Along with talking to the dead, telekinesis and washing your hair on a Friday – some people believe that all this “mindful stuff” is just a bit… well… Woo Woo!
I mean “Really?!”… Is spending more time inside my own mind really going to help me to get healthy? I am pretty sure that if you dig too deep all you will find amongst the tumbleweeds are mental images of Rolo from Vikings, the memory of where I left my favourite Benefit eyeliner and a note I made in 2009 about NEVER trying skittles vodka after a curry again!
Just thirty years ago, mindfulness was for the robe wearers… Monks, nuns, hippies and unemployed wanna-be writers sitting around in their bathrobes with a pen in one hand and a joint in the other. (Please note I am neither writing this with a ballpoint, in a bathrobe nor with the habitual healing of marijuana – I gave that up along with beer pong and all-nighters).
I am of course exaggerating, there were the few “normal folk” who practiced the art of mindfulness, but let’s just say it wasn’t exactly “trending”!
And maybe – therein lies the barrier – “ART”… Maybe it was the introduction of mindfulness in psychology journals and research studies that have given it far more credit and tangibility amongst the masses. With the growth of PosPsych (Positive Psychology – just a lot cooler and easier to say!), we have seen the growth of understanding around the subject as a science.
And I have to say, for me, someone who has always been a hard fact kinda girl – I like to know the whys and wherefores if I am going to invest my time and energy into something.
Need to Know
I also feel that most of my clients stick at new skills longer when they fully understand the impact of their actions – In the same way that kids need to know why they need to know algebra. And I tell them the same thing every time “In case you need to build a giant catapult one day” – we prepare for ALL eventualities!
Of course, this is a silly joke but it gets them thinking. And whilst you may feel like you are bumbling away in life just fine and ignorance is bliss, putting a smile on a sad face or a happiness quote on the Facebook profile of a terribly unhappy inner child is like putting a plaster on a volcano! One day that S!#%’s gonna’ blow!!
People (in the UK for sure) as a society use the phrase “deep and meaningful” in a derogatory way. For example, when you ask someone a question that takes them marginally outside of their emotional comfort zone, “So, what do you love about being a dad?” their voice shifts and the response goes something like “that’s a bit deep and meaningful!” Or “So, what’s your purpose in life?” … talk about run for the hills!
People like comfortable. Comfortable is safe. Comfortable is where we can pretend that everything is as good as it’s ever going to be. Even if comfortable means miserable – because at least we will have something to talk about.
Digging Deep (and this is kind of a forewarning/disclaimer type-thing) means getting UGLY!
Digging deep means unearthing some truths we have been hiding from.
Digging deep means letting that fiery little toddler out of its’ “naughty step” and looking back at some of your PAST behaviours with one hand over your face, cringing at what the toddler made you do!
So, it’s clear why so many STILL like to avoid the Woo Woo stuff BUT why are millions of people around the GLOBE now practicing this stuff… daily?!
If it’s not because Steve Jobs stated that he used “mind technology“, specifically the practice of Zen mindfulness meditation to shape his awesome career by reducing his stress, enhancing his creativity and gaining clarity.
Or Oprah sharing tips for, benefits of and celebrating the practice of mindfulness and meditation via her website and mag O, The Oprah Magazine.
Or, according to the Daily Mail, Gwyneth Paltrow, and Emma Watson, championing this ancient practice themselves, alongside thousands of other celebrities. Maybe it has more to do with the science behind the woo-woo.
MRI scans during a clinical study, by Adrienne Taren at the University of Pittsburgh, have shown that after an eight-week mindfulness practice the brain’s fight or flight, the stress section of the brain, is visibly smaller. But as this area shrinks, the frontal part – responsible for decision making and awareness – gets thicker.
So not only are we reducing the risk of eating a full pack of Kit Kats after stage 5 stress-out meeting with the B – O – S – S but also increasing our ability to both reason in said meeting and question our inner toddler desires to either booby-trap a certain someone’s chair or devour said someone’s chocolate muffin from the communal staff fridge!
Not only does the volume of brain matter alter but the connections that each area of the brain makes, evidencing a preference for high order connections. Scientific American cleverly describe it – “In other words, our more primal responses to stress seem to be superseded by more thoughtful ones.”
The inner toddler is becoming inquisitive, able to negotiate and showing a stronger self-awareness, beyond its basic, innate needs – you are nurturing the beast and your parenting technique is one of patience and compassion.
It is not just a physical knock-on effect from the mental changes that can be seen as benefiting our health, there are actual physical results too. Tom Ireland goes on to write “I’m definitely not saying mindfulness can cure HIV or prevent heart disease. But we do see a reduction in biomarkers of stress and inflammation. Markers like C-reactive proteins, interleukin 6 and cortisol – all of which are associated with disease.”
We often talk about athletes having a low resting heart rate; it can be a sign of someone’s fitness level. Indicating clearly that physical exercise has an effect on our body’s function even whilst not exercising. Yes – this sounds kind of obvious.
But when people talk about their objections to meditation, they question how realistic it is to drop their Zen cushion mid-morning assembly and break out the “headspace app” in front of a busy office full! But, similarly to the resting heart rate, the resting mind of a person practicing mindfulness remains in a state which resembles the meditating mind!
What am I getting at? Practice mindfulness and meditation often enough and your brain will be so calm you’ll make Gandhi look like a Kardashian at a Court appearance!
(Note – we are NOT talking about 3 hourly sessions a week here – 10 minutes a day has shown significant results in these studies, and you will learn as we work through this book, it’s all about small, progressive change for long-lasting results. So even 3 minutes might be a good starting point)
It’s not all about staying calm, it’s that higher order thinking that we want to really tap into. When you become so self-aware that you can not only hear your subconscious thoughts but you can also control them – that’s what is going to make getting healthy get happy!
Mindfulness is also about shifting our perceptions – feeling grateful and abundant, empowered and alive, accepted and loved – all of the feelings which your inner toddler is yearning for. Every cry for attention and ungrateful tantrum – parented with nurture and compassion.
The most common phrase that I hear people, friends, fitness clients say when they are talking about their health dilemmas is “I don’t know why…”
“I don’t know why I can’t just stick to plan”
“I don’t know why I drink too much when I go out”
“I don’t know why I can’t get past 11:00 am without eating my lunch!
“I don’t know why it is that I know exactly what I should be doing – I just can’t seem to get it done!”
Imagine if you knew why?
Imagine if every time you triggered these behaviours you were able to hear your inner toddler clearly… You could relate, you could feel compassion towards their plight, you could forgive the frenzy and you could love the s#!& out of them so that you can LET IT GO! Detach from this behavioural pattern and over time stop playing out the same ordeals.
You have already begun.
An extract from Give Me Strength: Fix Your Love-Hate Relationship With Food and Your Body by Kate Hennessey Bowers