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MORNING SPARK

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I have been working at getting better physically, psychologically, and spiritually for 25 years now. Through lots of ups and downs and so many different modalities in training, diet, and mindful practices I realized years ago that the easiest way to feel and perform better daily is simply to start the day right. A quality morning routine with a sweat does wonders for how you feel and perform. Then I came across many books that confirmed this through scientific testing. The one that stuck out to me since I love to work with kids and because I'm a father, was the book Spark by John Ratey. John J. Ratey, MD, is an Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and an internationally recognized expert in Neuropsychiatry. His bestselling book Spark is based on the science of how exercise effects the brain. It is a great read and I especially recommend it to parents so they can understand how to feel and perform better daily and why they should implement exercise in the morning for their children. 

The video below explains the effects of morning PE at this school in Naperville,IL. I love what they are doing there and it is great to see kids enjoying fitness based PE programs that helped them perform much better in the classroom with academics. With all the budget cuts that have hit schools, especially in physical education, it is great to see some schools going in a positive direction and seeing such great results. This is why I am so passionate about having kids and adults alike add a morning fitness routine.

Of coarse the book gets very in depth on the science behind all the benefits. I am just going to outline a few of the big takeaways and why I do what I do to help adults and kids with day to day health and performance. The following three get a boost with exercise and in the last decade research has undeniably proven that exercise has a profound benefit on our brains, hearts, and immune system as well as universally making us a healthier and happier human being.

Neurogenesis
This is the process of stem cells devising and developing into functional new brain cells, or neurons, in the brain.
BDNF(brain derived neurotrophic factor)
A protein produced inside nerve cells when they are active. it serves as Miracle-Grow for the brain, fertilizing brain cells to keep them functioning and growing, as well as spurring the growth of new neurons. 
Lymphatic System
A network of tissues and organs that help rid the body of toxins, waste and unwanted materials. The primary function of the lymphatic system is to transport lymph, a fluid containing infection-fighting white blood cells, throughout the body. 

The main benefits pertaining to what I am trying to accomplish with clients have to do with the three listed above. A quality morning routine with a sweat activates BDNF which in turn promotes neurogenesis and when you get the juices flowing you circulate lymph. You put these together and cognition and mood go way up while strengthening your immune system so that common colds and illness's are much less frequent. It really is as simple as getting a quality sweat in the morning before work or school. I am not saying this is the end all to health issues but it is where I have everyone start. This will start a compound effect on your health and wellness. After implementing a morning routine and sweat for a few weeks you will see big improvement in your day to day performance, energy, and mood. At that point skies the limit on the direction you want to take your health and wellness. I  tell people to just take that first step. Get a good nights sleep and get up with a good mindset and get a sweat before you start your day. Try it for a week and I promise you won't be disappointed. Then you can start replacing other negative habits with positive habits and getting the big factors sorted like quality sleep, nutrition, strength training, mindful practices, etc. Just take that first step!

All my clients whether adults or kids have had amazing results in performance at school or on the job by just starting the morning right. My go to at the beginning are trigger sessions. Basically some easy to do bodyweight exercises that can be done anywhere as a circuit for about 20 min to get your heart rate up. Anyone that follows me know that my favorite morning sweat is jumping rope. The jumprope is a very inexpensive tool that you can use most anywhere and the hopping has been proven to give an extra boost to lymph circulation and since you are working on a skill with different jumprope exercises you are boosting the neurological response by promoting myelination in the brain. 

Myelin-a mixture of proteins and phospholipids forming a whitish insulation sheath around many nerve fibers, increasing the speed at which impulses are conducted. 
Healthy vs damaged myelin sheath

Healthy vs damaged myelin sheath

Myelination is basically the forming of a myelin sheath around a nerve to allows nerve impulses to move more quickly. Think of it as a layer of insulation around a wire that helps the signal move more efficiently. So learning a new skill helps promote myelination which in turn helps cognition and putting the skill on the map so to speak. This is the basis of my style of training. I believe that learning and building on specific skills during exercise compounds the health benefits greatly. This is the reasoning behind the outdoor training that I use later on like mitt and thai pad work, lower acrobatics, trail running in new environments, etc. All these activities keep you focused on the task at hand and put you in a growth mindset in contrast to walking on a treadmill playing with your phone for example. This is what getting into FLOW is all about. New experiences in rich environments and building skill progressively. Add this all up and and it equals a nice chemical soup of feel good chemicals and rejuvenation of the mind, body, and spirit. Not to mention the profound health benefits of getting sun exposure and earthing outside in nature. 

If you would like more information on how to implement a solid morning fitness routine for you and/or your kids please feel free to contact me at ares@areswellness.com. Please fill out the questionnaire for a free consult.

Ares Nikolopoulos

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13 THINGS YOU CAN INCORPORATE NOW FOR BETTER HEALTH

I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday and he asked me to throw a few health conscious tips at him off the top of my head. In friendly conversation I just started rambling off the things that are easy to incorporate daily and have been successful for myself and clients. This list is very basic but can be extremely useful depending on the depth in which you choose to implement these things and make them habit. All these things should be started at a very basic point. Just start them! Then you can go more in depth to each subject with the sciences and so on. My goal with this post is to get people thinking about these things and starting to use them and then I will have a follow up post to each one of these every week that will explain each one a bit more in depth.

1. Be Mindful

This subject in general is the most important practice in achieving good health and a happy life. If you get your mind right,everything else will fall into place much better and much easier. What i mean by being mindful isn’t sitting in lotus position on a mountain in Tibet until the mysteries of the universe come to you. Being mindful is as simple as looking around,listening,feeling,smelling,and tasting. Using your sense perceptions in the present moment without any mind chatter. Just try putting 10 minutes a day aside to take a walk and feel the sunlight on your skin and the breeze on your face. Feel the earth beneath every step and the smells in the air,good or bad do not label them just experience them while letting go of thought. Its as simple as enjoying a shower while taking in the water temperature on your skin and the smell of the soap. This is a very basic explanation but very effective and i will follow up much more on this subject soon.

2. Sleep

We all know what its like to go without enough sleep for a few days. Not only do we feel physically tired but we also lose a lot of cognitive ability and a constant ‘brain fog’ so to speak. Quality sleep and good sleep habits are arguably the single most important thing you can sort out and feel like a new person. When i sleep well I recover much faster from training and my state of mind is great. I feel sharp and precise. So much goes on during sleep to repair your body that it cannot be something that you sacrifice because you think you are getting more done. When rested and sharp your work quality is much higher than when you are tired and just going through the motions.

Try unplugging from white light that comes from electronics like TV,cell phone,computers,and tablets 2 hours before bed. Go by candle light or blue light and try to unwind and get in bed same time every night and get up same time in every morning. Shoot for 7.5–8 hours of quality sleep a night. For example go to bed at 10pm and rise with the sun at 5:30–6am. Put this to practice and get on a good routine and I promise you 30 days from now you will feel much better and be by far more productive during the day.

3. Water

Drink water sounds obvious but if you sit and think about it,how much of the liquid you drink every day is just good old clean water? Most people I have journal what they eat and drink every day come back after a week and show me that water comes out to be 25–40% of the liquids they take in. Soda,juice,coffee, and all the rest seem to take a precedence to water. It is simple as far as I’m concerned. Stop drinking soda because it is poison! You don’t need all the high sugar sports drinks and juices either. Coffee and tea in the morning is fine but water should be the liquid of choice. It will hydrate you and keep every cell in your body healthy and happy.

Drink 20oz of water upon awaking to help jumpstart your organs and flush your system. Then eat 45 minutes to an hour later. I shoot for 1oz of water per pound I weigh a day. So I weigh 210lbs so i drink at least 200oz of water a day. At first this sounds like a lot so shoot for half of that per pound and work your way up. Especially in hot summer months and when your exercise routine has been kicked up a notch.

4. Implement A Morning And Evening Routine

I get up and the first 30–40 minutes is exactly the same every day. Sounds boring but I feel great once I’m done. I wake up and take a few deep breaths while genuinely being thankful for another day on this earth and for my health and family. Then I sit up and test me HRV(heart rate variability) while I journal results and my days training and some positive thoughts. I drink 30oz or water with some fresh squeezed lemon juice in it and my phytoplankton mixed in while I take down some herbs i use for inflammation control. Then I do some deep breathing for oxygenation and take a 10 min ice cold shower. When I get out I feel awesome. Then it’s time for a my breakfast which consists of a fatty chai tea with grass fed butter and coconut oil and either Greek Yogurt with honey or a couple hard boiled free range eggs. Sounds like a lot but it has become second nature and I do it all mindfully and slowly. In the evening I start to unwind after sun down and try to keep to the light cycles as well as I can and unwind with blue light bulbs and a book. I usually sleep very well with a scoop of GABA in my casein protein before bed and I am out.

This is just an example. The point is to slowly implement a daily ritual for rising and unwinding and quieting the mind to go to bed. I find daily journaling in this daily routine very helpful and gives a lot of feedback to look back on to tweak things when they aren’t going so well. It always helps to look back and see what was working when you were optimal.

5. Eat Consciously

Be mindful of what goes in your mouth. It is simple really,ask yourself if what you are about to eat is nutrient rich and will serve a purpose for your body and energy. Be honest with your self and if it is a NO then put it down and get something better. We are all different so I’m not here to give you a certain diet,thats comes down the road. To start just be conscious of what you are eating and be mindful when you eat. No smartphone or TV,just eat and taste the food slowly. Be thankful for the meal and don’t rush through it while reading Facebook or some other bullshit. I always tell my son to be thankful for this healthy meal because there are plenty of kids in this world starving so don’t take this for granted. I also recommend journaling your meals for a while and simply put a checkmark next to good meals and a X next to bad one and review it every day so you can make better choices the next day.

6. Watch Your Posture And Gait Movement

This is something most of us have an issue with,myself included. Proper posture is something we should be conscious of. Whenever you feel yourself slumping in the car or in a chair just make an effort to sit up straight. When walking stand up as tall as you can with shoulders back and pretend someone is pulling you up by the crown of your head stretching you out. Use proper gait movement. Walk straight and balanced with feet pouting forward and a smooth stride. Improper posture and gait movement will eventually lead to a structural breakdown. Move well now and you will move well for a very long time.

Gait Movement Definition;

Moving without exageration from any angle. Straight coming and going. Viewed from side, effortless, brisk action, retaining top-line.

7. Get Outdoors

Anyone that knows me has already heard me preach this subject to death. We all should incorporate time outdoors in a green environment for both body and mind. Again I will go into all these subjects much more one by one but for now shoot for two days a week outside. One day for exercise in an open space for anything from running or plyometrics yoga. The other day is just for a mindful walk or hike outside in a green relaxing environment. Try to change it up often and get to new spots. It will help with stress and your workouts will be better because we tend to move around more when we aren’t strapped to a treadmill or bike watching TV and not paying attention to what we are doing.

8.Add Some Cold

I have had great success for myself and for my clients with CT(cold thermogenesis). It can help with weight loss and body composition. It is also a proven inflammation defense while helping with other things like sleep issues and even depression.

Start slow just by adding some cold to morning routine. Do your morning ritual and some breath work and then take your shower. At the end of shower turn the water as cold as it goes for just 30 seconds. That is very doable for anyone without serious health issues. Then after a week go to 1–2 minute at the end. Third week start with cold in shower for a minute and then warm to clean up and end with cold for a minute. After a few weeks of this shoot for a whole week of a 10 minute cold shower while breathing properly. By then you will be feeling good and will most likely just take cold showers every morning. Once you get there you will be ready for next step like cold exposure and ice baths,etc. I will cover that all in follow up to this subject.

9. Have A Weekly Adventure

Every weekend you should sit down and plan a weekly adventure to get out of the normal numbing routine. It can be hiking a place you have never been or just taking a good book to a new park. We can’t always get away to do something wild but once a week get out for some fun and once a month make it a good one like rent a Harley Davidson and ride somewhere to see something new and have a beer in a dive bar. Get a good nights sleep and ride back next day. It is all about the experience. I have done this a couple of times and it sticks with me always because it was so out of the ordinary routine and such an adventure without having to go far. My best day riding was renting a bright yellow Ducati 1098S and putting 300 miles on it in a day just around Las Vegas. It was loud,nasty,uncomfortable,and scary fast but the experience is one I will never forget. Rode it from Red Rock to Mt. Charleston and to the lake and Hoover Dam. All your thoughts stop when you are on something like that. You are either fully present or you might die. I am not recommending this to everyone,just an example. The possibilities are endless. Just get out of routine. A little adventure alone every week can make a huge difference in your outlook and bring the fun factor up a notch in your life.

10. Add Activities That Give You A Creative Spark

Creativity is a big flow trigger. Meaning it can put you right into a flow state or into the NOW if you like. Find something you love doing like painting or writing or picking up an instrument. Whatever puts you into that creative mode. Start a blog to write about things that are interesting to you. Even if nobody ever reads it, who cares it is for your creativity and your well being. Nobody really reads my stuff but I feel great after publishing something on my blog that I know might help someone that might come across it.

11. Make Time For Quality Socialization

You are the average of the 5 people you hang out with the most. So get out with people you have fun with and also can learn from. I am really bad at this personally and it’s something I am working on myself. I never socialize even though I know it is part of a healthy,quality life. In many studies of some of the earth longest living people a key factor was there community and socialization habits. I saw it in Greece in the villages my parents are from. People are poor and work hard but every evening they are at a tavern having a drink and dancing. Laughter everywhere and kids having fun. It is not the same here in Las Vegas at all. So get out and socialize with quality friends and have a little fun.

12. Unplug

We need time away from electronics and the internet. We need to live our own life and not worry so much about everyone else’s. Social media has become a big part of business and day to day life but we need to break away from it regularly. Just look around at a family eating out and most of them are on there phone instead of socializing with family and enjoying the food. This is also very unhealthy. White light throws off our melatonin production and our sleep cycles. EMF(electromagnetic field) exposure is another subject I will follow up with.

“Do nothing which is of no use”-SHINMEN MUSASHI

Unwind by unplugging every night 2 hours before bed. No phones,tablets,or TV. Try going by candle light or blue light bulbs. Read a book or write something. Then get some mindful time and go to bed in complete darkness. This is the only way to get the brain to relax and get ready for sleep. This is how we can get back to proper sleep cycles. Then try one day a week where you don’t check email or get on social media at all. No internet or anything. Just have your phone on you for the day to day needs for family to get in touch,etc. Don’t even use your phone if you have to. Try it and you will see how difficult it is for most of us, but in reality it is a necessity to unplug.

13. Become A Child Again

Try to not take yourself or the world too seriously. Do away with self consciousness and worrying what others think. Laugh a lot and be goofy! Go to the park and roll around with your dog or have a water gun fight with the neighborhood kids. If people around you are uptight or don’t like it then FUCK EM!

Try seeing the world through a child”s eyes again. See how they are in such amazement over something simple like a butterfly on a flower. Things we have become desensitized to with our poor conditioning to not stop and smell the roses so to speak. Slow down and look around so you can see life for what it is. The difference in just changing how we see things can be as drastic as watching an old black and white film that changes into full IMAX HD right before your eyes. Life becomes a much richer experience. Also like a child you should try to put a smile on a strangers face at least once a day. Usually just smiling at someone can do the trick or helping them with groceries or whatever. You get the point. This has a 3 way positive effect-on the person you help,on you,and on anyone who witnesses.

Ares Nikolopoulos

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WHAT IS IMPORTANT AND NEEDED AND HOW TO ELIMINATE EXCESS

At this point in my life I have come to realize that when we are always trying to add we end up not really getting any better. I catch myself listening to audiobooks and podcasts everyday on health and wellness and reading books constantly on various subject. This is all good and we should constantly be learning in life but the issue is that we just go through it all and never truly apply the good information on a daily basis to move toward a certain mastery of the important things. I recall reading some of Seneca’s writings,the great Roman stoic,that basically said we as individuals would be wise to take a small handful of good books and information and put it to good use and apply it with vigilance daily to become a better human being and not overwhelm ourselves with so much information that our brains cannot retain it. Very wise words from a very wise man. I can look back years and remember some of the books and teachings that I came across that if I did just what Seneca said I would have a much better handle on my mind and overall wellbeing daily. Most of us in this day of technology and Google search already have more than enough information to keep us busy working toward a better self. If you need help in a certain area then pursue some coaching and once you have a general understanding you can simplify it and apply it regularly. This is a growth mindset that keeps us getting better and not stagnant or worse. Life is constantly changing and we either grow and get better or we get worse. The biggest issue I see in this new era of technology is the constant distraction and the need to immerse ourselves in a digital life instead of just being and living. Look around and you see everyone on a smartphone texting and scrolling through a bunch of posts that total strangers have made. Or we are taking a bunch of pictures and selfies to put out to the world instead of actually just taking it all in. The sad part about all of this is that I feel like toward the end of life a lot of us will look back and feel like we didn’t fully experience life because we were too busy building some digital persona. There is nothing wrong with capturing a beautiful moment with your loved ones and friends but a single picture will usually do and then why not put it away and enjoy the real human contact around us. I truly feel sorry for the kids now that are so immersed in their smartphones everywhere you look instead of socializing with family at the table or just having a good conversation in the car. I feel blessed to have grown up without that stuff and actually went out and played in a park or with friends more.

So what are the big factors that we should work on and what should we eliminate? This comes down to the individual but there are some universal applications that will make us better in most every aspect of life. I personally feel that by bringing a bit of the following into daily life and honing in the big factors you can apply and tweak and then eliminate the excess.

BIG FACTORS

1.State Of Mind

2.Movement

3.Fuel

4.Rest & Recovery

5.Experience Of Life

STATE OF MIND

I personally think that state of mind is the biggest single factor. It is truly a life long practice to hone in the skills of focus and attention to the process of life that unfolds in every moment. We must have a growth mindset and always be moving forward and getting better as human beings. Finding the sweet spot in our challenge to skill ratio and constantly raising the bar. Too easy and you are staying stagnant and getting bored too hard and frustration sets in and you may lose interest. This goes for all the big factors mentioned and it’s a constant practice of application and tweaking to individual needs. Once we start getting in the practice of focusing on one thing at a time and being fully present in our actions a lot of distractions fall away and the excess of doing things that don’t need to be done helps us eliminate excess. We end up living with a general sense of wellbeing with an optimistic outlook and a happy demeanor. Our emotional resilience strengthens and we can focus on and visualize what we are trying to accomplish. Learn to love the process and not the end result because life is in constant flux and even when we reach that goal there will always be the next.

“80% of life is psychology-20% of life is mechanics”

-Tony Robbins

MOVEMENT

By movement I mean being physically active daily. Focusing on mobility,strength,and endurance for resilience and longevity. No need for complication here just get a good sweat,move in multiple planes,and move something relatively heavy once or twice a week. In my experience if you can squat,pick up something,push,pull,and swing weight that’s all you need. Incorporate trigger sessions on days you aren’t training. A trigger session is a 10–20 minute quick sweat that will keep your body signaling growth instead of just sitting around on a recovery day falling into atrophy. I love doing this first thing in the morning fasted to get all the neurological benefits from a good morning sweat and I feel sharp all day after I have had a cold shower and a good nutritious meal. Sweating first thing in the morning has been shown to activate more BDNF(brain derived neurotrophic factor) in the brain which is like miracle grow for neural connections. More oxygen and blood flow to the brain in the morning has proven to increase daily mental performance exponentially.

Basic Example Of A Trigger Session

-Pick 4 bodyweight exercises and go through them as a circuit as many times as you can in 10–20 minutes

1.Full depth bodyweight squats 15 reps

2.Push ups 15 reps

3.Jumping jacks 30 reps

4.Straight leg sit ups 10 reps

The combinations are endless so just use bigger movements to get a better effect.

I like to use movement and feel to help get into a flow state regularly by working on mental focus and physical movement while synchronizing breathing to movement. This is an example of how to visualize and really focus on doing the task at hand. I like to incorporate visualization before a movement or set. For example-play out the whole movement or sequence of what you are about to do in your head in real time down to the last rep or movement and breathing pattern. Make it so vivid that it feels like you really physically did it. You can even truly focus on the tension and feel the muscles,tendons,and heart working. In between sets focus on breathing with a 2x exhalation length to inhalation and bringing heart rate back down and a feeling of looseness vs constant tension. Shake it out and get ready again. Don’t use a watch just focus and when you are recovered just jump back up to the plate so to speak and visualize and execute again. When your mind wanders just bring it back gently to the breath and realign yourself to move forward and again focussing on the process.This compounded over time will give you a constant growth in mental/neurological strength as well as the physical strength that will come with it without you only looking to a fictional future result. In this way of training and thinking you are achieving the goal moment to moment and will have much more of a feeling of accomplishment vs just looking weeks,months,and years down the road. I am not saying to drop long term goals,all I mean here is to have them drawn out and then finish the task day to day in focus and you will inevitably achieve those goals but in a much more enjoyable process and most likely exceed them with the laser like focus you will develop over time. Another benefit will be the mental control you feel and you yourself holding the reins on the mind instead of the mind leading you.

FUEL

Talking about diets has become as taboo as politics or religion. There are so many ways to go and I think it truly comes down to the individual needs. We have paleo,ketogenic,vegan,and on and on. You have to play with and experiment to find a balance that is right for you. One aspect of dieting that has come to be well known and well documented in it’s benefits is eating a higher quality fat diet as opposed to a high carbohydrate diet. For me personally what works best is eating a macronutrient split of 50% quality fats with half the fats being saturated,30% protein from mainly seafood and organ meats,20% carbohydrates from low glycemic fruits and vegetables. I cut out things like most grains and processed sugars. Again this is highly subjective to the individual but their is no denying that the traditional SAD(standard american diet) is backward to this and can arguably be the main reason we have such an obesity and diabetes problem. Constant overeating and the consumption of all the sugars and processed foods is no doubt a huge issue in general health and the major cause of constant inflammation which is the underlying cause of most disease and illness. Educate yourself from quality sources,not government standards that are pushed by big industry and start playing with them to see what works best for your lifestyle and needs.

Things worth looking into;

1.Higher quality fat diets

2.Pulse feeding and nutrient timing

3.Intermittent fasting

4.Fermented foods

5.Brain health supplementation

REST AND RECOVERY

First thing that comes to mind when I bring this up is sleep and it should be. Most Americans are under rested and overworked. Average sleep in this country is just over 6 hours a night. Depending on your needs and exertion daily it varies but we need 7.5–9 hours a night on average to be optimal. To add to that it is important to sleep with light cycles. So going to bed at 10pm and getting up at 6–7am seems to be the sweet spot. I know that there is shift work and life gets in the way but this should be a general guideline. I worked shift work for years being born and raised in Las Vegas and I can tell you it is truly brutal after a while and you never feel rested. I was in my 20’s and in great shape and always felt inflamed and cognition was poor. There is way too much going on in your sleep cycles to go over here but basically recovery of the brain and body happens during sleep so sort it if you have poor sleep patterns. Unplug from all the electronics and artificial light at least an hour before bed for best results and try not to eat sugary snacks before bed which will spike insulin and interfere with melatonin production and in turn growth hormone production.

The other aspect is general recovery. One way to test this is through HRV(heart rate variability) testing in the morning. It measures the balance of your nervous system and tells you if it’s recovered. HRV is controlled by your autonomic nervous system which has two branches.

Sympathetic nervous system-fight or flight

Parasympathetic nervous system-rest and digest

The balancing of these two is tricky in this fast paced era and hard training and a wandering mind of stress and endless tasks daily can make for a crash. I don’t test mine anymore because I have gotten to the point where I go off of feel and know for the most part if I should push or back off on a given day. I am still a big fan of HRV training which is more a meditative practice in relaxation and breath work. I am a fan of the Heartmath Institute’s work and tracking devices. Follow the link for more info.

EXPERIENCE OF LIFE

The last one is obvious if you want to live a happy and full life. We have to learn to slow down and experience life moment to moment regularly so we can take it all in. Go out of your way to have new experiences regularly and throw some creativity in your life by contributing your own unique talents to the world in some form. Drive different routes to work and plan new vacation spots regularly and get outside into a rich environment where you can get into flow with nature. I said this before but I think it is very important to emphasize the process over the end result in life. From you physical and mental health to your socialization and human contact experiences you will only benefit from keeping it fresh and constantly trying and doing knew things. Stagnation and a completely straight line equals atrophy and death. To grow in life there has to be novelty and change. In the end it won’t be what you have or even what you achieved that you will look back on as much as all the great and amazing experiences you had with the people that matter the most. Get out and experience your life firsthand and not in a virtual world. It can only be done out there and fully experienced within!

Ares Nikolopoulos

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MORNING AND EVENING ROUTINES FOR PERFORMANCE

Having a solid morning routine can be key to a successful and productive day. Whether your goals are to get healthy,lose weight,or just be more productive and set yourself up for success in work and life in general. Getting up and starting your day right is paramount. Everyone is different and we all have different schedules and different lifestyles. The key is to put the necessary time aside every morning to get your body,mind,and spirit ready and working at peak performance for the day to come. It takes time and experimentation to get it working per individual so I am just offering some advice on what will make you better day in and day out with a good start to your day. I think of the three M’s to make this easy to remember.

-Mindset
-Movement
-Meal

The 3 M’s is just a simple way to remember what should be done every morning to get you into high performance mode instead of being sluggish and fumbling through the day. There are a lot of good routines and plenty of great books out there that have many approaches to quality routines and a great start to the day. For example The Miracle Morning by Hal Elrod being a very popular and easy to implement morning routine using what he calls SAVERS.

S=Silence-Meditation and quiet time to reflect
A=Affirmations-An encouraging statement to get you motivated
V=Visualization-Imagine your day as you would like it to unfold
E=Exercise-Movement and a good sweat
R=Reading-Get your mind on track by learning something new
S=Scribing-Journaling to reflect on wins/losses

I like this easy approach but I have found it difficult to get it all in most mornings since my sweat in the morning is a bit time consuming and I don’t like to rush it because it is my FLOW and skill work time. So I have simplified it to the 3 M’s so that I can fit it all in comfortably in an hour or so. 

MINDSET

The words mindset and meditation are overused and really are vague in explaining what we are trying to accomplish here. All I am trying to get across here is a practice on calmness and quieting the mind. When life gets hectic most of us are stressed and our thoughts are scattered all over the place from the moment we wake up. We don’t step back and give ourselves a few minutes of calm reflection and a relaxed way of collecting our thoughts for a more positive outlook on our day to come and our lives in general. I like to get up and drink my bottle of water next to my bed first thing and then I put aside 15 minutes to get some breath work in. I lay flat and use one of many breathing tempos. For example 1:2 would be a 5 second full inhale through the nose and a 10 second exhale through the mouth while relaxing my entire body and letting go of all the tension I feel physically anywhere in my body. A prolonged exhale activates the vagus nerve and brings a sense of calm. I fall into a rhythm for 10 min just following count and keeping my mind on the task at hand. You gauge the success of the breathing with the level of calm and relaxation you feel. Approximately 10 minutes in I am in a good rhythm and I start with some thoughts of what I am grateful for and a daily affirmation I will repeat in my head for a bit of motivation and confidence for the work to come. Finally I use visualization to play out my day in as much detail as I can imagine. Visualization is an extremely powerful tool to have a quality outlook and perform well. I use it in many ways including my workouts where I play out exactly what I am about to do in a mental movie before I actually do the movement and that brings a very consistent quality to my movements and work in general. So the takeaways are simply to stay present through a breath count and find that calm where you are in control of your inner body and mind chatter. Think of it as hitting the reset button on your thoughts and constant agitation of the tasks to come and start with a feeling of calm where you make quality decisions in your work.

MOVEMENT

Now we go from the mental and spiritual reset to the physical reset. All you need is a 20 minute sweat in the morning to activate BDNF(brain-derived neurotrophic factor) and promote neurogenesis. Neurogenesis is simply the process of creating new neurons,or brain cells. BDNF is a protein in the brain that is like a fertilizer for these neurons. I have heard it called miracle grow for the brain. Research shows that higher levels of BDNF and a higher rate of neurogenesis are associated with many health benefits including:

-Faster learning and better memory
-Higher cognitive function
-Better mood and emotional resilience to stress and anxiety
-Stronger immune response
-Enhanced overall brain function

All you need to do is get some movement in and get a good sweat. I use this as my time to loosen up physically and not feel like the tin man all rusted up. I do 5 minutes of movement drills to move in many ways and loosen up and then I get a solid 15-20 minute sweat in via jumprope and shadow boxing. I only stop moving from one to the next for a few deep breaths. BDNF has a higher activation rate when you are doing aerobic work instead of anaerobic work. This by no means is my training for the day. I have that planned for later in the form of strength training,trail running,swimming,or skill work like wrestling or kickboxing. This is just to get yourself aligned and working at your best for the day to come. You can use any aerobic means you like and even a quick HIIT(high intensity interval training) workout like jumping jacks,burpees,and jumps. Just get your heart rate up and keep it there for roughly 20 minutes. This makes for a good sweat and a lot of blood flow to get all that oxygen to the brain. After that get a 5 min cool down stretch in while using deep breathing to slow back down and keep getting all that quality oxygen to the brain. I personally enjoy a cold shower afterwards since it seems to finish things off nicely and gets me to feel extremely alert and sharp. Cold exposure has many health benefits in itself that I won’t get into here. You can read up on that here if you like.[http://www.aresflow.com/aresnikolopoulosgmailcom/2015/6/26/cold-thermogenesisct-benefits-traditional-vs-cryo-chambers]() 

MEAL

Now we are clear and focussed mentally and physically loose and feeling strong for whatever comes today. Its time to fuel our bodies with a healthy meal that promotes neurogenesis and quality long lasting energy for the day. A higher quality fat and protein with low carbohydrate approach works well for me. No sugars and starchy carbohydrates that can make you crash half way through the day. Lots of dark leafy greens with a low glycemic fruit-preferably blueberries and goji berries accompanied by quality fats and a good protein source. My go to in the morning is usually as follows:

-3 free range eggs cooked in coconut oil
-3 servings leafy greens
-1 serving of a fermented food like sauerkraut or kimchi
-1 avocado and olive oil with some sea salt,pepper,and oregano
-Full fat Greek yogurt with blueberries,goji berries,and hemp seed

It is a low glycemic meal that gives your brain and body what it needs to perform at its best all day. High in quality fats and protein and nutrient dense while packed with antioxidants. The fermented foods like kimchi and the Greek yogurt will keep your gut happy and it all goes hand in hand with brain and cognitive performance.

EVENING ROUTINE

Before bed I like to just put aside 30-60 minutes to go over wins and losses for the day and journal a bit. I will journal how I felt during the day and what I was proud of getting done and what could have been done better without any emotional judgement. Then I go over the next days work and the most important task that needs to be done. I unplug from all electronics at least an hour before bed. Then I read something calming and spiritual that won’t get me riled up like trying to learn a new skill. I enjoy some spiritual and philosophical reading before bed. Next to my bed I have anything from Marcus Aurelius’s meditations to The Tao Te Ching for a nice calm read that I truly enjoy. I go to bed once I feel ready and lay down with a quiet mind and put away all the rest. If my mind starts to wander I focus on my sense perceptions and breath. I feel the cool sheets and focus on a calm heart beat while being thankful for a comfortable place to sleep. I usually doze off and sleep through the night well and get up again ready and excited for the next mornings routine and a healthy,happy,and productive day.

 

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BALANCING THE MIND

The brain and our entire nervous system is so vast and amazing that science has only scratched the surface in understanding them.So much happens and changes constantly in our bodies every second.A single thought can change our physiology at the cellular level.These thoughts have an avalanche effect.I think we can all agree that when we have negative thoughts it starts to compound throughout the days,weeks,and years and we find ourselves dwelling on the bad and not remembering all the good.I once heard a neurologist explain it as we are teflon for good and positive experiences and velcro for negative experiences.Its sad how true that is.The key I think is to not label experiences and just see them as experiences.When that negative thought pops up just try to let it go as soon as you feel that negative emotion.From my experience I have been the biggest villain that has ever come into my life.Everything from arguments to physical altercations have usually happened due to my willingness to respond in an angry and violent way at the drop of a hat.Nine out of ten of these altercations could have been avoided if I just let it be and didn’t let some words or gestures set me off.It really is very cut and dry when it comes to physical violence.Someone is either a physical threat or they are not.Its the shit talking and all the egos that escalate things.Ponder that for a second and think about your own experiences.Even a buddhist monk put into a certain environment will have a negative thought or reaction to a violent situation.The difference is that they see the mind tilt in that direction and catch it right away.For most of us its like lighting the fuse on a dynamite stick and when its not put out right away will burn down and explode.So just remember that the reaction is just part of the evolution of our nervous system.Thats how our species has survived and thrived.The two branches are Sympathetic(fight or flight) and Parasympathetic(rest and digest).On the one side its fight/flight or freeze.We don’t want to freeze because we need to be able to react and constantly stay dynamic.In a real dangerous situation we must react accordingly but like most situations when we let our ego get in the way it really isn’t a dangerous situation we just make it out to be so.Like everything I preach the key is balance. I don’t believe in sitting on your hands for everything but judge correctly and be the master of your thoughts and actions. The key to a healthy mind is the balance of our nervous system and getting fired up when needed, for example-getting ready to go train or compete in a sporting event or to perform in a business meeting and to bring yourself back down to a relaxed and peaceful state when that passes.Do your work and step back!This simple realization when put into practice is a true game changer.You can work hard all day and do your best but when you are at the dinner table with your family in the evening and then laying in bed you should not have that constant agitation due to your mind chattering away about what happened that day or your bills or the next days events,etc,etc.This of coarse is difficult to apply but like everything else in life its about basic knowledge and understanding followed by constant application to make it a secondary habit.We all have to understand that while sitting in a parking lot of a traffic jam and really having no control we can step back and accept it in quiet presence without any need to go into fight or flight and get all the stress hormones circulating like we are running from a predator to save our lives.That is exactly what studies have shown to be the case.We get almost the same hormonal response but the difference is that when you escape from a bear in the woods and you get back to safety you will go back into parasympathetic mode.How our lives have evolved,many of us have chronic inflammation just due to always being in fight or flight.Our thoughts undeniably mold us day to day into either a more peaceful and happy human being or a constantly agitated and angry human being.We have to learn to master our thought and reaction day to day while redlining when needed and coming back down to a homeostatic state when it is no longer needed.Viewing life through this lens will make you a much happier and healthier person and help bring peace into your life.Once you start that path you will see life unfold in a much more harmonious way.

Ares Nikolopoulos

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THE MIND

The brain and our entire nervous system is so vast and amazing that science has only scratched the surface in understanding them. So much happens and changes constantly in our bodies every second. A single thought can change our physiology at the cellular level. These thoughts have an avalanche effect. I think we can all agree that when we have negative thoughts it starts to compound throughout the days,weeks,and years and we find ourselves dwelling on the bad and not remembering all the good. I once heard a neurologist explain it as we are teflon for good and positive experiences and velcro for negative experiences. Its sad how true that is. The key I think is to not label experiences and just see them as experiences. When that negative thought pops up just try to let it go as soon as you feel that negative emotion. From my experience I have been the biggest villain that has ever come into my life. Everything from arguments to physical altercations have usually happened due to my willingness to respond in an angry and violent way at the drop of a hat. Nine out of ten of these altercations could have been avoided if I just let it be and didn’t let some words or gestures set me off. It really is very cut and dry when it comes to physical violence. Someone is either a physical threat or they are not. Its the shit talking and all the egos that escalate things. Ponder that for a second and think about your own experiences. Even a buddhist monk put into a certain environment will have a negative thought or reaction to a violent situation. The difference is that they see the mind tilt in that direction and catch it right away. For most of us its like lighting the fuse on a stick of dynamite and when its not put out right away will burn down and explode. So just remember that the reaction is just part of the evolution of our nervous system. How our species has survived and thrived has a lot to do with the  two branches of our nervous system. Sympathetic(fight or flight) and Parasympathetic(rest and digest). On the one side its fight/flight or freeze. We don’t want to freeze because we need to be able to react and constantly stay dynamic. In a real dangerous situation we must react accordingly but like most situations when we let our ego get in the way it really isn’t a dangerous situation we just make it out to be so. Like everything I preach the key is balance. I don’t believe in sitting on your hands for everything but judge correctly and be the master of your thoughts and actions. The key to a healthy mind is the balance of our nervous system and getting fired up when needed, for example-getting ready to go train or compete in a sporting event or to perform in a business meeting and to bring yourself back down to a relaxed and peaceful state when that passes. Do your work and step back! This simple realization when put into practice is a true game changer. You can work hard all day and do your best but when you are at the dinner table with your family in the evening and then laying in bed you should not have that constant agitation due to your mind chattering away about what happened that day or your bills or the next days events,etc,etc. This of coarse is difficult to apply but like everything else in life its about basic knowledge and understanding followed by constant application to make it a secondary habit. We all have to understand that while sitting in a parking lot of a traffic jam and really having no control over the situation we can step back and accept it in quiet presence without any need to go into fight or flight and get all the stress hormones circulating like we are running from a predator to save our lives. That is exactly what studies have shown to be the case. We get almost the same hormonal response but the difference is that when you escape from a bear in the woods and you get back to safety you will go back into parasympathetic mode. How our lives have evolved,many of us have chronic inflammation just due to always being in fight or flight. Our thoughts undeniably mold us day to day into either a more peaceful and happy human being or a constantly agitated and angry human being. We have to learn to master our thoughts and reactions day to day while redlining when needed and coming back down to a homeostatic state when it is no longer needed. Viewing life through this lens will make you a much happier and healthier person and help bring peace into your life.Once you start that path you will see life unfold in a much more harmonious way.

Do your work and step back, the only path to serenity
— Lao Tzu

Ares Nikolopoulos

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