Nature presents a superb option to learn about ourselves, giving the possibility to experiment with the feelings we can evoke by connecting to water, the sun, and trees. Using the breathing exercise we can reach out and touch the element with our breath and pull it towards us. While we breathe, we can carefully study the feeling and state of mind it evokes in us. It enriches our experience of what it feels like to be alive.
As a part of my series about “How To Develop Mindfulness And Serenity During Stressful Or Uncertain Times”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Dr. Martina Wagner.
Dr. Martina Wagner is an author, coach, and an expert in Physical Intelligence. She is also the co-founder of ArtesHumanis, a personal and professional development firm based in Oakland, CA. With over 20 years of experience in the healthcare industry, Martina uses her extensive knowledge of workplace challenges and the revolutionary Physical Intelligence modality to help her clients achieve their personal and professional goals through attaining personal mastery.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?
Have you ever felt repressed by your Self? It feels awful. I lived in this fortress that I had created, to shut out the monsters that were continuously attacking my mind and body.
As a child, I moved several times between Germany and countries in Latin America, and it was challenging for me to go through these abrupt changes. To start with, I did not know the language, had no friends, and simply felt threatened in a new environment.
My parents had difficulties of their own to start with and had to manage the various transitions between countries. They struggled with providing the necessary support to myself and my sister. Because of the unstable life, my sister suffered from eating disorders. I wrestled with my own bag of issues, like a lack of self-confidence and an inability to express myself, and on top of that, constant worry about money, security, and my relationships — I was so jealous of other women! What helped me move forward was my strong willpower. It helped me push to get the results I was after: Get a Ph.D. in Biochemistry — against the will of my parents — and move to the US to start my career in Molecular Diagnostics.
My lack of confidence created many difficulties in advancing my career. For the longest time, I could not make proper eye contact. I did not speak up and sell my ideas; I was defensive and did not take criticism well. I found myself unable to have conversations with anyone at the senior level. My mind just went blank, and I did not know what to say, which is a recipe for disaster in corporate America. To top it all off, my peers took advantage of my situation, weakening my position in the organization. As a scientist, I was left-brained, a rational being living in my head, without any idea there was anything else to life. Yet, there was a force inside of me that pushed me to address the repressed parts of me. But how do you address something like that?
When I found my teacher, Daniel Johnson, a 5th degree Taoist Master, everything started to change. Training under him empowered me to break deep-rooted, limiting emotional and mental patterns. I was able to shed the masks that were imposed on me by others and life circumstances. I gained a deep understanding of my true Self, achieving the clarity of thought I needed to take control of the direction my life was going.
In my book “An Introduction to Physical Intelligence” I summarize it like this: The thoughts I used to think and base my decisions on were colored by a pessimistic outlook in life, a lack of self-esteem, and consistent worry about the future. The most detrimental aspect, though, was my lack of objectivity and belief that what was going on in my mind and the emotions I felt were a true representation of my authentic Self. In hindsight, I understand now that I was not only a victim of these imposed patterns but thoroughly asleep, without any trusted connection to my real Self or reality.
I had no idea that these patterns had a significant hand in shaping my life. But I am not alone — most people have no idea what is driving and shaping their decisions and direction in life.
I have been training under Master Daniel Johnson for over 20 years, and I cannot even begin to describe the quality of life I have gained. Self-confidence is so important for anything we want to achieve in life, and it feels phenomenal to value and love yourself! My limitations and negativity are replaced with balance and joy. I have developed a strong inner core and resilience that allows me to deal with any challenges that life throws my way. Most importantly, it has been the most fascinating and rewarding journey of my life. Not only do I feel driven to continue my path to personal mastery, but I also discovered my passion — serving and sharing my learnings. To this end, I created the concept of Physical Intelligence that I will explain a little later in this article and a framework to teach others how to take control of their lives.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?
The most exciting aspect of the process of tapping into one’s Physical Intelligence is perhaps not just one story, but a multitude of experiences that form a recognizable pattern. Most of us think that our mind, clarity of thinking, and our emotions do not change very much. When you start investing in your personal growth, you realize that everything is very dynamic and continually evolving. Since I have been training my perspective, my thoughts are constantly changing, my perspective broadening, and I keep on discovering new aspects about myself and other people. It is a gradual process. When I look in the rearview mirror and compare my thinking and how I feel to even just six weeks before, I notice the change that is occurring. My self-confidence has been improving at about the same speed my mind has been changing. It started with digging myself out of the mental fortress that I locked myself up in and learning how to connect with people. The critical voices, worry, and negativity in my mind subsided. Gradually I was able to make eye contact, speak up, dared to reach out to people. I asked for the raise, the promotion and grew bolder day-by-day. It became noticeable in my career; I got the jobs with more responsibility. I was able to lead larger teams and spearhead business development in new regions. Every day was another scary step forward, but I never stopped challenging myself to try and try again.
Years ago, I could have never fathomed starting my own business, fearing all aspects of entrepreneurship. Now I find myself thriving and precisely enjoying those aspects I feared, approaching them with ease and a burning desire to explore what life has in store for me.
What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?
Most organizations today are in a constant state of flux as they respond to the fast-moving external business environment, local and global economies, and technological advancement. Unprecedented times like we are currently living in challenge organizations to be agile and adaptable. To survive and compete in this environment, it is necessary to remain dynamic, competitive, and to continue to look for ways to improve organizations. As David Garvin of Harvard University puts it, “continuous improvement requires a commitment to learning.”
The active force of a company revolves around people who have their mind, will, and way of thinking. Studies, like the one conducted by the World Economic Forum in 2016, reported that over 50% of employees are disengaged at work. It is fair to assume that many companies are not prioritizing the needs of their people. To create a fantastic work culture and a motivated workforce, leaders must tap into their employee’s potential and strive towards an organizational model that is more congruent with human nature. Leaders themselves should aspire personal mastery to enhance their leadership skills through learning and growing continuously.
In his book “The 5th Discipline,” Peter Senge writes about the foundational nature of personal mastery, calling it one of the critical elements for creating a successful learning organization.
“Kazu Inamori, founder, and president of Kyocera (a world leader in advanced ceramics technology), understands the critical potential of people. Inamori believes that tapping into this potential will require a new understanding of the subconscious mind, personal willpower and “action of the heart,” or a sincere desire to serve the world. He teaches Kyocera employees to look inward as they continually strive for “perfection,” guided by the corporate motto, “Respect Heaven and Love, People.” In turn, he believes that his duty as a manager starts with “providing for both the material good and spiritual welfare of my employees.”
People aspiring personal mastery are continually expanding their ability to make changes that create results they truly seek. Their quest for continual learning embodies the spirit behind a successful learning organization. The critical element for organizational success and creating a fantastic workplace is engaging in the discipline of personal growth and learning. It brings about respect for the individual and a sincere and open culture. Leaders serve the people in the organization, empowering them, and helping them grow.”
Commitment to creating a learning organization is, therefore, a win-win situation for leaders. By engaging and motivating employees to grow, they enable the organization to better adapt and thrive in a changing environment. A learning organization fosters a culture of respect, responsibility, care for the employees, customers, and the environment.
Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?
The book that made the most significant impact on me is “The 5th Discipline” by Peter Senge I mentioned in the previous paragraph. The reason the book resonates with me is that it highlights the importance of personal mastery and agrees with our view that exploration of the subconscious is part of the process leading to increasing leadership effectiveness.
Peter Senge describes it this way:
“When personal mastery becomes a discipline — an activity we integrate into our lives — it means embodying two consistent mental patterns. The first is continually clarifying what is important to us. The second is to see current reality more clearly.
The first is that we often spend too much time coping with problems along our path, that we forget why we are on that path in the first place. The result is that we only have a cursory and, therefore, inaccurate view of what is important to us.
The second is that we all know people entangled in counterproductive relationships and jobs, who remain stuck because they keep pretending that everything is alright. We might even watch them wither away their life, thinking they have no choice but to stay, as they fail to admit that they are terrified to make a change.”
To get unstuck, we must address limiting patterns by continually expanding our ability to make changes that create the results we truly seek. As I explained earlier, I was able to fundamentally change and develop new competencies by tapping into my subconscious, the place that harbors our Physical Intelligence.
Our understanding of the mind is evolving. We now have the tools to tap into our Physical Intelligence to bring about directed change and develop critical competencies. I will discuss the concept of Physical Intelligence and one of the most critical tools, the process of Centering in the next paragraphs in more detail.
Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. From your experience or research, how would you define and describe the state of being mindful?
Many have heard the term “Centering” defined as Mindfulness. However, I will not describe it as such because the term “Mindfulness” has become overused in our society, and often represents a multitude of things in ambiguous ways. The myriad descriptions often confuse rather than provide clarity.
The term Centering describes a fundamental property of the body that is so deeply ingrained in all of us, that we often disregard it. However, it governs almost every aspect of our mind, body, and the connection between them, which has profound implications on our progress through life. Centering is a fundamental experience for everyone, and we all use it, even if most are not aware that they are. It is as essential as breathing. It can be directly accessed by breathing if the breathing is performed in conjunction with a proper mindset.
For most of us, cognitive thinking is made up of images and concepts on a timeline. This timeline occupies most of our conscious attention, and for too many people — myself included before I started training — is the only thing they consider essential.
To most people, thinking merely refers to cognitive thought. Every other aspect of thinking is conveniently placed in a category of the subconscious. Most assume they have no control over this aspect of thought, so it is ignored.
By ignoring these other aspects of the mind, they assume they do not have much bearing over their own lives. This way of thinking is the furthest thing from the truth. Other mental patterns, such as emotional and physiological patterns, have a significant impact on our thinking and how we live our lives. We refer to the landscape of these patterns as our Physical Intelligence. Since a few different definitions of the term Physical Intelligence exist, I will share our definition here:
Physical Intelligence is embedded in our mind and body; it includes all our mental, emotional, and physical processes, which exist at a level below our cognitive mind. While they might not seem very tangible, these mental, emotional, and physical patterns have tremendous influence over every aspect of our body and mind. They form the foundation for the “intelligence” we use every day to work, make decisions, interact, understand, and create.
It is important to understand that these mental patterns are not inaccessible, but instead, most try to access them in the wrong way. I can say with confidence in my personal experience and that of many students and clients. These mental patterns are not cognitive, and our cognitive thinking does not allow us to access these patterns. To access them, we must use the right tools.
What are these tools? Surprisingly, they involve our physical body. They include breathing techniques and carefully designed physical movements used to generate specific states of mind. We can leverage them to make directed changes in the landscape of our Physical Intelligence and bring about fundamental changes, even alter personal traits. In my case, it helped me overcome many limitations, including low self-confidence.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to spell this out. Can you share with our readers a few of the physical, mental, and emotional benefits of becoming mindful?
I have been coaching people and businesses for a great many years, and I can assure you that everyone needs Centering. I have found the more intelligent the person and the higher up they are in the company hierarchy, the more they need it.
Centering means precisely what it says. It is being aware of your Center in this confusing world that surrounds us — centered in time and space. This may, at first observation, seem overly simplistic and an inherent trait that needs a little refining.
Let us look at a specific example: the growing number of people that suffer from attention deficit disorder (ADD). Considering the influences of society, work, the use of digital media, and the overload of information we are exposed to, you can start to understand why the number of people with ADD cases is increasing. Remember that the mind is conditioned by its environment, and it is near impossible to avoid the mental repercussions that result from this conditioning.
Centering is not an intellectual process. In Centering, you need to become aware of who you are. Not who others tell you are, but rather who you know you are — Centering is not an intellectual pursuit, but rather more like a tactile one. I use tactile for lack of a better word. During the process of Centering, you develop a sense of Self. You develop a clear understanding of who you are as compared to the outside influences of your environment.
You perceive a more definite sense of what it is to be you and, therefore, a better understanding of when you are not on your game. Centering may seem like something nebulous, like having a good or bad feeling about something. I can assure you it is not like this. The sense of Center is more specific than what you see and feel in front of you.
Most people get thrown off their Center all the time. And most people do not have a good sense of what their Center is so that this experience can be even more confusing and frustrating. This type of self-awareness may seem unattainable, but its development is easier than you might think. During the process of Centering, you develop your sense of Self, a clear and personal understanding of who you are, instead of relying on the outside influences of your environment.
- Quite often, people sometimes have good and sometimes poor concentration.
Usually, they have no idea why.
- Quite often, people find themselves being motivated or lethargic and having no idea why.
- Quite often, people find themselves with lots of energy, or a lack of it and have no idea why.
Moreover, they do not know how to change any of this, instead just letting their natural mental shifts play out.
Tapping into our Physical Intelligence allows us to connect to the Center — our source of confidence, purpose, balance, motivation, and well-being — and make directed changes in our mental, emotional, and physiological architecture. It provides us with a starting point for our development, a clear sense of where we are. Physical Intelligence allows us to develop critical competencies and traits like the clarity of our thinking, mental focus, creative abilities, stamina, self-awareness, and emotional intelligence. We will be able to tap into these new skills effortlessly, just as we access the ones we already possess.
Neuroplasticity, the capability of the brain to change and adapt, is at the core of the Physical Intelligence paradigm. We leverage the strong relationship between mind and body, tapping into the body’s physical ability to stimulate, shape, and change the mental patterns we possess. To leverage the inherent plasticity of the brain to adapt its functionality, we can introduce directed changes using structured physical movements.
The solution is to learn how to center yourself and start the process of discovery of who you are void of the past and present influences of your environment. Clarity exists in Centering. It is the natural state of being. Confusion and uncertainty arise when you are off your Center. The artificial state that most people spend most of their lives in is some form of unbalance.
Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. The past 5 years have been filled with upheaval and political uncertainty. Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have only heightened a sense of uncertainty, anxiety, fear, and loneliness. From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to develop mindfulness and serenity during such uncertain times? Can you please share a story or example for each.
We spend 80% of our time either in the past of the future — reminiscing about what has been or what might be. Especially now, many people think about the future and the potential impact of the pandemic. They are afraid of what can happen to their families, their jobs, and the economy. Understanding what exactly we are so scared of and coming up with strategies to mitigate the potentially negative impact is an excellent first step to overcome our fears and gain control.
The second step is to connect with our Center to help us manage overwhelming emotions and build deeper relationships with those around us. By connecting with our Center, our mind engages in the present moment where fear and anxiety does not exist. We learn to experience just “being” and keeping our minds focused on the now. One of the most significant benefits of the present moment thinking involves sharpening our senses to enhance our sensory perception. As a result, we can connect with others more deeply, which helps us feel that we are not alone.
A simple breathing exercise is enough to get the process of Centering started. Inhale for 4 seconds, feeling the movement below the belly button, hold the air for 4 seconds and then release it softly. The most effective way to do Centering is the combination of breathing with the practice of the Physical Intelligence form of Centering that we teach in our courses (more information on this later)
- The process of Centering induces an altered response of the amygdala, the critical region for emotional control, activated in instinctual reactions like fight or flight. It becomes easier to manage overwhelming emotions, let go of fear and anxiety, and gain control. By learning how to disengage from emotions, we can build our inner strength and resilience
- Being connected to the Center helps us get out of the state of uncertainty, as we learn to get in touch with our intuition. Being in touch with your inner guidance opens the door to more creative solutions to problems. When you solve them, you feel more empowered, and you also start to develop more confidence in your problem-solving abilities.
- Nature presents a superb option to learn about ourselves, giving the possibility to experiment with the feelings we can evoke by connecting to water, the sun, and trees. Using the breathing exercise mentioned earlier, we can reach out and touch the element with our breath and pull it towards us. While we breathe, we can carefully study the feeling and state of mind it evokes in us. It enriches our experience of what it feels like to be alive.
We like to live our lives and meet our challenges with intellect. Because of that, we tend to neglect the opportunities to develop personal mastery that techniques like Centering offer. Maybe we just prefer the safety and predictability of the ordinary mind and the world of rational thought. We know what is wrong intellectually, but we still feel stuck when it comes to getting relief.
In times of heightened uncertainty and anxiety, our modus operandi is a state of being challenged; we get off our Center, we feel stuck, because we are relying too heavily on “figuring out” our problems. When we only utilize our cognitive abilities, our problems can become self-perpetuating. Sometimes we cannot see the way out with the ordinary modes of thought. At times like these, dropping the effort to figure ourselves out can be the best medicine. That does not mean stopping the attempt to get better altogether, but instead giving the intellect and the search for a “solution” a rest for a while and let the subconscious take over to resolve matters.
To find serenity, turn off the news, the TV, and all digital gadgets. Spend some time in stillness, observing your mind. Breathe and let go of everything that is bothering and weighing you down. When you are connected with your Center and grow into higher states of consciousness, you find that challenging situations and disturbances can no longer throw you off-balance. You become strong yet pliable — capable of accommodating different values in life without any external conditions. As your consciousness opens and the whole system gets physically, mentally, and spiritually elevated, your life truly becomes worth living.
From your experience or research what are five steps that each of us can take to effectively offer support to those around us who are feeling anxious? Can you explain?
When we can be of service to others, our focus changes from ‘I’ to ‘we’ or ‘others’ and everything starts to change. Our anxiety that resides in the “I” starts to subside. Being of service to others works magic in making you feel better and more in control of your destiny. Servant Leadership is an excellent example of this. It is about making a difference with people and the community. Ken Blanchett characterizes Servant Leadership as “starting in your heart, with who you are as a human being”. Self-Serving Leadership is inspired by fear and self-doubt, focusing on the needs of the ego or an exclusive focus on power, profits, and business growth. Servant Leadership instead engages and supports people, especially in times of uncertainty and change. As a Servant Leader, you help employees live, empowering them to take responsibility, and make a difference in helping the organization adapt and thrive in the face of uncertainty and change.
Here are some things you can do to offer support for others who are feeling anxious:
- Show up for others, demonstrate your support helping in every way you can.
- When you connect and join forces, everyone feels better since we are all connected.
- Share your process of becoming stronger and resilient with those around you and inspire others to join you.
- Bring positive conversations and thoughts, laughter into everyone’s’ lives.
- Go out in nature together, share and connect with the marvelous beauty of what is around you.
What are the best resources you would suggest for someone to learn how to be more mindful and serene in their everyday life?
Simple breathing exercises like I described earlier can help you start connecting to your Center and are an excellent first step in the right direction. There are several resources on the internet to learn breathing exercises and meditation. For those who want to learn more about Physical Intelligence and Centering, please check out our book “Introduction to Physical Intelligence,” as well as our courses and other resources on Physical Intelligence at www.arteshumanis.com
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?
Let me turn again to Peter Senge. He has an excellent quote that summarizes my philosophy about personal mastery and the messages that I have been trying to convey in this article:
“People with a high level of personal mastery share several basic characteristics. They have a special sense of purpose that lies behind their visions and goals. For such a person, a vision is a calling rather than simply a good idea. They see ‘current reality’ as an ally, not an enemy. They have learned how to perceive and work with forces of change rather than resist those forces. They are deeply inquisitive, committed to continually seeing reality more and more accurately. They feel connected to others and life itself. Yet they sacrifice none of their uniqueness. They feel as if they can influence but cannot unilaterally control.
People with a high level of personal mastery live in a continual learning mode. They never “arrive”. [..] It is a process, a lifelong discipline.”
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Consider how much time, effort, and money we spend on education, job training, and learning, shaping our cognitive mind. But does that investment really allow us to reach our goals and make us happy? Our mind has the power to lead us towards our goals, but we just as easily let it hold us captive and potentially lead us away from where we should be heading. I would love to start a movement to help everyone understand that Physical Intelligence is the most critical Intelligence since it influences and drives our thoughts, decisions, behaviors, and actions.
Wouldn’t it be wonderful if everyone had a chance to get in touch and fundamentally understand who they are and take control of the direction of their life? The world would be a different place.
Master Your Environment
Master Your Life
What is the best way our readers can follow you online?
The best way to follow us is via our website www.arteshumanis.com or by following us on LinkedIn, Instagram, and Facebook.
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!