Book Review #4: The Body Keeps the Score.

“It is not that something different is seen, but that one sees differently.             – Carl Jung

The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma. By Dr. Bessel van der Kolk. Penguin Books, New York, NY. (2014)

The most effective coaches are those that have the ability to connect with others, understand the importance of psychology, and value knowledge about human behavior. You cannot have physiology without psychology. There is information out there about coaching tactics for personality and temperament (Brett Bartholomew), neurological profiling for program design (Christian Thibaudeau) , and targeting neurotransmitters for adherence.

These can be important considerations for training and coaching, however humans are extremely complex and there is always a deeper level. When you interact with others, that deeper level may include understanding how trauma can manifest itself in the body.

We all interact with people who are in pain (not just physical). Trauma doesn’t have to be one event, it can be the inability to cope with a perceived threat at a young age, in which coping strategies become ingrained in our physiology and neurology. These strategies can be teeth clenching, breathe holding, curling toes, and tightening of abdominals (More Information).

Our current behavior and our response to stress is created by past experiences. Our behavior is based upon prediction, in which we will revert back to the behavior from past emotional or physical stressors. As coaches, we need to acknowledge feelings, create body awareness, appreciate the impact of our clients past experiences related to their current behaviors (this includes creating a referral network), and changing our own behaviors to best interact with that client.

As human beings we belong to an extremely resilient species. Since time immemorial we have rebounded from our relentless wars, countless disasters (both natural and man-made), and the violence and betrayal in our own lives. But traumatic experiences do leave traces, whether on a large scale (on our histories and cultures) or close to home, on our families, with dark secrets being imperceptibly passed down through generations. They also leave traces on our minds and emotions, on our capacity for joy and intimacy, and even our biology and immune systems.”

– Dr. Bessel van der Kolk (p.1)

The Body Keeps The Score

Dr. Bessel van der Kolk is the founder and medical director of the Trauma center in Brookline, Massachusetts. In his book, Dr. Bessel van der Kolk shares his years of clinical practice and scientific literature in relation to how trauma can reshape the body and brain (whole body response). He presents treatments such as meditation, sports, yoga, and self expression for recovery.  

Traumatic experiences physically affects the brain and the body, causing anxiety, inability to concentrate, and the inability to feel sensation. Dr. Bessel van der Kolk explores the complexity of the mind, structure and function of the brain’s emotional pathways, the ways in which humans are connected and attached to each other, and how emotions/behavior are reflected in movement.

Trauma (which can be solely unconscious) can literally change the structure and function of the brain, increase stress hormones, create hypervigilance to threat (real or imagined), restrict movement, create sleep disturbances, oversensitivity to touch or sound, and increase the perception of pain. These experiences can occur as a baby and contribute to the emotional and perceptual map of the world in the developing brain.

“We have begun to understand how overwhelming experiences affect our innermost sensations and  our relationship to our physical reality-the core of who we are…[Trauma] changes not only how we think and what We think about, but also our very capacity to think.”

Big Hitters:

  • “Social environment interacts with brain chemistry” What is the environment that you are trying to create as a coach? How are you making people feel?
    • Emotions assign value to an experience.
  • “In many places drugs have displaced therapy and enabled patients to suppress their problems without addressing the underlying issues.”
    • “The brain-disease model takes control over people’s fate out of their own hands and puts doctors and insurance companies in charge of fixing their problems.” (p.37)
    • “Half a million children in the United States currently take antipsychotic drugs.”
    • Can coaches and exercise have a greater impact than prescription medication?
    • Do we care enough to find a different solution?
  • Activities such as breathing, moving, and touching can be used to regulate our own physiology.
  • “Being able to move and do something to protect oneself is a critical factor in determining whether or not a horrible experience will leave long-lasting scar.” 
    • Physical movement and emotional expression are valuable for overall health and healing.
  • “Realizing that other people can think and feel differently from us…”
    • WE ALL PERCEIVE THE WORLD DIFFERENTLY. You are coaching others with their own perceptions and constructed view of the world, not yours.
  • “Without flexible, active frontal lobes people become creatures of habit, and their relationships become superficial and routine.” (p.60)  
  • “Grounding” (related to treatment) means that you can feel you butt in your chair, see the light coming through the window, feel the tension in your calves, and hear the wind stirring the tree outside (p.70). This is sensation.
  • Our physical shape (body language-nonverbal expression of emotion), tone of voice, and facial expressions feed our emotional pathways (and vice versa) and provide communication and intention to others. This is the body-brain connection.
    • We can experience physical pain from emotions.
    • The heart, guts, and brain are connected and communicate via the pneumogastric nerve. Mind and body are indistinguishable.
    • You’re inability to digest your food can be related to your emotional state (possibly due to exposure to stress).
  • Sense of purpose involves both movement and emotions. Making things meaningful and providing others with a sense of purpose or importance is one of the most genuine things you can do as a coach.  
  • Social support. “Our culture teaches us to focus on personal uniqueness, but at a deeper level we barely exist as individual organisms. Our brain are built to help us function as members of a tribe. We are part of that tribe even when we are by ourselves…” (p.80)
    • “Being able to feel safe with other people is probably the single most important aspect…safe connections are fundamental to meaningful and satisfying lives.”
    • “Most traumatize people find themselves chronically out of sync with the people around them.”
  • Exercise and movement provides body awareness and increased capacity to manage stress.
    • The “core of our self-awareness rests on the physical sensations that convey the inner states of the body. ” Physical self-awareness provides the ability to release the tyranny of the past and provides a sense of self.
    • Practices such as movement therapy and yoga can be used as sensory experiences by exploring trauma’s deeper impact on the body (neuroscience of self-awareness). Simply noticing what you feel fosters emotional regulation. Sensory (and motor) experiences are important…
    • The flip side is exercise addiction, which can be sensation seeking.
  • “Nobody grows up under ideal circumstances…every life is difficult in its own way.” (p.306)

“When we cannot rely on our body to signal safety or warning and instead feel chronically overwhelmed by physical stirrings, we lose the capacity to feel at home in our own skin, and by extension, in the world.” (p.307)

Overall Score: 8.6/10

When you are a coach, you have a responsibility for a position of influence. I often observe the dehumanization of athletes in relation to the avoidance of human connection. Today, we limit social interaction with the use of technology and often breed a superficial environment. Coaches have the ability to positively impact other individuals but there needs to be knowledge of human behavior (including the information presented in the book), communication skills, and acknowledgement.

We are all different. We all perceive the world differently from past experiences and temperaments. Remember this when you are dealing with others (position of influence).

Have compassion.

This book is dense and emotional at times, however ever since I read it a few years ago it has been in my list for top 3 favorite books. The information presented is invaluable in appreciating behavior, past experiences, pain, and relationships. It is close to a ’10’ because it’s an exploration of the complexity of the human species, and that’s quality to me.

Related Recommended Resource: Seth Oberst, DPT, SCS, CSCS and his Stress, Movement & Pain course

Up next: We shall see….

Book Review #3: Antifragile: Things That Gain From Disorder

“Nature does not find its members very helpful after their reproductive abilities are depleted… Nature prefers to let the game continue at the informational level, the genetic code. So organisms need to die for nature to be antifragile—Nature is opportunistic, ruthless, and selfish.”

Book Review Written by Jaymin Chang, ATC:


Recently, in the fitness industry, the importance of understanding complexity has been growing, and our overall understanding of stress has also improved. Fortunately, this has encouraged care providers to take a more holistic view with their clients and to incorporate a multi-disciplinary, client-centered approach. However, the pendulum never swings in moderation: with the emergence of terms like variability, the prescription of “reset exercises” in order to make clients more resilient to stress has subsequently skyrocketed. Yes, we experience loads of stress as social organisms, especially when compared to less-evolved species. But maybe, this focus on social stress and the over-prescription of “reset exercises” is fragilizing our notion of the human organism, and is also shifting our aims from “Let’s grow through stress” to “Let’s prepare ourselves to recover from stress.” Two different strategies; neither approach is useless, but prioritizing the latter over the former may not be helping your clients progress as much as you think. 

Through Antifragile, Nassib Taleb shares his thoughts on the significance of variability as he argues that it correlates with a complex system’s ability to adapt through the unpredictable future. He uses his background in finance and economics to show the similarities in complexity between human organisms and financial markets. He continues to explain how this concept may provide useful methods of lessening the risk of a physiological equivalent of a market crash from occurring. 
Taleb begins the book with an introduction to the book’s most fundamental domain: the continuum of fragility. He believes qualities of fragility, robustness, and antifragility exist along a continuum, and that this continuum can be used to describe any complex system. Since fragile objects are irreversibly damaged when stress is applied, complex systems that improve and grow with stress (aka hormesis) are characterized to be “antifragile.” So one of the ways Taleb defines being antifragile is “having greater upside than downside from random events.”
             Fragile            Robust          Antifragile
Figure: As an illustration, each quality along the continuum is represented by a mythological figure: fragility is represented by the Sword of Damocles, robustness by the Phoenix, and antifragility by the Hydra. 
The book continues to explore the complex nature of self-autonomy and modularity. Taleb states that overcompensating a system by adding redundancies allows it to be more ready to adapt to stress. Having multiple interdependent components provides the system various strategies to buffer the effects of stressors. However, for the system to learn where/how to add redundancy is through experiencing unpredictable hardship (which he refers to as “Black Swans”). As an example, Taleb describes the airline industry as being antifragile, because they are able to learn from emergency events and then efficiently optimize their protocols in order to improve future outcomes.

The Fragility Continuum

The continuum of fragility Taleb describes is simply another mental model to characterize a complex system, and like all other models, there are appropriate contexts to use it in. Let’s first deconstruct the concept itself.
A continuum is defined as “a continuous sequence in which adjacent elements are not perceptibly different from each other, although the extremes are quite distinct.” This tells us 3 things about the continuum of fragility: (1) knowing only one point along the continuum has no relative value, (2) the distinct ends provide direction, and (3) this specific continuum compares the number of productive strategies to their relative costs.
The first two points indicate that where you or your client exists along the continuum, regardless of how it is measured, does not really matter. What matters more is in which direction you choose to move from that position. If you find a quality that makes someone more fragile, work on making that specific quality less fragile. This also means that robustness is inapplicable when attempting to describe any of the constantly adapting qualities of a human. We cannot just return to an original state as if nothing happened, like the Phoenix. This explains why activities, like the “reset exercises” mentioned above, may encourage the idea that the body must be “normalized.” Interventions aiming to reduce sympathetic tone can be crucial for creating an appropriate internal environment that allows optimal growth and recovery. Using those interventions to adjust neuromuscular tension could also reduce the risk of movement impairments. However, this preparation for growth does not cause the body to grow. Robustness is not enough.
The third point shows us why the continuum can be replicated in various contexts. Similar continua include performance versus health, impingement versus variability, product market versus service market, inductive reasoning versus deductive reasoning, commercial banking versus investment banking, etc. There are always two sides when it comes to comparing volatility of possible decisions, but none of these continua function for a single purpose. This is why they cannot be dichotomized into good or bad.

Overall, this book introduces an encompassing explanation of both organic and man-made complex systems and a possible mechanism that allows them to be adaptable. But as always, critical thinking is required to apply the book’s lessons appropriately, especially in terms of human development. Everybody has unique goals, and sometimes the individual must move away from becoming antifragile to accomplish their goal. Maybe blindly aiming for antifragility in all contexts actually creates a fragile system. Possible confusions like these explain why context always trumps the model being used, but this mental model is valuable in certain contexts and knowing it may over-compensate your process of decision-making. Continue to become Antifragile.

Big Hitters and Quotes
  • Domain Dependence: the inability to take higher level lessons in one domain, or area or category of activity and apply them in other domains
    • For example, some doctors prescribe exercises to promote resilience, but also prescribe painkillers to reduce stress perception.
  • Causal Opacity: difficulty of seeing cause to consequence when regarding complex systems
    • “In the complex world, the notion of ‘cause’ itself is suspect; it is either nearly impossible to detect or not really defined.”
  • Stress-testing a system using the worst cases in the past to estimates its resilience is problematic
    • Lucretius Problem: the fool believes that the tallest mountain in the world will be equal to the tallest one has has observed
  • Information is antifragile because “it feeds more on attempts to harm it than it does on efforts to promote it.”
    • Therefore, types of information like reputation and fame should not be controlled. Caring less about it may give you more.
  • “We know more than we think we do, a lot more than we can articulate.”
  • “Most humans manage to squander their free time, as free time makes them dysfunctional, lazy, and unmotivated—the busier they get, the more active they are at other tasks. Overcompensation here again.”
  • “Your body gets information about the environment not through your logical apparatus, your intelligence and ability to reason, compute, and calculate, but through stress, via hormones or other messengers we haven’t discovered yet.”
    • Recovery allows stressors to do their jobs as messengers.
  • “My mood, my sadness, my bouts of anxiety are a second source of intelligence—perhaps even the first source.”

Overall Score:  5.2/10

Alright, Franky. I recommend listening to Nassim Taleb speak about the subject before getting the book. Some criticize him for sounding a bit too pompous when he speaks, and I’d say he tends to write in a similar manner. 

The book’s actual content gets a 1.2 for its premise and long-reaching examples, because the book fails to generate any strategies for becoming antifragile. Such suggestions would probably be dangerously generalizing and under-appreciative of the context of application. But that’s the thing about these globally applicable, theoretical measures. The most important lesson I took away from this book is the importance of context and perspective. Fragility can be applied to so many areas because it subtly shifts between different contextual hierarchies. Although indirect, I thought this lesson was worth the remaining 4 points. Maybe you’ll learn something else.

About Author:
Jaymin Chang, ATC
– Former intern at Northeastern University Sports Performance
– Current Graduate Student at Teachers College, Columbia University (New York City, New York)

Book Review # 2: Legacy: 15 Lessons in Leadership.

“What else is a legacy if not that which you leave behind after you have gone?”

Book Review:

Legacy: 15 Lessons in leadership. By James Kerr (2013)

James Kerr extracts lessons of leadership from The New Zealand All Blacks rugby club, which is considered the world’s most successful sporting team.

The structure of the book consists of a chapter directed toward a lesson in leadership, such as character. Kerr provides a brief explanation of why that lesson is important to the All Blacks organization, connects it to other successful organizations or individuals, then summarizes the chapter.

“Only by knowing yourself can you become an effective leader.” – Vince Lombardi

Okay I can get on board with that…

I consider this book ‘a reminder’. It’s a reminder to be conscious of your environment as you will be a product of it. The book is focused on creating the right environment for the right behaviors to occur.

Strength and success comes from creating a learning environment concerned with adaptive problem solving and continuous improvement (humility). Creating self-awareness is the answer.

I extracted components of the lessons to a collegiate environment in which coaches and staff have a major role and responsibility to develop athletes as people. There should be emphasis on individual/personal development and teaching young adults how to articulate themselves and start to understand who they are. Only then can a team truly exist. The players and team culture should be valued rather than obsessing about the results. There should be a focus on character over talent as there is a competitive advantage through cultural cohesion. 

“No one person has all the answers, but asking questions challenges the status quo, helps connect with core values and beliefs, and is a catalyst for individual improvement.”

Leaders must provide a higher meaning. Purpose and meaning is everything.

Require people to write down their purpose and core values.

“Adaptation is not a reaction, but a systematic series of actions. It isn’t just reacting to what’s happening in the moment, it is being the agent of change.”

Big Hitters:

    1. We all need reminders.
    2. Do not expect things to be handed to you. Humility is required to be a leader. “Sweep the floor” analogy. Entitled players hinder your chance for change.
    3. Create the highest possible operating standards. Structure a learning system and make strateges. The challenge is always bringing value-words to life, such as integrity, responsibility, and collaboration.
    4. Real Leaders Create Leaders. Identify qualities in others and help them succeed.
  • Create a ripple effect
  • Leave something in a better state than when you started
  • Humans can’t exist in isolation, we need connection
  • Don’t make people feel inferior, build people up and bring people together
  • Your legacy is what you teach
  •  5. Find Solutions. Problem solving techniques are important.
  • 6. Embrace expectations. There is a difference between fear of feedback or failure and harnessing that fear to positive effect. 
  • 7. Learn how to think, not what to think. Constantly question. Practice with intensity and problem solving. Think for yourself.
  • 8. In order to make a change their must be a plan: A Case for Change, A Compelling Picture of the Future, A Sustainable Capability to Change, and A credible Plan to Execute. There is a cyclical process of peaks and valleys to organizational cultures.

“Our social footprint is the impact our life has – or can have – on other lives.”

…To me this is probably what the purpose of coaching, sport – and/or – life is.

Overall Score: 4.0/10

I am just not a big fan of ‘inspirational books’ that are a bit over dramatic. My biggest pet peeve is when a 200 page book could be a 50 page book and just contains too much filler. I extracted a few good reminders relating to leadership and personal development that I will apply to coaching. However, I need to know the why; why these skill are important in relation to a transcendent goal and the book does not provide that. The last 4 chapters were also unnecessary and did not provide any value.

If you want to learn how to understand yourself, others, and explore human psychology, nothing is better than Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning: Architecture of belief Course

Up next: we shall see…


Book Review #1: Lucifer’s Legacy: The meaning of asymmetry.

“A book is like a portrait as opposed to a photograph. A portrait is something that you layer on and layer on in which there is still this single image but there is a depth to it. A book allows you to think and then rethink.” -Dr. Jordan Peterson

Welcome to my first Book Review.

Lucifer’s Legacy: The meaning of asymmetry. By Frank Close                          Oxford University Press Inc., New York, NY. (2000)

This book was recommended to me by Michael Mullin.

It opens with the line, “The world is an asymmetrical place full of asymmetrical beings.”

We tend to try to make things simply: “We are asymmetrical because our liver is on the right and our heart is on the left.”

Sure. Why though?

This book allows you to explore and appreciate complexity: 

Why is our heart left oriented?

Each amino acid has a left (L-type/’laevo’) or right (D-type/’dexter’) asymmetric form (mirror images of one another) and chains of amino acids will twist in a direction. Left or right asymmetry in an amino acid is determined by how the molecules will rotate polarized LIGHT.

There is a natural selection of left handed amino acids; life on earth almost exclusively uses the left handed form. Left handed amino acids were discovered on the Murchison meteorite indicating they may have arisen from outer space. Left handed amino acids have lower energies and are more stable. Nature tends to seek the states of lowest energy.

The asymmetrical shapes of molecules force the DNA to be twisted or coiled. Spirals link the resulting right-handed DNA double helix. DNA is the perspective of which life is based on.

A preferred handedness in molecules is necessary for the origin of sustained life and the formation of our solar system.

…So why again is the heart oriented left?

Left handed amino acids power Monocilia on Henson’s Node that have a greater concentration of specialized proteins on the left which ONLY push fluid in one direction. Clockwise: right to left. These specialized proteins during embryo development create asymmetrical orientation of the heart.  

Yeah. Let’s go.

If you’re going to read this book be ready for some physics. Frank Close will explore mirror images, the structure of the atom, forces (gravity, electromagnetic, weak, strong), particle physics, antimatter, chiral asymmetries in molecules, and hidden symmetry. The last few chapters explore how the origin of life is currently being investigated at the European Centre for Particle Physics CERN in Geneva, in relation to the loss of symmetry in the early moments of the universe; the singular occurrence of the Big Bang.

Close also explores right-handed dominance in prehistoric peoples and asymmetries of the brain linked to handedness. Beginning in Chapter 5, Close details scientific, Nobel Prize awarding discoveries including X-rays, Cathode rays, and types of radiation. The last few chapters of the book mostly discuss the experiments of the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at CERN related to ‘Higgs’ field’.

Big Hitters:

Creativity is a right-brain activity. How people differ in brain structures and in what ways in which this influences personality and language is questioned.

  • Right brain crosses over to left side of body so maybe stimulate the left side of the body? 

Prediction is the real test of a theory. Processing each and every piece of sensory input is too energy consuming and inefficient.

  • Maybe we don’t just react in response to input…we predict.

Antimatter was explored in relation to the current theory of Creation: The perfect symmetry between matter and antimatter was lost forever and  a small proportion of the matter was left over (this is the Big Bang) to form us and everything around us as far as we can see.

Light is a form of electromagnetic radiation. Our eyes respond only to a very small part of the whole electromagnetic spectrum; but the whole of the spectrum is alive.

  • Is what you see the only thing there? 

Perception. What is reality? There are things that our subjective senses can not detect, so do they exist? “Our view of the history of science is the building of machines to extend our perceptions…Modern natural philosophers would claim that these are no less real (and no more?) than the subjective perceptions formed with our unaided five senses. They are but the current extremes on a continuum of experience.”

  • Perception is in relation to the continuum of experience…I like that.

“Scientists will continue to improve measurements; some day perhaps this will explore patterns that are currently beyond our imagination.”-Frank Close

…maybe what we know now, is nothing compared to what there is to know…

Overall Score: 7.2/10

This is definitely a book ‘out of my scope of practice’ but I found great value in exploring something new. I have a personal interest in particle and quantum physics so I enjoyed it. The last Chapter discussed ‘Higg’s field’ which is a theory addressing the fundamental questions of our existence.  How can that not be interesting? I enjoyed this book for perspective, reflection, and exploring complexity.

Up next: Legacy: What the All Blacks can teach us about the business of life by James Kerr.