Specifically, why practice mediating, moving, and/or praying mindfully DAILY?
Because it trains our brains during times of calm how to better respond in times of anxiety, pressure, or stress. It is like soccer practice versus the big match: we cultivate the skills and muscle memory mindfully when we have the time and space to do it, so that when the big game comes, we are ready. (So says this neuroscientist!) Then the training takes over. Our brains and bodies are wired to respond in a way that serves us, versus a way that exacerbates a situation.
Practice and game day are never quite the same, of course, yet the benefit of training is never questioned in sports. Nor is the mass amount of time required to practice in order to become proficient. No one expects someone who’s never played basketball in their life at 35 years old to step to the three point line and swish 3-pointer after 3-pointer! It takes discipline and practice for years to get into the “flow state” where you can nail a fade away jumper with a defender in your face. So, too, it takes practice to get into our “flow state” in meditation.
Yet, when I work with clients or speak to audiences who are new to mindfulness practices, I often get questions about its utility. It often seems too good to be true, “woo woo,” or “too new agey.” Or people feel like it takes too long to “work!” They don’t see immediate results, and so they give up on the practice early and never return.
Fortunately, western science now corroborates what meditators, monks, spiritual leaders, and yogis have been saying for years: there is a mind-body connection that we can access. Our brains and bodies have very real, measurable responses to anxious input. We get knots in our bellies, tension in our back, racing in our hearts, or throbbing in our heads. We get flooded by hormones and other neurochemicals when we fight, flight, or freeze.
However, we can tune-in with the mind-body connection and interrupt the vicious cycle of anxiety. As soon as we notice we are caught up in it, we stop, close our eyes, and take a few deep breaths. Dropping into the breath and body is grounding and supporting. It offers us a direct way to work with the interconnectedness of our body and better handle anxious situations.
This is not a magic button, that pressed once solves all of our problems. That’s never what I’m claiming. I’m emphasizing, rather, that it’s a practice to which we can return time and time again. Over time, mindfulness…
increases our range of responses!
Because mindfulness is about training not treatment.
We can train ahead of time for the bumps in the road that are sure to come. It’s not magic, and it certainly doesn’t happen overnight. But just like any good practice for a sport, musical instrument, or other skill, we can see returns for our efforts over time.
Here are 3 things to try now if you are interested in mindful brain training:
- Place – as often as possible, meditate in the same place each time. This will contribute to the “brain training” element in that when you go to sit or lie down in this same spot each day, your brain knows what’s coming up next! I’ve got one little nook in my house dedicated to this very thing. Remember do as you can, not as you can’t! Maybe your mediation space needs to be the shower because that’s the only place you can get some alone time.
- Time – as often as possible, meditate at the same time. See comment above for why: habit helps. As they say “what fires together wires together,” so if you’re meditation at the same time and place each day, your brain starts to go into that meditative state a little easier over time. Also, I highly suggest doing it first thing in the morning before the chaos of the day or draw of social media, email, and work sucks you in.
- Consistent content – there are a few basic ways to work mindfulness into your daily routine. Pick one of the four options below and stick with it for at least a few days, if not a couple of weeks, to see how it works or not for you. No special equipment or supplements required! ;-p
A. Mantra – pick a simple phrase or word to repeat over and over again for your determined time of mediation or prayer
B. Breath – you can work with an even inhale and exhale for balance, an extended exhale for a calming effect, or extended inhale for energizing effect. A simple counting of the breath will do here! 🙂 Or try one of my favorites, alternate nostril breathing.
C. Body awareness – move from the feet to the top of the head, and back down again, simply noticing major places of the body (without moving them)
D. Try some basic visualizations
P.S. If you are, or someone you love is, a veteran and this mindfulness stuff sounds super interesting to you, and you’d like to learn more about how to implement it into your life so you can be more resilient, please check out this short video from the other business I own, Just Roll With It Wellness.
I love collaborating with fellow veterans! One of our attendees put it perfectly when he described our Resilient Leadership Retreat training this way: “When you have something like this, it’s giving us the tools where we can fix things before it becomes a problem. I compare it to preventive medicine versus surgery; this is like that preventive medicine.”
So, join us in November to get some mindful “preventative medicine!” 🙂