Following Britain's recent decision to leave the European Union, myself and fellow Brits are currently adjusting to our new identity within the world. I'm not going to pretend to know or even speculate what the future holds for our country, it seems as if nobody truly knows. One thing that is for certain though; in these times of austerity we now have an opportunity to lead the way and become an example. What kind of example? That's completely up to us.
This video helps to put our world into perspective:
Don't worry, I'm not about to suggest that we drop everything and go off on a crusade to solve the world's problems, we have enough of our own! However I do believe that we have a responsibility to support and educate the next generation of people to be healthy, empowered and skilful critical thinkers. These are the kind of people that will make Britain "great" and maybe even change the world in some way (hopeful).
Being a personal trainer, my part to play in this effort is naturally centred around health and fitness. This year I teamed up with NHS Pharmacist Peter Kelly and since January we've visited numerous colleges across London to hold healthy living workshops for students. At the centre of the workshops is our "5 simple steps to healthy living", we've put together this video to show you what it's all about:
A common obstacle of healthy living is stress which was touched on in the "5 Steps" video above. We've all experienced it but not everyone understands the science behind it. I recently attended a seminar which gave me some insight into stress and something called "Polyvagal Theory" (a Google search will provide more information for those interested - look for the name Stephen Porges), I'm going to break it down as simply as I can:
1.) The nervous system has two distinct states that we'll call "alert" (sympathetic) and "relaxed" (parasympathetic).
2.) The "alert" state is essentially "fight or flight" mode but you may experience this at varying intensities depending on the situation. If you're in danger you'll feel the extreme of this (adrenalin rush), by contrast if you're sleep deprived and/or working under pressure it still kicks in to keep you focused but it stays in the background. This state is your body's way of dealing with situations where you need to focus mentally or physically and it will engage automatically whenever you need it. The downside of this state is that it is not sustainable, hence why people under heavy stress eventually become burnt out. Some bodily functions like digestion, salivation and the reproductive system are even temporarily suppressed to redirect energy and bodily resources to more important functions.
3.) The "relaxed" sate is your "rest and digest" mode, quite literally! All bodily functions are returned to normal, healing/regeneration speeds up and your mood will improve. What's crucial to understand is that we do need the "alert" state to handle certain situations but we should always return to being "relaxed" as soon as possible to restore balance within the body. We can do this through mindfulness and breathing techniques; have your ever wondered why you feel so relaxed after meditation or yoga class? Now you know... Interestingly animal's bodies make this switch instantly once danger has been averted, however human brains have an extra layer of consciousness (thought) that can hold us in the "alert" state.
4.) So in conclusion, the idea is to regulate your nervous system by recognising when you're in the "alert" state and assessing whether or not it's appropriate. Sport is an example of when the "alert" state is advantageous but again, once you're finished playing you'll need to return to being "relaxed". The mindfulness and breathing techniques involve bringing your attention to the present moment, controlling your breath and instilling a feeling of calm within yourself. I understand that this can be difficult for some people, yoga and meditation are great ways to do this and here's a brilliant app called "Headspace" to get you started: headspace.com/headspace-meditation-app
Now, I may have strayed slightly from the subject of identity but I'm about to bring it back with some theories of my own that I would like to share with you:
DISCLAIMER - If you are uncomfortable with reading opinions that challenge your beliefs then stop reading now and please withhold any negativity!
Identity is defined as "the fact of being who or what a person or thing is", so to know your identity you must understand yourself and what you are. Throughout history we have investigated the human body thoroughly and mapped it out in its entirety, we've even come close to mastering our DNA! But as a human (I'm assuming all of you are), it's hard to deny that at times it can feel like there's something more than this physical body we inhabit. This "something more" can be characterised as the "non-physical" or "metaphysical" and the problem with this is that it can't be measured by traditional science (which disregards anything that lacks physical evidence).
I'm sure you will agree that even out of pure curiosity it would be in our interest to investigate this elusive aspect of ourselves. To do this a new system of understanding would be needed and certain principles of modern science would have to be adapted to acknowledge and document the non-measurable aspects of the metaphysical.
Most ancient civilisations were matriarchal and spiritual in their culture/beliefs. In recent history we have moved into a patriarchal, scientific way of life which has provided us with incredible advances in technology but I feel that we've lost touch of our spiritual nature and sense of balance in the process. I believe that the next step in our evolution is to reconnect with our ancient spiritual roots and combine them with modern scientific knowledge and technology to bring balance to our current civilisation.
"The religion of the future will be a cosmic religion. It should transcend a personal God and avoid dogmas and theology. Covering both the natural and the spiritual, it should be based on a religious sense arising from the experience of all things, natural and spiritual, as a meaningful unity.” - Albert Einstein
Now let's look at identity on a more personal level - society generally dictates that females must be exaggeratedly feminine and males exaggeratedly masculine when in reality both of these energies exist within all of us. We learn to repress that which doesn't match this warped ideal of our gender because throughout life society pressures us to do so. This is very restricting, although there does seem to be a growing attitude to embrace these energies and I'm inclined to agree that we should. I'm not suggesting that we become gender neutral, I'm merely proposing that we utilise the potential of both of the energies within us.
To make this clearer here are descriptions of both male and female energy:
Male energy - Linear, analytical, strategic and practical. Focuses on components and when constricted it can become blundering and confrontational (also stubborn, arrogant and closed minded).
Female energy - Curved, creative, expressive and emotional. Focuses on the whole, has trouble sticking to schedules and when constricted it loses flow, disrupting mood and ideas.
I'm sure these characteristics sound familiar to you and I bet you can see how they can both be useful in different situations. I think that combining both through balance and understanding would give us a more complete skill set and allow us to integrate better with each other and our environment at every level. Something important to note is that male and female energy can't share the same understanding but rather they represent two different perspectives of the same concept. In other words male and female energy move differently but they reach the same destination.
So why is all of this important? It's no secret that the world needs change but nobody seems to have a solution. The idea that "within practically every person on this planet, a significant amount of their potential is lying dormant" is exciting. The notion that "all that is needed to awaken this potential is understanding" is encouraging. That's why I'm sharing these theories with you and why for the past 6 months, I've been volunteering my time to talk to young people about something positive.
I'd just like to clarify that these are my opinions which are a result of my experiences to date and they are subject to change as and when I receive new information. While I'd love to discuss this with all of the beautiful minds that I know are out there, I'm happy in the knowledge that at the very least I've made someone stop and really think (positively) about their identity.
To bring things back to familiar territory, here's a video about people who did a DNA test to trace their ancestry:
This video demonstrates perfectly that our identity can be very different from what we think and that it's always worth investigating.
Those of you who read my last post will know that I gave up refined sugar for a month back in March. Yes, I did complete the month! I have since resumed eating foods that contain refined sugar but I'm making a greater effort to control my intake of them. I cannot deny that during my time without them I was more concentrated and experienced stable energy levels but... Chocolate... Yeah. As you know, having controlled amounts is harmless and just like everyone else I'm doing my best to maintain a healthy balance.
I won't promise you a monthly post because I want each one I write to be rich with knowledge and experience, which I can only produce as and when I receive it. In the meantime please let me know your thoughts in the comments.
Until next time!
*UPDATE* Read my follow up to this post here!