How Breath, Posture and Movement Increases Performance
This post explores some of the tools and practices reviewed in Jamie Wheal & Steven Kotler’s latest book Stealing Fire, all designed to shift your state of consciousness and unlock new realms of human possibility.
Tweaking our Neurobiology
Neurobiology, the study of the nervous system, is a field of science that investigates the biological mechanisms that underlie behaviour as well as how brains process information. With advances in the field, we can now harness biometric data to map and measure what’s happening in our bodies and brains when we’re experiencing both the ordinary and extraordinary. By deliberately shifting our neurophysiology - our breathing, posture, facial expressions, movements, or brainwaves - we can reverse-engineer a whole host of non-ordinary states.
1. Posture and Movement
Harvard psychologist Amy Cuddy discovered that spending two minutes in a “power pose” - meaning a posture of dominance (like “Wonder Woman”: hands on hips, elbows cocked wide, legs firmly planted) - changed both psychology and physiology. Levels of the dominance hormone testosterone increased by 20%, while the stress hormone cortisol decreased by 15%.
If simply standing like Wonder Woman for a few minutes is enough to produce meaningful changes in our hormonal profile, imagine what practicing a full sequence of yoga, tai chi, or qi gong postures every morning would do. “There’s all this evidence that [movement sequences] have an impact on stress,” Peter Strick, a processor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Brain Institute, writes in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. “It has an effect on how you project yourself and how you feel.”
2. Action & Adventure Sports
Action and adventure sport athletes deliberately amplify the physical sensations of gravity to help shift their mental state. Whether it’s boosting g-forces by carving hard turns on skis or mountain bikes, or nullifying g-forces with jumps, spins, and airs, these athletes expand the range of normal bodily inputs to push themselves into the zone. “Weightlessness, weightedness and rotation are the nectar of gravity games,” explains professional climber and filmmaker Jimmy Chin. “They provide easy access to flow, and that’s what keeps us coming back for more.”
3. Nervous System Regulation and Entrainment
Researchers at the ESADE Business School (twice ranked the top business school in the world by the Wall Street Journal) wanted to know if they could identify “emergent leadership” long before their students graduated. So they hooked up MBA students to EEG and HRV monitors and gave them a case study to solve. By examining the neurophysiological profile of the students, they found the transformational leaders not only regulated their own nervous systems better than most, they also regulated other people’s. The way clocks end up synchronizing to the one with the biggest pendulum, emergent leaders can entrain their entire teams and create a powerful group flow experience. In this study at ESADE, this shared experience helped the groups arrive at more creative and ethical solutions (as rated by a panel of faculty and experts). These young leaders’ ability to create group coherence proved to be a reliable indicator of effective decision making later in their careers.
A Revolution in Human Possibility
Advances in science and technology are giving us unprecedented access to and insight about the upper range of human experience, arguably the most controversial and misunderstood territory in history. The techniques above just scratch the surface of what is now becoming possible for the evolution of consciousness, collaboration, and creativity.
(Original post in Neurohacker Collective)
For more insights, check out the book Stealing Fire