All of the Time | Emily Hightower

Issue #8

According to physics, time is relative. But what does that mean? Thanks to a remarkable history teacher and her Navajo friend, I started asking this question in 5th grade.

Nancy Priest had two long gray braids, stood around 5’5”, and towered over our middle school egos. We loved and respected her because she expected a lot out of us. She didn’t use textbooks and memorization tests. She asked questions, told stories, created traditions, and made us think. Her connection to indigenous cultures informed her style.

Nancy and her husband Ben had established a warm friendship with several Native American tribes including the Navajo and Hopi Nations. I was among a lucky group who took an extended class trip with them to the desert southwest. Along the journey we made traditional fry bread in a remote canyon where a Navajo Elder gathered us by a fire.

The Elder said time is hard to explain to modern people who think time is linear. The Navajo language has no verb tenses for past and future. We don’t separate time, he explained. Time is always now. We were totally confused, so he asked us to think about what one minute means. He said one minute is not linear, it’s relative. One minute with your hand on a hot stove is not the same as one minute kissing someone you have a crush on. Amidst the squirms and giggles a jolt of “a-HA” struck me. If a minute wasn’t a minute, what was it? It wasn’t 60 seconds anymore. It was now.

It’s impossible with my cultural conditioning to fully understand how the Navajo traditionally experienced time. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity was about speed creating changes to time, and I imagine if he and the Navajo had a fireside chat they would have enlightened one another. One thing is clear; our modern culture relates to time in destructive ways.

For the future, we put time into linear blocks on a digital screen. We tuck time into these blocks to scale and produce incredible things that we hardly experience as we fixate on more productivity for an imagined future. People literally eat while pooping to get more done in less time, missing out on both wonderful parts of the day! When we feel present long enough to notice, we skip around screens to distract ourselves. We have scaled time to speed it up so much that we never have enough. We’re so worried about being ON time that we’re never IN time.

When it comes to the past, Nancy Priest said history doesn’t tell us what happened, it tells us about who is telling it. History is subjective; we can only see it from the present edition of ourselves. When you think about your past you get a real-time physiological response based on how you feel about what you think happened. In this way the past isn’t fixed, it’s relative to your present. What does your story about your past say about you today? How can you use your body’s signals in real time to understand what it currently means? Can you work with that using breath, the ultimate way to be here, now?

The past and the future are not written, they are created today relative to our ability to be present with what is.

By questioning how we relate to time we can show up with awareness to behave with integrity to our values and the reality of this moment. How does that change your relationship to your history? How would it shift your relationship to your perceived future, which only emerges from how well you show up in this time, now?

It’s hard to be present ‘all of the time’ unless we realize there is no time other than now. Maybe the indigenous people of the planet can help show our ‘civilized’ culture how to be in time more fully. Maybe that could help us manage the diseases of behavior and disconnection we are suffering from with more skill.

Brian and I are cooking up some incredible resources to help. Sign up to be the first to know when we release a renewed version of Mentorship very soon….

In Time,

Emily Hightower

Don’t Hold Your Breath | Emily Hightower

Issue #6


I grew up hearing stories about my dad as a kid holding his breath when he didn’t get what he wanted. My grandparents didn’t bite. One time he passed out and hit his head on a radiator and that ended the strategy.

As a breath nerd I kinda respect the will power this took. Resisting the urge to breathe to the point of passing out takes resolve. Voluntary breath holding is a radically human skill. No other species can yoke the respiratory system on demand. People who do this are, like my dad, after something. If that something is tied to a sound practice, you can do more than suffer for a cause. You can elevate consciousness and create incredible adaptations to stress of any kind.

Unconsciously, we hold our breath when we’re scared or sometimes during intense focus. Think: bump in the night, or balancing on a slackline. This involuntary pause helps us focus. Our physiology catches up and restarts natural breathing without a thought.

Unwillingly? No one likes to think about that. Air is immediately essential for life. If we’re stuck underwater, in a space without breathable air, or our airway is blocked we have no choice but to hold our breath. Panic sets in. The diaphragm starts spasming to make us take a breath but we can’t. If we’re not set free we’ll pass out and pass away. Why would anyone play with this intentionally?

Breath is so vital to life that intentionally pausing it makes us pay attention. We can use this focus to help with pain management, stress resilience, and to create meditative states of presence. Humans have been exploring this skill for thousands of years.

Voluntary breath holding has many names and practices including Retention or “Kumbhaka” in Pranayama Yoga, Apnea, and Hypoxic training. Yogis train to create subtle pause control at the bottom, the top, or along the path of inhale or exhale for different effects. More extreme overbreathing is used to create physiological imbalances and then apnea is used to recalibrate. We can harness breath retention during the stress of walking, cold plunging, or more rigorous exercise to create specific adaptations, focus and connection. All of these forms of breath control are woven into our programs at SH//FT*

In our programs we teach that how you breathe when you train is how you’ll perform. Just observe Budamir Šobat, a 56 year old free diver in Sisak, Croatia who held his breath for 24 min 37.36 for the current World Record. If you watch the end he comes up from the water calmly. That’s because he trained calmly. The end of his World Record felt the same physiologically as the end of every training he’s done since he first passed the 2 minute mark. Like any Master, his radical adaptation shows the other distinct human skill of being able to own a PRACTICE. This is the opposite of pushing that edge to the point of panic and passing out to make a point.

So “don’t hold your breath” to me means you’re not going to get what you want by trying to manipulate breathing as a tantrum or for an imaginary gold star. But you can learn to retain breathing to meet the edges of your chemistry and nervous system with skills to enhance mind body connection and fitness at the cellular level. However you apply this incredible human skill, we encourage you to have a WHY, and then start a PRACTICE that serves YOU. We are here to help.


Emily Hightower

Budamir Calm Emerging 24min Breath Hold

Off Trail, On Track | Emily Hightower

Issue #3

This time of year I spend a lot of time in the woods hiking with my bow looking for ungulates. It’s a mock connection to a more primal existence that our Western culture simply calls “sport”. This “sport” does more than occasionally fill our freezer. It helps me navigate the terrain, the animals, and corners of myself that hide most of the year in the well worn trails of society.

Elk and deer do not typically hang out on man-made trails. To find them means to maneuver high-country terrain largely ignored by the general population of chatty hikers and trail runners. We start on human trails to access deeper parts of the wilderness.

On the trail, my mind spins. I don’t need to think about where to put my feet. The soft quiet ribbon of dirt leads the way. Songs circle on repeat in my brain. Thoughts wander from the hunt strategy to remembering we need more butter and did I email back so and so….The mind is free to wander on a well worn path and it takes discipline to stay present.

We take time to stop, listen, check the wind direction, and eventually decide to head ‘off trail’. Now something changes. We start bushwhacking. We are no longer going where the trail takes us. We’re following signs; terrain, sounds, smells, tracks, wind, and scat. The line of soft dirt becomes a nest of broken loud sticks, roots, rocks, thorns, deadfall, and branches. Foot placement becomes essential to stay quiet and stable on uneven ground. Hands work away branches, eyes scan for openings and fresh animal signs. We breathe. We rotate, lunge, squat, reach, and sometimes crawl to follow the path we’re pulled on. Primal Movement without an exercise class. It seems funny, and it’s pretty fun.

Off-trail my brain and body tune into a state that feels like the way we are designed to operate. The mind is occupied with real-time concerns. I’m present, working with a place, without any unnatural rules, and it feels like anything can happen. Because anything can.

In modern life most of us forget that exciting feeling. We lose track of the real-time signs and signals that could help guide our direction. We spend days disconnected from our bodies allowing our minds to wander while we aimlessly follow a path we forgot we chose.

The path we’re on is always a choice. If you’re on a well-worn trail, you’re choosing to follow those who have gone before you. Sometimes that’s really helpful. Stay alive to the truth that even on a paved path, anything can happen, but you’ll miss opportunities if you become dulled by a mindless pattern. The senses are always available to help us track signals in our physiology and environment for where we need to go.

The hunt for me isn’t just about the meat in the freezer; it’s about the risk and fun of getting a little lost to see where the signs lead. Sometimes it puts me right on track.

Get Lost and Happy Trails,

Emily Hightower

P.S. If your path is feeling mindless or disconnected, my Skill of Stress course will help you read the signals in your physiology, regulate your state, and help you trust the way forward.


Neuro Nidra to Rescue Sleep

“There’s nothing more important to your performance than sleep, and I don’t care how you measure your performance….nothing breaks you faster than sleep deprivation”

– Dr. Parsley, former Navy Seal


Neuro Nidra to Rescue Sleep 

Not sleeping well isn’t just painful, it’s damaging and frustrating. Before having our kid, I was a sleeping machine. Then, being on call for a tiny human night after night disrupted my sleep for years. I became a different person; snappy, exhausted, and overwhelmed by simple things. We need sleep; not just to feel good but to function and live well. According to Doc Parsley, Naval Special Warfare’s expert on Sleep Medicine, sleeping 6 instead of 8 hours each night for 11 nights in a row has the same effect as being awake for 24 hours straight, and cognitively compares to having a blood alcohol level of .08-.1. No one wants to live impaired and unable to let go into the gift of sleep. 

I recovered by diving into Yoga Nidra, and it remains my secret weapon against insomnia. Nidra is a passive, guided practice that brings your brain and body into slow-wave states of conscious sleep and deep repair. “Neuro Nidra” is my fusion of this yogic practice with principles from modern neuroscience. Now I help people practice Neuro Nidra who struggle due to shift work, caregiving, unresolved trauma or nervous system dysregulation. It’s easier than meditation, and you can practice it without ever rolling out a yoga mat or saying “OM….”. 

Nidra in the Tree of Yoga

Yoga has several different areas of study beyond the typically-thought of poses, breathwork, or meditation. You don’t have to dedicate your life to yoga’s path to use any of these tools. They have been handed down by human beings studying human nature for melinia into practices that can help anyone.

Yoga emerged thousands of years ago when the indigenous Rishi of India were studying how human beings can optimize and heal through skills that work with nature. Patanjali captured the ‘sutras’, or threads of knowledge, from the Rishi into writing sometime between the 2nd century BCE and the 4rth century CE. He outlined eight components of progressive study that are rooted in principles, not dogma or religion. Yoga is designed to be tested and to evolve with our ongoing engagement. B.K.S. Iyengar famously helped bring yoga to the West and described these eight limbs in his book, The Tree of Yoga. Using the tree analogy, we can look at where Nidra fits in a helpful progression of skills.

The roots and trunk of the tree are universal principles you can study about human nature in relationship to community and self. These are called the “Yama” and “Niyama” and include ten principles such as non-grasping, benevolent truth, moderation, self-discipline, and surrender. Again, there is no religious dogma here, these principles are meant for personal inquiry. Try stealing, lying, and bingeing and see how that goes. We get to define how these principles fit in our real lives through trial and error.

The branches on the tree are the bendy, twisty shapes of yoga poses called “Asanas”. The leaves are naturally the breath, or “Pranayama”. The bark represents “Pratyahara”; the practice of withdrawing the senses to develop control over reactivity. The sap running from the roots through to the whole tree represents “Dharana” which means concentration; the ability to harness sustained connection through the entire body. The flower of the tree is “Dhyana” or meditation, and the fruit from all of these efforts is “Samadhi”; the end of our illusion of separation from nature; enlightenment.

If you’ve tried meditation to help with sleeplessness and found it difficult without clear rewards, that’s because meditation is hard. The Tree of Yoga shows us why; values, movement, breathwork, sensory control and concentration skills were designed to come before meditation. For example, if you don’t move much or breathe well, during meditation the body will be in pain and the mind will be distracted. We can’t force a flower to bloom. We can create the right conditions to support it, and watch it unfold.

All parts of the tree are connected. Breathwork, for example, can be used anytime. It can be the single point of focus to help enter meditation, but a rich pranayama practice involves complex patterns of breathing that can be harmful if someone has not first learned how to read the body’s cues and work skillfully with the nervous system. We can gain these skills from any conscious movement practice that engages nasal breathing. Healthy green leaves grow when the branches can spread in many directions with ease, strength, and flexibility. 

Yoga Nidra is in the bark, Pratyahara. These practices protect us from sensory overload and train us to stop seeking stimulus for distraction or pleasure. Think of Nidra and the bark as an insulated container inside of which you become attuned to your inner needs before reacting to the sensations outside of you. Healthy, thick bark develops with the branches and leaves, before the flower of meditation. In a modern life designed to over-stimulate the senses, Nidra is a gift. This doesn’t mean you can’t skip ahead to meditation, it just means Nidra is a lot easier. Having a breathwork and movement practice will make it easier still. All you have to do is protect your space from the outside world, lie down and listen to guided instruction for 20 minutes to reap Nidra’s rewards.

Why Does Nidra Work?

In Nidra, the body rests in stillness flat on your back like a kid in the grass staring at clouds. The brain is given something to do in a guided rotation of consciousness through parts of the body. This tricks the mind from spinning in thoughts that keep you restless.

By mapping parts of the body in 1 to 3-second cues, the brain drops into alpha, theta, and delta wave-dominance. These slow, parasympathetic brain waves are the opposite of the thinking and doing states that fester in our daily lives. Slow oscillations allow for dreaming, memory, intuition, and cognitive repair. Being semi-awake is part of why it trains us to deactivate stress in general. This is not real sleep. When asleep, you aren’t conscious of your rest. In the Nidra state, you fade in and out of perceptive hearing, but you are aware. This means these states can become part of your waking consciousness. For sleep issues, this is critical to passively train states of consciousness associated with allowing sleep to happen. Because you’re semi-conscious during Nidra, you learn the sensations associated with replenishing systems, restoring vital energy, and disrupting the vicious circle of sleepless anxiety.

Beyond the brain, the body learns in Nidra how to sense and be without doing. This is super important. Why? Because most of the body’s learning and activities during daily life involve movement, pain, or disconnection as the feedback mechanisms. We workout, work, tick through tasks, eat, and rest by consuming media on screens and books. We try to meditate and feel stuck. We have no bark or protection, and feel exposed, raw, and drained. We fall asleep exhausted and wake up hypervigilant with stress hormones cycling through our blood. If you have high sympathetic tone or low arousal conditions, over time parts of the body store non-specific tension and sensory amnesia as a protective mechanism. This means you carry tension or disconnection in the body all day, and a vicious cycle of restless detachment and reactivity ensues.

In Nidra we layer up with bark-like protection from interruptions and passively cultivate awareness of our physical body without sensory input from movement or touch. Tension melts, and areas cut off from consciousness are remapped and reconnected without external sensory input. With practice, Nidra can disrupt unwanted patterns of physical tension, compensation or sensory-motor amnesia. Basically, you remember how to be physically aware without stress activation to embody your rested ready state more fully. This means when it’s time to sleep at night, you haven’t been repeating physical stress patterns as much, and can allow yourself to reset and rest.

How Can You Start?

If all you do is set up a space where you manage for all potential interruptions and push play on a yoga nidra download, you are in business. You don’t have to go to a special training, have a yoga practice or find religion. 

To rescue lost sleep, yogic sages have said that 20 minutes of Nidra can mimic 2-4 hours of deep sleep. The recipe for that in modern research shows that slow wave sleep states can require up to 4 hours to cycle into 20 minutes of slow wave sleep when you are sleep deprived. This is because you repay debts of the lighter sleep stages of Rapid Eye Movement (REM) first when you are depleted at the expense of deeper slow wave or Delta sleep. REM sleep is prioritized to process emotions and memory. Delta deep sleep takes time to access and happen after functional maintenance is covered. With practice, 20 minutes of Nidra can help you regain the benefits of deep sleep regardless of how many hours you logged the night before. 

It has been shown that regular Nidra practitioners access Delta dominance in the brain, usually associated with super slow wave sleep, during wakefulness. This means a human being can be completely alert and functioning while allowing deep repairs to take place on the entire body. Rested readiness at its finest.

Use Nidra anytime of day, including morning, to balance your system and recover lost sleep. Use it if you wake up in the middle of the night and don’t know how to fall back asleep. Most people I work with who struggle with chronic insomnia or dysregulation during the day find that three, 20-minute sessions of Neuro Nidra* each week restores them to the kind of energy they forgot was possible.


*To learn more about the guidance and stages of practice, check out our Neuro Nidra webinars and downloads. Emily Hightower created Neuro Nidra to infuse ancient yogic knowledge with modern neuroplasticity principles. She can help you implement the practice for deep recovery to elevate your game.


1 Swami Satyananda Saraswati  2009 reprint of Yoga Nidra

From Beginner Triathlete: Another Way to Train

By Jeff Ford

A training plan with less time & more varied intensity can achieve great results

Often times as humans, we fall into believing that there is only one way to get results. Whether it is in endurance sports, weight loss or improving at a specific talent, you assume the more you do it, the better you’ll get. Well of course to get better at swim, bike or run you have to do all three of those things, but the degree of how much time needs to be allotted is always up to you. Our initial instinct given the general perspective in the endurance world is that in order to achieve a new personal record (PR) all you have to do is work harder and put in more time.

What if I told you that there is another way of going about it? A way of training that does not require the same level of time commitment yet can still breed incredible results? In this day and age when we’re constantly running around like chickens with our heads cut off, we seem to always be in need of more time.

I understand that there’s so much you want to do and so much you want to achieve yet juggling endurance sports, family life and your professional development can sometimes be overwhelming. I know this because I’ve been there: Right where you’re sitting and how you’ve been training. Mostly swim, bike and run with very little strength to the mix as race day approaches. Now this approach works, yet how healthy is it on your body? Does it allow you to not only achieve incredible sport specific results, but what about balance your life?

Traditional Endurance Training

I began a traditional training approach for marathons and triathlons when I was in my early twenties. Most of my week comprised building a base level of mileage and progressing by 10 percent volume each week. As a fitness professional, I understood the value of strength training, yet with lifestyle factors a play (how much I was working) and the training that I was placing on my body, I was literally wasting away. In the peak of my traditional endurance training, my body weight dropped to roughly 142 pounds, and that was at a height of 5’ 11”! Pretty small right? At this time in my life, I felt very lethargic, had trouble sleeping and I constantly craved carbohydrates which accounted for roughly sixty percent of my calories. Although I was achieving incredible results (low 3-hour marathons and 75 minutes sprint triathlons) I look back at this time as a period in my life when I’m working extremely hard without the same level of return. My relationships were suffering, and my training was always put in front of other crucial responsibilities. I had this sense that if I didn’t do the traditional recommendations, I wouldn’t be prepared for race day, nor would my times get faster. Realizing that what I was doing wasn’t necessarily healthy, I dove into the strength and conditioning world, which became a complete game changer for my training.

After two years of traditional training, I came across a company called Power Speed Endurance. Attending a weekend seminar was one of the most eye-opening experiences of my life and one in which my endurance training took a huge turn. Since this was so early in Shift’s evolution, their creator, Brian MacKenzie, was the Coach leading our seminar. He completely flipped the endurance paradigm that I had been exposed to (long miles and carbohydrates) changed into perfect miles at intensity coupled with paleolithic eating. Basically a focus on the quality of my endurance training and less of a focus on the quantity.

Cardiovascular Development Without Wear and Tear

Diving in head first to this training approach, I was amazed at how weak and unhealthy my traditional training had made me. What attracted me most to this approach is that I didn’t have to be at a certain racing weight and lose muscle mass. Additionally, this route was said to elicit the necessary cardiovascular development without the wear and tear on the body or the time commitment commonly found in endurance training. Now for some in the endurance world this would be a total 360, but remember that I had only been involved in this community for about two years before giving Shift a shot and that as a health professional I knew the difference between sport specificity and health. Who wouldn’t be open to it, given the benefits? I’m always one to test something before throwing it under the bus.

Thankfully enough, I saw my body begin to change aesthetically, and my strength improved, moving from a set of five 75-pound squats to 135-pound squats in a very short amount of time. Additionally, I was less tired because my volume had dropped, and my sleeping patterns began to improve. I began eating the way Shift prescribed, and my recovery began to improve drastically. The question came down to, would this style of training still keep me competitive? Could I actually strength train 3–4 days a week, focus my sport training on mostly technique and intervals, while still performing at the same level? Well, as I implemented this approach, I was astonished by results. In my previous cracks at marathons, I finished in the 3:05–3:10 range. Backing off the volume and relying on strength led me to a marathon personal record of 2:49. That’s nearly an improvement of 15 minutes and with a reduction in time in training from 12 to 13 hours a week to 7–8 hours.

As you can tell, I was immediately sold and began to take this approach into Ironman training. To this day, I’ve never trained for an Ironman event another way. I devote less than 12 hours even on peak weeks and I have finished sub 11 ½ hours in all of my full distance Ironman events with a lifetime PR of 10:11 at Cozumel. Now these results are obviously impressive, and without a doubt I’m personal blessed with a natural ability in endurance sports, yet it’s not meant to show you how good an athlete I am. What I am saying here is that there’s another way to train. A way that you might want to check out.

Healthy and Feeling Good

You can always implement the traditional route and create incredible results, but at what cost? How much time do you actually have for this approach to work, and is it sustainable? For me, I quickly realized I couldn’t keep up the volume of a traditional plan, but the thrill of racing and experiencing the world through endurance events is something that I never want to give up. My wife and I travel for these events, and they become healthy long weekends. I still am able to check off a new state yet without compromising my time or body. I’m now back up to 165 pounds, racing sub 11 hour Ironmans and sub 3-hour Marathons with few obstacles getting in my way of training. I’m the Fitness Director of a wellness and weight loss spa resort in North Carolina and juggle contract work with Power Speed Endurance, XPT Life and my personal business, Runjuryfree. Even amidst my professional responsibilities and training, I’m able to maintain an incredible relationship with my wife, family and friends. I’ve learned how to create a foundation in strength, proper mechanics and steady mobility work that keeps me healthy and feeling good.

As a passionate individual for both endurance training and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, I would recommend this way of training to anyone. At your funeral, no one is going to care what your Ironman personal record happens to be or how many podium finishes you had. They’ll remember the relationship you developed and the memories you created.

Power and Strength in our Body’s Shapes

By Rachael Colacino

One of the first lessons children learn is to identify shapes. We learn squares, rectangles, circles, and call them out to fit them into the puzzle of our small, developing worlds. As adults, shape identification moves to environment. Buildings, rooms, furniture, backyards. What will fit where, directions for moving around and between shapes in our world, the size and shape of our homes and workplaces and where we socialize.

Shapes manifest in us, in our bodies and in our movement. We are flexible machines capable of shifting patterns through action and within environment. As athletes, we learn movement techniques and begin to realize the potential for the shapes our bodies make. Beware though. Technique is a siren, whose song can lull you into thinking there’s one perfect way. While technique itself does not change from person to person, the shape one athlete assumes is not necessarily the same another will take on.

How you move your body in and out of shapes communicates who you are and what you think your relationship is to the world and people around you. So then if there’s power inherent in those shapes, there’s also strength too.

Nature stores power in our shapes, and these relay quiet power externally and internally. Let’s take yoga’s relatively simple Warrior Pose, for example. It’s a strong shape, one leg back, one leg forward, hips facing forward, and chest lifted. Physically, the pose fortifies feet, hamstrings, quadriceps and glutes, as well as strengthens the core. Mentally, the pose also relays power: the stance can increase inner strength and courage, while allowing you to open up to yourself and others.

For endurance athletes, who move their bodies in and out of shapes over the course of several hours, those shapes communicate to the world about your preparation and your performance. Strong foundational shapes not only keep you in a strong and efficient position, but can be a competitive advantage. Imagine the psychological damage to your fatigued opponent who notices your relaxed facial muscles, your open shoulders and your upright posture.

Are the shapes your body makes strong or weak? When you stand up under load, are you squared, all angles and rigid like the mighty rectangle? Or are you circular, round and soft? And what happens to your viewpoint of those shapes as you move over distances? Are you moving forward effortlessly, like the fluid circle? Or are you jerky and halted, like a rectangle rolling down a hill?

Train for ideal shapes. Your endurance event should finish the same way you started it. You cannot outrun or out-train bad technique. In the end, it all comes down to how well you can hold the shape (or position) in anything we do. So no matter how long, hard, or heavy, once the standard shape breaks so do we.