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    Pillar 3: Building Mind/Body Muscle Memory

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    Resiliency Pillar 3: Building Mind-Body Muscle Memory

    Our bodies and minds are supposed to work together, but often get out of "sync" in today's hectic world. In this R4L Pillar you'll develop several mental and physical tools that will calm your nervous system, keep you mentally focused, and bolster both your physical and mental resiliency.


    So what do the Dalai Lama, comedian Jerry Seinfeld, Harvard Medical School, and the Navy Seals, all have in common?

    They all understand the vital importance of mindful self-calming strategies to physical and mental well-being, and on optimal human performance.

    Navy Seal operators require the highest mental focus under the most extreme stress conditions; the Dalai Lama is a long-time proponent of mindful breathing to achieve peace of mind; the comedian and actor reports using a kind of meditative mental focus to "recharge" his creativity and energy level; and Harvard University physicians and scientists have performed cutting edge research linking the practice of simple mindful calming strategies to increased resilience, and the successful prevention and treatment of a host of common ailments including:

     High blood pressure


     Coronary artery disease





     Gastrointestinal disorders


    And others! [51]

    No matter what your interest path, health, happiness or higher performance, self calming and mindfulness tools will dramatically accelerate your progress with as little as a few minutes a day of regular practice.

    Zebras and You

    An award winning stress scientist once proposed some thoughts as to "why zebras don't get ulcers", and we do. In fact, he wrote a whole book about it by that title! [52]

    The answer is fairly simple. When chased by a lion for instance, the zebra's nervous system instantly goes into "condition red". A massive "dump" of stress hormones prepare it for fight or, in this case, flight. Once the threat is removed (e.g. outrun!), the zebra's nervous system quickly resets itself to "condition yellow", or a state of calm, relaxed vigilance.

    We, on the other hand, fortunately don't experience life-threatening "condition red" emergencies very often. Instead, we are beset by an ongoing barrage of minor irritants and chronic daily hassles, none of which rise to becoming a threat to our immediate survival. Over time, however, they accumulate and lead to decreased quality of life, negative habits and damaged health.

    24/7 cable news, traffic jams, noise pollution, work conflicts, negative economic conditions, marital squabbles, unpaid bills, political mischief, health concerns, family dynamics, and on and on.

    Our nervous systems go into a chronic "pink alert" day-in day-out, week-in week-out, and month-in month-out. This causes the release of powerful stress hormones (e.g. adrenaline, cortisol, etc.) that course throughout our bodies for sustained periods without sufficient discharge or release.

    It is no wonder that so many of the serious illnesses we face today are lifestyle-related. They are deeply impacted by chronic, low grade disruptions to our autonomic nervous systems which are implicated in heart disease, stroke, diabetes, high blood pressure, gastrointestinal disease and many others.

    And look at some of the top "drivers" of health care costs: Cigarette smoking, still the single most preventable cause of death; obesity; and excessive alcohol use. All of them used by too many to "soothe" their over-revved nervous systems, albeit only temporarily.

    If a cure were found for cancer today it would only add about two years to the lifespan of the average female. If a cure for obesity were found though, it would likely add three times that! [53]

    In addition, at least one in five of our acute care hospital beds is filled with people experiencing alcohol-related difficulties (e.g. accidents, liver problems, heart disease, etc). [54]

    Your "Nervous" System

    If someone asked you to kick your feet, clap your hands or speak your name, you could easily do it. These are controlled by your voluntary nervous system.

    But what if they asked you to immediately:


     Double your heart rate?

     Dilate the pupils of your eyes?

    Not possible, because these and other important functions are controlled by your autonomic (i.e. automatic) nervous system. Your autonomic nervous system regulates all basic life functions like digestion, blood pressure, heart rate, respiration and others. Note that these are exactly the ones most affected by stress, and negatively affected by being stuck in "condition pink" for lengthy periods.

    Your autonomic nervous system has two parts.Think of them as a "gas pedal" and a "brake". The gas pedal (the sympathetic part) revs you up for action. The brake pedal (the para-sympathetic part) slows you down, soothing your internal organs leading to a state of cardiac "coherence", or balance. The more you are in this state the better your health status, and more effective your performance in all areas.

    Slowing Things Down

    "For fast relief, slow down."

    Lily Tomlin

    There are basically two ways to slow down an over-revved, chronically strained autonomic nervous system. Think of yourself in a car barreling down the road at 100 miles per hour, when the speed limit is 40.

    To slow down, you could keep your foot on the gas while stepping on the brake at the same time. This would reduce your speed quickly, but would also lead to some bad side effects: extra wear and tear on the brakes and engine as they "battled" for control. This is the way a lot of medicines that target the autonomic nervous system work by the way; quickly but with unintended consequences (i.e. side effects).

    The second strategy involves letting up on the gas pedal and allowing the car to naturally slow down to the desired speed, and then simply holding it there. It might take a bit longer, but would certainly save a lot of strain on the vehicle.

    R4L emphasizes the second path, and uses learnable self-control tools and habits to naturally synchronize your ability to rev things up when it is called for, but to quickly "reset" and calm yourself to a level more supportive of your health, happiness and productivity over the long run.

    Positive results can be further amplified when combined with a "mindfulness" component. [55] This practice alone improves mental focus, pain tolerance and mood by keeping you "in the moment" and not catastrophizing about the future, or reliving past traumas and failures.

    Got Proof?

    You bet! Do you have a telephone? Of course you do. But, do you have a "telomere"? Not only do you have one, you have many. Telomeres are tiny "dabs" of DNA that sit on the ends of your chromosomes.

    Telomeres serve the same function as the little plastic caps on the ends of shoestrings. The plastic caps prevent shoestrings from unraveling when you repeatedly tie and untie your shoes. Telomeres perform the same function for chromosomes as they naturally reproduce.

    Recent scientific findings have shown that telomeres are "bio-markers" that are excellent indicators of your overall health status. The longer your telomeres, the healthier you are. In the case of telomeres, size does matter!

    In one fascinating study scientists identified a group of people known to have very high levels of stress, mothers who were caregivers for disabled children. They found a matching control group that was the same as these mothers in every important way, except that they were not subject to the high stress of caregiving.

    They then performed a careful blood sample analysis on both groups. They found that the group subjected to the highest levels of stress showed significantly shortertelomeres, equivalent to "at least one decade of additional aging." [56]

    How About This:

    More importantly, however, when the practice of simple autonomic calming and mindfulness strategies are implemented, negative changes at the cellular/genetic level have actually been shown to reverse themselves.

    For example, a second study looked at the way "genes" were turned "off" or "on" in a positive direction in a group of people who were known to regularly practice some form of mindful breathing and/or other self calming methods.Then they compared them to a very similar group of individuals who differed only in the fact that they had no experience in practicing these self-regulation techniques.

    The findings were striking. They showed that there was a major difference in genetic "expression" between the two groups favoring those who regularly practiced some form of mindful self-calming. These included over 5,000 specific genes, including those most associated with premature aging, reduced immunity, oxidative stress and other health-related processes. [57]

    In addition, autonomic calming strategies have been widely researched and applied to some of the most common and serious health conditions with very exciting results. Conditions which have been shown to be positively affected include cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, COPD, gastrointestinal disorders, insomnia, anxiety, chronic pain, diabetes and others. [58]

    How does it work?

    Say your autonomic nervous system needs about 10 units of energy to keep you functioning well. But life's irritants and chronic daily hassles slowly build over time. And now, outside your conscious awareness, your over-revved nervous system is producing 15 units.

    Where does that extra 5 units of un-needed energy go? They go into your most vulnerable organs, often leading to medical symptoms. Some of the most common effects are sleep difficulties, gastrointestinal problems, and others already described. Because traditional western health care focuses mainly on medicines and surgery, it often misses the boat in fully treating the many modern illnesses which are the result of "autonomic overload."


    So what does it make sense for someone interested in bolstering their overall resilience to do?

    How about identify one or more simple strategies and commit just several minutes per day to developing a resiliency habit that can dramatically increase your self-control, concentration, and overall achievement levels?

    Assess your new learning by clicking on the link below and answering some brief quiz questions:

    Pillar 3 Quiz


    Here are 3 proven strategies that you can select from and begin using right away to strengthen your mind/body "muscle memory". Please read about them all, then select one to begin with. As you grow your skill over a period of 21-30 days, you can select a second, and then a third when you're ready.

    With sufficient focus, you will begin to see rapid results as you apply these strategies that will, like compound interest, "grow" your telomeres over time. They will infuse your mind and body with a level of protective resilience to your benefit for as long as you incorporate them into your life.

    Sabotage Alert !

    You can easily sabotage your resilience by telling yourself you "don't have the time" to practice these well-validated, scientific tools on a regular basis for 21-30 days. But the average person spends several hours a day watching television, playing video games, or surfing the internet. You know who you are!

    Surely you can adjust your schedule and build in 10-20 minutes per day to initiate some habits that can change your life. Don't settle for less!



    "Boxed" breathing (or a variation, "Triangle breathing"), is a form of tactical breathing and can be used many times throughout the day. It is very simple, and can quickly help you "reset" your nervous system whenever you are goinginto or coming out of a stressful situation.

    Boxed breathing works like this:

    Simply breathe in, through your nose (or mouth), quietly saying to yourself:

    1) "Breathe In two, three", then

    2) "Hold, two, three"

    3) Breathe out "two, three four, five" and, then;

    4) "Hold two, three"

    (Gently expand your entire lower diaphragm with each in-breath)

    A second, even simpler variation some prefer is "Triangle Breathing". This consists of the following technique:

    1) Breathe into your diaphragm, fully inhaling to the count of 4,

    2) Then hold it to the count of 3,

    3) Then slowly breathe out to the count of 6, while making a gentle "whooshing" sound as you exhale through your mouth.

    Repeat this cycle 4 times as you're starting out, increasing it as needed.

    In both of the techniques, the actual number of "counts" can vary to suit each individual. It is useful to complete several repetitions of each cycle as you begin to incorporate this tool in your daily repertoire when going into or coming out of stressful situations. Note that these exercises can be done so subtly that no one even need know you are "resetting" your nervous system, and bolstering your mental focus.

    It is helpful to think of each breath cycle as a repetition or "rep" and imagining the "muscle memory" in your lungs and diaphragm strengthening on a daily basis.

    Print Strategy 1


    Modern mind-body research at Harvard University and others has shown that there are a number of effective ways to invoke the "relaxation response" which directly counters the effects of acute and chronic stress. Regular practice for as little as 5-10 minutes daily can lead to a sense of well-being, improved mood, lower blood pressure, improved immunity to stress, better sleep, more energy and other benefits. Not the least of which are the effects on your telomeres and genes! [59]

    The importance of this practice is that the effects actually "carry over" throughout the day, and have been demonstrated to positively influence your health, happiness and higher performance in all areas. Use the downloadable form to monitor your progress over the next 21-30 days.

    Here are the steps:

          First, arrange for about 10 minutes of regular quiet time each day (though not after meals).

          Sit (or recline) in a comfortable position.

          Mentally set aside, just for the time being, any worries or concerns.

          Next, engage in a series of natural, rhythmic breathing cycles, actively focusing your attention on inhaling and exhaling. Your mind will inevitably drift. When it does, just notice it, and gently refocus on your breathing sensations. Count the number of breath cycles you perform over the 10 minute period. It may approximate 60-100 breaths, depending on the individual.

     Keep a watch or a clock nearby, or just use the timer function on your smart phone. If you become so relaxed you lose track of your count, just "peek" occasionally at the time until about ten or so minutes is up. With practice, the number of your breath cycles per  minute will significantly decrease. This is your desired goal. Many shoot for approximately 6 breaths per minute, or 60 breath cycles over a course of 10 minutes. How low can you go?

    Mindful breathing, when practiced daily, can have significant physical and mental benefits in as short as 4 weeks. It can literally reverse the effects of days, weeks, months and years of daily stress over time. It will "tune up" the pre-frontal cortex of your brain, the problem solver; calm your amygdala, the emotional center, and enhance the process of better self-regulation and mental focus.

    Print Strategy 2


    Mindfulness is a well-established resiliency skill.There are many variations, though all involve some form of focused attention. One definition, for example, might be that it is "paying attention on purpose", in a "nonjudgmental" manner, with the focus on the "present moment", and avoiding thoughts about the past or future. [60]

    Mindfulness tools are well-researched, and have been shown to literally increase the "thickness" of the prefrontal cortex of the brain associated with judgment and emotion regulation. It also has been shown to reduce stress as well as physical pain, bolster your mood, and improve powers of concentration in stressful situations.

    Use the following method to obtain those benefits as well as to reduce the "mind chatter" which can be so disruptive in today's modern world. And damaging to your telomeres!

          Step one begins by creating a time to practice this technique, setting aside approximately ten minutes (daily). Arrange for a quiet and comfortable place where you can lie or sit.

          Next, turn your attention to the parts of your body that are in contact with the surface on which you are sitting or lying. Gently notice any sensations where there may be tension such as your stomach, the back of your neck, or your shoulders. Attempt to consciously release any particular areas of tension, and allow yourself to become as relaxed as possible.

          Next, focus solely on the present moment for the time being. Allow any thoughts of the past or present to pass, and zero in on your bodily sensations, allowing any other images or feelings to diminish.

          Now, allow your mind to "scan" your body. Begin at your feet, and pay complete attention to any sensations there. Just allow yourself to experience any feelings in that part of your body.

         Notice these sensations; pay attention to the room temperature and become aware of any clothing that may be in contact with your skin.

          As any sensations are noticed, just welcome them. Do they feel heavy or light? Focus on being aware of these sensations, and continue moving your attention progressively up your body. From one leg to the next, then to your buttocks and lower back, the backs of your arms, your head, neck and shoulders, focusing on each, one step at a time.

          Once you have scanned your entire body, the last step is to become aware of your body as a completely interconnected system. Pay attention to any physical sensations anywhere in your body, and maintain that awareness for a few minutes.

          Stay fully focused on the present. Make no conscious effort to direct your thoughts, and allow your awareness to expand in the present moment.

          Begin practicing the Mind Body Scan daily for a period of approximately ten minutes; many expand the time frame as they begin to experience the benefits. Incorporate it into your life, make it one of your healthy rituals, and one that can easily be integrated and alternated with the other mind-body strategies described.

    Print Strategy 3

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