Mindfulness and Yoga for Addiction Release

In a discussion of the interaction between mind, body and spirit, Surbhi Khanna & Jeffrey Greeson acknowledge the complementarity of yoga and meditation – both require paying attention to experiences and related emotions as they happen.

They suggest that the “loss-addiction cycle” arises from a number of sources:

Addictions are born as a result of ‘mindless’ states involving escapist attitudes, automatic thinking, emotional reactivity and social isolation.

Breaking the addiction cycle – using yoga and meditation together

The addicted person turns to a form of gratification to fill the void left by sadness and loss.  The void maybe filled by an addiction to smoking, drinking alcohol or using any other substance or activity in a repeated, mindless way.  The problem, of course, is that the addiction, whatever form it takes, fails to overcome the sense of loss, isolation or disconnection.  The addicted person then increases the use of the substance or activity and seeks to intensify the momentary pleasure they experience.  These further cement the “loss-addiction cycle”.

The authors assert that practices such as yoga and meditation improve attention and concentration and enhance the ability to self-observe and regulate emotions.  They maintain that optimal treatment and prevention of addiction and recovery from it, can be achieved by using yoga and meditation in concert.  They point out that further evidence-based research needs to be undertaken taking into account different kinds of addiction and differences in gender, demography and orientation (physical, mental or spiritual).

Khanna and Greeson, however, contend that the growing empirical research and conceptual development of the underpinnings of meditation and yoga, support the view that the combination of these two modalities can break the cycle of stress, negative thoughts and emotions and the resultant addictive behaviour.

Yoga and meditation are complementary and mutually reinforcing.  As you use these modalities together they can help you grow in mindfulness and reduce or avoid the mindless pursuit of addictions.  When used in concert, yoga and meditation can improve self-awareness and self-management.

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New Horizons: Beyond Postnatal Depression

Researchers in Iran established that Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) can help new mothers reduce the symptoms of postnatal depression.  They counselled, however, that “regular mindfulness practice is important in maintaining balance in life”.  Dr. Zindel Segal, a co-developer of MBCT, also cautions, “getting well is half the problem, staying well is the other half”.  MBCT was developed as a direct response to the need to prevent relapses after depression and enables participants to sustain meditation practice.

Gail Donnan’s story of relapse after postnatal depression

Many years after suffering postnatal depression, Gail Donnan experienced a range of symptoms which tended to mirror the symptoms of postnatal depression she had experienced previously.  At the time, she was having difficulty managing multiple (and sometimes conflicting) roles – mother, wife, part-time teacher of Holistic Therapies in further education.

The anxiety associated with the sense of overload brought back the symptoms she thought she had left behind – physical symptoms of lack of sleep and exhaustion; psychological symptoms of tearfulness, low self-esteem, anger, being negative and panic attacks, as everything got out of perspective.

Gail fortuitously recalled how meditation had helped her with postnatal depression and began meditating again, using her old meditation tapes.  She then advanced onto meditation apps and explored brain science and nutrition.

The real breakthrough came when Gail decided to study to become a qualified Meditation Teacher – she was already qualified as a Counsellor, Teacher and Assessor.  Her experience of the benefits of meditation for her own wellbeing served as a source of motivation.

New Horizons: Beyond Postnatal Depression

Gail then trained as a Mindfulness Practitioner and Coach.  In 2014, she conceived and established The Mindfulspace Wellbeing Company in Ripon, North Yorkshire.

Gail initially led Meditation Circles on a small scale and conducted Mindfulness workshops on a local scale for eighteen months.  In 2016, she opened The Mindfulspace Wellbeing Studios in Ripon.

She now offers a very wide range of holistic therapies and accredited courses, in association with other qualified practitioners, through two Wellbeing Studios and a Wellbeing Training Centre.  The offerings include meditation classes and mindfulness coaching along with accredited courses such as a Meditation Teacher Diploma and a Mindfulness Diploma.   Gail’s Facebook page details the very extensive services that are now provided.  In the meantime, Gail has qualified as a Reiki Master Teacher Practitioner.

Gail’s experience of meditation and its benefits for depression and her growing conviction through training others in meditation and mindfulness, have provided the foundation for her to explore these new horizons.  She is now in a position to help many other people through a wide range of related modalities.

From Depression to Creativity

Jon Kabat-Zinn, when talking about the benefits of meditation and mindfulness,  makes the point, “A lot of creativity comes out of the stillness of awareness, in not knowing”.  He suggests that if we explore what we don’t know we are at the cutting edge of new knowledge – this has certainly been attested in Gail’s case.  The calm, balance and clarity derived from meditation and mindfulness, as a practitioner and teacher, have opened up new vistas for her and created a thirst for knowledge and wisdom.

As we grow in mindfulness, we can move beyond the disabling bonds of depression and explore new horizons through new-found creativity, energy and insight.

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Research Study on Mindfulness for Postnatal Depression

The incidence of postpartum depression in Iran is reported to be in the range 30-40 percent of women giving birth to a child.  One suggested factor is the early age that Iranian girls become married and have children – understandably, placing them in a position where they are both physically and mentally under-prepared for the exhausting physical and emotional demands of birthing and for the care of their new-born babies.

Four researchers, motivated by these alarming statistics, established a research project with first-time mothers in Iran to explore the effectiveness of mindfulness in reducing the incidence of postpartum depression.  The researchers – Hajieh Sheydaei, Azizreza Ghasemzadeh, Amir Lashkari and Parvaneh Ghorbani Kajani – published their results in an article titled, The effectiveness of mindfulness training on reducing the symptoms of postpartum depression.

Their research established that “mindfulness training was effective in reducing postpartum depression symptoms in new mothers”.  The researchers describe some of the symptoms of postnatal depression as:

…increase in appetite and overweightness. Irritability, aggressive behavior, panic attacks, seclusion, and uncontrolled crying … Maternity blues are the most outstanding symptom of postpartum depression which is considered the direct result of mothers’ anger and irritation.

The research group of new mothers who undertook the mindfulness training were exposed to a course involving 8 sessions and based on Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) – which entails combining mindfulness practices with cognitive therapy.  They were exposed to a range of mindfulness practices such as mindful eating, mindful breathing, sitting and walking meditations.  Some of the exercises were designed to challenge their negative thinking and emotions and to develop strategies to cope with the challenges of motherhood, while caring for themselves.

The MBCT approach helped the participating mothers to grow in self-awareness.  They were also able to enhance their self-management skills through an increased ability to identify the links between their thoughts and mood disorders and to develop new ways to deal with them (rather than the former strategies such as isolation, aggression and irritability).

As new mothers grow in mindfulness through meditative practices and exercises based on cognitive therapy, they can develop a different level of emotional intelligence which will equip them to deal with the challenges of motherhood and reduce symptoms of postnatal depression.

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Mindfulness and Meditation for Elite Athletes

Patrick Chan used mindfulness to excel at the 2018 Winter Olympic Games.  His first round performance for the team figure skating event was badly hampered by nerves and he did not score well.  However by talking to himself, confronting the expectations of his team and his own debilitating emotions, he was able to achieve the top score in his next round and help Canada win the Olympic Gold medal for the event.

Jon Kabat-Zinn taught meditation to the 1984 US Olympic rowing team – a team that went on to win 2 gold medals, 5 silver and 1 bronze.   Jon maintains that to get into the “zone” of peak performance on a regular basis you need to meditate to train yourself mentally.

Richmond Football Club – AFL Premiership Winners through Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness and meditation training helped Richmond win the 2017 AFL premiership.   The initiative started in 2015 with Dylan Grimes, Richmond defender, who was very frustrated and dissatisfied with his ability to maintain his performance at an elite level.  He read a number of books about mindfulness and how it could enhance performance.  In particular, he was impressed with the idea of achieving “flow” proposed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, author of Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience.

People who experience flow in their endeavours achieve optimal performance, increase their creativity and experience real joy and happiness.   The Richmond Football Club engaged Emma Murray, high performance and mindfulness coach, to help all team members achieve their optimal level.  She was able to help players develop self-awareness, build focus and concentration and to help each other when one of the team was becoming distracted or unfocused.  She successfully established new norms such as individual players openly admitting the impact of their thoughts on their performance, sharing doubts and concerns and, overall, being vulnerable – a counter-cultural position.

Richmond players readily acknowledged the role of Emma’s teaching in mindfulness and meditation in helping them win the premiership.  For example, Dean Martin, winner of the Brownlow Medal, mentioned Emma’s contribution to Richmond’s performance after the game.

Konrad Marshall, author of Yellow & Black: A Season with Richmond, also provided a detailed description of Emma’s work with the football players and the effectiveness of her mindfulness and meditation approach.

NBA Athletes

Laura Chang in an article for mindfulnessmuse.com reminds us of the mindfulness practice of top NBA athletes who before the start of a game focus internally to “get into the zone” and build attention and concentration.  She suggests that we can all learn from these elite athletes to increase our own focus and productivity and proposes a mindfulness practice for improved performance.

Mindfulness Exercise for Improved Performance

Laura offers a 5-step mindfulness exercise that is designed to improve attention during physical activities.  The process, explained in detail in her article, is discussed in terms of the acronym, B.A.S.I.C. :

  • Body – body awareness
  • Arousal Level – notice the nature of your arousal
  • Self-Talk – what are you saying to yourself and what impact is it having on your performance?
  • Imagery – what images are you entertaining and do they reinforce excellent performance?
  • Concentration – notice the nature and quality of your concentration and focus and its impact on your performance.

This process is designed to enhance self-awareness and self-management and, in the process, build the capacity to maintain attention and focus at a high level.

As elite athletes grow in mindfulness they are better able to manage their negative thoughts and images, to maintain concentration and focus, to be creative and to achieve optimal performance.

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Mindfulness for Childbirth

In the previous post, I discussed mindfulness for postpartum depression and shared the story of Kristi Pahr and a range of relevant mindfulness resources.  In this post, I want to focus on the research that has been conducted on the use of mindfulness in preparation for childbirth.

Research in the area of mindfulness for mothers suggests that developing mindfulness during pregnancy can assist the mother not only during the perinatal period but also during the birth of a child and the postnatal period.  The benefits of mindfulness practice before birth can flow over to the postnatal period and help to prevent or alleviate the effects of postnatal depression.

Research on Mindfulness for Childbirth

Both pregnancy and childbirth challenge the resilience of a mother and the postnatal period brings its own stressors with the need to care for a newborn baby.   Mindfulness, in concert with social support, can help to ward off postnatal depression and assist in keeping both mother and baby healthy and happy.

Fear associated with expecting the worst in labour and the graphic sharing, both orally and in writing, of difficulties experienced by other mothers, compounds the natural anxiety of expectant mothers.  This, in turn, can make labour more difficult and prolonged and lead to other undesirable outcomes such as increased need for pain relief or other medical intervention and increased possibility that the mother will experience postnatal depression.

The Guardian in June 2017 carried a report of research conducted by Dr. Larissa Duncan and her colleagues based on the 2.5 days, weekend workshop, Mind in Labor (MIL) – developed and conducted by experienced midwife Nancy Bardacke, author of Mindful Birthing: Training the Mind, Body, and Heart for Childbirth and Beyond.

The focus of the Guardian article was on the question, Can mindfulness reduce the fear of labour and postpartum depression?  The reported research involved a randomised group (with some participants randomly assigned to complete the mindfulness course, while others [the control group] did not undertake the mindfulness training).  The research group covered 30 expectant, first-time mothers in their 3rd trimester of pregnancy.

Participants in the mindfulness training were given specific coping skills for birthing including learning to reframe the experience of pain, learning how to decouple pain sensations from negative thoughts and emotions, and developing personalised strategies with their partners to cope with the birthing process and beyond.  They were also exposed experientially to a range of mindfulness practices such as mindful walking, mindful breathing, body scan, sitting meditation, mindful eating and coping with pain through experiencing pain mindfully (holding ice blocks in their hands).

The conclusions reported in the research project by Dr. Duncan and her colleagues were stated as follows:

This study suggests mindfulness training carefully tailored to address fear and pain of childbirth may lead to important maternal mental health benefits, including improvements in childbirth-related appraisals and the prevention of postpartum depression symptoms. There is also some indication that MIL participants may use mindfulness coping in lieu of systemic opioid pain medication. 

Translated this means that the mindfulness training participants had increased belief in their capacity to handle the pain of birthing (self-efficacy), better ability to manage the pain through mindfulness techniques, greater body awareness, more positive perception of their experience of childbirth and less symptoms of postnatal depression.

As expectant mothers grow in mindfulness through tailored mindfulness training and practice, they are better able to manage the pain associated with childbirth and at the same time are less likely to suffer postnatal depression.

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Mindfulness and Postpartum Depression

Kristi Pahr, freelance writer and mother, discussed how mindfulness helped her to deal with postpartum depression (PPD).  One of her problems, experienced by many mothers, was that she did not recognise her systems as PPD but put them down to hormonal change.  Unfortunately, PPD can get a hold of you very quickly and its effects can lead to a rapid deterioration in your mental health, your relationships and overall life.

Typically, the father is unaware of the nature, cause and devastating effects of postpartum depression and can further aggravate the condition through their seeming insensitivity, lack of concern or lack of physical/emotional support.  The mother may also feel unable to communicate the intensity of their feelings or their deteriorating health, and may be reluctant to communicate their real condition for fear of being seen as incompetent.  The symptoms of postpartum depression can be many and varied and this fact serves to compound the confusion on both sides, for mother  and father.

Kristi’s Story: How Mindfulness Helped My Postpartum Depression

Factors that contributed to Kristi’s postpartum depression were a loss of the first child during pregnancy, traumatic birth of the second, exhaustion, physical isolation and loneliness.  Feelings of inadequacy with a newborn baby often overwhelm even the most competent women and Kristi found that her sense of “not coping” led to “hyper-vigilance” – a constant scanning to check that everything is okay with the baby, heightened sensitivity to stimuli (e.g. a baby’s cry), and increased emotional arousal.

Hyper-vigilance can intensify feelings of inadequacy and anxiety and create a downward spiral in terms of mental health and well-being – the exhausted mother cannot sleep and recuperate which, in turn, negatively impacts her physical health and depletes her energy and capacity to cope with the stresses of daily life with a new baby.  It is a common experience that when you are tired, even the smallest problem or issue appears insurmountable.

What Kristi found is that mindfulness helped her to get in touch with her feelings, stand back from them, identify her triggers, defuse her negative thoughts and develop ways to manage her emotional response.  It also enabled her to identify the severity of her condition and to seek professional help so that she was able to increase her arsenal of strategies and tactics to manage her condition.

One of these strategies Kristi employed was practising awareness by writing a journal at the end of each day and addressing these insightful questions:

  • What feels really good right now?
  • What doesn’t feel so good right now?
  • What made me feel balanced today?
  • What am I grateful for?

Resources: Mindfulness for Postpartum Depression

Research into mindfulness for postpartum depression suggests that mindful practice should begin in pregnancy.  Here is a selection of resources for developing mindfulness for pregnancy, childbirth and postpartum depression:

1. Shamsah Amerise, MD, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist, when writing for Headspace.com offers 10 Tips for a Mindful Birth.

2. Katherine Stone, award-winning blogger, provides resources for people experiencing postpartum depression on her  blog:  www.postpartumprogress.com

Her resources include the following the article:  Why Mindfulness Should Matter to Moms

3. Edith Geddes, MD and Medical Director of the University of North Carolina Women’s Mood Disorder Clinic, passionately advocates for screening for, and treating, perinatal mood disorders, especially in rural areas.  Being a former professional musician, she offers a mindfulness technique for composing a moment:

Composing a Moment: Mindfulness Techniques in Postpartum Mood Disorders

4. Mind the Bump Appdeveloped jointly by beyondblue and Smiling Mind – is designed to reduce stress during pregnancy and reduce the risk of developing postpartum depression:

Mind the Bump App Improves Wellbeing During and After Pregnancy

5. Andy  PuddicombeThe Headspace Guide to a Mindful Pregnancy.

As you grow in mindfulness during pregnancy and the postnatal period, you will be better able to handle the stresses of pregnancy and reduce the possibility and/or impact of postpartum depression.

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Mindfulness for University Students

In an earlier post, I discussed mindfulness for school children and explained the ground-breaking work of Goldie Hawn in providing training in mindful awareness and brain science to hundreds of thousands of teachers and children.

In this post, I want to focus on mindfulness for university students and highlight the mindfulness resources that are now increasingly available in universities throughout Australia.

The challenges confronting university students

University students face many challenges that can upset their balance and equanimity and contribute to distress.  Overseas students studying in Australia, for example, may have the challenge of mastering a new language, developing new friends and overcoming the sense of isolation and loneliness.   The process of integration and “finding their place” is compounded by cultural differences associated with norms that impact behavioural expectations generally, as well as in tutorials and lectures.

University students might experience performance stress resulting from assessment requirements such as assignments, projects and exams – often occurring across more than one subject simultaneously.  Sometimes, this performance stress and related anxiety is self-imposed through the desire to achieve a certain minimum GPA to gain entry to an Honours or Master’s course or program.  Other times, the performance stress is generated by the expectations of students’ parents, employer or relatives.  Peers, too, can add to the pressure when they are quick to point out any shortfall in assessment results or make unfavourable comparisons.

University students may experience exclusion from the “in-group” on the grounds of race, gender, sexual preference, dress standards or another discriminating basis.  Students at live-in university colleges may find it hard to fit into the prevailing college culture and norms.  They might even be excluded on the grounds of failing to form an intimate relationship within the college community.  The recent Human Rights Commission report into sexual harassment and sexual assaults in universities in Australia gave a challenging insight into the prevalence of, and devastating impact of, sexual abuse experienced by many university students.

Relationship breakups are a common experience for university students through the pressure of study and assignment commitments, differing expectations and values and the unusual circumstances of university life.  These relationship break-ups can lead to emotional turmoil and distress.  Relationship problems and other stressors can be exacerbated by financial difficulties.

The onset of assessment deadlines can result in panic attacks, nervousness, anxiety and add stressors to relationships that are already stressful.  The level of stress experienced by university students in Australis was highlighted by the report of a recent research project.  The research, conducted jointly by Headspace and the National Union of Students, surveyed 2,600 Australian tertiary education students.  The report disclosed a very alarming level of anxiety among the TAFE and university students surveyed – “35 per cent experiencing self-harm or suicidal thoughts in the past 12 months”.

Mindfulness Resources in Universities

Universities have started to realise the impact of multiple stressors on students’ ability to concentrate and perform academically and to sustain commitment to their courses (drop-out rates have been increasing).

Most universities now, especially through their counselling services, have established a suite of mindfulness resources for their students.  They promote these on the grounds that they will increase concentration, clarity and focus; reduce stress; enhance physical and mental health;  improve quality of life and relationships; and help to develop positive attitudes and happiness.

RMIT, for example, provides a series of six conversations incorporating introductions, audios and exercise worksheets.  The conversations are based on Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) which involves a core message – “accept what is out of your personal control, and commit to action that improves and enriches your life”.   The RMIT ACT Conversations cover the following topics:

  1. Language creates conflict
  2. Action & experience versus thought and emotion
  3. Acceptance, willingness and inclusion
  4. Mindfulness and being present
  5. Your values and direction
  6. Committed action

In line with many mindfulness trainers and practitoners, RMIT stresses the critical role of the exercises and mindfulness practice.   A local resource that reinforces RMIT’s ACT approach is the very readable, humorously illustrated and practice-oriented workbook, The Happiness Trap Pocketbook, produced by Dr. Russ Harris and Bev Aisbett.

James Cook University provides a Relaxation, Meditation and Mindfulness PDF with links to Smiling Mind Mindfulness Meditation, free meditation resources and classes, 6 mindfulness exercises to try, quick relaxation techniques and exercises.

Links to other free mindfulness resources designed for university students include the following:

Additionally, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) through its Mindful Awareness Research Center (MARC) has the following free resources:

There are numerous resources for university students to grow in mindfulness and improve the quality of their university life, enhance their close relationships and achieve the level of academic performance they are capable of.

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Tai Chi and the Mind-Body Connection

In a previous post when discussing mindfulness and neuroplasticity, I mentioned that Tai Chi actually develops the mind physically by increasing the size of the insula in the brain.

Tai Chi is one of the mind-body techniques that form part of Traditional Chinese Medicine and is based on Chinese philosophy incorporating Taoism and Confucianism.  Tai Chi involves a combination of slow movements, body postures and mindful breathing.  In Chinese philosophy terms, it facilitates the flow of Qi, “life energy”.

Tai Chi has been shown to improve muscle strength, balance and flexibility and, when used in conjunction with Western Medicine, helps patients suffering from Parkinson’s Disease, Arthritis and low bone density as well as helping people to recover from the effects of a stroke.

The real benefits of Tai Chi flow from its capacity to simultaneously develop the mind and body of the practitioner and thus enhance their mind-body connection.  Alzheimer’s disease is a clear example of the mind-body connection because as the mind deteriorates so does the body.  Tai Chi has been shown to combat Alzheimer’s.

The power of Tai Chi to develop the mind derives from the state of “relaxed concentration” achieved by focusing on the coordination of mind and body in a series of slow, balanced and rhythmic movements, while focusing on a single thought.  The focused attention develops mindfulness, improves memory and strengthens concentration.  Dr. Shin Lin, in a talk at the UCLA Center for East-West Medicine, provided research results to show that Tai Chi produces new neurons during regular practice which suppress stress and build memory.

Dr. Lin indicated that Tai Chi, besides producing stress release, also improves immunity and eases chronic pain and fatigue.  Professor Michael R. Irwin, Medical Doctor and Director of the Cousins Center for Psychoneuroimmunology at UCLA, has demonstrated in his research that Tai Chi “promotes improvements in health functioning, viral specific immunity, and inflammation”.  His area of research and practice is focused on the mind-body connection – “Psychoneuroimmunology” involves the “study of the interaction between the psychological processes and the nervous and immunity systems of the human body”.

I have found from personal experience that Taoist Tai Chi helps both my mind (concentration, focus and creativity) and my body (energy, balance and fitness). I use the evidence of the mind-body benefits of Tai Chi to motivate my daily practice.

Karl Romain, in discussing how Tai Chi trains the brain, suggests that if you cannot find time for meditation and Tai Chi, practise your Tai Chi because it has a meditation element, as well as provides benefits for your mind-body connection.  I think the two practices, meditation and Tai Chi, are highly complementary and my personal goal is to achieve daily mindfulness practices that include both traditions.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and/or Tai Chi, we develop improved health and wellness, develop our minds and deepen our mind-body connection.

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Mindfulness and Neuroplasticity

Norman Doidge, in his book The Brain That Changes Itself, explained that early brain researchers discovered what became known as “neuroplasticity”:

They showed that the brain changed its very structure with each activity it performed, perfecting its circuits so it was better suited to the task at hand.  If certain “parts” failed, then other parts sometimes take over. (p.xv)

For example, people who meditate or teach meditation have been shown to have a thicker insula – a part of the brain that is activated by paying close attention to something (p.290).

Dr. Bruno Cayoun observed that neuroscience has demonstrated that brain plasticity explains how mindfulness training increases our perceptual ability leading to a greater sense of self control and self-awareness.  Perceptual ability, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “the ability to be able to deal with and give meaning to sensory stimuli”.

Research conducted jointly by the Fudan University in China and the University of South Florida showed that Tai Chi- often described as “meditation-in-motion” – actually increased the size of the brain of seniors who practised Tai Chi for 40 weeks and did so at least three times per week.  Tai Chi has many other benefits and these are discussed elsewhere in this blog.

Norman Doidge discusses the work of Michael Merzenich, Emeritus Professor in neurophysiology, who started a company called Posit Science to extend neuroplasticity of the brains of people as they age, as well as extend their lifespan (p.85).  Professor Merzenich maintains that, if we are in the older age group, we may not have been developing our brain plasticity since middle age because we are often working off already mastered knowledge and skills.

So, learning new skills such as mindfulness meditation and Tai Chi, with the attention and concentration required, will help to alleviate this problem of mental decline.

As we grow in mindfulness through meditation and approaches such as Tai Chi, we increase the size of our brain, enhance brain plasticity and enjoy the consequential benefits such as self-awareness and self-control.

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Leading with Body Awareness

The early trait theories of leadership argued that to be an effective leader you needed to be male, charismatic and tall.  Clearly, this delineation can lead to discriminatory behaviour towards those who are female and short.

The earlier trait theories of leadership have been disproved and there is now a consensus that there is no universal list of traits that researchers can agree on as predictors of leadership ability.

Amanda Sinclair, author of Leading Mindfully,  points out that despite these emergent findings, myths still pervade about desirable traits that reinforce leadership viewed according to the male stereotype.  She suggests that women have been harshly judged against these unreal measures and have had to conform to standards of dress and behaviour that are more rigorous than those imposed on men.

Then again, as a female colleague of mine pointed out, some women dress provocatively in a work situation to draw attention to themselves.  As my colleague commented, this draws attention to their sexuality but detracts from perceptions of their competence.   So women are often confronted with a dilemma – conform to unfair standards or dress inappropriately.

Rather than accepting this dilemma, women and men can learn ways to present themselves bodily so that potential followers are not left experiencing discomfort or uncertainty about how to communicate with, or relate to, their leaders.

Increasingly, followers have been shown to prefer characteristics that are described as the soft skills – that is skills associated with emotional intelligence such as empathy, compassion, listening skills, communicating to inspire followers, congruence and creativity.

Through mindfulness, leaders can develop a presence (irrespective of physical height) that conveys a sense of balance and calm.  They can face problems with greater clarity and creativity.  Their very presence can communicate support and generate confidence in others who are faced with difficult situations.

Leaders need to be physically present to their staff so that their positive bodily influence can be experienced first-hand.  They also need to care for themselves bodily by looking after themselves so that they can withstand the stresses of their role but, at the same time, have real concern for the physical welfare of staff.

By building resilience through mindfulness practice, you can communicate non-verbally that they you are in control of yourself and the situation.  Even when you are not conscious of the impact of your demeanour, others take note and are influenced by how you present yourself – your bearing can communicate respect for others, personal confidence and self-awareness.

Somatic meditation is one way for a leader to get in touch with their bodies and their reality.  It enables them to be more conscious of how stress is stored in the body and emitted through physical actions and non-verbal activity.

Amanda also alludes to the research work of Norman Doidge and highlights the mind-body connection and the role of exercise such as yoga and walking in enhancing this connection and improving brain functioning.   In the light of this research and the foregoing discussion, Amanda exhorts leaders to be aware of the role of their bodies in the process of leadership:

Our bodies and physicality in leadership are gateways to important forms of intelligence, to wisdom and mindfulness.  They provide us with ways of noticing and revaluing the present, experiencing the full richness of the people and situations around us.  Physicality is not something to be ignored, suppressed or overcome in leadership, but a means of helping us live and lead more fully.  (p. 129)

As we grow in mindfulness, we become increasing aware of how we experience the world through our bodies and how others experience us as leaders through their perceptions of our bodily presence.

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