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The Art of Anchoring 5

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the best Memento Mori reminder?”

Your breath, because it’s always with you. Imagine the last breath you’ll ever take, and savor this breath as if it was your last.”

“What is the second-best reminder?”

People. Acknowledge your common humanity. Imagine the last breath they’ll ever take, and revel in the shared moment as if it was their last.”

On cold showers

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“What is the most important aspect of cold showers?”

The breathing.

Cold water, especially when very cold, produces a stress response. This manifests in increased heart rate and irregular breathing. By taking control of your breathing and slowing it down (conscious breathing), you slow down your heart rate, which has a calming effect.

The skill you’re practicing with cold showers is calmness in discomfort. This is an essential transferable life skill.”

On letting go

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I remember to let go?”

“Connect it with your breath.

Let go with every mindful breath.

On Centering

The ancestor of every action is a thought. (Ralph Waldo Emerson)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I optimize my centering practice?”

“You initiate and guide your practice with thoughts expressed as meaningful words – I call them word-thoughts

In attempting to optimize the process, you’re essentially asking:

When centering, what do I want to think?

You’re creating an optimal sequence of word-thoughts.”

“I have a tendency to overcomplicate it and create too long a sequence.”

“Make simplicity your mantra. Make the process three steps at most.

I call the first item of the sequence, the access-point. Make the access-point something deeply meaningful to you. Your highest value, your Center.

What is your Center?”

“Love.”

“That is your access-point.

Whenever you initiate the centering practice, think Love.

Let’s make it a three-step process.

What do you want the next two steps to be?”

“Breathing, and a body check.”

“So we have a sequence:

Love
Breathing
Body Check

This is the macro-sequence. Every item of the sequence can itself be a micro-sequence.

For instance, you can just breathe. But you can make it more powerful by smiling as you breathe and thinking ‘Peace’ –  the beautiful practice you’ve learned from Thich Nhat Hanh. 

Se we have a micro-sequence:

(Conscious) Breathing
– Smile
– Peace

What are the key aspects of the body check?”

“Noticing and adjusting my posture, noticing tension, accepting, and letting go.”

“So we have another micro-sequence:

Body Check
– Posture
– Tension
— Accept
— Let go

Visually, the process looks something like this:

Breathing, body check, posture and tension are essentially self-awareness practice.”

Still your waters

Every breath you take, every step you make, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity. (Thich Nhat Hanh)

Still your waters. (Josh Waitzkin)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I still my waters? How do you go from stormy waters to still waters?”

“When your waters are stormy, that’s the best time to practice. That’s the ultimate stress test for whatever technique you’re using.

The best technique I’ve found involves breathing and a mantra.

Stilling your waters = Deep Breathing + Mantra

The mantra is key to the process. Its purpose is to slow down and distract your mind.

“What mantra?”

“The mantra can be one meaningful word that you say with each breath. (eg Love)

Or it can be two meaningful words, one on the inhalation, the other other on the exhalation. (eg Peace, Joy)

Or it can be multiple meaningful words, one with each breath. (eg your central values)

Play around, experiment. Do it every time you need to still your mind. The measure of success is how quickly you manage to do it.

This is the core of the practice. However you can add a few more little things to make it more powerful.

You can add a smile with each exhalation. This relaxes the muscles of the face which helps you relax.

You can make it a practice of Self-Love and Active Love.
Express Love to yourself and your beautiful BodyMind.
Bring to mind a person that is dear to you, or someone you’ve learned something from, and send them Love.

You can associate the practice with one of your Heroes, and bring them to mind whenever you practice.”

“Who did you associate the practice with?”

“Thich Nhat Hanh.

His teachings and way of being deeply resonate with me. Whenever I think of him, I bring to mind the title of one of his books, and smile:

Peace is every step.

Only I’ve added another line to it:

Peace is every step.
Peace is every breath.

On Implementation 3

Whenever you start a practice, always spend a moment connecting with yourself. (Aadil Palkhivala)


Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I make this actionable?”

“Start with understanding. 

Clarify and simplify. 
Disambiguate – Identify and resolve ambiguities.
Paraphrase – Express with your own words.

The quote is a life-algorithm [<link; medium length] of the form:

When x, do y.

When you start a practice session, Connect with yourself.

Or, using a different metaphoric-model:

When you start a practice session, Center yourself.

The next step is asking yourself:

What is the practice?
What are the components of the practice?
What specifically will you do?

The practice might look like this:

Connect with your beautiful BodyMind with every Breath. We might call this Embodied-Breathing.

When you start a practice session, Pause, Breathe and think x.

x might be a word expressing your Center, however you conceive of it:

When you start a practice session, Pause, Breathe and think Love.

Pausing, Embodied-Breathing, and evoking your Center are the specific components of the practice.”

On Breathing and Meaning

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

“How can I optimize my breathing practice?”

Make every breath meaningful.

For instance, you can view every breath as…
Sacred
Centering
– Connection with yourself and/or a higher-reality
Celebration of life and/or your beautiful BodyMind

Meaning is idiosyncratic. What’s meaningful to me may not be meaningful to you. Get clear on what it means to you, and make it an an integral part of your practice.”

On Learning and Breathing

Fragment from imaginary dialogues

“I’ve come to consider breathing an essential practice. I want to MASTER it.”

“What’s your approach?”

“I’m reading three books on the subject (at the same time):

Just Breathe (Dan Brulé)
The Oxygen Advantage (Patrick McKeown)
Heart Coherence 365 (David O’Hare)

My practice evolves as I’m reading them. Whenever I encounter something I can implement, I immediately add it to my practice.

“What does your practice look like in its current form?”

“From Just Breathe I got an essential piece of the puzzle. I learned what the fundamentals of breath-work are: 

Breath Awareness: Becoming aware of your breathing without trying to control it in any way

Conscious Breathing: Controlling certain aspects of your breathing for achieving specific ends

I found this information immensely useful. I’d read a lot about breathing before, from various sources, and all were focusing only on the latter. Breathe in this way, or in that way. But none mentioned the importance of just observing your breathing. As Dan Brulé beautifully puts it:

BE the breath.

Now both are an integral part of my breathing practice, and Breath Awareness has become my default-practice.

From The Oxygen Advantage I learned the importance of breathing only through your nose. 

I learned that there’s such a thing as overbreathing. Counterintuitively, getting in more oxygen by inhaling a larger volume of air has diminishing returns. Our blood already has a high oxygen saturation. To increase performance, you don’t need more oxygen; you need a way to deliver the oxygen more effectively to the muscles and tissues.

A big idea I got from the book was that carbon dioxide is not just a waste product. Carbon dioxide plays an essential role in releasing the oxygen from the red blood cells. This is called the Bohr effect. 

The better your body is at managing carbon dioxide, the better it is at using its stored oxygen. And you can make your body better at it through holding your breath, thus simulating high-altitude breathing. While you hold your breath, there’s a build-up of carbon dioxide in your body. This is what causes you to gasp for air. Through consistent breath-hold practice, you increase your body’s tolerance to carbon dioxide.

There are various breath-hold methods described in the book, and I haven’t gotten to them yet. I have however already implemented the most basic of them during my morning meditation: the BOLT test. This is basically a test for assessing your body’s tolerance to carbon dioxide. 

The test is simple:

1. Take a normal breath in through your nose and allow a normal breath out through your nose.
2. Hold your nose with your fingers to prevent air from entering your lungs.
3. Time the number of seconds until you feel the FIRST definite desire to breathe, or the FIRST stresses of your body urging you to breathe (eg need to swallow, constriction of airways, involuntary contractions of your breathing muscles in your abdomen or throat).
4. Release your nose, stop the timer, and breathe in through your nose. (Your inhalation at the end of the breath hold should be calm.)

The goal is not to see how long you can hold your breath, but how long it takes for your body to react to a lack of air. Athletes can easily reach 40 seconds in this test. 

From Heart Coherence 365 I got the practice which is encoded in the very title.

365 Practice

– 3 times a day (first thing in the morning, at any time throughout the day, right before sleep)
– 6 breaths per minute (5-second inhale, 5-second exhale)
– 5 minutes duration

“Is it the BREATHE pattern we’ve talked about before [<link] which produces heart-coherence?

Breathe
Rhythmically
Evenly
And
Through the
Heart
Everyday

“Yes it is.

I’ve only started reading those books, and they’ve already greatly enriched my breathing practice. There’s a lesson in that. It illustrates a fundamental principle of learning:

Apply what you learn.

“You’re also illustrating a powerful learning strategy:

Learn by teaching.

“I guess I am.”

On Peak Performance

Fragment from imaginary dialogues

“What was the most impactful TED talk you’ve ever watched?”

“This one:

As you know, I’m very interested in peak performance. This talk delivered an essential piece of the puzzle. It was a paradigm shift for me.”

“What were the biggest ideas you got out of it?”

“We all have our moments of brilliance, some more often than others. The video brought into focus the idea of performance-consistency, ‘being brilliant every single day‘, and shows a model of how to achieve that.

The model looks like this:

Thinking
Feeling
Emotion
Physiology

Think of it as a pyramid, with Physiology at the bottom.

Feeling profoundly affects Thinking, and Physiology profoundly affects Feeling.

“Why the distinction between Feeling and Emotion?”

“In this model, Emotion is raw physiological-data constantly being transmitted by our body, whereas Feeling is our receptivity to that data, our capacity to notice, interpret, and process it.

It made me realize I was focusing too much on the top of the pyramid (Thinking), not enough on the bottom (Physiology), and hardly at all on the middle (Feeling/Emotion). The problem is, while under stress, you become ‘lobotomized’, to use Alan’s vivid metaphor. You lose access to your mental-resources. As the saying goes, ‘a chain is as strong as its weakest link’.

It made me realize:

Thinking Mastery requires Physiological Mastery and Emotional Mastery.

This opened a new path for me in an instant.

Another big idea I got out of it is that of coherence.”

“What is coherence?”

“Looking at the heart through the quality/quantity model, the heart-rate – that is, the number of contractions per minute – is the quantity aspect. 

However the heart-rate does not tell the whole story. An essential piece of information is the distribution of the heart-beats within that time-frame, what’s called the Heart Rate Variability (HRV). Representing the heart-beats as an oscillation, you can have an unstable erratic oscillation, or a smooth stable oscillation independently of the heart-rate.” 

“So you can have a stable oscillation with both a high heart-rate and a low heart-rate.”

“Yes. This is the quality aspect. This stable oscillation of the beating of your heart is called coherence. Coherence correlates with all the positive emotions and the experience of Flow.

You can alter HRV and achieve coherence through breathing.

This insight led me to another realization:

Physiological Mastery requires Breathing Mastery.

The video offers a beautiful practical insight on how to achieve coherence through breathing.”

“What’s the insight?”

“Breathing has 12 aspects you can regulate, such as speed, pattern, volume, depth, etc. According to Alan, the most important are three: 
Rhythmicity: fixed in-breath/out-breath ratio (alters HRV)
Smoothness: even flow (alters HRV)
Focus on the Heart (promotes positive emotion)

Alan has an acronym for it:

Breathe
Rhythmically

Evenly
And
Through the
Heart
Everyday

As concerns rhythmicity, the actual ratio doesn’t matter. It can be 5/5 (5 seconds breathing in, 5 seconds breathing out), 6/6, 6/7, or any other ratio as long as it stays the same.

I love the idea of focusing on the Heart with every breath. I’m working on turning every breath into a beautiful centering-moment.

Habit Seeds

Fragments from imaginary dialogues

When installing a habit, it’s important to start small, and to make it fail-proof. You want to identify the smallest possible unit of the habit that is too small to fail – the atom, so to speak.

You can think of these tiny little habits as seeds that you can nurture and grow.

The best soil for new habit-seeds is the already existing structures – like other habits.

This way, engaging in the old habit becomes a trigger for the new little habit.”

“So, using your model, there are different types of seeds, which grow different types of habits. 

A 1-burpee seed will grow into a 5-burpee seedling. 
A 5-minute writing seed will grow into a pomodoro writing seedling.”

“You could say that.”

“What if you had a universal habit-seed that could grow into all others?”

“What do you have in mind?”

“As we’ve talked before[<link], the atom of the Meditation practice is 1 mindful breath. I call it the 1-breath meditation.

The universal habit-seed could be 1 breath. Let’s call it the mindful habit-seed.

This way, you turn the process of habit creation into Presence/Mindfulness practice.

You can start by planting mindful habit-seeds into key existing habits. This is a meaningful practice in itself. However, at a later time, you can grow these seeds into new mindful-habits, or use them to reclaim existing habits, that is, to turn them into mindful-habits.”