[External Links to Consider]
Mental Health America: The State of Mental Health in America
Jim: This is our market. When the first note warned that we must learn to swim it is referring to the experience we conventionally describe as mental illness. It is not what happens to the mind that is important, it is what happens to the body when the mind wanders that is most important. We must write our experience in a story that will connect with the people who have unknowingly let there mind wander and there body melt. I've created a character similar to myself - Regis
Something I'd Say to My 25 Year Old Self
Just for context, I turned 25 a couple weeks after I got back from hiking 2600 miles. About a month after my birthday I started experiencing really serious PTSD symptoms; random panic attacks, a loss of circadian rhythm, neurotic swings, chronic pain, a constant sense of fear etc etc. Those symptoms digressed over time and my mind became schizophrenic. As a result, the only real thing of value that I’d want to give my 25 year old self would be the solution to that problem before it escalated.
At the time, I had half of the solution figured out already which is the practice of self-forgiveness. In the heat of the moment when my biology was freaking out, I knew that I could use my breathing to calm my heart rate and steady my mind in order to let the experience pass. This, in essence, was damage control. No matter where I was in the world or who I was around, I could always get through the moment by practicing self-forgiveness. That’s great, however, like the rest of the world, I had no idea how to make the symptoms go away. As a result, things got a whole lot worse before they got better and it would have been nice to have a few extra pointers.
The cool part about this information is that even though it will guide somebody back from serious mental illness like it did for me, it’s also a performance enhancer for anyone who isn’t messed up. The solution has more to do with figuring out how to become your best self and going that direction as fast as possible. And, because it’s a direction in line with growth, anyone can go that direction regardless of how messed up there psychological state of mind. It’s also an alternative perception on the practice of yoga which is fascinating for yoga enthusiasts.
The key to unraveling the mystery of ptsd/mental illness is to understand how our perception is connected with the shape of our body. The experience of fear, no matter how slight or subtle, creates an experience of tightness or tension in our muscular system. Fear also conditions our behaviour which is the merger between our psychology (what we think) and the movement of our body through time and space. Over time, repetitive experiences of stress adds up and the tightness affects the shape of our bone structure as we grow/decay. Our body then equalizes around these experiences of stress as we age and we can see the cumulative reflection of our life experiences in our posture. Rounded shoulders, tilted pelvis, twisted spine are all examples of how tension gets solidified in our bodies. This posture isn’t just shape though, it’s also muscle memory. The body takes that shape because that shape has behavioral value. It gets us through the day over and over and over again and has been passed down through eons of time.
In my experience, like most kids raised in the suburbs, I had muscle memory built for following directions while sitting in a chair. Then I went hiking and developed a new muscle memory that completely contradicted what I’d learned growing up (walking). This created a serious psychological burden. The old muscle memory automatically kicked in when I got home pulling one direction while the muscle memory from hiking began pulling in an entirely different direction. (military vets would have a similar experience. The muscle memory needed for civilian life is vastly different than the muscle memory needed for war)
What we have to understand is that muscle memory is created by repetitive movements and those repetitive moments have shape and that shape is experienced by our psychology as behavior. The more we use our muscles for one particular repetitive movement the harder it becomes for those muscles to make any other kind of movement. This creates repetitive thought patterns. Trauma, from this point of view, is an experience that our muscle memory does not have a natural response for. It is an experience outside of the context of our upbringing and the upbringing of our family and friends. It creates an experience of not knowing what to do and a disconnection from our family since they cannot relate. It also creates an internal compartmentalization inside of our mind.
Now, we have a whole range of behaviour that has lost its value. This behaviour is conditioned into the shape of our bodies and so, as a result, the mentally ill become disconnected from the movements of their body that were once natural/normal. Those movements now create an experience of fear in the mind that we might describe as anxiety or anger. In serious mental illness this disconnection with our natural muscle memory and subsequent thought patterns causes those parts of use to decay which creates more disconnection and we will eventually lose our ability to harmonize with the norm at all falling into an experience of alienation where our behavior is seen by the norm as obscene and insane.
The mind can be compartmentalized many times over. The more it compartmentalizes the more abstract and schizophrenic the experience will be. It’s like you mind becomes a kaleidoscope of uncontrollable impulse.
Accessing relief from the body.
We know that if we stand on our bone structure properly no muscle tension is required other than our lower abdominals. This means that in order to achieve perfect posture we have to relax up. This is important because it gives us direction. Standing on our body’s architecture will maximize relaxation which maximizes the surface area of our muscles. Maximizing the surface area of our muscles will maximize each muscles range of motion. This allows our physiology to let go of the decaying muscle memory that is stuck in particular behavioral shape which is weighing down our perception. The problem is…
If perfect posture is a relaxation exercise than why don’t I pop right back into perfect form when I relax?
This is a result of our fascia tissue. Fascia tissue is like packing material that equalizes our muscle tension with our bone structure. Fascia, in direct relationship to our muscles and as a result of repetitive behavior, becomes more and more rigid as we do more and more repetitive movements. Fascia supports this repetitive behavior by becoming dehydrated or more rigid and over time will behave like superglue holding our repetitive rigidity in place. This is also an increase in density and can be experienced as heaviness in the body.
For example, rounded shoulders pull the head down. Our hamstrings tighten to counter balance. Fascia tissue solidifies around the lower back to equalize this push and pull so that in our daily life tight hamstrings become the experience of “normal” and touching our toes becomes consistently difficult. This fascia tissue over time becomes similar to superglue and as a result, we can’t relax into proper posture without rehydrating our fascia tissue first otherwise any sudden change in shape of our spine (throwing out the back) will create a serious imbalance and our fascia tissue won’t be able to adjust its equilibrium since part of it is superglued in place. How do we rehydrate our fascia?
Here is the cool part. We can rehydrate our fascia tissue using our breathing. Our breathing is directly associated with our equilibrium in two ways. The first is psychological: breathing modulates our heart beat which regulates our brain wave state. This allows us to remain steady and come down from a panic attack. It also allows experienced meditators to “trip” by using their breath to consciously swing into a dream state. (My mom is learning how to guide people through this)
Breathing is also a three dimensional exercise. Our chest expands and contracts three dimensionally on every breath. This creates a change in density. We are less dense with air in our lungs than when we don’t have air in our lungs. We float up like a balloon and then we sink. This creates the experience of a swing. Our bodies, whether we notice this pattern or not, are equalized to this pattern and are constantly updating their equilibrium on every breath. We can use this experience of a swing to completely unwind and lengthen our spine in a very safe and gentle way.
This is easy to experience. Lie lengthwise on a foam roller so that your spine is supported by the roller. You’ll feel your body waver from right to left. Place one hand on your pelvis and one hand on your chest. Notice your chest expand up on every breath. Do 3. Place both hands on your rib cage. Notice how your breath expands side to side. Do 3. Place your hand on your pelvis and collar bone. Notice how your spine lengthens up. Then notice how your chest expands in all three directions at once. Notice how your body naturally moves in a greater state of balance on the roller as you do this exercise. (I learned this from a product called Melt Method it’s really good and this is just the surface for how you can use your breathing to lengthen your spine and rehydrate fascia) (Also, I do this breathing when I lift weights at the gym, run, etc etc. It makes any movement more efficient)
As the spine lengthens over time, every muscle in the body will naturally move into a new shape. The iteration of one breath at a time is a small enough margin of change that the body is able to rehydrate and recalibrate it’s equilibrium. It takes time. It took a year and half of working all day every day after I finally understood this stuff to get to the point where I’m stable now (I was in really bad shape though and some other crazy stuff happened).
We have to know that as the spine lengthens the angles for how gravity pulls on our body change. This in combination with exercise will cause dense fascia patterns to break in the body causing the muscular system be able to relax past its previous point of equilibrium, expanding its surface area and range of motion. The mind, as a result, will have a psychological reaction. It will be experienced as a falling out of balance. The hardest part about this for the person healing will be the experience of a paradox. To the unconscious mind this relaxation is like the experience of death. The body is losing a pattern that has been conditioned for survival. So, as the body relaxes it fires its automatic flight/fight. In other words, even though the relaxation is going to create a more stable equilibrium, in the moment of relaxation, it feels like a part of your self is dying. It’ like letting a storm pass through you. This is where the practice of self-forgiveness is really important. After the passing of emotion (weeping) there will be a perception shift. The mind settles into a new state of balance. This is cathartic and usually the next morning I wake up with the experience of “Oh, I can do that again? What a relief.”
From this perspective, mental illness is the tug of war created by the muscle tension held together and compartmentalized by our fascia that creates irrational insanity. This tension is out of alignment with gravity and is literally weighing the body down with density creating psychological strain and decay. We alleviate these irrational symptoms by lengthening the spine, relaxing the shape of our muscles, and re-harmonize our equilibrium back up onto our bone structure.
For a person who is “normal” this practice of relaxing up teaches us how to maximize our movements with gravity. This is really cool because we know that our minds changes brainwave states when we harmonize our head with the flow of gravity. We enter into a “flow state” or a high performance state people call ecstasis (because it feels really good). The “thinking” mind calms down and we transcend time. The more we stand on our bone structure the easier it will be to reach a state of flow.
If we research this topic further we’ll discover that the Navy Seals, Google, and many other others are trying to hack this experience. (The Seals have a whole lab dedicated to hacking this experience of flow.) It creates a huge competitive advantage. The irony is, you can achieve flow by walking (even though it is the most difficult to achieve. The faster you go the easier it is to flow and walking is slow). The more graceful your head is on top of your shoulders the easier it will be to drop into a state of flow. In summary, relative high performance and mental health are the same direction. Both are achievable by simply using our breath to swing into a more harmonious posture. If we have conditioning that is holding us down, we can experience it as tension and density. As we become more and more solid on our bone structure we’ll relax out of our density as our muscles expand their surface area. Those perception shifts will make us more comfortable in our bodies, allow us to see more possibilities and as a result naturally give us the courage to do things that that we previously could not imagine.