Mind-Body versus Brain-Body
Most of us recognize that overall health and wellness isn't just about physical fitness but also mental, emotional and perhaps spiritual well-being. While many programs claim to help us enhance our mind-body connection, "mind" is an elusive concept that means different things to many people. It is defined differently in philosophy, religion, psychology, and cognitive science. It also differs across cultures and languages. As such, achieving mind-body connection is a lofty but slippery goal.
What is more tangible and solid than the concept of "mind" is our brain. It constitutes the control center of our Central Nervous System (CNS), relaying motor commands to our voluntary muscles and receiving signals from our sensory organs (eyes, ears, tongue, skin, and nose).
This neurological loop can get disrupted when we suffer from injuries and diseases that affect any part of the system, such as the nerves or parts of the brain. Even without injury, as we age the nerve endings such as those in our extremities (hands and feet) will start to shrink, so we become less sensitive to heat or cold or to the touch. Injury and aging aside, there are also different degrees of strength when it comes to this loop, so that some of us are more "connected" to our bodies. For example, some of us can isolate and contract/relax specific muscles more readily, or feel those movements with more acuity.
Strengthening the Brain-Body Connection: Optimal Speed
We can strengthen this neurological info loop through proper movements. Compared to sitting or holding still, movements involve not only sensory but also motor signals. Yet how do we move to enhance their flow? One of the key techniques is moving at proper speed. Imagine two people Mary and Tom playing a throw-and-catch ball game. Mary tosses a ball that Tom catches and throws back . This game can only continue if they throw the ball within a certain range of speed. If Mary throws too fast, Tom will either miss it or tense from responding quickly to catch it. If Mary throws too slowly, the ball won't reach Tom, or he'll tire from running forward to catch and toss it back. There is an optimum range of speed with which both of them will find it easy to relay.
This concept of optimal speed also applies to the info loop of our CNS. By moving at moderate speed like we do in Essentrics, we allow the brain and body to communicate with ease, and the sensory and motor signals to register more fully. Compared to sprinting or spinning, for example, when we do Essentrics most of us become more conscious of how we feel in the body, particularly the parts that are moving and stretching. The moderate speed therefore not only tones and stretches our muscles effectively, but also enhances our brain-body connection.
This is not to say that we only move at a constant speed in Essentrics. There are both fast-twitch and slow-twitch fibers in our muscles, and in Essentrics we have some ballistic movements to engage those fast-twitch fibers. But overall, Essentrics movements are moderate in speed because slow-twitch fibers are more abundant.
Working All +650 muscles to ensure Brain-Body Connection
As we age, our nerve endings start to shrink. This is especially true of those in the extremities, i.e. our feet and hands. It is a classic case of "use it or lose it." Many seniors, for example, find their hands less dexterous and may even find it hard to open their hands and stretch their fingers. It is frustrating for them because they are consciously trying - i.e. their brains are actively sending the motor signals - but the fingers will not respond because the nerves are weak. By always engaging our hands and feet in Essentrics workouts, we literally prolong the nerve endings so that we can control the related muscles and move with more ease.
The same holds true for every muscle in our body and this is why working all of our +650 muscles is an important way to enhance and ensure our overall brain-body connection. Just because muscles are small doesn't mean they aren't important. After warming up, for example, we always start our Essentrics workouts with spinal movements because those tiny muscles between our spinal discs are full of proprioceptors. They relay important sensory signals to our brain about position and movement. (See blog post from September 2015.). By moving and waking up the spine, therefore, we improve our brain-body coordination as well as our sense of balance.
Brain-Body before Mind-Body
Regardless of how we define the "mind," we can all agree that the brain is a part of it. It follows that if we aspire to enhance our mind-body connection, we should start with strengthening our brain-body connection. Without it our efforts will be akin to pursuing a moving goalpost.