I’m Not Going to School Today

After a long day, I had a little anxiety attack last night.

Yesterday my day started at 6:45 am when I woke up to drink my morning cup of coffee.

I was out the door by 7:30 to attend my 8am Physical Fitness Appraisal lab where I conducted a maximal VO2 test which also included prepping the participant with electrodes for EKG measurements during the test. After running a successful VO2 test, I also conducted a resting VO2 test. After that two hour lab I went to the library to finish a “group” project by myself, which ended up being a 32 page behemoth of a document. Then, I walked over to the bus station to purchase my bus tickets home, and followed that with a walk over to the Health and Human Development Building on campus to drop off the key to the room I use while conducting meetings for the charity group I run. Luckily I found five minutes to sit down and try to enjoy the fall weather. I was already feeling my enthusiasm for the day waning.

I worked up the energy to endure the line for Starbucks on campus and purchased a venti blonde roast…no room for cream, obviously. I considered getting a grande, maybe even trying a tall, but the allure of the dark, fragrant, life giving liquid was too enticing. With coffee in hand I made the short journey to another building on campus to attend my Women’s Health and Exercise class. It’s one of my favorites, but focusing for a consecutive stretch of 75 minutes is always difficult. The lecture topic was Bone Response to Exercise. We learned about the nuanced response that bone has to different types and different durations of exercise. The most interesting  points that I held onto were:

  • Bone responds best to diverse and varied loading (gymnastics, jumping sports, weightlifting)
  • Bone responds optimally to shorter/intermittent bouts of exercise rather than long continuous bouts.

From those points its clear that, in the case from bone remodeling (growth), while we should seek to apply a challenging and diverse group of stimuli (stressors) to our bodies, we also need to give our bodies the chance to adapt from such stimuli. In class, the thought reminded me of an article I had read the day before, written by a good friend of mine Dr. Mike Roussell. In the article Dr. Mike makes a scientifically backed case for the advantages of “pulsing” protein intake throughout the day, interchanging times of adequate protein intake with the absence of protein intake to enhance overall protein synthesis. This argument opposes both the arguments for ingesting a constant stream of protein/amino acids, as well as condensing daily protein intake into one large bolus dose (even if it is equivalent in amount). According to Dr. Mike:

“So constantly jamming your body with amino acids isn’t causing you to grow more. There seems to be a refractory period, a time where your body needs a break from the constant influx of amino acids so it can regroup before it re-initiates protein synthesis.”

In that moment I had a small epiphany. I will do my best to summarize my thoughts below, but I am not promising eloquence or succinctness:

The body, from what I continue to learn about in school and through my own studies, has the ability to adapt to anything. Excuse me. I need to add a caveat to that statement. The body has the ability to adapt to anything if given the opportunity to do so. What do I mean by the opportunity? I am talking about the yin and yang of exposure and removal of stress that the body seems to inherently desire. I am talking about rest, recovery, regeneration, rejuvenation, eating, sleeping, massage, meditation, vacation, doing nothing.

I want to take Dr Mike’s quote from above and generalize it a little bit to see if the same concept can hold true in a more big picture sense:

“So constantly jamming your body with STIMULI isn’t causing you to ADAPT more. There seems to be a refractory period, a time where your body needs a break from the constant influx of STIMULI so it can regroup before it re-initiates ADAPTATION.”

While different physiological systems have different mechanisms of adaptation, I would argue the statement still hold water, and I think we inherently recognize this fact. I think the prime example of our universal understanding of the need to remove stimuli is the inevitable nightly slumber we all cherish. Sleep is the complete absence of stimuli. No wonder why it’s so important. And no wonder why, when sleep cycles become disturbed, it seems as if life just sucks. As a strength coach I know that when I write programs for clients that I should incorporate planned “de-load” weeks where I limit the exposure to stimuli through either restricting volume or intensity. There even seems to be some potential physiological responses to fasting, which would be the removal of nutritional stimuli.  The list goes on and on.

A point I would like to bring up before entering into the next phase of my small epiphany, is the historical predisposition to a “dualistic” paradigm of health. The dualism I am referring to is the constant division of mind and body. Most view the human as made up of two elements, being the mental and the physical. Just as there are problems with dividing society into black and white, or men and women, there are also problems with dividing the body in two. The result is differential treatment with a hierarchical flavor. Typically the mind is put above the body in standing. The physical is merely a slave to the mental. Society recognizes intelligence and acuity more often and to higher degrees than they do physical prowess or toughness. Scholars are more worthy than athletes. That’s just the way it is. There are unfortunate ramifications to such a state.

Being of a higher worth the mind is viewed as capable of more. Even in cases of physical triumph, the mind is often hailed as the driving factor in success, whether it be with the cliche of “mind over matter” or a reference to “mental toughness.” We think the mind can take more punishment. We think the mind can overcome all. That fact is never more evident than in the educational process. Children enter school at approximately the age of 3-5 and, if they desire a college degree, will be in school every year until they are about 22. This is assuming the child is not a genius and skips grades. Thats about 18 years of academic badgering without a break. That’s a lot.

After experiencing 17.5 of the average 18 years of education I truly believe that we don’t give the mind the rest it needs, and therefore we don’t give the human the rest it needs.

I understand that there are some obvious contentions to my educationally inspired argument so let me address them:

* I will be using a general “you” which is not directed at anyone. Consider it a hypothetical individual who I am trying to predict the argument of and shoot down. I know this is a self-serving strategy, but writing this in isolation, it is all I currently have.

You could argue that early schooling is easy and maybe in a way “doesn’t count.” No, pre-school isn’t “rigorous” by most standards, but the idea of school is similar to the idea of using chains while lifting. The chains provide accommodating resistance, making the single lift more difficult in phases where you are stronger. School, ideally, gets harder as you get smarter. So that argument doesn’t cut it.

You could argue that students receive annual and fairly extensive summer breaks. While I think the ratio of schooling months to non-schooling months is about right (3:1), I don’t think that experiencing the school months in one bolus dose is necessarily the most appropriate dosing. Just like trying to eat all of your protein at dinner is not a good idea if you want to maximize your protein synthesis, maybe trying to get in all of your learning into 9 straight months is not the best idea either. Also as children ascend further into academia, summers become opportunities to “distinguish oneself from the pack.” The summer is no longer spent driving with the windows down, lounging by pools, and sitting around bonfires. Or, if you do choose to spend your summer participating in such frivolous activities, you are also losing a chance to really round out that resume (sarcasm). Summers aren’t summers anymore.

You could argue that there are planned breaks during the school year. This is true, but again I believe their distribution throughout the school year is plain wrong. For example, I haven’t had a day off from school since September 2nd, which comes out to 43 straight days of school, all of which I have attended class on. After another three weeks I will finally receive 5 days off form classes (Thanksgiving), which will be followed by three more weeks of school (2 weeks of regular classes, 1 week for finals), which will be followed by three weeks of vacation. So if we are counting that is 4 weeks of vacation in a 7 week span. Does that make sense? To me it doesn’t. Layered on top of that fact is that even while “on vacation” during the school year, there are still academic demands. Just yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend of mine named Tom, and he told me about a professor who scheduled an exam for the first day of classes after our Thanksgiving break. Tom’s vacation is not a vacation and he is not alone in that. For all those reasons, school year vacations do serve the restorative function we think they do.

You could argue that every week we receive a two day reprieve from classes in the form of the weekend. Weekends don’t cut it though. For one, the same problem with school year vacations applies. Weekends are often spent in the library studying or working on assignments due the following week. The second problem is slightly more convoluted. Weekends, while they can certainly be days filled with continued academic application, they are also often filled with debauchery. Especially in college. Friday and Saturday (and sometimes Sunday) nights are defined by late bedtimes and large amounts of alcohol ingestion. Those nights are often complete behavioral 180’s from the preceding week of classes. Why the extreme change? I can only guess that the violent transition from a consuming attention to studies to the generally destructive behavior is a response to the perceived oppressive classroom, library, and computer screen. In any case, the result of such “hard-earned” destructive behavior is an aftermath of headaches, an absence of memories, and an inability to do anything. AnythingThat lack of activity only makes the impending week of classes more anxiety provoking as potentially precious minutes that could be used to study, slip by drinking water, lying on the couch, and trying to figure out what happened the night before.  It’s a vicious cycle.

You could argue that drinking and other debauchery should not be participated in. While I would agree with that to a certain extent, it seems if such behavior is considered “fun” by the individual, that person should be free to enjoy that behavior so long as laws are not being violated and no harm is brought to others or themselves. Isn’t that what the weekends are for? Aren’t weekends respites from work? Aren’t weekends, in some way, opportunities for play? I find myself in a perpetual cycle of yearning for the weekend and then being disappointed by it, once it arrives. I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling, just as Tom wasn’t alone in his mirage of a Thanksgiving vacation.

Putting a bow on this:

While this article now looks like a manifesto on what’s wrong with the educational system we have in place in America, what I am really trying to do is use my time within the structure of formal education as an inspiration to muse on life and more importantly consider in depth the way we treat ourselves and others.

I know that I don’t know everything. I also know that the more I learn, the more I realize I don’t know. Both of those facts perplex me to no end, but I continue to go to class and read and try to keep my mind open.

I also understand that I am young in comparison to the rest of the population. I have yet to experience many of the rigors and rewards that life can offer. I also know that I have been very fortunate in my life so far. I have a loving and supportive family, and I have been afforded every opportunity that a person could want. I just feel like something is wrong, and again, I don’t think I’m alone in that feeling.

What I struggle with the most is trying to figure out if this is just the way it is? Is the constant, draining mental badgering and ever-present demand on my time, I perceive to be experiencing, really to my benefit? Maybe it is. Maybe it is part of some new modern day survival of the fittest situation where the mentally gifted succeed. Maybe though, we need to discard the notions of dualism and treat the body as one entity giving it both the challenge and the rest it needs to always be in a state of fulfillment of potential and positive adaptation.

It’s probable that some of my arguments here could be shot down, but I think it would be hard to argue that there are not valid points within my epiphany and that there are possibly many more concerns to be raised. Just because things are the way they are, does not mean that they are the way they should be.

I don’t have a solution. There probably isn’t one singular action that can be taken to ameliorate the situation (assuming the situation does in fact need amelioration) but there are ideas which I think needs to spread.

Humans are humans. We are not bodies. We are not minds. We are humans. We are all humans. We need to help each other through this life. We need to bring people together and not divide them. We need to challenge ourselves. We need to rest. We need to be aware of the self. We need to be aware of others. We need to connect with the world more often than not. We need to withdraw from the world sometimes. We need to try and give to this world what we take. We need to be happy. We need to make others happy.

Resources:

http://www.t-nation.com/supplements/protein-pulsing-for-muscle

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Education_in_the_United_States

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