Health and Well-being

Brodie Meets Brody, Episode 2: Maintaining a Healthy Lower Back

This is the second functional fitness film of the "Brodie meets Brody" series, where world-class exercise physiologist, strength and cycling coach Menachem Brodie (NSCA-CSCS, USAC-PBT) teams up with Senior Fitness Trainer, Health Coach and Nutritionist Rabbi Lazer Brody (CHC, CPT, CHN) to show how both women and men can maintain a healthy lower back at any age. Most important, we learn how to avoid the day-to-day back injuries the come from improper lifting and learn the right way how to pick up a baby. A must-see:

Conservation in the Mini-Universe

Mini Universe Conservation
Kabbalah defines the three dimensions of Divine influence on our lives and refers to them as olam, shana, and nefesh, or the dimensions of place, time, and body. 

The message of olam, shana, and nefesh - place, time, and body – teaches us vital information about ourselves and how to properly utilize our resources. The Talmud says that the human being is a miniature universe. With that in mind, just as conserving the earth's resources is vital to our sustenance, we must learn to conserve our own resources. Now that we're aware that Divine influences are manifest on three levels, we can do much to improve the quality of our lives.

The Creator enables our souls to fulfill their specific mission also by giving us the three dimensions of influence – place, time, and body. These are the soul's prime resources, which it must utilize effectively for a person to feel happy, fulfilled and successful. Consequently, when an individual squanders these vital resources, the soul suffers in the same manner that the entire world suffers when its natural resources are misused. Let's see how this works on an individual level:

Olam, Place

One should always consent with a capable spiritual guide before moving or changing one's place of employment or learning. Why? Just as each plant thrives on certain soil and in a certain location that provides optimal conditions for that plant's growth, each soul thrives in its optimal place. Suppose you were sent to this world to heal people; you won't thrive on a desert island living in solitude. But, if you were sent to this world to refrain from idle chatter, then a desert island is a great place to be.

Our olam is divided into our general place and our specific places. One's general place is Brooklyn, for example, and his specific places might be his home, his place of employment, his place of personal prayer, and his place of learning and worship. The Creator sends this person influences of abundance in these four places.

How is one's resource of olam squandered? If he is in a bar drinking beer rather than in his place of study or employment, he squanders Divine abundance and influence. Clearly, if he's roaming around in a shopping mall when he should be in school or at work, he'll see an immediate loss of Divine abundance and influence in the form of a stiff reprimand from his employer or teacher, a fine, and maybe even total failure such as losing his job or flunking out of school. We therefore must be careful about being at the right place in the right time. For a soldier on guard in a border outpost, this meanings staying alive.

Shana, Time

Conserving the priceless resource of our time is the easiest concept of olam, shana, nefesh to understand. Each of us has a predetermined allotment of time on this earth, depending on the nature of our task on earth and our needed soul correction.

If one systematically squanders time, he will not only fail to accomplish his mission on earth, but he won't be happy, fulfilled or successful. If a pre-Med student spends the night before final exams in a billiards parlor or in a discotheque instead of reviewing his organic chemistry notes and getting a good night's rest, he seriously jeopardizes his chances of scoring high on the final exam and being accepted to medical school. His entire future is at stake because of one evening's wasted time.

Woe to the children whose parents social-media and chatroom addicts or those who aimlessly surf for hours on the web. Can they justifiably complain that they don't have time to devote to family? Hashem has given them the time to devote to enhancing their marriage or raising wonderful children, but they've squandered it.

The hallmark of history's spiritual luminaries was their utilization of time. It's mind-boggling to think about what the father of Kabbalah, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenaz1 (1534-1572) accomplished in his brief lifespan of 38 years. We therefore want to utilize each day to the max and be especially careful about what we do with our time.

Nefesh, Body

The body is the housing of the soul. We must protect it and use it for the right purposes. For example, the Creator gives us a heart, whose task is to pump blood through a slim and healthy body for 120 years. If a person overeats and indulges in junk food – which are detrimental to the health of body and soul – his body will accumulate fat cells. The poor heart must now supply blood to these wasted areas of the body, which unlike the bones and the muscles, contribute little to performing one's task on earth. To add insult to injury, the cholesterol and saturated fats of junk food will clog the arteries, cause a rise in blood pressure, and make the heart's job of providing blood to the “dead-beat” fat deposits even more difficult.

Our prime consideration in utilizing nefesh should be the question of what's good for nefesh rather than what's comfortable, convenient, or tasty. A proper workout in the gym may be excruciating and uncomfortable, but the nefesh will thrive as a result. Hashem gives us certain parts of nefesh to perform specific commandments, such as procreation and granting marital bliss. When these parts of nefesh are misused, the flow of Divine abundance to the soul is sorely impaired.

* * *

Practically, we should all strive to be our own personal conservation agencies, using the resources that Hashem gives us for the very best. Start with one resource, such as time, and make a conscious effort to improve while asking the Almighty in your personal prayers to help you. Wait and see how happy and successful you become. An awareness of  olam, shana, nefesh can help a person lose weight when no other diet would help, and is a wonderful aid in helping us find our mission on earth. May we all be blessed to utilize the wonderful resources that the Creator gives us for the very best, amen!

Body-Soul Harmony

Body-Soul Harmony
People who don't know me often say, "Hey, you don't look like a fitness trainer! Why don't you stick to being a rabbi?"

Two answers to the above comment: First, I'm not a YouTube trainer who wants to show his my six-pack abs and flaunt what he can do but what you can't. Second, what much of the rabbinical world either ignores, forgot, or never learned, coaching people in physical well-being is an integral part of spiritual leadership. Look at these prime examples from our sages:

  1. Our forefather Jacob out-wrestled an angel. He lifted boulders that ten shepherds together barely lifted.
  2. Each of Jacob's 12 sons was an expert in martial arts (see Malbim of Parshat Vayichi).
  3. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel, who was both a juggler and a gymnast who could do pushups on his thumbs alone (see tractate Succa 53a)
  4. Rebbe Shimon ben Lakish (Reish Lakish) could broad jump the Jordan River; in addition, he was a former gladiator who was deadly in hand-to-hand combat.
  5. Maimonides was an expert in physical fitness who even codified the principles of health, nutrition and fitness within religious law. 

My health and wellness approach is rooted in the timeless health advice of the Rambam, which promotes harmony of body and soul, the truest form of holistic health. What good is a perfect figure or 21" biceps if you suffer from anxiety and depression?

In my years of athletic experience, training in all different types of sports from running to weight training to wrestling and combat arts, I went through a vicious cycle of approaching what I thought was my peak fitness, then suffering a big setback of an injury or flu. I was repeatedly burning myself out rather than building myself up. Even while learning to become a fitness trainer and health coach, most of my teachers were teaching me the same methods that didn't lead to the results I was looking for.

"True fitness is the optimum state of body-soul well-being..."

With Hashem's help, I came to the conclusion that true fitness is the optimum state of body-soul well-being, when physical and emotional ills disappear and a person functions at his or her best. This is opposed to the person who wins the marathon, then spends the next two weeks recuperating in the hospital. With body-soul fitness, your goal is not to run the 42 kilometers, to build the massive triceps or to become the aerobic-dance queen who is so carbo-starved after her workout that she eats twice the carbs that she burned. Your goal is to feel good so that you can serve Hashem more efficiently and happily...

Genuine holistic fitness is functional fitness. Functional fitness means that you function effectively: despite your age, you can run, walk, climb and lift as you need to. It also means that your body is free of disease and your soul and emotions are free of their diseases - worry, anger, anxiety, worry, depression, jealousy and other negative emotions.

My holistic approach, which I share with my readers free of charge on this blog and on our EmunaBeams podcast, addresses diet, disease prevention, exercise and lifestyle, and above all emuna, the pure and simple faith in the Creator that nourishes the soul and results in the epitome of fitness, the true  balance of a healthy body in perfect harmony with a healthy soul. Blessings for a splendid summer and splendidly good health.

The Flashy Body or Functional Fitness?

Functional Fitness
If you're carrying a full-load backpack on an uphill trail without huffing and puffing, you're functionally fit. The same goes for carrying two six-packs of 1.5 liter bottles of mineral water home from the grocery store...

Did you ever ask yourself, "Why did the Creator give me a body?" Surprisingly, most people don't know the answer.

* Craig has humongous biceps from the hundreds of heavyweight dumbbell curls he does every day. Yet, when his wife asked him to take down a can of tuna from the top shelf in her kitchen pantry, he couldn't do it because his shoulders were too tight. He simply couldn't raise his arms that high, despite his 6'1" frame. Frustrated, his 5'3" wife stood on a kitchen chair and took the can of tuna down herself.

* In her own words, Marianne "feels dead" if she misses a day of spin class. She spins for an hour a day, proud of her figure. She eats whatever she wants because she burns about 700 calories in one humongous, exaggerated session that's going to bring her to burnout, sooner or later. But, she's so into her peddling as the techno-background music pumps her up, that she slouches over the handlebars, which she grips tightly. Her figure isn't at all attractive because she can't stand up straight. What's more, she can only carry her attaché case to work (weighs about 5 pounds, including laptop) in her right hand because she's developed lateral epicondylitis (tennis elbow) in her left arm. So now, in addition to her slouching, she walks with one shoulder higher than the other because she only lifts things with one hand.

* Abe, in his quest for six-pack abs, does over a thousand crunches a day. Sure, his stomach muscles are like iron but his hip flexors and lumbar spine are so tight that he can't touch his toes without deeply bending his knees. Abe looks good on the beach but he sorely lacks inner core strength and like Marianne, his posture is terrible. And lately, he has these terrible backpains, but like a mule, he keeps on crunching.

* Naomi is the women's weightlifting champion of her gym. She can military press and bench press more than women twice her size. Yet, the other day, she bent over to pick up her baby and she pulled her back out.

What's wrong with Craig, Marianne, Abe and Naomi? They are into what you might call "cosmetic fitness", working out for the flashy body, the bulging biceps, the six-pack abs, the "Hey, look at me!" legs and the general Miss or Mister America body. That's ego fitness and it has nothing to do with serving Hashem. Many of the poolside-promenade people lack functional fitness. They can't perform basic functions in life. Their workouts are wrong and they oftentimes are detrimental to overall health rather than conducive to it. How?

The muscle/bikini beach folks focus on isolated muscle groups rather than on multiple muscle groups working together in harmony. In the words of Greg Roskopf, MS, a biomechanics consultant with a company called Muscle Activation Techniques who has worked with athletes from the Denver Broncos, the Denver Nuggets, and the Utah Jazz, "Conventional weight training isolates muscle groups, but it doesn't teach the muscle groups you're isolating to work with others".

When we're functionally fit, we're quicker and more agile in our daily functions. Functional fitness exercises are designed to train and develop your muscles to make it easier and safer to perform everyday activities, such as carrying groceries or playing a game of hide-and-seek with your children. Good posture and functional fitness go together. There's no reason in the world that a senior in his or her 80's can't be functionally fit, but consult with a qualified physician or seniors' fitness training specialist before you embark on any exercise routine on your own. 

You don't have to spend hours in a gym. Fifteen minutes a day of functional fitness exercises are sufficient to keep you feeling great. I love Pilates-style core-strengthening exercises and total bodyweight exercises as squats and pushups because of all the muscles they involve and that you don't need any apparatus. Such bodyweight cardio exercises as walking and swimming will keep you trim and fit from head-to-toe. Body-balance, stability and flexibility are so very important components of functional fitness too; Yoga-style exercises are great for all three. Shlepping groceries up three flights of stairs is also a wonderful full-body exercise.

Never forget also that good dietary habits are twice as important as exercise. Sabbath and holidays are for delight, but not for eating into oblivion, especially grossly unhealthy things. All good diets tolerate, even encourage, one cheat-day a week but that doesn't mean alcohol-and-pastry suicide. Like our working out, our eating and drinking should be for the sake of maintaining a fit body, whose purpose is to capably house a serene soul that's connected to its Creator for 120 happy and healthy years, amen!