Students at Symmetry In Motion usually have multiple goals when learning about movement, and recently there has been a theme: burning muscle (bad) vs burning fat (good) vs feeling like not burning anything at all (frustrating!).
One element that complicates the fatty-cell-reduction process is our hormones, specifically cortisol. Cortisol levels are naturally higher in the morning, to give us a boost to get going. Throughout the day levels are supposed to diminish, unless we are in an accident, yelled at by a colleague, or chased by a saber tooth tiger. Interestingly enough, when the body’s testosterone levels dwindle after heightened physical activity that lasts more than an hour, cortisol is also produced. In other words, cortisol levels rise to increase activity in the body, and under conditions of some kind of stress. After the threat is gone, cortisol levels should go back down.
When cortisol levels are not in a natural circadian cycle, or remain at a chronic heightened state, or are not balanced by other hormonal levels, the body is “bathed” in cortisol, meaning cortisol just remains in the bloodstream. This situation actually induces muscle wasting. That’s right, instead of burning fat, your body will halt the resources it gives to new tissue growth (it only creates new muscle in low-stress situations when you are not threatened) and it will start to burn muscle, NOT fat.
That’s not what we want now, is it?!
What do we do about it? At Symmetry in Motion we teach you to treat your sensory input first because it is the information the brain receives and interprets in order to trigger a motor output. If your brain is receiving information that is stressful (that means anything that is difficult to interpret – even a visual or vestibular disconnect in the information about your environment), it will trigger a stress response. Remember: your brain just wants you to survive, in any way you can. When a stress is present (even if you are not perceiving it as “stress” because you are not aware of how your vision is affecting your motor outputs), stress hormone signals are sent to the body. If those underlying issues are left untreated, the cortisol levels just don’t go down. And there you are, just simmering in a cortisol soup.
Most people today are not very aware that their subconscious brain is sending signals to their body that their environment is dangerous because of the way they are
*not receiving consistent visual information
*not receiving consistent vestibular information
*exposed to environmental toxins
For example, HOW you are breathing sends information to your brain about your environment. Shallow breathing means you are under physical duress or exertion. Think of how a baby or puppy breathes when it sleeps: deep, slow, belly breaths. How does a runner breathe? More shallow and quickly.
What you eat is information too. Carbohydrates are fast burning fuel. Protein takes longer to digest and requires more energy. Blood sugar levels impact hormone levels. Low blood sugar means danger for the brain, so you feel tired and grumpy. Processed foods with additives, gums, colorings, and other non-food chemicals are very confusing for your brain and over time can induce dysfunction in your endocrine organs.
If you are exercising in short, intense bursts, you’ll feel exhilarated and energized. If you push yourself to exhaustion, you will be exactly that. It’s your brain telling you, time to rest!
Physical sensations/symptoms of stress can be murkier for people when they have a visual or vestibular disconnect, OR when glands in the body that produce hormones have been disrupted by environmental toxicity. The “symptoms” range from headaches to irritability to heart palpitations…and all the way to vertigo, scoliosis, and falling down. Often people get so accustomed to the feeling of their body being under stress that they forget what it feels like to be really relaxed.
If you want to reduce the stress in your body, in addition to reducing the level of your exposure to environmental toxicity, RETRAIN your brain with breathing awareness and exercises as well as visual, vestibular and biomechanical drills. Our students tell us they feel more relaxed after an hour of “play,” more integrated, more in harmony with their breath and awareness. But it is what you do to practice and integrate OUTSIDE of the studio that matters just as much and maybe even more. The more you practice feeling relaxed, the more you will notice the appropriate contrast between stress (times that you need that extra boost for protecting yourself) and truly being at rest.