Firstly, thank you for all your messages of support and encouragement in response to the news we shared last time that my brothers and I have taken on the running of our dad’s work through barefootdoctorworld.com.
Again, we kindly ask for your patience in replying to emails at the moment, especially any technical queries you have about courses and downloads. We will respond, I promise, but there may be an initial delay while we get to grips with the various levers and pulleys that have been keeping the show running these last few years. Think The Wizard of Oz when Dorothy pulls back the curtain, but instead of discovering one single man controlling it all from a mechanical dashboard, we’ve discovered a troupe of haggard chimps desperately fighting to keep an engine room of antediluvian systems and dangerously steaming pistons from exploding. Once again, we can only commend Yvonne (Whirly) for keeping the boat afloat.
Over the coming weeks and months, we’ll be doing a lot of work behind the scenes to make things simpler and more efficient. And in time you’ll hopefully experience the benefits of that, along with a load more wise and delightful treasures from the deep trove of our dad’s work, which is the entire point of this venture.
But once more I want to reiterate nothing you own or have access to will be lost, and so I must stress again: fear not.
Speaking of stress and fear, fancy learning a simple trick that helps relieve both? It takes just 2 minutes, or thereabouts, and can be done anywhere (but best not to try while driving/cycling/operating an engine room of screaming chimps etc).
While sitting, standing, lying down, or walking, shift your eyes from narrow focus to panoramic view.
Literally, go as wide as you can with your vision. If you’re indoors, bring the walls either side of you into view, bring yourself in – perhaps your knees or feet if you’re sitting in a chair – maybe even the hint of the contours of your eye sockets. If you’re outside, look to the horizon. It’s global view rather than spotlight view; think panoramic rather than myopic.
When we go wide like this with our vision it toggles our autonomic nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic mode. The parasympathetic system slows the heart rate, relaxes the lungs and chest, encourages digestion and conserves energy. And we can choose to enter it any time we like, just by changing our field of view. It really is a switch we can toggle, with an almost immediate response, to calm ourselves down.
Panoramic vision is the state our eyes instinctively revert to when we’re calm, when there’s no imminent danger or threat, no immediate demand on our attention. When we’re calm, our eyes naturally look to the horizon (in whatever space we happen to be in), and our pupils reflexively move laterally left to right and back again.
This lateral eye movement (which is the foundation of Eye Movement Desensitisation & Reprocessing – a form of therapy that can be incredibly effective at treating people suffering from acute trauma) slows our internal clock (the interior metronome that regulates our circadian and ultradian rhythmic cycles) and our sense of time broadens, it becomes more spacious. It feels as if we have more space-time to consider, make decisions and act. We feel less harried, less rushed, less fixated.
On the other hand, when we’re in a state of focus it means we’re concentrating and our eyes do the opposite, they go myopic – they fix on a specific object. It’s the state we need to be in (as adults) to learn. It’s also the exact same state we enter when we sense a threat, and our body begins to mobilise to either confront that threat or do a runner. It’s the body’s – and brain’s – way of communicating to us that something requires our urgent, undivided attention. And that feels stressful. This is actually the good kind of stress. It’s healthy. It literally, at times, keeps us alive. It keeps us alert. It’s how we learn and develop.
But as we all know it’s no good being in that state of alertness all the time. We need to switch off and take a break. It’s actually during these breaks from alertness (during sleep or deep rest and relaxation such as the type we enter when we toggle our vision to panoramic view) that neuroplasticity occurs. While we’re alert and focussed the neurons and neural networks which are recruited for whatever task we’re focussed on are actually being tagged, like a forward team of special ops navy seals marking a target, and then when we later enter a state of relaxation, these tagged nerve cells and networks change, grow and reorganise in response to what we were focussing on earlier.
It’s been shown that we can concentrate effectively for around 90 minutes or so and these 90-minute phases become even more effective when they’re broken up into about three 25–30-minute chunks with a few minutes of relaxation in between. This relaxation provides our systems with the re-set they need to go again. Interestingly, we sleep according to these 90-minute cycles too. Roughly 90 minutes of light sleep is followed by 90 minutes of REM and so on. These 90-minute cycles are what’s meant by ultradian rhythms.
Anyway, I digress.
The point is, when we’re highly alert and focussed, we recruit the exact same neuro-physiological systems (notably the adrenaline and dopamine systems) as when we’re stressed or afraid. It’s the exact same state. It’s not to be thought of as bad (or good) in and of itself.
It’s just to know that it’s not good to stay in that state too long. We function exponentially better when we divide these periods of focus or stress with periods of rest.
And so if you feel stressed or fearful and you want a re-set, spend just two minutes (or more if you can spare it) softening your gaze, not focussing on anything in particular, taking in the full panorama of your present experience, and you’ll begin to return your mind and body to composure and calm.
And with that I’m off to talk these chimps down from the ledge.
With wide eyes and love,