Reaching Your Maximum Potential
Sure, nutrition and exercise are an essential part of maintaining good health, but you only attend to them a few hours of your day. There are three things you can control, not only in the gym, but every waking moment of your day, that will determine the quality of your life.
These three things set up the foundation of who you are and what you can become. Interestingly, you have probably heard them mentioned throughout your life, but gave them no more than a passing consideration.
However, if you’re serious about reaching your maximum potential, by improving your physical and mental health, you will begin to make a conscious effort to become more aware and develop self-discipline to exercise these pillars of health—posture, breathing, and attitude.
In this age of advanced exercise equipment and training methods, it can be hard to believe that something we normally do without any conscious effort has the potential to make such a profound difference in our health.
However, the degree of difference they can make is dependent upon the amount of awareness and effort we apply to these basic tenets.
Do not be surprised or discouraged if at first you cannot focus your attention on these seemingly mundane aspects for more than a few minutes at a time. For example, if you are currently sitting down to read this, take a moment now to sit in proper posture with your head held straight, your shoulders back and chest out, knees slightly lower than your hips and feet flat on the floor. Got it?
Ok, now here is the challenge, continue keeping this good posture until the end of this article. In fact, bad posture is so common that most people may even notice that by the end of this sentence they have already begun to slouch and return to their normal comfortable sitting position. The unfortunate irony here is that the seated position you now feel “comfortable” in is actually predisposing you to future injuries and discomforts.
Now that your awareness of these forgotten pillars of health has been reawakened, we will next look at some examples of the many benefits of each, and how to begin to utilize them in a more effective way to reap these benefits.
As you read, keep in mind that while each of these three pillars are very important in and of themselves, they are also interdependent with each other (as shown below) and how they affect overall mental and physical health.
Proper posture means good alignment of the vertebral column that surrounds and supports your spinal cord so that the nerves that branch out to every muscle and organ can relay the electrical impulses necessary for their proper function. That one sentence should help you realize the importance and implications of ensuring proper posture.
While periodic bad posture may only lead to annoying muscle soreness of the back, neck and shoulders, over time, poor posture can lead not only to chronic muscle soreness, but blood vessel and nerve constriction as well.
It’s helpful to think of the following analogy to better visualize the effects of bad posture. A misaligned spine due to poor posture is like a garden hose with a kink in it. The hose represents the vertebral column and the water flowing through the hose represents the blood and electrical impulses traveling along the spine. If you sit in a position that continually kinks the hose, you will be preventing the proper blood flow and nerve conduction to your body necessary to ensure optimal health.
As mentioned above, each of these pillars are interdependent with each other and it is easy to see how bad posture can keep us from being able to breathe properly, but posture can also affect our attitudes. A journal article in Biofeedback states, “Many people, without self-awareness or recognition, walk in a slouching pattern, sit for hours collapsed in front of a computer or TV, and collapse forward while texting or working on smart phones …. These are all ‘culturally conditioned’ positions that may evoke negative hopeless memories and reduce subjective energy if the person has a history of depression.
The two most important things to remember about proper breathing are to breathe with the nose, not the mouth, and to breathe in fully from the abdomen, not the upper chest.
While you may see some debate over whether it is better to breathe from the nose or mouth, one very important benefit of breathing through the nose is that membranes in the nasal cavity introduce nitric oxide into the lungs which acts to both increase oxygen absorption and to kill potentially harmful bacteria and viruses.
And, as you may have noticed, Nitric oxide, or NO, has recently been one of the biggest buzz words in the supplement market as many products try to take advantage of its well-documented benefits to performance that your body naturally has the ability to produce simply by breathing through your nose.
You may not have even been conscious about it till you just read this, but many people tend to breathe shallowly from the upper chest. However, the best and most efficient way to bring the maximum amount of oxygen into the lungs is to breathe in fully from the abdomen.
Contrary to how many of us breathe, you should not see your chest rising and falling with each breathe, rather you should see your abdomen expand and contract as the diaphragm pulls air in and then pushes it out. When we breathe properly in this manner, we bring in the optimum amount of oxygen to the lungs which then carries it to the rest of our body through the blood.
Again, the interdependence is seen here as the oxygen delivered from proper breathing nourishes both the muscles and the brain, which are needed to support good posture and positive mental attitude respectively.
How long can you go without thinking a negative thought? In this age of information and mass media, we are constantly being reminded of war, school shootings, a failing economy, etc., so it would be impressive if you could manage to keep a negative thought from entering your mind for even an hour. Consequently, these negative thoughts lead to negative attitudes which in turn affect not only our performance in the gym, but our relationships and every other aspect of our lives.
However, once we realize that, ultimately, it is not what happens outside of us that is responsible for our quality of life, but rather it is our attitude, how we choose to perceive the people, places and events in it, that is the real determining factor, we can begin to take responsibility for our own happiness.
Again, just like with our posture and breathing, we must begin to increase our daily awareness of attitude and recognize when it is beginning to turn negative, drawing us away from our optimal selves.
One effective way to begin to take control of our attitude is to realize that for every negative thought we can also generate a positive one.
For example, consider the following scenario; you’re driving to the gym, and along the way someone in front of you is driving extremely slow, so you honk your horn and curse at them as you speed up to pass them. However, instead of immediately assuming they are purposely delaying you, consider that they may be looking for the address of an old friend or they may be delivering a birthday cake and they have to be careful of bumps.
In this manner, even in the unlikely event that the person was actually messing with you, you have now took control of the situation, and instead of letting it negatively affect your mental state, incurring all the consequent negative physiological effects of anger and frustration, you have attained peace of mind resulting from understanding and compassion.
Just remember, we cannot control everyone and every situation around us, but we can control how we perceive them, and thus, how it affects us.
Now let’s put it all together with an example of how you can use the knowledge you have just gained in any situation, no matter how mundane, in your day to day life.
Say you are standing there doing the dishes. (Yes, even doing household chores is an opportunity to improve your health!) Think of the three pillars;
- Is your posture good, or are you already hunched over and beginning to feel the tension in your neck, shoulders and back? Take a moment to make the necessary adjustments and make a conscious effort to keep checking to ensure you are remaining in good posture.
- Are you breathing properly through your nose and fully from your abdomen, or are you breathing with your mouth in shallow breaths from your upper chest?
- Are you working with a positive attitude? If you find it is difficult to have a positive attitude while you are doing chores or anything else that needs to be done that you’d rather not be doing, think of the positive side to it. For instance, while doing the dishes, you could think about how truly fortunate you are to have eaten the food that was on them, and to have a house to do the dishes in!
Moreover, by occupying your mind with trying to maintain awareness of each of these pillars, you will find that the time passes much quicker as you have turned something that used to be a chore into another opportunity to improve your health.
There you have it, now not only are you improving your health with each healthy meal and workout, but also in everything that you do throughout the day. In the beginning, you may have to keep reminding yourself many times throughout the day, so make it your mantra for optimal health and a happy life—Posture, Breathing, and Attitude.
The more you build awareness and exercise these three pillars of health, the sooner you will notice a better quality of life.