5.) Adopt a power posture: There’s been a lot of research in recent years suggesting that posture isn’t a one-way street–i.e. body doesn’t necessarily have to follow our mental state. One can reverse the flow, improving one’s mental state by adopting a strong and confident posture.
One of the most thorough discussions of this phenomena is in Amy Cuddy’s book Presence, which famously mentions the “Wonder Woman” pose. However, another widespread example is using the up-and-outward fist pumping posture that is widely seen among humans and even other primates (i.e. with arms outstretched as Usain Bolt is seen above.)
4.) Master eye contact: This is dreadfully difficult for an introverts such as myself. We tend to look anywhere but the eyes.
If one is traveling in risky places, it’s important to have a grasp of the fine art of eye contact. If one doesn’t make any eye contact, then one risks looking zoned out–potentially inviting aggression. If one rapidly looks away, offering too short an eye contact period, one appears intimidated–potentially inviting aggression. However, if one’s eye contact is too long, it may trigger some primal fight impulse, or–at a minimum–suggest you have taken more interest in the individual–which may invite aggression. This means one has to balance a fine line that says, “I see you, you know I saw you. Now I’m going to do me and let you do you.”
3.) Adopt the opposing viewpoint: Say you find yourself obsessing about some perceived slight or wrong. While you want to address this issue, you want to be calm enough to avoid saying or doing something you’ll regret. You want to be seen as a sensible individual while being persuasive. The key is seeing both sides, and taking a moment to realize that your opposition is probably not the black-hearted villain of his own story. He likely has some reason for his behavior. Maybe it’s even a reason you can empathize with, given your own experience–i.e. being overworked and distracted, facing a decision that only allows for a best worst option, etc.
2.) Visualize it: It may seem as though anything that occurs solely in the mind can’t have that much force, but–in fact–it can. Visualizing can help one get over one’s anxieties. By systematically considering how events will unfold, one can break the cycle of worst-case scenario creation that the brain readily falls into. This will make an activity seem less intimidating and more manageable.
1.) Start small: Often when a person would like to be more kind or compassionate, she’s flummoxed or overwhelmed by the scale of the problem. She sees problems that she can’t make a dent in. So schedule one small act of kindness in a week or maybe a bigger one monthly, or as is possible. Do it, see its value, and be content.
One also sees a need for starting small with advanced physical practices. If you can’t do a yogasana or martial arts move, figure out what capacity building or modifications one needs to get to the end goal. Then take it on bit-by-bit. There are many videos on how to systematically build up to challenging maneuvers like the press handstand or planche, moves that almost no one can do with out a great deal of prep work.
5.) IDEA: While our conscious mind feels like the sum of our mental world, in fact, it’s the tip of the iceberg of mental processes. Our decisions and actions are guided to a large degree by happenings below the waterline.
INTRIGUING EXAMPLE: In one study, interview subjects were randomly assigned to hold either iced or hot coffee. No attention was drawn to the coffee and it was set up as a mere accident of happenstance (the HR person directing the interviewees had her hands full.) The coffee was retrieved before the subjects made handshakes with interviewers. Unrelated to their verbal responses, those who had held the iced coffee were disproportionately described more in terms suggesting a cold personality (e.g. calculating, devious, etc.) and those who had held hot coffee were credited with a warmer personality.
RELEVANCE: Get your hands warm before you start making corrections.
REFERENCE: The coffee study is discussed by David J. Linden in his book Touch. However, there are many books on this topic, several that I’ve reviewed. In particular, I can recommend Eagleman’s Incognito and Mlodinow’s Subliminal.
4.) IDEA: Emotions play a crucial role in decision-making. We aren’t nearly so rationale and calculating as we think ourselves to be–particularly when there is uncertainty in the mix.
INTRIGUING EXAMPLE: Giovannni Frazzetto’s book describes cases of patients with lesions in their medial prefrontal cortexes who would deliberate ad nauseam and still couldn’t reach a decision.
RELEVANCE: This is why we don’t silence or stamp out emotions, but rather watch them dispassionately while avoiding a mental drift into a frenzy of illusion building.
REFERENCE: The Frazzetto book I referenced is: How We Feel, and it deals with anger, guilt, anxiety / fear, grief, empathy, joy, and love. However, the patients described in his book were those of Antonio Damasio, and so you may want to check out Descartes’ Error, which I’ve heard good things about, but haven’t yet read.
3 .) IDEA: Experiences once thought to be supernatural, mystical, or fraudulent are increasingly being understood in scientific terms.
INTRIGUING EXAMPLE: For some, an Out-of-Body-Experience (OBE) is an impossible flight of fancy, while for others it’s a mystical / transcendent state beyond the physical realm. However, in recent years scientists have not only confirmed that people have these experiences, they’ve come a long way toward understanding such occurrences by actually inducing them via electrodes applied to the right angular gyrus. It seems that area of the brain is responsible for integrating sensory information from various senses, and its disruption creates an illusion of one’s consciousness floating outside the body.
RELEVANCE: As many have wisely advised, don’t spend a lot of time chasing siddhis–not only might it stunt your growth toward the ultimate goal, it might just be running after tricks of the mind.
REFERENCE: I highly recommend Anil Ananthaswamy’s The Man Who Wasn’t There. The book looks at the various ways in which “self” has been defined (one’s memories, one’s body, etc.) and it shows how neuroscience has learned a thing or two about the various dimensions of self, and how none of them fully defines an “I.” (i.e. The Buddhist conception of the self as illusion might turn out to be not far off the mark.)
2.) IDEA: Our brains can be rewired through practice and training. The property is called neuroplasticity, and it’s often described by the verse: “neurons that fire together, wire together.”
INTRIGUING EXAMPLE: You may have heard about how London taxi cab drivers develop an enlarged hippocampus, which helps them meet the vast spatial memory needs required of the job. However, an even more fascinating example may be how some blind people have developed a capacity for echolocation–i.e. their mind registers changes as sound bounces off walls, curbs, and other obstacles.
RELEVANCE: One takes advantage of neuroplasticity when one works to be more kind and compassionate by recognizing and changing one’s behavior patterns.
1.) IDEA: We have neural circuitry that predisposes us to spiritual belief and inclinations toward the sacred.
INTRIGUING EXAMPLE: The evidence suggests that it’s not so important who or what you believe in, but the more positive the message the better. People of religion have demonstrated both better and worse health outcomes–all else equal–and it seems linked to whether you have one of those smiting gods or a more compassionate one.
RELEVANCE: Belief and surrender–religious or secular–can play an important role in one’s personal development.
REFERENCE: Newberg and Waldman’s How Enlightenment Changes Your Brain deals with these issues in detail.
This book examines the role of the nervous system in movement and bodily activity. It describes how one’s body is able to perform extraordinarily complex maneuvers that we often take for granted because they feel effortless. It investigates some of the ways in which the interface between body and brain go awry, as well as the various effects this can have. It also offers insight into how we can be deceived because we are experiencing the world less directly and more through the shaping activities of the brain than we feel is true.
The book contains ten chapters, plus a little forward and back matter. The first chapter is entitled “the body mandala” and it provides an overview of how the nervous system can be thought of as a series of maps layered upon maps that routes various input from outlying areas to the brain and commands from the brain to the outlying areas. A “mandala” is a symbolic representation of the universe [from Hindu and Buddhist traditions], and this notion is repeatedly revisited throughout the book.
Chapter 2 explores the mapping of the homunculus and its ramifications. If you’ve ever seen a 2-D or 3-D image /model of a human being that has gigantic lips and hands and disproportionately small torso and thighs, you’ve seen said homunculus (as the term is used in neuroscience.) The reason it’s scaled this way is that body part size is reflective of space in the nervous system dedicated to said parts and not their actual size. If you’ve ever seen one of those maps–called cartograms–in which the size of a country reflects a statistic, say, population (thus India, China, and Singapore are much larger than their physical size, but Canada is much smaller than its), you get the drift. This chapter also answers the question everyone wants to ask (and many do) which is “why–if the lips are so large because of their dedicated territory in the brain—are the genitals unexpectedly small in the homunculus?
Chapter 3 describes how body maps can be in conflict and what effect this can have. It talks about why people who lose weight often still feel fat and move in ways that are not reflective of their actual figure. It also gets into anorexia (and the lesser known bigorexia) which reflect mismatches between perceived body image and actual body schema.
Chapter 4 investigates a fascinating phenomenon in which visualization can often result in strength and performance gains. Said gains aren’t on the same scale as among those who actually exercise or practice, but the fact that one can make gains without moving a muscle is certainly intriguing. Of course, the takeaway is that one can get the best of both worlds by augmenting physical conditioning and practice with visualization—one has a more finite number of feasible physical training hours in a day (i.e. there are diminishing returns on physical training at some point.)
Chapter 5 is the first of two chapters that deal with problems related to improper interaction between the nervous system and the body. Here we learn about “the yips” that plague golfers and other occupational dystonias. When one begins practicing any physical activity, the objective is to build up muscle memory so that the movements can be completed purely unconsciously. This works through neuroplasticity—the fact that sequences of neurons that frequently fire together become more strongly linked—but neuroplasticity can have a dark side at the extremes.
Chapter 6 considers the way in which the system of maps can fail such that one fails to recognize one’s own limbs, one recognizes extra ones, or the like. Chapter 7 is about peripersonal space—i.e. the physical bubble of space that one needs to feel comfortable, and which varies both culturally and individually.
Chapter 8 delves into the role that upcoming technology may have in changing how we look at the body-brain connection. Mirror neurons are the subject of the penultimate chapter. You’ve probably heard of these neurons which fire when we see someone else perform an action. Usually there is an inhibitory signal to keep our body from actual mimicry, but sometimes you may find yourself unconsciously mimicking the position or body language of another person when one is engaged in an engrossing conversation. (Yawning contagiousness is a featured example.) Mirror neurons play a role in how we learn so quickly, how we sometimes anticipate the behavior or emotions of others, and deficient activity in these cells has been speculated to be responsible for autism.
Chapter 10 describes the role of the insula in human activities. The insula has been found to be involved in emotion and rewards system by which humans are motivated to engage in a number of bodily activities.
The book has many graphics to clarify technical points, many of these being line drawings of the brain and other physiological structures. There is also a glossary of key scientific terms.
I found this book to be fascinating. It was highly readable despite its technical subject matter, and it described these systems and the research about them in a clear manner. I’d highly recommend it—particularly if one is interested in movement, fitness, and optimal human performance.