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.

Value You

Issue# 43

How we practice and train today can provide a deeper understanding of where much of our frustration or joy comes from. Be aware of what you value most because if there is any confusion, it will present itself in the outcomes. How I feel about myself is the real question, and if I value who I am, then there is a good chance I value the process of what I do and, most notably, what it is teaching me about me. 

When we engage in an activity, we bring an underpinning tone to this. Even in something like weightlifting, where the goal seems to be to lift as much weight as possible, that is reinforced every time we enter the gym. To help make more sense, you will want to understand that in no way does this imply not pushing yourself to move more weight; this may be the path to moving more weight. It may come packaged in a process that does not look like your current way of doing things. 

The lies we tell ourselves

I’d love to tell you that you should listen to your body and that if you do, you’d be more in tune with yourself, but that is just another lie we tell ourselves to hold ourselves back from being great; protection comes in many forms. You’d sooner coddle yourself into passivity than get up and fight for a living if you just listened to your body.

Many Olympic and professional athletes’ vitals before competing, winning, or setting world records and winning a championship would have suggested they not compete that day. And here is another paradox. So which is it? Do I value winning (lifting more weight) or listening to where I think I feel I am? The short answer is both; you just don’t know what that means if you ask that question, which is perfectly fine. This is practice. 

Where you put your value

The longer answer is that this is your ride. You and you alone will get to live out the reality of this. I’ve been with Olympic Athletes, World Champions, and business tycoons who have won gold and lost. I’ve worked with mothers, fathers, kids, and everyone in between. I’ve seen many different experiences in these two opposing experiences of win and loss. The ones who value themselves the most win in humility and lose with grace. It is the ones who value themselves the least that can never entirely stop chasing or letting go of the illusion of winning and the frustration it brings. The context and internal dialogue of what is happening in us dictates the experience.

Win, lose, or draw; the greatest education you will get is in how you learn. 

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

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.

Attachment Awareness: Living the Life you Wish | Brian Mackenzie

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

Issue #40

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

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

The Sacrifices We Make

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

Balancing Performance with Entertainment

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

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

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

Ignoring Information and Long-Term Awareness

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

It’s All in the Data

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

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

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

This isn’t Black and White

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

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.

What’s In Your Bank Account? | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #38


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What is the point? And do you understand? 

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. 




Tradeoffs | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #35


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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