Fully Loaded | Emily Hightower

Issue #17

 

12 times, she explained, exhaling smoke into the wind away from my face. That’s how many relapses with heroine she’d been through. She snuffed out her cigarette in the dirt and put the butt it in the pocket of her jean shorts. She picked up her pink compound bow with a wink and we walked over to the shooting line. I watched her load up a few arrows and loose them right into the kill zone of the target. She learned quickly, paid attention well, and was safe with a bow. That is to say, dangerously accurate.

Next to her on the line was a woman who was in her second round of recovery. Her energy was completely different. Frail and unsure of herself she filled gaps in any conversation with nervous laughter, oversharing, and questions you had the feeling she didn’t really care to hear the answers to. This was her third archery breathwork session with me. I was bringing her some arrows without letting her shoot on her own yet. Something didn’t feel stable.

After a few guided rounds through the shot process and breathing exercises, she said she was ready to give it a ‘go’. She breathed. Took her stance. Nocked her arrow and set her release. She took three more self-conscious breaths then drew back the bow. At full draw she started looking around excitedly instead of taking clear aim. She started to turn her body with the weaponized bow around to say something to the group. I was right next to her so she only got a few degrees off target. I quickly and firmly said

YOU ARE FULLY LOADED! PAY ATTENTION and TURN TO TARGET

She reactively pulled the trigger releasing an arrow off target that burrowed loud and deep into a board nearby. The ponies whinnied. She was stunned. Her body started shaking off the stress of the explosion, and she fell silent for the first time. I found her eyes, smiled and coregulated with a few long nasal breaths and asked her to ground with me. Then we took a slow walk to get her broken arrow.

The moment was perfect. 

There had been no moment like this yet in her recovery process. The bow gave her a chance to feel a consequence connected to her nervous system. She realized the phrase “YOU ARE FULLY LOADED” when out of control landed as an obvious connection to her experience abusing substances. She’d been fully loaded driving her kid home from school, at work, in relationships that didn’t have clear aim. She had spent her life taking risks without being fully present; caring more about the next hit (of attention, drugs, excitement) than of her own health. She hurt herself and others along the way. The power of the bow showed her how she has patterned her nervous system to dissociate during excitement. To deny responsibility. To look for a way out.

I asked her what her body felt like when she was at full draw turning away from target.

Dissociated. Nervous, Excited. Buzzed. Spaced out.

When you read that state in any situation, that’s your cue that you’re in the Fully Loaded pattern. It’s your cue to breathe and ground yourself in the moment before taking action. Let’s use the bow to practice moving through the old pattern to take calm ownership of yourself, for yourself.

But can you keep me safe? 

No. Only you can do that. I’ll be right here to help you go step by step, but it’s not safe, it’s a weapon. You just learned that. And it doesn’t care about you, so you must. 

Understandably she didn’t want to shoot again. But that’s exactly what recovery of any kind is. Stepping back up to the line to learn from your past without dragging the shame of mistakes into the next shot.

This is your chance. Do you want to recover from that last shot, from the last relapse? Take a stand. Breathe. Do the shot process at your own pace and if you lose focus, start calmly over. There is no pressure. You have complete control over this experience.

She read, regulated, and reinforced calm attention on that draw and dozens after for the next full hour. She dropped into her practice. It was beautiful. She remade herself; grounded, calm, and quietly confident. 

The 12 time recovery gal came by to walk arm in arm with her as they left the range. It’s not about how many times you go through something, or how many lost arrows of words, deeds, or weapons you flung in your past. It’s about finding your practice to claim power back in the enduring process of recovery. Stability is trainable.

This work was pre-COVID at 4 Winds Farm and informed by the process I co-created with my archery mentor through Challenge Aspen Military Opportunities to train self regulation skills in multi day archery breathwork retreats for combat veterans.

 

Give and Take | Emily Hightower

Issue #15

If someone says “hi” to you, you say “hi” back. To not do that would be rude. But why? We’re socially wired to reciprocate. There’s a stress response called Tend and Befriend where we curate relationships based on anything we have in common in exchange for tribal safety in numbers. If you’ve ever been in a new group environment you can witness yourself adjusting your style of speech and body language to fit in. It’s a subconscious response in our wiring. The more secure we are in ourselves, the less this nervous system response kicks in. It takes stability to be authentic. 

Our need to reciprocate works against us in the Attention Economy where this biological drive to connect makes us spend our time (ourselves) to repay attention in an unfair exchange that can cost us our stability. 

What’s unfair about it? 

When someone says “hi” to you passing by on the street it takes the same energy to say “hi” back. Compare that to how much energy it takes you to ‘like’ something on social media. You can ‘like’ something without even reading the content. Just a tiny touch of the screen and you’ve made a mark. How that mark is received is not energetically equal for most. Most of us put a higher value on ‘likes’ than they deserve. We spend our premium, sacred time and attention trying to get more of these little marks that require very little investment from the other people involved. 

This is true of comments as well. It takes very little energy for someone to spew their opinion in response to your post; much less time than it probably took you to make that post. The need to reciprocate to all comments can rob you of energy and set expectations about how you will respond in the future. A circle of call and response takes over that might not match the actual budget you have for giving attention to what you truly care about. 

This is not to say valuable exchanges cannot come from social media! I’ve met some of my favorite teachers and SH//FT members through those thoughtful exchanges.

When someone texts you, the biological desire to reciprocate clicks in immediately. If you have notifications turned on, you’ll be notified of the message no matter what you are doing. To not respond requires going against your biology. To respond immediately means switching attention from whatever you were actually doing which can include everything from cooking, being with your kids, and even driving. (I’m guilty of all) This type of switching adds up throughout the day. Scattering attention to reciprocate texts, emails, snapchats etc. weakens your presence and drains you attention reserve for real-time experiences. 

One way to work with this drive in your favor is to batch how you spend yourself. Batch windows of time when you’ll respond to your notifications and audit the amount of energy you’re willing to engage with in things like comments on social media from a more stable, aware place.

When we give from a place of stability, we get stability in exchange. When we give from a place of need, we get needy.  

In Time,

Emily Hightower

What is Attention? | Emily Hightower

Issue #13

 

A late middle English word worth 9 Scrabble points, “attention” is defined first and foremost as:

notice taken of someone or something; the regarding of someone or something as interesting or important”

The similes for “attention” include: 

Awareness, Notice, Observation, and CONSCIOUSNESS

Our attention is the currency of our consciousness. When we PAY attention we are in a transaction with the objects of our consciousness that reciprocate something in return.

If you pay attention to cleaning and resetting your rooms throughout the day, you get a tidy space in return. Pay attention to your finances and you can generate wealth. Pay attention to your breath, body, and what’s right for you and you create more health.

If it’s that simple, why are we experiencing declines in mental, physical, emotional, financial, and interpersonal health?*

Our economy now relies on grabbing people’s attention to get us to spend our time (ourselves) in front of platforms with ads to hopefully buy more and more things we don’t actually need or even want. The more things we buy, the more things need our attention. The more distracted we are, the less we notice what’s right for us and the more uncomfortable with our reality we become. Enter more distractions to avoid reality. If we don’t have agency over our attention, we spend it on things that are not actually ‘important’ and lose ourselves, our values, and our health along the way.

To regain agency over health in this era, we need to reclaim our attention. This requires skill. 

There are many forms of attention from the perspective of your neurophysiology. For example; you can be hyperfocused on something acute like giving a talk or driving on ice, casually attending to something like stirring noodles, dispersed and distracted switching from things every few seconds, spaced out watching TV, or globally aware in a state of deep meditation and healing. Can you ‘read’ the difference in yourself? Social media, for example, takes our attention in a dispersed and distracted way that can drain reserves of attention for important things like in-person relationships.

Are you AWARE that the average person in will spend over 5 years and 4 months of their life on social media** If you’re in that average, what are you getting in return for that time and attention spent? Is it worth it? Would you take back any of those years if you could in the end? Why? What’s MORE important that you’re missing through the disconnected drain of the attention economy’s grip?

Our attention is a finite resource that ebbs and flows based on our energy systems. If you know how to read where your attention is going and how to direct these energy systems you can generate rewarding states of health and sustainable balance despite the noise of modern life. You can reclaim yourself.

Our SH//FT HEALTH program helps you Master Time and Attention: the most valuable currencies in modern life.

 

With Breath,

Emily Hightower


 

Sources:

*https://www.mhanational.org/issues/state-mental-health-america

**https://www.slicktext.com/blog/2019/10/smartphone-addiction-statistics/

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

All of the Time | Emily Hightower

Issue #8

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In Time,

Emily Hightower

Don’t Hold Your Breath | Emily Hightower

Issue #6

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours,

Emily Hightower

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