Managing the Body-Mind-Spirit Connection

Linda F. Castner, M.S. Physical Education

Motor learning and peak performance are life-long studies for athletes.  We can all benefit from what researchers have learned about peak performance, specifically the links between body, mind, and spirit.  The Take Flight WorkshopsTM are designed to promote awareness and control of these links.

Consider the world of athletics.  To win an Olympic gold medal in a given sport requires learning specific motor skills along with developing the ability to perform those same motor skills in high-pressure environments.  Understanding the complicated connection between performing a physical skill and the mind’s way of remaining focused in spite of often-detrimental emotional inputs is the difference between merely participating in the sport and competing at a high level. This connection is referred to as a Causal Chain:

  • The body reacts physically to a specific activity (e.g., a sports performance, or flying an airplane):
    • Stomach ties up in a knot
    • Palms sweat
    • Heart rate increases
  • The physical reaction gives rise to an emotion or feeling (spirit), which has an additional effect on performance:
    • Fear
    • Excitement
  • The mind interprets the sensations and feelings:
    • “I don’t like this”
    • “This is great”

Athletes cannot realize their full potential until they are able to recognize their personal causal chain and manage how their emotions and thoughts influence their performance. Seeking peak performance, athlete and coach develop the specific motor skills required for success.  They also determine what is happening in the athlete’s causal chain through structured practice sessions and game-time performances, and develop strategies to mitigate potentially negative effects.  Studies have identified peak performance as those times when the athlete not only feels focused, but also is conscious of a state referred to as flow[1] or inner self-control.[2]  The goal for the athlete is to achieve that state of flow.

In the Take Flight WorkshopsTM we draw on the same mind-body-spirit connection that leads to peak performance in elite athletes. We discuss the causal chain and teach methods for interrupting negative patterns of behavior while learning the new skills associated with flying an airplane.  These same methods can be employed by participants to manage performance in both their professional and personal lives.

[1] Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly, Flow The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Harper & Row, Publisher, Inc., 1990.

[2] Gallwey, Timothy, The Inner Game of Golf, Random House, NYC., 1981

See also Damasio, Antonio, The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness, Mariner Books, 2000.