The Soundtrack for Pushing Your Limits

Push your body beyond its normal boundaries with a little help from this intense playlist.

The range of experiences you can have in life is astounding. Some of us require no incentive to be motivated, while for others no amount of coaxing is enough to get us on our feet. From high-strung to highly relaxed, most of us experience a variety of sensations throughout life, from utter laziness to ultramarathon ready.

In general, a lot of us need to learn how to relax more and better. Regenerative practices like yoga, meditation and myofascial release help sooth our nervous system in an anxiety-ridden age, especially if you like to exercise long and hard. And that’s OK, because sometimes pushing yourself to your edge, and even beyond it, is required. Thankfully, there is a physiological response that benefits us when doing so.

Eager Animals

We’re familiar with homeostasis. If you’re feeling good—not exceptional, not in pain or suffering—your body’s equilibrium is being achieved. Most of these functions are beyond your control: You don’t consciously beat your heart, digest your food or detoxify your blood. Your body’s autonomic functions handle these tasks. The result is that you can focus your attention on other tasks.

What you do consciously—how often you work out, what exercises you perform, your posture and eating habits—affects your body’s ability to maintain homeostasis, however. Pushing past your normal boundaries induces hormesis, which comes from the Greek, meaning “rapid motion” or “eagerness.” As it turns out, breaching your boundaries can be a good thing.

Increasing Your Load

While some choose to do light weights for numerous repetitions, stressing your body with heavy weights more effectively overloads your musculoskeletal system. Your body’s immune response creates stress, responding with inflammation. This is not a bad thing. The temporary stress requires an adaptive response. When you heal, you’re stronger.

This does not only affect your muscles, but it’s also important for your brain. As John Ratey, M.D., and Richard Manning write in “Go Wild,” (Little, Brown and Co., 2015), “If the body needs stronger or more refined movement to meet a given challenge, it will need more brain circuitry to guide the movement.”

Bulking Up Your Brain

As I’ve written about on this site, BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor) is a protein triggered when called on to meet challenging physical demands. Not only is your body getting stronger when you push your limits, but so is your brain—BDNF has systemwide effects. As Ratey and Manning put it, “The whole brain flourishes as a result of movement.”

This stimulates the release of important chemicals like dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine, resulting in long-term changes in mental and emotional health. Your memory improves, your circulatory system functions better and your outlook brightens. Simply put, pushing your boundaries results in not only positive psychology but also positive physiology. They are part of the same process of living. Knowing when to chill and when to pick things up is an individual pursuit, but for this month’s playlist, we’re going to take it to the edge.

Necessary Tension

As this month’s theme states, there is no reward without risk. Personally, I manage my risks: longer bouts at the gym, heavier loads, longer cardio bursts. In the last week, two students have returned after months off from snowboarding injuries. That is a risk I don’t take. Considering half my income is derived teaching yoga and fitness, the thrill of flying down a mountain is tempered by the realities of making a living. (Plus, the last time I went snowboarding, I got injured!)

For the soundtrack, I chose music filled with tension—not an anxiety-inducing soundtrack, but a harder-edged score for primitive movement. Epic sonic builds by Junip, Massive Attack and Radiohead; percussive punctuations by Karsh Kale, Bonobo, Tricky and Moderat; searing guitars by Tinariwen, Sturgill Simpson and Vieux Farka Touré; and the vocal dynamics of Rage Against the Machine, Baaba Maal and Noiseshaper. Each song pushes at you to push you harder, in your workout and life.

Photo credit: gpointstudio, Thinkstock; funduck, Thinkstock