Once, we believed that the body was a machine, and the secret to optimal performance came from the muscles, the lungs, the heart. Then, we were told that it’s all in our head, and we just need to use the old adage of “mind over matter” to push through the pain. The truth is that “the brain and the body are fundamentally intertwined,” writes Alex Hutchinson, a fitness journalist (with a doctorate in physics) who competed for the Canadian national team as a runner. To understand the limits of the human body, you have to consider the mind and the body together.
Hutchinson is the author of Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance, out this month from HarperCollins. In the eight years he worked on the book, he traveled to labs all over the world and spoke to hundreds of athletes and scientists about how the mind and body influence each other and the role that each plays in the “mystery of endurance.”
This concept is intrinsic to my practice of massage therapy. Believe it or not, after 15 years in the business, it almost seems to me that the brain’s interpretation of the body signals may, in fact, be more important than the body signals themselves.
I once took a continuing education class where the teacher (a research biologist from Dartmouth) described the difference between intrinsic and extrinsic pain. Intrinsic pain is the kind you can’t ignore because it means you need to see a doctor (if you don’t know why you’re having the pain– think heart attack- in general your body won’t let you ignore or reduce this type of pain with your mind because it’s too important). The other type of pain is kind of a choice as to how much we feel it. We can use mind over matter to distract ourselves from it, or we can choose to amplify it with our minds.
Cool, huh? The article I’m borrowing from is super interesting, but related to sports, so check out the whole thing.