The awesome things that mindfulness does to your brain!

“You can’t run that fast.

He/She is not going to be interested in you.

You look frumpy.

People are not going to like your haircut.

Your voice sounds funny.

OMG is that a wrinkle???

They will never accept those terms.

Blah blah blah.”

 

“Oh, hello, this is your inner voice speaking.

I am going to make sure you second guess yourself.

I will remind you of the impending dangers, and cause you anxiety about an upcoming event or meeting.

I am your personal reminder to worry, stress. assume.

I am here to tell you a story, to pre-emptively inform you of your story.”

Mindfulness.

Your inner voice is silent. Or at least out of hearing range. There is no pre-written plot here. You chose.
Ok, so what was that all about?
Last week I promised to reveal what happens in your brain when you are “mindful”. What you have just read is an example of what actually happens. Many studies have been done to find out what goes on in your brain during and after meditation. Although meditation is not the same as mindfulness, it is one of the most common – and easiest – ways to practice mindfulness, and develop it. From that practice we can then apply it anytime, anywhere. Next week I will go into more detail about how you can easily begin to develop mindfulness as a habit, but for now, lets get back to the brain.

Two important things happen in your brain during and after meditation or mindfulness practice:

First, the inner voice is muted.

Your inner voice, or story-teller uses the information it receives from your reticular activating system (see my post on this here) to develop stories that are strictly speaking fantasy. These stories are generated by our language centre based on past experiences, assumptions, live information that comes in through our senses, and “stuff” that is floating around in our subconscious.
Mindfulness separates and severs this link.
At first that may sound like a bad thing, but it is not. This severing allows the more evolved parts of our mind to engage with the information that comes in through our senses, and effectively bypasses our more primitive flight-or-fight type brain functions and stop the behavior triggers. So what that really means is that instead of second guessing, doubting or deluding ourselves by way of this creative story-telling , our awareness is actually processing the information that comes in “clean”, in other words, without emotional bias, not altered by our past experiences. It does not mean we don’t “feel” emotion, it simply means the made-up story does not undermine our perception with assumptions. Our inner voice is powerful, and our ability to silence it and bypass it means we will worry less, stress less, abstain from passing judgment preemptively, draw foregone conclusions and so on. It means that we are able to work with untampered information and as a result we will make better decisions. Its that simple, and it has a very direct effect on our body and our health.

The second thing that happens is we become more empathic.

This is not some warm-and-fuzzy theoretical thing, the areas of our brain responsible for empathy and compassion are stimulated and become more active. We are able to connect with our surroundings better (not just people) and it increases our awareness as a part of a greater whole. The benefit of this needs no explanation. Because of this, meditation is being used as a highly effective way of helping people recover from depression – meditation instead of medication!
Although significant and lasting physiological changes to the brain take some time to reach, (the first real changes begin to occur after about two months of regular daily meditation), you can quite literally change the experience of your day on the spot by either meditation or mindfulness exercises. And that does not require preparation.

So in summary, your brain will reconfigure itself to reduce stress and increase health, and you will become a nicer, kinder more authentic person.

I deliberately left the heavy science stuff out, but I will post links next week to some relevant scientific publications and media if you wish to immerse yourself the clinical and detailed explanation (no pseudoscience!). Next week I will show you simple ways to tap into this wonderful state of being, and give you a starting point towards a healthier, happier, mindful life.
Enjoy, share, comment…

Winning the Battle for Your Mind – part 2

Sometimes it is simpler to begin communicating a concept by what it is not in order to get to what it is. Mindfulness is one of those concepts.
Mindfulness is a tremendously evocative word, often associated with mystical experiences, ascetic and monastic lifestyles, intense discipline, ritual and seclusion. While all these may be true to some extent, it is not at the exclusion of a great number of other things. Above all however, none of those are relevant to you, because mindfulness is accessible to anyone in any circumstance, right now.

So what is mindfulness NOT?

Mindfulness is not a religion.
Mindfulness is not the same as meditation.
Mindfulness is not related to time.
Mindfulness does not require you to be removed from your surroundings, whatever they are.
Mindfulness is not something that requires you to be in solitude and isolation.
Mindfulness does not require you to stop doing anything, to be passive, to sit in quiet introspective contemplation.
Mindfulness does not require you to renounce your life, or you lifestyle, or your career, or your family, or your hobbies.
Mindfulness does not require you to renounce your belongings, wealth or titles.
Mindfulness is not an activity, its not something you “do”.

So what IS mindfulness then?

Pause.

I mean right now, pause. Let your eyes rest on this sentence for a moment. Stop all other activities, read each word, allow its meaning to really engage you. Be aware of how your body feels as you read. What emotions does it stimulate? Do you like or dislike it?. Pause briefly, just long enough for that idea to fully engage. Feel that engagement. That is all. That is enough. That is mindfulness. It is simply doing what it is you are doing right now, with your full attention. Take this post for example. You could be reading this over breakfast, while trying to type an e-mail, while getting the kids ready for school, while reviewing your schedule for the day. Or you could commit yourself to the few minutes required to reading it mindfully.

Every moment of our day is filled with opportunities to be mindful.

When we listen to our kids share their experiences of their day, are we listening to them and hearing the emotions, the messages? Or are we preoccupied with the sms that just arrived on our phone? Or the fact that they have not put their school-bag in the right place?
When we eat, are we savouring the flavours of what we are eating, smelling the aromas, sensing the textures? Are we conscious of its nutritional and healing power? Or do we simply scoff it down while skimming over the facebook feed instead, almost instantaneously forgetting what it was and what it tasted like? Or perhaps, craving another mouthful to satisfy a craving?
When we work, are we mechanically moving through the actions in a state of trance with a vague awareness that soon we will have completed that task and perhaps obsessing about that next thing, or the 437 unread emails in your inbox?
When we travel, do we allow ourselves to take in the surroundings, feel the temperature, the breeze, the light or shade, the sound of the wind or perhaps the rain and how it feels on our skin, the space we are in and the places we are moving through, the passing of time as we travel? Or do we devote our energy to escalating our frustration at the speed of our journey because perhaps we may be running late for an appointment?

We are always doing something.

We can do it mindlessly, mechanically, automatically, be disengaged. Life becomes unfullfilling, and we spend our time hoping or expecting that a great experience is something that will come up sometime soon, while we miss the one we are currently in.
We can do it mindfully. That simply means we are allowing our five physical senses to participate, as well as our mind and heart – in other words, all parts of our self are active. I like to describe it as occupying your body fully, right down to your fingertips and your toes, rather than just having your sense of awarenes clustered around the most sensory diverse part of our body – our head, in particular the space between our nose, eyes and ears. Again pause for a moment and allow yourself to be aware of all physical parts that comprise you.
 Like all things, it takes practice, but it is not difficult.
If you are wondering how to practice mindfulness, in two weeks I will share simple ways you can practice anywhere and get good at this. Next week I will explain what goes on in our minds when we are mindful, and why that matters.
I will close by highlighting some of the fad and trendy things that often get wrongly associated with mindfulness. Beware of these if they are promoted as a way of becoming more mindful (They may serve other purposes, but these are not relevant in helping you become more mindful):
  • Exotic exercise regimes.
  • Herbal and homeopathic remedies, acupuncture, infusions etc.
  • Talismans, amulets, charms, crystals and accessories in general.
  • Esoteric “cleansings”, treatments, chakral tunings and similar “new-age” activities, vibration and frequency “treatments”.
  • Religious rituals and practices.
  • Psychic readings, tarot and divination.
  • One-minute meditations (this is like expecting to become super-fit by doing one push-up each day).
  • Vegetarian, paleo, or any other diet: What you eat does not make you more or less mindful. How you experience what you eat is what matters.
  • Baths, spas, special locations and places of esoteric or mystical significance.
Mindfulness is a vast subject, but its practice is so simple and its effect powerful. I believe it should be taught to kids in schools. It would change the world. And I hope that you can make it part of your life, and experience a beautiful change your world.

Who is Winning the Battle for Your Mind?

Mindfulness.

Like many others before it, it has become the new buzzword in success circles.
It’s use has progressively surged in the last 5 years, so much in fact that in the last six years it’s Google interest rating has constantly risen from 40 (out of 100) to 92!.
In 2013 it exploded onto the mass media with posts and articles in all major news channels, and celebrities and CEO’s all loudly proclaiming their newly dicovered joy of mindfulness.

Given that the practice of mindfulness has been around for thousands of years (yes that’s not a mistake!), why is it suddenly becoming fashionable? And why should you care?

The first question is answered by two fairly recent changes in our global culture.

One, that more than ever we are seduced into mindlessness, which that is increasingly wreaking havoc with our lives. People are are hurting as a result, and are beginning to notice.
And two, that we have had a greater exposure to this concept through the very same channels that have fostered that mindlessness.
I am talking about our obsession with being “connected” via the web and social media, and our capacity to access information at a whim. We are inadvertently shifting our focus away from what is actually happening around us, while preoccupying ourselves with highly edited and pre-selected information that in reality is of no consequence to our life. We are more disconnected than ever before, and our experience of life is becoming drastically empoverished as a result.

And now, why should You care?

This will take more time to answer, and over the next three weeks I will address each of the following topics in detail, each building on the one before. These are:
  • What mindfulness IS, and what it IS NOT: how to spot a fake.
  • What actually happens in the mindful brain – and why it matters more than you think!
  • How to win the battle for mindfulness: simple practices that will make your every day more awesome.
My goal with these is not to transform you into a remote cave-dwelling enlightend nun or monk in perpetual meditation, but to help you experience a refreshed and deeply satisfying engagement in your life that you have most likely not felt for a long time, or in most cases never before.
Enjoy, and please share if you found this valuable. I look forward to some great conversations in four weeks…
Have a wonderful day.