Share Your Selfseeds Experience
As part of growing the Selfseeds community, we encourage you to share your experiences and feedback using the program. Do you have a favorite seed, or a Personalize 5 you would like to share? Use the form below to tell us about it. You can write a description and additionally, upload a photo or video. Upon approval, your experience, photo, or video will be added to our community page.
The basic premise of breathing practices the world over is the relationship between the activity of the breath and the activity of the mind. The idea is that if the breath is agitated, the mind is agitated. This is a common experience. If we are late for something important, quite apart from the extra running, the worry or fear we feel shortens the breath. And our minds then also race. So natural is this to us that when we finally arrive, people will often say “Relax! Take a deep breath.” Even the expression “take a breather” implies this relationship. If we are given time and space to simply breathe, we become more calm. Or, slow the breath, slow the mind.
In his work, Spiritual Instruction, Ramana Maharishi defines yoga as synonymous with breath control. He says that:
“The source of the breath is the same as that of the mind; therefore the subsidence of either leads effortlessly to that of the other. The practice of stilling the mind through breath control is called yoga.”
Awareness of this parallel may or may not be explicit in a given practice, and even the end goal of breath control may vary per tradition. Often, goals vary from a merely linguistic standpoint. The calm that is the goal of one practice may be labeled in religious terms in another, and purification in yet another, though the internal experience being indicated is the same. Overall, the end is controlling or calming the breath and feeling more peaceful because of it.
What one should attempt in any breath control practice is to get into the feeling behind the breath. Not necessarily the physical feeling, but the quality of it, the feel of its full smoothness. Put more plainly, the calmness we feel after or during a breathing practice is the most critical portion. The foundation of any breath practice is to identify this feeling and keep returning to it, even if a specific practice may have another goal. As an example, lengthening the amount of time it takes to complete a breath cycle may be the concrete goal, but the peace or calm that comes from the lengthening is where the benefit comes, not the expansion itself.
The two main categories of breath practices are watching the breath and measuring the breath. Watching the breath is most often simply that: fixing the attention on the breath. As the mind wanders, return to watching the natural rhythm of inhale and exhale. There are slight variants on this- like consciously slowing the rate the breath cycles. Another variant is attaching a physical anchor for the mind to latch onto- like being aware of the point where the breath enters the body. Observation is a very safe practice, as we are really only dealing with where the mind is pointed, as opposed to working on the physiological mechanisms.
Measured breathing is practiced in much wider variety of ways, but I see two main sub-categories: breathing attached to counting, and breathing attached to movement. Measured breathing not attached to physical movement, is achieved by dividing the breath into parts and timing each part in some way. At minimum, the breath is divided into inhale and exhale portions. It is often further divided into retaining in and holding out, making a total of 4 parts. Counting the duration of each segment is the most straightforward method of controlling them.
Many religious traditions control the breath in this way, but with a twist. Rather than counting, repetitions of a chant are used to measure each part. By way of example, some Jewish practitioners use the Shema. The aspirant chants the Shema (rather quickly) on the inhale, chants the Shema on the exhale. One could “square” this by chanting the Shema with the breath held in and after the exhale with the breath held out. Any chant from any spiritual tradition could be used, and one could even choose non-religious phrases to hook to the breath. The chant should fit comfortably within your ability to pace your breathing and should not feel forced.
You will find special practices (alternate nostril, fluttered, etc.) that varies the speed or depth of the breath, but these should mostly be taught directly to you by someone who’s learned to do them safely. Most often, these special practices are designed to clear some portion of the body or inner world specifically which is part of the reason why they should be practiced supervised. Additionally, they tend to be used in conjunction with other healing modalities (exercise, diet, etc.) as a complete self-care regimen.
In hatha yoga (think yoga class), qigong, or similar practices, we find ways of matching the breath to movement. In yoga classes, most often a posture is held for a certain number of breaths. In qigong, there are some practices where the duration of a movement and duration of a segment of breath are the same. Raise the arms and inhale, lower the arms and exhale. Many of the gym-style workouts lend themselves to the latter type of of movement-breath pairing, with each inhale and exhale being matched to a number of strides or repetitions. For those with a solid fitness routine already, this is a very lovely and powerful way to make it intentionally meditative without adding yet another thing to do every day.
Even if we are not looking to start meditating for “enlightenment”, we can get great benefit from a gentle and mindful breathing practice. Modern trauma recovery techniques like EMDR utilize somatic regulation to “re-set” mental patterns associated with the natural human response to terrible events, and can bear a striking resemblance to some traditional breathing techniques. For me, this means that from a scientific perspective there is measurable value in these techniques.
It is important to keep in mind that breathing exercises are often part of a larger system that must be taught as a whole by a master of that system though things we find online or in books can sometimes be safely practiced solo if we don’t force it. But just as in the saying that a tree grows best in its own country, breathing practices are the most effective when implemented within the context of the tradition in which they are developed. As mentioned above, this often is a comprehensive regimen of physical, spiritual, and mental/emotional practices depending on the system. In the absence of the availability of a traditional master, we can cobble together our own system that works for us personally if we are gentle with the practice and use the whole health model as our template.
It has been fun this summer helping Maree create a video sequence for the Working Equitation (WE) training and with the Selfseeds concepts included too. Selfseeds through the eyes of the horse is sharing the first video of the series, but there are more on the Selfseeds Youtube channel. Take a look and benefit from the great tips!
Selfseeds through the eyes of the horse
Less is more. If I hadn’t experienced it for myself, I probably would be skeptical about the idea that daily application of 5 and 10 minutes of exercising could make such a dramatic change in my life. Even after more than a year, I’m still in awe as my results support the saying “Even the strongest blizzards start with a single snowflake.”
With my 50th birthday upon me, I couldn’t deny that I had gradually slipped into a lifestyle of being a sedentary middle-aged guy and was beginning to feel negative consequences. As I reflected on what I had become, I would replay in my head the words that Joe had mentioned to me about five years earlier. Joe was a vivacious Jack LaLanne-like fitness instructor and personal trainer who was nearing 80 when he warned me that the most critical window in a person’s life for how they are going to experience older age is determined between the ages of 50 and 65. He said if you have a good fitness practice during those years and you stay active and eat well, you not only improve the chances of living longer, you will have a strong likelihood of experiencing older age that is not riddled with pain and misery. He went on to warn that people who did nothing for their health accelerated the physical breakdown exponentially to the point where they might not even live into their seventies.
To the casual observer, I was “doing pretty well for someone my age”, but I knew that looks could be deceiving and I wasn’t what I used to be. At 5’11” and 193 pounds, I was about 15 pounds heavier than what I considered my desired weight. Sure, I could still fit into my 36-inch waist jeans, but I no longer needed a belt to hold them up anymore. The 34-inch jeans that used to be my size were in storage out of respect for a social contract that prevented me from being the middle-aged guy desperately trying to fool myself while others questioned why I was trying to stuff 10 pounds of crap into a 5-pound bag.
Clothes no longer fitting me properly was one thing, but the bigger concerns I had involved aches, pains, and physical limitations that were becoming more and more common as my norm. For example, sometimes I would go up the stairs and find myself breathing heavier than seemed appropriate. Another example would be having to run for the bus maybe just 2 blocks away and being severely out of breath by the time I got to the stop. Bending down to tie my shoes could make my organs feel compressed and cause me to have trouble breathing, and just my overall feeling within my body was that it was fossilizing. “Use it or lose it” was taking on a more experiential truth rather than just being the cliché I had heard many times.
And this was me at the doorstep of 50. I’d think of my friends that were 10, 15, and 20 years older saying how much WORSE everything was at their age and warning me not to get older! I was concerned that if 50 was already feeling like the wheels were falling off, then what was 60, 70, and beyond going to be like???
Fitness and physical activity were not unfamiliar concepts to me. Throughout my life, I had been a member of many gyms, had been very actively involved in ballroom dancing for several years, and had even lived at a yoga center for a couple of years. I had plenty of experience with exercising being a routine part of my life, so I knew what it was like to be in excellent shape.
But that was then. The only thing that mattered now was the present-day reality that I wasn’t doing my part to invest in myself and safeguard my physical well-being. I knew academically that I needed to “get the lead out”, and I would hear Joe’s portentous words rattling around in my head as the decrepitude continued to take hold, yet the (non) actions on my part were speaking for themselves.
Why not just do what I had always done: join a gym and make exercising a part of my life again?
In asking myself that question, I was inadvertently answering that very question.
Getting older does have some benefits, and one of them is acquiring – and applying – wisdom and knowing of thyself. In actively trying to learn from my life experiences and not repeat mistakes of my past, I had figured out that joining a gym never ends up being a long-term solution for me. The potential of joining the gym only to eventually stop going again had no appeal to me because it felt like I’d be repeating the failures of the past; for this reason, I continued to flounder.
Exercising at home seemed to be the obvious answer to eliminating the excuse that getting to the gym was the problem, yet I wasn’t doing that either. Historically, I did not have a good track record of exercising at home. I was stuck in a mindset that I needed to go to a gym or a yoga studio if I was going to exercise because I needed someone else to take the lead and tell me what to do. I liked group fitness classes where an instructor led the way; left to my own devices, I wasn’t good at self-directing my home exercising.
So I did nothing until the “five suit wake-up call”.
When I needed to put on a suit for my grandmother’s funeral that took place a month before I turned 50, I had to try on five of my suits before I could find pants that were serviceable to the point they wouldn’t burst at the seams if I sat down abruptly. That was the sobering moment I knew it was time to stop doing nothing.
No more excuses, time for sustainable solutions.
I didn’t start out saying, “I’m going to Selfseeds my way into better health”, but I did adopt a motto that a friend of mine coined: “Just don’t do nothing”. While I was mired in my paralysis of trying to figure out what I could do to save myself from myself, I did make the simple commitment of just doing something – ANYTHING – that was a deliberate act of investing in my fitness each day. I had no plan, no rhyme or reason to what I was doing, but I started by saying to myself, “There’s no excuse for not being able to put on a 5-minute YouTube exercise video and doing something.”
And that’s how it started. My initial goal was about developing the habit of exercising daily rather than having a specific workout plan. Starting small with intentions of just doing 5 or 10 minutes a day was originally about making it easy to tell myself there was no excuse to say I didn’t have time to exercise. This is where the wisdom of the 50-year-old me kicked in: I knew if I thought of exercising as requiring me to carve out a 45 to 90-minute block during the day, I would not stick with it. However, if I could do it all in under 30 minutes with no fuss and muss, I had a good chance of making it happen. With that in mind, I figured I could start small with 5 and 10 minutes a day as a bridge to the more serious 30 minutes a day.
As mentioned earlier, my preferred form of exercising was going to a group fitness class and following the lead of an instructor. I didn’t want to think, I just wanted to do, and I figured I could replicate this in my living room by following YouTube fitness videos. I had no fitness equipment at home other than a yoga mat and yoga blocks, so in the beginning, I’d search for 10-minute full body, no equipment required workouts and there were plenty to choose from.
Working out at home stripped away the hurdles of commuting to the gym, dealing with rotten winter weather, and being at the mercy of the group fitness class schedule. Also, I didn’t have to care what I looked like. I could do my stuff in my pajamas if I wanted, and I didn’t have to care about anyone overhearing me whimpering and whining like a baby seal as I struggled.
And struggle, I did. In the beginning, I couldn’t get through a 10-minute workout without cutting it short or modifying the movements and exercises. My extent of being out of shape was alarming to me, yet I didn’t get discouraged. I focused on the daily win of carving out the time to do my short workouts, and I didn’t beat myself up over what I could or couldn’t do anymore versus what I could do in the past.
I just wanted to build a habit of making exercise something I did daily, and I felt that by eliminating the #1 excuse that always derailed me in the past (the excuse of not having enough time), I could make fitness a permanent solution instead of being the punchline of the Japanese proverb “Beginning is easy – continuing hard”.
I think it also helped that my fitness goals at 50+ are different than they were in my youth. The younger me was driven by the cosmetic benefits I’d get from exercise, but the current day version of me is focused more on functionality, mobility, avoiding injury, and quality of life. I’m not going to deny that a slab of washboard abs is still appealing to me, but even more important now is the ability to stave off inertia, to stay in motion, and to build a body that is able to age gracefully and hopefully avoid disease so I can remain self-sufficient.So, a funny thing happened while I was engaged in this “temporary bridge” of super short workouts while I was supposed to be figuring out what my “real exercise regime” was going to be . . . I started getting unexpected incredible results! It didn’t happen overnight, but perhaps after about 2 months, I was noticing improvements not only in my body and my ability to complete workouts and not have to modify moves so drastically, but also in my mood and self-esteem. The fact that I was working out at home pretty much every day was amazing to me, and I attribute so much of that success to the mental agreement I have with myself that even at my most lazy, unmotivated, couch-potato worst, I’m able to take action by saying to myself, “Just do 5 minutes, bro’. Doing 5 minutes of ANYTHING is better than doing nothing.”
And I have plenty of days where the 5-minute approach is the difference between action and non-action. Even though I have grown to where my usual time spent exercising is between 15 and 30 minutes, I sometimes have those days when I don’t want to do anything, or I feel my schedule for the day is too jammed to make the time. In the past, those would be the days I’d skip the gym altogether and that could be the beginning of an extended slide backwards. But invoking the “just don’t do nothing” motto allows me to feel I still accomplished something by just doing two sets of pushups for the day. Sometimes I’ll just follow a 5-minute ab workout on YouTube, or just do a 5-minute leg and butt workout. These shorter blasts of exercise benefit me physically, but more importantly, they keep the momentum moving forward as I still make the time to honor my daily fitness commitment.
Experiencing the benefits of the 5-minute workout has also led to frequently injecting them into cracks and crevices throughout the day. Have a few minutes before I meet with my next student? How about a couple of sets of dips using the chair I’m sitting in! Need a little break from my body rotting at the computer? Time to grab a resistance band and do few sets of serratus punches and bent over lat rows! Getting ready for bed and changing into my pajamas . . . look at that, my upper chest is actually showing some signs of building some muscle . . . let’s celebrate by dropping and giving myself a set of decline pushups before I crawl into bed!
I cannot overstate the satisfaction of being able to make significant improvements in my fitness by doing such short workouts on a daily basis. These results have literally destroyed everything I once believed was required for getting into shape. I’ve always thought I needed to do at least 20 minutes of exercise to derive benefits, but more realistically, 45 to 90 minutes to truly make meaningful gains. Now I see that gains can be made without having to design my entire day around when I would go to the gym. Yes, the results I’m getting from exercising are a key motivating factor for me to keep the train rolling forward, but I’m not going to pretend that the thing probably more responsible for “keeping me honest” is the fact that it takes so little time each day to make a difference and keep my commitment with myself. Whenever the forces of darkness start to creep in and try seducing me into inertia and inactivity, I go back to my saying of “Just do 5 minutes, bro’” and I do something productive. Often, that 5 minutes then mushrooms into 10 or 15 once I start getting the lead out.
In the almost 14 months that have transpired since the “five suit wake-up call”, I have transformed my body in ways I could not have imagined, especially for a guy my age. I got my weight under 180 pounds, can now fit into all my pants again (including my 34-inch jeans), and I feel a lot more agile and fluid. And yes, my body improved to the point where I can look in the mirror and say, “What?? Is that really MY body? I didn’t think I could ever make this kind of improvement again.”
Sue and I have known each other since the year 2000 and I’ve known her to be a strong advocate for the message of Selfseeds for a long time. As I went through this transformation, I realized I had adopted the Selfseeds philosophy to facilitate my fitness reawakening. When I told Sue what I had been up to and sent her a picture of my progress, she bounced the idea off me of writing about my experience for the Selfseeds blog.
I thought it would be great to help spread the message of Selfseeds because it works. The principles of steadily nurturing a seemingly small daily commitment have allowed me to reinvent myself physically, and I can see how this approach will have practical application in other aspects of my life.
In a world of shortened attention spans and distraction everywhere, I’m guilty of finding it harder than it used to be to stay focused on doing anything for an extended period of time. I am valuing any approach and philosophy that can help turn big overwhelming projects into smaller, bite-sized pieces, and that’s one of the benefits Selfseeds offers.