The Path to Artistry | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #9


One of my earliest mentors Nicolas Romanov is a kind and crazy Russian Scientist who struggled to tell a lie. Crazy because all good things come in the form of such. He was a movement “guru” who had been bucking the running and triathlon scenes for some time with his ideas on movement– namely running. Whether he was right or wrong (or neither), this was the first person I could listen to in human performance as he wasnt really selling anything other than his time. He wreaked of kindness but could be as sharp as the Russian sickle. He lured me in with fancy talk on gravity and his simple analogies about human movement that everyone else was complicating. In a single afternoon, he also “magically” showed me why I was hurting myself when I was running and how to grow from that. He is a genius, and I paid my dues to learn. But, unfortunately, I also witnessed how the world treats people like this early in my career; praise and condemnation. 

Romanov was also the first person I remember talking about the universality of movement problems in public. I remember vividly the first seminar I took around 2000-2001 when he stated (paraphrased), “running is the ability to fall and that all problems in running more or less stem from the fear of falling”. Twenty years later, working with more than 10,000 athletes, I can find no other truth in what I too have seen. 

Although my work diverted from the endurance and running communities a bit, it has mostly stayed with the same theme, and I still work with enough varying people that runners and endurance come up often. Although, many might fall under the impression I am now teaching people about breathing, and they would be wrong. I am now simply looking at a deeper layer of the foundation. Breathing, as I’ve come to understand, is the deepest layer of our humanity, and thus everything centered around movement, psychology, and our physiology. Our unique nature with breathing is that we voluntarily and involuntarily have levers we can pull on as a result of this gift. Fundamentally this falls under the law of consequence; good, bad, or indifferent. 

One of the most common pieces I’ve worked through – and worked with people on – is our relationship to injury and health. Aside from blunt trauma – immediate assault on the body from being hit, hitting something, or landing poorly – all other movement-based injury is a byproduct of our relationship to movement; fear. In the case of blunt trauma, very few of us escape without a story or trauma built around the injury. In reality, movement is generally an expression of our internal state of affairs, and many of us are tied to our stories of who we were, are, or want to become. In the case of health and fitness, these same fears manifest themselves where our attention is most active. In either of these cases, this is an education about our nervous system, namely the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). And although this is about the SNS, there is definitely a deeper dive and other branches. 

Where attention goes, the SNS follows! The more attention I give to something, the more I activate the SNS, which is directly associated with mobilizing more energy toward this action. This activation of the nervous system drives what is called myelination, which is a process of reinforcing the “walls” of our nerves to make it easier to send signals (simplified). This was best described to me as thinking of using wire to send current, and the more rubber or plastic you have around the wire, the bigger the current, and the thicker the wire can get. We pattern everything from movement to our behavior in this simplified process. 

Creation is marvelous, and our biology is creativity and art at its finest. Oddly, it took me 40 years to recognize that this biological artistry has more to do with who and what I am than what I think I am, but I digress. The more attention my mind puts on anything my nervous system begins to reinforce this pattern to become so effective that it can seem as though I no longer need to think about it. In the case of motor control – and most of our behavioral patterns – we do not because we have made it so easy to send signals that we no longer need to consider where our feet go when we walk or react to something we have done the same way for years and even decades. This is precisely why frustration and the anger we experience with others and things is, well, so frustrating. We live under the idea (story time) that we are a victim to the reactions of our patterns, and it has to be them or it. 

For the vast majority of us to exist in today’s world is to battle with time or to be a slave to our calendars, schedules, and even assistants. The bad news is you are time; the good news is you are time. If I asked you to honestly list the #1 thing you do for your health I’d bet if we also took a real honest look at where most of our attention was being spent when we were participating in said #1 health goal, it would be anything but healthy. 

“What protocol or exercise can I do to help my HRV?”

Showing up, while it may be a part of the goal, what are we reinforcing when we are there? What are we thinking when we are around food or trying to rest and participate in the health journey? Am I on repeat every time I go to the gym to get it done, or do I follow the instructors’ cues without question? 

Here is the connection between our fear of falling and our relationship to movement and health. Rarely, and I mean rarely, are our beliefs aligned with where our attention goes, and this is the reality of how we ultimately feel about ourselves. This mismatch in actual wants and where our attention is is what we can call disconnection, and this is where the root of our problems exists. 

While this may read relatively easily, the entanglement is a different story. This is why we reinforce training as a practice. For some, this is easier stated than done. While we offer many free opportunities to explore this, this unspooling of patterns and reinforcement of new ones is the basis of the work we are providing in our mentorship programs, membership activities, and courses. The only path I care about is the path you find toward connection; how you get there is not important, but getting to this root is where our artistry lives and we are found.