows us to transmit culture by wiring the brain of the next generation to make perception and experiences in the same way that we do, and so,...  emotions are real, they're absolutely real, [but] they're real in a very situated way, because we've learned and agreed on how to make sense of particular sensation in particular situations.”

What’s significant about the learnings from Barrett’s research is the emphasis she places on experiencing emotions based on context, an individual’s brain, and the agreement and acceptance “on how to make sense of particular sensation in particular situations.” What then, if a person chooses to disagree? Even if there’s a collective agreement based on culture, emotions, at the end of the day, are an individual’s autonomous cognitive appropriation of their reactions to context and situations outside the mind. What comes to light is the opportunity and autonomous potential each individual has when it comes to taking control of their own emotions and how they perceive emotions in others.

In conjunction, the rise of technology and the globalization of ideas exposes people today to higher variables of contexts (i.e. culture and language). Whether it’s due to moving around, mixed-race couples, or even through a hunger for knowledge (made widely available through the internet and technology), culture and context are much more fluid today than in previous generations. The connection I see between this research is how individuals today have more opportunities to take responsibility into their own hands by having more choice about what to agree on and what gets transmitted into the wiring of their brain.The liberating truth to realize is because emotions are fluid, not fixed, and not predetermined, emotions become an opportunity for change. Further, within the climate of today’s globalized world, the potential for each individual to set the context and culture in how emotions influence their life becomes greater.

If emotions are situated and contextual, then the decisions prompted by our emotions are also situated and contextual. The life we choose to live (i.e. whether it’s in the promotion of a healthier self or lack thereof) is dependent therefore on what we’ve learned and what we chose to agree on. The emotions which arise are fluid enough for us to take control of. If exercise causes rise to negative emotions, it is in one’s autonomous capacity (and I would argue responsibility) to change perceptions within their own minds in order to improve the emotional dialogue one has to something that’s meant to better one’s life. It is clear that the responsibility sits with the individual. What’s more important to grasp is how each individual’s unique context and culture (and therefore the emotions associated with healthier choices), are in reality non-universal and autonomous. Finding an individualized approach to achieving a healthier lifestyle becomes dramatically more important. There’s no denying the role emotions play on a lifestyle change and understanding that it is in my power to shape how I experience and express my emotions is a major key to helping me further my journey towards my healthiest self because it is in my capacity to reject any negative or resistant emotion which may arise to the positive changes I wish to embark on.

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The podcast featured more than one TED speaker, but I chose to focus on Lisa Feldman Barrett’s research in order to arrive and elaborate on my own conclusions about the relevance of how we understand emotions in relation to making a lifestyle change.

Listen to the full podcast episode here.

 

 

My Bare Minimum

 

Everyone has ambitions and dreams. Even when we’re speaking about things of smaller significance to our larger life, there’s the ideal and then there’s reality. How my week unfolds tends to go differently than how I had imagined it Sunday night. Some of us are realistic thinkers who tend to imagine our week much more accurately. Then there are those of us who are dreamers who find it hard to replicate the week we imagined to the week we have. No matter where we sit on this spectrum, the future never goes according to how we imagined it, so when I am having one of those weeks; the kind of week where nothing goes to plan, I default to my bare minimum list.

I want to highlight this is my BARE MINIMUM list! It is therefore not an ambitious list. It is a list which highlights what I consider ESSENTIALS to my week. In other words, these are the things I find as essential as breathing, to keep my head up through a tough week.

#1 - At least two heart heavy workouts per week.

Disclaimer: I am not on a full teaching schedule yet, so I know this will have to adapt once I am on a full teaching schedule.

There are various types and intensities of workouts, but honestly, I can never feel satisfied unless I go through a workout which pushes me to my VO2max range. This is that feeling where I’ve worked so hard I am left gasping for air and unable to talk. Why would I want such a thing? Well, because I want to know I’ve challenged my heart. When I am having an off week and I can’t get to my workouts as regularly as I’d like to, then a moderate to high-intensity cardiovascular exercise (an exercise which increases the heart rate) becomes my priority! Remember, the heart is a muscle!

#2 - Meditate every morning (at least on the weekdays!)

Meditating for 15 minutes in the morning, via the Headspace app, has become a major priority in my life. I do it either first thing after I wake up or right after a morning workout. I also prefer meditating on an empty stomach. It’s one of those simple and life-changing habits which has helped me kick start my day in a positive and productive way.

#3 - EAT LOTS OF CARBS!

This may come as a shock to most reading this, but eating lots of healthy carbs is a top priority throughout my week. I am an active person, so even on an off week, I have more to gain from fueling my body with this essential source of energy than not! I tend to have a lower appetite when I am not at my usual routine and when I am in a lousy mood from a bad week, so I’ve gotten into the habit of consuming lots of complex carbohydrates (grains, legumes, starchy veggies like potatoes) no matter the circumstance or situation.

#4 - Leave the booze for the weekend (unless I have work on the weekends, then I opt out completely)!

The main reason for this has to do with how I sleep. Anytime I drink alcohol, I can’t sleep as soundly as when I don’t. I also wake up much hazier than when I haven’t had any booze, so when I am having a more difficult week I choose to cut the booze. It’s a sure way to set myself up for a better week.

 

How Long Did It Take?

 
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There’s one question that people ask me that gets me smiling (because it is a nice compliment), but at the same time also frustrates me (because of the myth that usually leads people to ask this question): “how long did it take you?” There are variations to the question people ask me. The most common of which is, “how long did it take you to get to where you are?”, “how long did it take you to get that body?”, “how long did it take you to get abs like yours?”, “how long did it take to get as fit as you?” and other versions of these. I don’t highlight this to show off the number of compliments I get, I highlight this point because of how baffling it is to witness the strength of this myth. People are led to believe that achieving optimum fitness and health can be done within a specified time frame, but this myth is what’s stopping so many people from achieving the body they want because reaching your optimum level of fitness and health is a lifelong endeavor.

Whether it’s a couple of weeks or a number of days, there’s a strong belief that to achieve health or some type of fitness goal I will only need to commit myself to ‘x’ number of fitness-focused and healthy eating days. Here’s where the confusion lies: health and fitness do not have a definite end.

Remember health and fitness exist within an indefinite spectrum that’s specific to each individual, so how long I take to lose ‘x’ amount of weight might not apply to another. The other issue with this is that a lot of the common ambitions aren’t specific enough, “I want to lose weight,” “I want to lose fat,” or “I want to be more toned and lean.” These goals, although relevant, are too generalized. Instead, state a specific weight you want to drop to or state the range of fat percentage to body mass you want to achieve (that’s within the healthy range). The goal can even be more related to routine, like how many sweat sessions clocked in during the week. The main insight to understand here is that health and fitness take thought and commitment. It’s not about setting realistic and individualized goals for yourself. When people ask “how long did it take you?”, for the most part, what they’re really asking is “how long will it take me?” I am here to tell you that that’s not how fitness or health works because, at the end of the day, it’s about finding a routine that works for you. Not for me or anyone else. It’s about finding what you enjoy, what works with your schedule, what works with your circumstances and once you find what sticks to commit to it for as long as you’re living, breathing, and are able.

This means committing to regular sweat sessions with varied intensities, listening to the body when it needs rest, dedicating enough time and effort towards proper recovery (yes, that means quality sleep as well), eating right (at least 80-90% of the time because we all know indulgence is just a fact of life sometimes) and understanding that it takes more than just a couple of weeks or months to truly be healthy. Health is a never-ending spectrum, we can either be healthier or less healthy but there’s no definite health which every person can strive towards in the same way. Health is an individual achievement that’s also dependant on so many other biological, psychological, environmental, and physiological factors which is out of most people’s control. Our task is to appreciate and value the body we’ve been born with, to care for it as best we can, and to elevate the body to the best potential it can reach. Overall the main thing to take away is not “how long will it take,” rather, the question to ask is, how much longer will I wait before I start to elevate my body towards its full potential?

 

Why Identifying What Drives You Is Important

 

There’s no questioning the role drive plays in our behavior. Drive is what motivates us to take actions, it is what pushes us towards decisions, and it is the momentum towards what we desire. Drive is a foundational element to how we behave. When it comes to working out, this pattern of human behavior is no different. I need to find what drives me in order to figure out what works for me.

Every person possesses free will and an autonomous mind, so no matter how much I try, I will never be able to experience or perceive the world in exactly the same way as another. The only fact is the shared experience all of us claim to share, but there’s no way to prove the accuracy of this claim. How I experience one thing may seem similar to how another experiences the same thing, but we can never experience another’s mind in first person. The mental dwellings in which drive resides is therefore unique to each individual.  

If I am free, autonomous and unique in this world, then what drives me can never be the same with another. There may be similarities in what drives us, but the reality of human existence is that we are unique (even when we are genetically identical, such as the case of twins). Our individuality is what dictates the uniqueness of each individual’s drive.

This is why identifying what drives us is critical to our success in life, and of course, in fitness. Ask yourself these questions:

Are you driven by statistics?

Are you someone who likes to see numbers? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment if you achieved a better score in something? Does things like, cutting down your mile time or seeing the number of calories you’ve burnt after every session satisfy you?

If you’ve said yes to all of the above, then you’re probably someone who loves numbers! Whether statistics helps awaken a competitive edge or whether statistics satisfy an admiration for numbers, if you’re someone who is satisfied by comparing and seeing numbers then this attraction for statistics may be your golden ticket to a successful fitness routine.

There are plenty of gadgets, apps, and gyms out there which can help with this. In the age of technology, there’s always an option which prides itself on numbers. Whether it’s a studio who has a live feed of statistics (like F45 or Orange Theory) or whether the gadget you’re wearing is tracking your distance and calories (like a Fitbit or an Apple Watch), there’s an option for you out there. Make collecting and comparing statistics a priority. Make sure to also set numerical goals for each session.

Are you driven by how you feel?

Are you someone who doesn’t enjoy counting calories? Do you prefer running as much as you can or running at a specific time and/or distance? Does the number on the scale matter to you? Are you someone who judges their health and athleticism based on reports or numbers?

If you’ve answered against numbers and statistics, then feeling is definitely your drive. I am in this category. I am less driven by statistics and numbers. I don’t even really pay attention to my weight unless I have to. I hate counting calories and when it comes to health and fitness, my decisions are driven by how I feel.

When I run, I run as much as I can until I feel like I can’t go any further. I never count calories, I eat what I feel is right at the time. If I’ve had a bad meal or a bad weekend, I will feel sluggish, so I will eat healthier the next couple of meals. Rather than going with statistics available through so many studios, apps, and machines these days, I track my effort by feeling. Do I feel exerted or do I feel I can give more? I also almost never weigh myself, I’d rather go with how I feel in my clothes or how I feel in general.

These are signs of a person driven by feeling. If you’re like me then the way to figure out what routine is best for you is by getting in touch with how you feel before, after, and during a workout. How does running make me feel? How does circuit training make me feel? Do I feel like I have more energy in the morning or at night? Go by what you feel and try motivating yourself by feeling. Think about how amazing and accomplished you’ll feel after a workout or think about how guilty you’ll feel if you don’t work out. Make feeling a priority.

I can sense all of you out there thinking, “what if I never feel like working out?” Well at the end of the day, whether you’re driven by statistics or driven by feeling there’s still a need to take the first step. If you want to see results, if you want to live an active lifestyle, then the first step is always to do something about it. Whether it’s to run, try out a new gym, hire a personal trainer, doing on online workout at home, the options are endless, but identifying drive is what will help direct you in your choices and hopefully help you stay consistent with your routine.

 
 

A Different Approach To Resolutions

 
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Most of us enter a New Year eager for changes, expectations, and improvements. A lot of us start hoping that this year is our year! This is the year I will have more time to read, be in the best shape of my life, skyrocket in my career, etc. There is an endless list of possibilities when it comes to New Year’s resolutions. With so much hope and aspirations, if you’re like me more often than not I arrive at the end of each year, for the most part, disappointed at my uncanny ability at falling short with my resolutions.

Now that 2017 is coming to a close, I reflect upon the goals and resolutions I had set for myself at the end of last year and realize something. I’ve miraculously dodged my almost routined disappointment and have surprised myself with my success rate this year. Although I didn’t 100% succeed in all my resolutions, I’ve done a lot better than in my previous years and here’s why:

Identifying & understanding my motivations.

Let me use a simple resolution and start by sharing how I used to approach it. I chose to focus my attention on the action and/or activity. For example, I always have a goal of reading at least four books a year. This may sound simple to an avid reader, but I am someone who I classify as a non-reader by nature. Reading a book isn’t something I do on a daily basis, nor is it something I gravitate to if an opportunity arises. Reading for me is something I consciously make an effort of doing because at the end of the day I love to learn and although audio books are an option, I still think there’s great value in reading books (well, my Kindle). Now, this may sound crazy to some of you bookworms out there, but this is the first year since my days in school where I’ve succeeded in this resolution. (Truthfully, I was a fan of SparkNotes!) Yes, that’s right I finally read four books in a year! MIRACLE.

The difference between this year from previous years is the question of why. I asked myself why I had set this as a resolution each year, why is this resolution important and what is my motivation and purpose behind this resolution. Let me share my answers with you:

Why is reading important? What is my motivation & purpose behind this resolution?

To learn. I value knowledge and continuous learning-- as Socrates had said “the only true wisdom is in knowing you know nothing” or in other words, the wisdom we possess is in knowing that there’s always room to learn more. The human brain has an insatiable capacity for knowledge and learning. Simply said by Dr. Seuss, “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Simply said by Dr. Seuss, “the more that you read, the more things you will know. The more that you learn, the more places you’ll go.”

Note: Worth noting that I pretty much only read non-fiction books

What was different about this year was that reading was my avenue towards satisfying my purpose to keep on learning. I was motivated simply by the fact that the reason I read was no longer just to read a book, but that I wanted to gain knowledge, continue to learn, and stimulate my brain.

There’s something powerful that happens when I attach a bigger intention and purpose to the goal I want to achieve. In previous years, it was hard to get myself to read because I viewed reading as a chore. Meaning, reading was a chore which took time away from doing other things I enjoyed. Instead, this year I focused my attention on the bigger picture and the motivation towards the action.

It sounds simple, but give this a go this coming New Year! Make sure to attach each resolution to a deeper motivation with a greater purpose in your life.

Here are some questions which might help:

  • Why is this resolution important to you?

  • What are the motivations behind this resolution?

  • What is the purpose of this resolution?

  • What are the positive impacts/changes that will result from completing this resolution?

  • What is driving you towards this resolution?

  • How will this resolution impact you and/or others around you?

  • Is this resolution for you or for someone else? If for someone else, who is this person(s) and why is this resolution important for them?

Cheers to a wonderful New Year’s Celebration! Here’s to a wonderful year ahead.

 

What I've Learned From Meditation

 
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Meditation and mindfulness feels like the buzz word in this era of wellness triumph. In our hunger for information, access to technology, and quest to better the world, we live in a time where self-betterment, self-empowerment, and in general taking care of the self is what’s trendy. There’s so much information out there on how to achieve greater wellness, but if there’s one thing I can highlight is how meditation has changed me.

Meditation used to feel like a distant spiritual achievement. Whether meditation is tied to a religion (like Buddhism) or whether it was possible to practice meditation outside of religion were stereotypes I never thought to question. It took several occurrences in my life to propel me into adopting meditation as a daily practice, but over a year into my daily (or I should say at least four to five days a week) practice I’ve come to appreciate meditation beyond its traditional definitions.

I now see meditation as an essential component of my life. The same as how I commit myself to a weekly routine of sweat sessions, meditation is now part of my routine. Meditation is an exercise for the mind and like any exercise, it is a practice which requires discipline and long-term commitment. Meditation demands priority and it is not a singular but a constant practice which requires a lifestyle shift. It may seem daunting, but here are some of my key takeaways:

1. The world is always changing and moving.

This seems like an obvious statement, but this simple understanding has helped me move through life with more acceptance of current circumstance. Whether life unfolds through events which cheers me on or drags me down, there’s more clarity in realizing that where I am right now is only temporary because no matter what happens in life, time will continue to unfold whether I’d like it to or not. Life is in constant motion, therefore how I am in the world is also in constant motion. With this knowledge, I am empowered with the power of choice within this constant motion. It’s a choice about how I choose to live out this moment right now to set myself up for the moment to come.

2. I can only know what’s happening right now.

What’s become very clear to me is how I am only in control of this present moment; and only moment by moment. I have no control over what’s happened already (the past), nor do I have control over what’s to come (my future). Therefore, I can alleviate any worry of the past or the future because all I need to be concerned with is what’s happening right now because this is all I know for certain.

This is not to say I am against planning because I am someone who likes to make plans for the week sometimes even the month or months ahead. What it does help me with is to let go of any worry about what might happen or what could have happened because both are outside my scope of action. My attention is then left to attend to what is in my control, which is what’s happening right now.

3. I am in control of my thoughts.

Meditation helps to create intimacy with my thoughts because I am choosing to take time out of my day to stop and pay attention to what’s going on inside my head. So often my thoughts are only the background to my life; realizing I forgot to water my plants or worrying about Christmas presents for the holiday season as I walk through the crowds at the train station. Thoughts tend to act as background noise, but meditation presents my mind as the main act. I am choosing to stop everything, close my eyes, and pay attention to my inner world. In meditation, I give myself the opportunity and the space to attend to only myself, my body, and my inner world. The world outside becomes the background noise.

How to start meditation practice?

I use Headspace the app and am a yearly subscriber. I found this is what worked well for me. It keeps me honest about how many days I’ve practiced and keeps me on track with the different meditation series to follow. This is not the only application. There are plenty of options out there to explore what works for you. Remember, there are also different types of meditations, so I encourage anyone who wants to try meditation to give yourself time to explore the varieties as well.

Other avenues to explore might be Youtube, Podcasts, or other applications. Find what works for you!

 

Am I Enough?

 
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Confidence, positive self-image, security, and contentment in myself is something new in my life. Where I am today is not where I was even a year ago. The power self-defeating thoughts had over my mind and my life had always been the larger struggle. The negative internal dialogue was sometimes crippling and I know is damaging. Where I have arrived today on my journey is somewhere that’s liberating. It’s a space where I am happy with myself and how I am. It’s a place where I am comfortable in my own skin. Finding this comfort is why I want to share my revelations because this way of living is so much more fulfilling.

The dominant damaging thoughts which sabotaged my life were:

“I am not skinny enough.”

Those who have known me all my life will tell you that I’ve never been overweight, nor have I ever been close to being overweight. I gained around 9 kg (approx. 19 lbs) in my first year of university in the US, but I never really struggled with being overweight. Then there was a time in high school when I was scary skinny. I was about 43 kg (approx. 94 lbs) with a height of 160cm (approx. 5 ft  2 in), this was a point where my friends and even my teachers were concerned. Yes, I’ve had my share of fluctuations. What is intriguing is the fact that even with no real concern of being overweight, I used to suffer from the perpetuating thought that always told me I wasn’t skinny enough.

A lot of reading has told me that this self-defeating thought probably had something to do with experiences in my past, whether it’s personal, due to societal pressures, influence from the media, or because of certain relationships, the reasons are complex. Whatever the cause though, it is troubling to remember the demons I battled when it came to my self-image. I wasn’t physically overweight, but my thoughts were so strong in their portrayal of my body, that I always felt that I was never skinny enough.

I can laugh about it now because I’ve finally realized something really powerful. In this self-damaging thought I had, who is the ideal I was trying to be skinny for? If I kept thinking, “I am not skinny enough,” the real question should be, “but for who?”

“I am not strong enough.”

There was a time in my life where I was intimidated and immobilized by challenges. I mean who isn’t, but I had an unhealthy relationship with my fears which led me to never take action or ever be willing to put myself out there to take a risk. The honest truth is this was one of the reasons why I never tried Barry’s Bootcamp when I was in the US. After hearing about how hard the class was, I was terrified at the thought of having to go into an environment I was not familiar with and risk failure (I am laughing at how silly this seems now).

The fearful voice inside my head refused to hear the positives about the class. All my energy was focused on the worst case scenario (i.e. I embarrass myself and am unable to complete the class), which ended up stopping me from stepping into an experience which I could have enjoyed. The voice inside my head stopped me from something I might have enjoyed, even without experiencing the class or knowing the real outcome. Sounds familiar?

“I am not smart enough.”

I remember moving to a new school and really struggling, especially when I moved into middle school. I had really poor grades. Cs and Ds were my friends. I remember feeling stupid, unaccomplished, and incapable, until one day in 8th grade one teacher who believed in me and suddenly everything changed. I became a straight A student that year and even got the most improved student award. From then on, I became an above average student. What happened?

That was a really long time ago, but this experience has stuck with me because anytime my mind goes into a downward spiral of thinking that my intelligence is lacking in some way, I think back to this moment in my life and realize that it’s all in my head. I mean I can never know everything, nor can I even try to know everything so lack in knowledge is normal and of course I am not speaking about technical knowledge, but what I am focusing on here is that feeling of not being smart enough for anything. What I remind myself now is that there’s always something I can do about it. Whether it’s to find books and read up on certain things, find a friend or a person who can help fill the gaps, or in some other way take action to minimize whatever gap I feel I have; there’s always a way if we’re willing to find a way.

“I am not enough.”

I struggled with this statement a lot more before. It’s something that rears it’s head here and there even now on some occasions, but I’ve learned how to handle such thoughts. When reality kicks in I realize something simple, almost obvious, but also powerful. All these self-defeating statements and thoughts are exactly that; they’re thoughts! They’re a created and sometimes imaginary perception sitting in my mind. The power it has over myself and my life is only as strong as I allow myself to believe in these thoughts.

What’s interesting about thoughts are that no one else, but I have the power to change my thoughts. My thoughts may be influenced by external things. My thoughts may be a reaction to external things, but ultimately the final decision about what I choose to think about, how I choose to think, and what lies in my mind is in my control.

Self-defeating thoughts exist in my mind. If I choose to believe it’s true, then it will be true in my experience of myself in the world. If I choose not to believe it’s true, then it will remain false in my experience of myself in the world. It sounds simple, but this is why acquiring a strong command of my mind is such a priority in my life. The strength of my thoughts is as strong as I allow it to be. At the end of the day, I am in control.
 

 

Apparently, I Have Great Skin!

 
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It’s not the first time I’ve been asked about my skin regimen, so I’ve decided to type it up into a post. Here are some of my MUST DOs when it comes to cleaner and healthier skin.

#1 - I Wash my face before I step out of the house

We all know how important sleep is when it comes to rest and recovery right? All the work which tends to go unnoticed when we’re at sleep is also what goes on with the skin when we’re asleep. At night and when we are asleep, the cells in our skin are repaired and regenerated.

One of the first things I do when I get out of bed is to wash my face with my face wash. I am usually up before the sun’s out, so washing my face in the morning also helps me to wake up, especially when I can’t rely on the sun to wake me up. But, other than that, because the skin goes through its regenerative processes at night, it’s always good to make sure I start the day with clean skin. Skin free of unnecessary oils and dead skin which might have been left on my face throughout the night.

#2 - I Wash my hands and face every time I get home

There are so many things that can disrupt the skin when we’re out and about. Living in a hot and humid tropical climate like Singapore, it’s hard to ignore the impact the outside world has on my skin. Aside from the sweat, there’s a whole host of other things such as dirt, pollution, and dust, that’s happily sitting on the skin’s surface so the first thing I do when I get home is, wash my hands then my face!

It’s important to wash my hands after coming back home because I never know what I’ve touched, whether I was touching something on the bus or the train, to the handles on an escalator, there are more chances than not that I’ll end up transferring those germs onto my face if I don’t wash my hands.

#3 - I don’t use foundation

This is a personal preference but I do not like the feeling of foundation on my skin. I’ve tried enough foundation in my lifetime to say that foundation, no matter how lightweight or natural marketers try to make me believe it is, is still not a friend to me. I instead use a light face primer, which evens out my skin but doesn’t block the pores.

#4 - I Give my skin a break from makeup

I'll go a day or two each week without any makeup because we all know everyone needs a break and that includes my skin! This is usually a great time for me to amp up my skincare and add a mask before I hit the sheets to give my skin the R&R it deserves.

#5 - I carry face wipes in my workout bag

Washing my face after a workout isn’t always convenient. What if I was working out outside? If I don’t have access to a tap, my next solution is to carry face wipes.

#6 - I don’t use face moisturizer at night

I am not a scientist or a dermatologist, but like how using chapsticks can cause a dependency on chapsticks (i.e. lips will get very dry if you stop using chapsticks), I’ve stopped moisturizing my face every night. I read somewhere that because the skin is regenerating at night, it also means that this is when the skin adjusts its level of moisture (i.e. how much oils it naturally produces). I used to suffer from oily and dry skin, but once I stopped moisturizing every night this problem went away. My best guess is because now my skin is able to adjust to its condition more accurately, without the aid of external moisturizers, its natural production of oil (for moisture) is more accurate. Previously my skin compensated the dry skin by producing more oil. I still use moisturizers in the morning when I need it and face oils at night once or every other week.

#7 - I use sunblock on my face, most days

You caught me! I am not perfect and I am not as consistent with this as I hope to be, but using sunblock on the face is important if I want to maintain my skin’s health. Other than protecting itself against harmful rays, protecting the skin against the sun also means preventing wrinkles and freckles, which are signs of sun damage. Older Asian ladies with their umbrellas, long sleeves, and large golf hats may find you laughing at them now, but they’re the ones laughing later!

#8 - I drink fresh carrot juice every day (no sugar added please!)

Honestly, I am not sure what the science behind this is. I also drink carrot juice every day primarily because I freakin love carrots and I love carrot juice, so it’s more for personal pleasure than anything else. Although the statement of, “we are what we eat,” is so true when it comes to skin, so I am sure consuming this bright wonderful liquid has something to do with my skin’s health.

#9 - I recently switched to all natural products

I recently switched to all natural products and other than helping to eliminate some dryness, I should say that switching to all natural products didn’t make a dramatic difference, my skin was doing fine before but at least now I know my products are better for the environment as well.

If there’s anything else you’d like to know about my skin regimen, feel free to drop me a message on Instagram or on my e-mail. I’d love to help you find your best skin!

 

Are You Wasting Your Warm-Up?

 
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I used to ignore a warm-up, especially when I am working out by myself I tend to go straight into my workout or do the bare minimum because I didn’t grasp the value of warm-ups, but with all the reading that I’ve done towards my certification, it’s clear how important warm-ups are, not just as a way to prevent injury, but also to enhance performance.  

Now, think about how much effort it takes to coordinate a TED conference. Thousands of people, multiple speakers, various rooms and spaces, the participants, the logistics involved and so much more right? Now, this level of coordination is equivalent to how much effort and moving parts are involved in each body when it comes to completing a workout. There are so many layers to movement, from the cellular to the physiological, to the mind that requires coordination. Think of the various fibers and cells in a muscle group. Now visualize the various joints and muscles involved in various movements. Finally, think about the connectivity of all the elements required to produce force and movement-- and all of this in one body. If you realize the multifaceted operations required to produce force and movement, it is easy to understand why a warm-up and how we warm-up is so critical.

Walking on the treadmill or jogging around the block for a couple of minutes might have been the golden standard for warm-ups before and maybe add on a couple of stretches here and there. These efforts are better than doing no warm-up at all, but newer research has shown the advantages of a dynamic warm-up and the ineffectiveness of static stretching (unless a person is preparing to perform a sport that requires flexibility [i.e. gymnastics or dance]) in a warm-up.

What is a dynamic warm-up?

Dynamic warm-ups which are also known as “movement preparation,” includes “integrated movements that can improve muscular strength, mobility, stability, balance, coordination, agility and/or even power. Warm-ups can include foam rolling, balance exercises, yoga-type movements, agility drills and even plyometric drills.” (1) To put simply, a dynamic warm-up is a focused approach to warming up the body as a whole connected system versus individual moving parts (i.e. different muscle groups).

What are the benefits of a dynamic warm-up?

  • Elevate the body core temperature
  • Enhance kinesthetic awareness
  • Optimize range of motion (ROM)
  • Igniting the neuromuscular system
  • Increasing blood flow (i.e. enhance the efficiency of the uptake and transport of oxygen in the bloodstream for muscle function)
  • Enhance motor unit excitability

Increase preparation for the main workout (i.e. practicing fundamental movement skills before increasing the demand on the body)

These benefits can easily be overlooked because most of us aren’t thinking about the body in such a detailed way when it comes to exercise, but when we investigate the science (as revealed above), a warm-up is critical down to the cellular level.

Why is static stretching ineffective in a warm-up (unless someone is preparing to perform a sport that requires flexibility [i.e. gymnastics or dance])?

Contrary to popular belief, static stretching may actually inhibit optimal performance for a workout because static stretching is what improves muscle elasticity. In simple terms, what muscle elasticity contributes to is a decrease in tissue viscosity and although this may sound beneficial, tissue viscosity is what lowers the force-generating capacity of the contractile properties of a muscle. This is a problem because the contractile properties of muscles (i.e. eccentric, concentric, isometric, and passive stretch) (2) are what is necessary to assist in generating force and creating movements for most workouts. If the contractile properties of muscles are inhibited, then the muscles ability to perform is also inhibited. But, let’s not confuse this with the value of static stretching post-exercise for recovery (which is another topic on its own).

I think it’s easy from an exercisers standpoint to observe workouts through shallow lenses. Let’s be real most of us (including myself at one point) saw exercise only as a means to an aesthetic goal and maybe as a health goal, but few of us take the time to consider exercise through a scientific lens. With a narrow perspective, it was easy to ignore the specific properties which impact our workouts, but my deeper understanding helped me to change my warm-up habits to optimize my performance.

References:

1 McGrath, Chris. “A New Approach to Warming Up For Your Cardio Workout.” ACE Fitness, ACE Fitness, 8 Aug. 2013, www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/3456/a-new-approach-to-warming-up-for-your-cardio-workout.

2 “Muscle Physiology - Types of Contractions.” Muscle Physiology - Types of Contractions, University of California San Diego, 31 May 2006, 10:05, muscle.ucsd.edu/musintro/contractions.shtml.

 

Why Is It Harder for Women To Lose Weight?

 
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A client had expressed frustration at the fact that her husband was showing much more progress compared to her. They were working out the same amount and pretty much eating the same foods, but although she was proud of her husband, she was also confused about why the same amount of work and effort didn’t bring her the same monumental transformation which her husband had. In the midst of her frustration, I realize her concern is not unique. You see, weight-loss is part physical, part mental, and part biological and when it comes to biology, we have zero control over the DNA and the body we’ve been given. The good news is that it doesn’t mean that we can’t overcome the challenges which are innate to achieving a healthier self, but there are more scientific explanations to this and here are the facts to face:

#1 - More Testosterone in Men

Thanks to biology, men possess more testosterone in their bodies, which leads to a greater percentage of muscle versus fat. While women produce more estrogen and progesterone which tends to promote more fat storage. The result of this places men at an advantage because when it comes down to it more muscle equals to more calorie burn, “as the amount of muscle mass an individual has is directly proportional to metabolism, and thus caloric expenditure.” (3) The fact to face here is that the truth of each journey is in our DNA and biology.

#2 - A woman’s body requires more fat to be healthy

Let’s remember that fat (despite the terrible rapport it gets) is an essential component to health and the body’s ability to survive. “A certain amount of body fat is necessary for insulation and thermoregulation, hormone production, cushioning of vital organs, and maintenance of certain body functions.” What is important to recognize is, when it comes to weight-loss, there are different needs between the genders. “For men, essential body fat is between 2-5%; for women, it is between 10-13%. The remainder of body fat is stored throughout the body in adipose tissue..., acting as a readily available source of energy or to cushion and protect vital organs.” (3) In other words, part of a woman’s biology is geared to hold onto fats, because aside from the internal functions fats assists with, fats are also essential for a woman’s reproductive abilities.

#3  - Science reveals, men are wired differently when it comes to being HANGRY (hunger driven anger)!  

Whether a woman is hungry or not, a woman’s response to food is different to how a man reacts to food. In a study by, the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences conducted in 2009, brain scans reveal that even if a woman is not hungry the region of the brain which controls the drive to eat is activated simply by being shown food. This is not the case for men (1). What this research reveals is that women tend to eat, not just because they’re hungry or to satisfy a biological need. For women, there is a labyrinth of motivations when it comes to eating.

#4 - Women are prone to more hormonal shifts

Concluded in a 2013 study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, women are more emotional eaters compared to their male counterparts. This emotional drive towards food also causes a secondary impact to reach towards “foods that will ignite the reward center of the brain, which tends to be the sugary, fatty, salty, hyper-palatable foods,” which are also food which are likely to cause weight gain, says Pamela Peeke, author of “The Hunger Fix: The Three-Stage Detox and Recovery Plan for Overeating and Food Addiction.” (1)

#5 - Fat Distribution

Generally, men will hold more excess fat around the belly area, while women’s fat storage is more spread out across the body. When it comes to weight-loss, men who lose weight will appear to have more progress because excess fat is contained around the belly area which is a prominent and more noticeable area. For women, because fat is distributed in all areas of the body, weight loss is less noticeable and is more gradual in its progression. (4)

It’s important to understand that eating and weight-loss is a much more complex topic than what tends to be portrayed. Beyond the physical aspects, eating and weight-loss is also about the mental conditions in which each individual operates from. What’s critical to recognize is that there is no such thing as a one size fits all solution. We’re all different. From our DNA and biological makeup down to the environments we live in. What matters most is about recognizing the unique aspects of each individual body, each life, and each progress. It’s also about taking matters into our own hands and making educated decisions on what will work best for us. There may not be one solution that’ll work for everyone, but the greatest news is that there is a solution that’s right for you that’s waiting to be discovered. So ask yourself, what is right for you and make it happen!

__________________________________________________________

Resources:

1 Allen, Jennifer Van. “Why It Really Is Harder for Women to Lose Weight.” The Washington Post, 12 Aug. 2014, www.washingtonpost.com/lifestyle/wellness/weight-loss-it-really-is-harder-for-women-research-shows/2014/08/12/0a95c1aa-1d9b-11e4-ab7b-696c295ddfd1_story.html?utm_term=.e2ffe7049018.

2 Green, Daniel J, and Cedric X Bryant, editors. ACE's Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. American Council of Exercise, 2010.

3 Bryant, Cedric X., and Daniel J. Green. ACE Personal Trainer Manual: The Ultimate Resource for Fitness Professionals. 5th ed. San Diego, CA: American Council on Exercise, n.d. Print.

4 “Do Men Lose Weight Faster Than Women?” WebMD, WebMD, www.webmd.com/diet/features/do-men-lose-weight-faster-than-women#2.


 

 

Intention Matters

 

Intentions are where actions and consequences (i.e. the ripples which actions create) are nested. Once an intention is set, a chain of thoughts, and sometimes also actions are propelled forward. The value of my actions rests in the intentions I possess because whether my action is good or bad if my action is led with poor intent, the action will, therefore, be flawed. The same action can begin from different intentions, but the significance of intentions becomes obvious through the ripples which follow. Actions are only as good as the intentions which drive them, which is why operating with the right intention is so critical.

Let’s think for a moment and compare this in real terms. If my intention to embark on a journey towards a “healthier self” is only driven by the intent to improve aesthetics and to lose weight, then the focus on health becomes secondary. The problem is, if my health journey is only driven by an intent towards aesthetic and weight loss, then I am not against actions which aren’t in the best interest of my health.

When I was younger I was so hung up on my weight that I did everything and anything I could to drop the weight. I didn’t think about whether my actions were healthy choices because the obsession over how I looked and the number on the scale inhibited me from placing health as my main concern. My focus was on the number on the scale and health became an afterthought. I fell into unhealthy methods for weight loss. I attempted week-long juice cleanses, and lemonade and cayenne pepper diets, only to find that I was only losing a few pounds of water weight. The moment I started to eat solid foods, my weight would climb back up. Mentally, I was also severe in my approach to myself. I got so angry at myself anytime I succumbed to my hunger and broke the liquid diet. I was even upset at myself when I felt nauseous and dizzy. I thought to myself why was I so weak-- “if others can, why can’t I complete a juice fast!” A big learning here is to listen to my body.

When my body was screaming in hunger, signaling itself through nausea and headaches, it should have been clear that what I was doing was not a journey towards a healthier self. My body was clearly alerting me to something else. How I felt should’ve been the best judgment, but what happened was that my faulty intention pushed me towards actions which prioritized not my health, but rather prioritizing on the aesthetic goal and weight loss. I, therefore, didn’t care to notice that my decisions were detrimental to my own well-being.

In my opinion, liquid diets, are what I classify as starvation diets. It’s a quick fix and does not prioritize the well-being or health of the individual. Yes, you may lose weight because losing weight is about a calorie deficit (i.e. you’re using more calories than you’re consuming) and if you’re only drinking lemonade for weeks you’ll certainly have a calorie deficit; but being healthy is so much more than just calories in and calories out. Health is also about the quality of the calories, amongst other things. Although I had lost a little bit of weight and may have achieved my immediate goal to lose a little bit of weight, the consequences on my well-being were much more fitting to judge the quality of my intention (I gained the weight back quickly too). From the nausea and headaches, it was clear that my health took a back seat!

My transformation began with a shift in intention. Once I defined my intention as a journey towards a “healthier self,” I now take actions which are in favor of my health. I try to eat healthier meals every day versus counting on temporary starvation diets. I am less fixated on the number on the scale and more focused on the quality of what I eat. I maintain and vary my fitness routine in order to promote my health; such as incorporating two to three high-intensity training sessions, yoga, and some steady-state cardio into my week. Even taking a step back sometimes. The liberation comes from the intention I operate from and how different the life I lead becomes. My decisions are no longer driven by temporary aesthetic or weight loss goals (although of course, these are still a bonus to my healthier lifestyle), my decisions are now driven by the long-term goal to be my healthiest self. This equates to a lifestyle change versus a temporary change and that’s where I have found success in achieving a healthier self.

The simple shift in mindset is what set me up for a different kind of process. With the right intention, the thoughts which come up and the actions which are catalyzed are consequently different because of the shift in my intention. It's a simple shift that's worth every effort! 





 

 

Is Cardio Better For Weight Loss?

 
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When I think of cardio, I used to think about running, cycling, swimming, maybe rowing, and activities of a similar manner. Cardio was narrowly defined within these types of continuous activities. What I’ve come to realize is although I heard the word “cardio” thrown out a lot, I didn’t really know what this word actually described. First, “cardio” is short for cardiovascular and for those of you who are still in the dark, cardiovascular is defined by the Merriam –Webster dictionary as “of, relating to, or involving the heart and blood vessels” (1) and “used, designed, or performed to cause temporary increase in heart rate (a cardiovascular workout).” (2) By these definitions, it’s obvious why the activities I listed above are only a very narrow allocation of what cardiovascular entails. My first awakening was to expose myself to the breadth of what cardiovascular workouts actually includes.

Secondly, before receiving an education in personal training, I didn’t realize how misguided the question “is cardio better for weight loss?” is. Like many, I used to be one of those people who believed, in order to lose weight, I need to do a lot of cardio. But now, when I am asked this question, I am often perplexed on how to answer. For one, there are so many types of cardiovascular activities, so asking whether cardio is better for weight loss also depends on which type of cardiovascular workout. Secondly, if weight loss is the only goal, there are other ways-- like nutrition, to help achieve such goals. I now understand that this question is more an indication of the lack of knowledge in regards to weight loss and working out in general, which is why someone would be asking such a question. But, here are some things to remember:

# 1 - Not all cardio is made equal.

Let’s outline the two main types of cardio. There is aerobic and anaerobic training, which can be further classified as steady-state training and high-intensity interval training. To put it simply, the differences in cardio training depends on the level of oxygen and where energy is derived from.

Steady-State Training/Aerobic Training:

  • Aerobic means in the presence of oxygen

  • “Characterized as large-muscle, rhythmic activities (e.g., walking, jogging, aerobics, swimming, cross-country skiing),”1 which typically recruits type I muscle fibers (3)

  • Is performed at 50-65% of maximal aerobic capacity (at an RPE [rate of perceived exertion] of 3-5)

  • “…can be sustained without undue fatigue for at least 20 minutes.” (1)

  • Is typically performed in one consistent bout without rest intervals

High-Intensity Interval Training/Anaerobic Training:

  • Anaerobic means without the presence of oxygen

  • Tends to include explosive movements, which typically recruits type II muscle fibers (3)

  • Is performed at 80-95% of maximal aerobic capacity (at an RPE [rate of perceived exertion] of 7 or higher) (2)

  • Can’t be sustained for extended periods of time (about 30 seconds to 3 minutes) (2)

  • Includes bouts of work and recovery intervals, which are equal to or longer than the work time (2)

# 2 – There is research to support which cardio is better for weight loss. This is one example.

  • Researchers at the University of Wisconsin, La Crosse, ran a study which concluded high-intensity exercise equals to a higher calorie and a higher total number of fat calories burned. (1)

  • “Subjects performed two 30-minute bouts of exercise: a relatively low-intensity bout and a relatively high-intensity bout.”

  • “The results, show that for the low-intensity exercise, subjects burned a total of 240 calories, with 96 of those calories (41%) coming from fat.”

  • “During the high-intensity bout, a total of 450 calories were burned, with 108 of those calories (24%) coming from fat.”

Therefore, although there was a higher percentage of calories from fat in people who performed the low-intensity bout, but notice that the total number of calories burned was less than during the high-intensity trial. This data shows that although in terms of percentage, more fat was burned during the low-intensity bout, more calories were burned during the high-intensity bout and weight loss is about how many calories you burn in total, regardless of the source of those calories.

What’s important to understand when it comes to weight loss is that there are multiple ways to achieve this goal. Whether it’s through nutrition or strength training, if weight loss is the only goal cardio is not actually necessary. What broadens the need for cardiovascular activities are if the goal is more than just weight loss and is more a health goal. Unfortunately when it comes to weight loss there are a lot of fad theories and products out there! Weight loss is a much more complicated topic than meets the eye, especially when you also factor in the various unique factors which impact an individual’s capacity for weight loss. There’s no blanket rule book that’s right for everyone. It is the responsibility of the individual to explore the different avenues towards weight loss and to commit to a lifestyle change that works for them.

Resources:

  1. Green, Daniel J, and Cedric X Bryant, editors. ACE's Essentials of Exercise Science for Fitness Professionals. American Council of Exercise, 2010.

  2. “High-Intensity Interval Training.” ACE Fit | Fitness Information, ACE | The American Council on Exercise, www.acefitness.org/acefit/fitness-fact-article/3317/high-intensity-interval-training/.

  3. Jr., Paul Hovan. “Is Cardio Really the Secret to Fat Loss?” Www.ISSAonline.edu, ISSA, 10 Aug. 2016, www.issaonline.edu/blog/index.cfm/2016/is-cardio-really-the-secret-to-fat-loss.

 

What Is Certainty?

 
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What is life if not a constant cycle of change and unpredictable predicaments? There is never true certainty in life. What’s certain is 1 + 1 = 2, but when it comes to the determinants of events in the sequence of time in association to life, can we ever be certain of what comes next? Can we ever be certain that how I see yellow is how everyone else in this world sees the color yellow? Or does crossing the street feel the same to me, as to the person next to me? Certainty is a made up construct, whether in regards to the sequence of events within the confinements of time and space or whether in identifying an experience. When we move forward (whether physically or metaphorically), nothing is absolutely certain and that’s the beauty of life.

Walking through my day-to-day, I sometimes sit and wonder what it would be like to experience the world through someone else’s eyes. I wonder does joy and happiness feel similar between two people or are experiences of happiness exclusive to the definitions identified by an individual. If different, how different is the experience of happiness between individuals? Are the experiences dependant upon past experiences and environmental contexts? What if each individual experiences everything in entirely different ways? How then, within our human capacity, would anyone discover this distinction? How can I be certain that what I identify as happiness is exactly what someone else identifies as happiness? The truth is, no one will understand the intricacies and level of each individual's distinction of experience. Nor do I have the capacity to truly understand the consciousness of another. The acknowledgment of a shared experience is the only evidence I have to rely on, but certainty is inadmissible.

"...DO I HAVE THE CAPACITY TO TRULY UNDERSTAND THE CONSCIOUSNESS OF ANOTHER. THE ACKNOWLEDGMENT OF A SHARED EXPERIENCE IS THE ONLY EVIDENCE I HAVE TO RELY ON, BUT CERTAINTY IS INADMISSIBLE."

On this planet, we are made singular. Although the world has witnessed thecloning of a sheep, I side by the notion that even if genetically identical, an experience is still absolute. Meaning no two experiences are identical. An experience is experienced by an individual in a particular moment, in a very specific way that's unique to that individual's experience. Even in identical twins, how will each twin experience the world?  This also sets the stage for the debate between nature versus nurture, or maybe it is a combination of multilayered influences from both nature and nurture which shapes what we call human experience. The one thing that's certain is although explanations and observations can lend to an understanding of another's experience, the capacity to actually experience how someone else experiences the world is unachievable within current human capacities.

What I am pointing to is that I can never know whether Anna experiences eating oranges in the same way I do. I can say that we do. I can claim that I am tasting the same tastes, feeling the same sensations, and understanding different experiences in the exact same way, but I can never really truly know. Therefore, I am here to encourage every individual to take ownership of their life.

There’s no one else in this world that experiences life and the world in the same exact way as I do. There’s no one else on this earth that loves chocolate the same way I do. There’s no individual on this planet that loves yellow in exactly the same way I do. There’s no one on this living breathing planet that resembles me in the exact same way, so why let choices be held down by a world that I know doesn’t always understand everything in the same way I do? Why allow the doubtful voices of others (and maybe even my own voice in reaction to others) change the way I want to live?

This is a call to action, for myself (and hopefully for anyone reading), to stay true to the callings of the heart. This is a call to action to commit to the voice within. If there’s one thing I can boast about knowing, is the fact that I will only know how my life is and how I experience life because in truth the only thing that’s certain is that I am the only one that will experience my life and my journey.