[00:01:33] Podcast Sponsors
[00:03:34] Guest Introduction
[00:06:15] A Kokoro Event
[00:19:50] The Philosophy Behind Kokoro Events
[00:26:57] The Difference of Box Breathing
[00:33:35] Podcast Sponsors
[00:36:40] cont. Difference of Box Breathing
[00:46:30] Zen And Mindfulness: Not Widely Practiced in The Extreme Fitness Community
[00:54:40] Social Media and the Efficacy of The SEAL Training Programs and Mentality
[00:59:30] Slow Is Smooth, And Smooth Is Fast
[01:11:20] Two Phrases from Mark’s Book: Shugyo and Pratyahara
[01:17:20] Mark’s Fascination with Wolves
[01:20:29] Closing the Podcast
[01:21:43] End of Podcast
Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast:
Mark: When you really are clear about why you’re on this planet and why you do things, then, you get much better with decision-making, in particular, the most important word, N-O, “no.” They just keep on greasing the groove of injury, fatigue, burnout. Potential can only be found on the inside. It can never be found exterior to the individual. Where I pull right, he pulls left. And, he collides with me. And, my chute literally disappears, and there was a little bundle. And, I’d start plummeting into the ground. And, now, it’s 900 feet, so I got nine seconds.
Ben: Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
Well, well, well, today is a wonderful show because I got to reconnect with my good friend, Mark Divine, a former Navy Seal commander. And, his new book is really good. You’re in a dig two days show, I guarantee. And, considering that I have spent plenty of time on the grinder floor at US CrossFit in Encinitas in a giant cold tub during the Kokoro SEALFIT challenges that I’ve attended at Mark’s facility down there, it is fitting enough that today’s podcast is brought to you by the Kion Cold Thermo Challenge.
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Well, folks, my podcast guest and I were commenting before we hit the record button that his new book could not have come at a better time at a time when many of us need to step up and be leaders and, also, become inspired to kind of get more in touch with who we are and what drives us. And, I literally just got his book yesterday. So, thank you very much, Mark, by the way, for leaving me up until the wee hours last night, reading your books, so I could prepare for this interview.
Mark: [00:04:15] _____.
Ben: Yeah. And, my guest, if you’re familiar with the way that his rollicking voice sounds and you already have guessed who he is, it’s Commander Mark Divine. And, Mark has been on my podcast before. He, actually, was on the episode called, “Secrets of the Navy Seals: How to Train, Eat, and Think Like the World’s Toughest Fighters.” But, that was a few years ago, and a lot has happened since then, in addition to this new book that he’s written, called, “Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams.”
So, Mark, who is a retired Navy Seal commander, he’s an entrepreneur, he’s a New York Times Best-Selling author, in this book, he really gets into a lot of the principles he learned on the battlefield, training SEALs. And, in his own entrepreneurial and growth company ventures, he really, really knows what it means to lead elite teams. And, he’s a wealth of knowledge in many, many other things. I’ve had the blessing of being able to travel down to San Diego where his company is located and do his crazy Kokoro Multi-Day SEAL-esque training program.
Mark: But, had it been a highlight of your life, Ben?
Ben: That’s right. It was actually amazing. And, Mark’s actually been up to my house, too. Remember that, Mark, where we did a 12-hour beat down?
Mark: 20x, 12-hour.
Mark: Well, the answer is yes when we can. Right now, everything is on ice, as you can imagine. And, we’re looking at how California is kind of rolling out, slow rolling, the back to normal and the rules would get the race. It’s not a race, got the event. So, we’re hoping to relaunch them in October.
Ben: But, the Kokoro events, in terms of that being a real [00:06:10] _____ preferably, one of the more character-building things I have ever done.
We talked a little bit about that last time, but just briefly, describe to people what the Kokoro is. And, I’m only saying that to make me look good for having completed it.
Mark: Okay. I’ll start out by saying this. It’s been described as the toughest physical, mental, emotional training in the world, outside the actual Navy SEAL Hell Week program. And, most people who know anything about the SEALs, probably, know about Hell Week. It’s one week out of nine months of training where you train non-stop around the clock for six nights seven days, I think, be off by a day.
Ben: You’ll probably lose track after a few days, anyways.
Mark: Pretty much, yeah. So, total sleep deprivation. You’re wet, sandy, cold, miserable the entire time, and you got to perform. And, if you don’t perform, you’re dropped. And, if you get injured, you’re done. And, of course, if you quit, you’re done. So, a typical class, let’s use my SEAL training class for example, we had 185 hard chargers. Everyone is extremely fit. Obviously, you wouldn’t even be standing at the starting line or something like that without being ready. By the time we got the Hell Week, which for me was Week 7, they moved it up to get it out of the way earlier. I’m sure there was logic behind that, but, for us, it was Week 7 of the first phase of training. By the time we got to Hell Week, we were down to 85 people. By the time we got out of Hell Week, we’re down to 40. And, when we graduated nine months later, we were down to 19.
So, Hell Week itself cut the class in half. And then, all lead up to Hell Week. Nowadays, of course, because the Hell Week is much earlier, a class that starts with 185 might go into Hell Week with 140, come out with 70. So, those numbers. But, the end result of the actual numbers of SEALs who graduate hasn’t changed that much since I started.
Mark: It’s changed about 5%, totally. And, I had something to do with that, which is kind of cool, but it’s part of the story.
Mark: So, Kokoro, I went down that rabbit hole to tell you that Kokoro is our version of it. To me, when I started SEALFIT, Kokoro was an event that we originally started as the SEALFIT Challenge, but that name didn’t really capture the essence. It’s way more than a challenge. It’s a transformation. Just the commitment to enroll is enormous for a lot of people. Some people wait years and think that they’ve got to just keep preparing, but once you commit, then, there’s the journey to Kokoro, which is transformational. The training regimen, learning how to think, learning the Big 4 skills, which I hope we talk about in this podcast. And then, the Kokoro event, 50 hours non-stop physical, mental, emotional training in a team environment led by SEAL BUD/S and instructors who are also certified by me.
Ben: Who are very mean.
Mark: Yeah, they can be. Actually, they’re not.
Ben: They are during the entire event. And then, I think when all the smoke blows over at the very, very end when you’re finally cracking a beer with your eyes barely open and your entire body sore, you realize they’re actually nice guys who like to chat. But, during the previous three to four days, they’re real [censored].
Mark: That’s correct, yeah. I built this program as, you know, Ben, four special ops candidates, in particular, Navy Seals, with an intention of building or forging a new breed of warrior. And, I’ve been very inspired. It surprises some people to hear that I was a Certified Public Accountant before I became a Navy Seal. I had four years down on Wall Street as a CPA. And, during that time, I got my MBA, and I also became a black belt in karate. But, what’s unique about that is my karate master was a zen master.
And so, I took up zen meditation when I was 21-ish, when I got out of college, and all the way up until when I got my black belt. And, that was such a transformational experience, especially, with all the neuroplastic effect of my growing brain still as a 20-something young guy, and all the hard-physical training. So, now, I’m doing hard physical training, I’m doing some serious mental training. 20 minutes every morning of breathing, 20 minutes of meditation, long weekend retreats at the zen mountain monastery, long sits every Thursday night with Nakamura and a small group of dedicated zen practitioners.
And, my brain changed, and it allowed me to tap into what I now call kind of my inner vision or my inner voice, which said, “Mark, what the heck are you doing as a CPA? You are not built for this. Your calling, your dharma, so to speak, is to be a warrior.” And, when I finally allowed that to be heard, then, I discovered the SEALs, and I went into SEALs. I’m tying these together, right?
Mark: I’m tying these together. Years later, I found that I had a real passion and talent for developing unique and innovative training programs, and I wanted to build a program for Spec Ops candidates that had a similar effect to what I coddled together on my own, which combined the hardcore physical functional endurance austere severe training in all environments with the mental and emotional skills of things like zen and breath work and imagery. And, that became the SEALFIT Academy, which you experienced. And, the capstone experience for the SEALFIT Academy became Kokoro Camp, the 50-hour Hell Week experience.
Ben: Yeah. And, I think the way to do it, this is what I did, I went down and I did the SEALFIT Academy. And then, that just transitions straight into the Kokoro experience. So, by the time you start Kokoro, you feel so immersed in all the concepts that you teach from finding your why to box breathing to, probably, some of the things we’re going to dig into today, even though you’re actually kind of tired from the SEALFIT Academy, because it’s not easy, either. We’re out there learning Olympic weightlifting and still doing a lot of rucks and marches and time in the sunshine.
Mark: [00:12:09] _____.
Ben: Yeah, and water loss. But, by the time you get to Kokoro, you feel like you’ve built up a little bit of a callus, and all the skills are super fresh on your mind. And so, I think, anybody who’s going to go train for a Kokoro event needs to do a lot of training before they actually go down and do the SEALFIT Academy, those five days aren’t enough. You actually have that book. A lot of people ask me about how you train for something like that, Kokoro event, and I say, “Well, the guy who put it together actually wrote a book called, ‘8 Weeks to SEALFIT.’”
Ben: And, I opened the front cover of that book and went from Week 1 to Week 8 and figured, “Hey, you know what? If this book was written by the guy that designed the thing, this ought to get me ready.” But, yeah, it does take a lot of preparation. But, I would say, compared to the Spartan Agoge, and the IRONMAN Triathlons, and anything I’ve done, that that was, probably, one of the most character building. And, just in terms of making everything else in life feel relatively easier in comparison once you’ve come out the other side. And then, we’ll jump into your book here momentarily, but I remember, after the event ended, I crashed on a friend’s couch in San Diego and I just passed out for 18 hours, just slept. And then, I got up, I caught my flight, and I’m walking through the airport and every mild annoyance that would actually normally kind of annoy me seemed absolutely pale in comparison. You’re walking past some lady complaining about the temperature of her latte from Starbucks, and, in the back of your head, you’re thinking, “You have no clue. I think I almost just died in the Pacific Ocean for three days in a row. The coffee’s nothing.”
Mark: Yeah, we have two things that kind of reflect that. The first is you come to Kokoro to meet yourself, your true self, for the first time. And, that’s like connecting yourself to a deeper sense of why you do things. And, when you really are clear about why you’re on this planet and why you do things, then, you get much better with that decision making, in particular, the most important word that we have available to us. And, that’s N-O, “no.” So, you learn to say “no” to people and things that just are distracting you or used to give you, make you pissed off. You’re just like, “No, I’m not going to let that happen because it’s just going to take me away from my mission or my why.”
The second is life before Kokoro is very different than life after Kokoro. It creates a whole new paradigm. The transformation is not like a physical transformation, even though that happens. It’s a transformation of consciousness. And, one of the more important aspects, the reason why we called it Kokoro, there’s really no word in the English language. I guess, “courage” would come the closest, but it didn’t quite capture it. But, “Kokoro” comes from the martial tradition in the Japanese kind of Samurai legend. And, it means to merge heart and mind into your actions. So, it’s heart, mind, and action.
And most people are in their head, and because they’re in their head, then, they take action from a transactional standpoint, or they’re timid and fearful around it. But, when you bring your heart into the equation and leave with the heart, but you don’t leave the head behind, you obviously need to strategize and plan, but then, you’re able to connect at a much deeper level and not make it about yourself, but make it about your teammates. And, that’s where you unlock the power of 20x, that you’re capable of 20 times more if you lead with your heart and your head merged into your actions, so that you can connect at a deeper level with your teammates. And then, it’s your teammates that help you unlock that massive potential.
In fact, the “Staring Down the Wolf” book, really, is an expose on this issue right here, how do you unlock massive potential to operate with an elite team? It’s not by trying to be the perfect leader. It’s by getting into your heart and connecting at a deeper level with your team. And, in order to do that, you got to get out of your own way. You got to clear up your emotional baggage. You got to learn and train to open your heart, because it’s not something that comes naturally in the West, especially, for us, guys. And then, you got to not make it about yourself. Remember the saying in SEALFIT Academy, “Take your eyes off yourself and put them on your teammate?”
Mark: That’s kind of the experience that we want people to begin to get. And, I think the world, certainly, is ready for it. A big part of the mess we see right now is because everyone’s been obsessed about themselves. Everyone’s locked in ego. And then, that gets projected out pretty much as a disaster on to the social scene.
Ben: I think I remember you telling a story. It may have been you, and correct me if I’m wrong, at Kokoro, or it may have been either before or after that, that you had mentioned this to me that, a lot of times, the people in Hell Week who tend to kind of ring the bell early or suffer a lot more are those who go in with a very individualistic mentality who are often like the high school football standouts and the athletic stars and the people who go in really looking like they’ll completely dominate, but they’re so used to operating on their own as an individual lone wolf, that those are the people that get taken out early because they don’t know how to depend on a team or really cooperate with the team as efficiently.
Mark: That’s right. And, that’s a big difference between elite level professional sports and elite level SEAL teams, is that those prima donnas can make it and find a role and, actually, get paid a lot and are given a lot of attention in professional sports. Whereas, in the team, they’re the first people who get weeded out because BUD/S instructors are military special operators, and they’re going back to be that. In fact, they can’t wait to go back. And, a lot of them get dragged kicking and screaming into the schoolhouse. They’re like, “Wait a minute. I want to go downrange and kick ass and take names.” They’re like, “No, no, no. We need you because you’re a talented operator and you know how to teach, and you’ve got a good presence to come to the schoolhouse.”
And so, those instructors are actually de facto selecting their next teammate and there’s a high likelihood that they’re going to serve right alongside one of those or many of those students that they put through in the 18 months to two years that they’re instructing.
And, the most important thing is team ability. How are you taking care of your teammates? Or, are you making it all about yourself? But, that’s a consciousness thing. It’s not a tactic. It can’t be a strategy or a tactic. You can start to train it as that, like we do at SEALFIT Academy, to begin to bring awareness to it. But, until you get out of that egoic stage and open up into a more “me plus we, we’re in this together,” and then, that opens up and you realize, “Wait a minute. If I’m going to take care of my team, then, I better up my own game.”
And so, this concept plays into this idea of self-mastery and service. You can’t serve without mastering yourself. And then, the more you master yourself, the more powerful you can serve. The more powerful you can serve, the more important it is and motivated you become to do the daily self-mastery at all levels. And so, it becomes this self-reinforcing kind of transformation machine when you work with your team like that. I’m sure you’ve experienced that many times.
Ben: Oh, absolutely. Absolutely. Now, you highlighted something that, I think, is unique about your approach. And, that is your background in kind of this more Eastern training, particularly influenced by your background in the martial arts, that, I believe, was something that you were pretty well-versed in even before you became a Navy Seal.
And, you talked in the book about this guy named, Ken Wilber. Is that the gentleman you were referring to who you took your martial arts training from?
Mark: No, that was Tadashi Nakamura, who was a 10th degree founder of karate zen master. He was my first mentor. And, I would say that besides some of my SEAL leaders, like Admiral McRaven, he was my SEAL Team 3 commander. He was a mentor to me, and I learned a lot from him. But, when it comes to philosophy of life, Ken Wilber was, probably, my second mentor. He’s the founder of something called Integral Theory. And, my Unbeatable Mind and SEALFIT were heavily influenced by that.
And, that’s the notion that regular personal development is horizontal in that it accrues to you better skills that allow you to be more effective and efficient, but it doesn’t change who you are. And, when you made a point earlier that KoKoro Camp and SEALFIT Academy KoKoro Camp had the biggest effect on your character than anything you’ve done, and that’s spot on, because the training is meant to evolve you vertically, not horizontally. The skills, you’re a master in fitness. And, you know, you do breath control, you visualize. You do everything that we talked about. But, the way that we put it together and trained it is designed to shift your perspectives and transform your consciousness and to have you come out of the event with a totally different paradigm or perspective of who you are, your relationship to the world, and your relationship to other human beings. And, that, indeed, makes you a better person.
And, when we say someone’s character is deepened or they’ve had growth, that’s really what it shows up like. Greater, more broader perspective, more world-centric perspective, as opposed to egocentric. More connecting to the heart, so you have deeper care and concern and compassion for others, for, first, your family, then, your team, then, your community, and then, ultimately, all humans, including the earth, actually.
And then, the ability to take perspectives of others regardless of their stage of development. Take some of the issues that are happening right now. Most people can’t take the perspective of others, so it continues to be force on force. And, I’m talking about all the racial insensitivity as well as the violence and everything. Force on force, as you know, never works. But, when we can grow out of that egocentric, “My way is the highway. I’m right, you’re wrong,” dualistic perspective, because of the transformation of our consciousness, then, we tend to develop a more world-centric perspective.
So, Wilber says that if you can develop in an integrated fashion, that’s Integral Theory, then, you will transcend through higher and higher stages of vertical development, character development. The highest stages begin with world-centrism and what they call the integral level. Anything below integral, which is 85 to 90% of the Western, of the global population, then, is going to be locked in positionality. My way is right. And then, kind of demonize everybody else. And, you can have some pretty smart people who are still locked in positionalities. And, the way to do this integrated training, which is, really, he never developed a training program, and that’s where we came in. Unbeatable Mind is one of only two I’m aware of in the world that is an integrated development vertical development training program. And, SEALFIT was the early version of this. So, you’ve experienced it. Where we train along multiple domains of intelligence with the specific purpose of integrating them so that you become more whole and evolved and world centric as a person. Your consciousness, your emotions, your strength, your perspectives.
And, those five domains are physical, obviously, especially, coming from the SEALs. Physical training development was something that’s really important, but you don’t see that in a lot of spiritual traditions. People do a little yoga, a little tai chi. I guess, maybe, the martial arts has an aspect of that, but that can also lock people in a position of conflict. So, we just say physical development. Then, that leads to the mental. The mental, we expand to include the work that you’re familiar with, like the breathwork, the imagery, concentration, mindfulness, expanding your concept of mind to be able to tap into heart and belly, to be able to use direct perception and witnessing as part of your mental toolkit. Extraordinarily powerful.
And then, the third domain is emotions. One of my favorite sayings from Ken Wilber, which I fully adopt and give him credit for, is that, one of our primary goals as human beings is to wake up. And, that means wake up to the bigger story of your life. Don’t get locked in this ego-based, “I am this. I am that.” But, wake up to this notion that, maybe, you’re something different. Maybe, you’re a spiritual being having this human existence. Stop identifying with all that material stuff. So, that’s called an awakening. So, wake up.
Then, we grow up. We grow up through these stages of development until we’re at this integral or world-centry. And then, go on beyond there. And, those could, also, be considered spiritual stages. And, at the higher levels, we have enlightenment.
And then, he used to say, “So you can show up fully as your whole self, integrated whole self, having a powerful impact on the world.” But, later on, he recognized that waking up and growing up aren’t enough. The third component is the cleaning up of the emotional baggage. So, you got to wake up, grow up, clean up, so you can show up. That relates to our third domain. So, we have the physical and the mental. And, the third domain for Unbeatable Mind and SEALFIT is the emotional domain, the emotional mountain. And, in that, that’s why we really emphasize team training, because your emotions, if you’re sitting alone in a cave, you may never surface the emotional shadow. But, it’s in relationship and in communication that that surface, because that’s where the repression projections and all the different kind of shadow ways that we kind of leak out all over the world are exposed. And so, we have tools and training to both develop self-awareness around our emotions, as well as to do deep shadow or to clear the emotion, so that it’s not blocking you from further growth.
Ben: I think, probably, that’s one of the more difficult parts for people, is showing up. Because, showing up, that takes some courage, some staring down at the wolf, I suppose, to borrow the title of your book, because that’s where all the fruits of growing up, waking up, and cleaning up really begin to ripen all that knowledge and personal growth and spiritual practice and this shadow work you talk about.
Mark: It clashes with reality.
Ben: Yeah, it allows you to engage and, actually, make impact. And, you can sit at home and box breathe and meditate all day long, but, at some point, you got to suck it up and take it to the streets. And, I think, that’s where the differentiation lies, in my opinion, between people who actually make impact with their purpose and those who just spend a lot of time preparing to make impact, but never actually take that step and leap forward.
One of the things that you touched on briefly there as part of that Big 4 was the breathwork component. And, you’re a big fan of box breathing. I learned box breathing from you. I believe you recommended to me initially, that Pranayama app that kind of chimes at specific intervals to walk you through this four-count in, four-count hold, four-count out, and four-count hold. And, there’s a lot of forms of breathwork out there, Mark. I just interviewed a guy who wrote a book called, “Breathe,” James Nestor. And, we talked about alternate nostril breathing and Wim Hof style breathing and, what’s it called, breath of fire.
Mark: [00:27:39] ______.
Ben: Yeah, exactly. And, even holotropic breathwork.
Ben: And, you seem to really encourage, and it pops up in various places through your book and even through a lot of these videos that you’ve been doing during the pandemic, which have been excellent, these daily videos you’ve been doing. Box breathing comes up over and over again.
So, what is it with box breathing? Why do you like that form of breathwork so much?
Mark: Thank you for the question. This is such an important topic. First, let me frame this up. The breath is the bridge between the body, the mind, and the spirit. Most people approach breath, like Wim Hof, from just a physiological perspective. He wants to do it to stimulate, to get you in an altered state. That’s kind of cool. To hyper oxygenate, and what he’ll claim is to de-alkanize or, whatever, create more alkalinity in your body and make you healthier. And then, he pairs that with cold water treatment, and whatever.
Ben: Blowing off CO2 for respiratory. Alkalosis, basically, which is very sympathetically stimulating.
Mark: All that is legitimate, but, when I did my podcast with Wim Hof, after it, I just sat there for a few moments breathing into it and just checking in with my intuition. And, my intuition said, “You know what? You need to go back and record a warning, because, as powerful as Wim Hof’s best practice is, it’s not meant to be a daily practice.” And, here’s what one of my just the profound yoga teachers taught. I did 12 days of breath training with him. And, what he was saying is, essentially, breath is moving mental energy. You’re moving mental energy. And, if you have a dysfunctional, just like a physical dysfunctional movement pattern, and you go really hard really fast, like CrossFit, and you’re just greasing the groove with that dysfunctional movement pattern, you’re just going to blow a gasket. And, many people have done that, as do I.
Well, if you have a dysfunctional mental movement pattern, which I would just say, practically, everybody does who hasn’t done deep work like you and I have. You’re going to blow a mental gasket if you do something like Wim Hof every day. So, that was my warning, because it’s just so intense and you’re moving so much energy. So, it’s not meant to be a daily practice. Maybe, once a week. Same with holotropic breathwork. That’s more once a quarter, or once a year.
Ben: Actually, personally, I do holotropic breathwork about once a month, laying flat on my back in the sauna. And, it’s a chore. We’re talking 60 to 90 minutes of intense breathwork.
Mark: It’s profoundly powerful. That covers all five mountains: physical, mental, emotional, intuitional, and spiritual. And, we do that at each one of our events, and we say basically what you just said. If you’re going to do this, do this, at a maximum, once a month. So, that is got another. So, I would say the holotropic work is, really, more to get you in a deeply relaxed almost spiritual state where you can really tap into your intuition and get clarity. And, to begin to find some trail markers toward deeper into the inner domain. You don’t do holotropic breath work before you go out for a workout. That’s something different.
And, now, alternate nostril breathing, because you’re shifting the nostrils now. The nadi system which is the energy system is connected to each nostril, the left nostril, the nadi will, then, kind of circle up through around the right hemisphere of the brain and go bound and wrap around the spine. And, the right nostril that goes through the other hemisphere. So, by alternating the breathing through the nostrils, you’re drawing in life force and oxygen, but you’re stimulating these nadis, which are alternatingly lighting up the left and right hemisphere of the brain. And so, alternate nostril breathing brings balance to left and right hemispheres of the brain, which help you be more balanced in your thinking. Most people are heavily laden toward left hemispheric thinking. And so, by stimulating the right hemisphere and allowing the energy to flow across the corpus callosum.
The alternate nostril breathing, that could be a daily practice, that could actually be done. And, we teach it as, if you want to do box breathing, you can do alternate nostril box breathing, and it’ll have even a more profound effect. But, you don’t have to do it every day. Sometimes, you might do it just to feel more calm and balanced or you just do it as a rebalancing act.
Kapalbhati is the breath of fire. That’s where you don’t really inhale, you just forcefully exhale by pressing your belly in. This is terrific for developing the muscles in the diaphragm of breathing. And, it detoxifies you by really forcing that carbon dioxide out. So, that could also be a daily practice. I often do that one every day. There’s no harm in that, whatsoever. There’s no harm in alternate nostril. There’s no harm in the Kapalbhati in terms of moving too much mental energy.
Now, let me get back to your original question. Box breathing is profoundly different because, to us, it is the beginning of a deep meditation practice. And, you know just as well as I do how many people struggle with meditation, right, Ben? They sit down they try to use Headspace or focus apps or they go to TM, or something like that. And then, their mind’s racing all over the place. Well, their mind is racing all over the place because their mind is racing all over the place.
And so, box breathing is a mechanism to calm the body and the brain down. So, we’re looking at this first as a physiological response. The SEALs, we call it the arousal control response. So, by controlling and having a steady rhythm of the four or five count in, four or five count hold, four or five count out, four or five count hold, you’re not doing that twice as long in the exhale because that’s another breath pattern that will get you very relaxed. It’s fine to do before bed, but that’s not what we’re talking about. Box breathing is meant to be a daily practice. I recommend 20 minutes every day in the morning when you wake up.
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When you’re doing box breathing waking up, because this is actually a question I get from people, do you do that when you’re in bed before you even get out of bed or do you actually get out of bed and go to a different spot to do it?
Mark: I used to, but now, I do it in bed, just for the physiological adaptation. And then, I’ll do another 20-minute session which takes me deeper into the meditative practice. It depends. If you want to sit up in bed and do your meditative practice in bed, it’s still not an ideal posture, then, that’s fine. My morning ritual is first thoughts, first words, which are internal. And then, breath. And then, positivity through gratitude. And, that’s all laying down. And, that’s to immediately curate the quality, quantity, and directionality of my mental processing as I begin to re-enter the day and become consciously aware. And then, I’ll go more into a meditation. Then, I get up and do my more formal practice, which includes movement and breathing, and some checking in with my why, and stuff like that.
Ben: That’s every day for you?
Mark: Every day, yeah.
Ben: What time do you get up?
Mark: Typically, between 5:00 and 6:00. Weekends, I generally like to sleep in, you can play catch up. So, that might be 7:00 or 8:00. Typically, if everything is firing in all cylinders, I’ll wake up pretty much the same time every morning, around 5:00. But, sometimes, my wife will want to watch a Netflix or something at night, and I’ll get to bed at 10:30 or 11:00, instead of 9:30, which is what I love to try.
Ben: No, Netflix is the devil. The box breathing is interesting because what I have found that to be most useful for is, actually, stabilizing my nervous system during times of actual stress. And, what I mean by that is, for example, if I need to shift to a parasympathetic recovery mode very quickly post-workout, I can literally sit cross-legged, do three minutes of box breathing. And, that’s actually important. A lot of people finish their workout, and then, rush off to the next event while still in a very sympathetically driven state. And, it’s actually best to return to a state of relaxation, which can enhance recovery growth hormone production, testosterone production, etc., if you’re activating parasympathetic more readily post-workout.
And then, in situations like, say, an ice bath or traffic or anything else where my body thinks it’s in battle, even though it’s really not, that’s when I found box breathing to be most beneficial. And, I think, probably, the first time I tapped into that was when you’d throw us into the Pacific Ocean during Kokoro, and you’d have the big waves coming and crashing against you, and your entire body is shaking with cold, and you just go straight to your breath. And, I found that box breathing to be very, very settling for that. My 12-year-old boys, they do a lot of this breath work with me. And, we recently got a very cold, cold pool. It’s called a Morozko cold pool.
Ben: It maintains 32 degrees Fahrenheit.
Mark: No way.
Ben: At 110 degrees ambient temperature. You still got to break through the ice to get into the thing. So, it’s super cold. And, that was the first form of breathwork I taught my boys when they were in there, is this box breathing to control their physiology. And, same thing for them, they’re able to use that now during a Pomodoro break from their schoolwork, or when they’re in the ice bath, or post workout.
And, I do think it’s got a lot of benefits going for. I have to admit, I don’t do it for 20 minutes every time I get up, but, certainly, for the more stressful scenarios, that’s when I find pulling that out of my out of my pocket seems to be the most beneficial.
Mark: And, I think that you’re absolutely right. Everything you said was spot on. This is a difference between having a practice and having a tool that you pull out as a drill. When you do the box breathing every day, then, over time, it bleeds off any excess stress. And so, let’s take an average person. Let’s just say that Ben Greenfield is not average for a moment. I think most people listening would agree with that. But, the average person hasn’t done nearly the work. And so, their body is going to be out of balance. And, out of balance will show up in different ways. Over sympathetic nervous system reaction which leads to all the different hormones and everything internally being slightly out of whack, which leads to sleep being out of whack, maybe, the fueling is out of whack. That leads to energy imbalances. And, basically, just lack of optimal health.
Box breathing is, actually, the most profound thing. Most people approach it from, “Hey, change your diet. Get better sleep.” But, if you just enact the practice of box breathing every day and you do it for 30, 60, 90 days, you find this profound deep de-stressing that happens from all the build-up of all that stress. And, you slow your breathing down. Most human beings breathe sub-optimally. Maybe, 50% of their lung capacity. They’re not really exercising or activating their diaphragm and the musculature of their gut and belly and their back when they breathe. It’s mostly vertical from the chest up, instead of horizontal from the center of the diaphragm out.
And, they’re not breathing through their nose, necessarily. And, they’re breathing anywhere from 16 to 20 repetitions per minute. So, box breathing as a training —
Ben: 16 to 20 repetitions per minute. And, just to contextualize that, I believe, closer to a maximum of around 12 a minute is decent. And, less than that is ideal. And, actually, it’s really interesting. I was, actually, just reading a book on the heart’s electrical activity response to the pace of breathing, and it turns out, when you look at everything from yogis to experienced breathwork practitioners and meditators, about five and a half seconds in and five and a half seconds out is the sweet spot.
And, there’s this book I read. It’s called “Coherent–“ something. But, it actually came with audios. You can kind of play in the background while you’re at work. That’s like a dong or a bell that rings every five and a half seconds. You just kind of know and you can gradually train yourself in the background to this five and a half seconds in, five and a half seconds out. But, if you do the math, —
Mark: That’s like five or five something.
Ben: That’s, basically, around six breaths a minute.
Mark: So, box breathing is, I do a five count, so that’s 20 seconds. That’s three breaths per minute. And, what that has led to is that my normal breathing, which is unconscious. I don’t have to think about it. I don’t have to be reminded about it, is roughly between four and six, depending upon if I’m talking or moving or whatnot. Always through the nostrils. I train nostril breathing, unless I’m in a super high intensity moment. Then, I always get back to it as soon as I do set down whatever I’m working with.
Anyway, so box breathing brings great, we go from unconscious incompetence about breath, too, by practicing it every day to where you get that become consciously competent. And then, unconsciously competent where it becomes a natural new normal. And, normally, now, you’re breathing five to six rounds per minute, deeply, diaphragmatically, getting a full lung capacity of air through your nostrils, which is stimulating your mind. So, it’s mind training as well.
So, I mentioned, this is the first step of developing a deep daily practice of meditation, is de-stressing the body and calming the mind. And, your brain, depending upon which way we want to look at it, the mind will be affected, depending on how attached you are to your thoughts, by how rapidly those thoughts are going and how many thoughts you have in your head, most of which are just unconsciously springing forth. So, box breathing will slow that down. It’ll slow down the brain waves, which slowdowns the frequency of thoughts arising. And, it gives you a much more kind of clear calm focus.
When I started teaching this to SEAL candidates, they’re like, “Why do we need to do this?” I said, “It allows us to control, so when you go into a firefight, you’re as cool as a cucumber, and you’re more aware, and you’re able to make better decisions because your mind isn’t going to be racing all over the place. It’s going to be clear. And, you’re going to be able to gauge the right target at the right time for the right reason.” And, they’re like, “Check, let’s practice.”
So, that’s why I look at it as a daily practice. Now, that’s the daily practice part, but you’re right. I also teach it as part of the Big 4 skills to use for any type of extreme or intense situation, whether it’s intense training evolution or getting ready. I do it before speeches. I do it after workouts to de-stress. So, the box breathing has a great ability to get us kind of back into that parasympathetic state while we’re under pressure. And, you want to balance between parasympathetic and sympathetic, so you can maintain the edge while you’re working or while you’re in a performance state, so it helps you activate flow easier. And then, after an intense event, it does bleed off that stress. And then, you can do it just sitting in a car, like you said. So, it’s a really profound practice.
And then, once you’ve master that, then, we can start to work on using the box as an object of concentration to deepen your concentration. And then, we’ll begin to use it for mindfulness practice. So, it is kind of a stacked practice, the way we teach it.
Ben: This kind of leads me to something I was wondering about. I actually have a couple of questions regarding this.
And, the first is, I guess, initial glance, especially, when you look at Instagram and social media, and media, in general, the whole SEAL extreme fitness military operator community seems like a very yang community, that you don’t see a lot of this kind of zen eastern approach affiliated with. And, I could be wrong, but do you find that that community embraces or utilizes your kind of more zen eastern approach? How have you found this community, specifically, to respond to some of these teachings when it comes to implementing these more eastern approaches? How successful has that been? Has there been resistance to incorporating a lot of these?
Because, I’ve found that when I’m working with CrossFitters or extreme triathletes, or Spartan racers, or anyone like that, they do have that mentality of work out to get fit, suck down your protein shake, work out again. But, there’s not a lot of breath work. There’s not a lot of self-awareness. There’s definitely not a lot of yoga, or anything like that, that’s thrown into the mix. And, I’m curious what your experience has been working with that community.
Mark: That’s a great question. It’s changing, but it’s slow. You’re talking about a very rigid system. And, the people who, typically, are drawn to that tend to be a little bit more of a fixed mindset, even though they’re exceptional at what they do. When I first started to get into this training business, because I was hired by the US Navy Recruiting Command to develop a nationwide mentoring program for SEAL candidates. And, I was all excited because I’m like, “Yes, I’m going to bring this kind of integrated model, east meets west.” And, they were like, “No, you’re not. Well, all we want you to do is get the kids, PT the shit out of them. Teach them how to swim. And, make sure they pass the screening test when they go to bootcamp.” And, I’m like, “Oh, shocks.”
So, a year later, I walked away from that contract and started SEALFIT. And so, people, which we talked about earlier, I didn’t give them a choice. If you want the best training in the world, this is what we’re going to do, but.” Then, I did have to take the fu out of the kung fu. I think the first academy was 30 days long, and I was teaching yoga as yoga, and I was teaching, even using Sanskrit terms and stuff. And, I was just getting cross-eyed looks, and even some of my instructors wouldn’t step foot in the room. And so, finally, I just said, “Okay. Screw all that. I’m going to call it Unbeatable Mind, and we’re going to just call these different drills and practices and tools, and we’re going to take the eastern mysticism out of it, because these are profoundly valuable tools that are a gift to humanity, and we’re just ignoring them because it’s not from our culture. So, screw that.”
One of my missions was to bring them into, first, the elite operator culture, and then, help bring it globally to the western mindset. And, it was extraordinarily successful. The SEAL candidates who came through, who did what you did, the academy trained for it, did the academy, did the Kokoro, learned the skills, 90% of them get through SEAL training. That’s compared to 85% fail rate for the average population. So, part one of this answer is there are already, since I started this in 2007, a few hundred SEALs who’ve been through my training who really get it. Now, whether they’re fully practicing or not, or just did it to get through BUD/S, I can’t really say. But, they get it, that these are important skills. And, I’m starting to have some SEALs who are SEALFIT trained come back to me out of the service and want to coach, want to be part of SEALFIT. So, that’s cool.
The second thing is the SEAL training command has, over the last five years, started to take this idea of mental training, mental health, cognitive performance, seriously. And, they brought on two individuals. One of them is a guy named Mike Maggiachi who is the former DEVGRU master chief, and then, Force master chief. And, he is all into mental training, these skills. And, he’s read my books multiple times, and he’s teaching these skills. He is the mental toughness director or mental toughness mentor at BUD/S. So, he is, formally, through his job, but also, informally, teaching these skills to the students, and they love it.
The second is Captain Bob Schultz. Bob is the former Naval Special Warfare Group 2 commodore, retired as an O6, became a leadership professor, just a phenomenal all-around amazing guy. And, he is now working for the human performance program. And, he’s implemented an NSW mental toughness or mental training working group, which is exploratory. And so, we have conversations almost every other week, and he’s bringing experts in meditation, mindfulness, imagery, all these different skills. And, they’re having a frank conversation and he invites operators in, BUD/S instructors.
And, he tells me that there’s some interest, but the resistance amongst the broader force, amongst the leadership, is still really, really hard, really strong against this. And, a lot of us is just like, “Hey, we don’t have time. We train warriors to just become badass gunslingers, and who’s got the time for this shit?” But, people are breaking. We’ve been at war for close to 20 years. Post-traumatic stress is finally being acknowledged by the elite operators as something that you got to take seriously. And so, they’re starting to be more of acceptant, to cap this off, I think that you’ll have some discussion and awareness at the top, but it’s going to be an insurgency from the bottom up, because the next generation of guys that you and I trained, guys and gals, ladies, that we train are growing up with this. All these podcasts, all the work that we have done, you and I, plus a lot of others, is now becoming much more mainstream. Whereas, when we started, back in ’06, ’07, it was still really fringe.
And, I think the next generation in the next five to 10 years of operators going into this teams are going to have grown up doing breathwork and having, at least, explored meditation. And so, it’s going to come in just by virtue of the transformation of the culture and consciousness. That’s, maybe, a dream, anyways.
Ben: Do you know Dr. Doug Brackmann, by the way?
Mark: Not personally. I know his work.
Ben: He’s used meditation for a long time to train snipers and serious operators to stay calm in certain situations. And, he also used meditation to slow down enough to where you can literally take a shot in between heartbeats. He has a new book, actually. I’m going to get him on the show soon. He has new book called, “Driven.” And, he has a very interesting approach. And, he seems to be getting some traction as well. But, I agree, it’s one of those things that’s slow to catch on amongst a community that is used to solving everything with a sympathetic approach, primarily. That would include the CEO and executive community, same thing. I work with a lot of those folks, and it’s very difficult to get them to understand the concept of waking up and taking a walk in the sunshine in your bare feet.
Mark: I know.
Ben: Instead of waking up and hitting the kettlebells. And, it’s just this approach that a lot of people still yet have to wrap their head around, that by slowing down you can actually get a great deal of strength and power and internal fitness that, when combined with the hard charging workouts you may perform later on in the day, give you an amazing one-two combo, and also, allow you to have some things in your back pocket you can use on a day where you should be recovering but really don’t know what to do to make your body and brain better, besides just working out.
So, that actually leads me to another thing I wanted to run by you, because there are, in social media, a lot of folks, like Jocko Willink and David Goggins, and other SEALs who really have this kind of wake up at 4:00 a.m, run 20 plus miles a day, go, go, go and charge hard. I don’t want to paint those guys unfairly, because I know they have a great deal of valuable information to share in the realm of leadership and motivation. But, I’m curious for you, specifically. When I look at these former SEALs who still seem to be kind of operating from a physical standpoint as though they still are SEALs, how do you think that is affecting folks who are watching and being influenced by that type of hard charging mentality? Do you see an issue with sleep deprivation or over training or issues like that in people who are trying to emulate folks like that? What’s your whole take on this seemingly growing phenomenon of people wanting to train and be like a Navy Seal because of the fact that social media has made that so easy to watch and follow and be inspired by?
Mark: Well, if people are trying to go from zero to hero to be like a Goggins or a Jocko, they will overtrain, they will hurt themselves, they will burn out, they may die, especially, if you follow the Goggins approach. But, I keep in mind that Jocko is mostly a leadership trainer and Goggins is a motivator. He’s a motivator. Neither of these guys are fitness trainers or mental toughness trainers. They aren’t trying to train you. And, I’ve seen this. I saw this in an article where someone was talking about a group that was doing training like special operators, and they acted they were doing this crazily innovative unique thing where they were bringing mindfulness and breathing into the training, and also, yoga for active recovery. And, I was like, “Well, that’s really interesting.” And, they called out SEALFIT Kokoro Camp, Jocko, and Goggins as being the opposite of just hard charger. And, I’m like, “Well, they’ve completely missed it.” I wanted to write to the other and be like, “Yeah, you completely, not only didn’t do your research, but you’re conflating these two individuals Jocko and Goggins with fitness trainers.” They’re not. They don’t try to be that at all.
I think that their main value is to motivate people to get off their ass and do something. And then, what you do, they’ll point you to go. Jocko has sent people to Unbeatable Mind and SEALFIT. He’s not like, “I’m going to train you to be a Navy Seal.” And, SEALFIT, as you know, Kokoro Camp, had they done their research, we were the innovators on combining hardcore functional physical training with the softer yin practices of breathwork, yoga, active stretching, mindfulness, tai chi, qigong kind of things.
And, you’re right, the way you started this conversation. Those two go hand in glove. I consider, sometimes, when I teach, I draw this infinity loop. And, on one side, I just write, “potential,” and on the other side, I write, “performance.” And, I say, most people work in the performance zone. They’re always performing another workout. They’re doing stuff. But, what precedes performance is potential. And, the domain of potential, you’re not doing. You’re recovering, you’re imagining what’s possible. You’re winning in your mind. It’s all interior work. And, the 20 times, the 20x, principle is that when you combine the two, you can 20x your everything in life, not only your performance but also your peace of mind and contentment, which are from the field of potential.
And, ironically, if you were to collapse those two, that affinity loop upward, it becomes a yin yang symbol. And so, the field of potential is yin, the field of performance is yang. Westerners live fully in yang, fully in performance, always trying to do more, better, faster, harder, thinking that’s going to lead to 20 times or more of what they got. But, they end up getting less of what they want because they just keep on greasing the groove of injury, fatigue, burnout.
And also, they’re not tapping their full potential. Potential can only be found on the inside. It can never be found exterior to the individual.
Ben: Yeah. And, kind of related to this whole concept is something that I also learned from you, in addition to box breathing, something that I still use when I’m tying my shoes or making coffee or practicing a new exercise, like a kettlebell snatch.
And, that’s this concept of slow is smooth. And, actually, the entire phrase that you use is, “Slow is smooth. Smooth is fast.” It’s been such a useful phrase for me, that I would love to hear you explain to people what that means to you, and the practical implementation of a phrase like that into one’s life.
Mark: What’s coming to my mind is the first parachute accident I was in. I was jumping out of the helicopter. That was a static line jump. So, it was only 1,100 feet at night. I was second off the ramp. I jumped out. I go through. The chute deploys. No problem. So, I didn’t have to pull it. It just deployed. And then, I really just take a moment to breathe and enjoy the night. And, I think, “This is really cool. I’m a Navy Seal. Whoo. Yah.” Then, I see this other parachute heading straight toward me. Our standard operating procedure is pull on your right toggle. I pull right, he pulls right, and we both miss each other. While I pull right, he pulls left. And, he collides with me, and my chute literally disappears into this little bundle. And, I’d start plummeting to the ground. And, now, it’s 900 feet. So, I got nine seconds.
Now, I had been training in breath work and arousal control and meditation for about six years at that point, and, I immediately clicked into my breathwork and immediately started a positive mantra, and, immediately, all of this in a fraction of a second, began my emergency operating procedures, which I drilled countless times. Reach up, grab the risers, yank them down a few times, try to catch air. It didn’t work. So, I said, “Okay, I don’t have time here, time to deploy the reserves.” So, I pulled the ripcord, punched the reserve, threw it out. The reserve chute goes out. It kind of flutters around a bit. It doesn’t catch any air.
Another breath. I looked back up. Okay, back to the riser. So, I grab the riser, start yanking. One, two, three. They catch enough air to slow me down from about whatever I was going, 80 something miles an hour, picking up speed, to 10, to bam. And then, I hit the ground. That whole experience, I felt like I had about a minute which, when you’re parachuting, is a freaking lifetime. I felt like it was a minute. Everything was calm. Everything was smooth because I was able to slow down time in my mind. Time is completely perception. It’s a relative experience for everybody.
Ben: Which, by the way, I don’t want to derail you, but anyone who has done a plant medicine ceremony, for example, like psilocybin or DMT, sometimes, you’ll feel as though hours and hours and hours have gone by. And, with something like a DMT inhalation, when it finally wears off, you realize it’s been five minutes, which just points out the power of perception of time, especially, when it comes to how the brain can perceive time, in this case, with the use of exogenous substances. But, it relates to this whole slow is smooth approach.
Mark: Well, that’s why I believe these practices, at their deepest level, allow you to activate flow on demand. I’ve had countless experiences where I get into a crisis and I just go back to the practices. And, I’m able to shift my perception of time and make hours of pain turn into, what, feel like 20 minutes. And, in this case, I made nine seconds into a minute, and it saved my life. So, slow is smooth. And, this is also used in kind of a training sense. Let’s say, you go out to the range, and most people want to immediately get into shooting pop-up targets and running and gunning. And, the instructor’s like, “No, no, no, no. Slow it down. We’re going to just take this one step at a time. Let’s just practice slowly drawing the pistol out of your holster and taking a bead on the front sight with the target in your vision. And, we’ll do that hundreds of times. And then, we’ll dry fire. And then, we’ll add rounds and just do 25 meters, and just take it nice and slow.”
Another example of this is, I became a SCARS self-defense instructor, 300 hours of non-stop training. And, the training was pretty aggressive from the very start. And, I think, I got a ton out of it. I became very, very adept. But, a lot of the guys ended up pretty sloppy, even after 30 days of 10 hours a day of training. And, they ended up cancelling the program a couple of years later, because so many people, it wasn’t integrative in the fact that it should have included a lot of the training we’re talking about, and it didn’t. So, a lot of the guys got a lot of that horizontal skill, but they didn’t change who they were, and they were just laying people out at the bars and stuff like that. And, it’s extremely brutal art. It was based off of San Soo Kung Fu, which is developed by the Chinese mafia. And, it’s like no shit street fighting. There is no defense. You’ll learn to kill, kill, kill.
And, it’s appropriate for an elite warrior in combat who has the ethical control to be able to deploy it. And, they ended up taking it out of the program. But, anyways, the reason I bring this up is the way it was taught was it’s fast. It was like zero to hero. And, because of my martial arts training, like I said, I got fairly good at it, but still, it was a little sloppy for a lot of people.
Now, fast forward, one of my instructors there working for the founder, Jerry Peterson, was a guy named Tim Larkin. You might have heard of him. Tim started something called target focus training, which is using the same skills, but he wanted to teach men, women, kids, six-year-old ladies. And, there’s no way he could teach it the way it was taught to SEALs. And so, he deployed this slow is smooth, smooth is fast approach. And, he taught it kind of like a tai chi speed. Super, super slow. Intense precision on where you were targeting with your weapon. Obviously, your weapons are going to be your feet and your hands, unless you have a real weapon. And, in a two-day program, he was able to grease the groove at a neurobiological level of the skills, probably, better than we were able to do it by going from zero to hero in our SEAL training program. And, he has countless testimonials of women who, months later, were accosted and just laid someone out. And, they’re like, “Holy shit. How did that happen?”
Mark: And so, slow is smooth applies to how you visualize, too. You want to use visualization for performance, practice it nice and slow with perfect form in your mind. And then, like you said, if you want to warm up, if you got a movement that is a dangerous movement, like a deadlift or a ballistic movement, like a snatch or kettlebell swing, do it nice and slow first in your mind. And then, begin to integrate the movement with breath spinal alignment and mindfulness, mindful awareness, as you do a few reps to warm up. And then, maintain that awareness. And, you’ll find, it’s kind of the rabbit and the hare. You start out. I’m in my 50s, let’s just say. And, I can routinely destroy the SEAL candidates that I train with. I don’t mean that in a bad way, but I mean I can hold my own and beat them time wise or strength wise a lot of times. And, these are 20-year-old fire breathers. And, it’s because I deploy this slow is smooth, smooth is fast, and I’ve done it for many, many years. And, I integrate breath and mindfulness into my practice so that what happens is, if we’re in a two-hour SEALFIT workout, they’re just running gun and all you go. In about 45 minutes into it, they’re smoked. And, here comes Mark the rabbit, and I’m just getting warmed up.
Ben: The thing is, and again, even if you’re not some extreme exercise or fitness enthusiasts or training for Hell Week, I’ll use a technique this when I glance at my watch, I have an appointment downtown, I got to get my shoes on, make coffee, perhaps, get a meal, take care of a couple of things with my kids, find the car keys, get in the car. And, all of a sudden, there’s these 10 things you have to do that you could do very quickly with shallow breathing and scrambling around like a freaking flailing moppet. And, I’ll stop.
Mark: [01:08:17] ______.
Ben: Take a deep breath in through the nose, out through the mouth, and just take each thing very slow, very smooth. And, another place I used to practice this after learning it from you was during the transition from triathlon, where you’re running from the swim in your wetsuit up to your bike, and, the whole time, you’re just thinking, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast. Focus on unzipping the wetsuit. Stay calm. Rip it off. Sit down. Peel the legs off. Get the bike shoes on. Get the helmet clipped.” And then, same thing coming off the bike. “Dismount. Transition out of the bike shoes. Slowly get the running shoes on. Put your race belt on.” But, the whole time, I’d be having that mantra go through my head, “Slow is smooth, smooth is fast.” And, there’s something about that phrase that just kind of keeps you calm when you’re trying to juggle eight billion things and you’re on deadline.
Mark: What happens is the people who are rushing, they start making mistakes, they start bobbling whatever it is they’re doing, and you’re just methodically going through it, maintaining awareness. So, that’s step one. You end up actually saving time, because you’re not screwing up. And, step two is that becomes a moment to recover. So, you’re practicing mindfulness, you’re breathing into it, you’ve got your mantra, which is keeping your mind focused on that singular task. You’re practicing the Big 4 skills. Big 4: breath control, positive self-talk, imagery, and task orientation on the micro-task. One task: unzip your wetsuit. Okay. Got that one done. Hooyah. Next task. Put on my right shoe. And, you’re breathing into it, saying, “Slow is smooth.” And so, you’re recovering.
Whereas, someone who’s racing through, thinking, “I got to get going. Someone’s passing me,” they’re weakening themselves because they get themselves into a fear-based sympathetic state already, halfway between one thing and the next event that they have to do. So, you’re calming down. And, as you know, it’s kind of a logarithmic thing, where, if you spend one minute in deep relaxation recovery, it’s equal to an hour of physical activity in the field of performance. It’s not a one-for-one thing. If you do two hours of workout, you don’t need two hours of recovery. You might need two minutes or five minutes. But, if you don’t do the two minutes or five minutes, especially, during an event, slowly, you’re going to just bleed off energy until you’re done.
One of the reasons that the SEALs say, “When you think you’re done, you’re only 40% done,” it’s because they’ve learned how to really make their physical output kind of in a rhythmic pattern, where it’s like, push, push, push, then surrender to a moment of just pure awareness, pure recovery. And then, push, push, push. And then, breathe, breathe, breathe. And so, you end up just tapping into more and more energy as you perform whatever event it is. You’ve experienced that during Kokoro camp.
Mark: It has real ebb and flow to it.
Ben: And, I’d like to ask you just a couple of more questions about phrases with which I was unfamiliar that I came across in your daily briefs. One is, and I don’t know if I’m pronouncing this right, “shugyo,” and, the other is, “pratyahara.” And, I’m curious if you could just define what those are for people, because those really stood out to me as pretty helpful practices to engage in. But, you can tackle whichever one that you want first, but, just kind of briefly explain those to folks and how they would implement shugyo and pratyahara. And, go ahead and slap me on the wrist if I’m totally butchering the pronunciation on those.
Mark: No, you nailed them. “Shugyo” is a Japanese word that means practice, but not like, “I’m going to go practice my skill.” It means to have a life practice. So, in the context of my training, my shugyo is my morning ritual, which is deeply rewarding to do all the work that we’ve talked about. Meditation, visualization, breath work, some somatic movement, and checking in with my why. And then, making sure I’m clear about what I’m going to do with that today. So, that’s part of my shugyo. Then, SEALFIT operator workouts, second part. The only reason to miss them is if I’m on vacation. And then, I replace it with something else. And then, another session of box breathing and meditation during the day. And then, the work I do with my martial arts training. So, I’m currently studying aikido and I continue to do San Soo Kung Fu.
There’s a thoughtful training plan, just like you would program someone’s training. My training and the way we teach is to be five mountain training. So, I make sure that I’m training physically, mentally, emotionally, intuitionally, and spiritually every day in a thoughtful training plan. That is shugyo, having a life practice that’s going to help you evolve to tap and become your most complete version of yourself that you can fulfill your mission or service in life around the planet.
Pratyahara is a profound concept of developing greater sensory awareness of your surroundings, both external and internal. And, the way we do this through external awareness, in the SEAL, we call it situational awareness, is training the pattern recognition aspects or capacity of the hemisphere of your brain. And so, we would do things like you did in Kokoro camp, like the kin game. Most people approach the kin game from the left hemisphere and try to memorize everything that’s underneath all the items that they’re supposed to keep in memory that are underneath the mat or the blanket. And then, when they get into it, or they get the tips from the coach, like, “You know what? You’ve got to actually expand out. You definitely want to use the left of your brain, left hemisphere, to try to actually remember.” But, then, you want to scan out and use right hemisphere to look for patterns and, like [01:14:30] _____, take a mental snapshot of all the patterns. And then, that has this really powerful effect to expand your awareness and to be able to recall more.
And so, we would practice that and all these other things. When you’re on a patrol, you’re not sitting there, chatting, or thinking about dinner or anything like that. You’re actually just breathing deeply, and you soften your gaze, using peripheral vision, so you can take in the context of what’s happening around you, as opposed to any specific content in your mind or any particular thing. And, that’s what allows us to tap into our intuition to be able to, for the point man to be able to get the spidey signals to go up they say, “I think there’s a roadside bomb ahead.” And, it’s because they’re practicing that pratyahara, that sensory awareness.
There’s also an internal sensory awareness. So, something like your sensory deprivation tank, which I know you’re familiar with. Even swimming, or anytime where you close off some senses and you begin to operate with a limited sensory range begins to turn your attention inward. And, this is one of the valuable aspects of meditation, is closed eye meditation. You begin to turn your awareness inside. And, that’s when you begin to recognize the way your mind is working and the different ways that it works, and different aspects of the mind, like the heart-mind, the belly-mind, the body as a mind. And then, you become much more situationally aware of how to orient your body-mind system to the environment around it. So, that’s pratyahara.
Ben: Got it. So, pratyahara would be, essentially, in a nutshell, turning in and decluttering from external distraction. You could do it with box breathing, walking on nature, some kind of a brief pause of silence. And then, shugyo would be working towards daily mastery with, essentially, engagement in tiny bits of personal practice every single day.
Ben: Got it. I’m going to add those to my vernacular. Those are wonderful.
Mark: Hooyah. I love it.
Ben: Hooyah. It has been in my vernacular for quite a while, Mark, since I did Kokoro. Sometimes, I wonder if I’m offending a SEAL when I use that word.
Ben: When I’ll do an Instagram post of me doing a kettlebell workout and finish with, “Hooyah,” I always wonder if Navy Seals see that and snicker and think, “What’s this cat, this civilian doing saying, ‘hooyah.’” But, that’s acceptable?
Mark: [01:17:06] _____ that the SEALs have gifted that to the world.
Ben: Alright. Got it.
Mark: It’s great, because it just means what you need it to mean, which is, “Yeah, we got this.”
Ben: I like it. It’s an energizing phrase. Well, the book is fantastic.
And, by the way, what is it with you and wolves? Is that just your power animal?
Mark: I guess so. It all started with this idea of feeding the courage wolf. And, the story about this title was, originally, I was more formulaic about this book. I was going to call it, the subtitle, “The Seven Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams.” And, the stories of these military special operators were going to be the main thing. But then, like most authors, I was working with an editor who’s helping me out, and he suggested this title, “Staring Down The Wolf,” because I’d sent him my other books. And, my book, “Unbeatable Mind,” has a picture of me actually staring at a wolf, staring him down. That was a metaphor for me staring down fear and building, feeding courage.
And so, I was, “Wow, I really like that.” And then, when I sat with it, I’m like, “So, that’s going to really change the nature of this book.” So, it goes from kind of a formulaic book on Navy Seal leadership and teaming principles to what is actually the most important aspect for me. That is, how do you get out of your own way as a leader to unlock the emotional power of your team. And so, I basically added a whole section to each chapter where I talked about how I had to stare down my own wolf to be able to tap into these seven commitments. How I filled in courage when I launched the Coronado Brewing Company, and how I filled it with trust when I really screwed up with another startup venture where there was kind of a coup against the actual founder and I was the CEO, and I didn’t handle it very well, and trust just broke down, and how I grew from that. And, it was mostly emotional. And, on and on and on.
So, I tell that story about my own failures of how I did not uphold these commitments until, maybe, two thirds the way through the book where it’s all starting to come together. And, it has come together in the past 10 years in my business. And, it’s now thriving and flourishing, and I’m flourishing as a result of a deep commitment to staring down my own wolf, which I, basically, relate to all the biases and shadow emotional elements that tend to trip people up. And yet, they don’t really know how to deal with them, or they deny them, or ignore them, or suppress them. And yet, when you work with a team, the team feels it, mostly, right off the bat.
And so, the team gets stuck because they don’t trust fully the leader, because the leader has these issues that they haven’t addressed. And so, that’s when communication kind of gets stuck and you have people dancing around issues and not being transparent and not being courageous to take risks, and everything starts to get stuck. And then, you have kind of okay but not elite level performance.
Ben: Yeah. Well, staring down the butterfly, also. Just doesn’t quite sound as good.
Mark: You can’t get the butterfly to stand still, Ben.
Ben: Well, folks, the book, again, is called, “Staring Down The Wolf.” I’m going to put a link to everything that Mark and I talked about at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Wolf. I’ll link to some articles I wrote after doing that Kokoro experience, some lessons that I learned from it, because I wrote three different articles afterwards. And, I’ll also link to Mark’s other books, and also, everything else that we discussed in today’s show.
Then, if you have your own thoughts to add on anything that we talked about, or your own feedback, or you want to ask Mark a question, just go to the show notes at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/Wolf, and that’s where you can jump in.
In the meantime, Mark, as usual, I love talking to you, man. You’re so inspirational, and you really have made a significant impact in my own life, my own personal growth, and my own habits that I use for managing things like stress and my nervous system and operating under stressful conditions. So, thanks for doing what you do, man.
Mark: Thanks, Ben. You, too, man. I really appreciate you, and you’re doing great work out there.
Ben: Awesome. Alright, folks. Well, I’m Ben Greenfield, along with retired Navy Seal Commander, Mark Divine, signing out from BenGreenfieldFitness.com. Have an amazing week.
Well, thanks for listening to today’s show. You can grab all the show notes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful, “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I’ve ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode help to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. So, when you listen in, be sure to use the links in the show notes, use the promo codes that I generate because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
What does it take to command a team of elite individuals?
It requires a commitment to seven key principles: Courage, Trust, Respect, Growth, Excellence, Resiliency, and Alignment. All of these are present in an elite team that commits to them deeply in order to forge the character worthy of uncommon success.
In his new book, Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams, retired Navy SEAL Commander, entrepreneur, and New York Times bestselling author Mark Divine—founder of SEALFIT, NavySeal.com, and Unbeatable Mind, (who first joined me on the episode “Secrets Of The Navy Seals: How To Train, Eat & Think Like The World’s Toughest Fighters“)—reveals what makes the culture of an elite team and how to get your own team to commit to serving at an elite level. Using principles he learned on the battlefield, training SEALs, and in his own entrepreneurial and growth company ventures, Mark knows what it like is to lead elite teams and how easily the team can fail by breaching these commitments.
Mark believes that elite teams challenge themselves to step up every day to do the uncommon. Developing the principles yourself and aligning your team around these commitments will allow you to thrive in VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous) environments, no matter your background or leadership experience.
Drawing from his 20 years leading SEALs, 25 years of success and failure in entrepreneurship, and 10 years coaching corporate clients, Mark has a very unique perspective that will allow you to unlock the tremendous power of your team.
During this discussion, you’ll discover:
-What a Kokoro event is…6:15
- Modeled after Navy SEAL hell week
- Round-the-clock training for 7 days straight
- Hell week typically cuts a class in half
- “It’s not a challenge, it’s a transformation”
- The event:
- 50 hours non-stop physical, mental, emotional training
- Team environment
- Led by SEAL like instructors certified by Mark
- The intent is to build a new breed of warrior
- Mark was a black-belt in karate, as well as a student of zen prior to his time in the Navy
- This allowed him to tap into his “inner voice” and pursue a military career (a warrior)
- Book: 8 Weeks to SEALFIT: A Navy SEAL’s Guide to Unconventional Training for Physical and Mental Toughness
- Two key sayings:
- “You come to Kokoro to meet your true self for the first time”- connecting yourself to a deeper sense of why you are doing things, you learn to say NO to people/things that are distracting you
- “Life before Kokoro is very different from life afterKokoro” – creates a whole new paradigm, a transformation of consciousness
- “Kokoro” is from the Samurai legend: merge heart and mind into your action
- You’re capable of 20x more if you lead with your heart and head into your actions—and be part of a team
- Those who focus on individual achievement suffer the most, drop out the earliest, etc.
- Most important thing is “teamability” – how are you taking care of your teammates: a consciousness thing, not a tactic or strategy
-The philosophy behind Kokoro events…19:50
- Studied martial arts under Tadashi Nakamura
- Ken Wilber: Founder of Integral Theory
- Regular personal development is horizontal: acquiring skills that make you more efficient and effective, but it doesn’t change who you are
- SEAL Fitand Kokoro training is vertical: You acquire skills that are designed to shift your perspective of who you are, your relationship to the world and other human beings: a more world-centric rather than an egocentric perspective
- Unbeatable Mindand SEAL Fit are patterned after Ken Wilber’s theories and philosophy
- Five domains of the training:
-How box breathing is different from other forms of breathwork…28:00
- BGF podcast with James Nestor, author of Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art
- The breath is the bridge between the body, mind, and spirit
- Wim Hofis focused on the physiological benefits; not recommended as a daily practice
- Holotropic breathworkis recommended once per month max
- “Breath is moving mental energy”
- Alternate nostril breathingpromotes balance in your thinking (stimulates left and right hemispheres of the brain alternately) – okay to do daily
- Kapalbhati: breath of fire – okay to do daily (use code BEN to save 20%)
- Box breathing:
- The beginning of a deep meditation practice
- Mechanism to calm the body and brain down (physiological response)
- Do it first thing while lying in bed
- Helps activate parasympathetic nervous system post-workout
- Effective in dealing with stressful situations
- Morozko Forgecold pool (use code BENFORGE to save $150)
- Daily box breathingleads to a deep destressing
- Mark Divine’s box breathing app
- Most people breathe sub-optimally
- Always breathe through the nostrils as much as possible
- Book: Coherent Breathingby Stephen Elliot
- Slows down brain waves, and thoughts racing through the brain
-Why zen and mindfulness are not more widely practiced in the extreme fitness community…46:30
- Mark was contracted by the Navy to develop a SEAL pre-training program
- It focused exclusively on the physical demands
- Mark then founded SEAL Fitand found little support among students and even instructors
- Changed the name to Unbeatable Mind, Kokoroand found success
- 90% of Kokoro students passed SEAL training (vs. an 85% dropout rate)
- SEAL program has taken cognitive demand, mental health, etc. more seriously in the last 5 years
- Some interest, but much resistance remains
- The change in interest will occur from the bottom, not the top
- Douglas Brackmann’s book Driven: Understanding and Harnessing the Genetic Gifts Shared by Entrepreneurs, Navy SEALs, Pro Athletes, and Maybe YOU
-How social media has skewed the efficacy of the SEAL training programs and mentality…54:40
- People like Jocko Willink and David Goggins teach leadership and motivation, not physical fitness
- Focus is on the “performance zone” i.e. workouts, doing stuff
- Focus on potentialas well as performance leads to the 20x factor
-Why slow is smooth, and smooth is fast…59:30
- Mark had a parachuting accident in the Navy
- Had 9 seconds to react and save his own life
- He felt as though he had all the time in the world due to employing breathwork, deploying emergency equipment that had been rehearsed, etc.
- “Time is a perception”
- Flow on demand: shift perception of time
- Practice slow, with perfect form in your mind
- Integrate movement with breath, spinal alignment, and mindfulness
- Big 4 skills:
- Breath control
- Positive self-talk
- Task orientation on micro-tasks
-Two phrases from Mark’s book that stuck out to Ben…1:11:20
- Shugyo: Japanese word for “practice” i.e. a life practice
- Allow you to involve, tap into and become your most complete self
- Pratyahara: Developing greater sensory awareness of your surroundings, both external and internal
- Situational awareness
- Training right hemisphere of the brain
- Internal sensory awareness
-Mark’s fascination with wolves…1:17:20
-And much more…
Resources from this episode:
– Mark Divine:
- SEALFit Kokoro
- SEALFit 20x
- Unbeatable Mind
- SEALFit Podcasts and articles
- Secrets Of The Navy Seals: How To Train, Eat & Think Like The World’s Toughest Fighters
- How To 20x Yourself: Training & Anti-Aging Secrets Of One Of The Most Bad-Ass Navy SEAL Coaches On The Face Of The Planet.
- What Kind Of Training, Gear And Nutrition Do You Use For SEALFit Academy And Kokoro Camp?
- Laughing Yoga, Hyperoxygenation, Navy SEAL Workouts And More – What To Expect And How To Prepare For the SEALFit Academy.
- 26 Mile Night Hikes, Surf Swim Torture, 450 Pound Giant Logs And More: What To Expect at SEALFit Kokoro Camp And 9 Ways To Get More Tough.
– BGF podcast and articles:
- Podcast with James Nestor
- The Ultimate Breathwork Ninja Guide: How To Banish Stress & Kiss High Cortisol Goodbye
- Staring Down the Wolf: 7 Leadership Commitments That Forge Elite Teams, 8 Weeks of SEALFit, and other booksby Mark Divine
- Breath: The New Science of a Lost Artby James Nestor
- Coherent Breathingby Stephen Elliot
- Drivenby Douglas Brackmann
– Other resources:
- Morozko Forgecold pool (use code BENFORGE to save $150)
- SOMA The 21 Day Awakening Breath Journey(use code BEN to save 20%)
- Wim Hof breathing
- Ken Wilber’s Integral Theory
- Doug Brackman meditation for snipers
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-Ben Greenfield’s VIP Text Club: To receive exclusive texts from Ben Greenfield, text the word “FITNESS” to 411247 (within the U.S. only).
–JOOVV: After using the Joovv for close to 2 years, it’s the only light therapy device I’d ever recommend. Give it a try: you won’t be disappointed. Order using my link and receive my brand new book, Boundless absolutely free!
–Paleo Valley Organ Complex: Contains not one, but three organs from healthy, grass-fed, pasture-raised cows so you are getting a more diverse array of nutrients. Receive a 10% discount off your order when you use discount code BENGREENFIELD10.
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