Follow Arrows: Using Archery for Bio-Feedback

When I was 25 or so, I was given a dream job caretaking a ranch along the Roaring Fork River. In the apartment over the barn stalls, the previous tenants left a simple wooden sign with white painted letters that read “Follow Arrows” over the door.

The phrase lived with me for years without clear meaning, and then in 2017 almost two decades later, I found myself following arrows as a practice. I came into compound bow shooting through working with the CAMO program where I met my mentor, became obsessed with how this art demands organization of the breath and bodymind complex, and the lifelong learning it provides.

Beginners Luck

When you first start shooting, you’re amazing because you are pure. You get a little lesson, pick up the bow, and typically sling a bullseye or two from the start. People are amazed at your amazingness. Then you start valuing your outcome. 

“I’m so good at this!” 

But you’re not good. You’re just ignorant and lucky. So you start missing. Then you want to know why you aren’t as natural as you thought at this, so you start asking questions and learning things. These things make you THINK. Now you’re THINKING when you’re shooting. And you start really sucking. So you either put the weapon down for good, “archery’s not that fun”, or you start training.

Training, of course, is the act of practicing a skill over and over to ingrain technique so it becomes automated. There are methods to this in every sport. Usually we pick one technique at a time to focus on. And usually that is best learned when you take away the outcome, like shooting so close to the target that it doesn’t matter, or hitting golf balls on a range, or batting ball after ball in a cage. Once you have some ingrained technique, you test in the playing field. If you have a good process, you use the information to learn, not to attach more to the story of what happened or who you are in your sport. 

Hitting Ceilings and Making New Ones

In a martial art like archery, this training elevates your game to a point, then you find a new ceiling and have to unlearn everything and start over. And this never ends. Ever.

Shooting a bow is a lot like hitting a golf ball, throwing a free throw in hoops, or making a tennis serve. You train so you don’t think during execution. If you think too much, you can’t execute; the subconscious mind can’t do its automation for you. You are too busy trying to coach yourself and think your way to success. 

Thoughts are things. And those things carry weight. Those of us who play anything that tests this are lucky to have something that mimics the same process in daily life. 

Avoid Attachment to Outcome

If you become attached to the outcome of your shot, it becomes impossible to capture the state necessary for true aim and accuracy; neutrality and presence. Now, replace the word “shot” in the last sentence with the word “life” or “job” or “conversation” and see if it translates for you.

Following a great shot puts you on the spot to perform. Enter attachment. Following a bad shot puts you on the spot to fix. Enter attachment. 

Once you are attached, you are likely thinking and coaching yourself on the next effort. You are fixated on the outcome. Now you have lost connection to the state of presence and neutrality that allows your body to have a say in the process. A neutral mind is a calm mind, connected to the body in present time. 

Resources like grip strength, focus without overthinking, coordination, responsive energy, subconscious accuracy, and a knowingness that you are ‘in it’ all come from state. The state is reinforced through practice. You can’t buy it any other way. Time and reps. Doing the thing. 

The reps include the skill of resetting your nervous system over and over and over. Follow the arrow. Put it in your quiver. Walk back. Start the process over again, regardless of how bad (or good) the last shot was.

The Fine Line Between Learning and Attachment

There is a fine line between learning and attachment. Brian MacKenzie reminded me recently of the Bruce Lee quote that says:

“I fear not the man who has practiced 10,000 kicks once, but I fear the man who had practiced one kick 10,000 times.” 

And this is how to train anything. Don’t shoot 10,000 shots, shoot one shot 10,000 times. To me, this means each and every shot is THE shot. It’s the only one you are taking. Be in it fully, and don’t practice failure by attaching only to where it lands compared to previous shots. As with all things, the process is where the fulfillment, learning, and success live.

What it Means for Me to Follow Arrows

By following arrows, I have learned that I can be present and centered as well as overexcited and trigger-happy. I’ve learned how to read when I’m in either and figure out what works in my own system to reset myself. There’s breath skill in that, but also grounding, visual resets, mindfulness, noticing one thing about this moment that reminds me it is in fact the ONLY moment like a blade of grass moving in the wind, a bee, the way the ground feels underfoot. 

Artful sports like these are like bio-feedback. You can use them to learn about yourself IF you are paying attention to the right things. Those same things can apply when you notice yourself fixated on story in daily life. Breathe. Ground. Create presence. Trust your body, not the story. Take aligned action. Let go of the outcome. Learn. Repeat. 

The art of any sport can be used in these ways to create durability within ourselves. It is trainable through anything that pulls you into your body, your breath, and this one true moment.

Take a Hit of This: Reducing Stress is a Lost Cause

Notes from the Field Article: Reducing Stress is a Lost Cause. Featured image.

Issue# 42

When you feel overwhelmed, anxious, depressed or lost, do you think about your life and start wondering, “How can I reduce my stress?”

My work centers around stress, but not in helping people mitigate it. I help people flip the story and consider that reducing stress is a lost cause until we deal with how we handle stress. With training, people I work with take intentional, manageable doses of known stressors in order to train a healthier, more stable response. They become resilient, and many of their perceived stressors melt in the process.

Think of Stress Like This

Stress isn’t going anywhere. A common analogy in our workshops is to think of stress as a bunch of leaky faucets filling up a bucket. These faucets include finances, health, work, relationships, house problems, parenting concerns, politics… endless list of things can cause us stress. When the bucket gets full from one faucet turning on more than we can handle, or the cumulative effect of these stressors overflowing our capacity, we have a physiological reaction of hyper or hypo arousal. We flip high, we flip low, or we toggle back and forth between anxiety and depression. At this point, we have lost the resources to manage anything, so we fixate on the stories that justify our state.

“I would be fine if I could just quit my job.” “It’s my landlord, until I move I will be depressed and stuck”. “I have to finish, and there are not enough hours in a day”. “Until schools are fixed, our child is going to suffer.” On and on we fixate on reducing stressors outside ourselves. This is VALID, and we’re not wrong for identifying real problems. But here’s the catch:

We create from state.

So if your stress bucket is overflowing, and you haven’t learned tools to regulate your state and empty the bucket first, your solutions will come from anxiety, overwhelm, depression, rage, etc. Furthermore, things you could usually handle with ease are colored by dysregulation, and mole holes turn into gigantic mountains in every direction. Wouldn’t you rather solve real problems with space to breathe, see, and think clearly?

In this analogy of stress as water, let’s think of it like a river that is always flowing. Sometimes it’s high and fast, sometimes it’s calm and sweet. We might try to dam it and control it, but all dams share the same fate eventually. They break. How would your stress change if you had the tools to reshape your inner response when the river breaches? What if you could become calm in the middle of the flood with the motor skills and cognition to grab a raft and oars and navigate from above the surface instead of drowning in the sagas, spending precious energy blaming the river?

Controlling Stress > Reducing Stress

My approach centers around learning your own physiology and the tools to transform reactivity into resources. This reorganizes the focus of control from trying to control life’s flow to connecting to the power of your mind and body. It’s not a linear path. It’s up and down. We all react, get overwhelmed, reflect, and learn. In the best cases, we train taking a hit of stress with skill to become more masterful over our experience.

When we shift how we are handling our internal stress response, our bucket of capacity grows. We want the biggest buckets we can create. We do this on the fly when buckets start overflowing, and more importantly through daily practice to train our bodies and minds to be supple, agile, resourceful, and optimistic.

If you are curious about this approach and the difference between processing stress and reducing stress, you can learn more in the Skill of Stress course online or request a live event for your studio, gym, or corporate group.

“….as within, so without…” – Hermes Trismegistus

Mapping and Mastering Your Senses with Yoga Nidra

The “Little Man” in Your Brain

Your brain has a map of your body that may look very different from the reflection you see in the mirror. The 19th Century idea of “The Homunculous” which means “Little Man” in Latin, is that if your brain could draw your body based on the amount of tissue dedicated to each body part without visual reference, your body proportions would be measured by how many sensory nerves are contained in various parts. The more nerves, the larger the body part would be. Your hands, eyes, nose, face, lips, tongue, and genitalia would make the rest of your torso and limbs look tiny. 


Visual representation of the brain’s interpretation of the body in terms of nerve proportion, from

The somatosensory cortex and motor cortex connect to these instruments of the body like a map.  You can read and follow this map from head to toe. These tissues help us tell where our bodies are in space, what’s happening in our environment inside and out, and how to direct functions in response to that.

*Note, this image does not completely acknowledge the complex interactions of multiple brain structures involved in how we sense and move through our world. It is a clever way to get our attention and help us consider the deep landscape beneath the layers of our everyday conscious awareness of how our brains ‘see’ our inner and outer worlds.

Turning your Sensory Awareness Inward

In Yoga Nidra, by rotating awareness systematically through the map of the motor and somatosensory cortexes, your sensory awareness is turned inwards. As these body parts rest, they are no longer seeking information and behaviors to avoid danger and seek pleasure from the outside world. But rather than just sleep, Yoga Nidra guidance has you rotate consciousness, part-by-part, systematically, that helps us integrate the sensory system of our own bodies. 

Rotating awareness through the homunculi is a perfectly boring part of the practice. Why is that a good thing? Right-hand thumb. First finger. Second finger. Middle finger. Boring topics to the egotistical mind… But incredibly interesting to the brain as it gets to lope along the trail of its own sensory-motor map. This seduces the brain into a powerful state of sensory withdrawal and heightened awareness at the same time. 

Yoga Nidra Uses Cognitive Engagement for Somatic Mapping

Unlike other forms of Non Sleep Deep Rest or NSDR (more on this below), Yoga Nidra uses cognitive engagement in a systematic way with your internal sensory world to light up these areas of the brain in relationship to the resting body. Somatic mapping ensues. 

What does this even mean? It means practicing Nidra helps you become aware in control of these seriously sensitive parts of your body-mind complex. 

Stress comes through the senses, and arousal follows. How much arousal depends on the situation and your perception of it. Sounds simple enough, right? But if you haven’t spent time mastering awareness and connection to your own senses, you are at their whimsy. They will sense danger, and a cascade of reactions will occur that you feel are happening ‘to’ you. With a regular Nidra practice, you invest in the skill of interoception; sensing yourself. Trusting yourself. 

Mapping senses with Yoga Nidra Deactivates Stress Response

A Yoga Nidra practice helps you deactivate your stress response and master your connection to the sensory system. This enables you to trust your own senses and understand more clearly what they are picking up.

If you work in Fire, Law Enforcement, Military, or EMS, having mastery over your senses is important. A tool like SH//FT’s Neuro Nidra™ requires no training to practice, and can not only help deactivate and master stress, but can also repay sleep debt in the process. 

This sensitivity is a secret weapon that allows you to pick up on stress cues before they cascade into reactivity. This allows you to manage how you choose to interpret the signals, and better choose how you will respond. 

Non Sleep Deep Rest (NSDR)

NSDR is a term coined by Dr. Andrew Huberman, and includes various practices such as Yoga Nidra, Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, Hypnosis and more. Yoga Nidra was developed in the 20th century by Swami Satyananda Saraswati using Yoga’s ancient practices of Pratyahara or sensory withdrawal.

You can learn more about Neuro Nidra™ here. Neuro Nidra™ was created by Emily Hightower and combines the practice of Yoga Nidra with principles from neuroscience. Emily is not a neuroscientist, but a trained Yoga Nidra expert and Teacher Trainer studying applied neuro somatics.

How and Why NOT to Fall Asleep During Yoga Nidra

How and Why NOT to Fall Asleep During Yoga Nidra

If you’ve been to a group guided Yoga Nidra class, you’ve likely been jarred out of the blissful state by someone snoring nearby. Maybe you use Nidra downloads to fall asleep yourself. Any sleep seems welcome if you suffer from insomnia, however, the more you nod off during practice the more you train yourself to do so, missing the real benefits of the Yoga Nidra. 

What is the Yoga Nidra Hypnagogic State?

Yoga Nidra is a guided practice that brings about the hypnagogic state, which is unique to states we encounter during actual sleep. In this state, we are semi-conscious in a dynamic rest that engages the parasympathetic nervous system in deep healing activity. Being semi-conscious allows us to participate with the healing and learn how to toggle various states of consciousness in waking life. This translates to better self-regulation and performance under stress. 

Ideally, we do not fall into actual sleep during practice. Sleep has its own benefits, but regular sleep does not engage our consciousness in the way Yoga Nidra does. If you have ever been in a hypnagogic state, you know what I’m talking about. You drift in and out of hearing the guide’s voice, but you have complete awareness coursing through your body

Why is Yoga Nidra Beneficial?

When immersed in Yoga Nidra, you are in a slow conscious condition that allows you to master your ‘observer’; the part of you that narrates your life as you live it. This observer is engaged when awareness and relaxation occur together. It is the witness we encounter in meditation. Being in touch with this aspect of ourselves is essential to self-mastery and behavioral health.

If you have patterns of reactivity or addiction, it is your observer who can disrupt that without judgment to help you see alternative response options. This part of our consciousness has an elevated perspective on our daily desires and aversions. Being connected to that invites mastery over the push and pull of our physical experience. 

Withdrawing from Your Senses

Yoga Nidra is a conscious practice of withdrawing the senses from the constant game of seeking pleasure and avoiding pain. In this sensory withdrawal, we hone the ability to stay with something uncomfortable and understand that our preferences and aversions are not who we are. We can more readily choose to see things and do things that are outside our normal reactive patterns.

Sleep has its own benefits to be discussed in future posts. But it does not curate the same level of conscious, intentional healing states as Yoga Nidra. Plus, if you do fall asleep in a Nidra practice, it can create grogginess when you emerge, depending on what sleep state you fell into. The hypnagogic state will not leave you feeling groggy after practice. Usually, you’ll feel more alive awareness; a kind of calm coursing energy flowing through you. 

If You Fall Asleep During Yoga Nidra

If you do fall asleep during Yoga Nidra, try practicing first thing in the morning. This is especially great if you wake up an hour before you were intending to. You have the time, and you have the ideal state of having rested all night but still not having engaged with your daily stories and stressors. You can also try Nidra in the afternoons. If you’ve mastered the state, you can practice before bed and when complete, drift into the various stages of real sleep. 

Lastly, if you do fall asleep during practice, notice the conditions that put you there. Try a shorter guided session next time, or a different time of day, or after exercise when you’ve ramped up some sympathetic stress that can keep you in more of an aroused state while still welcoming the release of Nidra. 

If you’re interested in exploring Yoga Nidra, look into SH//FT’s Neuro Nidra™ guided audio practices

The Project of Projection | Emily Hightower

Issue# 41

We all live in a hall of mirrors, projecting our own realities onto what we see. What gets reflected back to us is just what we already believe. It takes a certain special state to learn anything new or to see beyond our own reflections to even begin to understand anything or anyone past our own illusion.

Projection is an unconscious act. We often project our own feelings, emotions, narratives, and ideas onto others. We transpose ourselves onto each other in an effort to make sense of ourselves and to justify our own experience. An easy example of projection is when we look at our dog laying on the couch in the middle of the day, not interacting with anyone, and someone says “She’s SO bored right now”.

Really? Is she bored? How do you know? What if she’s in complete bliss, just relaxing in the ray of sun on the couch, dreaming of steak falling from the sky into her mouth? To see boredom in her is to admit boredom in the Self at the idea of doing nothing on the couch.

What’s actually happening?

In projecting boredom on the dog, we are unintentionally stealing the moment. We can’t wonder at her experience or learn anything new beyond what we already believe; that doing nothing on the couch is SO boring. This isn’t a big deal, until it is. 

Projection is an unconscious and common affair, but sometimes our projections can develop into painful relationship projects that call us to awaken from the dream of ourselves.

What stories do you tell about the people around you? Think of your primary relationship patterns. What have you decided someone’s actions mean? He’s not doing X, she always or never thinks X, he doesn’t care, she thinks she’s being helpful, he’s lazy, she doesn’t listen….

While your experience of the other person is valid, are your ideas about what’s really going on with them true? How do you know? Is there any part of what you’re judging that applies to yourself? If we don’t take the time to check our projections, we end up creating projects out of our relationships; things we need to fix or work on that might not even be real. The real project is looking at our own reflection around our assumptions, where they come from, and what we really desire in the situation.

What we lose

When we’re lost in a projection, we lose objectivity and curiosity, which create that special state that allows us to learn and grow. This means, if we do engage in material with another that is muddled with projections, it’s hard for us to see past our own illusions to create real understanding. When we can check ourselves and our projections, we can begin to create space for another person to have their own experience, and in so doing create new understanding.

This might look like sharing what we notice without judging the other person, and taking ownership of the story we are telling ourselves as we notice them. Then identifying what desire our story points to in ourselves, and if available, making a request of the other person to work with our desires. 

Let’s look at an example

Let’s look at an example. Your partner clams up every night when you ask how their day went. Maybe in their reality, they talk all day at work and enjoy silence as a forom of intimacy. Silence makes you feel like something’s wrong and you feel defensive. You project that they aren’t interested in sharing themselves with you, and they don’t emote well. (really you’re not sharing yourself with them, and not emoting well) This dynamic has become an uncomfortable project where silence, snappiness, and judgment enter an otherwise kind and quiet scene. The next opportunity, you could drop the illusions and communicate your reality without projecting anything onto them. 

“I notice when I ask how your day went, you don’t say much. I realize silence makes me uncomfortable, and tthe story I’m telling myself is that you aren’t interested in me or in sharing your emotions. Is that true for you? What are you experiencing when I ask how your day went?” They might answer that they talk all day at work, and really enjoy comfortable silence with you, or your fear might be true, and they don’t enjoy sharing much with you. Well, now we’re in some territory beyond assumptions and projections. You’re now exploring connecting and maybe understanding instead of blaming and story-making. Without the distortion of projection, you’re able to look at the blueprints of your relationship to decide what to build, what to renovate, or even demolish. It’s scary to let someone have their experience. It’s much easier to project your own reality onto it. 

Beyond projection

When this works, it’s like having the mirror momentarily shatter. We get a glimpse into another’s reality. This is a form of intimacy that is rare and not defined by the false security of our own narratives. It means we are willing to loosen our attachment to our own stories about people long enough to ask questions, be objective, and own our own stuff in the process. 

Setting our dog free to have her own experience without my version of it is the same as setting the person you love free from having to fulfill your version of them. Catching projections can open up a new moment, and revise the project of relationships to be one of mutual respect and curiosity, instead of pushing someone to live out our versions of them. 

What would life be like if the hall of mirrors could shatter into one watery mirror between you and you, and you could poke your head through that surface to glimpse another person’s experience with an open mind, a new moment, and a chance to really ‘see’ past the dream of yourself? I sense that the mirror can only be transcended through the still waters of neutrality, curiosity, and true courage.

I’d like to find out.

The Will to Survive Free Will | Emily Hightower

Issue# 39


Everything in nature is imbued with a natural will. Trees grow, birds migrate, lions hunt, zebras run. Nature doesn’t need will power programs or tools to ‘Survive the Holidays’ and set New Year’s Resolutions that ‘finally stick!’.

What is it about human will that requires so much effort? I think it lies in our relative comfort that disconnects us from nature’s realities. Somehow the very consciousness that allows us to create art, architecture, video games, and microwaves is the same part of us that has to summon will power to curate behaviors in our own best interest against these very forces of comfort we’ve created. If we don’t, we succumb to natural laws of obesity, addiction, and disease in a way no other species on earth demonstrates; unless we cage them in our zoos, or hook them on our garbage denying them access to their nature.

This makes me think of one of my favorite shows, Alone, where contestants are dropped in the wilderness to film themselves in a survival challenge where the last one standing wins a giant pot of money. I lounge fireside with a mouthful of steak watching people hunt, gather, build shelter, and starve for money. It’s a favorite of mine, so don’t get me wrong. I deeply respect these people who love the wilderness and have trained their survival skills. It’s just ironic that the entire time they have a satellite phone in their pocket for an instant bailout if they decide it’s not worth it. It is a ‘reality show’ that we watch to find some piece of missing reality that even the contestants aren’t really facing.

What usually gets them to tap out in the end is that they are struggling, alone. For hundreds of thousands of years we were pulled by an innate will to survive with similar skills, but we did it together, or we didn’t make it. You’re here because your own ancestors won that challenge. Now we recreate survival situations for entertainment, and the suffering gains money to spend on comforts in order to survive modern stress with more perceived ease. Often the monetary goals for contestants are tied to helping out a family, or building a survival school; something beautiful that can come from the suffering. Their will power is connected to bettering their lives and those they love. That can get people moving. But for most, no monetary reward is big enough to keep them from the companionship of others long enough to win.

What would it take for you to survive alone in the wilderness for 100 days, assuming you had the basic skills? Would your will power shift depending on what’s at stake? Despite the shit I talk from my living room, I would likely last a month tops before I convinced myself I was deeply needed back home (and oh how wrong I would be.) That is, unless you changed the rules to say stay for 100 days or someone I love back home would get badly hurt. Then I could summon some crazy will. I would figure it out or die trying.

In survival situations or when the stakes are high, will comes naturally to do hard things. When it comes to needing New Year’s Resolutions and tools to “Survive the Holidays”, we clearly struggle to find the will to act on behalf of our health in modern life. Like wild animals hooked on garbage at a landfill. Do we need sat phones in our pockets to bail us out of the family gathering? When the holiday spread is filled with too many temptations and a cousin pours another drink we planned to limit? “This is Emily. I can’t resist the alcohol and sugar. I’m tapping out.”

Who is going to bail us out when our will power for daily health fails? There’s no monetary reward if you follow your diet plan for the New Year. And if there were, statistics say that your eventual reward will be to yo-yo back to the weight you had before your plan was executed. Health come from steady behaviors over time, and these require something more than white knuckling it through workouts and past dessert tables.

So where does innate will come from? Often it springs forth after a health scare of some kind. We ignored the costs of unhealthy behavior until the bill came due, or we just drew a bad card. Now we’ll move mountains to get our health back. This is that slap in the face of reality that reminds us that nature does not in fact care about our goals, body image, and identities. If we don’t have the will to do things that give us health, nature plays out a consequence over time.

So, why can’t we just do what we know feels good in the long run without being rudely awakened to nature’s indifference? How can we find our will in a disconnected, comfortable society?

Disconnection is a comfort wild creatures know nothing about. For our coddled modern selves, reconnection requires time and attention that is hard to come by when you’re comfortably numb and distracted. And that’s just it. Maybe the next frontier of human evolution is facing the slow decays of comfort and disconnection to reclaim balance through the strange gift we have called Free Will.

Let’s regroup.

Innate Will: requires no tending. Driven by intrinsic forces like love or survival that drive behavior.
Will Power: requires curating. Implies we are fighting against something. Often found through discipline for external rewards. Often short-lived.
Free Will: the ability to choose.

Can Innate Will be stoked? If so, can we use our Free Will to stir it without the struggle and yo-yo effects of will power plays? Wouldn’t it be wonderful to be moved by innate will to behave in ways that expand health, connection, and sustainable balance for ourselves and the planet without having to be scared awake to do it?

This is where Free Will meets another seemingly singular human gift: Voluntary Breath. When we become aware of our breath, we start to alter it. From there we can travel on a continuum of awareness to control and actually coax different states of consciousness in the process. We can slow or speed up our brain waves, connect to our physical body, participate with intention in our environment inside and out. When we combine our free will with the gift of voluntary breath, we now have something called a Practice. A breath practice reconnects us to presence and reality. From there we can be moved from innate forces that I trust are well guided when compared to following some external plan of determined will to get somewhere else. Why trust that? When we are present, we are connected to the same forces that tell geese to migrate south in the winter and crocus to burst through snow in spring. We just know. We are moved. If we force our will to power us out of where we are, we are driven instead of guided. That drive has caused each of us a lot of suffering.

In all of this, there’s a realization that the will to survive is innate, but can we survive the passive will to always be comfortable? Can we survive the knowledge that we have free will and are in choice? Can we meet that choice with practices to reconnect, drop the forceful idea that we need determination to get somewhere else, and instead breathe the reality of our temporary lives to be moved into right actions?

I have plenty of vices and addictions to study these concepts through. The wild species around us are acting on instinct, without judging themselves for their behaviors. For us, we have choices to make. Take it, or leave it. We’re only human, after all.

The Inner Mechanic | Emily Hightower

Issue #37

When you drive across the country you stop for gas, wiper fluid, and maybe check the tires. You do not stop to change the oil or do major repairs that you think can wait. Our behavior in the face of modern stress is like driving to get somewhere else all of the time. We will stop to eat (get fuel), wash (wiper fluid), and park once in a while along the way but we don’t take the time to do deep repair to our systems. We’d rather keep going and believe there will come a time later when we can truly take care of ourselves.


This plays out in the way we sleep. Rapid Eye Movement (REM) sleep is a lighter sleep stage where we dream and play out scenarios that help us manage our social and emotional lives. There are usually protagonists, antagonists, and themes that arise from our subconscious minds that help us simulate real fears, desires, obstacles and opportunities. This kind of dreaming helps us process our emotional lives to keep things running day to day, but does not touch the deep repairs that happen in slow wave sleep.


In slow wave sleep (SWS) we enter much slower brain wave dominance where the activity of the mind slows in favor of allowing the parasympathetic branch of our autonomic system to turn on it’s magic. Here the systems feel safe and slow enough to focus on things like cleaning the blood, pulling damaged proteins out of the brain, allocating minerals, vitamins, and nutrients to tissues in need, rebalancing our intesintal flora, and flushing the nervous system with signals of calm connection. We awaken from nights when we get good deep slow wave sleep with a sense of rested readiness. Our data proves it if we wear biometric devices that show improvements in heart rate variability, resting heart rate, resting respiration rate and readiness to take on stress.


Many people I work with who are getting 7-8 hours of sleep are still not entering deep slow wave states of sleep in adequate amounts. This is because our brains prioritize REM sleep for social and emotional stability over doing deep repairs to the system. Just like driving across the country knowing you need an oil change that gets pushed aside in favor of cranking tunes and speeding through the landscape to get somewhere else at the expense of the health of the vehicle. You know you’re putting wear and tear on the car, but you’ll deal with it when you get ‘there’.


When we neglect deep repair to our own bodies, we end up in a state of ‘sleep debt’. The brain will prioritize and pay back any REM debt before it looks at the replenishing the slow wave sleep savings account. This is why people with chronic stress tend to get less deep, slow wave sleep even if they get in a good 8 hour stretch of sleep. 


To repay that REM debt you can practice Neuro Nidra™ . This form of dynamic sleep-like consciousness allows the body to drop into deep repair states while you are semi-conscious. Swami Satyananda in his book Yoga Nidra says that one Nidra practice can repay between 2 and 4 hours of sleep debt. This means that if you get in a good Nidra practice during the day, that night you will have less REM debt to pay off and you will more likely drop into deep slow wave states of repair. With practice your Nidra session can actually drop you into slow wave states to do that repair work while you simply kick back and allow.


This is like having a magical garage you could park your car in for 30 minutes where the car could rest and do it’s own self-repair. Imagine if when you got in your car to leave that garage that the car had changed it’s own oil, power steering fluid was topped off, brakes were checked, tires rotated and aligned, and worn-out belts were exchanged. All without a mechanic. Your body IS the vehicle and comes with an inner mechanic! But this inner mechanic can’t get to work when you are speeding down the highway of life ignoring the warning lights. It only brings out the tools when you stop and set up the conditions for deep healing to take place.


Search “Neuro Nidra” on our site for all of our webinars and guided audio practices


Pillows of Problems | Emily Hightower

Issue #36

Research shows that our brains are negatively biased, and we will look for problems no matter what our current circumstances are. In Michael Easter’s book, The Comfort Crisis, studies by David Levari are cited on “prevalence-induced concept change,” where Levari found that instead of becoming more fulfilled as our lives improve, we lower our threshold for what we experience as problems. This becomes a problem in and of itself worth looking at. Your experience of your stress is both valid and worth questioning if you want to find contentment and balance.


In my work with trauma I often say we cannot compare pain; your experience is valid and real to you. If you don’t start there, you end up in a mental game of denial masked as righteousness or humility. We tend to use comparison as a way to either justify our pain, or cheat ourselves of the validity of our own experience. This comes out as something like; “Of course that guy is doing better than I am, look what he can afford. If I had his circumstances I wouldn’t have any problems.” or,  “I should be happy and healthy, look at all that I have compared to most”. These comparison games keep us up at night in what are likely and hopefully safe, comfortable beds; restless on perceived pillows of problems. 


This is not to say your problems are not real. In fact, this is one big reality check on how we face problems and testing ourselves to get out of comparison and comfort as dominant strategies for solving them. 


In our work at SH//FT we approach stress from a principle rooted in our biology: stress is natural and it is supposed to be met through your body, not your mind. In a society where comfort has convenienced us into physical disconnection and stagnation we find ways to create the stress we need to feel alive even when things are relatively ‘good’. We look for problems to solve and they are mostly in our heads. Then we point and compare in isolated egocentric lives to understand our discomfort. Then we feel ‘stressed’ about our problems and look for quick ways to feel good; a natural impulse also driven by biology. We live in a world where feel-good-quick is easy but not free. The cost of feeling good without physical effort or connection is usually more overstimulation or addiction. Think; smartphones, tv, alcohol, weed, quick convenient food, etc. – relatively no physical effort required to get the drug and no physical effort required to use it.


When you’re facing your stress and problems, rather than compare your relative pain to others in the form of wealth or comfort, look at the pain of disconnection and stagnation in your own life. No matter how much money, luxury, comfort or time you think you have or want, if you are not connected to your body and creating ways to move stress through it (movement, physical strain, breath, recovery) you are likely sleeping on a pillow filled with feathers noticing only the fluff of problems floating around in your head. Real or imagined, those problems deserve your physical attention to SH//FT from pain to opportunity.


We designed our monthly membership with physical practices that will revitalize you and reconnect you with tools to move stress through your body and widen your tolerance and perspective so you can meet the stress of modern comfort and disconnect with skill. We hope you’ll join the powerful path of self discovery that goes way beyond what people think of as ‘fitness’. We are in this to master modern stress and turn a tide of comfortable suffering into an opportunity for evolution. 




Those Eggs Aren’t Real | Emily Hightower

Issue # 33

When we had backyard chickens we collected the eggs when the hens were out clucking around the yard. Sometimes a hen would stay in the coop and brood. If you don’t know what that means, it’s when a hen will not leave an empty nest. There are no eggs. The hen sits on nothing. She stops eating. She stops socializing. And she posts up with a biological urge to protect potentials that do not exist.

We humans also brood; sit on something that isn’t really there, imagining our massive responsibility that’s holding us back from life. We are stuck and argue for why. The ‘eggs’ need us, we are sure. But they do not exist.

In our nervous systems this is akin to a parasympathetic freeze response. We call it “depression”. 

The sympathetic arousal wing of our autonomic nervous systems can become so overwhelmed that we crash and dysregulate beyond healing into stuck depression. In this case the body is not using the parasympathetic branch to heal, instead it is sludgy and stuck.. When our physiology is here we mull, brood, stagnate, and argue for limitations to hold us hostage to our nest.

Trying to solve problems from this state in our physiology is akin to trying to convince a hen that there are no eggs underneath her. She isn’t hearing that. 

To help a brooding hen, we would gently move her from the nest and shut the coop door. Nervous and uncertain she would pace and roam aimlessly around the door. Drop some fresh compost in front of her, let her find her senses, and she would reluctantly loosen her grip and start eating. After a few days of doing this, she would return to a healthy pattern and join her fellow hens each morning by leaving the coop to free herself from her nest of false problems.

If you’ve ever felt the kind of depression that makes you brood in place without a way out, you’ll probably notice that it doesn’t help when people tell you that your worries (eggs) aren’t real and that you should get out and lift yourself. Instead, don’t think. Just get yourself out of your ‘nest’ (bed, recliner, kitchen you are looping around) and go outside without a goal. Be uncertain. Let your senses take over gently. Walk. Your body will start to inform your mind that you don’t need to sit on those perceived problems. They are in the past and only exist if you brood on them. 

I know, those ‘eggs’ seem real. But often they are figments of physiology. Meet the body first, and the mind will often follow. When the door to the coop opens again, you’ll be fed, full of sunlight, and prepared to face the reality of the emptiness of old problems.


NOTE: Depression is a complex experience that may require larger interventions. Please see our disclaimer in our footer and if you feel depression that is not resolving seek support from a skilled Dr or Therapist along with your physical practices to recover.


But Your Life Is So Good | Emily Hightower

Issue #30

But your life is so good!

When I get depressed I feel:







I can feel this way and still be grateful for all that is going for me in life. If I tell someone how I’m feeling, I’m bound to get reminded, “Look at your life. Look at all that is working! Have you tried a Gratitude Journal?” Or, “Something must have happened to you. Let’s talk about your past and dig this all up to see why you are stuck.”

Those forms of help, being told I should be grateful or digging up anything bad in my past, only make me feel worse. Please note I value talk therapy very much and there are profound counselors and therapists out there who make a huge difference every day. The best ones understand that how we think and feel is part of a larger system than the one between our ears.

We’ve all been trained to think of depression as a psychological problem. Look at your life. Think about it. Feel better. Look at your past. Understand it. Feel better.

We’ve also been trained to think of depression as something you ‘have’. Like a disease.

Depression for most people is not in the mind, and it is not a disease. 

Depression is a signal from the body of imbalance.

When our physiology is depressed we feel depressed. Of course things that happen to us and things we do or do not do play a part and talking that through can be helpful to a point. However, chronic stress and trauma create physiological changes to the brain and body that are not just ideas. 

Forms of chronic stress that can accrue into depressive patterns include being sedentary, pushing too much in training or work, isolation, lack of exposure to nature, not moving, eating, sleeping, or hydrating well. The trick here is that depression makes it harder to move more, eat well, be social, sleep deeply etc. 

In essence depression causes changes to the operating system that make it harder to use that operating system well. These changes are not repaired through thinking and talking alone. 

Medication is the other tool our society uses to “treat” depression. Medication can help some people lift up. But those who rely on talk therapy and medication alone will not address root causes in their physiology to make lasting balance a possibility. 

The stigma everyone is trying to disrupt around getting help for depression comes from this misunderstanding; if depression is a disease of the mind (see your problems and life more clearly, possibly get medication to adjust your perspective) it is personal. The phrase “mental health” only continues this misunderstanding. 

Depression is not a mental health problem. It is a health problem. Lifestyles of disconnection and chronic stress exposure create imbalances to our metabolic and nervous systems. This is not in our heads. 

I and many others have said that depression is when you are stuck in the past and anxiety is worry about the future. After 20+ years of supporting people through stress and trauma and going through this myself I now say that depression is not being stuck in the past, it is being stuck – in the now. The body is always present. If it is stuck and we want to move forward again we need to meet the body where it is and listen.

To line up healthy behavior and create balance from a depressed state is a skill. 

Our movement, breath, and recovery programs are about learning and training metabolic and nervous system health to disrupt this broader misunderstanding around so-called mental health by giving you the keys to your own biology. The Skill of Stress and Art of Breath programs will give you the tools to start down a path of creating balance by working with your body, breath, and yes, your brain. Whatever tools and support you find along the way, I hope you are guided back again and again to the simple practice of listening to what your body has to say about your current state. It’s asking for simple things from you. A nap. Time outside on a walk. Sweat and play with friends. A long sequence of smooth conscious breaths. From there you can adjust your course in small ways that add up to the balance and agency that our modern lives are calling us each to find.

Yours in Health,

Emily Hightower