Sunday, March 18, 2007

Approaches to Peak Performance Categorized

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The following is not an article. It is an extension of my contemplations found in “dirty rants”. These contemplations are based on my recent experiences with runner’s high and Bikram yoga and draw upon my work on the psycho-philosophy of peak performance.

Background to the latest “rant”:
I am an ultra runner who began Bikram yoga almost two months ago. Although I do it only one day a week, I recently had an incredible experience following my regular Tuesday night Bikram session. Briefly, I ran faster than I normally do (8:30 pace versus 10:30), felt like I could run endlessly on every run and ended the week in what felt like an out-of-body running experience. I also experienced endless energy throughout the week, incredible mental clarity and intensely creative urges. On the downside, I was very irritated, mostly because I could just not satisfy my creative drive and lost all patience with others in the search for both logical and creative self-expression.

Latest “rant” (1 week after the Bikram-induced experience)
Today, I bowed out of my run after barely 30 minutes. However, I must say that I am in an absolutely wonderful mood. Comparatively, my mood this past week (post 5 days of Bikram-induced “high,” culminating in an out-of-body running experience), has been to unhealthy extremes: crabbiness and an emotional intensity that has irritated me and others I interact with. Ironically, my logistical or organizational capabilities have been acutely sharp at the same time (a positive side effect of reaching a state of peak performance). I bowed out of my run because my stomach was upset. Simple analysis. I was not mentally tired or mechanically incapable of performing today. Combined with earlier analyses, this leads me to the following analysis on approaches to “peak performance” or the “runner’s high” (the type of peak performance most commonly understood in the running world):

Approaches to peak performance:

Physically induced

i) Breaking through physical barriers

  • Body leads the mind;

  • Mind is projected into “present moment” (i.e. no thoughts about past/no major draw on our memory stores and no anxiety about potential future events);

  • Most likely the act of focusing (limiting our field of stimuli) facilitates this state of mind and consequently, state of “being”;

  • Ability to experience an out of body running sensation is based upon tapping into physical stores of the human body, which has some physiological explanation (note that this state of physical “bliss” is not sustainable);

  • As this is not one’s normal state of physical operation, the perception of the experience is one of “psychedelic” or “mystical” when in fact it has physiological underpinnings;

  • Challenge is that if our physical state of being (i.e. our physical capabilities) is not at this level (and it is most often not, as this is what breaking through physical limitations is all about), then the consequence is that we are creating physical stress on our bodies, leading to bad moods/crabbiness and other negative mind sets;

  • After the physical act ends and the mental focus, we return to our normal states of being, both physical and mental (and probably a state of fatigue).

  • ii) Physical repetition and symmetry

  • Body leads the mind;

  • Peak performance achieved through the creation of a repetitive physical act, like patterned running on a stable surface;

  • Research shows this happens after about the 40 minute mark in running;

  • Similar to rhythmic drumming;

  • Again, we are limiting our stimuli field, or focusing as we commonly know it, making an altered state of consciousness possible;

  • Negative moods most likely not experienced as long as we are not pushing ourselves past our normal physical mode of operandi;

  • The accompanying feeling of “awe” (or the “high”) from the experience may be prolonged because we do not have the accompanying negative mental effects of physical stress;

  • Again, this is in fact our experience of “the present moment.”

  • Mentally induced
    This is an interesting category as Eastern philosophies seem to be so much more advanced on this topic (i.e. ability to control or “lead” our minds into different states of consciousness). In the West, we are almost obsessed with physical states of being (i.e. exercise). This probably arose in response to a focus on fast foods and the accompanying state of unhealthiness in Western populations. As such, we are probably more familiar in the West with entering altered states of consciousness through physically induced means, particularly that of breaking through physical barriers.

  • No physically induced stress therefore feelings of happiness/peacefulness most likely accompany alternative states of mind (meditation is probably best example of an activity that can alter our state of mind in this category);

  • Again, without practice, we only temporarily enter these states of mind and therefore stress can be experienced as we drift away from these seemingly euphoric states;

  • Mental stress is experienced (often depression) if we fall out of this idyllic state and don’t know how to return to it, most often because we don’t know how we got there in the first place;

  • This state is the same one I refer to above (i.e. physically-induced) as it represents the “present moment”;

  • We arrive here through specific mentally-derived activities, like meditation;

  • In meditation, for example, we are either focusing (i.e. limiting our stimuli field) or letting go of our thoughts (mindfulness meditation) to arrive at this state of mind.

  • I can cross-examine these theories through contemplating the process of creativity in terms of the various categories that I have noted here. This is for future deliberations.

    © 2007

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