Today I want to talk about holistic fitness as far I understand it. This post veers heavily into the lane of fitness philosophy, and is hopefully thought provoking as it is not prescriptive. The bulk of my adolescent and adult life has been a journey to try and find out what it means and feels like to be truly fit. I am not sure why this became my religion, but it certainly did. In 2008 if you asked me what it meant to be truly fit I would have said it was looking like Marky Mark. In 2014 if you would have asked me what it means to be truly fit I would have told you it was qualifying for Crossfit regionals. Over the years my concept expanded far beyond the ability to perform a physical task and now includes several different layers. So if you asked me today, my answer for what it meant to be truly fit would be something like capable and happy. When I was in the best physical shape, I was also quite miserable, sore and immobile, and had zero social life. As I got a little older that version of fitness started to look a little silly to me. So, I have come to use the term holistic to describe fitness.
Now the concept of Holistic Fitness certainly isn’t my own, and I am even apprehensive to use the term, because it sounds a bit too (granola, crystal-wearing, I make my own soap, and have 14 pairs of elephant pants)-ish for my liking. Like this guy, who is great btw.
But, there is no way around it, the word holistic just happens to be the right term as it means that the whole is more than merely the sum of its parts. I believe in this immensely when it comes to fitness.
I want to state right away that this blog is a discussion of what fitness means to me and I don’t consider my beliefs to be the “right” way, or only way, or anything like that. There are many different ways to cook your broccoli. I encourage the readers to leave comments on the facebook link if they have anything they would like to add, or a piece of their perspective that they would like to share. Fitness is going to be different for everyone, but I believe it should have some layers.
My concept of fitness is completely separate from any discussion of peak performance because if you want to truly peak your performance in a given sport or activity, other areas of your life will have to suffer.
For me fitness includes several different layers, and is just as concerned with happiness, and controlling stress levels as it is about being able to perform certain physical tasks. Fitness should include your ability to relax, your social health, relationship with your breathe, nutrition, sleep quality, creativity, etc. You are made up of so many parts, that focusing on one alone is missing the forest because of the trees.
If only your body is fit, then you are not fit.
To experience holistic fitness you have to be vibrating at a similar frequency in many different aspects of your life. If you can deadlift 500#, but can’t sleep at night, then your fitness can be called into question. If you can run a triathlon but are single and haven’t been on a date in a year, then that part of your life is not vibrating on a similar frequency to your performance. So, if holistic fitness is the goal, sometimes the best thing you can do for your fitness, is simply relax.
I spent some time on Sunday, thinking about what I spend time on in my day to day life with holistic fitness in mind, and concluded that my fitness has seven layers. I am spoiled being a bachelor, and self-employed for half the year, so I might have 50 units of energy to dedicate to my fitness, whereas most people have 30-35. But, it isn’t all about making more time for your fitness, but rather being realistic about how much time you can dedicate, and making the most of that time.
Here is what I came up with… (pardon my beautiful penmanship)
-Holistic Fitness for me consists of seven layers.
-Taking care of any one layer improves all others layers.
-Neglecting any one layer diminishes all other layers.
-There is overlap between the layers. They are woven together, not stacked. This means that one activity might be an expression of multiple layers. For example, surfing could be considered exercise, meditation, play/reaction, and if done with friends also mindful social interaction.
-If all layers are vibrating together one becomes a Superbuddha or something like that.
-One can do quite well without all levels vibrating together, but the more layers that are not vibrating, the less that person is thriving.
Here is a bit of reflection on why each of these areas is included, but I am not going to give you answers here. For example, sleeping more is easy in theory, but not necessarily so in practise.
Sleep (7-10 Hours/Night)
I can’t say enough about the importance of sleep. You can be doing everything right in the gym and in the kitchen, but if you don’t sleep you will not be anywhere close to operating at your highest potential. You will not even be expressing your true self. You will not only be doing harm to yourself physically, but it is also likely that your relationships will suffer as well. One of the best things you can do to improve your health is sleep more.
Nutrition (Eat Real Food!)
I was recently talking with a friend about aging, and she said she wished there was a drug out there that improved your skin, hair, and made you look younger. Well my friend, that drug is called eating healthy. If you commit to cutting the shit out of your diet, and introducing the good, you will be amazed at how you feel (physically and mentally), and how you will look. It doesn’t have to be complicated either. In one sentence: start eating real food, cut out added sugar, limit alcohol, and consider cutting out grain and dairy. All of the grandiose claims made by snake-oil beauty products (“protein enhanced Nigerian echinacea aging serum”), diet pills, diet shakes, etc. are largely bullshit. And the funny thing is that to get the results that those products claim, you just need to shop in different aisles in the grocery store. I am comfortable in saying that in terms of your body-composition diet is responsible for probably 70%, and then sleep and exericse are 15% each. If there exists a fountain of youth, it lies within nutrition, not a 2:50 Fran, or celebrity endorsed aging-cream.
Exercise (You Choose)
I have my personal biases when it comes to what kind of exercise people should do, but the reality is you just need to be active if the goal is holistic fitness. If you want to “win” something, or put on 10 lbs of muscle, then that is a different conversation. However, for the general population any kind of exercise is going to improve their overall health be it walking, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, aqua-size, tai-chi, or spin-class (which you couldn't pay me to do). Here are my thoughts on what kind of exercise is best if you need to begin getting in shape....
Since exercise can wear a million faces, I’ll provide an analogy instead.
If you are stuck in the wilderness and you run out of drinking water, it is known that you should always drink flowing/moving water, and to stay away from stagnant water. Stagnant water becomes nasty, stinky, full of bacteria, and is a well of disease. Flowing water stays clean, fresh, and free of disease. Your body is made up of something like 65% water. See what I am getting at? If you don’t move, you rot, you become full of disease. Your body is water and movement is the filter.
Get off your ass!
Breathing (Wim Hof, Pranayama, etc.)
This is probably the most recent addition to my fitness life, and I am hooked. I am now breathing 6-7 days a week, and now see this as important as anything else in my regimen. There is a lot of research on what breathing does for us such as reducing inflammation, improving mental-health, making the body alkaline, increasing lung capacity, etc. However, for me it is all about the feeling. People talk about becoming “yoga stoned” which is definitely a thing, but breathing stoned is on par with the real deal. I feel fantastic when my day starts with breathing, and that carries on throughout the day. To be specific I am hooked on the Wim Hof breathing technique.
Meditation (State of No Mind) (Meditation, breathing,sports, hiking, yoga, exercise, stretching, etc.)
I believe that there is immense benefit to meditation, but also feel that the best meditation I have experienced has actually been while doing some form of activity. The goal of meditation is to clear the mind, separate from the body (or deeply connect to it), and enter a state of no mind. This is extremely hard to achieve (especially just sitting) and mastery of meditation might take a decade as well. I believe that anything done with the right mindset can be meditation. If you go to the gym, get in the zone, and if the first time you “come to” an hour has passed, you were in a state of no mind, or flow. This is why I think its important to train by yourself at times. You will quite your brain, and hear your body much more when it is quiet around you. This state of no mind can happen surfing, stretching, in yoga class, fishing, dancing, love-making, and hiking to provide a few examples. This no mind, day-dream state, where the mind wanders without paying little attention to where it grows is essential for the ability to relax, and expand your mind.
(Rickson Gracie... listen @ 3:17. From the documentary Choke)
Creativity/Play/Expression/Reaction/Fun (Sports, art, music)
This is one is pretty broad. But, if all you do is lift weights, crossfit, or endurance sports there are going to be massive holes in your athleticism and fitness. You become adept at moving within a given set of parameters that never change. Reaction speed and your ability to adapt to the spontaneous movement of another human (who might also be trying to fool you) or nature (a wave) is an extreme expression of fitness in my opinion. Furthermore, if you are the one doing the deceiving (going in for a dodge in lacrosse) you are actually creating something new and expressing yourself in a way that cannot be matched in barbell or endurance sports. If you are not the type who likes to play sports I believe that a similar way to tap into the creative energy is through music or art, and for some athletes, their game can be improved by learning to express themselves in other areas of their lives. Rose Namajunas, who is the straw-weight champion of the UFC, spoke about playing piano as part of her training leading up to her championship fight. The more connections we can make in our brain through doing a variation of tasks can only lead to better functioning as a whole.
Mindful Social Interaction (Friends, Family, Romance)
Now a lot of people don’t think of fitness as involving one’s social life. But, if you don’t have solid relationships with family, friends, and whatever you are physically attracted to, you are not going to be thriving as a human. Some people (especially myself) like to idealize the “Lone Wolf” archetype, but the reality is that humans are social creatures. We have lived with other people for thousands of years. No matter how iindependent and tough you think you are, if you aren’t getting the occasional hug, sharing laughs with friends and family, and being intimate with whatever you are attracted to, on some level you won’t be vibrating as you should be. The reason I write mindful is because not all interactions are going to be healthy. If you have trouble saying no, you might not be thriving to your fullest potential if you are giving too much of yourself. If you are an introvert, you have to be wise about who you spend your time with, because the wrong people or social situations can be extremely draining.
While most people find the nutrition and exercise part of fitness challenging, I would like to share that I am most intimidated and challenged by having a social life. What is easy for some is not easy for others, so when people struggle with eating well, I don’t judge, because I generally struggle engaging with other humans. I am nearing the extreme side of introverted, and can get a bit of tunnel vision when it comes to doing the things that I like (training, reading, thinking), so this is an area of my life that I have to put a fair bit of effort in. However I know that when I spend too much time alone, I am not functioning at my highest, and it is just a feeling that something is off.
That gives you a little insight into how multi-faceted I believe fitness is. And also, how deep my relationship with fitness goes. It is truly a religion for me. I chose to make this my quest and this is where it has led me so far.
I believe fitness goes far deeper than physical ability, body-fat, or winning. Someone who is truly on the quest for fitness is going to be thriving in multiple areas of their lives, and when all layers are vibrating together that person is truly vibrating at a high level and getting the most out of their mind and body. Unfortunately the modern lifestyle makes focusing on holistic fitness extremely difficult. So, that is why I am sharing this as my experience and my life, not as a prescription for others. Each individual needs to figure out what their balance is given their lifestyle and responsibilities. But perhaps by expanding one's view of fitness to include things like play, social interaction, sleep, and state of no mind, and even what constitutes exercise, that person might realize they are more fit, and doing more for their fitness than they think.
Hope you enjoyed, and if you want to add anything to the list or share your own list in the comments on Facebook that would be great!
Grit Human Performance