The Breathing Gear System™ | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #16

The Complexity of Respiratory Muscle Training & The Breathing Gears System™

When we think about respiratory muscles, it is easy to overlook the complexity and nuance that goes into their training. The Breathing Gear System has been developed to encourage people to consider the training of our primary respiratory muscles through learning more about differential control of respiration rate (RR) and tidal volume (VT). However, research and experience show there is much more at play than what we understand about metabolic acidosis when it comes to nonlinear increases in ventilation (V̇e) above compensatory thresholds- respiratory compensation rate (RCP). In addition, there is a complex relationship between primary and secondary respiratory muscles and the metaboreflex (blood stealing) for regulating ventilation during exercise and bouts of intense stress.

Two (larger) primary muscle groups are involved in respiration – the diaphragm and the external intercostals. Together these muscles work in a coordinated manner to maintain proper ventilation during rest and exercise. Control of RR and VT are two critical aspects of respiration that can be trained with The Breathing Gear System. By controlling RR and VT independently in suitable environments, you can prepare your body to become more efficient at regulating your breathing under most stress or physical activity.

Recent research has also shown a complex relationship between primary and secondary respiratory muscles and blood stealing that contribute to the nonlinear response of V̇e above RCP during incremental exercise. In addition, it is believed that central command (Central Governor – Brain/Nervous System) contributes to more than just metabolic acidosis when regulating V̇e during intense physical activity or high-stress situations. This means that beyond merely increasing oxygen intake, proper training of primary respiratory muscles may help us better control our breathing even under extreme circumstances. Therefore, training these muscles is critically important to anyone participating in exercise or professional sports, as energy and electrolyte balance are downstream effects (breathing and biochemistry directly impact each other). Blood Stealing means we are now switching how we use energy sooner than necessary. Consider this in an MMA athlete fighting in round 3, 4 or 5. Or a Baseball Player in the 8th or 9th inning of a longer than normal game, or a marathon runner midway through a race/training session.

The Breathing Gear System focuses on training primary and secondary respiratory muscles to achieve optimal respiration rates for different levels of physical activity or stress response through a coordinated effort with the mind; central command/governor theory. Through this system, we can learn how best to use our breath for improved performance while reducing fatigue levels caused by improper breathing patterns. Furthermore, we can also explore how different breathing exercises help us better cope with stressful events by improving our ability to regulate our breathing even when faced with extreme conditions. This work is hierarchically detailed in our SH//FT Health, Skill of Stress, Art of Breath courses, and Get Started with Breathwork (free). 

Understanding how everything from central command down works together helps us better appreciate the complexity behind proper respiration muscle training for improved performance and an ideal stress response. Through The Breathing Gear System, we learn how best to use our breath for enhanced performance while reducing fatigue levels caused ultimately by improper breathing patterns. With these tools, we can explore how different breathing exercises help us better cope with stressful events by improving our ability to regulate our breathing when faced with extreme circumstances in physical performances, war fighting, first responder work, catastrophic accidents, public speaking, to emotional outburst and exercise to name a few; limitless. 

Army of Darkness | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #14

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Projected Mirrors | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #12

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

I’ll start with what I thought I understood.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We are looking forward to engaging more with you all,

Brian MacKenzie

 

Embrace The Dark | Emily Hightower

Issue #11

This week’s Solstice is an undeniable bookmark in the seasons. It’s a holiday that doesn’t require any stories or religions to understand. We’re in the darkest week of the year with the 21st being the longest night. Every living thing in the North knows it’s time to hunker down. Except us.

We keep the lights on and the cities humming! We fight the dark with pills to give us energy and calendars to keep us ‘on schedule’. Meanwhile we miss an opportunity to go with the dark, and in the dark there is power.

Darkness gives everything a chance to go inward; to slow down, be more silent, and tune in to our real needs. All of nature aligns with this strategy. What grows and survives in the spring belongs. If we don’t take time to tune into the darkness we risk investing in and growing things (ideas, behaviors, relationship patterns) that do not belong anymore in our lives. Rest and reflection is vital to create awareness and balance.

The work of Dr. Thomas Wehr challenged everything about our beginnings into the avoidance of the dark in the 1990’s. In his study after 3-weeks of removing all artificial light people returned to what we thought was lost or did not exist; a type of sleep that must have only existed during our paleolithic times. A deep reset into our biology, something we seek now through various interventions.

Our Hightower family marks the Winter Solstice with friends at a ranch nearby where our buddy collects enormous piles of deadfall all year just for the occasion. He’ll make a bonfire as big as a house. Dogs and kids will play in the snow around adults and elders and tables of food. No one can stop themselves from casually adding logs (and trees) to the fire. As it grows beyond reason, the contrast expands between the blaze and the dark winter night in every direction around us.

If people want they write down something on paper for the Solstice fire to take to the winds; as if burning it will digest it into form. But there’s no formal ceremony or rules to follow here. People just naturally start burning things, including ideas, emotions, habits, regrets. Some use the fire to mark what they are letting go of, some to claim what they’ll grow in the spring cycle.

We encourage you if you haven’t already to go inward this week. Start by noticing your artificial lights. If you dare, use candles and fire at night and let go of the screen time especially before bed. Be bored like the seeds hibernating in the soil right now. You might get tired sooner, wake up more rested. In the morning, let the dawn light come when it’s ready instead of rushing it in with screens and houselights. Be with the natural darkness and tune into yourself. Breathe. The morning darkness is an especially sacred time to reflect and write.

What would you like to ‘burn’ and let go of when you sit with the shadows? How would that make more space in your life?

What would you like to focus on and build with the coming lighter days?

No matter what your process is these shifts come through our nervous system. If you can pause and be with the dark long enough to listen your body will show you what it needs and wisdom percolates through. Being in deep states of meditation, sleep, or Yoga Nidra can facilitate these connections without words. Just trust your body, give it the dark inward time it craves. Allow what you choose to keep with you to grow slowly and surely with the coming light.

Enjoy Your SOLSTICE and HOLIDAYS!

Emily and Brian

On Discipline | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #10

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

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

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

Normal right? Pretty much.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Until Next Time,

Brian

The Path to Artistry | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #9

 

One of my earliest mentors Nicolas Romanov is a kind and crazy Russian Scientist who struggled to tell a lie. Crazy because all good things come in the form of such. He was a movement “guru” who had been bucking the running and triathlon scenes for some time with his ideas on movement– namely running. Whether he was right or wrong (or neither), this was the first person I could listen to in human performance as he wasnt really selling anything other than his time. He wreaked of kindness but could be as sharp as the Russian sickle. He lured me in with fancy talk on gravity and his simple analogies about human movement that everyone else was complicating. In a single afternoon, he also “magically” showed me why I was hurting myself when I was running and how to grow from that. He is a genius, and I paid my dues to learn. But, unfortunately, I also witnessed how the world treats people like this early in my career; praise and condemnation. 

Romanov was also the first person I remember talking about the universality of movement problems in public. I remember vividly the first seminar I took around 2000-2001 when he stated (paraphrased), “running is the ability to fall and that all problems in running more or less stem from the fear of falling”. Twenty years later, working with more than 10,000 athletes, I can find no other truth in what I too have seen. 

Although my work diverted from the endurance and running communities a bit, it has mostly stayed with the same theme, and I still work with enough varying people that runners and endurance come up often. Although, many might fall under the impression I am now teaching people about breathing, and they would be wrong. I am now simply looking at a deeper layer of the foundation. Breathing, as I’ve come to understand, is the deepest layer of our humanity, and thus everything centered around movement, psychology, and our physiology. Our unique nature with breathing is that we voluntarily and involuntarily have levers we can pull on as a result of this gift. Fundamentally this falls under the law of consequence; good, bad, or indifferent. 

One of the most common pieces I’ve worked through – and worked with people on – is our relationship to injury and health. Aside from blunt trauma – immediate assault on the body from being hit, hitting something, or landing poorly – all other movement-based injury is a byproduct of our relationship to movement; fear. In the case of blunt trauma, very few of us escape without a story or trauma built around the injury. In reality, movement is generally an expression of our internal state of affairs, and many of us are tied to our stories of who we were, are, or want to become. In the case of health and fitness, these same fears manifest themselves where our attention is most active. In either of these cases, this is an education about our nervous system, namely the sympathetic nervous system (SNS). And although this is about the SNS, there is definitely a deeper dive and other branches. 

Where attention goes, the SNS follows! The more attention I give to something, the more I activate the SNS, which is directly associated with mobilizing more energy toward this action. This activation of the nervous system drives what is called myelination, which is a process of reinforcing the “walls” of our nerves to make it easier to send signals (simplified). This was best described to me as thinking of using wire to send current, and the more rubber or plastic you have around the wire, the bigger the current, and the thicker the wire can get. We pattern everything from movement to our behavior in this simplified process. 

Creation is marvelous, and our biology is creativity and art at its finest. Oddly, it took me 40 years to recognize that this biological artistry has more to do with who and what I am than what I think I am, but I digress. The more attention my mind puts on anything my nervous system begins to reinforce this pattern to become so effective that it can seem as though I no longer need to think about it. In the case of motor control – and most of our behavioral patterns – we do not because we have made it so easy to send signals that we no longer need to consider where our feet go when we walk or react to something we have done the same way for years and even decades. This is precisely why frustration and the anger we experience with others and things is, well, so frustrating. We live under the idea (story time) that we are a victim to the reactions of our patterns, and it has to be them or it. 

For the vast majority of us to exist in today’s world is to battle with time or to be a slave to our calendars, schedules, and even assistants. The bad news is you are time; the good news is you are time. If I asked you to honestly list the #1 thing you do for your health I’d bet if we also took a real honest look at where most of our attention was being spent when we were participating in said #1 health goal, it would be anything but healthy. 

“What protocol or exercise can I do to help my HRV?”

Showing up, while it may be a part of the goal, what are we reinforcing when we are there? What are we thinking when we are around food or trying to rest and participate in the health journey? Am I on repeat every time I go to the gym to get it done, or do I follow the instructors’ cues without question? 

Here is the connection between our fear of falling and our relationship to movement and health. Rarely, and I mean rarely, are our beliefs aligned with where our attention goes, and this is the reality of how we ultimately feel about ourselves. This mismatch in actual wants and where our attention is is what we can call disconnection, and this is where the root of our problems exists. 

While this may read relatively easily, the entanglement is a different story. This is why we reinforce training as a practice. For some, this is easier stated than done. While we offer many free opportunities to explore this, this unspooling of patterns and reinforcement of new ones is the basis of the work we are providing in our mentorship programs, membership activities, and courses. The only path I care about is the path you find toward connection; how you get there is not important, but getting to this root is where our artistry lives and we are found.

x

Brian

Poetic Identity | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #7

 

I didn’t plan to have the career I am fortunate to have today. My path began with my involvement in CrossFit when there were about 200 affiliates (2006-2007). I was doing what I loved; learning and coaching. I soon became recognizable from my work with CrossFit and the publication of Tim Ferris’ book The Four-Hour Body, and I eventually authored three books of my own. I was known as a “subject matter expert,” This began a process of attachment where I started to have high expectations of myself, and my identity became entirely tied to this.

With all success come many failures. The failures in my life have brought some hard lessons and the most important lessons of all. Some of us create our lives under the weight of our own stories and become burdened by them.

There was this ease to toss the failure(s) onto circumstances or other people, and that ease was getting really annoying. But on the other hand, each new event provided me something to learn about myself… but only when I was willing to be aware of it.

To move forward and genuinely grow from these experiences, I had to challenge the stories I was telling myself that I had also allowed to define my life.

Some of these stories included:

“I am a coach,” – “I am a runner,” – “I can’t miss my workout,” – “I am healthy“. Like many athletes and individuals I have worked with, this was part of my recurrent self-talk… including weighing myself with the perceived expectations of others.

Each of these thoughts is attached to a physiological response and feeling. However, it is easy to ignore their significance without awareness of them. I know this intimately from experience. The more knowledge I gained about physiology and performance, the more I created a specific identity that allowed me to override and not pay attention to what was happening inside. For example, I had convinced myself that running hot and being busy was how I felt productive and good. In reality, I was blowing through adrenaline like I was hydrating with it. I had learned to keep my nervous system running on red but to pretend I was green and calm.

Most people are unaware of the physiological and psychological implications statements like these, and others like them, carry. This is because our higher cognitive activity blocks us from specific instinctual processes.

I eventually had to realize that the circumstances showing up in my life were the result of ideas and perceptions I fiercely clung to. I quickly figured out that my training was merely self-inflicted suffering. I wasn’t truly enjoying it; instead, I was checking a box. But, if I checked the box, I felt accomplished. Dopamine and norepinephrine (noradrenaline) working hand in hand. Discipline does not always equal freedom, and in fact, it can be a prison.

Being surrounded and working with some of the best and brightest minds in science and human performance, I can intellectualize my way through just about anything… I trained for ultramarathons / developed CrossFit Endurance / created performance protocols for athletes… These identities meant training = suffering and satisfaction of ideals rather than training to support the advancement of my overall well-being. The irony is, you get all of this when the goal is the latter, but you get the pain and identity with the former.

Letting go of the person I thought I was meant unlearning the things I previously let define me.

There are two kinds of people here: those clinging to the stories to define their life as something that happened to them or that they will become. Then there are those willing to be honest enough to learn; they only witness their experiences, accept what they are, and let go of keeping some score. Alright, maybe there are three… I’m a tweener (in between, still enjoying the process of uncoupling the first).

We are all in the habit of our personal poetic benedictions and absolute torcher fests of how we truly feel about ourselves. After all, that thing that frustrates me about you is really just a mirror to me and where frustration still lives in me. The ability to look at these stories and laugh has been some of the better comedies in my life.

So here’s an experiment for you: the next time you get really emo – you know, infuriated or frustrated (insert any out-of-control emotion) ask yourself why you care about being right and, more importantly, how far back you can see this exact behavior playing out. How many stories in a day are you letting define your experiences?

The process by which I’ve applied and learned from some of the world’s best minds is entwined in our membership program HERE and the mentorship program we offer HERE.

You can also learn to use the breath calculator to be more aware of your breathing. By applying the assessment results and spending 5-10 minutes a day, you will start to slow some things down; this begins to make you more acutely aware of changes that SPEED up during the day.

Keep in mind that…

“Change is inevitable. Growth is optional.” John Maxwell

 

Until next time,

– Brian

So-Cal Re-Actions | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #5

Most mornings, you will find me in the ocean off the coast of Southern California.

I was born and raised in Southern California and like most people living along the coast, I spent my childhood and youth in the water body-surfing, boogie-boarding, surfing, swimming, you name it. I went through junior lifeguards, played water polo, was on the swim team, and even created training programs in the water.

Having lived in more places than I care to count, one thing has always remained true: I feel most at home in or near the ocean.

Water has a calming effect on the body – it changes our perception of gravity and creates compression that can help muscle recovery and circulation. Have you ever experienced a sensory deprivation float tank? Or been in a hyperbaric chamber (although this uses pressure, the pressure mimics what water does)?

Recently, I had the opportunity to bring one of my high-profile / high-stress clients (the two seem to go hand-in-hand) through some water training for the first time. It was a profound experience for him and probably one of the best first sessions I have had in a while.

His “ah-ha” moment sounded something like this:

 When I am about to panic underwater, if I relax, I can get through the exercise

 So… what I am getting out of this is that I can apply this breathing stuff to help me relax by using it throughout my day

 and I can do this when shit’s hitting the fan, and I should expect the same thing.

That is precisely the point.

However, it’s not always easy to recall what to do and implement in a “crisis.”

Just like I’ve trained countless repetitions to perfect the skill of an Olympic lift, or similarly, a professional athlete has repeated the same movements thousands of times over for it to become second nature (take the swing of a pro golfer, look at how a pro fighter moves, or any Olympic athlete), we need to train our ability to respond as opposed to RE-ACT in the same capacityAfter all, what are we training for?

I write re-act to show you that it is a re-action of a previously learned behavior. Although we all have this tendency, myself included, I know these re-actions rarely benefit me.

Where does this behavior come from? – This is a deep seated process that I help the athlete/client identify. It is a lot easier to write or speak about it than it is to have the desire to grow from it. The simplicity of this process is called exposure; however, the process is not so simple for most of us.

For those willing, we work through this deeper process (practice), making the unconscious conscious… and you’re probably not going to be surprised, but it starts with your breathing.

Ready when you are,

– Brian

How well are you going to tolerate stress today? Access our breath calculator below.

Do this assessment every day for a week at the same time or throughout your day, and see if you can connect the changes.

On Fear | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #4

 

Fear – a genetically encoded potential wired into the nervous system and our brain. No surprise there.

Many years ago, our ability to perceive and anticipate danger was essential in the context of evolution. Tens of millions of years ago, the nervous system began its transition to where it has been relatively unchanged for more lifetimes than we can comprehend. With the primary goal of our sympathetic nervous system to mobilize energy, I am sure you can do a little math on many of the problems that can come with a poorly regulated nervous system today.

Our fear response is the coordination of our biological, physiological, and behavioral systems to keep us alive in the face of danger.

These same responses elicit a rise in my voice when I feel that my safety is threatened by people, ideas, or concepts that I either disagree with or are foreign to me. The same response has previously made me physically leave heightened emotional and challenging situations in a fit of rage and an “I’ll show you” mentality.; the adult version of a temper tantrum. It is the same response we have all experienced in various scenarios where we feel threatened.

Those fears boil down to internal stimuli that we have become familiar with, a pattern that we play out from time to time in our daily lives to things that press our stress button.

Fear is the same thing that keeps us up at night or from moving forward out of a bad situation. It could be a relationship, a boss that berates or makes us feel less than, unhealthy work environments, or starting our own business. It keeps us bound to our status quo because it’s easy to stick with the known. What is on the other side is the unknown; therefore, we fear it. That unknown is what I’ve learned is potential beyond my wildest dreams.

I want to point out that generalized anxiety is the most common symptom clinically seen with fear.

After the COVID-19 pandemic (are we past it? Or still in it?), we see an enormous rise of anxiety disorders in school youth, not to mention the general population.

“The worst cruelty that can be inflicted on a human being is isolation” Sukarno

Recently the Health and Human Performance Foundation published a paper on the application of breathing protocols in high schools. It measured the level of anxiety experienced by these young adults.

The results?

High school students significantly reduced stress and anxiety by implementing breathing practices over five weeks.

Click here to view the results.

I can only imagine how our young adults and youth will respond years beyond this pandemic. How will the fear of interaction with others and/or intermittent isolation affect them? How many will be or have ended up on anti-anxiety medication?

This is no judgment, only an observation, and questions that sometimes percolate in me. I do care about the future.

I have six nieces and nephews, so this hits home for me.

I have dealt with my share of fear over the years. It has been quite a journey facing these one at a time!

I have found two options: apply a band-aid solution to reduce the ‘problem’ momentarily and (old behavior), and repeat, like any effective tool, had and continue to have their place.

The other option is something more long-lasting. I had to acknowledge how my fears played out in my life and understand how this impacted my decisions. We have developed proprietary work around this that has been integrated throughout the thinking and programming at SH//FT.

With all of this, I am talking about the ability to recognize whatever is holding you back (making the unconscious conscious) to decide if and how you would like to move beyond it.

Ponder this for now—play with the programming and even the breath calculator by being more aware of what is influencing your decisions, like how much weight you lift or how long your exhale is versus being okay with where you are. I’ll keep you posted with our following event dates or group openings.

Sincerely,

Brian

Protocol vs. Practice | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #2

If you read my last post, I went through the stress response and how I am no stranger to it. I also suggested a few tools I use during more “busy” times when I may feel a little more on edge; I’m sure you know what that feels like when our life-management resources get tapped out.

Today I want to focus on the response part of the stress response, and for a particular reason.

Day to day, I work with people, professional athletes, CEOs, and high-profile individuals to keep their cool and not flip their lids during times of very high stress. Of course, this is much easier said than done, as trying to change high-stress responses is an art requiring an entry point of less significant stressors. For example, I’ve watched folks at the top of the food chain yell profanities into the phone when a deal doesn’t go their way, and believe this is just how they respond to things like this. Imagine how this follows them into their everyday life, and it does.

I teach clients how to recognize this heightened response, then, through practice, we begin to change the answer; sometimes, by using the very same techniques I use myself, the most tangible of these is breath control.

A Protocol versus A Practice:

A breath protocol, as simple as breathing seems, impacts our entire being far more profound than you can imagine, only when adopted as a regular practice. Let me explain why this is so important:

Following a breathing protocol once or twice weekly will remind you to take a breath every so often. This is a great tool when faced with a challenging situation; when you feel the fire inside rising (aka about to flip your lid, or maybe you have already flipped your lid).

A practice, however, is specifically carved out time in your day when you get to be fully present… when we get to pay attention to the things that are so easily ignored; like how that person made us feel yesterday or why we reacted to our kid the way we did.

Our brains only learn through repetition. And if we mention neuroplasticity in any of this, it has to do with repeating an action to understand it truly. Practice brings a greater possibility of awareness, which is limitless. And as my friend Mickey Schuch, always says, “Awareness is the currency with which you buy time.”

Having a practice made me laugh this past week when I arrived an hour before my flight to the wrong airport.

It wasn’t until I got to security and scanned my boarding pass did the TSA help me realize I should have been over an hour south at another airport.

PAUSE… Now, if I were me from 5 years ago, I would have flipped the f*k out. You could bet I would have sworn a lot and thrown an adult tantrum (drama). Instead… I laughed. I even surprised myself.

The problem is in the eye of the perceiver.

This is the importance of having a practice. I wasn’t even bothered by this situation for the rest of the day due to the practices I have put into my life. I rescheduled my flight without skipping a beat and drove to the correct airport. This impacted my day further as well, as I now had to figure out dinner in a location that didn’t have many options, and my bedtime would be pushed back too. Anyone who knows me knows sleep is boundary number 1.

Flipping out has a host of other physiological consequences on the body. For example, it’s one of the reasons why stressed-out business folks can get diagnosed with autoimmune diseases like type 2 diabetes. Unfortunately, poor patterns of behavior transcend dis-ease in many of our cases.

Will there be a point in your day that you can laugh instead of losing your shit?

If you need the reminder or the push to start your practice:

Go HERE and use the Breath calculator on the SHI//FT website.
Follow the chart to Cadence or Apnea breathing, plug in the number, and come up with your own breathing protocol that you can start today.
Find a time in your day that is uninterrupted and spend 10 minutes simply following the pattern as see where this goes after a few weeks.

Only those ready to up-level will make the time for practice. And, I believe anyone is capable of this. I did. If you think you need it, you can schedule a one-on-one consult with me here, and I will help you figure this out.

Yours Truly,

– Brian