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. 

The Answers We Need | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #24

“We are more interested in measuring the footprint than actually seeing the dinosaur.” 

– Anonymous 

I got this quote from a friend about a series of research papers and articles we’ve gone through recently. However, it applies to more than science, medicine, or whatever industry you participate in. It applies to life in so many aspects, the conveniences and the answers we think we need or have become accustomed to. 

So instead of a rambling of thoughts this week, I thought I’d leave this with you to think about until next time. 

Acceptance is Not an Identity or Appeasement | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #22

Twenty-five years ago, I remembered being told acceptance was the answer to many problems. But, unfortunately, in many cases, it was being communicated in a way that I was to believe I was a certain way. The good news was I never accepted that I was anything. I struggled to come to grips with the actual reality of acceptance as a medium into the reality of our nature. 

I’ve learned in the last few years in working with many different individuals and groups of people that even the ones in prison aren’t necessarily the ones living in prison. I’ve experienced this myself with the varying degrees of attachments I’ve created. Each leaves me sometimes fulfilled and happy but continually frustrated or disappointed at some point. 

Each of us desires the same thing in life, and yet we ask questions of ourselves that deepen the confusion as to what this life might mean. I’ll use myself as an example. I enjoy doing risky stuff, like shark diving occasionally, riding bigger-than-normal waves, and going fast on my bike. In any of these instances, what exactly am I doing when I do these things? What are we doing when we get on a rollercoaster or scary ride? 

A: purposefully putting myself in a position that challenges my fears with an assurance that it’s safe.

So what does this have to do with what we desire? Simple, we seek happiness out of experience, objects, or people. We believe something can make us happy, whether through varying degrees of excitement or its outcome. Something will provide me with the desired effect. So what is wrong with this? In plain terms, this is, by definition, suffering. Nothing is wrong with it; this is how to suffer. 

We have fallen under the guise that something or someone is responsible for our happiness. How much money I make, my house, car, relationship, kids, etc., etc. Here is a little experiment to understand where I am going. What is the commonality in anything you believe has made you happy? What is the commonality in anything you think has made you unhappy? 

 

Sit with this. 

 

Any person, thing, or experience that has brought you joy was due to your ability to accept that person or thing was something you wanted to experience. On the other hand, you and I rejected the different experience. The most accurate definition of freedom is being outcome-independent. The more accurate description of prison is holding others, things, and experiences hostage to the notion that they are responsible for my unhappiness; I am a victim of circumstance. Imagine giving up all your power over what you have control over, in an attempt to control something you have no control over, in this case, making others (and things) responsible for your happiness and misery. 

Acceptance has never been about identity or appeasing anyone. On the contrary! It is about power. When we own that we are the ones accepting the outcomes of our circumstances, we never have to give up on who we are and never have to hold another person or thing hostage to the attachment of our outcomes. 

Can We Relearn Our Instincts? | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #20

It’s no secret that how we live today drastically differs from how our ancestors did. Our inventions and technologies have enabled us to do much more with less effort. But, of course, this all comes with a consequence, not good or bad, but multidirectional. Are our instinctual reactions no longer reliable or trustworthy? This is an exploration of how our modern lifestyles are impacting our instincts and what we can do to relearn how to trust them.

Our instincts are hard-wired into us for survival purposes. They are usually internal alarm systems warning us of danger or telling us when to rest or stop doing something. Unfortunately, due to the convenience of technology, humans have dulled their senses and lost touch with our natural, instinctual responses. 

For example, when we get into an argument or disagree with someone, we are typically very quick to react to this. This is a response of the sympathetic nervous system (SNS), originating from the vestibular system (hearing), which creates a feedback loop from our limbic system. In this case, we heard something we didn’t like, or someone crossed a line we disapproved of. So first, consider the foundation of the reaction: The SNS is designed for survival and highly focused responses. Next, consider the importance of the argument; is this something that requires an answer immediately, or is it something that has depth and would be better served with some digesting for a response? If it is the latter, the foundation of this response becomes the parasympathetic nervous system (PNS). This then becomes a processing opportunity for a creative reply. 

Within today’s world, we expect to have answers for everything with the amount of information we have coming at us, roughly the equivalent of 32 movies per day (https://ijoc.org/index.php/ijoc/article/viewFile/1566/743). As a result, it has become a luxury to have the knowledge of a million different libraries at our fingertips, to look up anything and everything we choose, an impossibility of processing madness. This, in part, has left us with the reactions of pissed-off rattlesnakes for things we take far too personally. We certainly do not want to understand the depth of these reactions when we could simply move on to the next bite of information. 

The same holds with physical activity; since machines do most of the work for us these days, our bodies aren’t moving as much as they used to. A good chunk of us might walk a few thousand footsteps, rarely pick up anything heavy, or reach for or climb anything in a day. We rely on the convenience of technology and comfort over physical activity, leading us further away from understanding our instincts and needs for rest and movement. To get back in touch with ourselves and our intuition, look back to when we were children learning to walk. Although you probably don’t remember this, you can see any child young enough working towards this goal—motivated challenges, not only in terms of movement but also in terms of the mind as well. We get to practice mindfulness by learning to respond rather than react in moments of stress or distraction in a world we’ve never been safer in. Knowing when it’s time for rest or when it’s time for action – is all based on what our body is telling us rather than what is convenient for the mind at any given moment.

Additionally, we can relearn proper breathing practices – breathwork helps to quiet the mind so that you can listen more intently to your body’s senses without being swayed by your illusive reactions and distractions around you. Taking slow deep breaths can help ground you in the present moment so that you can make conscious decisions based on what your body is communicating rather than what your mind thinks it wants at that particular moment.

Humans have been disconnected from their basic instinctual reactions due to the convenience and comfort of technological advancements for a long time. However, this has yet to be long enough for us to take back some of our true nature. To bring ourselves back into alignment with ourselves again, we must take charge through consistent practice with fundamental tools like breathwork, learning how to respond rather than react in moments of stress or distraction while listening intently to what is going on internally instead of giving into illusive the reactions driven by the filters we create and the comfort-seeking behavior of our minds. With consistent practice, we can start trusting ourselves again and recognizing patterns associated with certain behaviors, leading us back toward trusting our instincts again!

 

“If you want to see the moon’s reflection in the water it best be still”

Relearn to Trust Instincts | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #18

 

It’s no secret that how we live today drastically differs from how our ancestors did. Our inventions and technologies have enabled us to do so much more with less effort. But has this come at a cost? Are our instinctual reactions no longer reliable or trustworthy? 

Our instincts are hard-wired into us for survival purposes. They are usually internal alarm systems warning us of danger or telling us when to rest or stop doing something. Metabolism and our physiology evolved our minds to listen to the underpinnings of our senses. Unfortunately, due to the convenience of technology, we have dulled our senses and lost touch with their natural, instinctual responses. For example, when artificial light was invented, it allowed people to stay awake longer than they should’ve been able to in a natural environment. As a result, people now sleep less than they used to and work more because they don’t naturally feel tired when they should be resting their bodies.

The same holds with physical activity; since machines do most of the work for us these days, our bodies aren’t moving as much as they used to. We rely on the convenience of technology and comfort over physical activity, leading us further away from understanding our instincts and needs for rest and movement. To get back in touch with ourselves and our intuition, we must learn to practice in terms of training and how our minds interact with our bodies. Having a breath practice teaches us how to slow down by learning how to respond rather than react in moments of stress or distraction, knowing when it’s time for rest or when it’s time for action – all based on what our body is telling us rather than what is convenient for the mind at any given moment.

Breathing is fundamental to everything we do – breathwork helps to quieten the mind so that we can listen more intently to our body’s signals without being swayed by our illusive reactions and distractions around us. In addition, taking slower, controlled breaths can help ground you in the present moment so that you can make conscious decisions based on what your body needs rather than what your mind wants at that particular moment.

Humans have been disconnected from our essential instinctual reactions due to the convenience and comfort of technological advancements over many years. We have reverse anthropomorphized ourselves to the idea that we operate similarly to computers and aren’t efficient enough or lack something due to our inability to function like them. There is nothing wrong with us; the only mistakes we make are those we repeat towards this dogma. This has become systemic through our continued frustration towards entitlement and getting what we want now. “I deserve this. I’m in a rush; get out of my way. I’m busy.”… We are a predictive biological multicellular organism that science will never replicate. Because of this, we continue to be persuaded that technology can do it for us. We are far more than how we’ve behaved towards ourselves; no protocol or amount of research can be done to walk us through the pain we seem to be in.

To bring ourselves back into alignment with ourselves again, we must take charge through practice and learning how to respond rather than react in moments of stress or distraction while listening intently to what our body is communicating instead of giving into illusive reactions driven by illusive poetic stories from the mind. Then, with consistent practice, we can start trusting ourselves again and recognizing patterns associated with certain behaviors, leading us back toward trusting our instincts again!

The moral of all this is to trust nobody who is reactive, even yourself!

Army of Darkness | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #14

This last week I spent three days at Pelican Bay State Prison. As some may know, I have spent some time in prisons and correctional facilities for the last several years. This started with running an Art of Breath Program at San Quentin State Prison for six months until everything was stopped when COVID hit. Pelican Bay is in the absolute middle of nowhere and is one of, if not the most, secure prisons in the country. It houses the SHU (security housing unit) an isolation-based housing unit designed to keep the individual segregated from everyone else. Google images and videos if you care to see them. Pelican Bay is a Level 4 prison where at one time the worst of the worst went. It was the end of the road (you were never leaving). 

In my week-long adventure I experienced some of the deeper, darker aspects of human beings which did not come from the prisoners or the Correctional Officers/Staff at the prison. The prisoners and staff were a different experience of possibility and growth. Crazy to state this about prison like this! What I experienced that was darker was the large number of human beings who have decided to care or not to care about this population or the prison system. 

Let me articulate this in a way that helps anyone who cares to read this to understand where I am coming from. 

Many of us have made decisions about how we feel about most issues or many of the ‘systems’ in place through gathering information from media, the internet, and even social media. So, we end up planting a flag in an issue because so and so (a person I trust) feels a specific way and has gathered said information about a subject that I trust. They align with our feelings, and this is a very natural phenomenon that is rooted in our survival instincts. It’s why we didn’t eat poisonous shit or fight a bear. Someone learned a lesson for us, and we survived. 

Society has made leaps and bounds towards making us safer and life incredibly convenient for everyone, from disease to food, to transportation, and on and on. With that security we have been allowed to care more about a lot of other stuff. So we spend our time gathering information from others while learning who we like more and like less. One side does this. Well, I do that. We all get it. Critical thinking has little to do with this process, as we assume that the information we are fed is the truth on almost every occasion.

The truth is interesting because it is rarely seen but often felt. To understand the truth for ourselves, we have to learn to work on ourselves. When we work on ourselves, we see many of the insecurities and issues we’ve avoided or protected ourselves from. It is a process that involves deep reflection and an ability to understand why we react instead of respond. The search for the truth is rooted in the foundation of science, and I will paraphrase William Briggs on this. The truth implies there is an uncertainty to something as we can not be uncertain of nothing. Therefore, we are uncertain of something, and if there is some thing, there must be truth. I know it is a mouthful; however, this is where truth exists, in our conscious understanding that there must be more to this.  

Our consciousness is the ability to seek out this truth and our ability to be aware of more. The last decade or so of work has made one thing very clear about our polarized world. On one side or the other, the common theme is that the other side isn’t thinking clearly, and how could they come to these conclusions? It is my awareness that is better than your awareness ‘thing.’ Never realizing the algorithms in front of me are not the same in front of you, feeding our misunderstood feelings. It is entertaining to watch most of the time, albeit a sad show. 

So here is how this fits with prisons or any issue if you feel like inserting it. On the right, we’ve got people who think that prison reform is asinine and that many people should be locked up and we should throw away the key (this is the end); on the left, we have people who want to shut down all prisons and let as many people out as possible (this is the extreme other end). There are a lot of opinions and information that swirl on either end of this as to the why, but by and large, I’ve come to understand that the lack of understanding has created the most noise in these halls of dissonance. Big money fuels feelings. The siding up on issues – like prison reform in this case – shows who cares and who does not but is equally vocal. It is without fail where uncontrolled emotion (reaction) to an issue show’s how deeply someone has taken the time to understand their insecurities. Why do ‘the work’ when my feelings can be validated through my choice of information portal (insert media, internet, social media)? It’s the equivalent of having a drink every night to calm down, except this is literally ‘killing you by you’ without any chemical or toxin necessary. It is clear as day for those who seek the truth. 

Some of the most polarizing issues we have today have a token representative for the cause that usually self-identify with either having something ‘wrong’ with them or with humanity and that they have the answer. I’ve sat on this soap box of cynicism and self-defeating behavior. There was never anything wrong with me, nor is there anything wrong with you. I was only being fed that through whichever stream validated my opinion, which stems from my feelings. We are all afraid when we cannot understand. Understanding requires us to go through something, not gather information, for the sake of knowledge. 

I am not writing this to convince you of prison reform, which I have mixed feelings on. I am not interested in your opinion of the issues you care about, nor do I want you to care about my opinion of any problem I care about. I, however, do care about how you care about yourself. When we begin to care about ourselves, we look at others in the same light. Until then, we can never know how dark we are, thinking we only stand for what’s right. 

SH//FT Health is built on this and your exploration of the truth. We begin February 18, and we hope to see you there!

Projected Mirrors | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #12

Most of us have heard the term we are mirrors of each other. Although I believed I understood this analogy most of my adult life, it has come into a new light and understanding for me.

I’ll start with what I thought I understood.

When I would think of people as mirrors, I was under the impression that the behaviors I did or did not like in others reflected my behavior(s). Similarly, the behaviors I picked up from my parents, siblings, and even friends were a manifestation of this paradigm of mirroring. While none of this is wrong or incorrect, I’ve come to understand this process is more in line with attachments and patterns we mimic. Still, a very natural process, and nothing is wrong as we all live this process out.

I have been curious about most of the human experience my entire life. Most who choose to read this stuff probably understand that I went towards this human experience through the physical and human performance side.

Almost 25 years ago, a light bulb came on that was the first actual event horizon in my life outside of being born; I was 23. I began to rethink my decisions; I began to look at the people I chose to associate with. I began to educate myself. I started to ask others for help with understanding life. I began to ask critical questions. I figuratively, and in some cases, literally died and went in the opposite direction of everything I knew and understood.

This process has defined the last 25 years of my life, career, and path. I learned to think critically at a time when most of my peers were still reinforcing a lifestyle and habits that would come to haunt most of them. That’s not to say I was the beacon of decision-making, as I am still working on that.

This path has led me to many interesting and brilliant people. I have been fortunate beyond my ability to make sense of with these relationships and the ability to learn from so many of these people who have quite literally changed the arc of many of the industries they exist in. Learning from many of them is where many of my ideas come from and this is precisely where the mirror changed for me.

The mirror is much more straightforward than behavior and is not relegated only to people. However, it can still involve our behavior. It is in our emotions, and the reflection is my emotion. Our emotions are the accumulation of feelings drawn from our senses (all 8 of them). This filtering is the work of our nervous system and many of the physiological processes involved in this. However, when we were children, we could not filter those feelings as our pre-frontal cortexes weren’t entirely online until 24 or 25 years old. This is why, as children, we developed patterns of emotions to feelings; we lacked the logic to solve the feeling of discomfort.

Fast forward to being an adult -> “this is who I am.”

Only when we can logically look at something can we learn to process or begin to understand it. The cure for anything is understanding, yet how many of us want to go through something to understand it? I know I’ve kicked and screamed… there’s that mirror.

It is not a coincidence that with the equivalent of more than 100 newspapers of information being thrown at us every day, an educational system predicated on the memorization of data (no real skill), 100 podcasts for every subject and hack, and everyone and everything telling us what is important and how to think that we’ve deemed mental health its own sub-unit of health. 

If just a fraction of the above we were to engage in, who in their right mind would ever want to go through anything to understand it? Why do that when I feel like I am getting all the information I need from an influencer, professor, podcaster, scientist, or expert extraordinaire? Why would I get off the couch from the news? Why would I not scroll infinitely through the Gram? Why would I not pick a side to stand for? Because it requires more energy than I have. Now that I’ve given my attention to all of this, I believe I understand. The emotion remains as anger, sadness, and fear. The mirror shows me where the anger, sadness, depression, and anxiety are still inside me. Because whatever I am choosing is not changing this stuff.

It’s not all bad. How many get the mirror of love, happiness, and joy? We all do at times! But, unfortunately, life is difficult regardless of who you are; that has been my experience traveling the world. No amount of wealth or fame saves you from this. I’ve seen it first hand, and in fact, in most cases makes it even harder to understand any of this as we can so easily insulate ourselves with excitement and convenience.

Equality and freedom are in that mirror and it’s there when and where I want to experience it. It’s in how I recover after a workout or during it. It is how I handle not knowing how to communicate or hearing something that doesn’t feel good. It is in my practice every time I am willing to experience it.

We are about to enter a new SH//FT in discussing Health. If you’ve been paying attention to these emails or any of our information, you know this is coming. Our programming for membership and our offerings are about this evolution.

We are looking forward to engaging more with you all,

Brian MacKenzie

 

On Discipline | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #10

This paradigm of health is entertaining if you look at how we have made it exactly that; a model. We have allowed ourselves to conveniently develop a model for something with no path. This has ultimately fed into our control issues of trying to inform folks about right and wrong. Run, lift, stretch, walk, stand, don’t sit too long, eat this way, eat that way.

I have invested considerable time in physical practice and breath practice for my exploration. This has given me a lot of understanding of how I spend my time. In deconstructing the last 25 years of my life dedicated to this, I could fall under the illusion that had I made better decisions earlier, it wouldn’t have taken me as long to get to where I am.

“Do more. Go longer. Be better. Why are they interrupting me. Don’t they know I’m working here?”

Normal right? Pretty much.

It’s funny that we think changing our behavior makes us healthy when the only truth is when we are healthy, our behavior changes. Tail wagging the dog, or dog wagging the tail?

What does health look like? Is it being shredded? Is it constantly looking in the mirror, taking selfies, or wondering if I’ve put on excess weight? Is it questioning the food I am putting in my mouth or “working out” to burn off that food I put in my mouth? Does any of this read healthy?

When I think about health, it looks or feels more like that person who’s smiling, invested in their lifestyle, glows when they enter the room and doesn’t worry about what they eat or when things don’t go their way. They don’t need to set a record in the gym or don’t have to run to feel good about themselves. They are active because they love it, not because they need to look a certain way. We all get glimpses of this.

The confusion arises amidst the reversal of actions and a need to fill something that feels missing.

Changing behavior without understanding the root issue is a cozened handshake with that devil. Unfortunately, this has been one of the issues inside the mental health space since it was decided to be a separate issue from health; we’ve got a new model to sell. Mental health is health, but health is not something we attain; it is an actual behavior. And this is where that devil begins to sing…

I described above a version of what is called high-functioning anxiety. If you look around enough, you’ll learn that any control issues fit some psychological assessment. Therefore, they are mainly irrelevant unless, of course, you’d like to live there.

In one door, you have the choice of disciplining your behavior. You will change and grow many things through this process. However, the root problem will always exist, and all attachments you have must be constantly repeated and controlled to avoid the other door.

The other door is a gateway to accepting your decisions and uncovering why you believe you need to change your behavior. It is a path to accepting the decisions you have made in your life, learning to listen to what you need, and getting to the root of what drives you.  This door also gives you every piece of what you believed the other door would without the repetitious attachments hiding that truth.

If I need to discipline myself to a new “healthy behavior pattern,” let us first consider discipline’s definition: the controlled behavior resulting from discipline. Or, to train (someone) to obey rules or a code of conduct, using punishment to correct disobedience. “I’m a bad man!”

Discipline eludes to learning a process of behavioral control, which makes a lot more sense for us culturally, right?

Once again: if you look around enough, you‘ll learn that any control issues fit some psychological assessment. From an over-simplified physiological view, applying discipline to behavior is using the dopamine and adrenaline lever to mobilize energy to make us feel productive while reinforcing those patterns (via the nervous system). It feels so good! I can now check the box off.

Needing a disciplined lifestyle to be healthy only keeps us busy avoiding the truth, and being busy and being disciplined are not actual skills. If you look deep enough, you have become highly skilled at many things without the thought of discipline, simply a passionate drive. The irony is either path myelinates that nervous system and our habits.

The hard part about the health space is that the term and ‘behavior’ and ‘discipline’ are so pervasive that they have become synonymous with skill, so I invite you to pay attention to when professional athletes retire and how difficult that process is for a large majority of them. Or most people who retire from something. How about winning the lottery?

We’ve been sold on the concept of luxury, popularity, safety, of convenience and that there is no consequence for any of it… All this is for our natural beauty and health. Yet, that little devil is anywhere I can sense, and I can choose to feel it or protect myself from it by avoiding the truth.

Until Next Time,

Brian