PlumbTalk Women explores the physiology of stress management and talks with John Spencer Ellis, a fitness and personal development coach who shares our passion for a healthy mind-body connection.
The mind and body aren’t separate parts. They are actually pieces of us so deeply interconnected that we can’t work on one without the other. For instance, targeted meditation promotes mind balance and calm while exercise encourages physical health and confidence. When pursued in tandem, these activities lead to a sense of wholeness and optimum health.
Happiness is hard to come by without the pursuit of health. The important word here is “pursuit.” There is no apex of health to reach (because you can always do more). It’s not about trying to become a bikini model or body builder. It’s about keeping our best physical health in mind and doing a little something each day to contribute to our fitness. Even those with chronic illnesses can still be in the pursuit of health by actively engaging in whatever wellness methods work for each of their unique situations.
In our tireless efforts to spread the message of positive physical change and healthy emotional growth, PlumbTalk Women seeks out others who are working as hard as we are to help people in their journeys of self-development.
We’d like to share some highlights of a conversation we had with John Spencer Ellis, a fitness and personal development coach. It was informative, hopeful, and wonderfully aligned with the PlumbTalk message of wellness.
JOHN: “Intuitive training is about listening inward. Listen to your body. It will tell you if you’ve done enough.”
Intuitive training is about challenging yourself appropriately. When you’ve done enough, your body will give you feedback—and it’s your job to listen to it! Push hard enough, with enough intensity and focus, and you’ll know.
JOHN: “You’ll feel a sense of accomplishment. You’ll know, and your muscles will know, that you’ve done something significant.”
It’s really about listening to your inner voice, which many of us have a tendency to ignore!
JOHN: “It’s not just about ignoring our inner voice. We also don’t develop the vocal chords of our inner voice. We hush it.”
There are inherent dangers in listening only to others, whether it’s your parents, friends or other authoritative voices in your life.
JOHN: “Someone with good intentions may have misdirected us or taught us to ignore our inner voice. But you can’t just receive information from the outside. If all your advice comes from outside sources, tell me this. What happens when that person tells you the wrong thing, or goes away? Then you’re lost with no sense of self or identity.”
This can also be a source of stress. Stress is certainly a recurring topic for PlumbTalk Women because of its huge effect on health and wellness. So, what is the relationship between exercise and stress?
JOHN: “People often say, ‘My environment stresses me out.’ This is not true. Your interpretation and response to the stimulus in the environment is stressing you out.”
It’s all about your perception of what is happening. We have to be able to step back and see the stimulus for what it is. For example, says John, imagine there are two children. One child was taught to fear all snakes, while another, whose mother is a zoologist, has been taught that there are many types of snakes and that not all of them are poisonous. Can you imagine the reaction to a common garter snake? The stimulus—the garter snake—is the same for both children. But the fearful child will have a more stressful reaction than the non-fearful child.
Fear can be taught. Stress can be taught. The good news is, because these things are learnable, they are also reversible.
JOHN: “When you stress your body with intent, and you learn to adapt with intent, you can learn to respond to things that are often beyond your control with more authority and certainty.”
One example of this in practice is heart-rate variability. Imagine you’re on a treadmill (or bike, elliptical, etc.) and exercise for a set amount of time at a steady speed. There’s no question that you get a health benefit from this. But you’ve trained your body to be at a steady state.
Life is not a steady state, John points out. Research shows that heart-rate variability, which includes raising your heart rate to different levels, then learning to recover and resume normal heart rates more quickly, trains your body to manage stress. This training leads to greater health and longevity. Your body learns to adjust to the roller-coaster rhythm of life.
JOHN: “If you can physically, mentally, and emotionally train your body to handle these fluxes when they appear naturally in life – life, death, car crashes, bad news, good news, birth, weddings, funerals – you can train your body to respond to it more easily because you’ve gone through it in ‘rehearsal’ through exercise.”
You’ll be able to handle stress easier, your body will be less damaged, and you’ll live longer as a result.
Women have a tendency to rely on cardiovascular exercise because they think that is the path to the body they want. They think they’ll get overly muscular otherwise.
JOHN: “They’ll see a bodybuilder on TV and think, ‘I don’t want to look like that.’ I would say to these women, ‘I will give you a million dollars to look like that,’ and guess what? I get to keep my money. Because you’re not going to look like that.”
John points out that these women may be taking drugs. At the very least, they do an extraordinary amount of high-intensity strength training over a very long time, under an impossibly strict diet.
JOHN: “Not every class has to be your best spin class. Not every class has to be high-intensity…
“If all you do is cardio, you’re going to emaciate and wither away all your muscles, and your metabolism slows. If all you do is go for a leisurely walk, you’re not going to stress your body enough to respond.”
Yes, some women would benefit immensely from a long walk. No, you’re not going to get a great body from just walking. There is tremendous value in taking walks because it relaxes and restores the body, but to get more, you’ll have to do more. So how much is enough?
JOHN: “Don’t overthink it! If it becomes cumbersome, like it’s another job, you likely won’t do it. Unless you’re an athlete, don’t stress about it so much!”
John suggests that the simplest way to do it is to get a polar weight monitor or check your Rating of Perceived Exertion (RPE) at the end of an exercise session. You can accomplish this by reflecting on how you feel:
If you’re using an RPE scale of one to 10, go to around eight, John suggests. On a RPE scale of one to 20, go to about 16 or 17.
Train intuitively. In general, you’ll think to yourself, “I’m tired, but I feel really good. I couldn’t do it again, but I’m satisfied,” he says. Take the craziness out of exercise. Go with what you feel. Listen to your body.
When asked for some parting words for our readers, John didn’t disappoint!
“Believe a lot more is possible than you currently do.”
“Live each day as if it were your last, while you still plan for the future.”
“You have the right to fire naysayers, fun-suckers, energy vampires, battery-drainers, and generally negative people from your life.”
PlumbTalk Women thanks John for the conversation! Readers, if you have comments or questions, join us on Facebook.
John recommends: The Slow Down Diet by Marc David
For more information on John Spencer Ellis, visit http://johnspencerellis.com/.
Own his inspirational movie, The Compass.