You Are the Environment | Brian MacKenzie

Issue #31

Basic human desires included food, reproduction, social stature, comfort, and exploration. We are a complexity unto itself in the animal kingdom because for a small part of our lives each day, we are conscious, and I don’t mean conscious as in “I am awake”; I mean conscious as in I am fully aware of what is going on at this moment. Each of us has undergone a childhood where micro or macro experiences influenced our basic human desires and tendencies to search for or guard these, ad nauseum. 


I’ll assume that since anyone reading this has food, shelter, a smartphone, and a level of comfort that has never been had in the history of our species, I can get to the point of this article. 


Through our comfort crisis, we inevitably expose ourselves to more information than we can absorb; fact. This hyper-information indulgence, as with anything, comes with tradeoffs. Many of us don’t acknowledge if the nervous system cannot move at the speed of our demands or the speed we desire to consume data. We refuse to slow down and take the path of least resistance; keep scrolling.  That route is a compensatory response that hands our attention out like a slot machine being spun on a constant. Jumping from one screen to another, one piece of information to another, one conversation to another, externalizing our problems to the car in front of us, entertaining the text message (while driving), then to the email, to the phone call, to the song, to the coffee, to the nicotine, and on. 


I just got off the phone with a client I’ve worked with for over a year. We spoke about why the placebo effect works so well. “Simple,” I said (although this is a rudimentary theory), “your emotions are aligned with your physiology,” and so in many of the cases where the placebo effect is working, which  is more often than you may realize,  we find ourselves dialed into a “vibration.” The context of this conversation was concerned with feeling good mentally and, therefore, physically, without invasive thoughts to tell us otherwise. Like this, there is insufficient noise (social media, news headlines, poor self-talk) to distract you from what is happening in your immediate world. Remember: our responses to any situation are patterns we’ve established over a lifetime, engrained since childhood. They are familiar to us and give us a sense of comfort or peace. Instead of worrying about what we may be missing, we can choose to bring forward our ability to sit firmly in the chaos through our own personal peace of mind. The more distracted we are, the more difficult it becomes to understand this sense of peace that, from what I have learned, seems to be a default in every person I have met and worked with. The distractions are human-made. *BTW, the placebo doesn’t always work, and emotions are not all bad. Personally, it often requires me to be distracted before realizing that I am caught up in something external to myself.


To be distracted is a coping strategy that has become more of an issue culturally as we have become obsessed with information. This obsession has fueled many industries to make trillions of dollars because we love thinking we know something. These industries are feeding you and me marketing and IP designed to keep us hooked, influence our next thought or buy, stay online longer, and come back for more; dopamine, norepinephrine, and a myriad of other neurotransmitters and hormones that are far more potent than most Rx drugs. The dilemma begins by not taking the time to understand our patterns, our stressors, and our traumatic responses to our unfulfilled human desires. These reactions compound when we are distracted, and we are all distracted. This has our nervous systems set on higher alert than is necessary. I’m sure you know this: your brain — to be clear — is a part of your nervous system, not separate. No part of you is a distinctly separate entity or system from what I’ve described here. 


So, you want to work out, exercise, and care for yourself because life is stressful, and exercise is the best medicine–100%! One of the things that brought me to many of the above details was looking deeper into respiratory physiology and breathing mechanics. I became intrigued to study and discuss the above information and started by applying the concept of breath control to training. I began to see some exciting things; one of those things was that people were over-breathing while exercising, which many experts ignored, and some continue to ignore despite the growing data. One of the leading issues in endurance sports is pulmonary function, which may not be why you think– CO2 Tolerance. At the Olympic level, breathing-related issues are the number one medical issue. Our breathing is essentially a prediction component based on a relationship (keyword) to CO2. This mechanism (our breathing frequency/rate and depth) is rooted in how we each respond to stress. These relationships can easily carry over into submaximal exercise, meaning that our exercise routines do not solve the stress equation. A slight caveat here is that those who regularly participate in high-intensity exercise can develop the pulmonary muscles quite well. However, none of us can be too intense for too long; thus, we default back to a manageable intensity (sub-maximal) and our breathing behavior.


Without a foundation in breathing mechanics, physiology only follows suit (just as it follows emotion), which is derived from how we psychologically or behaviorally breathe. Unless you were born into an Eastern-based practice such as  Yoga, Tai Chi, or Martial Arts as taught through their antiquated processes (and I can guarantee none would mold into today’s modern-day Westernized versions), you’d of skipped – like me – breathing as a foundation to training. Breathing is an opportunity to present to you a reality you did not see before. That reality does have some physiology behind it, though. We know you are more aerobic, or rather you are using oxygen more effectively if your mouth is shut and your intensity matches. We also know if you are hypersensitive to CO2, you are prone to hyperventilation and even episodes of hypoventilation (apnea–sleep). Ironically, as cited above, mouth breathing at high intensity can and will train those primary breathing muscles much more effectively; it may just come with a prescriptive time frame. You are also training those primary breathing muscles at lower intensities in a way they have never been used in the modern world, with a bit of intensity while our mouths are shut. 


In this paradoxical world, we all respond to stress differently but still with similar behavior patterns. Those patterns are not just acting out in anger, frustration, and fear; they show up in how we hold ourselves, how we walk, and at the root, how we breathe. Again – a reminder with more context – just changing our breathing will only present a reality you are willing to see, avoid, or ignore. I see this almost daily as people nasal breathing beyond their means, and it backfiring on them physiologically (not enough O2 delivery at higher work rates), or backfiring on an easy run or ride, and their jaws slack wide open, offloading excess CO2 and rendering oxygen more useless and destructive


Confronting our behavior is the foundation of all training; everything else is secondary and beyond. Awareness is the foundational tool for this. Every other tool, including breathing and exercise, is secondary. Our basic desires have been so exploited that we have lost their foundations. Many have misplaced one of them totally; exploration. So many of us no longer have purpose and rarely are invested in deep work, creativity, and play; not everything is training. 


We suffer socially, as we BEHAVE as though social media is social interaction– a place where I show you exactly what I want – usually all the beautiful things, and you voyeuristically watch, compare, and contrast based on a one-two sense ability of an eight-sense, multidimensional being – you judge accordingly, and I react to the comment with my survival instincts, all the while pretending we’ve got our shit together and this is normal. We only text message our “friends” and family and avoid phone calls or fundamental interactions because we are so busy we can’t (or won’t) make time for real social interaction. Missing the reality that our self-esteem is in the shitter, and we don’t value our time in the slightest. We then green-light the food and supplement industry to make it so convenient for us to live in our worlds that we are willing to eat toxic food or take said pill, just so long as we don’t have to get uncomfortable or chase the illusion of comfort. The dilemma is we are psychologically making up for what we physically no longer can or will do. The placebo is not a placebo when you figure out that your old thinking was the parking brake you had on the entire time you have been driving.


SH//FT Health helps you rebuild from the foundation. Each aspect of what we do in this business is about guiding you to take the time to understand that each one of us may have a parking brake on at times. The membership, courses, and coaching are all geared around you and developing your foundation… and this is the foundation of training; for any world champion, executive, operator, first responder, mom, or whatever your flavor. Without it, it’s all a show. Every season and event comes to an end.  


You are the environment; you do not live in one. Every part of your sensory system communicates where you’re at in every moment, consciously and unconsciously. You are adjusting and calibrating to ensure you find balance or homeostasis. Imagine never knowing who you really are because you are so tied up trying to suffer in comfort.  




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