I remember the year. It was 2010 and I was running around like a giraffe with its head cut off.
Newell Strength was starting to really grow some legs, Devon and I were getting more serious, I was a full-time physical education teacher and I was completing my Master’s Degree at an accelerated rate.
I am not one to become overwhelmed easily. I have what you would call a very high ‘allostatic load’. An allostatic load is how much stress an organism can handle before it boils over so to speak. When we boil over, we enter the exhaustion phase of the stress response.
If you reach that stage, and if you are reading this and living on the planet Earth, I can be assured that you have, you will enter a freeze mode. Freeze mode is the go to ‘f’ out of the three f’s of the sympathetic nervous system: freeze à flight à fight. Think of freeze mode as a depression; It’s like you are trying to move in quicksand, the wheels are going but no forward progress is being made.
By the way, I will be giving you dribs and drabs of nervous system and brain lessons throughout these articles because I am a firm believer that if you know how you operate, you can combine that with the why you do what you do to live a better and more clear life.
Getting back to the story at hand. I entered my then principal’s office to vent to him. We always had a close relationship and still get coffee together every month.
I had a list sketched out on an unlined piece of yellow paper with all the things coming up that had deadlines that I still had to complete. I had allowed myself to become too overwhelmed which is the opposite of happy for me.
He told me to slow down and take a breath, which I did. And you know what? I felt better almost instantly. Yup, by taking a few deep breaths and slowing down, I could literally feel the level of overwhelm go from an 8/10 to a 5/10.
The stuff on my list still had to get done, but by slowing down I was able to create a clear plan of action and a pecking order of which thing would be done first, second and so on. The brain cannot multi-task despite all the posers out there that claim there are great at multi-tasking.
What really happens when we try to multi-task is that we have to put the brakes on our thought, let it come to a complete stop and then switch tracks to the new thing we are multi-tasking with. It may seamless and quick, but and this a big BUTT: it takes a tremendous amount of energy to switch tasks like this, which will leave you for less efficient than you could be, which is ironic because we think when we multi-task that we are being more efficient.
Think of this way; if you were to go out and run 100 meters straight, it won’t be too, too hard. For some people, it would be pretty damn easy. That is how your brain functions when it is focused on one task and one task only. Now, let’s suppose I told you that you had to run 100 meters again, but this time it was going to be broken up into 25 yard splits. This means that you would run 25 yards, put the brakes on, run back and then repeat that cycle one more time.
Anyone that has run shuttle before will tell you that this second option is way more difficult and taxing on the body. Metabolically speaking, stop and start activities use a tremendous amount of energy (there is a fat loss lesson here too). The deceleration, change of direction and then acceleration are very, very difficult as it is with the brain too.
Back to clarity. A lack of clarity on what you are doing and where you are heading is a big threat trigger for the brain. The brain is nothing more than a pattern recognition machine which means it prefers prediction + response and repeat. A clear ranking of priorities will work wonders on your daily tasks and goals.
But my friend, that is not what I really wanted to cover in this first section of the inaugural ULYIS newsletter. What I really wanted to cover is the most effective and simplest way to meditate that have ever come across. And yes, it starts with the breathing that my principal had instructed me to do in his office.
All meditations as far as I know involve the breath. Yogis have been teaching this for thousands of years. To become parasympathetic (the opposing part of the nervous system to the fight or flight response), you need to be in a relaxed state. We can accomplish this through our body by stimulating the vagal nerve.
When talking about breathing, this can only be done through a long exhale through the mouth, and yes, it does not get stimulated if we do a long exhale through the nose. You should always perform your meditation breathing by inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth. When you do this, you are going to want to the belly to rise (NOT The chest). Chest breathing and ‘belly’ breathing have opposing effects on the stress response as well.
Ok, now that I have explained the breathing to you, what is this simple meditation method I speak of?
I simply go outside (near water if I can find it, lucky for me we live on a creek and are a stone’s throw away from a river), start my breathing and scan my senses. By that I mean, I will spend a minute or two on noticing what I see; the colors, the birds, the grass, anything really.
Next, I focus on what I can hear including the animals, the wind, distant cars, planes, water flowing or anything else that happens to be in my environment. I then go on to do the same thing with feel, smell and taste.
Admittedly taste can be a difficult one but you can focus in on the mouth, the saliva, teeth and any taste that you imagine your environment would have if it did have a taste.
This whole thing can be done in as little as 5 minutes, if you spent one minute on each of the five senses. You will feel your blood pressure drop and a sense of calm come over you.
Let me explain; the breathing relaxes the tone of the nervous system and being in nature connects with the mammal brain, the second layer of the brain if you will. The mammal brain needs connection and emotion to become fully activated, both of which you will accomplish any time you are out in nature and you focus in on it. From what I have seen throughout my coaching career is that most people lack any type of deep mammalian connection (one of the reasons that dogs are so wonderful!).
Yes, I know people are married with kids and on and on, but I am telling you, they do not connect on the level they should nearly enough. Most people are just trying to make it through the day and human connection is really an after-thought. And most people, when they do happen to be outside in nature, are glued to their smart phone. Their phone is smart but they are becoming more stupid by the minute (I’ll cover this brain science in April’s issue).
Most people do not focus on their spiritual connection at all. They know that it is important but they simply don’t make the time for it because it’s the old thing of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. When we cannot see material results, we are usually apt to brush it off.
Yes, people go to church, but most (not all), go because they believe it will check the box of spirituality and out of a sense of guilt (judgment is very powerful).
I went on a string of weeks from that point forward where I would go out to a local pond and sit there or stand there for up to an hour just taking in my environment. I would also go to that same park at night and just sit on a bench and stare up at the stars. I found that after about 20 minutes, my mind went into a full state of ‘alpha’ which left me feeling high and euphoric.
I don’t always create the pocket of time to do these lengthy sessions anymore, but I do make sure I do some form of it. In fact, just yesterday, I spent 10 minutes sitting out front scanning my senses.
We all become overwhelmed and we all think that meditation is a great idea. But when people hear the very word meditation they think of something that will require will power and a ton of extra time, which none of us really has. The brain will not form a habit around something that requires will power and if we think of something that causes us to go into threat, like finding an extra 20 or 30 minutes in the day, we simply will not do ‘it’ either.
Here are your assignments for the spirit before next issue:
- Learn how to belly breath properly. Place one hand on your belly to make sure it is rising. This can be done standing, sitting or lying down.
- On your lunch break or around lunch time, if you do not have a regular break, I want you to go out and scan the sense at least twice per week for a minimum of 5 minutes.
Sound simple enough? Good. We will build upon that next month. Peace.