Brain Food by max el-hag

Max’s Recent Book Recommendations

People often ask me what I read. I assume this is partially because they are interested in gaining the ‘knowledge’ they perceive I have that allows me to coach, and also because they would like to gain insight into who I am as a person. For this reason, I thought I might put together a semi-regular post that provides a couple book titles with brief synopses, my reasoning for highlighting it, and how to use it to better yourself as a coach/athlete. I am also going to include one personal book each time I write these reviews. This topic (books) is extremely important to me on a personal level in regards to humanity and more closely to my heart, the fitness world in general. I feel like society as a whole has lost touch with its ability to read. Reading has become a chore; something that takes up too much time in our busy lives, something that is ‘boring,’ something that stops you from ‘experiencing the world,’ and generally a skill most people haven’t cultivated. Therefore, they assume reading is worthless. I think in the world of fitness, many leaders of the field, have veered their followers away from “reading” in favor of “doing.” While I understand the perspective, I think their message is targeted at an academic audience that perhaps doesn’t live according to their own creed. I personally believe there must be balance as a coach, and that reading is a fundamental skill that should be cultivated to help you try to comprehend the unfathomable amount of information that exists concerning the human body. So, here are three books I read this month which are of value:

Training Book:

A Systematic Course in the Ancient Tantric Techniques of Yoga And Kriya” By Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Why am I reading this?

The dominant training practices of our culture seem to have veered pretty far away from “movement quality” in favor of performance, capacity, and aesthetics. Based on my learning progressions, I felt there was a lot more to learn about movement as a discipline. I have been reading biomechanics books, technical books, fasciae books, gymnastics books, anatomy books, martial arts books and more. I thought that it would be worthwhile to truly understand eastern schools of thought on movement and the body. With the proliferation of yoga as a movement in the US, I wanted to understand the principles of their training. This is a dense book that walks you through the necessary info to understand conceptually what yoga is supposed to be. The major thing I learned was, ironically, what happens in the mainstream yoga culture is actually a diluted version of it’s original intended form. Really enjoyed reading through the book, seeing the concepts/poses/progressions/etc and what yoga is as a sub-category of movement. I learned that it is a lot more about the mind than the body, but interesting nonetheless to see how the two are related…

How can this help you as an athlete?

My guess is if you are a full time athlete you won’t be reading a 1,000+ page text on yoga, which is fine. I think perhaps what can be used from an athlete perspective is the meditation gained from yoga. Last week Kyle put a post up about stress and it’s impact on recovery. I believe meditation can lower your overall stress load and therefore make you more adaptable as an athlete. It’s low stress to the body, can help you control your internal self dialogue in workouts, and generally can help you unwind any irrational thoughts that distract you from the process of training.

How can this help you as a coach?

I believe there are many great principles of movement in the poses throughout the book. The ultimate goal of the poses was actually largely to obtain better meditative postures, but its application to training can still be easily supported. It can help you restore tissue length, get blood flow to restricted tissues, restore spinal mobility/functionality, lower stress levels, aid in the development of positions for movements that require a lot of range of motion, and provide a low stress alternative to hard training on days that recoverability is low. While I am partial to ‘flow’ based restoring of movement, I am always a big proponent of learning every possible thing you can to add to your knowledge base. So, while yoga wouldn’t be my first choice of prescription for a person desiring to improve movement, I believe it can give you an understanding of what people are doing when they do yoga, how it can be used properly, and open you up to a culture of people who have important information to offer. I believe masters in any field can aid people in all crafts.

Recommendation:

Pick this book up if you read a lot or if you want to patiently work through it slowly over time. I would not pick this up as your first entrance into the ‘movement culture,’ but it is definitely worth the investment if you are looking to understand more.

Personal Development Book:

Flow” by Mikhaly Csikszentmihalyi

Why am I reading this?

I have been thoroughly investigating the human mind over the past seven years. Our entire human experience is played out through our own unique perceptions. I’ve seen people attained the highest levels of material success while still being miserable, and others who might be considered unsuccessful on the outside, who are extremely content with their lot in life. Seeing this disparity made me think deeply about what is important in life. Knowing that people who are remembered throughout the course of all human history were rarely the richest, best athletes, best looking, etc really made wonder how one becomes ‘happy.’

As well, I have heard many athletes say that the reason they are successful is because they are ‘mentally tougher,’ or because they can ‘…go to that dark place,’ or because they ‘work harder than anyone else.’ I’ve found through my investigation that this is not the case at all and that most of the time, their success is more influenced by genetics, circumstance, training, etc. However, I also understand that the mind is a huge component of external success as well. So, I have been studying to see how much of that mind state is embedded into the person, how much it can be developed, how much can be replicated in other people, and understand it so that I can help teach people how to apply that to their physical goals as well.

How can you use this as an athlete?

This book can help you to understand how to achieve something great and how to enjoy the process. In fact, he takes it a step further and claims that the process itself should be the goal if you hope to achieve a state of wellness in your life. This is a really difficult thing to do in athletics because you are praised for being good, your success at make a living, wins/losses, etc. However, the longer you spend time in high level athletics, the more you realize that many people’s passions have turned into their jobs, and surprisingly, rather than feeling fulfilled, they are unhappy with what they are doing, and they can’t wait to move on to a new phase of their life. Learning how to make your journey meaningful is, to me, one of the most vital things you should do as an athlete. If you ask yourself the questions, ‘would I be doing this if no one else on the planet were watching? And ‘would I do this and dedicate as much as I am to it if I knew the end ‘goal’ would not be met?’, and you come up with a resounding “Yes” then you are likely in the right path. If not, I believe, you should re-think how happy your journey is going to make you in the long run.

How can this help you as a coach?

I think all the same things apply to athletes here as do to coaches. If you hope to enjoy yourself as a coach, it should allow you to find your ‘flow state.’ The tying of your ego to your athletes, quest to make money off of your knowledge, enjoyment of the personal adoration of your clients, etc I would say would make things very difficult for you in the long run if you accept the author’s premises in the book.

Recommendation:

This book is definitely worth the read for fitness professionals and athletes. The author has a very interesting perspective on how to really attain happiness.

Personal Interest Book

Biocentrism”, By Robert Lanza

Why am I reading this?

I love trying to understand the universe. I like to try to understand the complexity of all that exists. I know that most likely I will never get the answer to the questions humans have been asking since the beginning of recorded history, but the inquiry, for me, lasts forever and allows me to continue to explore the world at large.

How can this help you as a coach/athlete?

The more you know...I am a firm believer that if you cannot immediately answer why something will help you in the future or how you can use something, you should wait and watch. I haven’t figured this one out yet, but when I do...I will let you know...and if you discover an answer for me, I would love to hear it! Knowledge is power, and we are in the game of power, more knowledge can never be bad for performance.

Recommendation:

If you are into the academic studies of quantum physics, physics, biology, philosophy, chemistry then probably worth the read. His argument is interesting and definitely a paradigm shifting perspective on the world and our created universe. If not, then I would say to avoid this one all together!

If you pick these up, enjoy and leave responses/comments/reviews to this blog post.

~ Max

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Max El-Hag
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