When it comes to using our intelligence, we tend to imagine firing up our brains and relegate our bodies to the role of taxi driver. But physical intelligence coaches Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton have a line into the scientific evidence that says this is muddled thinking. For them, our bodies have as much to contribute to good decision making, creativity and successful communication as our grey matter does.
In their new book, ‘Physical Intelligence’ they reveal the hacks you can use to get body clever – here’s how we learned to unlock our untapped energy to achieve more with less stress…
1. Own The Room With Posture The way you walk into a room; the way you and hold yourself has a massive impact not only on how you feel, but also on everyone else there. Enter with slumped shoulders and downcast eyes and you already look beaten. ‘Good posture enables you to feel and portray confidence and readiness for action. It also makes room for the lungs to fill and the breathing mechanism to function effectively,’ say the authors of Physical Intelligence, Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton.
As the authors point out, posture is something we can work on by improving our flexibility to stand and sit tall, but there are a couple of neat life hacks you can use to affect the way you are feeling in the moment. ‘If we are competing or doing something new or risky, standing tall is an important part of withstanding the emotional and mental pressure.’
Even spending a few seconds in what the authors call the ‘winner pose’, where you spread and open your arms, stretching out in the space around you, and taking a wide, open stance with your legs and feet can boost your confidence and ability to take risks. ‘Fifty five scientific studies demonstrate a link between expansive postures and feelings of power.’
Our thoughts, feelings and actions become more erratic – we can’t think clearly under pressure
2. Breathe To Beat Procrastination It may come as a shock to find out you’re not breathing right. After all, shouldn’t that happen automatically? The problem is that we spend most of our lives sat down and this can lead to shallow, clavicle breathing where only the top third of our lungs fill with air. ‘When this happens, our thoughts, feelings and actions become more erratic – we can’t think clearly under pressure or balance our emotions as easily,’ say the authors.
What we should be doing is breathing diaphragmatically, where our shoulders stay where they are but our diaphragm moves down, creating a vacuum in the lungs that fills them completely with air. You can achieve this by breathing in deeply, preferably through the nose, for several seconds awhile relaxing your abdomen, and then breathing out slowly. Not only will this get more oxygen to your brain but the movement of your diaphragm will help to prevent toxins building up around your organs. And there’s an emotional impact too: ‘If our breathing technique is poor, the diaphragm becomes locked too tightly around the solar plexus, leading us to hold back feelings, procrastinate and perhaps even delay making important decisions.’
The authors have a useful mindset hack if you find yourself making that eighth coffee run rather than cracking on with a task: ‘Take three deep, stimulating breaths, drawing in air through the nose and out through the mouth, sending your in-breath down into your lower abdomen so that it expands, and blowing it out through your mouth. And BEGIN!’
3. Find Your I Centering is a technique athletes have long been using to focus before taking that crunch penalty or doing a maximum effort, but it’s also a useful skill to have in everyday life, where clarity and focus can be hard to come by. ‘Centering results in a physical, mental and emotional state where you know who you are, where you are and have everything around you in perspective; seeing and experiencing your changing environment in high definition accompanied by feelings of great confidence and inner strength.’
The authors recommend practicing a 3-step centering protocol, of balance, breath and focus. First you need to release the tension in your body, then find your balance and place the centre of your mass where it needs to be, by moving your body forwards sideways and backwards until you find the optimal point. Then ground yourself by feeling the gravity acting on you as an equal pressure on the balls of your feet and your heels.
Breathe down past your navel (which is where your centre of gravity is), and then soften your gaze so that you use more of your peripheral vision, to take more in with less effort and feel yourself really focus. You can spend a minute on each stage at first, and then work on the protocol until you are able to centre yourself very quickly, on demand.
Smooth, paced diaphragmatic breathing releases recovery chemical acetylcholine, to counteract the tension of adrenaline
4. Eat Your Essential Aminos Being mentally resilient has a close correlation with how physically resilient you are. If you’re always getting ill – because your immune system is suppressed and your body is only fit for sitting behind a desk – then you’re unlikely to have a resilient mindset. Exercise can help you to improve things, but you need to back it up with nutrition – fuelling it with carbs and recovering effectively with adequate protein and key nutrients. Protein, and its amino acids, is something that’s often missing from snack foods and ready meals, because it’s cheaper to make processed foods with bulk carbs.
But we need to get essential amino acids from our foods because we can’t synthesise them in the body. Some of the surprising things that these acids do for us are revealed in Physical Intelligence:
Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and has a massive impact on our mood, despite being the least plentiful of the 22 amino acids in food. According to the authors it: ‘regulates appetite, sleep, mood and pain and is found in green tea, dairy products, meat, brown rice, fish soybeans and good quality dark chocolate.’
Isoleucine plays a role in wound healing, detoxification, immune function and even regulates blood sugar. It’s in meat, eggs, fish, seeds and nuts.
Lysine is known to help block viruses and is found in red meat, cheese (including cottage cheese), fish, soya, quinoa, lentils and black beans.
5. Project Your Voice Because centering yourself releases muscular tension, it also has a beneficial impact on your voice, say the authors, who compare a tense body to a guitar stuffed with padding – it won’t resonate. ‘When we centre ourselves, creating musculoskeletal balance, our body is instantaneously in a more resonant state. The sound of our words then resonates in our own unique way, giving us personal authority and authenticity.’
But what if you’re about to deliver a presentation to a tough audience? The adrenaline that will be surging through your body as stress levels rise, can actually tighten your throat. If you don’t want to squeak through your speech (like a Prime Minister under pressure) then ‘smooth, paced diaphragmatic breathing releases acetylcholine, the renewal and recovery chemical that counteracts the pace and tension created by adrenaline,’ say the authors.
Even if you’re not about to deliver a speech, having good articulation will help you to communicate effectively and adds strength to your arguments. The authors recommend learning this tongue twister and repeating it out loud everyday: ‘I’d like a proper cup of coffee in a copper coffee pot, if I can’t have a proper cup of coffee in a copper coffee pot then I’ll have a cup of tea.’
6. Be Driven, Not Overdriven Having drive and pushing yourself can be commendable, but go too far, work too many hours and your destination will be ‘Burn Out Boulevard’. Chronic stress, lack of sleep and cancelled workouts all combine to derail your brain’s natural recovery process, which will dull your performance and impair your ability to think creatively. The brain is the body’s most energy intensive organ, burning through a massive 20% of our available energy.
As in our other cells, energy is provided by the mitochondria, which increase in number after an intense effort. But go into overdrive for a long periods and their numbers actually drop. This means your brain actively requires recovery periods for the mitochondria to recharge and the glial cells to tidy up the brain – you defrag your hard drive, basically.
‘Give your brain recovery time where it can wander off without focussing too hard; journeys are good for strategic mind wandering,’ say the authors. This will also boost your your capacity for creativity.
7. Go To Your Muscles It turns out that having true grit isn’t dependent on your ability to impersonate Jeff Bridges – it can be as simple as using the power you already have; muscle power, specifically. According to the authors even the original phrase ‘gritting your teeth’ has some physiological sense to it because it would also prompt you to hold your breath, creating a firmness in your abdomen and engaging your core muscles to be ready for action.
Fortunately for your dentist’s bill, there’s an even more effective technique you can use: ‘Muscle-firming gives us willpower and the ability to withstand immediate pain in order to attend to immediate priorities – provided that that we believe that doing so will produce long-term benefits.’
The authors point to a 2011 study from the Universities of Singapore and Chicago, which showed that participants were able to boost their willpower in testing circumstances – like holding a hand in a bowl of ice water, or resisting the temptation of unhealthy food – simply by tensing a muscle, such as the biceps. Finally, a proper excuse for flexing your guns!
WHAT NEXT? If you’ve been inspired to take on a new project by this article, then check out our feature on hacking your motivation levels to do more…
Physical Intelligence, by Claire Dale and Patricia Peyton and published by Simon & Schuster UK is now available from Amazon.
Comments are for information only and should not replace medical care or recommendations. Please check with your Doctor before embarking on exercise or nutrition regimes for the first time.
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