Meet Brant & Mark

“Fitness” needs a makeover. It’s not about the size of your muscles, how fast you can run, or how much you weigh. There are plenty of physically fit people who are unhappy, eternally pessimistic, and drained of spirit. True fitness starts with emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Body and Soul: Moving from Summer to Fall

by Brant Secunda & Mark Allen

As you can guess from the title of our book, our workshops and our website we value developing the health of both body and soul, and that neither should be tossed by the wayside. More importantly, because of the intertwined nature of these two elements that every human being has, we feel that a person only reaches their utmost level of health, wellbeing and happiness when both parts are being nurtured and tended to. An unhealthy body makes it very tough to feel positive and joyful about life, as most of us have experienced when we are sick. Likewise, if we are having trouble shrugging off the weight of the world, there is usually little energy left to actually put on the exercise attire and go sweat. And when both body and soul are stagnant we may have found ourselves going down a detrimental road in search of solace that leads to taking substances (junk food, alcohol, etc) into our bodies that set both of these key components even further off kilter.

Yet, if we can summon up just one thought or image of hope or a small carrot of reward. If we can take the first steps to get ourselves back in good working order, the effect spirals up in a very positive direction. "Just put on the running shoes and go jog for 10 minutes" gets you out the door and on the way to what could have been a missed opportunity to do something good for your body. "Put the computer to sleep, go outside and breathe in the air and take in the sunlight for 10 minutes" can lighten the weight of a responsibility just enough so that you do take a break from the pressures of life and treat your soul to the treasures the world of nature offers. Both of these thoughts together, and most importantly taking both of these actions, can turn your day around dramatically. How simple can it be? These are not distractions from you current state, but rather tools we advocate you use to reset your entire being in a healthy, positive direction. And they are available to you each and every day. Sure a vacation to an exotic locale can be memorable, but research has shown over and over that the positive effects of a getaway are short-lived. Fit Soul, Fit Body is a strategy for ongoing improvements in your health and life that you can use every day.

The order that you gravitate towards doing work on body and soul is going to be personal; however, if you feel stuck in both we suggest starting with the internal environment and then moving out to the physical body. Think about it. Your body is just there waiting for the desire in your soul to move, to exercise. But if your soul is not cooperating you know what happens. Nothing! So break the gridlock by using any of our tools for charging up your soul, your internal voice, that may need an attitude adjustment. Or even better, bring both sides of the street together in one exploit...walk in the forest, hike along the ocean or a lake, climb a hill to enjoy a sunset or anything else that puts your body in motion and your soul in contact with the world of nature, which as you may know from our book is one of the keys to a healthier, happier you.

As we gradually prepare for the fall, that will officially begin later this month, it can be a great time to use the longer days to do both a little extra outside for the body as well as focus some added attention on taking that light into your heart and soul. Soak it in now, just as the earth does, so you can draw strength from the inner light as the days grow shorter. Here's an end of summer Fit Soul, Fit Body checklist:

Commit a few evenings each week to being outside during the time of sunset to take in all the wondrous colors and the sense of balance that time of day offers.

Make the most of warm days with lots of light for outside exercise. Even if you can get out in the fall and winter, there is a special energizing sensation to moving in warmth that is different than what we feel when exercising in cool, crisp air.

Walk or hike and notice the subtle changes that signify the change of season coming. Remember, our entire being is a mirror of this world of nature, and we, as humans, are also getting ready in subtle ways for the seasonal change.

If you have been thinking of a weekend getaway that affords an extended time flexing both body and soul, now's the time! If you have a special summer spot that changes along with the season, even if it is in your back yard, at the end of the block in a park or on the outskirts of town in a green zone, let yourself gravitate there and take advantage of what it offers you. Again, now's the time!

Finding Your Level of Fitness

by Mark Allen

One of the first questions about exercise that people have is how much they should actually do. Is 20-minutes a day, three times a week enough? How about overdoing it? Is a daylong bike ride too much? I want to lose weight. How much exercise do I need to do to accomplish that? Here are a few suggestions that will address all of these questions.

The first level of exercise goes something like this: any amount is better than none! If you are completely sedentary, even going for a short walk occasionally will be better than never doing a thing. There is basically no negative to small amounts of exercise and usually a positive response in overall health and wellbeing.

Next up is the amount that will give you the greatest benefits in terms of longevity. This comes about when a person burns about 300 calories per day through exercise, through moving their body. This is about the equivalent of walking or jogging 2.5-3 miles or doing any kind of aerobic activity for around 30-45 minutes, at a comfortable moderate pace.

You can take this to the next big gain by doing some form of exercise up to about one hour most days of the week. Research has shown that those who both live the longest and have optimal health have adopted this level of consistency with their movement and exercise. Again, that is one hour of exercise most days of the week. This can be done all in one shot, or if you are like many people, they find that breaking it up into two shorter sessions throughout the day is of equal physiological benefit and can actually help keep the feeling of Fit Soul intact from morning to night by offering a few chances throughout the day to take a true break from the responsibilities of life and get outside to absorb the beauty of life going on day and night.

Can a person put in too much exercise time? Definitely! What level this is will certainly be based on your current fitness. But if you are one of the select few who have tons of time to devote to exercise, the cutoff of true positive benefit seems to happen at about three hours. Over three hours of exercise in a day has shown to reduce immune function. So proceed with one eye on your overall health if this is the category you are in.

Is exercise the solution to weight loss? It can certainly be part of the answer, but research is now showing that it is usually not the entire solution, that is unless you are one of those who is fit enough to fall in that last category of training several hours each day. You can think of it in these terms. A pound of fat stores 3,500 calories. A 160 lb person would have to run just over a marathon in order to burn that amount of calories, and this is just to lose one pound of body fat. If you have say 50 extra, well, you can do the math. It's a lot of exercise and for most people, between lifestyle commitments and bodies that may just not cooperate with three hour training sessions, looking to exercise to be THE answer to weight loss is unrealistic. In such cases, nutrition becomes the missing piece of the puzzle. (more of this in our book and in future issues)

However, exercise can definitely be part of the solution. Adding lean muscle through exercise helps burn more calories even when you are sitting still. Burning even a few more calories daily through exercise can assist in body composition changes by supporting any reduction in portion size a person makes. And most of all, exercise is definitely a big factor in gaining a Fit Body, which creates a more positive mood, which then gives one more energy and the ability to seek out healthy choices in all areas of life, which is a very positive feedback loop!

Shamanism - A Way of Life

by Brant Secunda


Shamanism is a way of life, a way of living in harmony and balance on Mother Earth. The Huichol Indians of Mexico say that it is our responsibility as human beings to be good caretakers of the earth. It is our responsibility to nurture our environment, ourselves and all that lives on the altar of Mother Earth. This is the healing way of Shamanism.

The word “shaman” is thought to be derived from the Tungus tribe in Siberia. Anthropologists coined the term and it is now universally used the world over, but each culture or tribe has their own word. In the Huichol language the word for shaman is “mara-akame.” This translates as “Deer Spirit Person”, one who is a messenger of the universe, or messenger of the gods.

Shamanism is an ancient technique of healing and finding a connection to the spiritual world of nature. In the world of shamanism, we say that everything is alive and sacred, such as the plants, trees, stones, mountains, rivers, lakes, oceans and springs. Everything is alive with sacred energy, “kupuri” and when we feel connected we are inherently blessed and healing takes place. When we connect with all of life in this way, we help to heal our bodies, hearts and spirits.

Shamanism involves developing love and a special appreciation for the world of nature. Don José Matsuwa, my Huichol grandfather, often said “love the gods with all your heart and you will feel whole and complete, Grandson.” He instructed to do this every day. When we try to find our inherent connection to nature, we feel better, happier.

Another aspect of shamanism is to go to sacred places of power, to go on pilgrimages. A sacred place might be an ocean or a powerful mountain, like Mt. Shasta, the 14,000 ft peak in northern California. The Huichols would call such a place “a dreaming god”. The Indians know Mt. Shasta as “the healing mountain”. The Huichols go on pilgrimages often to pray and ask for special blessings at such places. We can tap into the life force that Mother Earth has to offer and ask for something special for our life. Journey to a “kakuyari” or place of power to find your connection to nature.

Shamanism also involves ceremony and dance. Ceremony and dance are done to honor life, the four seasons, the four directions and all that lives. It honors the special relationships between people, the four-legged ones, the winged-ones, the mountains, and all the nature powers. Thus a human being becomes complete.

In essence, shamanism is a way of life that brings one into balance. In this case, balance is defined by one’s relationship to nature. The more in touch we are with the world around us, the more complete our inner soul becomes. I have been fortunate enough to be able to dedicate my life to this connection, but everybody, no matter where they live, has the opportunity to find this connection everyday of their life. All it takes is the awareness to purposefully dedicate time to creating this bond. This bond is inherent to each one of us and so it is only natural to develop a spiritual connection to the natural world. This is Shamanism.
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