Sunday, September 29, 2013

Mobile Body and Agile Mind: The Prescription for a Wholesome Life

Human life is one of the greatest gifts of God. It is also one of the most complex phenomena in terms of predictability and management. The multiple destinations one reaches in one’s life journey, and how fulfilling some of the sub-journeys would be are in many ways beyond one’s control. For centuries, therefore, Hindu religion, spirituality and philosophy analyzed the phenomenon of human life in terms of multiple models which combine materialism and spiritualism and which harmonize existentialism and nirvana. All through the models and paradigms of life, the need to keep one’s mind and body healthy comes through as a constant underlying thought. Over the centuries, the human race has learnt to understand itself and the environment better, and seek comfort and security for itself better; modern lifestyle and modern medicine are products of that awareness. Yet, there remains much more to fathom, and worse still, the human race’s solutions of industrialization and commercialization have created new problems; from profligacy and pollution to domination and exploitation. Economic growth with social equity continues to be a distant goal even in the most advanced countries.

The knowledgeable individual is at crossroads today. He or she has to compete on the current rules of society to live a useful life. He or she also is painfully aware that relentless competition, without matching competency, is not a winning game either. The Indian family system has been providing a safety valve; the current generation invariably gives up competition at some point of time and expects its future generation to become what it has failed to become (or has given up becoming). Even the family safety valve is now getting clogged. Life seems so remorseless, for the young and old alike, with the multiple options that influence and beckon the young, and the crumbling joint family and community options that stare at the elders. In a sense, and probably in the only logical sense, the individual in the contemporary world has no one except himself or herself to rely upon. The mushrooming of spiritual leaders and institutions points to the fact that the Indian individual is yet to come to grips with the challenge of self-management and needs support and guidance. Yet, the prescription for fulfilling life, independent of any particular stream of religion, spirituality or philosophy could be just very simple: a mobile body and an agile mind!  
Good life, balanced life or wholesome life?
Everyone seeks a good life; unfortunately like the multiple meanings the word good has, the word good life has also different meanings for different people. Some of the meanings or implications of good are high quality, pleasant, sensible, favorable, morally right, skillful, following rules, kind and thorough, to take some of the more prominent or popular meanings. Generally, good reflects agreeable. Good life does not differentiate between personal life and professional life; either or both can be described by all these nuances or not. There is a natural flaw in pursuit of good life as a goal it is highly individualistic, and enables high variability unrelated to one’s capabilities and environmental positioning. Of late, there is a view that individuals in the competitive world tend to maximize returns from their professional life in order to pursue a good personal life. This has led to two types of professionals. The first type is for whom work has become a passion, an obsession and an end in itself leading to individuals becoming workaholic  to utter neglect of their personal side; here personal does not mean merely family life, it also means the life-space for one’s own development. This has led to the formulation of the concept of work-life balance. This again is a highly variable concept, and leaving the options to individuals to define balance, and the goodness within each life segment. There is a third concept of wholesome life, which this blog post proposes,  that could be considered to as an alternative to the apparently determinate concept of good life and the truly indeterminate concept of work-life balance. 
Wholesome life covers the physical and intellectual dimensions of life. It is a holistic concept of life that combines the concepts of goodness and balance in terms of what one can deliver for oneself and one’s family as well as for one’s organization, society and nation. Every individual, from the mason who constructs a laboratory, to the scientist or the engineer who operates the laboratory and its equipment and the financier who funds a project qualifies for the concept of wholesome life. The dimension of physical wellbeing is ignored while that of intellectual life is misunderstood. Neither of these can be pursued independent of the other and, in fact, the two dimensions are interrelated, interdependent and even synergistic.  Physical wellbeing is often seen in terms of athlete-grade strength, lean frame and even sleek abs. The real wellbeing is maintaining oneself strong, stable and self-reliant with optimal physical alertness and responsiveness under healthy circumstances and assured resilience under conditions of sickness. Physical wellbeing is part genetic but largely developed through a lifetime as well. Intellect is often linked with formal education. Everyone has, and does exercise, intellect. The mason who judges the heights and slopes, understands the strength and malleability of steel, knows the right proportioning of concrete and builds the building brick by brick with the right tolerances has as much intellect as a civil engineer would have in respect of construction. The physical and mental wellbeing is determined by two factors: mobile body and agile mind.
Mobile body
Human body is a wonderful musculoskeletal system that is connected with, and operated by, the brain through the neurological and blood capillary systems, among others. Not one of the human systems is less or more important than the other. However amongst all the human tasks, maintaining physical mobility or movement must rank amongst the highest priorities of life. Mobility is the essence of life; the more mobile a person is in terms of using all the limbs and muscles the more healthy and more productive he or she would be for himself or herself, his or her family and the larger organizations and communities. Today’s industrialization favors largely sedentary lives (office environments) or stationary lives (factory environments) with minimal human effort. It, therefore, devolves on the individuals to achieve as much mobility as possible, both at work and off-work. Safety and mobility are highly related. The more stable and safer a person is the more mobile he or she can be. Conversely, the more unstable and unsafe a person is the more immobile the person is likely to be. Walking, running, jogging, sprinting and climbing are some of the mobility options one can exercise.  Office systems that confine people to eye movements on computer screens and factory systems that limit people movements to machine movements are invitations to progressive immobility. If one understands the scientific kinetics of movements well, one can master the intricate dynamics of personal productivity.
Every human discovery, made ostensibly to make life more secure and comfortable, has ended up creating new problems. To provide flexibility of indoor walking treadmill has been invented. It has brought in its wake problems of unnatural impact of walking and running. To cater to the need to provide safety and comfort, running and jogging shoes have been created. They have started modifying the kinetics of using the foot. The personal automobile has emerged as one of the greatest inventions, but it ended up enhancing and curbing mobility at the same time. Escalators and elevators, ideal for the aged and handicapped, are mobility-curbing temptations even for the young and fit. The march of technological progress is relentlessly oriented towards curbing mobility. It is, therefore, necessary for making mobility an essential ingredient of one’s daily life. It will boil down to how one manages one’s time to provide for mobility. Five factors determine safe mobility for a human being in his or her quest for quick mobility. Safe mobility can be achieved by choosing the appropriate base of support for the feet, low center of gravity,  appropriate positioning of the center of gravity over the base of support, movements aligned to body mass and weight, and the coefficient of friction of the movement surfaces. There is more physics and engineering to the science of safe mobility than is commonly known. Daily exercise routines and office/factory ergonomics must integrate the kinetics of safe mobility in day to day life.
Agile brain
If physical mobility is the essence of physical wellbeing, mental agility is the essence of mental wellbeing. Many people incorrectly see body and brain apart, with body being dedicated for action and brain being dedicated for thinking, feeling, cognition, memory and sensory functions. On the other hand, the end goal of all human body, including brain, is aimed at action or movement. The motor system of the brain is a critical facet of physical mobility and mental agility. The brain has a huge memory of prior knowledge, and every moment it keeps receiving new data as new sensory inputs. The brain has the intrinsic wonderful capacity to combine both of these to trigger a motor control mechanism that can physically display itself as ultimate movement, which could be one of the following: verbal talk, body language, writing or typing and physical movement. It is important to understand that the speed and specificity of the brain to store, retrieve and analyze memory on one hand and to receive and analyze new data inputs on the other hand leads to the agility of the brain. There is, however, a big catch. The set of beliefs, some positive and some negative, some action oriented and some inaction oriented, stifle or speed up, and distort or reinforce the motor control mechanism of the brain, influencing the ultimate agility of the brain to proactively or reactively act.
The above illustrates that the agility of the brain is a function of not only knowledge and sensitivity, which must be at high levels, but also of the beliefs which must be appropriate to the situation. There is, however, one more paradigm that influences the agility – the feedback mechanism. Every movement of the type mentioned above leads to a new sensation; the brain always has a prediction of the intended response. The ability of the brain to sensitively receive the physical response and read the actual response determines the effectiveness of the feedback mechanism. Here again, the set of beliefs one has, about people, circumstances and outcomes, influences the effectiveness of the feedback mechanism.  The outcomes of each of the feedback experiences go into the memory bank.  There is, of course, the importance of sleep in the agility of the brain. A well-rested brain is an optimally agile brain. A sleep-deprived brain is a negative influence on physical mobility and mental agility. It is, unfortunate, that not much research has been conducted to enable personalization of sleep as a daily prophylactic essential medicine that each person needs to have. In the absence of that individuals tend to adopt erroneous models of sleep (often benchmarking with other individuals), with unknown adverse influences on the motor ability and mental agility.
Mobile body with agile brain
This blog post aims to draw attention to the fact that a wholesome life that is enabled by a mobile body and agile mind is essential for fulfilling life. There is a larger challenge in understanding the interdependence and synergy that exists in the mobility of body and agility of the mind in the context of wholesome life. There is an enormous understanding of the physical attributes and kinetics of the human body. Though much less understood, the secrets of the brain are also getting unraveled at a fast clip. Unfortunately, individuals view the knowledge, even if expressed in layman’s language, as a subject of medicine rather as a valuable component of active living. The interrelationship between physical mobility and mental mobility needs an even greater appreciation. The prescription for wholesome living is in one’s own hands. The blog post cannot obviously deal with all the associated factors that have certain fundamental importance to the two goals; factors such as food and nutrition, lifestyle and exercise, emotional stability support the two goals enormously.
Today (September 29, 2013) is World Heart Day. The Indian newspapers are flush with valuable information on exercise and nutrition, among others, that enables a healthy heart and a happy living. The information also contains warnings on the deleterious impact of alcoholism and smoking on the human wellbeing. If nothing else, they adversely influence mobility and agility. Yet, we see the twin temptations simply not moving away from the society. There are, of course, several other person-specific detractors of good health such as carbohydrates, sodium and gluten. Processed foods have an overdose of these factors. Governing one’s life through these and other ‘gifts’ of modern, instant living is truly a complex challenge. The only way to address the complexity is to have a simple all-encompassing objective of wholesome life, whether at work or off-work, and achieve it through a synergistic combination of mobile body and agile brain. Beyond the God-given DNA, this requires a carefully cultivated iDNA (Indian Dietary Nutrition Ayurveda). In a climate when the hoary Indian vegetarian food system is under threat of instantaneous modernization and westernization, the society, at least in India, requires an iDNA revolution much like the famous Green Revolution and White Revolution that transformed the agriculture and dairy scenarios n India.
Posted by Dr CB Rao on September 29, 2013   

1 comment:

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