Understanding Fear

The recent election has me asking a lot of questions. Mostly “why?” and “how?” The main answer I have is “because of fear.” I look at the world right now and I see a lot of people who are afraid on both sides of the issue. Fear is a great motivator, but it can motivate many of the wrong actions. I try to look at people who are afraid with a sense of compassion even though to me one person’s FEAR can be False Evidence Appearing Real, to them it’s extremely palpable.

Somewhere…
A man is afraid he’s going to lose his job to an illegal immigrant.
A soldier is afraid of dying at the hands of a Muslim.
A woman is afraid of getting assaulted on the streets.
A black man is afraid of getting shot by the police.
A child is afraid of getting bullied at school.
A police officer is afraid of getting killed on the job.
A young couple is afraid of not having healthcare for their new baby.
An old man is afraid of losing his social security benefits.
A gay couple is afraid of losing their right to marry.
A religious person is afraid of living in a Godless country.
A young woman is afraid that she’ll lose the right to choose.
An old man is afraid a young woman is going to kill her unborn baby.
A woman is afraid of doing the same work as a man but getting a fraction of the pay.
A Muslim is afraid of being assaulted in the streets.
A Jew is afraid of the return of concentration camps.
A Mexican is afraid of a wall.
A millionaire is afraid of losing her money.
A poor person is afraid of losing everything.
A soldier is afraid there won’t be any wars to go fight.
A military wife is afraid there are going to be lot more wars for her husband to go fight.
A parent is afraid that his child will grow up in an unsafe world.

These fears are real to people and what all of us are doing is dismissing other people’s fears as stupid and unreasonable. Unfortunately that strategy doesn’t work. Neither does rational argument. Fear spurs us into action, but the problem is that sometimes that action is irrational. Our reaction to fear is based on survival when our lives are threatened. In those instances, we run or we fight and fight hard. We lash out with everything we got because to not do so (to our reptilian brains) would mean death. However, is the case of voting our fears (for the vast majority of people) are not imminent, they are fears of a possible outcome that has not come to fruition. In the literal sense of the word, they are imaginary fears. Thus we lash out with everything we have at the enemy even though, in the present, that enemy is not doing any immediate harm to us.

How this manifested is that, in this election unlike others, much of the back and forth between the candidates was ad hominem attacks and which carried over to the voters. Campaign attack ads are the norm now, but this particular election cut deeper on many levels on both sides. It went beyond the usual “your economic plan sucks and you’re not trustworthy” rhetoric to “you’re a rapist” and “you’re a murderer” which like toothpaste is hard to put back in once you let it out. The usual rhetoric casts the other side as merely unfit for the job. The current state of politics is that now when you look at the screen you don’t merely see two candidates for a job, you see the objects of your fears. Instead of “vote for me because I’m the best” the tone of this years election was “that person is what you fear most in the world do NOT vote for them.”

It do not think it is even remotely possible for anybody that followed the campaigns to look at the opposing candidate and not see a monster because that is what we have conditioned the population to for the last year. Now we have a country doesn’t merely dislike the other side but is in actual fear. Do I have to spell out how dangerous and troublesome this is?

Is there any way to break the fear loop? We need to get into action. Action is what breaks the fear loop. However, like I said we must be careful that the actions we take are not more divisive. We need goal action results. You need a short term goal to get you moving out of danger, e.g. get to the car and lock the doors. We need to move toward safety. Once we get to a safe place we can make more rational decisions, but until then keep moving.

I recommend getting back into your routine that brings you peace of mind. I meditate and workout and spend time with my family. Now that I feel that things are good here I can think about how to create the world that I want without having to rely on the government. I can support organizations and charities that might be in trouble in the next four years. I can spread love and joy to my immediate circle and choose to be better to people that are worse off than me. I can do my best to be understanding of the emotions people are feeling, all people, the winners and the losers. I love this country and the people in it. I believe in the Constitution and in democracy and believe this experiment is working overall. I think the electoral college needs to be done away with. I believe we need a pissed off populace that will fight for change in this country but we can’t keep pulling in different directions all the time. We need to stop living in fear and spread some love around and heal wounds instead of lashing out.

“Love is all you need.” The Beatles

Your Legacy

Do people still consider their legacy? In the course of history many great people were great partly by design. They felt compelled to have a legacy that would outlast them. Like Alexander Hamilton, they wondered who would tell their stories.

As I get older, I suddenly am confronted by that question more and more. Part of me wishes I had asked that of myself many years ago. However, there is no time for regrets. noragrets

As my passion for helping others grows so does my desire to leave behind something to this world. Not out of vanity. I don’t wish to be remembered because I did something miraculous. I want to be remembered because I helped people live their lives better.

Keep Moving Forward

Right now all I want to do is pull up the covers and watch movies. I want to ignore the looming sense of doom I have regarding the fate of the Bill of Rights and the possible reversal of years of progress we made in this country with respect to civil rights and civil liberties. I want to go on social media and unfriend a lot of people and write ridiculously long posts blaming various people and groups.

Instead, what I am doing is choosing to move forward. I have created a good life for myself and my family and I have to keep living it because that is where I gain strength. I am of service to other people and that brings me joy and fulfillment and I cannot be of service to others if I do not have my own life in order. I don’t know how this election will affect me yet, but I am resolved to navigate the next 4 years with grace and poise.

Additionally, I am greatly saddened by the evil, venomous things that people are saying with regards to this current situation. We have come a long way as a country, yet we have just set the clock back. I fear having to fight the battles of racism, religious freedom, gender equality, homosexual rights and civil liberties all over again.

Our democracy and our constitution guaranties all of us certain freedoms. I respect the country’s choice and the democracy. I just hope we didn’t sell our soul as a nation. My friend wrote a post that this is what it must have felt like when Palpatine was elected to Supreme Chancellor. It is hilarious and nerdy but also entirely true. In history we have seen dictators rise to power through legitimate means and then overstep their bounds. Please don’t let this be such a situation.

History has taught us that when fear dominates the culture, people turn on each other. History has also shown that love is stronger. I choose to love.

Ujjayi Pranayama

Ujjayi Pranayama means “victorious breath.” It is often practiced through the entirety of an ashtanga or flow yoga class. It is meant to be calming and rhythmic and help the practitioner focus. Slow, deep inhales followed by long, exhales of roughly the same length. The defining characteristic is the wheezy, ocean-like sound. Ujjayi is an audible breath performed by constricting the throat and tongue slightly while breathing in and out through your nose.

Try this. Sit up straight. Close your eyes. Take a breath in through your nose and exhale out through your mouth and whisper “hahhh”. Feel where it vibrates the back of the throat. Take another breath in through your nose and whisper “hahhh” but press the tongue to the roof of your mouth. Feel where your tongue touches the palate and how the jaw constricts slightly. That’s basically the shape you want for your mouth. Take another deep inhale though the nose and exhale though the nose while retaining the sound. Keep doing this while taking slow, deep abdominal-thoracic breaths.

Ujjayi Pranayama from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

I personally find it relaxing to perform ujjayi breaths and will consciously or unconsciously start doing it when I take deep breaths to relax or when I meditate. Because the breath is audible, you can focus on it better and thus counting your breaths and the length of your breaths becomes much easier. Because you are restricting the flow of air, you naturally breathe much slower with ujjayi breath and consequently much deeper.

One thing that I rarely hear mentioned about ujjayi breathing is the fact that it aides in spinal stabilization. The throat acts like a valve on abdominal-thoracic cavity. True abdominal bracing is done by creating pressure between the diaphragm and the perineum. However, the slight restriction on the breath helps create pressure as well. In situations where breath holding is ill-advised but some intra-abdominal pressure is necessary, ujjayi breath is a strong choice.

Breathe Fucking Harder

Breathing is a funny thing. We do it all day long out of necessity and rarely give it much thought. However, just because we do it so often doesn’t necessarily mean we are good at it nor are we getting better at it. In fact, I find that a lot of people suffer from “bad breath.” Their breathing patterns are less than stellar. So what? You may ask.
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The thing about our breath is that it is linked to our central nervous system; it is tied to physical performance; it is tied our movements; and it is tied to our pain. We can utilize the breath to up-regulate our nervous system or down-regulate our nervous system. We can move in ways that help or hinder our breath. We can use our breath to help alleviate our pain or to mask it.

Our main respiratory muscle is the diaphragm. The diaphragm is a key player not only in breath but also in spinal stabilization as it is used to create intra-abdominal pressure. When I assess clients that have chronic pain and/or movement dysfunction they often have “bad breath,” i.e. poor breathing mechanics and poor control of their diaphragm. By teaching people how to breathe properly, I can get them to down regulate and create a physiological state where healing can occur. Proper breathing allows me to better help them stabilize and protect their spines which leads to better, pain-free movement and helps me teach them better movement patterns.

For example, you twist your ankle and it hurts to walk on. Maybe you tore a ligament or strained muscle, you don’t know. All you know is that it hurts. Maybe you went to the doctor, maybe you didn’t. Maybe you took pain killers. It doesn’t matter. Your body senses pain in your foot. Every time you try to walk on it, you wince a little and your body braces itself. It stiffens. You hold your breath a little with each step. You compensate by placing more weight on the other leg and your hips shift with every step. That means your lower back is supported more on one side than the other. After a few days of this, you don’t even know you are compensating and your brain starts to filter out the noise coming from that achy ankle because now you can pretty much get through your day. Six months later your lower back is hurting all the time. You think it’s unrelated. Turns out it is from all the compensating you’ve done to avoid stress on your bad ankle that hasn’t healed.

So are you saying that learning to breathe better will fix my lower back? Not exactly. If you learn to breathe better, you can start to relax a little. That’s important because when you are stress breathing you are up-regulating your sympathetic nervous system (“fight or flight”) and releasing stress hormones. When you learn how to do abdominal-thoracic breathing you down-regulate and activate your parasympathetic nervous system (“rest and digest”) and get back to homeostasis and this allows your body to better heal itself. Furthermore, once we get you to breathe deeply we can then create some intra-abdominal pressure and teach you how to stabilize your spine. Often that helps relieve some of the back pain. Once your spine is stabilized when you stand you won’t shift your weight over and you will put weight on both feet then suddenly you will realize your ankle still hurts. Finally you can start doing something about that ankle.

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This all seems convoluted. It is. The body is a complex system of systems. That is why many people suffer injuries over and over or constantly find themselves getting stalled in their progress. The pain isn’t where the problem started. The pain is where the problem stopped. Going back to the start of the pain is the hard part. Breathing is just one of the vehicles that help us on that journey.

From a practical and functional standpoint, you need to breathe deeper so you can perform better. Learning how to take longer, deeper breaths and create and utilize the full capacity of the lungs is essential to performance. Strengthening the diaphragm is also important because that is one of the stabilizers of the spine. If your spine isn’t stable, you are going to have big problems.

Three Abodes of Breath from Force Distance Time on Vimeo.

The Three Abodes of Breath

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As I eluded to before, there are several ways to breathe. The body being intelligent has redundancies built in so that we can always find a way to breathe. See the video above. The first abode is abdominal breathing. In abdominal breathing we utilize the diaphragm to draw air into the lungs. When the central tendon of the diaphragm contracts, it pulls the giant umbrella shaped muscle down and creates a low pressure system in the lungs. The lungs then draw air in air to balance the pressure. Lie comfortably on your back with your knees bent and feet close to your butt. Place one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest. Inhale into the belly and it should rise up under your hand. Exhale and the belly should fall.

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The second abode is thoracic breathing. Thoracic breathing utilizes the intercostal muscles between the ribs to expand the rib cage. The increased diameter of the rib cage creates low pressure in the thoracic cavity and draws air in. Inhale into your chest. The chest should rise up into your hand. You might also feel the back of your ribs press into the floor. ‘

The third abode is clavicular breathing. Clavicular breathing utilizes the levator scapulae and the trapezius muscles to draw the shoulders upward and create low pressure in the upper thoracic cavity and draw air in. Clavicular breathing is associated with stress breathing and panting. It tends to be very shallow. Breath into your shoulders. The shoulders with rise up into your ears. This is called clavicular breathing and should be used infrequently as it is often associated with panic breathing. Unfortunately, many people chronically practice clavicular breathing and are stressed out. Furthermore, they often suffer a lot of shoulder problems because of the overused trapezius muscles that should be doing other things besides helping you breathe all day.

Abdominal Thoracic Breathing

Practice isolating each abode of breath. Compare the sensations associated with each abode. Which one allows you to breathe deepest and which one stresses you out. Now practice abdominal-thoracic breathing. Lie on your back with your eyes closed. Bend your knees and place your heels close to your butt. Place one hand on the belly and one hand on the chest. As you inhale you should feel the belly rise up into your hand first and then the chest rise up into the other hand. On the exhale the chest descends then the belly. Continue breathing like this for 10 cycles. Go as slow as you can comfortably.

You should feel calm and relaxed afterwards. If you find it difficult to breathe like this, you need more practice. Most people try too hard at first which actually makes it more difficult to breathe. Do less. Abdominal-thoracic breathing should be your normal relaxed breathing pattern. Chronic pain and movement dysfunction correlate highly with the inability to perform abdominal-thoracic breathing. Practice breathing this way whenever you become conscious of your breath.

Bridge Lifts

In the next exercise we put it all together and link our movement with our breath. It’s called a bridge lift (I demo these at the end of the video). We start in ardha sivasana lying on our backs with our feet by our butt. Our arms by our side. From here we inhale and lift our hips and arms up. Our hips terminate at the top of a bridge pose and our arms continue until they come to rest by our ears. On the exhale we return our hips to the floor and our arms by our sides. The goal is to synchronize the breathing with the movement. Remember the hips move much slower because they travel a much shorter distance than the arms which travel in a 180-degree arc. This is called a vini or vinyasa. The promise of vinyasa yoga is that evenly metered breath coupled with evenly metered movement will result in an even mind.

You will find that you breathe deeper in the bridge lifts because the movement helps facilitate deeper breaths. One reason is that now you are adding clavicular breathing in addition to the abdominal-thoracic breathing. As the arms rise shoulders get pulled up and help draw in more air. This is proper and normal clavicular breathing that occurs

Practice abdominal thoracic breathing and the bridge lifts and work up to sets of 10 breaths. You should feel relaxed and calm afterward. The goal is to move slower and breathe deeper. Not to go fast and get your heart rate up. Do not take your breathing for granted. There is much to be gained by mastering your breath. Some people say “Master your breath, master your life.” I say, “Breathe fucking harder!”

Work Fucking Harder

Talent is overrated. Work fucking harder! Be obsessed. Be crazy about whatever you do and don’t stop until you unlock all the achievements. Be passionate. Be committed. There is always that voice of fear or doubt of resistance calling you back to bed and urging you to stay comfortable. Don’t listen to it. In fact, tell it fuck off. You’ve got bigger and better things to do than to live small. Be big. Fail big. Drop everything and go after your dreams. Do it now. Right fucking now.

The Mind Likes a Plan

My friend Melissa Hartwig said a really great thing. “The mind likes a plan.” When you have all this stuff bouncing around the inside of your head and it’s keeping you up, just get up and write it down. Don’t stress over all the emails and calls and bills, just write a plan and go to sleep. Wake up and execute. Sounds simple, but sometimes we forget and get caught in the drama of worrying. I know I do. This was a great reminder.

Some people advocate doing this every night before bed. Write down on an index card your to do list for the next day and wake up with a plan and execute. It’s a brilliant way to be effective.

Sequester

It is clear from the recent presidential election that the Country is in terrible shape. The media is running wild. People are up in arms about the state of our Country. It is important, not just in times like these, to sequester yourself every day. Hide away not because you cannot handle what is going on in the World. You most certainly can handle it. Hide away because you need a place to recharge your battery and grow stronger. You need your own Bat Cave.

Surround yourself with family, friend and loved ones or just be by yourself a little bit every day. Take some time to reflect on what you love, take care of your needs, do things that strengthen, empower and fortify you so you can go out and confront the World and all the people that seek to lead you off your path. The media, social and otherwise, will inundate you from the moment you wake until the moment you sleep unless you actively seek to get away from it.

Sometimes I practice sequestering by listening to or watching things that have a positive message. Other times I simply do it by taking a nap, playing guitar, playing with my son or meditating. In any of these activities I am free from the negativity of the outside world and working to make myself a little better.

Honor Yourself

“Listen to your body,” “take care of yourself,” “honor your body,” “be kind to yourself,” and so on. I come from the yoga space, so I hear stuff like this all the time. How should we interpret it? Does honoring yourself mean that you should never challenge yourself? Does listening to your body mean never pushing past your comfort zone? Does taking care of yourself mean bubble wrapping yourself in hopes of protecting yourself from any possible damage? I don’t think so.

Living organisms benefit from stress. We adapt. We strive to be what Nicolas Nassim Taleb calls “Antifragile.” Something that is fragile breaks when forces are applied to it. Something that is merely robust is unchanged when forces are applied to it. But the antifragile gets stronger and improves from the stresses placed upon it. That is what we should all strive to do.

Taking care of ourselves should include regular doses of stress: physical, mental and emotional. That which does not kill us makes us stronger, means the stress should be significant but not life-threatening. A good workout in my mind, is an ordeal; a task that I fear might be too much for me to bear. Before it begins I’m nervous and when it’s done I am relieved. Many of my yoga friends would look at a workout that arduous and wonder why someone would do that. I would respond that I am honoring my body.

The Pursuit of Better Than Yesterday

The hyperbole surrounding self-improvement books is vast. We are all attracted to the idea of greatness, the chance to really strike out and make a name for ourselves. So we throw good money after bad buying books, products and seminars that promise to make us great. However, the truth is, we are not all going to be gold medalists in life.

Just because you will not go to the Olympics and win gold for swimming does not mean you can’t go swimming every day and love it and benefit from it and improve at it. If we tie our actions to grandiose end results we will, more often than not, fall short and become frustrated and disappointed. If we focus on the process and tiny, incremental improvements we will find great success and fulfillment.

My process is to focus on the aggregation of marginal gains. My goal is not to be the best at any one thing. My goal is to have an awesome life. To me that means so many different aspects of my life have to keep improving: not just my fitness, but my income, my relationships, my peace of mind and more. So the plan, as far as I have found, is to make small, 1% improvements to each area of my life over time. The aggregation or sum of all these improvements leads to a better life with less things to complain about and more happiness.

Each day I try to do something positive in the areas of nutrition, fitness, hygiene, finances, mindfulness, relationships, gratitude, generosity, and more. If I put pressure on myself to do something epic in each area, I will fail. If I merely try to make a positive action with regards to all these areas it not that hard but the cumulative effect is that I have created a better day and feel good about myself.

Create a list of 5 or 10 things that would positively effect your life and try to do make a small impact each day on that list.