Tips to Manage your Breath While Running

Tips to manage breathing while running.

Running presents one of the most significant obstacles in addressing breathing pattern disorders. While my work over the last 25 years has been around running and running-related mechanical issues, it is not a shock that almost 50% of those who are active, and even in the endurance category, have some breathing pattern issues. Running makes this more of a challenge, as gravity and its effects on us can increase up to 12X body weight. Here are some tips to help you manage your breath while running.

Warm up and Mobilize your Breathing System

The simplest way to make significant changes is to warm up well and mobilize around the rib cage and gut/abdominal area. 

Warm-up example 1: 

Start with any rotational movement and rotate into your end range of motion and hold. Draw air in as you rotate and find this end range. Holding in place, fill your lungs with as much air as possible and hold for a few seconds. Release the air while working to gain a little more range and hold. Repeat bringing in air in and holding for a few seconds and releasing for 3–5 repetitions. 

Warm-up example 2:

Placing your fingers on the edge of the front of your rib cage and abdominal muscles, work to get your fingers under your rib cage bones slowly as you draw deep slow breaths in and out through the nose. Work the front of the rib cage around to the sides for several breaths over a 5-10 minute period to free up the diaphragm a bit.  

Build your Breathing Tolerance 

Interval Work

Move at a pace that allows you to breathe through your nose. Slowly increase the intensity until you can longer breathe through only your nose. Once that happens, slow down and/or walk until you’re able to breathe through only your nose again. Repeat this buildup and drawdown as an interval routinely to speed up the benefits of this process.

Slow and Steady Approach

Another option is to simply run slow enough to allow your primary breathing muscles to do more of the work for longer. Nasal breathing engages the primary breathing muscles to work MORE because of the resistance it creates. Biochemically–and below moderate levels of effort–this only helps us use oxygen by improving our oxygen/carbon dioxide dissociation curve. If you want to learn more about this resistance, check out this article, where I discuss the differences between nasal and mouth breathing

Controlled Breathing = Efficiency

This may take some time, but there is no reason why you can not look at this as routine interval work. Even the fastest sprinters in the world in the 100m and sometimes the 200m do not open their mouths. It is only necessary after the effort. Although sprinting is not the goal here, you can understand that significant work is still being done for us. 

In any case, when moving, we are all staving off the inevitable process of blood stealing. This phenomenon starts diverting blood from the loco-motor muscles to our diaphragm and intercostals when they fatigue. The weaker or more dysfunctional our breathing, the faster we use up limited energy sources and start to break down. 

If you’re interested in improving your breathing to better train endurance, check out our endurance program called SH//FT Sustain that’s included in All-Access. It’s a 24-week progression based on my New York Times bestselling book, The Unbreakable Runner.

The Difference Between Mouth and Nose Breathing

Difference between nose and mouth breathing blog article cover photo

The respiratory system was designed with the nose in mind and the mouth as a secondary option. The mouth was designed with the digestive system and our communication (vocal cords) in mind. While we could get incredibly granular on the efficacy of these statements and the crossover of many of these statements. Let’s look at lifestyle and stress, since they affect us all. 

Our air is filled with molecules, particulates, bacteria, and viruses. Let’s look at how that air is filtered and changed for each of these. 

Your Nose as a Filter

The nose has as many hairs (and cilia) follicles in it as there is hair on your head. Each of those hairs represents an obstacle. Every single hair/cilia is coated with mucus. Mucus is like chewing gum on a hot sidewalk. It is antiviral and antimicrobial; it is the first line of defense for the air we breathe and our immune system. I talk about our nose as a filter more in an article about why nose breathing is important.

Air passes by hair all the way through our turbinates, which represents one of the most intricate systems for filtering air (we can’t seem to replicate it) by spinning air in circles before it can pass up to the next turbinate and go through the same process. Air then enters the sinuses, where it is humidified and brought to a temperature safe for our defenseless lungs. The air then passes down the glottis and throat past the tonsils, the final phase of our air’s immune system defense. 

Overcoming the Increased Resistance

All of this resistance slows down how much air we can bring in because that is what it is. That signals our more significant, more powerful primary breathing muscles to do the bulk, if not all, work when at rest. The process of inhaling brings in as much oxygen as does with the mouth, except at a slower rate. We exhale almost 80% of the oxygen we take in on an inhale via the nose or mouth. When exhaling through the nose, the air also comes out slower, but it also helps humidify the sinuses with the same air that went in so that when another breath is drawn in, it gets to repeat this process more effectively. 

The caveat is when we exhale through the nose, we limit how carbon dioxide comes out, as it can’t escape as fast as it does via the mouth. This has biochemical tradeoffs, restricting oxygen use when excess carbon dioxide is exhaled consistently. The nose helps regulate pH better when below moderate levels of intensity and at rest. 

We Have Options

The mouth acts as a means for moving more air faster, although its only defense is the tonsils, which are the final process for the air moving through the nose. This becomes important when we speak, as it changes biochemistry a bit to bring us into a more focused state. We rely more on faster energy sources and our sympathetic nervous system here. The other end is when we work harder, and biochemically, changes happen at the cellular level first. The end product increases not only carbon dioxide, but our pH gets more acidic. Making more air faster, almost a necessity. This comes in the right at about the moderate intensity level of exercise. 

If you’re interested in learning some tips to breathe more efficiently during endurance activities, check out this article about managing your breath while running.

Conclusion 

Both the nose and the mouth have their place, or they wouldn’t be there. Right? It can be a challenge at first to make some of the changes you may be thinking of. But you’ll probably appreciate these tradeoffs. If you’re interested in learning more about building your own breathing practice, look into our Breath Essentials plan included in All-Access. It covers 10 days of guided breath principles and practices to that support all skill levels.

Attachment Awareness: Living the Life you Wish | Brian Mackenzie

Notes from the Field Article feature image of article titled Attachment Awareness: The Life you Wish

Issue #40

The most potent tool we have is awareness. Awareness is where our minds thrive most. The ability to be aware of when something works for me and when it does not is a tough road at first, and its crucial emotion is frustration, followed by anger. I have been stuck many times in frustration, unwilling to see how whatever I have been doing is not working out for me. When I started understanding some of the basics of stress physiology and its relationship with exercise physiology, I began to see more clearly what my body was saying and how my mind was in a different world, convinced I needed to do things a particular way. 

I will give a broad example, but I encourage you to understand how minute this gets to the most minor things.

The Sacrifices We Make

Often, what we believe we value is trumped by our behavior. For example, I’ll convince myself that I love to go out with my friends on weekends and that this lifestyle isn’t as important as my health. In reality, every weekend and time I go out with my friends, I am making sacrifices that require my body and me to work harder to get back to what is homeostasis. The short basic version of the physiology is increased cortisol and lactate (inverse relationship to fat burning & dependence on sugar + glucose), decreased (long term) HRV, and nervous system efficiency. While a healthy, fit individual can get away with these things from time to time, no healthy and fit individuals are doing this routinely because they feel the changes and the increase in rest that is now required to get back to doing what it is that makes them feel like they operate at 100%. 

Balancing Performance with Entertainment

You might be asking. So am I not supposed to see my friends? I don’t know! I know that when I set rigid boundaries on my health with things that make me function well, like moving, mobility, exercise, playing (surfing, hiking, etc.), the food I eat, and the time at which I get tired, the more I want to spend time with the people I care about, and who value the same things. 

Another way to look at this is through the lens of HRV, which has so much data and research on it. HRV is a way of understanding the health of your cardiac and nervous systems. Another avenue could be constant glucose monitors or glucose monitoring. 

Imagine an HRV score improving slowly over a year because you decided to care for yourself more. Then, after a few months, you go out and have a good time. Your scores drop the next few days, and your body plays catch up. All is good as you return to baseline. Then another night pops up, and another late dinner you decide is important (maybe it is). The next thing you know, your new HRV scores are much lower than before, and it is a real chore to get back into a routine of taking care of yourself as we slowly but surely start giving up on what worked best for you. While this example may seem extreme, it is not. I’ve lived this, and I see this in almost everyone I work with.  

Ignoring Information and Long-Term Awareness

There is a world we become attached to (not good) that is showing us what does not work for us, and most of us ignore that information, whether it be intrinsic or data-driven, because we are unwilling to give up these attachments. We feel a death sentence comes on, and in many cases, it can be. Much of our lives focus on chasing short-term feelings versus understanding what we want. Being aware enough to understand much of our lifestyle choices and how they make us feel long-term is often the difference between living the life you truly wish to and one of frustration. 

It’s All in the Data

The simplicity of this exercise comes down to taking the time to understand the data. While getting low HRV scores or high glucose readings are manageable, see if this makes sense. Readiness scores are calculated on many HRV algorithms to give us a little nudge on which direction to go. Let’s use 1-10 and say your HRV is a 50 avg. Each day you’re consistent, you see this score between 7-10, and you slowly creep up above a 50 HRV. Then you do X (whatever it is), and your readiness score drops to 1-6, and HRV drops to 40. You follow this pattern and continue to do X while getting routine low scores. 

Stop doing X because it’s not working out. Say’s the truth!

Physiological trends chart showing how the readiness score is affected by Heart Rate Variables

This isn’t Black and White

This does not always imply a black-or-white meaning, either; it may require creativity to appease these ‘attachments.’

What’s In Your Bank Account? | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #38

 

Let us pretend for this exercise that we only get two accounts, and metaphorically, we are using money and a bank, but this is about the currency inside you and me, and there is real currency in us. It is called ATP (adenosine triphosphate). 

You’ve got a checking account and a savings account. For each account, we can deposit money into and spend money from each. Our savings account comes at a higher cost or interest the lower the money gets. Where the checking account can get pretty low but fills up rather quickly when we earn money; it fills first. With a little finesse, we can move money around from each account.

There are infinite ways to earn or, shall I say, transfer money to our accounts because, after all, money is simply a tradeoff of one thing for something else. You can creatively work to build a robust savings account and an EFFICIENT checking account that pays all bills on time in any way you deem worthy. However, let it be known how you spend your time earning this money can cost as much or more if it does not provide you and your family something of internal value. This means regret, anger, rage, frustration, cutting corners, lying, cheating, stealing, manipulation, etc., all come at a cost that eats away at these accounts, but because we are still earning money, we are blind to the metastatic growth. How you decide to earn and transfer money builds the foundation for how well you can use money and move and spend money efficiently.

How we use our money is entirely up to us, but there are daily costs to everything. Living without the daily costs of spending money and being alive is impossible because life requires constantly moving this money inside and between us. There are mental money costs, and there are physical money costs. Spending mental and physical money is connected and can get very disconnected when we ignore how we manage these two. When we spend more physical money than mental money, we generate high returns on both mental and physical money. On the flip side, if we do not spend physical money enough, our ability to spend mental money begins to deteriorate, and so it becomes incredibly difficult to spend money at all on anything, rendering our accounts useless over time. 

Another caveat with spending physical money is if we only spend it one way, making huge purchases all the time or spending more physical money than we could earn, we can also render our accounts useless. Not to mention, if we did not spend the time building our accounts in the first place, we could fall into this trap very easily. It’s like not building a way to earn before you buy all the toys. 

The last thing to consider about earning and spending money is this: you can not hoard your money. If you become too cheap, you begin to devalue yourself because you don’t think you are worth spending money on. All of this is tricky because we are such complex little soldiers playing games with our money and how we earn and spend it, or as I’ve last pointed out, devalue it entirely. Imagine earning money yet never feeling worthy of spending it on anything you wanted, restricting it daily to purchase large items that require you to return to this cycle. You even avoid taking care of your health to the point that only when it’s an emergency will you spend money on yourself and complain about spending that money. 

Consider that you love to workout and take care of yourself physically. You’ve got 1.5 kids, a spouse, a mortgage/rent, and a job that requires you to travel to and from and for. You love information and listen to 2-3 different podcasts per week, watch TV, and read a book a month. This is where and how our attention works, albeit it’s more granular than this! You take your kids to games, school, and friends; you go to work, have meetings, deal with employees or coworkers, close deals, workout, take care of a dog/cat/animal, try and spend time with the spouse and your friends, and love to absorb infinite amounts of knowledge about things that have nothing to do with anything other than knowing what the hottest scientist is sharing. 

Your two bank accounts represent how you spend energy currency, ATP. Mental energy comes at huge costs from your savings account if you do not build a strong physical practice that is consistent and moving money in and out of your checking account. 

How you earn money is how you eat. You will develop poor mental and physical energy if you do not eat enough to fuel a strong, consistent physical spending habit. You will develop poor mental and physical energy if you eat more than you require to sustain your energy requirements. You will gain excess weight and begin to store energy as fat if you eat more than you require. Eating more than you can use and eating low-quality food is the equivalent of a job you hate, and it is fundamentally not addressing the root problem of why you would want to do this to yourself; self-esteem. You and only you are responsible for your body. 

How you use your money is called stress. Stress is a must to live, and when you demonize it (stress), you have decided not to understand the most valuable thing you have— your time. You have chosen to spend your time fast and carelessly, and while this may sound exhilarating or even demoralizing, it is anything but that. This is your opportunity to see where you can plug holes or put some barriers up to protect your time because it is all you have. 

ATP comes at high costs when we overthink all day, every day, and do not check it. Creating the time to spend your money (ATP) physically helps create huge efficiencies in using energy by learning to spend in creative, fulfilling ways. However, if you want to go on repeat and remain despondent about it all, I have two questions. 

What is the point? And do you understand? 

Tradeoffs | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #35

 

In the last 15 years podcasting has gained serious momentum. This is roughly the time frame I’ve been associated with the medium. In the last 15 years I have probably done close to 200 podcast interviews. I even started one called the Inception Lab (you’ll find a couple popular folks early on in their careers there). This choice to be interviewed this much comes with circumstances that many don’t see, namely being interviewed by people who think they care about something, but ultimately are just trying to push content to provide others with information. All of this in a world where the vast majority of us fail to absorb and understand the information being communicated; we do however feel empowered with knowledge by listening to this new or novel information. It is quite literally an impossibility to listen to something new that most of the time requires some sort of behavior change each week. And here is why…

 

Think about learning to walk. This is our bodies making a behavioral change. We go from crawling and dependency on many things to working our tail off to become bipedal and more independent. It requires the one thing many of us are giving up everytime we chase something new and novel or we pick up our phones; attention. When a child is working to stand and walk for the first time it is all or nothing. It is determination, creativity and art all sewn together. It requires all of their attention, and every bit of their nervous system and physiology to lay the tracks for our ability to rarely ever have to think about walking again. 

 

Imagine for a moment each week being given the task of learning to walk. This is the current paradigm in which we live and we got here because we demanded it. We are obsessed with knowledge and information. Open Netflix, and compare that to going to Blockbuster 20 years ago, and compare that to going to the movies. Wrap your head around the fact that if you own a smartphone and engage in the internet you are in front of close to 32 movies of information per day if statistics have held since 2012!!! This means in 2012 the average American consumed 12 hours of information per day. 

 

This inability to absorb information comes with an interesting tradeoff. This tradeoff looks like this: our nervous system takes in the information in front of us quickly, once we get a feeling of we’ve learned something (there are neurotransmitters and hormones that play roles here that I’m going to leave out) or that it feels like enough, we then jump to something new and repeat this process a few times or many more times until we feel exhausted. This process repeats itself many times throughout the day. 

 

The tradeoff here is we can jump from one thing to the next very quickly, and we feel rewarded or gratified for this. Our nervous systems can function at high rates and we essentially feel like we have accomplished many things in a day. On the other side of the tradeoff is this, we now have a nervous system that struggles to slow down or calm down. We have not fully accomplished or finished any one thing or we’ve done it in a manner that has us struggling to respond to the stress we’ve been in front of. After some time our sleep beings to deteriorate, our ability to absorb and understand information diminishes to the point that our memory starts to falter because essentially we have hit our storage limit a long time ago. It’s the equivalent of bambi walking on ice our entire lives while trying to keep up with every new thing because we don’t have the time to learn how to walk. 

 

It all comes with tradeoffs, and when I decided to say yes to all those podcasts I decided to play a part in this game for the sake of getting the information I cared about into the world. I started paying attention to my attention and if I was getting bored or not. Turns out I was getting really bored because it was the same questions from essentially the same person each week. Here’s the interesting thing about people putting out new information every week. This too comes with a tradeoff. That tradeoff is keeping up with the Joneses’ type of behavior. It has the person putting out the information working to have the knowledge of an expert in everything but essentially lacks the wisdom or understanding of how impossible it is to keep up with this cycle. 

 

I listen to podcasts every once in a while now. One particular podcastor I’m fascinated with is Dan Carlin who is the man behind Hardcore History. Hardcore history puts out some of the most detailed historical information you could want. Guess how many episodes per year Dan publishes? I let you look into that and absorb what I have shared so far. 

 

Dan reminds me of S.C. Gwynne, arguably the greatest writer of our time, and ironically a history buff. Gwynne has written a number of books, two of which I highly recommend; Empire of the Summer Moon and Hymns of the Republic. Gwynne writes non-fiction history like it is fiction, he is an artist and shows a history nobody I’ve witnessed has ever taught. If you’ve not read him and think you understand the civil war, Lincoln or American History and Indigenous cultures in the 1700’s and 1800’s your mind will blow. Hell, I was able to piece together a historian Gynne uses in Empire as the man who wrote Shut your Mouth and Save Your Life of which at the same time Gwynne sites this man he was seeing and writing about how the natives of North and South America primarily were breathing through their noses. A phenomenon civilized culture was not doing. 

 

Take the time to absorb what it is you care about! There is no way I could have done the research I have on the topics I care about – like my example above – if I was functioning in the state I had been when trying to do it all. 

 

While I have been a participant in the information crisis, I have learned a few lessons along the way. Hence why I write here, and why I’ve yet to come back to podcasting. Not only have I turned down offers to do my own podcast, I turn down just about every offer I get to interview me. I have shared plenty, and honestly since slowing down like this EVERYTHING has become clearer. I care more about what I do, I care more about how I am sharing, I care more about people close to me, and I am acutely aware of when someone is in the information trap and how to politely keep them at a distance. 

 

Just to tie this one up with what we do at SH//FT, it has become more and more apparent how many of the people I come in contact with lack the ability to have a real practice in place. We provide daily programming, and many people I’ve spoken to simply follow that programming verbatim without taking the time to understand they may not be ready to follow it verbatim that day and how many fail to add the suggestive walking, breathe and move, or the cooling down elements. It’s wild to me, but apparently we’ve not communicated this stuff enough, and so that will be our goal in the coming months is to start to tie this stuff together in a way that helps people take the time to want to understand while we can jump into an intense training session quickly without cooling down, not prepping the body or taking the time to bring it back to a homeostatic level does come with the same type of tradeoff I explained above. It gets harder and harder to walk with grace and not having to think about it all the time.

Limited Performance or Performance Unlimited | Brian MacKenzie

Issue # 34

 

Working for performance and working on our limitations are different, and unfortunately, we all fall into the trap of performance first. This took me a long time to understand, and I still work at it each day on not allowing my mind to play games with the reality of working on my limitations. The hardest part about this is when we are performing and chasing performance, we can be exposing and working on some of our limitations. However, the paradox is not only does that not work out long term, it ends up creating more significant gaps in some of these limits.  

 

While I am very capable of going faster or harder in many of the activities I do if I’ve exposed myself to understanding I haven’t developed the skill level, or the physiological capabilities of maintaining work beyond those limits or resting from those activities I am now chasing a ghost. That ghost, while it may validate something in my mind, ends up producing ghosts in many other areas of my life and I end up in competition not with the world, but my inner unsatisfied child. 

 

Using running as an example as it is a pretty easy way to get this across. Suppose I wanted to start running. I decide to go for a run one day and wind up pretty sore. Sore enough to not run for another 2 or 3 days. In that I learned I went and did too much to start. Or did I? I head back out again and do the exact same run as before. I’m sore the next day, but not as much. So I keep this process up until this run is no longer hard nor does it create anymore soreness. So I ramp it up again. I get sore again for 2 or 3 days and don’t run, and again repeat this process, again, and again. Until I’m running enough to fullfill my desires for what are my perceived limits. 

 

Most of us go about things in very similar ways to this runner. What do you think this runner could have done differently? There are so many different ways to go about it everyone has two-cents to add. Walk some, run some. Do some skill work. Go slower. Go shorter but faster. And nobody would be incorrect, but what any and all of us are giving advice on are hypothetical limiters and how to work in order get an adaptation to that limiter. So what happens once we’ve made serious progress with that limitation? Most of us test it against performance, right? Lets see how fast or strong we are and then lets chip away again. The problem is exposing another limitation once we’ve seemed to make some progress, because now we like what we feel in the performance. We are ritualistic head hunters who simply do not like to be confronted with change, and yet (another paradox here) change is the one constant in our lives. 

 

The elite athlete has it very differently, and in my opinion a much more difficult road here since everything about what they do in sport is based on results, not limitations. Imagine being the best in the world at something and winning being at the front of everything you do. What sort of life do you think you’d want in order to maintain this? It would look like groundhog day, and everyone important in your life would be out of your life for a season or camp so you could focus. You’d be surrounded by staff and people who were constantly giving you input and updates on your schedule, nutrition possibly, hydration possibly, supplements, training, practice, and you’d most likely be traveling more than anyone wants to travel. And when your career is over you’d get to unpack the winning thing, and how the real world doesn’t actually work that way. 

 

I find it incredibly interesting how we as fans seem to really only care about the same things in the sports we love, or the player we love. Yet, at the same time each of us understands this really isn’t a way to live and if you’ve seen any of the recent sports documentaries, you’d see a lot of the psychological outcomes from all of this.  Please see: Bigger Faster Stronger, Trophy Kids, The Weight of Gold

 

While you may not believe performance or winning doesn’t have space in your mind you’d not own a smart phone and live on an island. Everything in our culture is about getting ahead and performing which requires some real deep work to unpack. Maybe not, maybe you can give or take and have a healthy relationship with it. You, afterall are the only one who really knows that truth. For me, and working with professional athletes I know I always want to see them do well, and if winning is a part of that great. If it is not my hope is the work I’ve been able to show them far transcends winning, and sport. Yet the paradox of this is that winning or simply getting faster or stronger can always be a part of that as well. The practice is in how it’s training our minds!

The Pain of Tech | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #32

I co-wrote a book several years ago on technology and the fitness world because I have had a long fascination with using technology to guide athletes and myself to make more optimal decisions about training. The most critical word in that last sentence is fascination. Before explaining how I use technology, I’d like to lay the framework for leading ourselves far away from the well by not picking up on our obsessive tendencies.  

 

Each of us obsesses about certain things we do from time to time. This becomes a pattern we adopt; before long, we claim it as an identity. Example: I use a heart rate monitor every time I train and won’t train without it. Another Example: I must look a certain way when I do X or go out into public, or it affects me negatively. Another Example: I must be in bed at a particular time, or it must be perfectly dark, cool, and quiet to sleep or fall asleep. It may not look like a disorder, and maybe it is. This is something you are the judge of. The point is, often, we aren’t paying attention to what is draining us because we believe it to be who we are or “just what we do.”

 

When it comes to technology, we are an interesting lot. So many of us, like me, crave the newest things that can do X or help us get more of our time back as if time outside of a practical sense existed. In our obsessive worlds we have glued ourselves to information we not only do not understand, but we are willing to let a significant portion of our lives be dictated by this lack of ability to understand how this information is genuinely relevant to us. For instance, many clients like me have used the latest peripheral HRV devices (wrist/fingers) to navigate how our training day should work. With these technologies, an HRV or Readiness Score gives us a number correlated with how much we are ready to get after it or not; simplified. Some of you might use a non-technology-based tool like the Exhale Assessment (CO2 Tolerance Test), and that’s your guidance tool. These are both two good examples of metrics for understanding adaptation. Typically, what we’d do with this information is correlate it (triangulate) with something like how well we slept or how much we did the other day.

 

While there is nothing wrong with anyone using these tools for what appears to be guidance, unless we are taking the time to understand how the totality of our lives impacts these things, we are probably just spinning the obsession wheel as I have. Many of us are simply spinning this wheel on a training program without ever taking the time to understand our emotional system’s impact on an entire 24-hour period.

 

Chronic stress is the leading cause of disease globally, and it has tentacles in cardiovascular/heart disease, cancer, diabetes, mental health, neurodegenerative diseases, and more. Our problem with chronic stress is it has a dual or biphasic nature to it. We either ignore it, or we obsess about it by thinking if we eat perfectly and train/work out every day the same, we will avoid the consequences of the pain we are hiding in this behavior. Yet, exercise is the number one way of avoiding the pitfalls of the health crisis by improving your health, and this is how the paradox becomes real.

 

We continue to leverage and put too much weight on the medical industry to prolong our suffering because we fail to look in the mirror. While gathering stats and using technology is fun, it has yet to make us healthier. We live longer while suffering in pain, pretending it’s normal, and that we are fine. How often have you answered the phone or a question when someone asks how you are doing, “I’m great,” or “I’m good” when you are not? This is not only culturally shoved down our throats, but our familial lines continue to pass on the depression. For what it’s worth, there is no depression gene or anxiety gene; these are sensitivities passed on genetically and ultimately show up emotionally. They are suppressed or reactively expressed through addiction and obsessive or suppressive behaviors. All of this–every last bit–impacts our physiology and if we come back to HRV (or the Exhale Assessment) and our nervous system or adaptability.

 

“I just want to train and be healthy man.” Then, lose the watch and start paying attention because we don’t have the time for the data. Here is why. Where professional athletes differ from the rest of us here is that they live on Groundhog Day for everything but their core training for the day. This means food, activities, sleep, and anything but training rarely, if ever, changes. 

 

For this reason, gathering data and directing it at performance as an indicator of success can be a great way to measure how well this program works. It is not, nor should it be, the sole thing for the professional. You and I, however, are the more elite athletes in terms of navigating information due to our lives constantly changing daily with the people we interact with, the job, the kids, the spouse, the family, the sleep, the time off, and the time on. And while professional athletes deal with some of this, performance for you and me is a terrible idea as one of our top indicators of success. Technology cannot help us with the leading indicator for us: contentment. The calm, clear, creative contentment that says whatever I am doing works. The paradox is that many of us believe happiness comes from our obsessive behaviors and struggle to understand the difference between neurosis and true joy. 

 

How I use technology today is vastly different from yesterday because I learned if I were going to be collecting information, I would want to understand enough variables to make the right decision for myself and my clients. Physiology does not lie, and while I use several tools to measure things (metabolic carts, muscle oxygen, SPO2, hemoglobin, HR/HRV, core/skin temperature, CO2TT, Step Assessments, Breath Holds, Altitude/Hypoxia), none of them means anything without the communication I have with the client on what is going on. Did you fly today? How was your sleep? Did you eat late, stay up late, drink, etc., etc.? How is your personal life? Yeah, there’s that one too.

 

I can say confidently that no single person I’ve spoken with or worked with doesn’t realize emotional stress is the biggest culprit in our day-to-day fluctuations in how we feel and our health in general. However, I can also confidently say that 100% do not accurately understand how our attention impacts our emotional stress and, ultimately, our lives and how we should be altering our daily lives. It is not the same way every day. This is why it is essential to understand the technology trap. In most cases, we cannot have the attention required to understand the data we are looking at because of how much we take on. 

 

If my HRV is higher and over-reaching more parasympathetically, do I just go easier, or can I do something to help my body get the rest it is asking for? Just because my readiness score reads 65%, that doesn’t mean we don’t move. Is it Yoga? Is it a walk? Is it Zone 1 or Zone 2 work? Or maybe some Strength & Conditioning Recovery. Is it hypoxic/altitude work? While this may be even more confusing, and you may not have the answer, that is fine. When in doubt, drop the tech and start your regular warm-up; pay attention to how you feel during and after that warm-up. If you’re feeling better, approach the workout with your feelings, not your thoughts. If it’s strength and asking for a rep range, you should know real quick in moving weight if you’re going to hit numbers you would if you weren’t fried. There is excellent research on grip strength and readiness. So if moving weight isn’t something you’re used to for gauging things, hang from a bar, and if your grip feels weak, you can bet your central nervous system is crying. If it’s crying, go for a walk instead of training and see how you show up the next day. Or do a few leisurely rounds with lots of rest between some push-ups, pull-ups, sit-ups, and lunges. Then, see how you feel the next day. Play this game with your training to learn where these things can have big returns, as one is bound to set you up to feel much better the next day. 

 

I’d be remiss (ha) if I did not address the elephant in the room on this one, and I know if you’re still reading, this wasn’t a short one, so if you are still here, I will wrap this up. While you and I can play these games of piecing together how we use tools and tricks to rebound our physiology into a place where we think it is functional, it is not if we are not addressing the torturous underworld we live in. The one where the self-esteem of some 5-year-old kid is living itself out in an adult body, pretending the discomfort of not communicating, protecting, avoiding, and trying to know as much about nothing as possible while just trying to earn a living doesn’t affect us at all. Nothing has affected every one of us more at this stage of civilization. Living longer is the cruel joke we’ve played on ourselves through this compensation pattern. Avoiding the truth that our attention is on far too much to have a strong enough opinion based on real-time information on data we can’t possibly make sense of. This is why we teach awareness as the foundational tool of all tools, including technology. You and me having the awareness of our behaviors and where we can modify them is the ultimate goal. If technology is helping you do this, keep going. If it simply prolongs confusion and exacerbates more neurotic control issues, walk away and free that mind! Your heart and your physiology will thank you. 

 

You Are the Environment | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #31

Basic human desires included food, reproduction, social stature, comfort, and exploration. We are a complexity unto itself in the animal kingdom because for a small part of our lives each day, we are conscious, and I don’t mean conscious as in “I am awake”; I mean conscious as in I am fully aware of what is going on at this moment. Each of us has undergone a childhood where micro or macro experiences influenced our basic human desires and tendencies to search for or guard these, ad nauseum. 

 

I’ll assume that since anyone reading this has food, shelter, a smartphone, and a level of comfort that has never been had in the history of our species, I can get to the point of this article. 

 

Through our comfort crisis, we inevitably expose ourselves to more information than we can absorb; fact. This hyper-information indulgence, as with anything, comes with tradeoffs. Many of us don’t acknowledge if the nervous system cannot move at the speed of our demands or the speed we desire to consume data. We refuse to slow down and take the path of least resistance; keep scrolling.  That route is a compensatory response that hands our attention out like a slot machine being spun on a constant. Jumping from one screen to another, one piece of information to another, one conversation to another, externalizing our problems to the car in front of us, entertaining the text message (while driving), then to the email, to the phone call, to the song, to the coffee, to the nicotine, and on. 

 

I just got off the phone with a client I’ve worked with for over a year. We spoke about why the placebo effect works so well. “Simple,” I said (although this is a rudimentary theory), “your emotions are aligned with your physiology,” and so in many of the cases where the placebo effect is working, which  is more often than you may realize,  we find ourselves dialed into a “vibration.” The context of this conversation was concerned with feeling good mentally and, therefore, physically, without invasive thoughts to tell us otherwise. Like this, there is insufficient noise (social media, news headlines, poor self-talk) to distract you from what is happening in your immediate world. Remember: our responses to any situation are patterns we’ve established over a lifetime, engrained since childhood. They are familiar to us and give us a sense of comfort or peace. Instead of worrying about what we may be missing, we can choose to bring forward our ability to sit firmly in the chaos through our own personal peace of mind. The more distracted we are, the more difficult it becomes to understand this sense of peace that, from what I have learned, seems to be a default in every person I have met and worked with. The distractions are human-made. *BTW, the placebo doesn’t always work, and emotions are not all bad. Personally, it often requires me to be distracted before realizing that I am caught up in something external to myself.

 

To be distracted is a coping strategy that has become more of an issue culturally as we have become obsessed with information. This obsession has fueled many industries to make trillions of dollars because we love thinking we know something. These industries are feeding you and me marketing and IP designed to keep us hooked, influence our next thought or buy, stay online longer, and come back for more; dopamine, norepinephrine, and a myriad of other neurotransmitters and hormones that are far more potent than most Rx drugs. The dilemma begins by not taking the time to understand our patterns, our stressors, and our traumatic responses to our unfulfilled human desires. These reactions compound when we are distracted, and we are all distracted. This has our nervous systems set on higher alert than is necessary. I’m sure you know this: your brain — to be clear — is a part of your nervous system, not separate. No part of you is a distinctly separate entity or system from what I’ve described here. 

 

So, you want to work out, exercise, and care for yourself because life is stressful, and exercise is the best medicine–100%! One of the things that brought me to many of the above details was looking deeper into respiratory physiology and breathing mechanics. I became intrigued to study and discuss the above information and started by applying the concept of breath control to training. I began to see some exciting things; one of those things was that people were over-breathing while exercising, which many experts ignored, and some continue to ignore despite the growing data. One of the leading issues in endurance sports is pulmonary function, which may not be why you think– CO2 Tolerance. At the Olympic level, breathing-related issues are the number one medical issue. Our breathing is essentially a prediction component based on a relationship (keyword) to CO2. This mechanism (our breathing frequency/rate and depth) is rooted in how we each respond to stress. These relationships can easily carry over into submaximal exercise, meaning that our exercise routines do not solve the stress equation. A slight caveat here is that those who regularly participate in high-intensity exercise can develop the pulmonary muscles quite well. However, none of us can be too intense for too long; thus, we default back to a manageable intensity (sub-maximal) and our breathing behavior.

 

Without a foundation in breathing mechanics, physiology only follows suit (just as it follows emotion), which is derived from how we psychologically or behaviorally breathe. Unless you were born into an Eastern-based practice such as  Yoga, Tai Chi, or Martial Arts as taught through their antiquated processes (and I can guarantee none would mold into today’s modern-day Westernized versions), you’d of skipped – like me – breathing as a foundation to training. Breathing is an opportunity to present to you a reality you did not see before. That reality does have some physiology behind it, though. We know you are more aerobic, or rather you are using oxygen more effectively if your mouth is shut and your intensity matches. We also know if you are hypersensitive to CO2, you are prone to hyperventilation and even episodes of hypoventilation (apnea–sleep). Ironically, as cited above, mouth breathing at high intensity can and will train those primary breathing muscles much more effectively; it may just come with a prescriptive time frame. You are also training those primary breathing muscles at lower intensities in a way they have never been used in the modern world, with a bit of intensity while our mouths are shut. 

 

In this paradoxical world, we all respond to stress differently but still with similar behavior patterns. Those patterns are not just acting out in anger, frustration, and fear; they show up in how we hold ourselves, how we walk, and at the root, how we breathe. Again – a reminder with more context – just changing our breathing will only present a reality you are willing to see, avoid, or ignore. I see this almost daily as people nasal breathing beyond their means, and it backfiring on them physiologically (not enough O2 delivery at higher work rates), or backfiring on an easy run or ride, and their jaws slack wide open, offloading excess CO2 and rendering oxygen more useless and destructive

 

Confronting our behavior is the foundation of all training; everything else is secondary and beyond. Awareness is the foundational tool for this. Every other tool, including breathing and exercise, is secondary. Our basic desires have been so exploited that we have lost their foundations. Many have misplaced one of them totally; exploration. So many of us no longer have purpose and rarely are invested in deep work, creativity, and play; not everything is training. 

 

We suffer socially, as we BEHAVE as though social media is social interaction– a place where I show you exactly what I want – usually all the beautiful things, and you voyeuristically watch, compare, and contrast based on a one-two sense ability of an eight-sense, multidimensional being – you judge accordingly, and I react to the comment with my survival instincts, all the while pretending we’ve got our shit together and this is normal. We only text message our “friends” and family and avoid phone calls or fundamental interactions because we are so busy we can’t (or won’t) make time for real social interaction. Missing the reality that our self-esteem is in the shitter, and we don’t value our time in the slightest. We then green-light the food and supplement industry to make it so convenient for us to live in our worlds that we are willing to eat toxic food or take said pill, just so long as we don’t have to get uncomfortable or chase the illusion of comfort. The dilemma is we are psychologically making up for what we physically no longer can or will do. The placebo is not a placebo when you figure out that your old thinking was the parking brake you had on the entire time you have been driving.

 

SH//FT Health helps you rebuild from the foundation. Each aspect of what we do in this business is about guiding you to take the time to understand that each one of us may have a parking brake on at times. The membership, courses, and coaching are all geared around you and developing your foundation… and this is the foundation of training; for any world champion, executive, operator, first responder, mom, or whatever your flavor. Without it, it’s all a show. Every season and event comes to an end.  

 

You are the environment; you do not live in one. Every part of your sensory system communicates where you’re at in every moment, consciously and unconsciously. You are adjusting and calibrating to ensure you find balance or homeostasis. Imagine never knowing who you really are because you are so tied up trying to suffer in comfort.  

 

References:

 

Winkler, A., Hahn, A. & Hermann, C. The impact of pharmaceutical form and simulated side effects in an open-label-placebo RCT for improving psychological distress in highly stressed students. Sci Rep 13, 6367 (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41598-023-32942-5

 

Banzett, R. B., Lansing, R. W., & Binks, A. P. (2021). Air hunger: a primal sensation and a primary element of dyspnea. Comprehensive Physiology.

 

Conde, S. V., Polotsky, V. Y., Joseph, V., & Kinkead, R. (2023). On the origins of sleep disordered breathing, cardiorespiratory and metabolic dysfunction: which came first, the chicken or the egg?. The Journal of Physiology.

Bassi, M., Furuya, W. I., Zoccal, D. B., Menani, J. V., Colombari, E., Hall, J. E., … & Colombari, D. S. A. (2015). Control of respiratory and cardiovascular functions by leptin. Life sciences, 125, 25-31.

Shapiro, S. D., Chin, C. H., Kirkness, J. P., McGinley, B. M., Patil, S. P., Polotsky, V. Y., … & Schwartz, A. R. (2014). Leptin and the control of pharyngeal patency during sleep in severe obesity. Journal of applied physiology, 116(10), 1334-1341.

Nicolò A, Girardi M, Bazzucchi I, Felici F, Sacchetti M. Respiratory frequency and tidal volume during exercise: differential control and unbalanced interdependence. Physiol Rep. 2018;6(21):e13908. doi:10.14814/phy2.13908

Sikter, Andras, Rihmer, Z. O. L. T. A. N., & Guevara, R. (2017). New aspects in the pathomechanism of diseases of civilization, particularly psychosomatic disorders. Part 1. Theoretical background of a hypothesis. Neuropsychopharmacol Hung, 19(2), 95-105.

 

The Paradoxes of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) & Where Unlimited Growth Lives | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #28

The Paradoxes of the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS) & Where Unlimited Growth Lives

 

The ANS is the largely unconscious regulator of our bodily systems. Yet, we also can control many of these systems through our manipulation. When we manipulate our breathing, we alter many, if not all, aspects of how the ANS functions. This is one paradox.

Another paradox is that as long as we’ve understood a bit of this system, we have communicated about the push/pull or antagonistic relationship between the sympathetic nervous system (SNS) and the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). So although there is a bit of one dominance over the other, the fact that the SNS is always on tells a different story. 

The third paradox is that although the PNS activates a calm side to us, it is anything but calm and may have more energy output than the SNS. We love to romanticize things far beyond our understanding of them for a good reason. It makes us feel good to think we fully understand something we’ve yet to fully understand, and I am no stranger to this. 

The ANS is engaged through nervous activity to help maintain homeostatic integrity and the functioning of our bodies as a whole. It responds to stress to maintain this integrity. 

Stress is the response of an organism to factors that actually or symbolically endanger its homeostatic integrity. It is any physical or psychological stimuli that disrupt homeostasis. The stress response happens through our sensory system; Interoception, proprioception, vestibular, visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, and gustatory (taste). 

Our sensory systems are electrically based. Meaning you will need an ear for sound waves to be interpreted into nervous signaling to hear sounds. Otherwise, there is no sound, only waves.  

With the nervous system, stress involves all three branches of the ANS. I will focus on the SNS and PNS. The most basic version of this system works like this. 

In the presence of a stimulus, or psychological or physical stressor, we engage more of a response from the SNS, which activates the adrenal glands. When an acute stressor is no longer present, the PNS system facilitates the body’s recovery after the stressor. The PNS goes to work; it does not shut off. 

Your circadian rhythm has your adrenals releasing cortisol just before you wake. You go for a ride on your bike, and your body begins to go into the motions of preparing for more movement and using more oxygen. You get into a car crash, and hormones and neurotransmitters flood your bloodstream immediately following your NS response to the impact. The role of biochemistry following high SNS responses can not be understated, and I could write an entire article on one facet of it and still need to cover more. Biochemical reactions to the SNS can retard or suppress things like loud noises and pain in an emergency. This is simply a sample of the intelligence of our biology. 

Due to the nature and design of the SNS, we see that it is used to protect us. This protection aspect is much more important to understand than we have considered. Every part of us defaults to the modes of the ANS, as the entire organism of being human is built on a model of scarcity, except for our thinking brains, and yet we all behave and dip into scarcity thinking at times when we are – in truth – safe. 

When we engage in physical and psychological stress, symbolic or actual, we use acute survival strategies. These all come with circumstances; most of us have learned how to manipulate stress for our lifestyles. Consider briefly how many of our lives are tied around avoidance and protective behaviors that, for whatever reason, continue to drive the same tone of this SNS or PNS. 

As I stated, PNS is anything but an off-switch. It is just as involved in our survival as the protective side of the SNS, as it requires the SNS for the PNS to operate well. Don’t let the deceleration of our heart rates fool you, as there is a lot of nervous system activity going on when this side of the ANS is engaged. After all, all those protected organs and systems now return online to help preserve and regenerate those who went to work.

_______

The SNS and stress. 

The sympathetic nervous system’s (SNS) primary process stimulates the body’s fight-or-flight response; in our world, that shows up as posturing or submissive behavior. Of course, it can also mean physically engaging in this fight response through work or activity. Still, it is typically accompanied by posturing or submissive behavior, as we have patterns of behavior that follow biochemical activity through our experiences. Since energy sits at the foundation of life, the SNS’s primary job is also to mobilize glucose. I’ll come back to this. 

The SNS is constantly active at a basic level to maintain homeostasis. It is traditionally described as antagonistic to the PNS. It isn’t if it is always on. 

It is essential to note the posturing and submissive behavior with fight or flight. As far as I understand, this was something Lt. Col. Dave Grossman came up with. He used it to understand the psychological costs of being at war and coming home. That said, looking at the many behavioral patterns of posturing and submissiveness, this is a unique opportunity to understand more about how you can tend to lean into more dominance of this part of your ANS. 

 

Quick examples: WE ALL DIVERT INTO VERSIONS OF THESE. However, I am not here to analyze you; that is your job. My suggestion is PAY ATTENTION. 

Posturing: behaviors related to impressing or intimidation (we all have them)

Submissive: behaviors related to shying away or not saying what we want (we all do it at times)

 

When we engage more in this system, we will begin to engage in nervous activity toward more energy mobilization (glucose) and the necessary metabolic shifts that all come with a cascading of energy from ATP, lactate, hormones, neurotransmitters, immune response, proteins, genetics, and plasticity.  

Our interoceptive experience begins with whether we like what we feel or not. Then, what do we do if it’s a threat or if it’s just exciting? This can follow several paths (refer back to posturing submissive behaviors) that ultimately can land with how we like to do things or don’t. We often keep repeating a process, getting the hormones and neurotransmitters of our liking that continue to express genes and layer in our conditioning (plasticity).

Culturally we are running hot, and by the looks of the global consensus, most of what is killing us is living in this SNS dominance. 

Globally, Cardiovascular Disease is the number one killer. We can lump blood pressure issues into that. Then, bring in metabolic disorders; most cancers, obesity, and diabetes are up there too. While nutrition plays a significant role in all of this, consider that the constant ON and demand for ATP with the mobilization of glucose for symbolic issues are pushing our physiology to respond by activating a muscular system that isn’t engaging in the actual fight/flight responses; meaning instead it becomes posturing and submission– acting out. Note: When I use the term ON, I am also writing about emotional intelligence and reactivity or suppression of these emotions and, ultimately, feelings. 

From an acute basic perspective, the SNS does the following:

  • Increased HR 
  • Increased Blood Pressure
  • Increased Respiration
  • Increased Attention
  • Decreased Fine Motor Skills 
  • Decreased CO2 Levels
  • Decreased Digestion
  • Dilated Pupils

Most of my 30s were spent running in a chronic state of survival. I was convinced this was perfectly normal, until it was not. With the above information and knowledge about disease, what do you believe the outcome of long-term chronic SNS behavior has on us? 

_______

 

The PNS and its role in stress are as essential as the SNS.  

The PNS stimulates resting, feeding, digesting, and reproductive activities when the body can relax. Although these activities typically occur after eating or exercising, they include sexual arousal, salivation, urination, digestion, and defecation. The PNS is a complementary action to the SNS. 

Pay attention to the activities I mentioned, as we can start to understand where we might indicate where our ANS is getting “sticky.” More on this in a minute. 

While many overreaching issues can happen with the PNS, it is essential to note that, in my experience, this is due to needing to understand our SNS engagement. Overreaching is the body’s attempt to keep us down a bit longer. From an HRV perspective, this is leaning more heavily into the PNS. From a feeling standpoint, we are much more lethargic. This does not, however, mean we are shut off and less activity is going on in the body or nervous activity. This means more energy and action are being engaged towards getting the systems, tissue, and organs associated with this side of the ANS the appropriate time to respond and restore themselves. It requires nervous activity. It requires energy.

An overactive PNS is associated with more depressive-like behaviors. However, that does not mean someone is depressed or diagnosed with depression; this outlines that in more depressive behavior, we see a more active PNS. While these behaviors may look like inactivity, the internalization occurring with these behaviors is anything but inactive. Much like the SNS, there can be a propensity to lean into the chemical processes or biochemistry associated with these states. There is a particular flavor we all lean into, and although genetics plays a role in this, it does not always mean something is wrong. Often most of us may want to listen a little bit more intently.

Much of what we see is related to this, and we all fall into this from time to time; lethargy, stress sensitivity, similar to the SNS – avoidance or submissive behavior, or a general lack of motivation. When we fall into these submissive behaviors, we can quickly transcend into staying in them and ultimately struggling to get out. Eventually, we should seek professional help when this is no longer acute or short-term. 

Returning to the activities involved in the PNS; resting, feeding, digesting, and reproduction. One way to understand where you may have an opportunity to learn how or where you lean with SNS dominance is when one or some of these activities struggle to operate well. 

Examples: however, not relegated to these

Struggle to relax, rest, nap, or sleep.

Struggle with appetite and digestive issues (this can and does affect the Enteric Nervous System, another side of the ANS). *of note, make sure you’ve addressed nutrition too. 

Struggle with libido issues or not having a healthy sexual appetite. 

Please pay attention to addictive behaviors (we all have them) towards any one or all of these, as this has become a coping strategy, and more than likely, at the root of this, is our inability to regulate the relationship of our ANS. There can be many versions or variables to this, so take your time and just learn to pay attention. 

Many of us struggle to want to look at the reality of our struggle to regulate. We use alcohol and drugs in the evening as a normal response to unwinding because many people we associate with do the same thing. We eat and crave sugar at night after we eat to fulfill the same void and a NS that has depleted the body of glycogen as we struggle to eat regular meals during the day. There are many ways to understand our behavior, and I’ve looked at several of them. The truth is cutting out the sugar, or the booze might change some things. However, suppose we pay close enough attention to learning to observe our behaviors associated with regulating these states of our ANS. In that case, you will begin to get a blueprint of where some of the lowest-hanging fruit of your growth exists. 

The only growth that comes from removing something without understanding its root is an opportunity for the next vice to take its place. And so the cycle repeats.

The basis of SH//FT Health is built off this entire piece. The framework for everything we are doing at SH//FT – albeit piecemeal at times – is also embedded in this. Should you be interested, we kickoff a new Health program that gets right to the point with all of this on July 19, 2023, and we’d love to see you. Click HERE 

Sources:

  • Natalia Bobba-Alves, Robert-Paul Juster, Martin Picard, The energetic cost of allostasis and allostatic load, Psychoneuroendocrinology, Volume 146, 2022, 105951, ISSN 0306-4530, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.psyneuen.2022.105951 
  • Cristina Rabasa, Suzanne L Dickson, Impact of stress on metabolism and energy balance, Current Opinion in Behavioral Sciences, Volume 9, 2016, Pages 71-77, ISSN 2352-1546, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.cobeha.2016.01.011.
  • On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society is a book by Dave Grossman 
  • Halson SL, Jeukendrup AE. Does overtraining exist? An analysis of overreaching and overtraining research. Sports Med. 2004;34(14):967-81. doi: 10.2165/00007256-200434140-00003. PMID: 15571428 

 

The Road to Hell | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #26

“The road to hell is paved with good intentions.” Proverb

 

Every part of us is constantly striving for homeostasis or balance. Stress is the response of an organism to factors that actually or symbolically endanger its homeostatic integrity. When we do not get what we believe we need, the dynamic moves from an actual threat to a symbolic (felt) one, and we are out of balance. The twist is that we can experience a real danger that can be felt and curate actual physiological responses that we symbolically generate or have generated for years, decades, and even lifetimes that satisfy our feelings. 

From the earliest times in our lives, we seek many things centered around affection, safety, stimulation, food, rest, etc., to maintain our homeostatic integrity. This search can and does follow most of us through life by attaching ourselves to certain forms of affection, ways of feeling safe and stimulated, eating particular foods or not, developing specific sleeping patterns, etc. 

I remember vividly feeling like I discovered what I wanted to do 25 years ago. I wanted to help others through physical performance. But, I didn’t understand that much of the help I was offering was a little misguided. 

We often jump into situations trying to save the world without uncovering our feelings of what we desire, value, and believe we need, and a shadowy inadequacy that lurks in the background, making us feel better by ignoring all this. In contrast, we go out of our way to show others the same path. Just chipping away at all the best intentions and attempting to show everyone how much happier we are by serving others. In a chameleon-like way, we jump from one role to the next without ever taking the time to understand what is occurring inside us and how insidious the fear might be. 

Alan Watts described what he did when he heard people talking about love and being goody-goodies by buying a gun and barricading his door. Knowing these people were full of shit and that none of us is doing this well all the time. 

Often we do enough surface-level work to recognize this darkness and talk about our self-diagnosed identity as though we have a handle. This can be incredibly frustrating for professionals, as many of us jump to this self-diagnosis and believe we’ve solved our issues. Or, we diagnose those around us and live under the guise of simple fixes and explanations of, “If you/I just stop doing this, your/my life would change for the better.” And from the outside, it does. The good news is there is nothing wrong with you or me. However, there may be a deeper side to this that most of us are unwilling to go into—understandable. Pain works like that. 

Fortune, fame, and power come with one standard principle; responsibility. Yet, all too often, we avoid this or protect ourselves from this truth (principle) like the plague. So, why am I using the word truth, and what do money, popularity, and power have to do with this?

It can feel terrific to make more money, and you deserve it. It can feel terrific to make more friends, and you deserve them. But it can also feel terrific to feel like we influence people and things; in many cases, that’s the trick. While helping the world see that this new way of life will make you happy, wealthy, or famous, we’ve yet to learn of the truth inside and how we just showed these folks a magic trick without explaining the truth (principle) about magic. Replacing one behavior with another is shape-shifting without growth. I’m smiling while I am dying inside. This entire charade creates a very effective response in hormones, neurotransmitters, and ultimately down to proteins and genetic transcriptions, satisfying sensitivities and encoding old behavior patterns with the same old feelings that got us into this mess in the first place. It’s a cycle. So, yeah, there’s that. 

Just work your ass off and hustle; it’ll all work out as the influencers decree!

Excitement is a potent drug that can be far more powerful than the drugs currently on the market. 

The most common thing I see in my work is the one I encountered with myself—the pursuit of feeling better by helping others. Sorry, the pursuit of feeling better by helping others, by not looking at why I was trying to feel better.

There is real love in sacrifice for the greater good and in caring for others, and I am not implying we should not be doing that. However, while we have good in our hearts, many of us hide our insecurities and do not deal with what is killing us by just going out of our way to help others do the same We also aren’t addressing many of the issues in relationships and work that had we have been open to this paradigm there is a damn good chance we’d be making much healthier decisions. Unfortunately, this is the mask we wear through Goodwill, and we cover it up by sticking a hand out to help while our insides crumble or we deny the pain altogether.  

One of the darkest realities of this problem is that this do-good but hide-my-pain behavior passes on to the next generation of people in pain. So often passed to our children; however, it has no limits. We all are susceptible. It’s like real-life cooties. These behaviors usually show up in working more, making more, gaining or being around more friends (now followers), or trying to control more. Then, the chameleon takes on the identity of the new role with a smile on his face getting the chemical fill that changes the feeling of fear and hollowness. 

At the foundation of all addiction – not just the guy under the bridge drinking a bottle or snorting lines in the bathroom, the one that has each of us grabbing for phones and likes – is an attempt to regulate a sensation of discomfort that transcends our nervous systems and biochemistry. We can fill voids at the speed of physiological reaction with the excitement of money, people, and false control, and the more we get, the harder it can get to want to grow any further.

Fortune, fame, and power were and have always been there! They are exposed when we are comfortable inside our skin. Financial freedom has nothing to do with how much we make, and that doesn’t mean we can’t make millions. Likewise, fame has nothing to do with how many people know who I am; it is more about knowing myself and who I really want to know. And power is and has always been about what I really have control over because when we lose that, we will try and control the things we never had control over or pretend someone else or something has the power to make us happy. 

Rupert Spira said it beautifully in a talk on our natural state being happiness. I’m paraphrasing, “Nothing makes you happy. If you believe something makes you happy, you have just guaranteed that thing will make you miserable.” 

Be careful of excitement, my friends, but please don’t take that to mean not to experience exciting things. Unfortunately, the road to hell is usually paved with good intentions reinforcing a symbolic pain as old as we are.