Meet Brant & Mark

“Fitness” needs a makeover. It’s not about the size of your muscles, how fast you can run, or how much you weigh. There are plenty of physically fit people who are unhappy, eternally pessimistic, and drained of spirit. True fitness starts with emotional and spiritual wellbeing.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Finding Peace in Chaos

 Article by Brant Secunda

Often we find ourselves overwhelmed by the tasks at hand and in turn forget the beauty of this world, of life.  Sometimes shifting from a cluttered state of mind to one of clarity can seem impossible.  Maybe you try to take a walk or sit along the ocean, yet still the escape is only momentary.

I have found that at moments like this, it may take a dramatic short-term change in someones life in order to clear the mind and in this way heal the body and empower the soul. 

A retreat in nature can offer this change of lifestyle and change of mindset.  Throughout the many years I have lead retreats at places of power around the world, I have witnessed this transformation in participants over and over again.  People arrive drained and lethargic in spirit.  For the first few days most people are trying to analyze what they have gotten themselves into.  “Do I like this retreat?”  “Am I learning anything?”  And most importantly, “...how is the food.”  Then, as they begin to connect with the spirit of the land, their analytical minds calm and they begin to be aware of not just the overwhelming beauty of nature, but of the beauty of each leaf, every river and all the flowers.  When we are able to practice this awareness and see the energy flowing around us, then it becomes very difficult to worry about that work presentation due next week or cooking dinner for friends this weekend.  If we can remember the power of the world around us, we can face every obstacle, big and small, with a sense of self-confidence.  This confidence arrises from the realization that we are a part of something much larger then our selves; that we can utilize the energy of the trees, waters and flowers.  In this state of mind it is very difficult to become overwhelmed... ...at least in the negative sense.

So if you are finding yourself constantly stressed and cluttered, it may be a good time to step away from your routine and head to a place to which you feel drawn.  Wether that be joining me here in Italy or going camping or renting a place at the beach, create a change in your life that will help you focus on the bigger picture.

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Today, Brant is high in the Italian Alps, teaching his annual spring retreat.  Mark is there as well, participating in the retreat, as he does every year.  View a photo gallery of last year’s retreat or read his article from last year.

To learn more about retreats with Brant Secunda or to register for next year’s Retreat in the Italian Alps, visit DanceoftheDeer.com

Evolving Goals


Article by Mark Allen

Regardless of whether you are pursuing a fitness goal, striving to achieve something at work, trying to change home life dynamics to be positive or are on a spiritual quest to better yourself, a common thread that can support your journey is having a clear picture of why the efforts have meaning to you. This is what we call in our book “Know and Set Your Quest.”

There is always a picture, feeling, thought or indefinable energy that draws you to take action. The positive form of this is an idea of something that you have yet to embody. Perhaps it is a physical change. “I want to lose weight. I want to complete a race.” It may be emotional. “I want to find something positive even in the toughest moments of my life.” Perhaps it is spiritual in nature. “I am going to take time each and every day to stop and feel the springtime unfolding.”  Whatever it was that inspired you to take the first steps toward a goal, remember it. If you cannot recall those initial thoughts or if the original idea doesn’t have meaning, now is a good time to regain an image that does.
 
Here is an example from my racing career of an evolving goal. Initially my overall driving quest was to win the Ironman. It was a clear goal. Yet it was complex because of the number of valuable facets of preparation that could help me achieve it. But it was worth embracing as many of them as I could. This goal influenced every aspect of my training throughout each season. And indeed in 1989 through the incredibly good luck to connect with the Huichol tradition and Brant Secunda I became that champion.
 
But then what? Win again? Okay, that inspired me, and I achieved that…a couple more times.
 
But then what? By 1993 I could see that my quest had to change. “Knowing and Setting Your Quest” is a call to look deep inside and find the picture, thought or focus that has meaning deep in your heart. A good way to gain this perspective is to place yourself at the end of your life and take a look back. What do you want to see? What reasons do you want to see that inspired meaning to do the things that you did? 



I saw that “winning” was great, but not really quite the right focus. The quest changed. Through personal reflection and with Brant’s help I dedicated my quest in racing from that point forward to the pursuit of being the best I could be on race day. The placing was secondary. This was Knowing My Quest. It’s a quest that continues today and transcends time, situation or circumstance. 

What is your quest? What inspires you about your efforts? 

What is it about your quests that focus your efforts in a positive direction? These are the things that will carry you far.

Friday, April 30, 2010

The Spirit of Love

Fostering the essence of creation itself
by Brant Secunda

Love is considered to be the most powerful of all powers by the Huichol people.  We say that the world was created with the spirit of love.  Because of this, all of creation has at it’s core this power.  I often tell people that love is more than just something found in a book or a movie.  It is tangible.  
The Huichols relate the power of love to the Earth.  Mother Earth nourishes us with food, beauty and love.  This sense of “taking care” is love.  We, in the modern world, are easily distracted by the objects that so often clutter our lives.  We love this and we love that, whether this be a new car or that be a new shirt.  Love your friends and family, love the plants and animals of nature, love life.  When we do this, true and lasting love is fostered.  
When you wake up in the morning, go outside with a sense of appreciation for all that you have been blessed with.  If a flying bird or jumping deer catches your eye, stop and enjoy your connection to the animals.  If a tree is budding fresh leaves, take a moment to recognize the growth happening before your eyes.  By simply taking the time to appreciate nature you will learn to love the world around you.  
It so important that we remember that we are a part of something much larger than ourself.  By doing so we can let go of our individual objects of distraction and instead focus on the things that offer true and lasting joy, happiness and love.
There is much more to be said about love, but right now I simply want to go outside and practice developing that power.  I recommend doing the same, for when you experience the love of Mother Earth all your problems seem to dwindle away, leaving you with that power of Love.

5 Basics for Health

by Mark Allen

I want to give you 5 Tips for Health and Happiness. None are new and most likely you have seen all of them before. Each one has its roots extending back to the beginning of time. All are worthy of another mention and reminder today. The emphasis of how we work with each may be different than what our ancestors did to thrive and survive. But each is a must for grooming health and happiness to a polished shine.

The first is eating healthy. Most of us in the modern world have at least three or more chances throughout the day to focus specifically on how we integrate this into our lives. A modern world twist to this has first and foremost to do with portion size. Regardless of the actual nutrient value in our meals, no matter how balanced and healthy our sources of carbohydrate, fats and protein, if the amount we are eating is too much, the effects reverse themselves and we can find extra weight being the result rather than good health. Solution? Smaller dishes! This makes cutting portion size simple. Second tip for controlling portion size is to drink a glass of water BEFORE you dive into the main dish. Then finally, increase the frequency of meals so that you are never going into any meal feeling completely ravenous.
The next key to great vibrant health is exercise. This can be in the form of traditional sports and health club classes or it can be as deceptively simple as walking, moving things around, gardening or anything else that gets your body off its duff and in the upright position. Even if you do a 30-minute run in the mornings, make sure to get out and move a few other times throughout the day. This also has a side benefit of helping curb your appetite. So if portion size needs some help, go for a walk first!

A third key to having both the energy to exercise and an appetite that comes from the needs of your body to replenish itself and not from an emotional hole that crying out for filling is to manage stress. Long-term stress zaps energy, can lead to depression, can initially cause weight loss from muscle wasting then later cause weight gain because fat burning is inhibited, none of this being desirable.

You may not necessarily be able to eliminate the causes of stress, but there are ways to reduce its negative impact. One is to do what we call in our book “Quieting The Mind”. There is an entire key devoted to this. In tough moments often the only thing that can be changed are the thoughts that are running through our brains, and usually they are not the ones that help us out! But if we practice quieting the mind, then at least we can give ourselves a break from our own internal chatter, which often opens up the space to hear the answers and solutions we are working so hard to find.

Then in addition to this, use nature as a source of stress reduction and personal inspiration. Walk in the woods, sit by a stream, jump in the ocean, and breathe in the colors of the sunset. These are all tools Brant has us do in workshops he leads. Every single one can give you a calmer feel inside and reinvigorate your trust in life. It sounds simple, and it is, but it can also be a powerful tool for bringing a healthy and happy attitude back when you may not feel it so strongly.

Then lastly, reach out and connect with the community you are part of. Having social interaction has shown to be part of having a healthy mind and body even in the twilight years of one’s life. Community has served humans well for survival both from a logistical standpoint but also because being in community infuses our souls with a sense of belonging, with the side benefit of bringing our being into a more positive state that can actually be measured physiologically to be healthier and happier! 

Friday, March 26, 2010

Developing the 4 Powers

Aspects each one of us has and should work to emPOWER

by Brant Secunda
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Each and every person is inherently powerful.  We each have the ability to do good or bad, construct or destroy.   It is what we do with this power that defines our character.  In the modern world we often gauge one another by the type of car we drive or by the house we live in.  These plainly physical appendages of life can blind us from comprehending not only the true character of someone else, but indeed our own identity.  It is not our house or the price of our shoes that define us.  Rather  the essence of a human being is determined by how we use our innate capacities.
The Huichol Indian people of Mexico, with whom I lived for many years, refer to the human capacities as the 4 Powers.  The first power is Love.  Love is the foundation of all power, with which the universe was created.  Love is not just something found in movies or novels.  Nor is it solely a feeling shared between humans. It is a natural energy rooted in all of life.  
My teacher, the renowned Huichol shaman Don José Matsuwa, would always tell me, “Love your Earth mother; she provides for you everything you need.  Love the plants and animals.  Love nature.”  
By simply acknowledging a tree, a flower or a person, we cultivate the power of love.  Recognize those who love you and in turn you will simultaneously feel and give love.  Be passionate about the Earth, devote yourself to your work and adore the world around you.  By doing so, you can live a life of love.
The second power is physical power.  We all have different bodies.  Some tall, some short; some thin, some fat.  Yet, we all have a body.  It has been said since time immemorial that the body is the house of the soul.  For this reason we should strive to make ourselves as physically powerful as possible.  Of course, not all of us will become professional athletes, but still it is important to cultivate a strong and healthy body.  
For the Huichols, another aspect of physical power is the realization of our connection to Mother Earth.  Through gaining an understanding of the body of the Earth, we build our own physical power.  In truth, we are simply physical extensions of the Earth.  Once we realize this simple truth, our bodies can no longer be separated from the energy of the entire planet and so any weaknesses or vulnerabilities are overpowered.
Intuitive power is the third facet of our character.  In the modern world, many people do not give much weight to the intuition or psychic ability someone may have.  In the Huichol culture on the other hand, the visions and dreams a person has, garners them as much respect as how much firewood or water they can carry.  For a person to be truly powerful, they must continually develop their spiritual awareness.  It can seem difficult to find the time to focus on the power of intuition; however, simple games can help us refine our intuitive abilities.  When your phone rings, try to guess who is calling before you pick up (or look at the Caller ID).  While driving, envision the color of the next car you will see in the oncoming lane.  Simple amusements such as these can enrich your spiritual intuition.
The last power is the power of intelligence.  What does this mean?  Is our intelligence determined by how well we did on a math test in high school or by our problem solving skills at work?  Though this may be a part of the answer, the Huichols view intelligence as the way we live our life.
Do we live our life in the right way.  This is the ultimate test of intelligence.  If you are a doctor, don’t abuse your power over a patient.  If you are a teacher, don’t take advantage of your students.  If you are a parent, don’t abuse the power you hold over your children.  Right action, that is the sign of a truly powerful person.  When someone does not act humanly, they are not being human.  Foster the power you have and apply it to good deeds.  Use your gifts not only for your own personal empowerment, but also to strengthen those around you.      
Someone can be physically fit; nevertheless, if they are not loving to their friends or to the Earth, that person is not fully powerful.  We must cultivate all four of the powers, love, physical power, intuitive power and the power of intelligence.  By doing our best to empower ourselves and the world around us, we can become truly powerful people.

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Brant Secunda left his hometown of New Jersey the day after his eighteenth birthday to journey to the remote Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico.  There he found the Huichol Indians, considered to be one of the last tribes to have maintained their pre-Columbian traditions. Brant was put though a twelve-year apprenticeship with Don José Matsuwa, in which he learned the ancient teachings of the Huichol people.  In 1979 Brant founded the Dance of the Deer Foundation to help carry on the cultural heritage of the Huichol Indians.
To learn more about Brant and the Huichols, visit www.Shamanism.com

Take Advantage of the Ups and Downs in Life

Take your workouts off the beaten path
by Mark Allen

Life in the modern world can be overflowing with complexity to the point of overload.  Even our goals for health can sound overwhelming.  What if you had the tools to lose weight, improve your blood sugar balance, de-stress and soothe your soul, charge up with energy and keep your brain functioning properly?  Sounds like a lot of activities would be necessary to gain all of those benefits.  Surprisingly, one simple tool can help you achieve these goals!  You ready?  All of these incredible benefits to your body and soul can be had by simply walking or jogging on uneven terrain that has a few hills along the way.  Read on to hear why…

As we all know, moving our bodies is what gives us fitness.  A sedentary individual is more likely to die at an early age than an active one who smokes cigarettes!  So going for a walk or a jog on a daily basis will cover the first item on our health list.  If you incorporate some uphill and downhill sections in that outdoor adventure, you will start to engage the use of the largest muscle in the body, which is appropriately named the gluteus maximus.  Using these large muscles stimulates the body to metabolize stored fat.  The second task is now taken care of.

If your favorite trail winds through any kind of natural setting, which most trails or unpaved roads do, there will likely be a bit of nature going on around you.  Right now we are in springtime, which is the perfect season for absorbing the wonder of life renewing itself and bursting forth with energy and color.  Take a look around and soak in that life force.  This simple act takes our minds off of what might be otherwise weighing us down and gives us a break from the normal obligations in a way that feeds both our body and our soul, and charges us up with positive energy.  Another task covered!

So what about the blood sugar and brain benefits?  Some interesting research has shown that walking or jogging on uneven ground actually stimulates the brain to improve its circuitry.  In short, when the ground we move over is unpredictable, meaning there are little rocks, twigs, maybe some bumps, divots and other non-smooth features, the brain gets used in a way that stimulates its growth and health.  Want to get smarter?  Walk through the woods!

With regard to blood sugar, a number of studies in Europe have shown that while uphill walking is good for burning calories and losing body fat, it is the downhill that gives a huge boost to the body’s ability to regulate blood sugar.  Downhill walking uses our eccentric muscles, the ones that accept a load rather than generate it.  Using these muscles when we walk downhill helps bring blood sugar levels down and actually increases the body’s sensitivity to insulin.

This second benefit enables a person to efficiently handle dietary carbohydrates (sugars) without having to release large amounts of insulin. For those of you who have read our book, you may remember that a big release of insulin shuts off fat burning, which is not something many people want to have happen.  Just make sure that you go easy on your knees if you do decide to make downhill part of your exercise program. And if you can’t find a hill, there are always stairs. It’s just hard to find ones that are lined with blooming trees and flowers!

Friday, February 26, 2010

Mother Earth Prepares to Awaken

by Brant Secunda
There seems to be an awakening of positive energy in our world at the moment.  Furthermore, it is a time of transformation and hopefully a time of healing and love.  Mother Earth is slowly waking up from her sleep of winter.  She is still living the art of regeneration, charging herself up with the light of creation.  It is a wonder to remember this process has been happening for millions and millions of years.  I reflect on how, at this time of the year, Don José and I, as well as other Huichols, would prepare the earth for planting.  “She is still sleeping”, Don José would say, “but she is slowly waking up, emerging from the darkness of winter.”
Remember, change starts with you.  I always remind people of this simple truth.  As you walk on Mother Earth at this time, try to feel her aliveness.  She is still dreaming, but now a conscious dream, as she gets ready for spring.  Feel in touch with the earth and your environment during this great time of transformation.  This is the wisdom of the shaman. 
A Huichol will also try to dream as Mother Earth dreams.  We are truly a reflection or mirror of the ancient ones.  Mother Earth dreams, so why can we also dream and awaken?  Shamanism sees all of life as interrelated, mysteriously and majestically. 
As you walk outside on the earth or at the beach, feel Mother Earth as she prepares to awaken from the dream of winter.  Feel yourself also connected through your heart and mind.  In this way we can be connected and be a part of something natural, powerful, and real. 
By engaging ourselves and being connected to the earth, we can feel joyful and complete, not separate.  This is a natural process that has occurred for millennia.  Whenever I return to  the Huichols in Mexico I feel this strongly and watch how the Indians feel joy just by being alive and living a normal life.  We can also do this in the modern world. 
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