Peak Performance: Body, Mind, and Spirit

Last week my son turned in an essay about peak performance for his English class. He’s currently studying Sports Medicine and plans on training extreme athletes after graduation. He asked to interview me on my opinion of what peak performance is. My answers were sweepingly the same and frustrated him to some degree. I have a methodical belief that peak performance comes from a balance of body, mind, and spirit. We’re proving it time and time again through athletics, mindfulness, and sacred exchanges of energy.

The body requires stress to keep biological life growing. Any stagnation in this is a contribution to sedentary lifestyles which erode the gumption of love, service, and wellness. It is not enough to only face the obstacles that arrive in our lives. We must train that they are on their way. For the majority of people, this means, just staying in motion. You can take the steps, stick to a schedule, and give everyday your best shot. Maybe take the extra steps to bring someone a coffee today. If you’re already periodizing your workout (the organized extreme) let today be the day you add some spunk.

Today I will do what others won’t, so tomorrow I can accomplish what others can’t.

Jerry Rice, Wide Receiver, NFL

Understanding only helps us grow in compassion and will. Give yourself a chance to try a new challenge. It might be the thing that causes you overwhelming success or needed change. I love this video of Michelle Khare trying out ballet. She allows herself to move forward regardless of the final product. She respects the artform by keeping her composure under extreme circumstances and following through with her commitment.

A lost art form is the ability to keep composure and offer respect. It makes me think of the Hebrew saying, “New wine cannot be put in an old wineskin”. The saying means that when we take new ideas to extreme measures, we’ll stretch the old way of doing things so far it will break it. A casualty of the influx of technology and research is that respect has been broken. We must stand up for ourselves and the leadership techniques of the 80s and 90s needed to be discarded. They were abusive and narcissism was romanticized. It was awful. Yet, the pendulum has swung, in some environments, so far in the opposite direction that good or even amazing and talented leaders are being discarded. Yes! Let’s use the new wine and a new wineskin, but let’s also let the old wine be appreciated and let the skin it’s carried around in be retired as it empties. The only thing you can truly control is your ability to learn or not learn. Thus, peak performance requires the mind to be balanced and absorbant.

“Make sure that you’re nurturing your process. It’s the only thing you can truly control, and it’s the thing you’ll always have regardless of where you end up.”

― Todd Henry, Die Empty: Unleash Your Best Work Every Day

The spirit of man is the same no matter his dedication to religion, another person, or a ritual. According to Schacter (1996) our sense of self depends on being able to organize our memories into a coherent whole. This requires well-functioning connections between the conscious brain and the self-system of the body. Bessel Van Der Kolk, M.D. uses this early research among many others in his book titled The Body Keeps the Score to explain that stress and fear can repress the developing fetus and infant from growing the needed nervous system for thoughts to occur. If thoughts aren’t occurring, they certainly can’t be organized into memories. The sense of self would be very difficult to develop under these conditions. Since the brain has growth spurts just as the body does (often taking turns), it’s pretty important for us to keep company with those who spur on our growth and development. It’s not helpful to remain in environments where spiritual forces like fear, intimidation, abusive control of power are the motivation for a person to take on the responsibility of adulthood. Instead, placing oneself in spiritually healthy environments. Places where the sunshine and frequencies of a higher power can arrive into the soul for nourishment. Places where there is a tribe full of love, joy, and peace who can help each family member reach patience, kindness, gentleness, and self-control. These are the gifts of the spirit and the character traits that bring us through excrutiating pain or dangerous troubles.

The strong spirit of a man sustains him in bodily pain or trouble, but a weak and broken spirit who can raise up or bear?

Proverbs 18:14

My fancy thesis was written while I was in school in Scandinavia in 1993. Yes, I wish it was when I was older, wiser, and able to absorb so much more than I did. I love all the amazing research that has led to providing healing treatments for trauma. The thread that ties this all together is that the “bottom-up” approach or “top-down” approach of bringing humans toward peak performance by balancing the body, mind, and soul is the same. Taking time to balance your physical activity with what you are reading and learning while also keeping a pure strong spirit is key to peak performance. I think we can both be pretty sure that my son got more of an earful than he bargained for when he asked me my opinion!

Happy Thanksgiving!

~Ms. Kimberly

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