When I started following a training program put together by a former Navy SEAL Commander, I knew it would be hard. I was aware it would challenge me physically and mentally. I expected to get beat up, even injured.
What I didn’t expect was that the gun-toting bad*ss would tell me that I need to focus the most on improving my breathing. Or that he’d recommend that I do more yoga and journaling, and that I should begin every day by writing down what I feel grateful for. And I couldn’t have known that these changes would eventually help me deal with a tremendous, unforeseen tragedy that recently struck me and my family.
I should state here that this blog post will not be full of the crazy workout anecdotes and barf jokes that has made up most of the SURVIVING SEALFIT series to date. This story gets a little personal and heavy. If you’re not up for that, no worries. I won’t blame you for clicking out and heading to another stop on the Information Superhighway.
But if you’re still with me, thanks for being here. Let’s keep moving.
So as I alluded to earlier, SEALFIT’s founder, Mark Divine, says that his program differs from other workout plans in that he’s not just trying to make you physically stronger. His aim is to help people become more mentally tough, spiritually aware, better able to control their emotions, and more empowered to realize their life’s goals and dreams.
That might sound heady or new age-y, and it’s definitely ambitious, but it’s not without historical precedent. Many martial arts traditions have used an integrated approach like this, requiring a warrior to train his body, mind and spirit. Divine’s might just be the first to use kettlebells.
But if we set aside the kettlebells and other well-documented brutal workouts, many of SEALFIT’s recommendations sound as if they might have come out of a Chicken Soup for the Soul book. And in many cases, they’re backed by science.
Take deep breathing, for example. Divine recommends that trainees spend a few minutes taking slow, deep breaths (he calls the technique Box Breathing) before every workout, and at any other time of the day when you might be facing a big challenge, such as a presentation at work. Which is a really good idea, according to Harvard Medical School and others, since deep breathing deeply elicits a relaxation response in your body, turning off it’s “fight or flight” impulse, lowering your blood pressure and heart rate, and providing more oxygen to your brain and muscles.
Another example is gratitude. In his book The Way of the SEAL, Divine suggests beginning each day with a short “power ritual,” which begins by asking you to write down what you feel grateful for. There are studies indicating that daily gratitude is good for you. Recent research of heart-failure patients found that those who kept gratitude journals during an eight-week period experienced a reduction in inflammatory biomarkers and showed better heart health overall than those who did not.
Similarly, the benefits of yoga—which Divine makes sound a bit more hardcore by calling his version Warrior Yoga—are many, and recognized by modern medicine.
However, some of the most interesting things I’ve learned from Divine and SEALFIT—and some that have been helping me get through the past few days—are the little life lessons or bits of philosophy he scatters here and there in Way of the SEAL and SEALFIT’s website. Example: Staying “front sight focused”—a reference to keeping your gun’s sights set on just the target in front of you, then moving on to the next thing. Or “finding the silver lining,” which is looking for something that’s right even when—especially when—things go wrong.
Things went very wrong for my family and I last week. My wife was 10 weeks pregnant, and she and I went to the doctor’s office for her first checkup and to hear the baby’s heartbeat. The heartbeat never came. A day of tests and scans confirmed our worst fears: It was a miscarriage.
It took every ounce of strength I had not to be destroyed by the news. In the doctor’s office, as he explained the situation, deep breathing was the only thing that kept me from passing out and falling over. Which I could not allow myself to do. I needed to be fully present and aware, so I could try and help my wife cope.
Tragedies are not a time for thinking big or long term. To make it through, you must shift your focus to just getting to the next task: Making it to the follow-up appointment, getting any medications or materials that are necessary, keeping yourself and your loved ones in one piece with each step. In a way it’s like what Divine writes about how to survive SEAL Hell Week, or Brad McLeod writes about surviving the Hell Week-inspired Kokoro: Just get through the first hour. Then survive the second. One foot in front of the other.
I want to make it clear at this point that I am in no way comparing the emotional devastation of a loss to something like a tough workout. That would be demeaning and stupid. The two are in no way comparable. What I am saying, however, is that some of the things I’ve learned through training have helped me cope with something unimaginable, and persevere through the past few days.
It’s helpful that I’m married to the strongest and most incredible woman I’ve ever met. My wife Natalie has dealt with so much. As if this latest news weren’t enough, almost exactly a year ago, her mother passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. But each day Natalie is the smart, caring, happy and driven woman I fell in love with, and is a wonderful, loving mother for the 2-year-old daughter we are so blessed to have.
We will get through this together. Putting one foot in front of the other, we will keep moving forward.
So what’s the silver lining? For a miscarriage, there isn’t one. It’s just one big awful cloud, which for some godforsaken reason this time came our way—and has visited far too many others, too (estimates are that up to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage, with that number likely being under reported.) For all of us, the experience is just one great big gray blob of suck. Our only solace is that no cloud can block out all of the sky forever. There is daylight on the horizon.
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 1: What Happened When a Regular Guy Tried to Train Like a Navy SEAL
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 2: 3 Ways SEAL-Style Workouts Change Your Life
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 3: The World’s Hardest Workout Has a Ridiculous Name
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 4: Inside the Devil’s Backpack: The Only 5 Things You Need to Get A Hellishly Hard Workout Anywhere
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 5: How Not to Hurt Yourself (Like I Did)
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 6: Finding the Silver Lining
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 7: The Question That Tells You Whether You’ll Succeed
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 8: Meet 3 Guys Who Might Kill Me
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 9: The Dress Rehearsal
SURVIVING SEALFIT, part 10: What a SEALFIT 20X Challenge is REALLY Like
STACK Executive Editor Brian Sabin wishes he’d never had to write this post, but since he did, he really appreciates you reading it. Next week SURVIVING SEALFIT will be back to lighter fare as the series recounts his quest to reach elite military grade fitness, take on a SEALFIT 20X Challenge and (hopefully) live to tell about it. He’s publishing weekly accounts of his ups and downs here at STACK.com. You can also find daily updates on Twitter and Google Plus.