How to Unwind Without Alcohol, Porn, Video Games, or Junk Food

man lying in bed in the dark staring at laptop screen looking wiped out

You’re headed home after a long day.

Feeling strangely tired and alert at the same time, you look through your news feed for some distraction. A quick scroll leaves you feeling even more restless.

You need something, but… what?

So you grab a bite. Not the healthiest food, but you don’t have the energy to make decisions at this hour of the day.

Arriving home, you say a quick hello to your family. Problem is, you’re not fully present. Something is tugging at you. Pulling your attention towards other things… other needs.

Name your poison, cowboy…

  • Cracking open a nice cold beer (or three)
  • Hanging around the sleazy back-allies of the internet
  • Losing yourself in a multi-player fantasy realm
  • Binging on Netflix
  • Lurking on social media
  • Devouring family-sized bags of chips

Comfortably numb and distracted, you blissfully disconnect from the responsibilities and worries of life.

It could be hours before you come up for air.

Sure, there’s other stuff you want to do — people you should connect with, that wonky cupboard your wife keeps asking you to fix, the guitar gathering dust in the corner (next to the dumbbells), that side-hustle you were going to research…

But you’re tired and need to decompress, so you tell yourself, “I work hard and deserve to relax a little.”

Taking a Mini-Vacation from Your Life

sunglasses sitting on a pile of sand on a relaxing beach
Photo by Ethan Robertson

We’ve all been there.

Tired, anxious, bored, irritated, washed out. Looking to escape — to take a little vacation from the stress and struggle of life.

Work is hard. People are difficult. Too many personalities and egos to navigate. The heat and pressure of all that stress builds up, overloading our circuits.

Hey, do you know what beer, video games, porn, and fast food all have in common? (Sounds like the beginning of one of uncle Jimmy’s inappropriate jokes…)

They offer a seductive mix of stimulation and relaxation. They take us on a ride that feels awesome — causing our bodies to produce a cocktail of feel-good chemicals like dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin, and endorphins.

Harmless fun? Sometimes.

But, if we look deeper the truth is a little darker

The True Cost of Distraction

man sitting on couch with hand over face feeling tired
Photo by Nik Shuliahin

Deep down we don’t feel great about our time lost to distraction. Sure, we rationalize it, but some part of us knows that we can do better.

Our heart whispers, “This is not the path to greatness.”

That is what you want isn’t it?

To achieve greatness. To rise up and breakthrough — becoming a better man tomorrow than you are today. To achieve more of your potential.

No one is saying you have to shave your head and become a monk, forsaking all earthly pleasures.

But, let’s get real for a moment…

Trading hours of every week (or worse, every day!) lost in habitual distraction is excessive and not a recipe for high performance.

Not to mention the stark truth that with each indulgence we’re watering the seeds of our own destruction: addiction, isolation, illness, and divorce. After all, if you’re in the habit of using these crutches to cope with daily stress, what happens when the shit actually hits the fan?

There is a another way.

A Better Tool for the Job

meditating gnome sitting cross legged in the dark with his hands in a mudra and his eyes closed
Photo by David Brooke Martin

We‘re all trying to feel better.

Our thoughts, feelings, and sensations are unpleasant, so we seek to change them with the tools at hand.

Most of us are trying to:

  • Feel calm and relaxed (instead of stressed and tense)
  • Feel energized (instead of tired)
  • Feel joy and pleasure (instead of sadness, anger, fear, boredom, and pain)

The tools you’re using now (food, media, drugs, etc.) get the job done, but with a catch: they leave you overstimulated, addicted, dull, distracted, disconnected, empty, exhausted, numb, sick, and craving more.

What are we supposed to do then? How can we feel better without making a deal with the devil?

The solution I’m offering you today is a simple daily routine (3 Phases) that combines some strange and useful practices that have improved the quality of my life and the lives of many others.

The components of this routine are drawn primarily from Chinese shamanism, traditional medicine, and martial arts. You will also learn a simple breathing exercise used by the Navy Seals.

This routine will make you:

  • Calm, content, and relaxed
  • Centered, focused, and clear
  • Energized, engaged, and alive

Okay, enough foreplay. Let’s dive in!

Phase 1: Relax Like Navy Seals & Kung Fu Masters

Bruce Lee looking intense and ready to fight
Photo by Fervent Jan
The routine begins when you wrap up your workday (or any stressful experience) and can be done at work, on your way home, or wherever works best for you.

For example, you can do Phase 1 while walking home from the train stop or while sitting on the bus. If you drive, then you can do Phase 1 in the car before or after your commute, NOT while driving.

Phase 1 is about releasing stress— think of it as decontamination so you don’t drag work home with you.

It combines two elements:

  1. Box Breathing: A breath control method used by Navy Seals to stay calm and focused
  2. Acupressure points: If you’ve ever had acupuncture, this is where they stick the needles. I learned these from an eccentric old kung fu master (a good story for another time…)

Box Breathing

This is a breathing pattern used by the Seals to stay calm under pressure (made popular by Mark Divine). It’s called box breathing because you do 4 equal length segments, like this:

  1. Inhale while counting 4 seconds
  2. Hold your breath for 4 seconds
  3. Exhale while counting 4 seconds
  4. Hold the exhale for 4 seconds
  5. Repeat
Still don’t get it? Check out this short video tutorial.

Easy!

It’s important to breathe using your diaphragm.

Your diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that separates the cavities of your upper and lower torso. When activated through proper breathing, the diaphragm pushes down on the organs in your abdominal cavity causing a slight expansion in the front, sides, and back of your lower torso.

Diaphragmatic breathing stimulates the vagus nerve, activating a parasympathetic nervous response (the opposite of fight or flight), decreasing stress levels and lowering blood pressure.

Here is the easiest way to experience diaphragmatic breathing:

  1. Lie on your back: knees bent, feet flat on the floor
  2. Gently rest your palms on the lower abdominal area
  3. Inhale slowly, imagining a balloon in your abdomen expanding in all directions and gently pushing your hands up
  4. Exhale and allow the balloon to deflate
Diaphragmatic Breathing: Inhale and imagine a balloon filling and expanding in all directions in your lower abdomen

Pressure Points

Traditional Chinese Medicine has an extensive menu of healing practices originating from ancient battlefield medicine.

Over millennia, numerous points (also known as acupuncture points) were identified on the body that, when stimulated, brought about a beneficial physiological response.

Skeptical?

Think of it like this: You press on a point, which stimulates a nerve, causing a response both locally and in the brain, which adjusts circulation and releases endorphins (feel-good chemicals produced by your body that reduce stress and pain).

These are the points we’re going to work with:

  • Point 1: On the palm, about 2–3 cm below the little finger, and 1 cm in from the edge (eases anxious feelings)

acupressure point on palm to relieve stress and create calm

  • Point 2: Follow the crease up from your armpit to the area 2–3 cm below the collar bone (helps you breathe deeply)

Lung 1 acupressure point to open lungs for easier breathing

  • Point 3: On top of the shoulder — trapezius muscle — about 3–4 cm from your neck (releases tension from the neck and shoulders)

man pressing down on GB21 acupressure point on shoulder to relieve tension

Pressure points 1–3 from left to right

How To Do Phase 1

  1. Breathe: Begin Box Breathing and continue throughout Phase 1 (inhale 4 → hold 4 → exhale 4 → hold 4 → repeat). When you’ve found your rhythm, move on to step 2.
  2. Point #1: Use the thumb of your right hand to find point #1 on your left palm (below the little finger). Dig around in a small circular motion to find the point. The area should be tender. Repeat on the opposite hand.
  3. Point #2: Move on to point #2, using your middle or index fingers to find the tender area (at the top of the crease where your chest meets your shoulder). When ready, repeat on the other side of your chest.
  4. Point #3: Move to the top of your shoulder to find point #3. Use the opposite hand to massage one side, then switch hands and do the other shoulder.

If you find it challenging to do Box Breathing while focusing on the points in the beginning, feel free to do the practices separately.

Stimulate each point anywhere from 30 seconds to 5 minutes. Do what feels best and works within your time constraints. Just know that less time spent on Phase 1 (especially in the beginning), will produce less dramatic results.

Experiment with applying more or less pressure to the points (hang out at the edge of pain). Sigh or exhale deeply if needed — this is the body’s natural relaxation response.

Congratulations!

You should feel better already. Phase 2 builds on this foundation.

Phase 2: Calm, Centered, & Clear

man levitating while looking out at ocean
Photo by Andrew Spencer

Ready to experience deep, healing tranquility?

Phase 2 is an easy meditative movement practice that I’ve used for over a decade to feel great.

This exercise originated in the spiritual and healing traditions of ancient China, collectively known today as qigong (pronounced chee-gung). Qigong is special because it combines the benefits of movement, meditation, and brain training (focus, mindfulness, and creative visualization) into one activity.

Ready to give it a try?

How to Do Phase 2

  1. Stand in an upright but relaxed posture — feet parallel (approximately shoulder width apart), toes pointing forward, and knees slightly bent. Hands hang relaxed by your sides.
  2. Inhale slowly and deeply through your nose. At the same time, sweep your arms up and out, bringing your hands toward each other above your head.
  3. Exhale slowly and smoothly (also through the nose). At the same time allow your hands to descend in front of your torso and return to their starting position near your sides.
  4. Continue moving the arms with your breath. With every exhalation, imagine your hands guiding shimmering light down through the top of your head, washing through every cell in your body. Imagine and feel the light carrying away all tension, stress, worry, and pain. With every pass, you feel more relaxed, centered, and clear.
      man in starting qigong/ wuji position
Stand upright, relaxed, knees slightly bent, feet parallel, about shoulder width apart.

 Arm movement is coordinated with the breath.

The power of this exercise comes from combining movement & breathing with visualization and sensations.

It’s important that you not only see light washing through your cells, but also feel it. At first you may need to imagine the feeling — fluid, warm, expansive, and soothing.

With a little practice you will create a strong mind-body connection.

For example, when I perform this exercise I get a chill down my spine, goosebumps on my arms, and waves of euphoria wash through me. It wasn’t always that way, but through practice I’ve conditioned this response.

If you’re having a hard time focusing your mind or feeling your body, that’s okay. Keep trying, and soon it will become real for you.

Do this exercise for at least 3 minutes in the beginning, and go as long as you want — as long as it feels good.

Keys to success

  • Stay as relaxed as you can without losing your upright posture
  • Breathing is slow, smooth, even, and deep
  • Move your arms slowly and smoothly in coordination with the breath
  • If your mind wanders, gently return your attention to imagining and feeling light washing through your cells
  • Do it frequently and consistently — the more you do it, the better it gets

By now you should be feeling pretty amazing.

And it gets better…

Phase 3: Expanding Your Power & Presence

close up of lion
Photo by Frida Bredesen

If I was just trying to get you high, we’d stop with Phase 2.

But we’re ambitious, productive men — men with shit to get done. Phase 3 is a meditation that will put you in the right space to go after what you want in life.

After this you’re going to feel like a lion, or the Sun… or a giant Sun-Lion! Too cheesy? Anyway, that’s the feeling we’re going for.

Powerful. Bright. Expansive. Unstoppable.

How to Do Phase 3

  1. Continue standing in an upright, relaxed position. Hold your hands facing your lower abdomen about 6 inches from your body, like you’re gently holding a ball against your body. Maintain this position for the entire exercise.
  2. Inhale. Imagine and feel warm, golden light pouring into your lower abdomen from your head, arms, and legs. This light forms a sphere that grows brighter and expands with each inhalation. Feel the expansion of the sphere gently push your arms away from your body.
  3. Exhale. Imagine your ball of light condensing and growing brighter like the Sun, shining out and filling the entire room.
  4. With each breath cycle, feel your sovereignty grow — the light of your power radiating out and illuminating your domain. Feel the energy and power strengthen and expand your presence, like a mighty lion.
  5. After 3–5 minutes, or whenever you feel sufficiently expansive and powerful, rest your hands on your lower abdomen and allow your mind and energy to settle.
  6. Gently rock back and forth on your feet to release any tension you’ve built up in your legs. Massage and gently shake it out.
Imagine and feel the expansion of light and power in your abdomen — radiating out over your domain.

Keys to success with this practice:

  • Relax your face, neck, and shoulders
  • Breath slowly and smoothly (diaphragmatic breathing)
  • Imagine and feel — the more real you make it, the more powerful it becomes

Do you feel the power? (please reread that in the voice of Arnold Schwarzenegger).

Now You Have a Choice

man punching ground with sand flying up all around him

The demands of life can leave us feeling raw and rough.

It’s not easy.

Sometimes we just want to unplug from everything and escape. And there is no shortage of seductive diversions at our fingertips, ready to carry us away at any moment.

But these pleasures come with a price.

With clouded minds, dulled senses, and distracted hearts, we waste precious hours — hours that could be used to create a more connected and meaningful life.

There’s a better way.

A way to sooth our exhausted nerves while gaining clarity, energy, and focus.

Today you learned how to do just that through a series of simple exercises that make up a powerful routine for adjusting your physical and mental state.

Don’t underestimate their effectiveness due to their simplicity. That is a mistake. The power of these practices is unlocked through their consistent application over time.

Practice every day. Be present. Savor the good feelings that come out of it.

Before you know it this routine will have hardwired itself into a habit. Eventually, even the simple act of pressing a pressure point will activate your relaxation response, triggering a powerful cascade of neurological and hormonal changes.

Whether you’re using it to quickly regain your composure after a stressful meeting, or getting your mind right so you can show up calm and collected for your loved ones — you’ll be in control.

Now it’s up to you.

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