How Stephen Hawkings challenged his illness with mind over matter
Tell me, what do you know about meditation?
Does it sound 'new age-y'? Or has it come into the main stream well enough for you to know meditation doesn't have to mean robe-donning, chanting, and so on...?
Have you tried it?
Tell me, did you close your eyes and 'nothing much happened'? ...Did you fall asleep? ...Did you find it hard to stay still?
In fairness, if you have tried to meditate and basically felt like you must be 'doing it wrong' or 'missing something', I'd wager a bet that you're not alone.
People quite often tell me that their first few meditation sessions didn't go how they thought they would. Some might have even sat there wondering what all the fuss is about! In fact, some may argue, why bother meditating at all if you end up feeling more confused about it all than when you started?!
What that tells me, is that this person has bought into the somewhat hyped-up idea that to meditate for the first time is to be instantly enlightened, and that if you do not discover the hidden truths or reach a higher plane, then you must be missing something. So maybe you put it into the 'too hard' basket and give up.
In reality, the sooner you let go of 'guru-level enlightenment' as a goal, the better. This idea has come from media sensationalism, envy-inducing and unrealistic social media posts, or, of course, celebrity hype. There is truth somewhere in those bold claims, which can be traced back to the original Hindus and Tibetan monks practicing yoga and meditation for many centuries, but in our Western, capitalist society, deeper spiritual meaning is quite often obscured by the shininess of the glitter that is the modern health craze. Don't get me wrong, the modern health craze is good, if somewhat skewed and confusing. Green smoothies and yoga have become mainstream. But that means that there are literally thousands of newbie yoga teachers around the world who walk and talk as though they've reached some state of nirvana from all the yoga and meditation they do, and that it is their job to impart its wisdom. This imparting of wisdom is generally nice and benign, but I believe it can mislead you, the modern public, about what meditation is, what it can do for you, and how to access it.
But I'm not here today to rabbit on about all of that, so I'll stop!
I simply want to point out what I see as misconceptions about meditation commonly held by the general public, perhaps including you, Ms or Mr Average Joe. My hope is that you see it for the amazing practice that it truly is, but that you see it with an ounce of realism and logic. If you have been put off in the past from trying it, I am hoping to clear away some of those myths so you might also see yourself giving it a try.
I teach meditation and yoga. I have skills to share, and an incredible amount of enthusiasm for yoga and meditation, because it can truly be life-changing.
As part of my offering in stress management, I want to share with as many people as possible, just how health-giving and stress-reducing these practices can be.
However, I do not intend to let others think I have become enlightened. I will not be a charlatan about it. I will not get woo-woo on you and try to convince you that I have some higher powers that you are missing out on. Because I think it will put you off making it a regular practice, and because I think it would unethical of me to do that.
My gut feeling is that the more you see it as something within your reach, the more chances there are that you'll try it. And because I know what an incredible difference it can make to your life, health and relationships, I would love to see more people bringing it into their daily lives!
So what has meditation done for me?
Regular, long term practice has definitely made me more grounded, more emotionally aware, more balanced, and more empathetic, among other things. It has improved my health, made me more alert and focussed, given me increased self-awareness and self-compassion, and helped me build and nurture my special relationships, and I absolutely love it.
I wish my daily meditation practice looked like this. But it doesn't.
This was taken in Bali on my yoga teacher training. It was posed and I was actually exhausted from the intensive (and enjoyable!) program we undertook. It was a beautiful setting, but I haven't made it back there, and I'm not sure when I will. Wish I could say my life looked like this every day, but I would be misleading you.
I live in a cramped 1 bedroom flat in a basement in a very expensive city. Usually, I do yoga and meditate in one of the only spaces we have available - the square metre or so at the foot of the bed, next to the wall and the hole in the floor that smells like musty earth. I don't mind though.
Usually, I meditate for 20-30 minutes every morning. But some mornings I don't sit down in time and I have to cut it short. Some mornings I have an early meeting or some other appointment, and I can only squeeze in 5 or 10 minutes. On those days I make a promise to myself to make up for it in the afternoon, but I don't always get there. Sometimes I have all the freedom in the world and I don't use a time limit, then time truly does disappear. But I don't mind either way.
I have dreams of running my own stress management retreats. I have dreams of living somewhere tropical and spacious with my husband. Who knows, we might even get there one day. But as it is right now, I don't mind one bit.
The photo you see above, this is not my meditation reality. And I truly don't mind.
Because, for me, meditation is never something that is visible on the outside. You could be in a dank and dusty cell. You could be run off your feet with chores. You could be all alone, or you could be surrounded by people. All of these things won't matter the minute you choose to close your eyes and connect with your breath, whether it is for 5 or 50 minutes. As soon as you do that, you are opening the door to a new, expansive world, and this is where the magic happens. Not surrounded by green smoothie gulping yogis, not in a world-class health facility, not on a long holiday away from work, but in your daily life, where you are right now, with the time you have right now. That's where it happens.
This brings me to the whole point of this article, misconceptions. We tend to create a set of beliefs around something, and these beliefs are not always true. Sometimes, these beliefs can put people off doing something, or trying something for the first time, even when this thing could be of immense benefit to them. I would hate to imagine that you have avoided trying meditation because you believe any of the 3 common misconceptions about meditation below.
(Bear in mind that I am not a meditation purist, and so, my thoughts on meditation are more liberal and flexible than some. What I'm giving is my take on reality, no one else's).
You close your eyes and something woo-woo (for want of a better word) should happen from the very first time.
'Fraid not dude! Unlikely, I should say. For most people, they close their eyes and nothing magic happens. In fact, most people, for the first time, realise just how congested with thoughts their mind is, and just how uncomfortable it is to sit completely still for a spell. To be fair, I had a pretty awesome first time meditation experience, and that definitely provided me with the hook to keep practicing. I was taught to meditate at 15 years of age, by a monk, with a small group of people, some completely new, and some very, very experienced. I can remember everything about that first session, especially the moment I was hit by wave after wave of what I can only call a 'deeply meditative state'. I'm convinced to this day that those waves were somehow passed to me from one of those ridiculously experienced meditators, though I'll never know for sure.
Either way, it hooked me right in as it was an incredible experience. But I think it was an exception. Most of the time, the feedback I hear from people who meditate for the first time is that 'nothing happened', as though they were expecting something like the rush from a drug, or the doorway to another universe to suddenly open when they close their eyes.
Your own experience could be anywhere along that spectrum, from 'nothing happened' to 'waves of awesomeness'.
What I suggest is that you be ok with that and, regardless of which it is, make a promise to yourself to just keep practicing. Eventually shifts will occur, and you'll start to see what is actually possible. Every single human being is capable of doing this, if they choose. Until the shifts happen, you can at least enjoy some time out from whatever you are doing. If you can slow your breathing down and elicit the relaxation response, you are doing your body a great favour, even if you don't meditate deeply for many, many months.
There's only 1 way to meditate.
Like, OMG, like, No Way Jose! There are a gazillion ways to meditate! Ok, maybe not a gazillion. But there are many.
The trick is to shop around to find that one that works for you. You can meditate with a candle, with your eyes closed, sitting in lotus, sitting on a chair, walking, saying a mantra, using mala beads, focussing on your breath, chanting, using a podcast, through Youtube, in a class, via an app, and more. These are just the variations I've been exposed to.
Perhaps you decided to learn to meditate a few years ago and took yourself off to a community class where everyone sat on the floor and chanted for 45 minutes, leaving you with a stiff back, bung knees, and, you've forgotten the words, but there's weird tune whirring through your mind from the incessant chanting. You don't go back and you've written meditation off as loony.
Please don't. Please don't give up on it. Shop around. Perhaps that wasn't the right one for you. Seek out some different meditation groups. Perhaps you can make it a goal to try a different meditation style per week for 6 weeks and see what works best for you.
Do you prefer to go it alone with an app or a podcast? Or is joining a group going to keep you more accountable?
Are you comfortable sitting on the floor for a long time, or can you chat to the teacher and see whether they have an option for chair meditation?
Do you doubt your own ability to sit still at this stage of the game? Maybe take the pressure out of it and explore walking meditation to start with.
Absolutely, there is not only 1 way to meditate. If you've tried before and didn't like it, give it another go. Open your mind and try a few methods. You might be surprised to find one that really works for you!
You have to meditate an hour a day every day in order to do it right
This is a tough one. It's true, the more you meditate, the easier it becomes. And it is also true that the longer you meditate, the deeper you can get into a meditative state. Buuuut that is quite an off-putting truism for most. There is no doubt that when you first start, finding even 5 minutes to spare is difficult, let alone 30 minutes!
So what I recommend is to start with just factoring in 5 minutes every day to get quiet and find a relaxed state. Once you have built that quiet time into your routine, you can start to extend it by 5 minute increments. You might stop and make yourself still for 5 minutes for the first two weeks, then up it to 10 minutes, and so on.
Over time you may build up to a regular, one hour practice. Or maybe not. If you're like me, you might have a regular 20-30 minutes per day, but sometimes you'll cut it short, or just be grabbing 5 minutes to centre yourself on the train on the way in to work.
Be flexible. You live in the modern world, as do I. Do what you can, when you can. But do it!
So those are 3 big misconceptions that I see popping up in my clients and people I talk to about meditation. Have a think about whether you have had any thoughts like this yourself, and whether you have considered 5 minutes of meditation as being somehow out of your reach.
What can you do to bring it into your world a little more often, and a little longer each time?
I'd love to hear from you! Do you meditate? Have you tried it and given up? Did you find it hard to make the time, or were you disappointed with the results?
Let me know in the comments box below!
Your body is aching. You've trained 2 hours a day, six days a week, for more than 6 weeks straight. You continually push through the 'no pain no gain' barrier for faster results.
You know you should slow down but this punishment is given for the reward of rock-hard abs and a tight butt.
You took some time off your regular tennis classes last Christmas and got comfortable. You are rapidly gaining weight and losing muscle tone as the months pass. You are well-versed in the ins and outs of tennis, but you can't seem to find the motivation to pick up that racket and ball.
You know you need to head out and do a work out, but that snooze button is being thwacked at a consistent rate most mornings. And you roll over.
You love your yoga class. You've been going for a few weeks now and you feel like you're getting into the flow of it. If only you were as flexible as that long-legged, muscular dude who practices at the same studio.
You strain to touch your toes with straight legs, ignoring the teacher's instructions to move slowly into the pose and bend your knees to protect your lower back. You feel a twinge in your lower back, but ignore it and go deeper.
You might be a mathematician, an astronaut, a psychologist, a counsellor, an artist, a performer, an IT professional.
You might have an average to high IQ - intelligence quotient. You might have an enviable EQ - emotional intelligence.
You may be vibrantly skilled in any number of the multiple intelligences proposed by Howard Gardner in 1983, such as musical or linguistic intelligence.
However, in order to have a thriving physical life, you really need enhance your BQ - your body intelligence, according to Margaret Moore, MBA, and Jim Gavin, Ph.D., in the November 2010 issue of the IDEA Fitness Journal (Gavin and Moore, 2010). While Garner highlights that kinesthetic and spatial intelligence are key to an athlete's impressive and graceful abilities, Moore, founder of Wellcoaches Corporation, argues that BQ requires much more than that.
BQ is considered to be the combination of 3 important skills, or pillars:
somatic awareness - knowledge - engagement
Somatic awareness means how aware you are of your body; knowledge, what you know about your body; and engagement, what you do for and with your body.
This subtle and finely-attuned form of intelligence brings you in touch with what your body feels, needs, and knows, things which are uniquely different for each of us. It seems that this type of knowledge is essential for both enhancing your personal wellness, but also avoiding injury and illness.
You may know people who have a vast amount of knowledge about the body's physiology, anatomy, or perhaps even information in one particular skill, such as a football coach, or a dance instructor. Yet, when they themselves go to train, they push far beyond their own physical boundaries, causing micro-tears or strains that may eventually lead to long-term damage. Despite their incredible knowledge, they aren't tuning in to their own body telling them when enough is enough.
Or perhaps you know a brain surgeon or a famous mathematician who works well into the night, ignoring their own physical needs, the need to move, the need to hydrate, to the point of self-destruction.
Where do I get off making statements like this?
The truth is, I am one of those people. I admit it. I believe my BQ could be better, and I'm willing to bet it's the same for many of you. Most of us are lacking in at least one of the three pillars which make up a well-rounded body intelligence. Becoming aware of BQ and identifying where you are falling short could be the key to living with vibrant health for the long-term.
I can safely say that my BQ has improved over the years, especially after I began yoga and, much like anything you begin to pay attention to, I'm quite sure it will continue to improve. There's no end point to building this intelligence really, so there's no reason to put it off for later. You can begin to improve your BQ right now.
The question is, where are you letting yourself down? Is it one pillar, or two...or perhaps all three! Let's find out more...
Somatic awareness is the level at which you are tuned in to your body and listening for subtle shifts and signs of change. If your body could speak, these tiny sensations would be the words, or messages, telling you what the body needs and feels. Wilber (2000) distinguishes different kinds of sensations from subtle to gross.
Subtle sensations incorporate awareness of depleted or heightened personal energy, the awareness of where joy or sadness sits within the body, or the shifts in energy of the environment around you.
Gross sensations include the feeling of muscle tension when stressed, a limit to your range of motion, or muscle and joint stiffness.
Sometimes your awareness can be raised on either a gross or subtle level after eating a particular food. Perhaps this food gives you satisfaction and sustained energy, it may give you a quick rush and a massive dive, like processed sugar, or perhaps it gives you indigestion or stomach upset.
Developing awareness around the gross and subtle messages from your body allows you to make quick decisions and shifts in action, so you can guide your body to a safer, happier, and hopefully healthier place.
Somatic awareness and yoga
Having awareness of the subtle and gross physical sensations within the body is a key player in most yoga classes. It may be the first time that you have listened, really listened, to the inhale and exhale of your breath and noticed whether it is calm and gentle, or rapid and rasped, or somewhere in between.
It may be the first time that you have slowed down and paid attention to the sensation in your hamstrings as you stand and fold forward in Uttanasana.
It may be the voice in your mind, noticing the signs from your body and telling you to hold back from going into a full headstand until your shoulders and torso are strong enough to hold you safely.
A good yoga teacher will ask you to tune into your bodily sensations in each class, becoming aware that you are not on autopilot and that a pose which was accessible one day, may not be there for you the next day, like the balance needed in a standing pose. If the balance isn't there for you, you don't need to force yourself into it. It's simple. Yet it is so hard for many to let go of the need to push through it, and stop and really listen to their body's messages.
You don't need to go to a yoga class in order to develop awareness of the subtle and gross sensations from your body. See below for some tips on how to develop somatic awareness on a day to day basis.
Knowledge is a confusing subject in the internet age. And yes, I can say 'the internet age' because I remember a time when there was no internet!
So, on the one hand, we are able to access the answer to pretty much anything with a few key word searches on Google. This is an amazing thing. We can bring the University into the home and educate ourselves! Yet it can also lead to a self-proclaimed expertise in almost any subject area, including Google Doctor self-diagnoses, and remedies and concoctions to cure illnesses which are unproven and sometimes downright dangerous.
Using Google searches can lead to an overwhelming amount of information, resulting in 'analysis paralysis' as we sit like a rabbit in the headlights, unsure of what to do with all the Google 'answers'. Despite this, enhancing our knowledge, and connecting with like-minded people all over the world, for free, is an absolutely incredible achievement.
So much can be gained, and shared through the internet.
So we have all the information we need at our fingertips. All the knowledge in the world. Yet still people engage in unhealthy choices. As Gavin and Moore (2010) state, 'most people live as if the rules did not apply to them'. Are you one of those people?
Body knowledge is also known as 'health literacy' and considers things like, your level of knowledge over health standards and guidelines; how well you know generic scientific information and the application of it to your personal health; knowledge of scientific facts and practices; knowing what the appropriate actions are to diagnose and treat physical conditions, or what to do in the case of not knowing.
Let's try this. Can you answer the following questions:
What is the recommended amount of sleep per night?
What is the minimum amount of water you should drink every day?
What should you eat or drink to be healthy?
What is the maximum amount of alcohol you should drink per day or week?
How much exercise should you do?
What is appropriate exercise for you?
How should you sit when working or studying?
Do you know when an illness can be managed at home and when you should see a doctor?
Building knowledge can definitely be done with the help of Google. There's no doubt about it.
The important thing to be aware of though, is where you get your information from. I'll be the first to admit that sourcing knowledge from a blog is a murky place, sometimes more of a bog than a blog.
There are many experts or trustworthy people (plug plug) who write blogs. However, if they are providing evidence or new knowledge, just make sure they give you the source of their information. Check the source. Is it reputable? Is it from a scientific journal or reliable source?
These things matter
Because what Joe Bloggs says in Joe Bloggs Blog can't be taken as evidence unless they can show you it is true in scientifically controlled conditions or, at the very least, published by an academic or professional in the industry. And if it can't be taken as valid evidence, you are taking a very big risk in blindly following the advice.
Ok, I'm going off on a little tangent here I guess! But it's still related. It's all about knowledge. Grow your knowledge around health. Use your brain to determine whether the source is trustworthy, and give more weight to the information which has been proven. It is done to protect you. Phew! Ok. Moving on.
Knowledge and yoga
Yoga is another minefield altogether. Yoga can help you to build knowledge alongside awareness of your physical body. As you learn the strengths and limitations of your physical body and mind, you may also learn more about certain poses, and the philosophy that is the foundations of yoga, because the physical practice is really only one small part of it.
Having said that, these days you can have yoga asana in virtually every form.
I'm surprised I haven't seen cooking yoga yet... you heard it here first!
As there are so many yoga styles, and so many teachers around, it is easy to try something new. The only caution I would add to the pillar of knowledge is to check out the knowledge of your teacher also. Yoga seems like a very passive and harmless practice, but it is easy to sustain long-term damage to the body while doing it. Please practice in an environment which is safe, with a teacher you can trust.
Where to begin when building your knowledge? Scroll down for some tips below!
If you are able to tune in to your body and understand what it needs, and then actively engage in it, you are performing 'engagement'. There are no rules as to how long or how much you need to do something in order to be engaged. For some who rarely exercise, a short walk around the block - because you know you need to start moving - is a form of engagement. Being fully aware of what your body needs, and then actively participating means that you are totally tuned in to the fruition of awareness and knowledge through engagement. The other two pillars cannot function effectively without this pillar.
It is important to remember that, based on knowledge and awareness, your engagement can change all the time. You may start with a short walk, and then become aware that your body is used to it and can move more. You may then progress to a longer, brisker walk, taking into account all the time, that this may change, based on what your body needs each day. Awareness is about understanding when your resistance is psychological, and when it is due to a true physical barrier, and then engaging accordingly.
Yoga and engagement
If you practice yoga, you are probably familiar with your teacher saying something like, 'honour yourself for showing up', or 'yoga isabout showing up'. What does this mean?
Like any physical practice, you probably have many days where you'd rather stay at home in your pj's. For many, even getting changed and making your way to class is an act of engagement in your own wellness, and you should be proud of yourself for doing it.
Showing up to the yoga class when you are aware of your body and know what it needs - this is engagement.
Then, within the poses, bringing your full awareness and attention to the sensations of the pose, bringing your wandering mind back to the present moment of engagement in that pose - this is engagement.
Check out the tips below to build your pillar of engagement.
Putting it all together
I hope I have given you some sense of what Body Intelligence is in this blog. There is a lot more to uncover, but I wanted to share the basics with you. I am constantly focussed on improving all three pillars but, really, there is so much more to learn.
The first step is really to have a think on your own practices to determine whether you are not paying attention to one or two particular areas.
Perhaps you know very well what you should be doing, but you are not making the time in your day to do it.
Or perhaps you've recently thrown yourself into a boot camp, when really your body needs to start with some gentle walks and swims first.
No one is perfect and there are plenty of ways for us all to build our BQ.
How to build your pillars
- Stop and notice - set up regular points during the day to stop and notice how your body is feeling, especially during any physical activity.
- Perform a mental scan of your body - perhaps do it before you exercise, after you exercise, and a few hours later.
- Start a journal on your physical practice routine. It doesn't have to be long, just a few points on how you feel before, during , and after the practice.
- Find some reputable journals and news sources to build your health literacy
- Join the mailing list of a news health website you can trust
- Participate in a knowledge-building workshop, whether it is for healthy cooking, a first aid course, and so on.
- Find yourself an exercise buddy you can check in with. You don't necessarily have to exercise together, but you can check in weekly and help each other to stay accountable.
- Book yourself in to classes or sports. When the time comes to do the class, you can scan your body and decide whether it is appropriate for you.
- Have a go at a new kind of exercise. There are plenty of free trials around. You might find something you like!
As a coach, I can work with you to identify the pillars you should be focussing on, whether it is one or all three. Together we can build a plan to help you gain confidence in your own body. I'm happy to chat with you about it at any time.
Disclaimer: As always, please see your GP before engaging in any new forms of exercise, especially if you are suffering from a medical condition.
Gardner, H. 1983, Frames of Mind. New York: Basic Book Inc.
Gavin, J., and Moore, M., 2010, Body Intelligence: a guide to self-attunement', in Idea Fitness Journal, November 2010, accessed 19 March 2016, <http://www.ideafit.com/fitness-library/body-intelligence-a-guide-to>
Wilber, K. 2000. A Theory of Everything: An Integral Vision for Business, Politics, Science, and Spirituality. Boston: Shambhala.
Lately, I've had a lot going on.... I mean, a lot of changes work wise.
And I decided I need to ask you something.
---> Have you ever taken a risk, be it personal, financial, career-based, without any clue as to how it is going to work out? It's pretty hard to focus on being present and calm when you have a lot riding on a future outcome, isn't it?
Well, I recently signed an agreement to start practising my wares out of a health centre in the Sydney CBD. Maybe it doesn't sound like much to you, but it involved quite a bit of upfront money, and a massive dose of courage to put myself into a new space and share my passions with new people. For me, this was BIG!
You might be surprised by this. You might even think I'm Queen of Calm and 'have it all together', but, like anyone else, doubts and fears can rise in times of uncertainty and risk. I'm not immune.
Truthfully, I'm super excited but I'm pretty damn nervous too! I mean, a whole day to offer all kinds of stress relief treatments to stressed out people in the cbd?! I can't wait to start!! But it is a big change too.
I wasn't always a business owner and I am still not used to risks like this, so it is easy for that voice of panic and anxiety to jump in and have a say in what's happening!
"No one will come! You'll lose all that you invest! Who are you to be offering that?!"...I mean, it's just incredible what these anxieties say!
Can you relate to this?
Do you find yourself catastrophising the outcome of some future events?
Do you find it hard to sleep or stay calm, thinking of all the different ways it can go wrong?
Well you're not alone. Many people tend to spend more time focussed on the past or the future, without really being present in the present! And it seems to increase in times of uncertainty or change.
Now, I'm not saying anxiety is a bad thing altogether. Anxiety and fear are equals to happiness and anger in the broad range of human emotions. All human emotions are valid. There can be a positive twist to anxiety, which is motivation. Imagine being extremely anxious about an upcoming exam, versus laissex-faire and super relaxed? Which one might help you be more prepared to take action and study?
Clearly there are benefits to recognising potential threats, be they social, physical, mental, or environmental and taking action to avoid them. The question is, are you taking action (physical response) on threats which are not real or cannot be changed?
Take a look at the timeline below.
Where do you spend most of your thinking time? If you close your eyes right now for a minute and let the thoughts flood in, where are they focussed? Past? Future? Right this moment?
When you're about to take a risk, or there's some type of uncertain event playing out, you might be spending a lot of time hanging out in the future. Playing out different scenarios, possibly getting yourself into a state of anxiety over what 'might' happen. Maybe you have a doctor's appointment you're dreading, maybe you're about to invest in a new business or a new home and you're wondering if it will all fall down around you ---future focusser.
On the other hand, if you've just done something with a strong emotional investment, possibly with a poor outcome, chances are you are currently dwelling in the past. Maybe that first date didn't go so well, or your boss had a go at you in a staff meeting, or you said something you regret to someone you love. Now, you're going over what went wrong, replaying the scene in some kind of torturous replay again, and again, your mind can't let it go. You are ruminating on it --- past dweller.
This is where our anxieties get the better of us.
Now, let me be clear here before we go any further. I'm not talking about the medically-diagnosed psychological disorder of Generalised Anxiety Disorder or all the other classifications of Anxiety in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual V of Mental Disorder of the American Psychiatric Society. If you feel that you are suffering from a level of anxiety that is beyond the 'normally expected' levels, and is persisting for months please go straight to your GP for a referral to a specialist.
If, however, your anxiety is not ongoing and is specifically related to an event or series of unusual life events, you may benefit by thinking about where you focus your thoughts.
It is possible to train your mind to bring awareness to the present, despite your mind's desire to dwell in the past or future.
Really. It is possible!
Why is this important?
One of the main answers is: the body can't tell the difference between what is real and what your mind is saying. Your body will react to your fears in the same way as if it was really happening. If you imagine a terrible scenario, like your manager ripping you apart in a meeting, your body believes that you are actually being threatened, even though it is only in your thoughts.
What happens? You prepare for 'flight or fight' of course!
Your adrenals start pumping out stress response hormones to engage your body. Your muscles tense. Your heart rate increases. Your breathing shortens and quickens and you are ready to roll. All to prepare you for a 'flight or fight' response to something which probably won't even happen, or if it has happened, can't be changed, and is probably not the catastrophe you think it is.
What a waste of energy!
It is your thoughts which are creating a scenario which your body is reacting to. It just isn't real!
So how do you get yourself out of this and back into the present moment?
In short ---> mindfulness and focussed awareness is a great way to get your wild imagination back to NOW.
German-born Eckhard Tolle, a famous author and speaker who resides in Canada, has spent many years studying and researching spiritual philosophy and psychology. He has worked as a counsellor, a teacher, and an author. One of his most famous books is called, 'The Power of Now', which extols the transforming virtue of living in the present moment. Because the present moment is all we really have.
In this short video, Tolle outlines some steps you can take if you find yourself being overwhelmed by anxiety:
- Firstly, recognise what is happening with your thoughts and the impact it is having on your body. How is your body currently reacting to your thoughts? This takes quiet awareness.
- Then, choose (actively make a decision) to step out of the situation. This is difficult sometimes because the thoughts are very powerful, especially at the beginning.
- If you can't manage to get yourself out of the anxious thought process, it is enough to just recognise that you are in it. Notice what is happening in your body and mind. Later, as you progress, you can start trying to step out of the anxious thoughts. Just knowing the anxious thought has control over your body and mind is already a step forward.
- Next, take a conscious breath --- long, slow belly breaths, not chest breaths.
- Lastly, remove the tension from your body. Shake your body, hands, arms, clap your hands, move your jaw to release tension. Or just notice where you are sitting, look around, notice where you feet are, where your hands are resting, the position of your body.
He describes it as a kind of awakening and returning to your body and returning to the present moment.
This type of thing takes time. If you are used to getting caught up in 'what ifs' and creating panic in your body, it will take some time just to become aware of the thoughts themselves. Let it happen slowly, and as you become more used to noticing the anxious thoughts for what they are, you can begin to start making an active choice to step out of the process.
Creating your own alternative thought pattern can also help you. So consider this:
A. You notice yourself in the throes of anxious and unrealistic thinking.
B. After practising, you are able to choose not to stay in that anxious thought.
C. You take a long, slow belly breath.
D. You shake your hands, shrug your shoulders and move your body to release tension.
E. You choose an alternative pattern of thoughts to focus on. You might choose something more mundane, like planning your shopping list. Or you might choose to look around you and find something positive to focus on in the present moment, like your children happily sitting in front of you, or the delicious taste of your early morning tea as you sip it.
What do I do?
Well, thankfully, I noticed pretty quickly that I was getting a little anxious and overwhelmed with my changes because over time I've become used to noticing subtle changes in my body. So firstly I added a few extra personal yoga classes to my schedule as I had let them slide recently. I also increased my morning meditation time and decreased my morning cardio time.
Yoga is my go-to when I am anxious. It is an incredibly meditative way to get into the present moment as you use your breath to switch on your parasympathetic nervous system (aka the 'rest digest' response), the opposite of the 'flight or fight' response. Through yoga you become mindfully present in your practice and in your meditation, allowing more time to notice damaging thoughts and bring the mind back to the present moment.
I'll finish with this.
When in the grips of anxiety, it can seem as though it has complete control over your life. It can seem as though all the worst things are going to happen and they are all targeting you. There is a window though, for you to recognise those anxieties and, with practice, choose to step out of them and into the beautiful present moment.
Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness allow us to be more present. I feel absolutely thrilled that I can offer these gifts to others, and call on them when I need them myself. Just send me a message right here if you'd like me to share them with you. xo
Links and resources:
Wisdom Talks, 2015, Get Rid of Fear and Anxiety Today, videorecording, Youtube, viewed 28 February 2016, <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ze0-vGa-MQ8>
beyondblue depression and anxiety organisation Australia : https://www.beyondblue.org.au/
Note: As stated above, if you feel that you are suffering from a level of anxiety that is beyond the 'normally expected' levels, and is persisting for months please go straight to your GP for a referral to a specialist. In fact, while I'm at it, if you are in Australia, you can also contact Beyond Blue, a fantastic organisation which can give you advice and point you in the right direction to receive good care. If you are not in Australia, please speak to your GP for a referral to a mental health professional, and try Googling for a similar organisation in your own country so you can talk to someone straight away. I need to say this because if you are mentally ill, reading a blog is not going to be enough to remove chronic anxiety. It is in your best interests to seek the care you need from appropriate qualified health professionals.
Sometimes, 'being positive' has been getting a bit of a bad rap...unfortunately the concepts of gratitude and positive thinking tend to conjure up the cringe-worthy image of a smarmy smiley Eastern suburbs green smoothie gurgling yoga fanatic with 'no sense of the real world'. In fact... if you look on the surface, you might even see that in me! Youtube parodies and TV shows mock the stereotype that yoga and healthy living has become, but does that mean some people are missing out on something that might change their lives?
The truth is, positive thinking runs much deeper than that, and the thread can be followed to the increasing presence of Eastern philosophical practices in our Western society. As many of you know, the standard Western lifestyle has left many dissatisfied and disillusioned. The drive to --> work --> earn --> build --> and buy - has left many feeling unfulfilled, off-track, and sometimes flat out depressed.
While more and more of us have sought insight and inspiration in Eastern philosophies on the individual level, many scientists and researchers have also sought to glean new knowledge from ancient practices. In fact, such has the line separating Eastern from Western practices blurred through modern global living, that practices like yoga, meditation and Buddhist philosophies have become a common part of the every day life of many. Also, the anecdotal quips of the benefits of these practices are often being backed up by thorough scientific research.
So why is it that makes some of us recoil when we hear about positive thinking - yet again!?
What is it that gets us all worked up about it?
The truth is, we all have our own inner demons to battle, and sometimes being told to 'just smile' or 'think positive to get positive' when in the midst of our darkest moments can leave us feeling alienated, strange, and misunderstood. If only it were that easy! For those going through real, 's*@! is hitting the fan' life events, hearing this can be the ultimate slap in the face. Yet, while well-intentioned do-gooders can sometimes be annoying, there is something to be said about giving it a go.
---> Confession! You may class me as one of those well-intentioned, do-gooders - it's true! In fact, I am passionate about finding ways to improve health through body and mind, including living with authenticity and positivity. But anyone who knows me will agree that I am not your run-of-the-mill, smiley, 'bless thee' yogi sterotypes, and you don't have to be either if you want to live with more optimism. You can improve your mindset and, as a result, improve your health, without floating away into blissville.
What I'd like to do today, is to urge you to look a little deeper than the modern, superficial presentation of 'positive thinking' and:
- Consider how practicing positive thinking can benefit your physical health;
- Consider how it can benefit your emotional health; and
- Consider how it can help build and sustain emotional relationships around you.
I'm asking you to consider how, on a day to day basis you might start to just appreciate 'being', the mere fact that you are alive in this very moment, and that is all.
Barbara Fredrickson is a social psychologist who has been researching human emotions and psychology for over 25 years. She points out that optimism is a mindset that produces many positive emotions, such as, amusement, joy, happiness, gratitude, serenity, inspiration, and peace. Her research has found that an increase in positive feelings leads to an improvement in levels of happiness, and an enhancement of physical and psychological health, even to the point of seeing healthier gene expression (Positivity: All in the Mind, 2015). Other researchers support Fredrickson's work. Harvard School of Public Health researcher, Laura Kubzansky, found that engaging in meaningful positive emotion and engagement can improve mood, reduce the risk of heart disease, reduce systemic inflammation, and increase antioxidants and good blood cholesterol (The Observer, 2013).
A number of leading universities have taken great interest in researching this fascinating subject. The University of Pennsylvania's 'Authentic Happiness' website of the Positive Psychology Centre is dedicated to researching, reporting, and providing resources on the influence positive psychology has on health and well-being. Centre Director, Dr Martin Seligman, an influencer of Fredrickson, has also spent decades researching positive psychology, focussing on how character strengths and optimism can serve to enhance the well-being of people and communities. If you'd like to discover more about your own character strengths, virtues and approach to happiness, head on over to the website and register to take some of their free questionnaires.
Choosing a different mindset
Some of Fredrickson's work focussed on what happens to people when they consciously change their input and output of positive emotions each day, i.e. when they 'choose to be happy'.
In her trial, participants were randomly assigned to be taught certain techniques to self-generate positivity each day for more than 6 weeks. The techniques were derived from ancient Buddhist and meditation practices. At baseline, the participants were measured physiologically, and completed an extensive survey on their emotional habits. Participants were tracked via a daily log for 3 months. At the end of the study they were assessed again, with monitoring of the heart and blood samples taken, and they also completed the same extensive survey that they completed at the start of the study.
What the researchers found was that those who learned to consciously 'chose' positive emotions had improved heart rate variability and alterations in the gene expression of their immune system (Positivity: All in the Mind, 2015).
What does that mean for us?
So, I bet you're wondering, what are these techniques? What are these positive practices that researchers are proving to be so health-giving?
Does all this mean you have to run around with a smile on your dial all the time, like some kind of Stepford wife?
> I'm happy!
> I'm happy!
> Yay I'm happy!
Firstly, let's be clear. All emotions are useful and should be listened to for what they are communicating. One of the beautiful aspects of yoga is the way it makes you slow down and pay attention to the physical presentation of the body in connection with the mind.
Emotions are not only contained in the mind. You know it yourself. What happens when you feel hurt or overwhelmed or angry? You get a physiological response don't you?
Anger increases the pulse rate, switches on many muscles, clenches your jaw, and prepares your sympathetic nervous system for 'fight or flight'.
Sadness closes in on you. Your world becomes smaller. You become smaller, your eyes are downcast, your shoulders are rounded. These are universal presentations of different emotional states. No one is telling you to just pretend they aren't happening! But what you can do is take a moment to...
Close your eyes. Put one hand on your heart and one hand on your belly. Focus in on your breath and ask yourself,
What emotions am I feeling now? How is this showing up in my body?
Begin to recognise your emotions. See them and accept them.
Often what happens is, we tend to stay in negative emotional states longer than we need. The situation has passed or changed but we are still hanging onto the emotion.
Like ruminating on a past event, going over and over in your mind what someone said to upset you.
Building a positive mindset is about having strategies to move from a negative state up the emotional scale to a more positive state, and as the research shows, doing this on a daily basis builds resistance and makes you more likely to stay in a positive state.
So, step number one is to recognise the state you are in, and step number two is to employ some effective techniques to improve your mindset.
This is the key when those negative emotions are no longer serving you and are only causing you distress and physical strain.
Even more so, this is the key to moving from a flat, humdrum existence, to living with more vitality, greater health, and a daily sense of joy...
...simply for being alive.
There are many techniques to help you improve your mindset.
Try some different techniques to see what works for you.
Or, if you'd like to go a little deeper, contact me to set up a free 15 minute Discovery Session via phone or Skype and we can talk through your next steps to a better mindset and good health.
Wishing you great happiness ;-) xo
'New Frontiers in the Science of Positive Emotions', 2013, Observer, Vol 26. No.6, July/August, accessed 10 February 2016, <http://www.psychologicalscience.org/index.php/publications/observer/2013/july-august-13/new-research-on-positive-emotions.html>
Positivity: All in the mind, 2015, Radio Program, Radio National, ABC, 14 June 2015
University of Pennsylvania, 2016, Authentic Happiness, accessed 10 February 2016, <https://www.authentichappiness.sas.upenn.edu/home>
I joined the gym last year and only went twice! ; I swore I'd stop drinking so much and yet, there I was last week with a killer hangover ; Why do I keep eating that fast food??? Why?!... and it goes on.
Many of us hit the new year with bold ambitions to lose weight or quit smoking, while others are a little more cynical about the true effect of creating new year's resolutions. For many, it can be a time of personal torment, rather than satisfaction and excitement about your plans. As a health coach, I help you create a strong vision and strategy around you health aims and coach you through the process of change. I will be sending out some articles on goal-setting in the next few weeks to help you along with your aims for 2016 ---> so stay tuned!!
For some, their main goal for 2016, is simply to be happier. Sounds pretty straight forward doesn't it ---> Be. Happy.
Then why is it such a struggle?!
What I want to do today is share with you some key information on happiness and well-being and show you 5 free simple apps you can use to increase your happiness and well-being pronto!
We all know that rush you get when someone gives you a little gift. It's definitely a feel-good moment, a part of what Dr Martin Seligman (see below) would call, The Pleasant Life. Like most things pleasant, my way of looking at The Pleasant Life is that it is nice enough, there is appreciation and joy in this life and all your important needs are met, but it's just a little bit bland...perhaps there is a sense that there can be more some how. Going a little bit further with this idea, we meet The Good Life where we use our own unique strengths and gifts to live a better and more fulfilling life. Finally, along this path, we meet The Meaningful Life in which we can use our unique strengths and talents to improve the lives of others and through that gain a greater sense of meaning and fulfillment.
The Meaningful Life: one of the greatest ways to increase personal happiness is to contribute to the welfare of others - volunteering, donation, charity, unpaid work, and, to make this super easy, there are apps you can download to help you!
Study after study demonstrates the positive effects volunteering and social contribution have on health and well-being. Here are just a few articles to read up on:
1. The Journal of Social Science and Medicine, 2008 - Their study suggests that volunteering can increase levels of happiness regardless of socio-economic status.
2. WebMD.com 2015 - cites a study conducted by the University of Exeter Medical School in England which suggests that there is a link between volunteering and better health and well-being, though more research is needed.
3. The Pursuit of Happiness 2016 - (my favourite research into happiness and a great contributor to my coaching programs!) Dr Martin Seligman states that happiness can be gained through altruism, and there is a chance for great gratification in giving and kindness.
So, there are many ways to donate your time and energy to a good cause. If you don't have a lot of time, you may prefer to give a regular donation to a charity of your choice. What I'd like to share with you today though are 5 easy ways you can contribute to a good cause, all from the comfort of your own phone! Technology today, it's just incredible, isn't it?!
So here are 5 apps that you can download onto your phone right now (I believe they are all free downloads) to start making a positive contribution to the lives of others (are you getting the feel-goods yet??).
Note: I'm giving Android apps - because I heart Android over Apple, sorry, haha - but if you take the name and google it, you'll find the iPhone version easily, and I won't hold it against you ;-).
Share the Meal - with US$ 0.50 cents you can feed a hungry child for a whole day through the United Nations World Food Program.
Dream Lab - The Garvan Institute of Medical Research can harness the power of your phone to speed up cancer research, while you sleep!
Tree Planet 2 - One for the gamers! This app donates one real tree for every game tree planted.
Donate a Photo (main site) - For those who love snapping pics! Snap a pic, upload it on the app, share it on social media - basically what anyone with Instagram usually does, except every time you do it, $1 is donated to a charity you have chosen from their list.
Pay it Forward app - This app looks fun! You are given daily suggestions of 'random acts of kindness' to do, can keep track of your 'kindness progress', and view where the most acts of kindness are being performed in the world through the app.
So, time to get downloading! Which of these apps interests you the most? I want to download them all! I currently have the Dream Lab on my phone and I will definitely get the Pay it Forward app. I might switch it up a bit to save space on my phone.
I'd love to hear what you think of them, maybe you can suggest other contribution apps, or even tell us about other volunteering experiences you've had.
Would love to hear from you!
1. Borgonovi, F. 'Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness', Social Science and Medicine, vol. 66; iss. 11, p.p.2321–2334
2. Preidt, R. 2015, 'Volunteering may make people happier, study finds', WebMD Health Day Reporter, 23 August 2015, viewed 4 January 2016, <http://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20130823/volunteering-may-make-people-happier-study-finds>
3. Pursuit of Happiness, 2016, Martin Seligman, The Pursuit of Happiness: Bringing the Science of Happiness to Life, viewed 4 January 2016, <http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/martin-seligman-positive-psychology/>