The Exercises and Activities
The results you will gain from this program come in many forms, and interact synergistically. They don’t merely complement each other in an additive way, but I believe in a multiplicative way. For example, the benefits that derive from paced breathing, from diaphragmatic jogging, and from stretching the diaphragm complement each other. As you get better at one, you get better at the others. Because these skills are all interrelated they promote and reinforce each other. This leads to recursive improvement where the skills form structural platforms for each other, elevating you into an upward spiral.
I hope you now feel that you have a tool kit of actionable exercises. You may not be sold on all of the exercises here. But choose the ones that you like the most, and practice those for now. As you monitor your progress you may realize that you have largely rehabilitated certain body parts. This may motivate you to go back to other exercises that didn’t seem as appealing at first. In this book I wrote about what I found helpful to pair with paced breathing. What benefitted me is not necessarily what will best benefit you, so I encourage you to experiment with your own forms of diaphragmatic generalization. If you come up with a new technique please share it on the web with our online community.
A few days changed perspective might feel like it is enough, but it won’t be enough to permanently change your ingrained subconscious routines. This system is all about rehearsal. Sustained daily practice is the key. Be persistent and your efforts will pay off. Some of these activities feel onerous at first, but if you can do them a few times, they will become comfortable quickly. In fact, most of the exercises in this book, are at least partially routinized after the first 5 sessions. This means that after this they can be done with minimal concentration (i.e. while on the phone, or in front of the TV).
For me it was incredibly encouraging to think that these exercises were slowly making me a stronger, happier person. I felt like I was making daily progress and that something of value was germinating within me. As you watch yourself change you will realize that all of these positive attributes that you assumed were fixed at birth, are totally trainable. Anticipate positive results from the exercises with pleasure and excitement. When this happens the exercises become intrinsically rewarding.
Before Program Peace I was uncomfortable with my own presence. I exuded tentativeness, and a lack of any conviction. I would wring my hands constantly. My dreams were always desperate situations. Once a week I would wake from sleep yelling in terror. From age 25 to 30 I would find myself whispering the words “oh my god” over and over, every day. The sentence “that was a nightmare” was my mantra. I had unbearable trauma welling up inside of me, gushing out in the form of tortured body language. I hated my home, everything in my room, everything on my desk, all things, all people. This is because I experienced everything through the throes of distressed breathing.
When I turned 20, I discovered that everything hurt a little bit. It hurt to stand up, it hurt to run, it hurt to sit for too long, it hurt to turn my neck, it hurt to use the restroom, it hurt to swallow, and every social interaction hurt. I concluded that this was an irreversible effect of aging. But now I am twice that age and none of those things hurt. You should find that after two years of Program Peace that you feel much younger than when you started.
I experienced a personal metamorphosis internally and externally. I have had several acquaintances ask me what kind of antianxiety or antidepressant drugs I have been prescribed. Others have asked which cosmetic procedures I have undergone. The answer to these question is “none.” Instead, I administered myself the exercises prescribed here.
Before I could only tell that I was losing my composure from the way other people reacted to me. Now my previously opaque sensory portals are transparent, and I can “feel” and thus control the stress settings of dozens of modules at will. Now that I breathe diaphragmatically and send very few subordination displays the core of my personhood has changed. I am less impulsive, less compulsive, and less codependent. I am no longer haunted by the “imp of the perverse,” and I no longer play a scapegoat, a martyr, or a victim. I am no longer a defeatist, misanthrope. These were recurring themes in my life since childhood, but they are now distant memories.
Your body is an autobiography. The story of your life is etched into your face, voice, smile, spine, and breathing pattern. Your coauthors are your past experiences. Use the optimal strategies in this book to rewrite the corpus of your body’s narrative. You can’t change your personal history but you can rewrite your biology.
All of my favorite works of fiction involve going on an epic adventure, encountering bad guys, converting them into allies, and then recruiting them to the team. The antagonists in this story are really good guys, waiting to be reformed. The thoracic breathing muscles, the sneering muscles, the muscles involved in headaches, and those that make us sick to our stomach… they are all potential allies. Once converted, your chakra-like modules will become trusted comrades. Then you will find yourself using them to transform other people into your comrades as well.
Stress and Overexertion
Operating without composure can gravely deplete our health. When you live in distress, you are borrowing health from your future. It is the toll suffered by a methamphetamine addict or a president after an 8 year term. We are talking about a constant state of overexertion in which the body takes a lot of abuse at the expense of your charisma, intelligence, sex appeal, physique, beauty, mental health, and spiritual growth.
Distress is a great strategy for an animal that has strong evidence that it may die in a few seconds. But it is a terrible strategy for you and me. Your fight or flight response is almost never directed toward actual fighting or taking flight. Instead it is directed to bracing, strain, rapid heartbeat, pain and submission. Dial back the speed of life.
The retraction of the gill by the sea slugs discussed in Chapter 2 is not competitive, aggressive, or retaliatory, it is simply defensive. The slugs that have been prodded and shocked in the lab that show this defensive reflex are considered “on high alert.” The slugs that have not been subjected to this don’t show this defensiveness, and are referred to by scientists as “naïve.” Just because you are not on high alert, doesn’t mean that you are naïve. In fact, be the sea slug that is the opposite of naïve, the slug that has seen it all, and knows that the best way to live is to never withdraw its gills. Don’t treat every threat as novel. All threats are the same. Generalize your desensitization to negativity towards every conceivable threat. Do it now. Lower your shields, drop your façades, and let your gills hang.
Breathing at a measured rate with the diaphragm is difficult at first because your respiratory musculature and the nerves that control it have their own pace. You have to overcome their default. It is a bit like standing chest deep in the ocean, trying to keep your balance amidst turbulent, unpredictable waves. As you reprogram your breathing, accept the occasional unexpected breaker. Embrace the uneven gushes, the chaotic swells, and the startling surges knowing that with time you will control the tides. Permanently.
Allow me another analogy. Taking a deep diaphragmatic inhalation for 12 full seconds is a long trek across a barren desert. After the first 6 seconds you realize that you’re not going to make it to the other side unless you let go of baggage. The baggage is the burdensome bracing patterns that you are incapable of setting down until you are engrossed in respiration. When breathing on long intervals you don’t have the craze and furor to lug this luggage around with you. Every time you cross this desert using a prolonged inhalation you further program your chakra-like modules to let go of unnecessary burdens.
I used to imagine how mind-bogglingly complex it would be to try to use brain surgery to reduce someone’s propensity for negative thinking. You cannot just cut out the amygdala because this produces all kinds of unwanted side effects. Instead it would involve performing complex microscopic and submicroscopic manipulations to billions of neurons, and trillions of synapses. Diaphragmatic breathing retraining does exactly this but requires no neuroscience knowledge, no futuristic technology, and no invasive techniques. By placing you in a state of calm from which you can reconceptualize your life, diaphragmatic breathing will make just the right alterations to your cerebral cortex, your amygdala, your hypothalamus, your heart, your adrenal glands, and other organ systems all over the body. If used regularly it truly is a miracle cure.
Genes Eye View
Our situation as survival machines for replicating entities can be given a negative or a positive valence. Remember we are here because a complex molecule got stuck in a rut of self-replication. Our personal pain and the pain we inflict on each other makes this loop a curse. It is too often a frenzied free for all where, as Darwin said, nature is “red in tooth and claw.” But if we can lessen our stress and suffering and improve the quality of life of other sentient beings then life is not a curse but a blessing. I believe that one of the meanings of life is to turn life’s valence from negative to positive.
Every action, display, and word you use has reverberating repercussions on reality that will continue to echo in the physical universe forever. Instead of contributing to trauma through abusive communication, contribute to life and love. We live in a benevolent cosmos, but only if we help make it one.
The nerves that course trauma and pain through our body are the reigns by which our selfish genes control us. From our genes’ perspective happiness and confidence are risky and might get us killed. They are only to be used in optimal environments. Our cells operate on the assumption that living free of pain and negative emotion is a problematic way of living, applicable only when our environment is sending us reliable cues that it is safe enough not to live in fear. We must overcome this genetically hardwired negativity bias, and fear of relaxation. To do this we must use diaphragmatic breathing to trick our organs and cells into thinking that our environment is optimal. We must coddle our inner pet, tend to our inner child, and respect our inner cave man. If we can do this, we all, no matter our age or the extent of our trauma, have the phenotypic plasticity to become genuinely happy.
Turn Off the Behavioral Inhibition System
Jeffrey Alan Gray proposed the “biopsychological theory of personality” in 1970 and it remains a widely accepted model. The theory hypothesized two systems: A) the behavioral inhibition system which stops us from doing something out of fear, and B) the behavioral activation system which causes us to do things out of positive motivation for reward. He proposed that these two systems are constantly interacting, and that people vary in the extent to which these two systems influence their behavior. People who have an overactive behavioral inhibition system spend their life repressing their impulses, and restraining their desires. They are sensitive to punishment, and perceive it as highly aversive (Braem et al., 2013). A predisposition toward behavioral inhibition starts in infancy. Toddlers who are behaviorally inhibited have higher heart rates, higher stress hormone levels, tighter vocal cords, and highly reactive amygdalas (Moehler et al., 2008).
The behavioral inhibition system has been proposed to be the causal basis of anxiety and depression. It is what keeps us from dancing, laughing, and improvising, and pulls us to retreat into our shell (Gray, 1970). The behavioral activation system is the opposite. It promotes approach behavior: cheerfulness, spontaneity, and sociability. As you might have guessed, the exercises in this book are aimed at activating the behavioral activation system.
|Behavioral Inhibition System||Behavioral Activation System|
|Emotion||Fear of pain||Excitement for pleasure|
|Motivation||Avoid punishments||Approach rewards|
You will find that these two systems have consequences that reach into every facet of your life. For instance, as I shot a basketball in my twenties I would to retract from the ball in a cringing motion. This was the behavioral inhibition system in action. Today my hand follows through and remains briefly in the air at full arm extension. Disinhibiting your follow through is integral to your ability to score. Be an exhibitionist, and do everything like a game that you are playing to win.
We need to be secure in the fact that we will continue to suffer social failures. We will displease some, and not be liked by others. But if we let our fear of these things lead to inhibition then this will also lead to social defeat. Never choose to withdraw when confronted by a stressor, always approach. When you find yourself upset, do not pull away, push back playfully. At every fork in the road ask yourself: “How would an undamaged, untraumatized, badass version of me deal with this situation?” Start visualizing this person when you think about yourself. When you imagine doing something, picture this person doing it. In short time you will become that person.
Within a pack of mammals status roles are often determined by an animal’s intrinsic energy level. The rambunctious cubs become the pack leaders. These are usually animals that have very low activation of the behavioral inhibition system. The animals that expend more energy in play, foraging, and socializing rise to leadership positions. How can you get your own energy levels up? This book has detailed how: how to remove knots, how to reverse frailty, and how not to leak energy.
Dominant people actively pursue their interests without being hindered by unproductive social fears. They have faith in their ability to succeed and trust that others can’t stop them. They are not embarrassed easily, they don’t second-guess themselves or worry about what others will think. Don’t stifle the pleasure principle and hide your desires just to get along with others. Learn to be ok with the social conflict that arises when you try to gratify your wants.
Don’t be like a zoo animal released into a wildlife park that still crouches within the invisible confines of its old cage. You have put yourself on a short leash, and you are the only one that can take it off. To beat the behavioral inhibition system, you have to be spontaneous, and do the first thing that comes to mind more often. Don’t be afraid to let your inner animal free socially, sexually, playfully, and creatively. Be resolute in your opinions, charm people with pizzazz. Make bold and audacious announcements about positive things. Show some backbone, sing with your heart, and live with guts and gusto. Be triumphant in everything you do.
Being Pure of Heart Will Free You From Retaliation Apprehension
Retaliation apprehension is when we feel worried that someone will take what we are saying or doing in the wrong way and get offended. Retaliation apprehension shows in your face, your breathing and in your body language. It is very hard to describe verbally but people recognize it immediately when they see it. My brother has very little retaliation apprehension. This is why he can make a personal joke about someone, and they never get mad. Often it seems to me that he can say whatever he wants, to anyone, at any time, and get away with it. If I were to say the same thing, in the same tone, people will be miffed. My brother is able to do this because he speaks with zero concern about the other person retaliating. This allows him to poke fun at people in a playful way without upsetting them.
Retaliation apprehension is not just an admission of remorse for known wrong doing. It is a state of mind we have even when we have done nothing wrong. A tendency toward retaliation apprehension can start very early in life. Many adults have “anxious attachment” issues that stem from their early relationship with their parents. The child with anxious attachment is preoccupied with what pleases and displeases the mother. He or she feels that their relationship with their parents is very fragile and they feel at risk for rejection and abandonment. This leads to fear of and obsession with the emotions of others.
Completely refrain from scanning others for a hint of displeasure with you. It is submissive. The best way to do this is to not think about it. Drop any worries about defending yourself. Expecting the other person to like you and to not be offended should be assumptive and implicit in your body language.
Acting with zero retaliation apprehension is one of the most dominant things you can do. But it must be authentic. So to do it properly you must have good intentions. This is where being pure of heart (discussed in the last chapter) comes in. When you feel completely secure in the fact that your actions are well-intentioned, fear of retaliation won’t even cross your mind. It will make social harmony a default that you don’t have to work or strive for.
Conclusion: How to Play the Dominance Game
Humans have a strong instinctual predilection for submissive behavior which in turn makes us vulnerable to disease. This propensity needs to be studied through basic research and addressed by medical science. There must also be explicit and implicit social contracts that limit the extent of submissiveness that we “require” from one another.
If you are going to play the dominance game play it with a competitive spirit, play it fairly, play it without malice, and without exposing yourself to trauma. Don’t flaunt your position or be embarrassed of it. Don’t puff up when things go your way, and don’t shrivel up when they don’t. Think of yourself as dominant without having to dominate. Keep in mind that no one really wins in the end so there is no reason to keep score. Instead, see competition as “iron sharpening iron.” Because competition makes you stronger imagine it as a cooperative game where everyone is a teammate whether they know it or not. This will make you self-possessed, imperturbable, and indomitable.