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Know Your Body-Mind Type, Find Your Most-Compatible Workout
"What's the best workout (or diet, or stress management technique) for me?" Many people have asked wellness life coach and t'ai chi expert David-Dorian Ross this question. His answer is always the same: "The one you'll do again tomorrow." Find out which workouts will most satisfy you physically, emotionally, intellectually and soulfully based on your unique psycho-physio profile in this excerpt from David's book Exercising the Soul.
Occasionally, if we are lucky, we experience extraordinary moments when we see ourselves as we could be, struck by a sense of connection to the universe. Psychologist Abraham Maslow called these "peak experiences." Psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls them "flow states." Psychotherapist Thomas Moore called them "soul." Whatever you call them, something remarkable happens in these moments.
In my first t'ai chi class, I was dropped unexpectedly into one of these moments. And when I began teaching t'ai chi, I assumed everyone would want to experience the same thing. Why, then, didn't more people sign up for my classes? Were they stupid? Lazy? In such denial about what their lives were missing? Then one day I asked myself, Is t'ai chi really for everyone?
Most-Effective Workout? It's All Relative
Humans experience the world on all human levels simultaneously — physically, emotionally, intellectually and spiritually. You and your spouse or friend may experience the same event in profoundly different ways. Part of that experience is given by the way you've learned to process information. Another part is given by the way you are genetically predisposed to process information.
While t'ai chi Ch'uan is beneficial to everyone, each individual will experience it differently, and not everyone will enjoy it. And if you aren't enjoying yourself, you probably won't slide into that flow moment that reveals your soul to your inner eye.
I do many things besides t'ai chi — I surf, ski, practice yoga, dance a lot. They all nurture the BodyMind. If you steer toward experiences that are more comfortable and successful for you, you'll make your efforts to stay fit and healthy irresistibly fun, and therefore effective.
It's not the dance you do that is so important; it is the experience of your dance, the appreciation of the depth and meaning — the soulfulness of your dance. If t'ai chi doesn't transport you to an "Ah-ha!" moment, try something else that will.
Know Your Type, Find Your Workout
One way I help people identify what fitness/wellness pursuits would be irresistibly fun for them is through 5-Season BodyMind Typology. I developed this system with other experts based on meta-analysis of dozens of different typologies, including Ayurvedic typing, chinese 5 Element theory, Meyers-Briggs and Human Dynamics, to name a few. It also factors in the truth that people feel better about exercise when they are successful doing it, and that your body may feel better or more natural in a workout that most efficiently utilizes the type of muscle fiber of which you have the most: fast-twitch fibers, which are especially good for anaerobic, strength-type movement; or slow-twitch fibers are most efficient at aerobic, endurance-type movement.
The 5-Season BodyMind Types
SPRING | THE LION
Psycho-physio profile: The Warrior Spirit; typical fitness club member/trt'ainer; large mesomorph, strong musculature; good competitive athletes
Intrinsic Motivator: Achievement/Action
Most Compatible Workouts: Conventional, highly physical or active exercise
Why try T'ai Chi Ch'uan: Helps Springs stay connected, balancing their tendency to ignore their intuition and physical warning signals such as pt'ain.
Springs are the quintessential go-getters. Their number-one intrinsic motivator is their initiative and drive for achievement. Springs are mavericks, pioneers, adventurers and entrepreneurs — "take charge" people. Springs have a strong mental component to their temperament, and like to think they have logical reasons for everything they do — although their decisions are just as likely to be based on emotion and instinct. They are competitive and impatient; others can sometimes interpret this as being pushy or controlling.
Springs love conventional strength/cardio workouts, which satisfy their need for stimulation and a sense of achievement. Their best intrinsic motivator toward regular exercise is a sense of competition — if only agt'ainst themselves. Springs tend to lose focus or get distracted by the next challenge that comes along, So while Springs are the least likely to enjoy t'ai chi, because t'ai chi can help them stay in tune with their own body's signals. It can also help them stick with an exercise routine through its depth both of different exercises and of its Principles, which provide logical reasons for them to work out.
SUMMER | THE HORSE
Psycho-physio profile: The Free Spirit; small-medium mesomorph. Lean dancer's body; will try new, fun things
Intrinsic Motivator: Spontaneity
Most Compatible Workouts: Hatha yoga, low-impact aerobics, dance, jazzercise, Nia, circuit-trt'aining, walking, hiking
Why Try T'ai Chi Ch'uan: Group classes feed their need for both outer and inner connection
Summers are spontaneous — fiery, charismatic and dramatic, but also intensely loving and empathetic. They feel emotions strongly, both their own and those of others. They are great communicators, the life of the party, and often problem solve by talking things out. Summers tend to think of problems in terms of the people involved and how they are feeling. Some may view Summers as "touchy-feely."
Summers are usually medium-boned mesomorphs. They tend to make good athletes, dancers and gymnasts. They love to have fun, to do activities that involve other people — not necessarily with a particular end result in mind; it is the process that inspires Summers more than the goal. They often stick with an activity because of the people involved, not the activity itself. Workouts like aerobics and jazzercise can draw out the strong feelings on which Summers thrive. Yet because pouring out their own inner energy sends Summers out of balance, they also need inner-directed or meditative activities to conserve their inner energy. Group classes in hatha yoga and t'ai chi Ch'uan can satisfy the dual needs for connection and meditation; solo activities like walking and hiking give Summers the chance to hear their own soul.
INDIAN SUMMER | THE BEAR
Psycho-physio profile: The Nurturing Spirit; systemic thinkers; down to earth; endomorph, slower metabolism
Intrinsic Motivator: Relationship
Compatible Workouts: Walking, jazzercise, swimming, tennis, cycling, circuit trt'aining
Why try T'ai Chi Ch'uan: Group or t'ai chi for Two classes appeal to a key Indian Summer motivator, connection with other people
Indian Summers find their identity in the group, whether it be family, church, occupation or politics. They are patient listeners, and extremely empathetic. They are the peacemakers, and often have trouble saying no. Indian Summers know exactly where they are going and are not likely to swerve from their path. They see things from a holistic point of view: They take their time gathering information, and once they see the whole picture, they act decisively.
Indian Summers tend to be larger boned and endomorphic — real teddy bears. If they get active upon awakening, they will do well and feel energetic for the rest of the day. Their sense of group connection makes Indian Summers interested in just about any activity, as long as they do it with other people who are important in their lives.
AUTUMN | THE FOX
Psycho-physio profile: The Thinker; ectomorphic, faster metabolism; logical, linear; appears smart competitors
Intrinsic Motivator: Love of values, "doing the right thing"
Most Compatible Workouts: T'ai chi Ch'uan, weight trt'aining, hatha yoga, Pilates, cycling
Why Try T'ai Chi Ch'uan: Gets Autumns out of their heads so they can have fun
Autumns are characterized by their love of values and high degree of personal integrity. They are deep thinkers, but may also be quick, sharp and witty (vs. the deep, slow thinker, Winter). They are logical and linear, and tend to internalize their emotions or put them to one side. Others may seem them as aloof or even unemotional. In fact, Autumns feel their emotions quite deeply, but keep them in perspective.
Autumns tend to be smaller boned, with a compact musculature. Their movements, like their thoughts, tend to be quick, precise and linear. Exercise education often works well as a motivator for them. Becoming fit, well or healthy is the right thing to do, for themselves and their family. If they work with a coach or trt'ainer for, say, the first few weeks, Autumns are more likely to religiously follow their exercise routine, almost as if inertia was keeping them from stopping. Yet Autumns have a high tolerance for discomfort, and so may ignore pt'ain or other warning signals and end up overtrt'aining or getting injured. Workouts to balance this tendency include t'ai chi Ch'uan, swimming and ballroom dancing — opportunities to help them "get out of their heads," find calm and have fun.
WINTER | THE OX
Psycho-physio profile: The Strategist; endomorphic with strong musculature; systemic thinker, appears aloof
Intrinsic Motivator: Seeing the Big Picture
Compatible Workouts: Body building, Ashtanga yoga, martial arts, cardio-kickboxing, tennis, golf, swimming, Chen style t'ai chi Ch'uan
Why Try T'ai Chi Ch'uan: More vigorous styles like Chen help Winters ward off the tendency toward "hibernating"
Like Indian Summers, Winters see things from a holistic point of view. They take their time gathering information, and once they see the whole picture, then they act decisively. Winters are patient listeners — not necessarily to understand another's emotions like Indian Summers, but to gather information. Some may perceive the inwardly directed Winter as aloof, even cynical, but more likely Winter is simply processing information and creating strategies for setting and att'aining goals.
Winters tend to be larger boned endomorphs, sturdy and muscular; but may tend toward a slower metabolism. Winter wants to know, "What will this workout do for me? How will it fit in with everything else I'm doing?" A logical approach to working out, with a systematic schedule, is very effective for them. Early mornings make the best times for them to exercise. Especially as they get older, they settle into themselves like bears getting ready for hibernation. They need constant, regular stimulation, change and challenge. Tennis, fencing, swimming or martial arts are all recommended, as well as the more vigorous Eastern styles like Chen t'ai chi or Ashtanga yoga.