So yesterday, a reader said that my constant harping on the body made her feel uncomfortable. Please desist.
With all due respect, I cannot. All any of us can do is explore our answers to two questions: “who am I?” and “what is true?” These take us along the path of evolution. One truth is that the answers to these questions are ultimately beyond conscious grasping, in the way that the wind is invisible. But our ancestors understood long ago that while the wind is invisible, various of its effects are not: the bending of the grass.
So to determine growth and change and the effects of the invisible world (“Detect those things that cannot be seen” as Musashi said) I take a different approach. When in Tanzania, I noted that in an entire herd of zebras, well, they all looked pretty much exactly alike. The same genetics, the same environment, the same daily actions…virtually identical animals.
And zebras today are about the same as were zebras a hundred thousand years ago.
A herd of humans would be about the same. But in the modern world, it is clear that we are different (and yeah, to a zebra we might look all the same. But allow me my little analogies, please!) And I suggest to you that where we diverge from the norm, especially where we diverge from the norm…or our ancestors.
What are these norms? Well, we are descended from thousands of generations of human beings who mated, who could efficiently hunt and gather, who could avoid predators and navigate their environment with sufficient grace to survive. And human beings are, in some important ways, the greatest athletes on the planet: no other animal compares in the decathlon of life. Nothing else can run AND jump AND climb AND swim AND lift AND throw AND so forth like we can. And our ancestors had that.
But look around us, and you’ll see that something has gone wrong. We are maladapted to our own lives, so many of us lonely (mating), and struggling financially (hunting and gathering), or have bodies that out of balance with our caloric intake. This stuff isn’t our FAULTS. It is not about a flaw in our personalities.
But it is our RESPONSIBILITY to do something about it, if anything is to be done. There is no one else to do it.
So I speak of finding love, although some are uncomfortable about it. I speak of financial success in a career you enjoy, although some are uncomfortable about that. And I speak of having a body in alignment with your own values (in other words…when you fantasize sexually, are you thinking of someone with a body like yours? Is your caloric intake in balance with your output?) If not…my path says that there is something to look at there. That there is an inhibitor to your joy in life. And that we must put guilt, blame, or shame aside…but take responsibility or we might wander off a path with invisible edges, and become lost.
It is not our fault. It is our responsibility.
Back to writing. The modern world is unique in human history. Hunter gatherer cultures in some parts of the world can produce a day’s calories with no more than three or four hours of gathering. But in the United States, the average person can often earn an entire day’s calories with a single hour of sedentary work. This breaks the connection between mind, body, and survival results.
To accelerate the problem there is the emotional element. The Hawaiian Huna suggest that the body is like a black bag, where we store all of our unprocessed emotions. If you are sedentary, and deal with the normal grief, pain, fear, anger, and regret of life, it can build up in your body-mind like sediment. Start to “break it up” through exercise and that pain surfaces. It feels as if the activity CAUSES the pain. No, it just breaks up the cysts that store the poison. Don’t break it up and it will leech into your system over time and kill you slowly. Break it up quickly and it can make you dizzy and sick.
So if you want to change your body, and you have stored pain and fear in your body-mind unit, you have to take that into account and build some kind of compensatory activity, you will mistake the pain of awakening for the activity hurting you. Major error.
But let’s say that you take no pleasure in physical motion (and doctors would tell you that a baby or child who does not play or explore his environment physically is sick), and have only sedentary goals: scholarship, writing, whatever. Why, we’re back with writing again!
THE PRIMARY FUEL OF ANY ACTION IS EMOTION. Your emotions will drive you or hold you back. If you don’t have EMOTIONAL reasons to do something…you won’t do it.
So no program can succeed unless you feel a driving NEED for success, reasons that will keep you moving forward even when you are tired, or stressed. Unless you see the value in it even when you are not given bad news by a doctor. If being told “you will die in six months unless you exercise” is the only way you will stop watching television or logging into Facebook to do it (and it is hysterical to me…or tragic, depending on my mood…how many people will spend hours on FB every week, and then claim they have no time to exercise. Wow. Are they even aware they are lying to themselves? Musashi’s first principle: DO NOT THINK DISHONESTLY. When you do, you are lost.)
So let’s look at the process of writing, the most sedentary of activities, and see how exercise fits in there. What is THE MACHINE again?
- Write a sentence a day
- Write 1-4 stories a month
- Submit and re-submit until they sell
- Don’t re-write except to editorial request
- Read 10x what you write
- Repeat 100 times
- Don’t write a novel until you’ve sold 10 stories.
Can you see the time, energy, fear mastery, discipline, capacity to resist fatique and discouragement necessary to do this? Do you remember that “fatigue makes cowards of us all”? That when you run out of energy life starts looking pale and progress impossible? Can you see it?
All right, try this, the process of Behavioral Modification:
- Identify the pattern you wish to change
- Identify the pattern you wish to adapt.
- RAISE YOUR ENERGY LEVEL
- Practice the new program
- “Fail successfully”
- Correlate your results and re-adjust.
- Begin again
Do you see it this time? That without energy, you will fall back into your prior behavior patterns, your comfortable habits, and not improve?
Do you grasp that your energy is what broadcasts your identity to the world? That your ability to experience JOY in life is related to your energy?
That is you had no other goal than to increase and refine your energy by 1% per day, in a year you would totally change for the better?
If you can’t see that, these messages are not for you. But if you do, and there is a part of you that longs to break out of a prison of diminishing life force, hope, joy and evolutionary potential…you are my tribe.
So the first thing to do is to demolish the lies and illusions, the “I will hurt myself” the “I have no time” and the “I don’t know what to do” and “Its too expensive.”
We’re going to do that by putting “safety rails” on the entire process.
- It will take very little time: at the lowest levels, only FIVE MINUTES A DAY. And at the highest levels? ZERO NET TIME. I kid you not.
- By prioritizing health over fitness, and emotional health over physical health, we are placing things in the correct sequence, and not allowing you to hurt yourself UNLESS YOU IGNORE INSTRUCTIONS. And oh yes, any of you who do not have permission to access your joy, and heal your emotional wounds, WILL try to find a way to hurt yourselves, so that you can say “I tried. It didn’t work”.
- We will start with things that take no money at all. Later, an investment will be required. But the ZERO NET TIME program will help you handle that, too. Yeah, I know how that sounds. Bear with me.
So the first piece of the puzzle is to clarify the emotions while we build a few basic habits.
Stress is often mentioned as an obstacle to exercise, and that is a pisser, because exercise is one of the things that best handles stress. Moving the body is better than just bouncing ideas around in your head.
Hans Selye, the man who popularized the concept of stress, spoke about four languages, and English was not his first. Before he died, he said that if English HAD been his first language, he’d have been known as the father of Strain rather than the father of Stress.
From an engineering point of view, Stress is “pressure per unit area” whereas Strain is “deformation per unit length.” In other words: heat and pressure make DIAMONDS…but handled badly, they also crush and crunch us out of shape. Stress is what we NEED to evolve. Strain is what we need to avoid.
According to Coach Sonnon, the Russians look at all physical techniques as composed of three elements: breath, motion, and structural alignment. And say that each of them is created by the other two. In other words, structure is created by motion and breath, motion is created by structure and breath, and breath is created by motion and structure.
If you “dis-integrate” this structure, you create strain. In other words, if you undergo more stress than you can handle…OR if you paradoxically take too little stress.
But if you deliberately work to integrate this triad, you are on the path of physical evolution, which connects to the emotional…which is then the fuel you need for the mental aspects.
Cool, huh? Seeing how this all fits? Most of the world’s spiritual disciplines focus on one aspect of this: the breath. And this is appropriate, because the breath is the canary in the coal mine. It is the ONLY aspect of our body-mind that is BOTH voluntary and autonomic, and therefore the doorway to our hidden inner world. Slow your breathing down below about four per minute and your carbon dioxide levels skyrocket, triggering your sympathetic nervous system controlling your fight-or-flight response, and attendant fear signals. This leads to anxiety, stress, and strain.
Learn to handle this, to breathe under stress without that breath becoming warped and shallow, and you have learned a core secret to a powerful life: grace under pressure.
Because in life, they pay you for how much stress you can take without breaking.
So what have we done so far?
- Given you THE FIVE MINUTE MIRACLE, a way to re-wire your body’s response to stress by performing deep, slow, diaphragmatic “belly breaths” for sixty seconds, five times a day.
- This not only begins your physical integration, but will reveal your own illusions, the degree to which your ego is destroying you, because NO ONE with the time to read these words doesn’t have five minutes a day. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say no one AT ALL doesn’t have five minutes a day. There is a story about two woodsmen who went into the forest to chop wood for five hours. At the end of the time, one of them had chopped three times the wood of the other, and the losing woodsman was baffled, and asked the winner how he did it. “You didn’t see what I spent three of those hours doing” the winner said. “I was sharpening my axe.” The more critical the activity, the more important that you sharpen your axe before you go to work. There is nothing sadder than burning up all your energy chopping with a dull axe
- We’ve given you JOINT MOBILITY drills. These are the single most important PHYSICAL exercise you can do, working your entire body in only minutes a day.
Here’s the next piece. Again from Coach Sonnon, whose contribution to the basics of this system are enormous.
Create a scale of pain, from 1-10. 1 is “no pain” while 10 is “the worst pain you’ve ever experienced.” Those with chronic pain will need to modify this, of course. If you can walk, and do walk, you need to exercise consciously just to limit the amount of damage from the simple action. CONSCIOUS motion for the purpose of self-discovery and growth is different from motion designed to perform work or provide ambulation. CONSCIOUS is the key.
Create another scale, and this one of proper movement. Think of the absolute most perfect movement you can imagine. Fred Astaire, Bruce Lee, Barishnikov…like that. That’s a “10”. Total, perfect alignment, perfect relaxation.
Then think of terrible, clumsy, tight, spastic motion. No balance or grace. That is a “1”.
Got that? We’re all somewhere on that spectrum. Now then. When you are moving, you work to keep your pain levels below a “3”. Again, this is subjective, and if you have chronic pain, you might say “no more pain than you experience walking”. If THIS is hugely painful, you may be confined to bed or a wheelchair. In that case, say a “3” is “I can smile and breathe smoothly as I do it.”
Got it? No more than a 3 in pain. And you simultaneously work for a level of “grace in motion” at an “8” or above.
And yes, you may never reach that goal. And that’s all right: keep your pain below a 3. Keep your breathing smooth. PRIORITIZE HEALTH AND SAFETY. But keep your eyes on perfect movement. Keep your ego under control: don’t let your ego convince you to try to do a yoga pose that you can’t do. Don’t let your coach or trainer push you beyond the point where you can breathe smoothly or smile. YOU ARE AN ADULT. TAKE RESPONSIBILITY.
Got is? Now here is the best part: how do you know when you are ready to push yourself? Get intense? Really bear down and “go for it”? If and ONLY if you can simultaneously keep pain below a “3” AND your grace of motion above a “7”.
Until you can do both, you are in the rehab phase, the building phase, and you are doing GREAT. Competition is for people who can hold BOTH of those simultaneously. Only those people can plausibly push their effort above a “6.”
Those are your safety rails. Do the best you can, where you can, and over time your body will give you all the strength, power, and grace it is capable of. When you push harder, you are letting your ego destroy you…and remember that it will KILL you to keep you from killling it.
That’s it for today. Do your joint mobility every morning. Breathe five times a day for sixty seconds. Never let your pain go higher than what you experience just walking down the street–OR LESS.
And you are on the path. Want to keep the whole thing under five minutes a day, total? Alternate days. Mobility one day, breathing the next. Or…be smart, and do sixty seconds of joint mobility AND proper breathing, five minutes a day.
And I’ll talk to you again, very soon.