The Aware Athlete takes you beyond the definition of fitness as “physical fitness” only to the concept of “life fitness” which enables you to overcome obstacles, develop your potential, find inner strength, live your dreams, and redefine fitness.
From the introduction:
This book is about you: your hopes and your dreams. It is about giving you the tools and understanding to experience your true potential. It is a book about a journey: your own journey of self-exploration and self-discovery. It is a journey of personal expansion. Along the way, you will find that you are capable of more than you thought, that nothing is impossible for you. For you are human and possess the most complex nervous system on the planet. You will discover the vast capacity for learning that the human species has and how science is exploding with new knowledge about the brain’s capacity for change.
Table of Contents
- Foreword 7
- Acknowledgments 13
- Introduction 15
SECTION 1: THE WILD ORIGINS OF OUR HUMAN NATURE: WHAT IS IT TO BE HUMAN?
- Chapter 1 Human Origins and the Environment 23
- Chapter 2 Animal Magic versus Human Magic 33
- Chapter 3 Dreams Realized: The Integration of Imagination and Action 47
- Chapter 4 Human Learning: Necessary Conditions for the Learning Process 63
- Chapter 5 Survival and Fitness: It Is Always about Movement 71
- Chapter 6 Fitness as Self-Fulfillment: Beyond Survival 81
SECTION 2: HOW SCIENCE HELPS US UNDERSTAND HUMAN POTENTIAL
- Chapter 7 In the Beginning There Was Belief 91
- Chapter 8 Obtaining the Prize in Modern Life 103
- Chapter 9 The Plastic Nervous System 117
- Chapter 10 The Unity of Body and Mind, a More Radical Approach 131
- Chapter 11 A Change in the Brain Can Affect the Physical Structure 147
- Chapter 12 Exploration and Self-Fulfillment 159
SECTION 3: REDEFINING FITNESS
- Chapter 13 The Beginner’s Mind 175
- Chapter 14 Our Current Fitness Paradigm: The Old Fitness Pyramid 201
- Chapter 15 The New Fitness Pyramid: Learn First, then Train 217 Chapter 16 The New Fitness Pyramid: Foundation 231
- Chapter 17 The New Fitness Pyramid: Process of Improvement 251
- Chapter 18 The New Fitness Pyramid: Fitness and Training as a Learning Experience 273
- Chapter 19 Being Fit: High Intrinsic Achievement 293
- Reading List 309
- Bibliography 313
- Index 323
This book is about you: your hopes and your dreams. It is about giving you the tools and understanding to experience your true potential. It is a book about a journey: your own journey of self- exploration and self-discovery. It is a journey of personal expansion. Along the way, you will find that you are capable of more than you thought, that nothing is impossible for you. For you are human and possess the most complex nervous system on the planet. You will discover the vast capacity for learning that the human species has and how science is exploding with new knowledge about the brain’s capacity for change.
First, I hope you are not intimidated by the title of this book, The Aware Athlete. I use the word “athlete” in a broad sense. I am not referring only to professionally trained or highly paid athletes nor to those who participate in a particular sport.
The word “athlete” comes from the Greek word athlein, mean- ing “to contest for a prize.” It is related to athlos, “a contest,” and athlon, “a prize.”1
I use the word in a universal sense. I assume that most people are contesting for—seeking—some prize of personal value. I assume that most people want to live their dreams.
“Fitness” is defined as being fit or suited for something. For instance, the right tool for the job is fit for the job. Biological fitness is the ability to adapt, to fit the environment. I am, therefore, broadening the definition of fitness to be more than the idea of repetitions done, miles counted, and all things that can be measured. Instead, the content of this book reflects the original meaning of the word. When I refer to fitness in this book, unless otherwise noted, I am referring to your ability to adapt to all your inner and outer environments. I am referring to your ability to respond well to all circumstances and experiences in which you find yourself.
This book is about you: your hopes and your dreams. It is about giving you the tools and understanding to experience your true potential. It is a book about a journey: your own journey of self- exploration and self-discovery. It is a journey of personal expansion. Along the way, you will find that you are capable of more than you thought, that nothing is impossible for you. For you are human and possess the most complex nervous system on the planet. You will discover the vast capacity for learning that the human species has and how science is exploding with new knowledge about the brain’s capacity for change.This is not another book about trying harder and putting more effort into what you are doing in order to succeed. There is another element, one more truly human. It is the element of learning. No other animal has as deep an ability to learn, though plenty are stronger or faster than humans.
During my senior year in high school, I got involved with the track team. It was a manipulative thing. I wanted to change my schedule. I wasn’t serious about track. If it didn’t work out, I could always have dropped it and still have achieved my goal—having my schedule changed. Even though I didn’t have any fitness for track, and a few weeks were not enough to develop it, I didn’t quit. And it changed my life. I tried to walk on at a junior college and went through the first workout. I put in lots of effort, but the coach yelled at me for overstriding. This was years before running form was on the minds of most runners. Video analysis was not available, and I had no idea what he was talking about.
I continued to train on my own and decided that I would be more fit if I did two workouts per day. Not long after that, I suffered a painful stress fracture of my tibia. I wasn’t a good runner when I was nineteen years old. I didn’t know the difference between good running form and that which is not so good, nor did I have any understanding of running on a structural level. Putting in more effort did not help me achieve my potential. Will cannot make up for underdeveloped skill.
I have learned so much since then, and so will you as we explore together.
The material in The Aware Athlete is divided into three sections. Section 1, The Wild Origins of Our Human Nature, raises the question of what it is to be human. In it, I describe what is unique about us and our species and how our biological heritage helps us define human fitness. Remember that fitness is defined by our ability to adapt to our environment.
Section 2, How Science Helps Us Understand Human Potential, explores the science of neuroplasticity and the related concept of
mind-body unity, how the brain influences physical structures and our nervous system’s ability to optimize movement and performance through mindfulness.
Section 3, Redefining Fitness, introduces a new fitness pyramid: a new concept about fitness and how to achieve it using personal awareness and the development of new skills.
At the end of each chapter, you will find one or more lessons. Most of these are movement lessons. Performing the movements and activities in each lesson will help you to experience the topics discussed in the chapter so they do not end up being only abstract ideas. Completing the lessons will allow you to experience mind-body unity. You may stop at the end of each chapter to do the lesson, or you may read through the whole book and then go back to review each chapter and do the associated lessons. Either way, your understanding of the material will not be complete without some exposure to personal exploration through movement. Fitness is always about movement.
But fitness is not only about movement. It is about what you can learn about how you move. It is about your learning process of sensing and feeling yourself as you do each movement that will help you to develop new skills and positive adaptations to your environment.
The intent of the movement lessons contained may be something you have not experienced before. The purpose of the lessons is not to exercise but to learn. I will give you instructions on how to do each lesson, but you should keep in mind that they are all to be done gently and at a slow enough pace to allow your learning process to be smooth and thorough.
You may do the shorter lessons by reading through them and keeping the book handy for reference. The longer lessons have been divided into segments with steps to make them user-friendly.
Although it is not necessary, you may wish to record a lesson ahead of time using your computer or a voice recorder. If you decide to do this, please read the lesson slowly enough to allow time for you to organize yourself to do the movements, do a number of repetitions of each movement, and allow for rest periods as indicated in the lesson. Speak very slowly, and pause after sentences and indicated rest periods as you record.
. . .
My own journey led me to become a certified personal trainer; licensed physical therapist assistant; running form coach; and, finally, a Feldenkrais practitioner.
You’ll often see the words “awareness” and “attention” in this book. I use many somatic movement lessons to help you develop thoughts and experience movement. I am deeply indebted to the pioneering work of Dr. Moshe Feldenkrais, who left an amazing legacy of over one thousand movement lessons and many books that inspired many of the lessons in this book. His lessons were developed through a lifetime of experimentation. Dr. Feldenkrais’ work preceded and predicted the great breakthroughs in the areas of neuro-plastic research that have occurred in the last two decades. The Feldenkrais Method is still known as one of the most powerful tools available for achieving human potential.
There is much ground to cover, so let’s begin our journey. We will redefine and broaden our definition of fitness and discover a new fitness pyramid. This will be a journey on which we will encounter much trial and error but little chance of failure if we embrace the process if we esteem the journey more than the immediate goal.