I would like to say that it was peaceful moments in yoga that made me believe so powerfully in my breath, but it wasn't. It was actually violent and shocking experiences. The yoga experiences simply cemented in the understanding.
Coming from a background of abusive relationships I am aware of how it feels to metaphorically drown both inside of an experience while simultaneously feeling detached from the experience. And how these experiences form the thoughts you carry for the rest of your life.
If you are sensitive to stories of abuse, or do not want to know these stories about me, please skip down to where the text is bold.
I remember visiting a boyfriend in Indiana and him getting, what I found out the next day, was black out drunk. We were leaving a party and in his drunken rage he forced me into the passenger seat shortly after I began driving us home. Immediately after that he began speeding up and down dirt roads screaming at me about how he was going to drive us into the next telephone pole or through the next corn field in hopes we hit something unexpected and die because if he couldn't have me then no one could. I do not remember feeling ANYTHING though I remember a lot of other small details from this night, but the thing that caught my attention the most was the sound of my own breathing and how slow it got. It was more pronounced than anything else.
Unfortunately this was not the first time that an event like this happened with him. But it was the last.
Our minds are wired to wander, worry, create struggle, problem solve and survive. When struggles like seeking food, water, avoiding danger, and shelter are no longer there, the mind will begin to create "problems" to solve. If you have a history of unresolved bullshit like the above story, you can relate to the stories that the mind makes up about creating danger. And if you do not, then you can relate to the mind creating problems to attend to.
That person doesn't love me.
That person needs to love me.
That person needs to see things my way.
That person needs to do it how I would do it.
That person is going to try and sleep with me again to give me an std (that they must've caught) to get back at me for breaking up with them.
....if that doesn't happen my way it is indicative of my worth.
...I better end this before someone else can.
....I better call myself fat before they do.
....if it doesn't happen I will be in danger.
....I am in danger.
....I am not loved.
....I will be alone forever.
We are not immune to these thoughts. We all have moments in time where we dive down the rabbit holes of nobody loves us, everybody hates, the world is going to turn against me and I will perish alone.
At some point these rabbit holes have to become laughable. Not because it is true BUT because it is likely not true at all, however we are attaching our worth to our thoughts rather than recognizing consciousness as its own entity. By believing that each thought we have is indicative of the reality is both selfish and potentially debilitating.
You see, physiologically stress is stress. It doesn't know the difference between being chased and feeling like no one will ever love you. Both of those things feel like DANGER DANGER DANGER. To find a sense of inner peace, it is important to understand consciousness. Consciousness is your ability to witness surroundings, the thoughts you have, and the actions you take over your thoughts and surroundings. It is the opportunity to step back and choose a better reaction. Some of you might relate this to cognitive behavior therapy.
When we are completely unaware of our ability to think and act off of our thoughts, or we call our experiences truth and allow them to dictate our thoughts we begin to identify as our thoughts, and therefore increase the likelihood of feeling like we can drown amongst these thoughts. We become the victim to these thoughts.
PLEASE READ THAT AGAIN. As it is very fucking complicated.
My tools for this, in no particular order:
Sam Harris and the Waking Up APP.
People often say to me "But you're not afraid of anything"... I want to be clear that I am afraid of a lot of things. I just made. choice a long time ago to not let the fear shine through.
One of the first things I recognized and loved about jiu jitsu is that emotions are always running the show, and if we want to be better, we have to be somewhat aware and in charge of our emotions.
If you are reading this and do not train martial arts, apply this concept to your job, relationships, goals, eating habits, sleeping habits, etc.
Recently I have been faced with the unpleasant reality that my history with abusive relationships has the potential to deeply impact my training sessions. This is definitely a double edged sword because that history gives me an incredibly high tolerance for discomfort and patience while also having a myriad of triggers about potential dangers involved in contact sports. Maybe I love the controlled violence of jiu jitsu because I am much more comfortable with the acts of violence than with acts of gentle love, and maybe I fell in love with jiu jitsu because at least I am in control of putting myself consciously in these situations. And that is the point of this specific blog post, to create space to reflect on how you have emotionally developed, and how those developments impact when you train, fight, win, and lose.
Weaknesses stem from blind spots, those moments where you are caught off guard by not only an action but the way that you react to that action. In Sam Harris's meditations he speaks of "turning attention upon itself" or "looking for the looker". This can be a difficult concept to grasp at first because we are forced to separate ourselves from our mind. We are neither the mind, nor are we the reactions to the mind. Instead we are consciousness and in that consciousness we can observe what external circumstances cause the mind to think and then watch the reactions that follow the thoughts. This kind of separation really helps us take note of how beneficial our reactions are and whether we should adjust them to improve our quality of life.
Still with me?
I think this concept can be so fucking challenging but the work you do to get there strengthens who you are by leaps and bounds. So, even if you do not get it right away, keep rolling the idea around within your head. And if you want to know more about this I highly recommend getting the Waking Up app by Sam Harris and diving into this idea a bit more.
Repetition is helpful for grasping any technique or concept.
In retrospect, I used to think that my thoughts were who I was. Because I perceived them as my reality I was always at the mercy of my external circumstances.
The gift of abuse was that it made me so wildly uncomfortable that to survive I needed to learn that there is a dialogue behind each thought and each reaction. Many of those dialogues were fear based. I was always worried that someone was going to hurt me while at the same time having a very high tolerance for what was hurtful. After all, once you have a boyfriend who threatens to run the car into a telephone pole in hopes of killing you both, a little man handling in jiu jitsu is nothing.
But actually, it is something. What if that man handling escalates into a sense of ownership over my life? And what if the person man handling me is not mindful of the extent in which they are using strength and force? Isn't it possible that I could very easily end up with a serious injury or a life threatening situation? And just like that, my sympathetic state is triggered and I feel like I am at the mercy of someone else's lack of emotional irresponsibility. Stuck fight or flight mode, I am now spiraling into fear.
This, (being man-handled), may not be the case at all. In fact I may not even be getting man handled, I might just be tired and under fed and so my capacity for discomfort is lower. Also, I may be getting man handled by someone who gives zero fucks about my as a training partner that day because they are stuck in their own head. OR chances are, it is a little bit of both.
To work through this and understand what is what I have to have this conversation with myself, and potentially with someone else. To have a conversation with someone else I must first be capable of slightly understanding my own feelings. Reality is not my feelings. Though feelings are valid, reality exists when you communicate your reality with the people involved and then begin to understand their reality. Reality is in the communication of the circumstances and the ability of each person involved to understand the circumstances or their own inner world and that reality exists outside of their inner world. The person that we are communicating with must also have the ability to think through the layers.
Sounds like a rabbit hole huh? It is.
Emotional responsibility and becoming right with ourselves can be an exhaustive process. It not only requires us to be accountable for ourselves but it requires the people around us to be accountable to themselves as well.
"Associate with people who are likely to improve you. Welcome those who are capable of improving. The process is a mutual one: men learn as they teach" ~ Seneca
Though you may not feel like you have enough control, you have more than you think. If you are looking for the most basic way to remind yourself of that set reminders all over the place to take a couple of deep slow breaths. It may not sound profound, but it is. A few deep breaths will remind you to step back into the present moment as well as calming your nervous system down.
I talk frequently about how breath work helps to balance and control your fight or flight response and engage your rest and recovery response. Today I want to talk about how that effects our training. We need to activate that fight or flight response when we train, especially in combat sports.
So why would we want to do something that may bring us into rest and recovery?
Both branches of the nervous system are functioning when you are training, not just fight or flight.
There are very appropriate times for us to be chill in our training. In between rounds. In between sets. And post training. This improves our ability to be offensive, be defensive, and capable of understanding new techniques as well as processing information.
On the flip side we want our sympathetic system in the driver seat to control our responses and reactions to things happening to us during our training, this keeps us safe. That is often called lizard brain, or instinct.
“A psychologist raised a glass of water and asked “How heavy is this glass of water? She replied "Weight doesn't matter. The weight doesn't change, but the longer I hold it, the heavier it becomes.” “The stress and worries in life are like that glass of water."
Mental and emotional stress effects all areas our life. We often create coping mechanisms to deal will these side effects. Many of us, and the clients that I work with, revert to overtraining or just overdoing things to combat stress. However, this only adds more stress. It is like filling the glass of water that you are carrying up more and more. If our body/mind are not processing stress appropriately or you are relying on unhealthy outlets, then it will slow you down in training and risk of injury is increased.
This is not just something that happens in athletes. You could look at your everyday life and see how you take on more than you probably should to combat uncomfortable emotions that you might be feeling like anxiety, heartache, lethargy, sadness, anger, or even happiness. What we are talking about here is the problem with everyone feeling like they always have to be doing something to validate their existence so they pack in the busy and hard work overwhelming their nervous system creating external validation.
Breath work takes some of that mental and emotional stress and processes it with very little of our own participation. By taking time to intentionally breathe we are exercising our nervous system. (Basic breath work can make a difference, but specific practices designed for how you are feeling in that moment is the most amazing thing).
Breath work is akin to your mental emotional landscape like weightlifting is to your muscles. We exercise silence, patience, and challenge in our breathing techniques so that we can (more appropriately) deal with our stressors internally and externally. By facing the challenge of silence, discomfort, and patience in our routines and practices we become mentally equipped for the stressors that everyday life, and training, will offer us. As you do this practices and overcome the challenges of being still with your emotions you will find the there are patterns to the way that you think and feel. It is in the identification of these patterns that your whole world will start to change. Internal validation will come, and external validation will be needed less and less.
This may sound like it is not linked to your recovery and training, but once you are aware of the the mental noise, you will begin to see differently. And especially so if you have a whoop strap and log your stress and breath work practices.
Breath work gives us what we need, sometimes regardless of the practice's intention. It is aimed to create balance in the system and that can look like an energetic practice making us feel sleepy or a relaxing practice making us energized. Your nervous system knows what to do and when you take that glass of water, drink it all, and set the cup down your body will process for your best possible outcome.