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A monthly series of several articles by various members of Summa Foundation were published in Philly Health & Fitness Lifestyle Magazine. The articles present aspects of inner work which are immediately relevant to those active in health and fitness disciplines. The first article is presented on this web site in its entireity. Excerpts of more of the series are presented below.
|MORE ARTICLES in a series called
"Sound Mind - Healthy Body ... for Healthy Living":
You are What You Eat
Strength of Being
Mindful Movements Practices to Enhance Your Total Well Being
"Mind Power" by Joe Chielli
So why is health and fitness such a desirable goal? Almost everyone would agree health and fitness is a good thing, a desirable thing, something worth investing significant time and money to obtain. But why? What is it precisely about health and fitness that make it the aim for millions of people?
The 19th century philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche in his attempt to define good and bad asserted that whatever enhances the power to be, that increases strength and the ability to survive is good. Conversely anything that promotes weakness and decreases survival capability is bad. Nietzsche defined the most fundamental will of life as a will to power.
Whether or not one agrees completely with Nietzsche, his assessment of good and bad does suggest that if he were alive today he would probably be working out on a regular basis with the rest of us who enjoy the sensations of strength and power that health and fitness provide . . . .
We can probably all discover within ourselves a resounding "yes" to the question of whether we deeply enjoy the feeling of strength and endurance flowing through our bodies when we perform a physical task. Clearly it is a joy to have the body respond enthusiastically without complaint when we put it to a strenuous task. It is reassuring to feel that our body's strength is more than a match for the physical necessities required to survive . . . .
However, being able to do with enhanced ease, effectiveness, and pleasure is not simply about being healthy and fit. Before the muscles move the bones, something has to happen in the mind. To do something with ease and effectiveness requires much more than overflowing physical strength and endurance.
Imagine a marathon champion that sprains his ankle carrying groceries up the steps of his apartment because his attention is stuck on the young woman he met recently at a nightclub.
What about a beach volley ball game where one of the players is so upset about a financial deal that went bad the day before, that she can't stop thinking about it. She winds up spiking the ball hard and recklessly and breaks her thumb in the process.
Consider the martial arts student who hesitates in throwing a punch at a mugger because he thinks about the possibility of a lawsuit if he uses his karate skills. As a result, he winds up in the hospital with a concussion.
Events similar to these occur everyday. You are probably familiar with them in your own life. These kinds of incidents occur because your attention is not focused in the right way for the successful implementation of the task you are involved in. If you are healthy and fit, your body may be quite ready and able handle the situation at hand. However, when your mind is unable to collect and hold its attention in the right way, your ability to do any task is severely impaired . . . .
Developing a sound mind begins with developing control over your attention. At Summa Foundation, the main work is about building the muscle of "will" that moves and holds attention. The exercises that are practiced to accomplish this . . . .
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"Mind Fitness" by Joe Chielli
What does it really mean to develop a fitness program that includes the mind as well as the body? Attention is the muscle we need to develop for mind fitness. So, how we can develop a workout routine that builds our attention control along with the fitness of our muscular and cardiovascular systems?
Any fitness program for the mind is going to involve setting aims and goals in the same way you set them for body fitness. The nature of these aims and goals however is quite different. The aims connected with mind fitness involve control of attention. There are as many different types of exercises for developing control of attention as there are for body work. So, let's just consider two examples of attention work that can be done in conjunction with a physical workout. The first involves simple awareness of breathing . The second involves the intentional division of attention in order to focus awareness simultaneously on two different events occurring in the same moment. For our example of divided attention we will take breathing as one event, and include the sensations originating from the particular muscle group we are exercising as the second event.
So, let's start your mind fitness program with the example of simple awareness of breathing. Suppose you set the aim to maintain constant awareness of your breathing from the time you enter the front doors of the gym until you leave. This means that upon entering the gym you bring some of your attention to your breathing. You make a determined effort to hold attention and maintain awareness of each in-breath and out-breath, not trying to change or regulate your breathing, just watching it happen naturally. The exercise for the mind will be in trying to keep some attention on this process of breathing as you move through your work out, noticing the changes in breathing as your level of activity and exertion rises and falls.
You will find that to maintain attention on breathing is easy for about the first minute. But as soon as your trainer or one of your acquaintances greets you, attention is very likely to disappear into that interaction and you will completely lose track of your breathing. Assuming that your commitment to mind fitness is deep enough, even though you periodically "forget", chances are good that you will "wake up" again to your breathing at a later point. Perhaps when you are in the locker room alone you will suddenly remember and realize that you lost awareness of your breathing when Jamie or Tim greeted you at the front desk, and that you have no idea of what happened to your breathing during that interaction. So now you pick up your aim again in the locker room. You pause, sitting on the bench, and refocus attention on your breathing. You bring attention to the rising and falling of your diaphragm, you feel the air entering and exiting your mouth and nose. You vow to stay in control of your attention so that your breathing exists for you at every moment. Now you get up and walk out to the stairmaster. As you set the controls your attention is lost momentarily to the machine, but you immediately recover your aim and your awareness of breathing. You begin your exercise routine noticing how your breathing begins to deepen. You enjoy being aware of the air rushing in and out of your body. You especially begin to enjoy the freedom from nagging thoughts that anchoring attention in breathing can bring. You relax. Worries fall away. You become one with the movement and breathing.
Once you can master this simple awareness of breathing exercise you are ready to experiment with the second part of your mind fitness program. This next level of mind fitness involves dividing attention . . . .
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"You Are What You Eat" by Joe Chielli and Gary Strassberg
As a person committed to working out and taking good care of your body, you know that eating healthy food is essential for maintaining physical fitness. Experience may have taught you that some foods are more nourishing and easily digested than others. There is certainly plenty of scientific information now available about the caloric and nutritional value of the foods you eat. Perhaps you are even sensitive enough to feel the effects that different foods have on your body, such as the lethargic effects of a high-fat diet versus one that is rich in complex carbohydrates.
For example you may have observed how your body feels after fueling up on fast foods like a cheeseburger, french fries, and a milkshake, compared to eating something lighter and less processed like a garden salad, tofu, and rice cakes. The former may make you feel sluggish and bloated and contribute to various circulatory problems, while the latter may give you a sensation of energy and lightness and help reduce the risk of heart disease. Clearly eating the right food is essential to developing and maintaining a fit and healthy body.
So now let us consider the mind. Is there a type of psychological "diet" for you that is especially helpful in developing and maintaining a fit and healthy mind? The answer is "yes!". However, it is necessary to do some self-study to understand how different diets for the mind effect you in particular. To begin with it is necessary to consider carefully what we mean by "food for the mind".
At Summa Foundation psychological foods are known and studied as "impressions". We eat impressions through the five senses. These impressions are digested by our personal psychological programs (personalities, values, opinions, beliefs) and impact on our psychological state in a way that is reminiscent of how food for the body impacts on our physical state. Impressions can be understood as any type of stimuli that we become aware of through the focus of our attention. It may be something that we see, hear, touch, taste, or smell. Impressions can be the type of music you listen to, the television shows you watch, the people you spend time with, the smell of a garbage truck in summer, a beautiful dress, a work of art, trash on the beach, pictures on the wall, incense in the hall, the taste of a fine wine, the flash of a road sign, the sun on your skin, the taste of the wind.
All these impressions are a type of food for the mind that impacts on your psychology producing a tremendous variety of responses and states. Depending on the nature of the impression and how it is processed by your personality programs, what you eat for your mind can produce a positive and healthy mental state that furthers your psychological evolution, or it can produce anxiety, depression, anger, fear, and basically make you sick with what could be thought of as mental indigestion.
In the same way that we learn to eat what is healthy for our bodies, we must learn to eat what is healthy for our minds . . . .
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"Strength of Being" by Joe Chielli
Every well executed feat of physical strength and athletic prowess implies a unity of purpose that radiates through the body and mind. Not only do the muscles have to work in harmony, but the mind needs to have its attention aligned with its aim and its aim has to be clear and definite. Only then does one have the prerequisites for success in the physical arena.
When a good basketball player is going for a slam-dunk, he must at a certain point make a commitment to go for that particular shot as he approaches the basket. If he is conflicted about whether to dunk the ball or go for a layup, his movements are going to show signs of confusion: awkwardness, lack of drive, determination, and force. Without the necessary focus that goes along with unity of aim, chances are he is going to perform poorly. In sports, good players are constantly making decisions with a unification of aim, judgement, and commitment to action.
Consider how the process of physical training for different kinds of sports activities is really about getting all the muscles involved to function together in the right way. It is about building consensus in the muscle groups so that when it comes time to perform the task, all the individual muscle fibers contract in a way that is consistent with the overall aim, thus producing a movement result that is graceful, powerful, and accurate.
Training the mind to be fit for the different kinds of life activities we find ourselves involved in, bears similarity to physical training especially when it comes to this question of unification and the need to harmonize inner conflict.
One of the most essential elements of mind fitness involves harmonizing the inner conflicts and inconsistencies in your personality so that you are able to act decisively. Most of us are terribly fragmented. We hold conflicting values and opinions that often make it extremely difficult . . . .
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"Mindful Movements Practices to Enhance Your Total Well Being" by Joanna Schlesinger
Your life is full of movement. But is your movement full of life?
We human beings do so much in reactive, quasi-automatic ways, especially in the fast paced, demanding lifestyles we live. Such reactive living may be responsive but is not necessarily responsible. This is not living life in its fullest sense, but rather in a kind of sleep. Sometimes we can wake up to a realization that we can not really remember how we spent the last few minutes, or hours or even a whole day. I mean really remember the real-time experience of our perceptions and actions. We might know what must have happened logically, based on where we find ourselves in a relatively wakeful moment and the continuing schedule of events that we are in the midst of. But were we really awake to those passing moments of our lives in such a way that we enjoyed them, understood them, made real thoughtful choices and can recall them in their full richness of sensual detail? Or are we sometimes as if sleep walking?
The good news is that you can affect the degree of liveliness in your experience of lifes passing moments. You can make your life more vivid, and redeem it from the fog of habitual distraction and stress. Your use of attention can be re-educated to achieve this, including both body and mind . . . .
Now there is a less well known collection of movements practices, sometimes called Mindful Movements or sacred dances, which can take the body - mind connection even further. This kind of Mindful Movements work has recently become more available, coming from little known, relatively inaccessible sources. Compared with other modalities, the Mindful Movements add an element of participatory beauty and symbolic meaning that can feed the soul in a way rarely felt. This work can simultaneously retrain the scope and depth and durability of your attention, and cultivate a kinesthetic and sensory awareness to an unimagined degree. Mindful Movements deepen a connection and harmony with the otherwise often separate and conflicting worlds of ideas and emotions . . . .
Participation in these Mindful Movements feed us in a special way. They restore the soul, the part of us that yearns for meaning amidst an often fragmented disorienting world. They put us directly in touch with a deep universal source or silence, without any intervening religious or new age interpretation. They are meditation in motion. If you are drawn to learning through body movement or wish to balance your physical development with integrative body-mind work . . . .
The author is a facilitator at Summa Foundation, a non-profit tax-exempt organization dedicated to techniques of personal growth. Summa Foundation collaborates in the teaching and study of unique Mindful Movement exercises through local programs and through an international network of dedicated teachers and students. . . . to register for workshops, call 215-849-0214.