Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Winter - a time for introspection

by Brant Secunda

Hello from the Santa Cruz Mountains in California. Today is the first day of the season of winter. I want to personally wish everyone a beautiful winter solstice, a time of inner light. During this time of the solstice, your hearts and souls fill up with love and light. In this way our soul hopefully becomes brighter and our heart is open to the power of introspection, of going inside to find balance and harmony. The earth becomes quieter at this time and inherently and naturally charges herself up with the creative power of introspection. It is also a time for us as people to find our inner brightness and build character. Our character is constantly surrounded by qualities of life that make us who we are. Don Jose always told me to work to be a good person, to build a positive character and appreciate the gift of life. I am sitting in front of my fireplace remembering these wise words of wisdom.

On this first day of winter, the winter solstice, I am reflecting upon the beautiful year that has just transpired. Last winter our book, Fit Soul Fit Body, had just been published and since then it has spread around the world. I hope our book has helped to truly transform people in a positive way. It is important to build a soul with inner character and strength, as well as to develop a strong body. Together a fit soul and a fit body can help not only people but our earth and environment as well.

An exercise to practice during this season of winter to build character is to imagine you soul in the center of your heart. At this place is also your character that gives you strength on an emotional level. Imagine your soul or character surrounded by love, physical strength, intuition and intelligence or moral strength. I hope this helps you go through this season of light in a joyful way.

Have a happy and joyful Holiday Season.

Fiting in your Fitness

December can be a month where time gets even more crunched. Social and family gatherings get scheduled, the days are short on light, and the end of another year with projects that must be completed by the end of the month often eat into people’s exercise programs. “Normal” is rarely the case. So if you find yourself juggling commitments and cutting out time to move your body, here are a few tips to be able to at least hold your fitness through the month until the New Year comes.
First, for your aerobic exercise like swimming, jogging, or cross country skiing, the minimum to keep your fat burning engine in one piece is about 20-minutes in your training zones. Even if you have a longer workout planned, if time necessitates cutting back a workout, try to get your heart rate up for a 20-minute stretch. This will prevent a loss of aerobic fitness for quite some time, so that you don’t lose your hard earned gains. It may not take you to the next level, but at least when your schedule calms back down, you will be in close to the same physiological shape you are in now.
Second, strength training is key to maintaining the integrity of not only muscles, but joints, ligaments and tendons. You can modify this as well to fit a tighter schedule by doing, as a minimum, one set on all of the five following exercises;

• Lat pulldown
• Leg Extension
• Leg Curl
• Bench Press
• Squats

This works the bulk of the main big muscles in the body with a minimum of time in the gym. It helps to also maintain your lean muscle mass, which helps keep your metabolism humming along during a season where it can be easy to overeat and under-exercise. You can then always finish with abdominal work if you have time.
Third, use our tip from last month, which is to always have a bag of exercise clothing with you in your car or backpack so that if a chunk of time does open up unexpectedly you can take advantage of it and fit in a workout.

Looking Back - the past year

by Mark Allen

We just closed out the first year of our book at the annual Fit Soul, Fit Body weekend retreat in our home area of Santa Cruz. And what an amazing year it has been! Our official kickoff was another local event at a health club in our area that was started by one of Jack LaLanne’s training buddies from the early ‘60’s. We shared an evening with a packed house that was treated to the unveiling of our six-year journey through the world of publishing. Although Brant and I have presented the Fit Soul, Fit Body workshops for over ten years, the book gave us the chance to put some context and detail in our stories and advice that can only be done with the written word, in a way that provides a vehicle to reflect, reread and absorb the keys one morsel at a time. This has become a wonderful addition to the hands-on experience people receive in the workshops, where some of the related tools that are best conveyed in person are taught.

The book’s debut was perfect timing. Our nation was in transition from a period of seeming plenty to a clear tightening of the belt. Jobs were lost, houses repossessed, and optimism had dwindled. The beginning of 2009 was a moment in time where many people were searching for deeper answers to what is truly important in life, and most craved tools for bringing about positive feelings in life that are more enduring than those that only exist by favor of a good economy. Our answer to all this in the book is the same as it has always been… live Fit Soul, Fit Body. Taking some simple wisdom like connecting with nature, a person can always find solace by walking on the earth, consciously breathing the air, watching a sunset or just sitting under a tree, all of which are ways to rid us of frustration or doubt, and bring back hope and a simpler sense that if we are alive we still have one thing to be thankful for.

Our readers have shared a wide spectrum of precious moments, where they used something they read in the book to help them through life’s challenges, from athletic events to weathering financial storms, to simply regaining a simpler focus that works well in a time with scarcity. We had one of the oldest competitors in the Hawaiian Ironman Triathlon (a gentleman in his mid-seventies) attribute his ability to overcome the challenge of the day come from using our key of Quieting the Mind. He said it carried him through the moments when he wanted to talk himself out of continuing, that he just kept telling himself to quiet his mind, quiet his mind. And he indeed did finish that amazing race.

Another reader called just recently, excited to tell us that he had been struggling through a very tough time in his life, where he had been extremely stressed and realized that he was just down on life. He said his family had suffered, his health had suffered, and more importantly his outlook (which is usually very positive) had taken a nosedive. He picked up our book and started reading it. Not yet all the way through it, the biggest thing that stood out right away for him was to connect with nature to help reset one’s outlook on life. He then spent one afternoon hiking with his two small children in a park and the next on a lake near his home for a few hours just watching the ducks and a blue heron that was carrying on with life completely oblivious to his challenges. He said it was life transforming. All his worries seemed to just slip away, and he felt back on track with his normal trust in life and focused on what is really important.

The stories go on. If you have a personal experience using our keys that you would like to share, email us. We love to hear how you have felt the impact from our book, and are always grateful when we receive them.

Brant and I journeyed to many corners of our country with Fit Soul, Fit Body this past year from Seattle to Boulder, from Cleveland to New York and many other incredible places along the way, bringing our book to people from all walks of life. This as well as our community on Facebook has given us a window into each of you. And one thing that seems to be a common thread is that you all embrace change and the chance to move one step closer to indeed being healthier and happier. We commend every single one of you for your efforts and the changes you are making and thank you for your support of our book and our seminars this year. We send our good thoughts that the changes you are working toward come to be.

We look forward to what lies ahead in 2010. New cities will be on our Fit Soul, Fit Body tour for the year, as well as some of the places we visited in 2009. Keep tuned in for announcements about those.

Happy wintertime!

Monday, November 23, 2009

From One World to Another

by Brant Secunda

I remember one of the first times I brought my teacher, Don José Matsuwa, to Europe soon after I had finished apprenticeship with him. It was an amazing time. Don José, my Huichol Indian grandfather, was happy to be going on this trip. We departed from Mexico City, looking forward to our adventure together.

Before we had left Don José’s village, high in the Sierra Madre Mountains of Mexico, his wife and my Huichol grandmother, Doña Josefa had reminded me to take good care of Don José. “Remember,” she said, “we need him.” Then she added jokingly, “and also, at 100 he shouldn’t have any girlfriends.”

“Don’t worry,” I told her, “I will guard him with my life.”

We arrived in New York for a 5-hour layover. My grandmother from New York City met us at the gate (those were the days). It was very special for me to be with my grandmother and Don José at the same time. Both of them had taught me so much throughout my life.

We joked around for quite some time. Then I noticed some American Indians coming over to our gate. It was Joseph Eagle Elk and his family. They were also on their way to the same Shaman Conference that we were heading to.

After a long flight, we finally arrived in Munich, Germany. From there, we were taken by car to the beautiful Alps, covered with snow and newly budding wildflowers. After getting settled into our rooms, Don José wanted to go for a walk. He reminded me to breath in the beauty of the land, as we strolled amidst the fresh green meadows, speckled with flowers and surrounded by towering mountain peaks.

Don José and I returned from our walk and immediately ate, so that we could get to sleep early. We sat at a table off to one side of the dining room, so that we could joke around in private.

We finished our bowls of soup and Don José thought we were done. He was very surprised at the 6-course meal that was about to ensue. He thought it was some sort of joke, when I kept telling him, “It was just the beginning.” For the rest of his life, Don José would remember how much food the people ate at that conference. “The Huichols definitely do not eat this much, he joked at the time.

The following day was the official opening of the International Shaman Conference. Don José and I made the opening ceremony, prayer and song. Then Don José dramatically stood up and said that he had a special announcement to make. He looked so regal, in his Huichol costume, exquisitely embroidered with sacred symbols of deer, eagles, butterflies and flowers.

I remember feeling so blessed to be standing next to my 100-year old grandfather at that moment.

“I want to announce,” Don José said, “as I stand here as an old man and elder, that I am here to say that I am leaving my grandson, Brant Secunda, in my place to help carry on the teachings of Huichol shamanism, health and healing. He has completed a long and arduous apprenticeship with me and now we stand here as close companions on the path of the shaman.”

The Voice of Food

by Mark Allen

For years I was in pursuit of a crown that was held by an athlete who was renowned for his dietary discipline. His name was Dave Scott, and his extremism in eating lead him to among other things rinse his cottage cheese before he ate it, to rid it of any excess fat held in the cream. Me? Well, my claim to dietary fame was less exemplary. I was known as a patron of the sacred chocolate chip cookie. “Self-restraint” was never mentioned in the same breath with “chocolate chip cookie” when I was speaking.

Dave’s methods did seem to have merit. By 1989, Scott had amassed an arsenal of six Ironman victories and I was at zero. Perhaps I should have taken a clue earlier and ditched the cookies for some squeaky-clean cottage cheese. But eventually I held up the white flag. I wasn’t going to follow his blueprint to the letter, but I thought I should at least go cold turkey with the cookies.

I made a pact with myself. I would not eat, touch, make or otherwise come in contact with a chocolate chip cookie for six weeks. Someone once told me it takes six weeks to change a pattern, so I thought why not! Six weeks without a cookie would not be easy for me, but if it meant victory in Kona, then so be it. After all, it wasn’t rinsing my cottage cheese!

Immediately the most amazing transformation took place. Everywhere I went I saw chocolate chip cookies for sale. At the gas station, in a display at the checkout in the market, in the airports, everywhere!
But gradually over my six-week cookie-free diet, my cravings for them slipped into the unknown and they were replaced by something I never knew I had. It was a whole spectrum of cravings that were fine tuned messages for what my body really needed. What had once been one huge overall urge for a cookie had now become about twenty similar but very distinct cravings for all things healthy. One day it might be a need for more protein, another for extra healthy carbs and the next a simple need for more water. The blare of a cookie craving was gone and I could finally hear the underlying whispers for all things good.

So I put the challenge to you. If there is a nemesis in your cupboard, drop it in the recycling and go on a six-week journey that will lead to understanding the language of your body’s food needs. We are hardwired for wisdom with an inner voice that knows how much food is healthy for our bodies, and what kind of food is going to bring us into our personal body balance each and every meal.

If you do give this a whirl, here are a few tips. First, giving up one indulgence doesn’t give you free range to replace it with another. When the craving first yells out, and it will indeed try its best to break down your resolve, replace it with something totally unrelated to food. Go for a short walk or a workout. Visit a garden or a forest or a park, river, stream, mountain, grassy patch at the end of the block, or anywhere else that has a vivid reminder that nature is happening all around us and use that to put the mute button on the craving.

Second, listen to your body every single day when it sounds like it is calling out for your temptation, then ask: what is it really calling for? What healthy, wholesome, and yes it can be delicious food or fluid is your body really in need of.

Then finally, be looking for the real reward at the end of the road. No, it isn’t going to be license to go out immediately at the end of your six-week quest and stock up on that one thing you have eliminated from your diet. The true reward will be the ability to interpret all the wavelengths of your body’s food cravings. You will understand the messages that lead to positive eating habits. The task will then be to honor them. Bon Appetite!

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Harvesting the Light

by Brant Secunda

Autumn is a time of balance. The word equinox elicits this balance and harmony between light and dark, warm and cold, fire and water. In the modern world, we have become increasingly disconnected from the world of nature as more of our lives have moved indoors. Many people spend their days working on a computer, in a building with windows that don’t open and a climate of 72 degrees year around. As this has become the norm, the normality of natural change has shifted in many people’s lives.

In ancient cultures, such as the Huichol Indians, one’s life is inseparable from all of life, or nature. Indigenous peoples not only had a deep spiritual connection to the natural world, but indeed physically relied upon it. Their food did not magically appear on a shelf in the village market. Most people had to grow their food and rely on whatever nature offered. For example, seasonal fruits were just that, seasonal. Today, you can find fresh apples in your local produce isle any time of year. A cultivated food, such as corn, was not harvested year-round, but rather during the season of the harvest, autumn. In this way, human life remained in tune with the natural ebb and flow of nature.

Today, we should all strive to do the same. Though we may work in a large office building and eat fresh corn every month in the year, that does not mean that we have to be disconnected from the natural world. What is needed to stay in balance is awareness. Awareness of ourselves, of others, of the seasons, etc.. A simple way to remain in connection with the seasons is to watch the trees around your home, or on your way to work. Pay attention to the fresh buds in the spring, to the brilliant green in the beginning of summer and now to the warm colors of the leaves, as the climate cools.

Watching the leaves change can afford you a small reminder of the constant changes in nature. During this season, let the leaves remind you to harvest the light of autumn. What does that mean? During the fall season, the plants and animals prepare for the darkness of winter, harvesting food for winter reserves or feasting before a winter slumber. Humans are inextricably connected to the plants and animals and thus we have an inherent connection to what they do. The trees use this time to absorb the light as the days shorten. Their leaves are shed and more energy is used to move inward. We should use this as an example of what we can do.

Enjoy each sunny day and in this way harvest the light of autumn in order to have a pleasurable winter, when it arrives. Fall is a time of balance, between our extroverted essence in summer and the time of introspection we experience in the winter. With this in mind, try to gain a sense of balance in both body and soul. By doing this, when winter arrives you will be prepared for the darkness because you will have nurtured the light within yourself.

IronWar - 20th Anniversary

by Mark Allen

This month is the 20th anniversary of my first win in Kona back in 1989, on a day that has been called "Iron Wars". As many of you know, it was a side-by-side battle with the guy who defied limits at the Ironman and dodged defeat for years, at a race where he owned exclusive rights to the champion's lei.

I'm talking about six-time Champion Dave Scott. His invincibility seemed to be endless on the Big Island. I had pitched up at the start line six times prior to that fateful day and had walked away with exactly zero wins. My family and friends, the press, everyone was saying, "Don't do it! Don't go back. Stick to the races where you have had success. Go to the places you know you can beat Dave. Ironman is too hot and long for you."

I was so close to saying they were right. But there was one thing inside me that was still burning, that gave me reason to go back for attempt number seven. You see, I had not had my best race there and until I did, I needed to go back. I was unsure if my best was as good as Dave's, but I had a personal quest to see what my best day looked like, and I had not had it yet.

Armed with some new training and an attitude that was less caring about victory than personal perfection I spotted Dave at the swim start. We spent the next eight hours covering the course that lay ahead like Siamese twins. He sped up, I sped up. He slowed down, I slowed down. He was the best and knew how to race the course like no other human alive, so why not do like the best and just see what happened.

As we closed in on the half marathon point of the run we also began to separate ourselves from the rest of the field. We were on a pace that was going to shatter Dave's three-year-old Ironman record. Unfortunately for me, he was at his best and getting stronger throwing in surges that dropped the pace down to a 6-minute mile. I was near the end of my tolerance to pain, to his relentless pace, and to the weight of a 0-6 record.

But then it happened...

Just as I was about to give up, the image of an old Huichol Indian shaman that I had seen two days earlier in a magazine came back to me. It was a revered elder named Don Jose, and in his picture he had a look that said "I am happy just to be alive". Suddenly I was happy just to be next to the best in our sport. No one else was giving him a run for his money. There were still 13 miles left. Something might change for the better.

Drawing strength from Don Jose, the face of the race changed. I could feel energy surging through my body. I could also see that Dave was tiring on the uphills. So to plant a decoy, when he would slow, I would slow even more and drop behind him just a few paces in the hope that he might feel like he was actually stronger than I.

This cat and mouse game went on for over 12 miles until we came to the final uphill before town, the last chance to really make a break. I surged. Dave couldn't respond. In the space of about half a mile I put over 10-seconds on him, then another 10 and then even more. At the finish the gap had grown to 58-seconds, a very small difference on a very long day. Dave shattered his previous world's record by almost 15-minutes. I did my best time to date by nearly 30. And the marathon I had to run to pull off victory still stands as the fastest ever in Hawaii at 2:40:04, which includes the transition time from bike to run!

That was the watershed moment for my career. I went on to win six titles matching Dave's total. I also began to study the wonderful tradition of the Huichol Indians with Don Jose's grandson, Brant Secunda, and learn what gave him that zest for life and used that as a starting point for victory in the years that followed that first Ironman win.

On the outside it was the victory after so many losses that seemed to be the most significant part of this 20-year-old piece of history. But much deeper than that was my first true moment of experiencing a fit soul and a fit body. It was the end of one journey, the quest for victory, and the birth of another as the door to studying with Brant and a connection to the Huichol tradition was opened. I would meet Brant shortly after that race and begin, in earnest, learning and experiencing the wonder of this tradition and finding a way of understanding life in a way I had been searching to experience since I was a young boy. Six years later Brant would help me erase the biggest deficit in Ironman history for a comeback on the marathon that as commentator Phil Liggett says, “defies description”.

Life for me today is no longer concerned with finding race perfection. But I definitely continue to search for those moments of personal perfection as a father, as a student of Brant’s and as someone, who like each of you, is enjoying time filled with the health and happiness that living a life of Fit Soul, Fit Body can bring.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Body and Soul: Moving from Summer to Fall

by Brant Secunda & Mark Allen

As you can guess from the title of our book, our workshops and our website we value developing the health of both body and soul, and that neither should be tossed by the wayside. More importantly, because of the intertwined nature of these two elements that every human being has, we feel that a person only reaches their utmost level of health, wellbeing and happiness when both parts are being nurtured and tended to. An unhealthy body makes it very tough to feel positive and joyful about life, as most of us have experienced when we are sick. Likewise, if we are having trouble shrugging off the weight of the world, there is usually little energy left to actually put on the exercise attire and go sweat. And when both body and soul are stagnant we may have found ourselves going down a detrimental road in search of solace that leads to taking substances (junk food, alcohol, etc) into our bodies that set both of these key components even further off kilter.

Yet, if we can summon up just one thought or image of hope or a small carrot of reward. If we can take the first steps to get ourselves back in good working order, the effect spirals up in a very positive direction. "Just put on the running shoes and go jog for 10 minutes" gets you out the door and on the way to what could have been a missed opportunity to do something good for your body. "Put the computer to sleep, go outside and breathe in the air and take in the sunlight for 10 minutes" can lighten the weight of a responsibility just enough so that you do take a break from the pressures of life and treat your soul to the treasures the world of nature offers. Both of these thoughts together, and most importantly taking both of these actions, can turn your day around dramatically. How simple can it be? These are not distractions from you current state, but rather tools we advocate you use to reset your entire being in a healthy, positive direction. And they are available to you each and every day. Sure a vacation to an exotic locale can be memorable, but research has shown over and over that the positive effects of a getaway are short-lived. Fit Soul, Fit Body is a strategy for ongoing improvements in your health and life that you can use every day.

The order that you gravitate towards doing work on body and soul is going to be personal; however, if you feel stuck in both we suggest starting with the internal environment and then moving out to the physical body. Think about it. Your body is just there waiting for the desire in your soul to move, to exercise. But if your soul is not cooperating you know what happens. Nothing! So break the gridlock by using any of our tools for charging up your soul, your internal voice, that may need an attitude adjustment. Or even better, bring both sides of the street together in one exploit...walk in the forest, hike along the ocean or a lake, climb a hill to enjoy a sunset or anything else that puts your body in motion and your soul in contact with the world of nature, which as you may know from our book is one of the keys to a healthier, happier you.

As we gradually prepare for the fall, that will officially begin later this month, it can be a great time to use the longer days to do both a little extra outside for the body as well as focus some added attention on taking that light into your heart and soul. Soak it in now, just as the earth does, so you can draw strength from the inner light as the days grow shorter. Here's an end of summer Fit Soul, Fit Body checklist:

Commit a few evenings each week to being outside during the time of sunset to take in all the wondrous colors and the sense of balance that time of day offers.

Make the most of warm days with lots of light for outside exercise. Even if you can get out in the fall and winter, there is a special energizing sensation to moving in warmth that is different than what we feel when exercising in cool, crisp air.

Walk or hike and notice the subtle changes that signify the change of season coming. Remember, our entire being is a mirror of this world of nature, and we, as humans, are also getting ready in subtle ways for the seasonal change.

If you have been thinking of a weekend getaway that affords an extended time flexing both body and soul, now's the time! If you have a special summer spot that changes along with the season, even if it is in your back yard, at the end of the block in a park or on the outskirts of town in a green zone, let yourself gravitate there and take advantage of what it offers you. Again, now's the time!

Finding Your Level of Fitness

by Mark Allen

One of the first questions about exercise that people have is how much they should actually do. Is 20-minutes a day, three times a week enough? How about overdoing it? Is a daylong bike ride too much? I want to lose weight. How much exercise do I need to do to accomplish that? Here are a few suggestions that will address all of these questions.

The first level of exercise goes something like this: any amount is better than none! If you are completely sedentary, even going for a short walk occasionally will be better than never doing a thing. There is basically no negative to small amounts of exercise and usually a positive response in overall health and wellbeing.

Next up is the amount that will give you the greatest benefits in terms of longevity. This comes about when a person burns about 300 calories per day through exercise, through moving their body. This is about the equivalent of walking or jogging 2.5-3 miles or doing any kind of aerobic activity for around 30-45 minutes, at a comfortable moderate pace.

You can take this to the next big gain by doing some form of exercise up to about one hour most days of the week. Research has shown that those who both live the longest and have optimal health have adopted this level of consistency with their movement and exercise. Again, that is one hour of exercise most days of the week. This can be done all in one shot, or if you are like many people, they find that breaking it up into two shorter sessions throughout the day is of equal physiological benefit and can actually help keep the feeling of Fit Soul intact from morning to night by offering a few chances throughout the day to take a true break from the responsibilities of life and get outside to absorb the beauty of life going on day and night.

Can a person put in too much exercise time? Definitely! What level this is will certainly be based on your current fitness. But if you are one of the select few who have tons of time to devote to exercise, the cutoff of true positive benefit seems to happen at about three hours. Over three hours of exercise in a day has shown to reduce immune function. So proceed with one eye on your overall health if this is the category you are in.

Is exercise the solution to weight loss? It can certainly be part of the answer, but research is now showing that it is usually not the entire solution, that is unless you are one of those who is fit enough to fall in that last category of training several hours each day. You can think of it in these terms. A pound of fat stores 3,500 calories. A 160 lb person would have to run just over a marathon in order to burn that amount of calories, and this is just to lose one pound of body fat. If you have say 50 extra, well, you can do the math. It's a lot of exercise and for most people, between lifestyle commitments and bodies that may just not cooperate with three hour training sessions, looking to exercise to be THE answer to weight loss is unrealistic. In such cases, nutrition becomes the missing piece of the puzzle. (more of this in our book and in future issues)

However, exercise can definitely be part of the solution. Adding lean muscle through exercise helps burn more calories even when you are sitting still. Burning even a few more calories daily through exercise can assist in body composition changes by supporting any reduction in portion size a person makes. And most of all, exercise is definitely a big factor in gaining a Fit Body, which creates a more positive mood, which then gives one more energy and the ability to seek out healthy choices in all areas of life, which is a very positive feedback loop!

Shamanism - A Way of Life

by Brant Secunda

Shamanism is a way of life, a way of living in harmony and balance on Mother Earth. The Huichol Indians of Mexico say that it is our responsibility as human beings to be good caretakers of the earth. It is our responsibility to nurture our environment, ourselves and all that lives on the altar of Mother Earth. This is the healing way of Shamanism.

The word “shaman” is thought to be derived from the Tungus tribe in Siberia. Anthropologists coined the term and it is now universally used the world over, but each culture or tribe has their own word. In the Huichol language the word for shaman is “mara-akame.” This translates as “Deer Spirit Person”, one who is a messenger of the universe, or messenger of the gods.

Shamanism is an ancient technique of healing and finding a connection to the spiritual world of nature. In the world of shamanism, we say that everything is alive and sacred, such as the plants, trees, stones, mountains, rivers, lakes, oceans and springs. Everything is alive with sacred energy, “kupuri” and when we feel connected we are inherently blessed and healing takes place. When we connect with all of life in this way, we help to heal our bodies, hearts and spirits.

Shamanism involves developing love and a special appreciation for the world of nature. Don José Matsuwa, my Huichol grandfather, often said “love the gods with all your heart and you will feel whole and complete, Grandson.” He instructed to do this every day. When we try to find our inherent connection to nature, we feel better, happier.

Another aspect of shamanism is to go to sacred places of power, to go on pilgrimages. A sacred place might be an ocean or a powerful mountain, like Mt. Shasta, the 14,000 ft peak in northern California. The Huichols would call such a place “a dreaming god”. The Indians know Mt. Shasta as “the healing mountain”. The Huichols go on pilgrimages often to pray and ask for special blessings at such places. We can tap into the life force that Mother Earth has to offer and ask for something special for our life. Journey to a “kakuyari” or place of power to find your connection to nature.

Shamanism also involves ceremony and dance. Ceremony and dance are done to honor life, the four seasons, the four directions and all that lives. It honors the special relationships between people, the four-legged ones, the winged-ones, the mountains, and all the nature powers. Thus a human being becomes complete.

In essence, shamanism is a way of life that brings one into balance. In this case, balance is defined by one’s relationship to nature. The more in touch we are with the world around us, the more complete our inner soul becomes. I have been fortunate enough to be able to dedicate my life to this connection, but everybody, no matter where they live, has the opportunity to find this connection everyday of their life. All it takes is the awareness to purposefully dedicate time to creating this bond. This bond is inherent to each one of us and so it is only natural to develop a spiritual connection to the natural world. This is Shamanism.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Summer: Inner Balance & Harmony

by Brant Secunda

Here we are, in the season of the light. It feels to be racing by at the speed of light and indeed the summer offers bundles of joy and happiness, which help make time fly. Today, I am at the foot of Mt. Shasta, celebrating this summer season in our 28th annual retreat here at this healing place. The light is glistening through the trees, as the wondrous mountain reflects the rays from the sun.

Though we have already passed the midpoint of summer, the days remain long and the dawn’s light is early. This time of light provides each of us with an opportunity to leave behind the darkness, shed negativity and embrace the light and all that is positive. Too often we focus on the negative, allowing the smallest disturbance to continually pester our body and soul. This unconscious physiological cycle can drain our physical bodies. It is imperative that we consciously focus on the light and use it to create beneficial transformation from the inside out. Although this practice is important during any season, the summer presents us with a special chance to use our outer environment to create positive change in the deepest realm of ourselves.

During the seminar, here at Mt. Shasta, I will offer an exercise to each participant, which assists in connecting with the light of the sun and the love of our mother earth to create inner balance and harmony.

* * *

Exercise Explanation: Go outside and find a place to walk on the earth. Walk slowly. With each step try to imagine the energy of the earth (love) flowing up through your body and into your heart.

Next, imagine the light streaming down from the sun and sky. Imagine this light coming down through your head and into your heart. Feel the love and light mixing in your heart and allow yourself to feel a sense of balance between earth and sky. YOU are in the center, connecting the love and light through your conscious awareness of the two.

* * *

This practice can help everyone. I offer it at almost every seminar I teach. My grandfather, Don José Matsuwa, continually reminded me during my apprenticeship to, “always feel at home on the ‘altar‘ of mother earth. The earth is your mother.” Other times he would tell me, “The sun is your father. Learn to speak his language.” The exercise above allows for a simple, yet profound way for each of us to connect with with two of the four elements. Don José also used to tell me, “never be fooled by simplicity.”

Though this exercise, as well as many others that I was taught, may at first appear too simplistic to create any truly tangible change, through diligent practice, comprehensive and extensive transformation can arise.

With this in mind, take the time to to connect with the light of summer. Little by little, this positive change will occur. No one should expect to be in perfect physical shape from a 5-minute jog. Lots of little steps add up to cumulative corporeal health. The soul reflects the body in this way. It takes repetitive “training” to bring about true spiritual change.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Fearless in the Face of Fear

by Mark Allen

Have you ever been afraid? What happens? You hold back, maybe just for a second, or possibly forever. You choke on the words that need to be said and instead spit out something that bars you going down the path that truth would have taken you on. Ever regret it later that you let fear get in the way?

Brant speaks about this normal human emotion in every single workshop of his that I have been to. He also gives tools to rid one’s self of the hold fear can have on us. I used them over and over and over during my racing career because certainly, when faced with exactly 140.6 total miles of racing and an island environment that defines the word “intense”, fear was certain to emerge at some point. But as Brant would also emphasize, we can be fearless in the face of our fears, meaning we can take that first (or sometimes final) step into the unknown even with our fear, and through that empower our lives.

I learned a similar lesson about fear from an unlikely source a number of years ago. It came from a guy named Walter, who is the brother of a dear friend of mine Lisa. Walter is a surfer by passion, and on any given day is as good as the world’s best. We met one November at Lisa’s (and of course, Walter’s) childhood home on the North Shore of Oahu. This is the Mecca of surfing. It’s the Kona of that sport, and a place anyone worth their board shorts has to journey to at least once in their life. I’ve surfed since the mid-70’s, so for me this was a chance to become one of a select few who have paddled into some of the most perfect and powerful waves in the world.

Walter and I were ready. The swell was big even by Hawaiian standards. Then the sentence came. “Whatever you do, don’t hesitate at the top of the wave or your cooked.”

“Don’t Hesitate.” Let me translate this for all of you. It means don’t let fear get in the way. What Walter was saying, certainly from experience, is that as you paddle for one of these moving football fields, no two exactly the same, there will come the moment where you have to apply all the force your body can muster to create enough downward pitch in your board to start the drop into this gigantic moving wall of water, and if you hesitate you will get hung up at the very top of the wave, but just for a moment because in the next instant you will become one with the lip of the wave and get pitched into God’s thin air. Enjoy the ride because at some point you will, with the accelerating force of gravity, come in contact with cement-hard water at the bottom of the wave just in time for what will feel like a Mac truck crushing down on top of you, turning your helpless body into a rag doll that will have absolutely no control of your destiny for what will seem like an eternity. Okay, so have fun.

Walter easily slipped into the first elevator drop that came our way. The next one was mine. All those Ironman championships must count for something, right? Only if you don’t hesitate. I was positioned perfectly. The second wave of the set was coming right to me. I turned toward shore and started to paddle. Up I rose, as the first 2/3’s of the monster passed underneath me. The lip was next. I had to get forward speed down the face before the lip pitched. And then…I hesitated.

The world stopped. Walter’s words were like a bomb going off in my head. “Don’t Hesitate.” In my races I never hesitated. Regardless of how impossible something seemed I still went for it. I never, ever gave up for one second. Fear was there, but it was always background noise. But there I was, a legendary moment was unfolding, and I was hesitating. I had good reason to! It was the biggest, fastest moving wall of water I had ever encountered, and Walter was gone. There was no one in the vicinity to help me if I needed it. It was the wave, my fear and me.

If I hesitated a nanosecond longer two things would happen. Either I would miss the wave as it passed underneath me, or I would have my personal Niagara Falls barrel ride, without the barrel.

What do you do when fear strikes? Do you hesitate? Does the energy and possibility of the moment pass you by? Can you become fearless in the face of your fears and drive forward anyway? Do you get pitched into the oblivion of self-doubt wondering if you will ever surface? Or do you just dig with all your might and thrust yourself into life’s moving wall of unpredictable waters?

Brant had said it thousands of times. “Be fearless in the face of your fears.” Simple words from one of the greatest shamans ever speak to the inner part of your soul; the place where all of our spiritual strength comes. The place beyond thought or reason that will find trust even in the toughest moments.

I dug. And dug. And in the next instant I had it! I popped to my feet and dropped into one of creation’s most amazing creatures. For the duration of that ride, and then some, I was charged up with the moment that exists beyond fear, where we deactivate the negative effects of alarm clocks, deadlines and credit card debt and go for something that requires taking that extra stroke, even though it may drop us into oblivion anyway.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Workout Your Inner Caveman

by Mark Allen

We are all alive today because our genetics are well adapted to survive in the natural world. In fact very little has changed in our internal coding for many thousands of years. If we looked back at the lifestyle of our ancient ancestors we would see into a window that reveals clues about how all of us in the modern world can exercise to activate positive long-term changes in both health and happiness.

If we were to take a time machine back to a place before supermarkets and agriculture, we would see a world where our ancestors were fairly active. No one sat on the couch with the TV remote a thousand years ago. People didn’t drive to the convenience store to get a snack. They moved, steadily, throughout the day gathering food, hauling what they collected and of course on occasion making a quick retreat to the safety of a cave when a hungry predator was seen lurking around, looking at them as if they would be a tasty lunch. Historians have put their best estimates at the amount of terrain people covered daily at about three miles. And this wasn’t on nice paved sidewalks, but was rather on uneven, unpredictable landscapes that nature provided.

What does this have to do with developing lifelong fitness, losing weight, getting faster and simply feeling better? Everything! Our ancestors moved to survive. They moved steadily and they survived. They raced fast for one reason only: danger. They walked, collected, then relaxed and they survived and thrived. In the modern world, some exercise programs have very little thread of connection to this ancient philosophy, which has at its very essence lots of steady daily exercise with some lifting of loads and the occasional sprint for survival.

Most people use their exercise as an extension of what has become a very fast paced world. In other words, they exercise at very high intensities all the time and rarely do any of the moderate exercise that was a requisite for survival, one that enables our ancient genetics to release hormones in our bodies that give us that warm fuzzy feeling that says “Life Is Good!” In fact, high intensity exercise gets interpreted in our bodies as a sign of danger; that something bad is about to happen. This type of exercise releases another set of hormones in the body that are interpreted as high stress, that calls out “I am fleeing for my life”. It is not a sign that we are having a good workout!

Steady exercise at moderate levels is related to walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, hiking, etc. All at heart rates that are also moderate in intensity, that enables a person to have a sense that what they are doing is as much a chance to let their minds run free of what might be bothering them as it is a workout for their body. The crossover point comes when the intensity moves up a few levels and suddenly you are no longer gaining insight into life’s problems and absorbing life’s wisdom, but rather are having to focus all your attention into getting through your workout. This is a sign that you may have gone from the steady exercise diet that brought health and happiness to our ancestors to the one that was a high signal to get out of a dangerous situation.

In our book we give specific guidelines about how you can monitor your heart rate to make sure you stay on the healthy side of the intensity line when exercising, as well as how to sprinkle your training with just enough “survival” efforts to sharpen you for life. But short of using those parameters, the takeaway thought for your exercise is that if it is enjoyable, if it is at a level of intensity that allows you the ability to reflect about your life and to absorb the wonders of nature that surround you. If that is the case, you are probably working those ancient genetics that give a good sense about life, helping you gain long-term fitness, lose weight, shape up and let the worries of daily life slip away.

Friday, May 29, 2009

Eating Well to bring Balance

by Brant Secunda

Many of us have had the experience of discovering that growing herbs or some peppers or tomatoes in pots on a balcony around the back door can lift the spirits. In many urban areas multi-family community gardens, filled with vegetables; herbs and flowers are burgeoning as more and more people discover that working inti

mately with the soil for food and relaxation promotes a more conscious perception of the sacredness of all things. Even though most of us cannot grow our own food, we can become conscious of how the food we eat is grown and processed before we buy it at the market.

Food, specifically corn, is life for the Huichol people. Corn is their main crop, along with beans and some squash. The fields are planted along steep hillsides surrounding the various villages and ranchos where they live in the Sierra Made mountains of Mexico. Corn is the mainstay of the life of the tribe and their ceremonial cycle. The Huichols plant 5 colors of corn: red, yellow, white, speckled and blue, each in a different field. According to Huichol cosmology, not only does the corn resemble a human being with the corn silk like our hair and the ears on the stalk resembling our arms and legs, but each color represents the various races of humankind.

In everything they do, the Huichols are balanced and steady; so too is their relationship with the food they grow and eat. Food is medicine, sacred, and meant to nourish their bodies, keeping them strong so they can gather their firewood, walk miles to their fields or to the spring where they get their water. Food keeps them strong so they can hold their ceremonies and go on extended pilgrimages to their sacred sites. Their very simple diet of beans, corn tortillas and of course, homemade salsa, provides extremely valuable proteins and nutrients that nourish and sustain them. In all aspects of their lives the Huichols recognize that their bodies are directly connected to Mother Earth. All of us are an extension of her body, and the earth and its food sustains us. We should eat, not just to fill up, but thinking of 'food as the good medicine it is; something to enrich our bodies and minds and help us sustain our well-being.

Be conscious and a conscientious consumer. Eat foods grown without insecticides and produced without chemical additives, whenever possible. Find produce that is locally grown by small farms if you don’t have the space to have a garden. Patronize your local health food stores. In addition to packaged products, they often sell organic fruits and vegetables. Read the ingredient labels on any packaged foods you may buy so you get to now what you are really consuming.

Remember the sacredness of food. How it is nourished by Mother Earth and the elements of air, water, and light. Be aware of what you are eating and slow down to truly appreciate it. Set aside work, worries and other difficulties as to appreciate what it is you have before you. You don't have to make a big ceremony out of it, but as you eat slowly and consciously, the good food on your plate will be more effectively used by your body.

Remember the steadiness of the Huichol people, their lives of balance and harmony, which has helped them maintain their remarkable way of life for thousands of years. Strive to maintain a steady focus in all you do in your life as well. This kind of steadiness comes in many forms in Fit Soul, Fit Body - for example helping to keep an athlete in rhythm, but also helping anyone of us to maintain balance and accomplish our goals.

By feeding our bodies with the right foods, we can keep our blood sugar levels steady, which enables the body to be strong and allows it to devote its energies to regenerate rather than having to spend time correcting an unbalanced state. ­When we keep steady emotionally, we have the energy needed to cultivate our souls and fill our beings with the positive attributes of life, rather than having our energies monopolized by dealing with emotional highs and lows. In this way we can walk through life focused, calm and balanced, in harmony with ourselves and the world around us.

Healthy & Easy recipes for a hearty and balanced meal

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Change: Slowly but Surely

As we enter Springtime, dramatic shifts in the earth can help us wake up the dreams that have been percolating in our hearts since winter. It's a chance to rededicate ourselves to the things that have purpose in our lives and the dreams of change that we are hoping for.

Most of us strive to change patterns that have held up back from feeling good about our efforts and the outcomes. But how does change come about? Do we just say "I will change" and voila we are a different person without the old habits? Rarely. Changing that which does not work for us is usually like dying a small death. Procrastination, impatience, overeating, undersleeping- whatever it is that you want to change and improve for the year ahead usually takes some very conscious effort. I know this personally, and want to share a short story of a small change that I thought would never come about.

I have a shed where I store some of my most valuable and of course oversized items-my sporting gear. I have enough bikes to outfit a team and a quiver of surfboards that will work in every size wave from small to tall. This treasure trove is guarded by a deadbolt that a few months ago had an internal tumbler that got out of place and caused the lock to be impossible to open. I managed to get the deadbolt unlocked one last time and then it was time for CHANGE! Instead of using the same lock that I had for ten years, I now had to use the lock on the doorknob itself.

This seems like a very simple change right? WRONG. Here is how it went. Every single time I went to unlock my shed I put the key into the deadbolt (old pattern that had not begun to change even though I knew I needed to change it). It was not until I tried to turn the lock that I would immediately realize that, woops, I put the key in the frozen deadbolt rather than the doorknob.

Week Two: things got a little better. I still put the key in the old lock but remembered this was not the right place BEFORE I turn it to no avail.

Week Three: I found myself splitting things between actually putting the key in the correct lock first and then, yes, still putting it into the wrong one. Tough to teach old dogs new tricks I suppose.

Week Four: it was about 75/25 with 75 being the percent of times that I got it right. Close but still no cigar.

Week Five: I only saw the key go into the old lock once, even though I will admit I started to reached for it a couple of times before I caught myself.

Week Six: Finally success! No false starts. I got the right lock first time every time.

It's now a couple of weeks since then and I have on occasion still reached for the wrong lock, but caught myself before the key came in contact with it. So I pose the question to each of you. If a simple thing like using a different lock on the same door was so tough, how will the big and certainly more important patterns ever get changed?

Well, maybe we need to be more aggressive in helping ourselves avoid the old lock (the old patterns). In my case, I could have put a piece of duct tape across the old lock and the old pattern as a stern reminder. "Don't go there". How will you place a piece of "duct tape " across the pattern that you are trying to change this year? If you don't, what will remind you that you have once again reached for the old lock rather than opening the door to your future with the new one? My lock didn't turn, so it was a very quick reminder. "You are in the wrong place, buddy." What will your reminder be that you have once again used the old pattern rather than changed and used a new one? What can you do to stop your old pattern in its tracks every time you do to insert the key in the wrong place?

I needed to get into that shed just about every day, and with the old lock I had no choice but to change the pattern. I couldn't give up. It took me six weeks, but I finally succeeded. What will force you to keep working on change until it indeed comes about, until you also reach for the right lock to open your shed of good fortune and joy?

We have a new president whose mantra was Change. Our economy needs change, the world needs change. As Brant has told me thousands of times, "Change starts with you". May the change you want and need come about, and that it is a joyous year filled with lots of good moments and of course, much health and happiness!


Welcome to the Fit Soul Fit Body blog! We are happy that you stopped by to check out our posts. The topics we chat about will vary from updates on what is going on in the world of Fit Soul Fit Body to information about upcoming events to thoughts on how you might be able to integrate the 9 Keys of our book into your life.

We hope you enjoy the posts and invite you to be a part of the community and give us your thoughts and experiences from your life of having a Fit Soul and a Fit Body.

Best wishes,

Brant Secunda & Mark Allen
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