Happiness arises in the space between

balloonsA coach is asked to present a wellbeing workshop for an organisation’s staff. The group arrive and are presented with a room full of fifty golden balloons, each with the name of one of the participants on it.

The coach asks the group to look for their own balloon as quickly as possible and in complete silence. Those who find their balloon are told they will be eligible for a small reward.

There follows a chaotic scramble; lots of pushing and balloon popping. After a few minutes the exercise is stopped and from the fifty there are a handful of participants clutching their balloons. They are rewarded with a small box of chocolates. The rest have the glum outlook of people forced to go on a training course by their employers whilst their workload piles up at their desk.

The coach runs the exercise again but this time lets the group know that once they find a balloon with a colleagues name on it they should take it over to their workmate. Within a few minutes everyone is holding their own golden balloon. The coach then asks everyone to peel off their name tags. Behind each tag the word happiness is written.

I’m not going to hammer the point home but it’s clear and apparent that this simple little exercise reveals some great truths. We find our happiness and get to understand our strengths and weaknesses through helping others find theirs. We hold a mirror up and reflect each other’s joy. The joy is more than doubled. There is the joy of helping another and celebrating with them, the joy of receiving a gift and the collective joy of the group. Someone way smarter than me said,

“Illness begins with I and Wellness begins with we”

We find out what makes us tick by helping others uncover their truth. To do this all you need is a bit of time, a bit of space and people with positive intention for each other . Usually we do this with best mates and family and I feel really blessed to have lovely friends and such an amazing family .

There maybe times in our lives when we feel at a crossroad or feel the need to step outside of the circle of our friends and reflect on our experience in a different way ; for example when looking for a new job or to gain insight into a whole new way of living. So there may be times when our friends and family don’t have the resources to provide this insight and in order to grow we need the dispassionate reflection of a stranger.

At our centre in Waterloo we have coaches who have the time, space and positive intent to help – David, Dorinda, Madeleine , me and Anita. Find out more by reading our profiles at www.breathe-london.com/coaching

Learning yoga

Learning yoga

Ask my friends.  I am easily distracted.  I’m also extremely curious and have a ridiculously low boredom threshold coupled with high energy levels.  My Chinese astrological sign is monkey which says it all really.  Being aware of my tendency to be easily distracted I took up yoga about thirteen years ago .  It seemed to work for me.

Yoga tools for the mind
Holding some of the postures, like standing on your head for example, stops you thinking.  As soon as you think you fall over.  So this was a useful tool to shut my monkey mind up and help me focus better.  As I studied yoga more and more I learned that the physical postures are just one tiny aspect of what yoga is about. The more you study you begin to realise that the physical aspect of yoga is just one of the tools to help you sharpen the mind and focus on the present.

Its really tricky to simply sit still and breathe and clear our head of thoughts.  Everyone knows its good for us to do that but when we live in a place like London its easy to get distracted and easy to start comparing ourselves with others – people we may perceive as happier, more successful or better looking.  Yoga helps stop that needless self destructive internal chatter.  Yoga provides us with a range of tools enabling us to focus our attention on the present.

Other tools from yoga, apart from the physical postures, include things like repetitive chanting of a mantra.  If you repeat a self affirming mantra in your head over and over you crowd out the negative self destructive thoughts.

Another technique is to start creating a mindset of kindness and compassion  to others.  If you spend a few moments every day focusing on someone in need or someone in trouble it brings your own problems into perspective.  My little sister Jane dart is amazing at this.  She’s a nurse and every year volunteers her time to go to Ecuador with a team of other Canadian nurses and doctors to perform operations for people living in poverty and without access to medical care

How yoga toughens us up

Prakriti is the Sanskrit name for nature.   Nature throws randomness at us. We think we are in control of our destiny until nature throws wind and rain and illness and good fortune or sadness and pain at us.  We think we have control of our destiny until we bump into reality.  We create a soft nest and insulate ourselves as best we can from the ups and downs of life.  In truth we can only do so much to protect ourselves from what nature has to throw at us.

Most of us try to protect ourselves from what the ups and downs of life by accumulating material possessions.  Yoga creates a different kind of insulation.  Yoga teaches us that life is random and the only thing that is truly within your gift is to remain hopeful and optimistic in the face of adversity.  That’s not to say be naively optimistic but  continue to draw on an inner well of joy. Retaining hope, optimism and positive energy is the best way to enjoy the good times and shield ourselves from the inevitable bad times that nature occasional flings our way.

The physical and mental exercises from the eight limbs of yoga train our minds to remain resilient and upbeat as storms crash around us.  Patanjali wrote the yoga sutras 2,000 years ago to help us be more like warriors, strong and resilient as nature throws all that it has at us. They teach us to build strength from the inside out.

 

Welcoming change

I’m about to write about personal change in 2014.  The problem is that each time I begin to write it sounds utterly hopeless. I haven’t written anything for about 3 months.  I only write when I feel I have something to share. When I write it flows. A couple of thousand words in 20 minutes or so. The reason I can write so fast is because when I learn something in psychology or yoga I only pass that knowledge on if I have had direct experience of it.  I try it first and understand it through my eyes and ears.  Now I feel like I have so much to say but each beginning sounds either patronising, condescending, obvious or textbook. I guess it goes with the subject.  When you want to change something its not always apparent what needs changing, or rather which of your many habits or routines no longer serve you. It might therefore be better to consider the idea of change and create a mindset that welcomes change.  In this way you are more likely to be open to new ideas.

In 2006 I went to India to learn to become a yoga teacher.  The timing coincided with a celebration called Shivaratri a celebration of one of the Hindu gods, Lord Shiva.  Hinduism is not the same as yoga, although there are many crossovers. I am not a Hindu and apologies to my Hindu friends for my ignorance but I am fascinated by its ideas.  For example I warm to the idea that God is not separate from us but within us, that we are all made of the same stuff, somehow perfect inside and this inner radiance is shared by all of us.  The only thing that obscures this radiance is the belief that we are somehow separate from one another, made of different stuff to our surroundings.  Our thoughts and feelings manifest separateness but the reality is that we are all joined by this inner radiance.

I saw a lovely quote recently “llness begins with I, wellness begins with we”.  Its so obviously apparent that health and happiness stems from connection.  My wellbeing is raised when my friends are happy and confident.  You might say bullshit.  You could argue that this is a very personal mindset that I’ve developed over the last few years and that most people strive to get as much for themselves and maximise their own wellbeing by promoting themselves, perhaps at the expense of others.  The research suggests otherwise:  Random acts of kindness raise the wellbeing levels more in the giver than the receiver.  Volunteering your time to charities has a positive effect on health and wellbeing – people live longer and are happier.  Surrounding yourself with happy friends rubs off on you – you get happier.  Living in a society with a large gulf between rich and poor has an adverse effect on the wellbeing levels of the rich – perhaps they live in fear of what they have to lose or deep down know at a basic level that if their neighbours are not doing well then they also can’t be truly happy.

I think human brains are hardwired for fairness and compassion.  We want to succeed as individuals but we know deep down that this shouldn’t be at the expense of others.

At the end of a yoga class we say the word ‘namaste’, which has a number of meanings but essentially is a recognition of each others inner spark or light.  That at our core, we are brilliant and radiant and shiny.  I like these ideas.  Even if that’s all they are, it is a useful proposition.  It does you good to think that we are all radiant and loving and made of the same stuff on the inside. And what’s even better is that the latest research strongly supports the assertion that as I recognise your strengths and goodness, and as I strive to help you out, I actually help myself more.

Another lovely idea in Hinduism is how their many millions of different gods are actually just different manifestations of our higher selves. They do not worship separate individual gods but recognise the godlike attributes we all have. So that when we think of a particular deity we are not praying to a thing that is separate, or better than us, but we are accessing and promoting a useful mindset that promotes our highest self.  For example I started with Lord Shiva. One aspect of this deity promotes the idea of change.  He can be the violent destroyer, transforming the past, present and future.  You can think of him burning everything in his domain, of destroying old habits, thought patterns, attachments to material possesions and old ways of doing things.  Hes like a forest fire that allows regrowth and fresh life.  When you are able to destroy and burn these old views of the world, you are more able to see the world afresh and when you look deep inside yourself and others, the inner luminence is not obscured by by preconditioning and material attachments from the past.

I use this in my personal life.  I tend to over-attach to good times.  When I want to access the inner knowledge that letting go allows growth and love to enter your life, I think of the ideal of the Shiva consciousness. 

In India on 28th February 2006 I sat with a group of friends by an open fire visualising Lord Shiva and chanting the word “svaha” over and over.  In fact for at least six hours. Svaha means to let go or “so be it”.  I was constantly throwing away and letting go old stale views of the world. Burning my old prejudices in the fire.  As you do this you retrain your brain.  You re-fire the synaptic connections between your neurons.  You create the mindset for change.  You allow yourself to see your own inner radiance and the radiance of others.  I think its great to use old ideas and re-fashion them to make them work for you. 

As I prepare to go and live back in Australia I’ve got rid of most of material possesions and am using my yoga techniques to create the mindset that embraces change. If you are interested in learning more about these techniques I’ll be running morning meditation classes in January and February so let me know .  You can also check out our team of mind therapy experts at www.breathe-london.com/coaching

love Andy

What a thought can do to your body

Most people know about fight or flight and how our bodies have a physiological reaction to a perceived threat.  Whether its a physical or psychological threat the outcomes to the body and mind are similar – we get braced for a fight or energise our muscles to run.  So whether its a caveman running from a sabre toothed tiger or your boss yelling at you the physical effects are similar in the short term:
  • your digestion system shuts down – absorbing nutrients takes energy and the body needs the energy for a fight - hence constipation, IBS etc
  • your muscles tense ready for a fight – you are braced, your body becomes brittle and armoured  - neck pain, lower back pain
  • your heart rate rises to pump blood to the major organs of movement - heart rate increases
  • hormones secreted constrict blood vessels to enable blood to be pumped to the major muscle groups quickly - blood pressure rises and your face gets red
  • the muscles of fight/flight are prioritised – there is a dramatic reduction in flow to non essential areas – like the skin, kidneys and re productive areas - so you wont look good and your bits and pieces wont work so well
  • your pupils dilate in order to pick up more information from our surroundings -you look a bit unhinged
  • proteins, carbohdrates and fat are stored in your body and during fight flight are mobilised and dumped into the bloodstream to provide energy for the major muscles of movement.  They circulate in the bloodstream as amino acids, glucose and fatty acids and can adhere to the constricted blood vessel walls -increasing your chances of heart disease or stroke.  
  • amino acids are not great sources of energy so during fight/flight the protein in muscles is dumped into the blood stream and then converted by the liver into glucose – this increases diabetes risk and makes it hard for the mega stressed to grow lean muscle mass
  • when the fight flight emergency ends the amino acids, glucose and fatty acids are re absorbed, often in fat store deposits – this requires a huge amount of energy to convert from one form of storage - hence we get tired easily and store fat deposits
Fight/flight was designed an evolutionary response to physical threat.  But human beings are amongst a unique group of animals who can live in fear of the past and the future and create physiological damage just through the power of our thoughts. However we have a number of positive options for trying to manage a mind that darts and roams to dangerous places ;

Physical exercise - say your boss makes you feel small in front of people you might have a fight/flight reaction – you may want to stuff his teeth down the back of his neck.  But you can’t so you sit there and take it.  Shaky legs because you want to kick him in the chops and angry dilated pupils so you can aim your foot in the right place.  So the solution is to be an animal.  Be your natural self.  Go to the gym and kick the crap out of a punch bag or run, like you are running away from a tiger.  Its what your body is made to do

Empty your head of thoughts every so often - if you try empting your head of thoughts you get into the practice of observing thoughts as they arise.  And as the observer of yourself you might note some pretty alarming ones – I’m fat, I’m old, I can never do that – these are self inflicted psychological and physiological wounds – you are hurting your own body and mind with a thousand small cuts that you might not even be aware of .  There are so many great techniques that help you banish these internal thieves (thieves of your present and future health and happiness).  For example by learning to focus on your breath you focus on the moment, clear thoughts and engage the parasympathetic nervous system, reversing many of the negative effects of fight flight

Mind therapies - another way to tackle these thieves is through discussion and observation of thoughts, emotions and actions with an experienced coach.  This is where our mind therapies business can help you build a positive internal dialogue which will help you create and nourish your body at the cellular level.  I’ve written about this many times – people who are able to develop an internal feel good  state (which is not just reliant on fleeting hedonistic events) live longer, are more resistant to disease and infection and find it easier to build strong healthy bodies.  Focussing on developing a positive internal world shines through on the outside.  As I set out above your skin will glow because blood is pumped to it, your eyes will be soft and gentle and not angry and demanding, and your actions and movement will be measured and considered.

Here is our mind therapies team !!!

Monica Black – Clinical Hypnotherapist and NLP Practitioner
As one of the country’s leading qualified Master Clinical Hypnotherapists, Master NLP Practitioner, EMDR Practitioner, Monica has successfully helped many people
overcome all kinds of conditions and ailments which manifest either physically or emotionally such as weight loss, addictions, building confidence, conceiving etc. She further coaches in mindfulness and public speaking as well as works as a Media Lifestyle Commentator.
Monica is a member of the Royal Society of Medicine, CNHC, GHR, GHSC, ANLP, BATtH.
Contact Monica on 07776230332 or 0207 419 2211 or see her websitewww.hampsteadhypnotherapy.com

Marion Beauregard  - Sophrology practitioner 
Sophrology is a gentle non-intrusive technique improving quality of life, helping clients feel aligned with their environments, resources and values.  Marion has specialised in this cutting edge discipline, working both on the body and the mind, combining breathing exercises, muscular relaxation, gentle movements and visualisations. With a previous ‘life’ in marketing and extensive travelling experience, French-born Marion brings to the UK a new unique therapy practice and is qualified with the International Therapy Examination Council (ITEC) .
Contact Marion on 07929056135 and find out more about her at www.vie-tality.com

Madeleine Mason – Cognitive Behavioural Therapist, Relationship Coach
With an MSc and BSc in psychology, Cognitive Behavioural Therapy training and a background in the mental health profession specialising in quality of life, Madeleine brings extensive expertise to PassionSmiths. Having experience in marriage, dating and relationships, Madeleine is passionate about helping people to understand their own needs and getting successful results. She is a member of the British Psychological Society and the International Positive Psychology Association.  Contact Madeleine on 07707689900 and find out more about her at http://www.passionsmiths.com.

Daniel Williams – Psychotherapist and Relationship Coach
Trained as a psychotherapist, Dan is highly experienced in working with many different client needs, including couples with relationship issues. With a successful ‘previous life’ in the IT world as well as personal experience of dating and marriage, Dan brings crucial wisdom to the sessions at PassionSmiths. He is registered with the UK Council for Psychotherapy.  Contact Dan on 07557667137 and find out more about him athttp://www.passionsmiths.com.

Andy Roberts – Life Coach
With an MSc in Positive Psychology and training in Yoga, Andy specialises in stress management techniques including breath work and positive visualisation.  With previous experience working in finance, Andy understands the stresses involved with working in the city and combines his psychological and holistic trainings to help people focus on the positive in order to overcome life’s challenges.  Andy is an accredited Emotional Intelligence coach. Contact Andy on 07766343931 and find out more about him athttp://www.breathe-london.com/positive-psychotherapy

Dorinda Talbot – Psychotherapist and Mindfulness Coach
Trained in Core Process Psychotherapy, Dorinda combines her psychotherapeutic training with a Buddhism-based understanding of the transformative power of awareness.  Dorinda offers open-ended therapy incorporating voice dialogue sessions and mindfulness coaching to bring greater ease, intimacy and possibility into people’s lives.  Dorinda’s sessions are useful in dealing with many issues including (but not limited to!) anxiety, depression, relationship difficulties, low self-esteem, stress, grief, life transitions, addictions, feeling stuck and lost and emotional management issues.  Contact Dorinda on 07949868426 and find out more about her athttp://dorindatalbot.com/

David Lewis – Cognitive Hypnotherapist, Psychotherapist and Coach
David has a comprehensive list of trainings in Hypnotherapy, Psychotherapy and Coaching.  Having worked as a psychotherapist at St Thomas’s Hospital from 2005-2010, David brings a wealth of excellent experience to his practice helping people tackle their anxiety, depression and relationship issues as well as phobias, fears and addiction problems. David’s professional memberships include the UK Council for Psychotherapy the National Council for Hypnotherapy. Contact David on 07545871504 and find out more about him at http://changeandmore.co.uk

Love and stuff

Our Breathe London business is about to move into uncharted waters – relationship counselling!  My friend Madeleine is joining our team, she has a background in CBT and Positive Psychology.
The thing about love is that the more you chase something, the more it eludes you, the greater your craving the more it pushes love away.  My favourite poem by William Blake goes like this:
“He who binds to himself a joy Does the winged life destroy; But he who kisses the joy as it flies Lives in eternity’s sun rise.”
I think the key to attracting love into our lives is to focus our attention on cultivating selflove.  There are loads of great techniques in yoga, Buddhism and positive psychology to enable this inner feeling of self worth and inhibit the inevitable negative self talk that occasionally arises.  My mate Phil taught me a lot about how to avoid being tied up in thoughts.  One of the last things I said to him before he went back to Oz was “thank you Phil for teaching me the joy of doing f**k all”.
Shakespeare put it slightly more romantically “there is nothing either good or bad only thinking makes it so”.  Sometimes we get caught up in our thoughts which are often unrealistic views of the world.  Cultivating a sense of inner calm, quietening the mind andhaving a peaceful inner world is an attractive quality
When you have that inner feeling of warmth, love and abundance other people are drawn to it.  They want to give to you, share with you and be with you because they know that you are not going to draw on their energy – you don’t need to, you have everything already and anything that is given is a bonus.  I had lunch with my lovely friend Lucy recently.  She told me about an idea that most people wake up in the morning with the feeling that they didn’t have enough sleep, don’t have enough time and don’t have enough money.  To attract love and the feeling of abundance into our lives its worthfocussing on what we do have compared to 95% of the human race.
The other thing about feeling loveable and attracting love into our lives is honesty.  If we’re clear with people about what we want, what brings us joy and what we’re scared of we attract equally honest people into our lives.  It doesn’t mean that we attract clones of ourselves into our lives.  We may attract people into our lives with similar beliefs but we will also attract people into our lives who can help us overcome our fears and shortfalls because they know the real you.
So love grows in a relationship and we find loving relationship when there is self love, kindness, clarity, honesty and flow.  Cultivating these values may not attract a partner or improve the relationship with your partner or expand your friend network in the short term but it will help you become a whole person and will inevitably lead to deeper more rewarding loving relationships in the future
I’ll unveil our new team of life coaches, hypnotherapy specialists, psychotherapists and mindfulness coaches next week.

Love Andy x

The Old lady on the train

A couple of weeks ago I was travelling back from North Wales on a packed Virgin train.  It was crammed with the usual assortment of hungover post hen/stag do people plus university and army people returning to their digs or barracks.  I had spent the weekend at my little brother Dave’s second stag do and hadn’t slept for two days.  As I boarded the train I managed to find the last free seat on the whole train.  I desperately looked forward to catching up on two hours sleep on the way back to London

As I sat down I said hi to the elderly lady in the seat next to me. That was my first mistake. She was a talker, and by Crewe we were deep in conversation.  For the first 20 minutes it was politeness that kept my eyes open. And then things changed .  I told her about my life as a yoga teacher.  I told her about how when I was 30 I stopped trying to accumulate money and became more interested in experiencing life and learning new things.

She was born on the beautiful island of Anglesey but had moved to the South of England with her childhood sweetheart.  They married at 20 and set up a thriving florist business.  They were inseparable.  When she described him she glowed.  At 80 she looked radiant and beautiful.  After 25 years of blissful marriage he died suddenly in her arms in their little shop.  She has spent the last 30 years asking why.

I had started the conversation by telling her about what yoga teachers do and what positive psychology was all about.  As the conversation proceeded I soaked up her wisdom and my tiredness drained away.  Her lesson was so beautiful:

- tell the people you love that you love them, never miss an opportunity for cuddles

- move on quickly – life proceeds in one direction – the people who loved you unconditionally would want you to find new love

- build love inside of you, be happy with your company, don’t be too attached to things or people. Work on self love.  Feeling good is an attractive trait and brings good people and things into your life

- fear of change is natural but you have attracted love and positive things into your life in the past and you will do the same in the future

- be who you are now – speak your truth, tell people what makes you happy as well as what you fear.

- be true to yourself and be true to other people – 80 or 90 years on this planet and so many people pretend to be something they are not

- enjoy your career – find the thing you love and just do it

After three happy hours on the train I helped her with her bags and we gave each other a big hug.  She was a talker.  I’m a talker.  I also cry easily so we both had happy tears flowing down our cheeks.  We connected as two souls in a moment in time.  We both joked that we were terrible with names but neither of us cared about that.  I felt her goodness, her energy and her wide eyed curiosity in the world.  I turned 45 last Saturday and I want to keep being like that.

I don’t know her name but she was beautiful.

Positive Psychology and Buddhism

Positive Psychology and Buddhism
Seven years ago when I started studying for a masters degree in Positive Psychology, the thing that drew me in was a headline in a paper “Can you train your mind to be happier?”. That sounded appealing. We all want happiness, none of us want to suffer.

The very basic idea of Positive Psychology is that there are certain practices you can undertake that will help to train the brain to attend to what works well in your life, as well as your friends and colleagues lives. This brain training helps us to overcome evolutionary biases that might otherwise cause us to focus on the danger and deficits in life. Armed with a buffer of positive emotions you are then more likely to make positive life choices and may be better equipped to handle the inevitable loss and suffering that comes our way in life.

Some of the techniques to help focus on the positive have been really useful in my own life and have helped me grow our business. If you want to know more about these send me a mail.

I’ve also worked with great companies and organisations such as Amerada Hess and the House of Commons, introducing their staff to Positive Psychology.

I now have a huge dilemma. The more I study Buddhism, Yoga and Positive Psychology, the less trusting I am of the findings of Positive Psychology. For example much of the research is based on simple self-reported wellbeing questions such as “How satisfied are you with your life?”. I no longer believe that you can truly know your own wellbeing level. People get used to their new circumstances and quickly return to their historical self-reported levels of wellbeing. After all, even the most self-centred person could say they are 9 out of 10 happy. T to truly measure wellbeing you would also need to include life experiences, self acceptance, positive detachment and how much love and positive energy the person radiates to friends, loved ones and the environment.

My other criticism of Positive Psychology is the self and tribe focused nature of the interventions. I’m ok, my tribe’s good and I’m not too bothered about the rest of the world and the environment.

The way I see it, many of the interventions in Positive Psychology (such as keeping a diary of things that work well for you) are at a fairly low level in human evolution.. At their best they help you build tenacity to overcome life’s ups and downs.

Buddhist philosophy does not view emotions as good or bad or high energy or low energy. Buddhist practitioners question whether emotions are afflictive or not. That is to say do they rumble on after the event creating disturbance and imbalance. For example, it’s normal to feel sorrow and grief at the loss of a close friend. The question is whether it continues to disturb the mind long after the event. For example if you lose a loved one who you unconditionally loved and who also loved you, you inevitably will feel loss and despair. If that person truly loved you however, they would want you to return to the default setting of joy as soon as possible.

Life is so short and the Buddhists believe it is normal to experience the full range of emotions in life (and not to avoid or run away from the negative ones). They teach that we should learn to view the world as it is, learn acceptance, learn how to detach, learn to focus the mind on the present and learn to love each other more. Even those people, or especially those people not in our tribe.

Yoga training for the mind

A few months ago I wrote about yoga for the first time. It’s taken me so long to get around to writing about this because its so vast and complex. What started for me 12 years ago as a nice stretch in the gym has turned into a tool which has guided and shaped my life. Going back to 1999 I was working for KPMG in a fairly senior position in corporate finance. It’s hard to imagine how doing simple yoga stretches can change a person but I feel it has changed the way my mind works.  I’m going to try to explain some of the process (apologies to the many experts on the Yoga Sutras and Hatha Yoga Pradipika out there).

The first point to understand is that the physical aspects of yoga you see in a class or a gym, are just one aspect of Yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, written over 2,000 years ago distil knowledge from seekers of knowledge from the previous 2,000 years. Its content is very similar to the foundations of Buddhism. Nowhere in the text does it explain a system for physical exercise. It took another 1,500 years before the physical aspects were documented in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

Like Buddhism the Yoga Sutras encourage us to enquire what truth is. However it’s the search for truth that’s important because there is no perfect point of view or perfect observation. In order to illustrate this point I will demonstrate how what we perceive to be truth is an illusion created by our tendency to view and judge our surroundings based on how we have learnt to filter and absorb information

How we perceive the world

We all perceive the world through a prism of past experience. The information that we are primed to observe depends on how we have observed information in the past and what our current mood state is. I’ve written about this many times. For example our ability to see spectrum’s of colour and detail is dependent on how we feel and what we expect to see (or are told to expect to see). I’ve used this example before but check this out if you don’t believe how expectation directs perception http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1D07neiB7HI

In Yoga and Buddhist philosophy it is the misperception of reality which leads to pain and suffering. For example, if I strongly hold to a belief whilst those around me hold different views based on how they see the world, this can lead to isolation, frustration and confrontation.

In Yoga misperception of how the world appears is called Avidya . It is the belief that our view of the world is correct and permanent. This creates separation between people because the view that you will have will be different to mine. Your processing of information will be enabled by how you have learned to perceive the world. Once we’ve made our minds up about “a thing” (say marmite) it’s really hard to experience the thing in a different way.

As soon as I write marmite people think about food types and whether they like or dislike it. I could have used the example of a favourite colour, or whether to vote Conservative or Labour, or whether to believe in climate change or not, or whether to believe Israelis are reclaiming their homeland or invading another’s. These different view points enable humour, gossip and help bring advances in science and the arts. Exploring difference through dialogue is a joy but some people lack the awareness that their view is but one of many.

Amongst other things Yoga teaches us about impermanence and humility. The more we learn, the more we know there is more to learn and the less certain we can be in our beliefs.

Observing many selves within us

In last weeks blog/newsletter I explored how we think and act as often being directed by deep subconscious patterns – bundles of deep lying thoughts and emotions which direct our behaviours.

I’m going to try and explain how yoga practices unbundle these packages of conditioned thoughts and emotions, and enable us to understand how we see the world, and how the world really is, are not the same. We learn to become confident in our uncertainty and this uncertainty drives us to ask others about how they see the world. It makes us more communicative, creative and adaptable to change.  In order to observe these deep “packages” that direct our behaviours, we first have to appreciate that when we observe ourselves (thoughts, emotions, behaviours, physical sensations) we are already primed to observe ourselves in a way that is directed by how we feel right now.

For example, when I examine my own thoughts, feelings and behaviours, there are times when I can observe that I am confident and strong and there are other times when I can feel small and low and abandoned. If I sit still I can observe that I act/think/feel in many different ways depending upon context. In truth I am not one self but made up of many different selves.

This is a really hard thing to explain especially as Western Psychology often fails to explore the idea of multiple self and context. To give you an illustration of how context changes behaviours I’ll give you the example of the good Samaritan study:

In an experiment, a group of students studying theology were asked to take a mock psychology test but at the last minute were told that they had to change venues to do the test. Half of the students were primed with words like “you’d better get a move on because the new venue is a good 10 mins walk away and the exam starts soon”. The rest were told to proceed to the new venue at their own pace. Halfway between the old and the new venue an actor paid for by the study designers pretended to be hurt. It looked as though he had been attacked or had a serious accident. In the study, the number of people who stopped to give the man assistance was significantly less from the group primed with time-scarcity words compared to the other group. And remember these were students studying religion well versed in the story of the good Samaritan – for those that don’t know the story the good Samaritan was a dude in the bible who helped an injured person on the road to Damascus thereby finding God. Just to emphasise the point a little more – the designers of the experiment had arranged that just before the mock psychology test the students had actually received a lecture on the good Samaritan story from their tutors – it was right at the front of their minds but time-scarcity, or the perception of it, changed their behaviours.  For more about this study go tohttp://www.spring.org.uk/2009/12/when-situations-not-personality-dictate-our-behaviour.php

So now consider how in a busy city our behaviours/thoughts/feelings/perception of sensations are highly contextual and influenced by our surroundings. The only way to observe these different “packages” of behaviours/thoughts/feelings/perception is to somehow slow the world down to enable us to observe our myriad selves behaving in many different ways.

When I practice self-observation I can observe that when I feel confident and strong I’m more likely to try new things and catch up with friends. I can also begin to observe that this confident outgoing person can become arrogant. When I’m time pressured I can be aloof. I can also observe that certain triggers make me feel insecure and vulnerable. When I work with my charity YourStory I feel kind and generous. These selves are all contained within this thing I think of as me. But each of these selves acts and behaves in different ways depending on context.

Each of us have many selves within. Each nurtured by past and present experience. Each directing our behaviours. Yoga trains us to concentrate the mind to observe these selves and how they impact our actions.

Don Juan, the Yacqui Native American tutor of the anthropologist Carlos Castaneda, explains that to perceive the world you have to stop the world. You have to be still to notice that what you observe is what you expect to observe based on past experience. To see the world through fresh eyes is to raise the veil of Avidya or ignorance.  To do this its useful to to concentrate the mind so that you can train yourself to begin to observe these selves within and how they influence behaviour. In future articles I will (try) and explain how each of the 8 steps of Yoga help raise this veil of Avidya.

In order to stop the world for a moment you can do a number of things:

- Put yourself in a place of great beauty. A place that shocks the senses. As I write this I’m looking at the Southern Cross in a clear night sky – wonder and awe are great at fostering humility and uncertainty about your views and place within the world.

- Meditate on the breath – in a relaxed state you engage the parasympathetic nervous system and concious thoughts slow. With practice this focus and concentration allows you to observe noisy thoughts from myriad selves that jostle for attention. Meditation practices do not empty our head of thoughts but allow us to observe these thoughts and how they influence behaviours.

- The next step is to be aware that as we learn to observe these different strands of self bubbling to the surface there is no one coherent self. Sometimes we observe packages of thoughts/feelings/behaviours/sensations which are confident and happy, sometimes lonely and sad. With ongoing practice we observe that these different selves may be very different from one another and that there is no one coherent self (accept maybe the self that observes these things).

- With further self-enquiry we observe that these different selves have emerged as patterns throughout our lives.

Each of the eight limbs of yoga seeks to concentrate the mind and lift the veil of ignorance that bounds us to a view of self separating us from true knowledge of our surroundings.

Untying the knot means becoming relaxed with uncertainty and going with the flow rather than trying to think our way to happiness. We get tied up by clinging to our thoughts and believing that they are us. Like everything else they arise and pass away over time. Everything around us is in constant flux and therefore we need to train the mind to be adaptable. In this way we can see the world afresh and remain youthful and vibrant.

How our instinct can deceive us

In this blog I explore why it’s so important to slow down and examine our emotions, and those of people around us.

Making decisions based on gut instinct

Research over the last 20 years increasingly suggests we perceive our decision making processes to be dominated by logic, when in fact the way we tend to problem solve and reach conclusions is firstly out of instinct, and then through engaging our analytical side to justify our decisions. Malcolm Gladwell turned this topic into a whole book called ‘Blink’

The problem with this decision making process, is that our gut instinct is primed by our ancestral reptilian brain, our upbringing, current stress levels and how we are primed at every moment by environmental factors. Once we have made a decision based on gut instinct and backed it up with thought it’s very difficult for us to change our attitudes – they become entrenched. In order to win friends and influence people it’s vital to appeal to their emotional side to have half a chance of getting them to see your point of view. It’s even better if you can train yourself to be dispassionate about your view point and strive to see things from theirs – in this way, through dialogue, we often find there is a view of the world that lies between us which is a more perfect representation of truth.

How reasoning can be tricked

As small children, we explore the world through our likes and dislikes. In Yoga and Buddhism these early likes and dislikes are described as seeds, or samskaras. According to these traditions, samskaras are embedded experiences that we are born with from past lives. Western psychology agrees that we are born with tendencies or personality types – for example a tendency to be open or closed, agreeable or not etc. We are not born blank slates. As we develop these seeds ripen according to the environment that we grow up in. They are watered with love or hatred, kindness or cruelty.

In the eastern traditions, there are infinite seeds of possibility but we have tendencies to develop in one way or another. In addition to these seeds children adopt the traditions and morals of their parents and peers. We have a tendency to quickly assimilate information from our surroundings about the way society accepts is the “right” way to proceed in life. These samskaras and later learned social behaviours are often buried deeply within our subconscious. At a basic primal level they direct many (if not all) of our behaviours. We bury this stuff deep because in order to function in a fast moving, information packed world, we simply don’t have time to reflect on every decision that we are faced with. Automatic processing is a vital part of being human. We have to rely on gut instincts, but sometimes these gut instincts lead us in a direction that if we stopped and thought for a while, make little sense.

The psychologist Jonathan Haidt uses the analogy of the rider and the elephant to explore this idea. Simplistically (although it is obviously way more complex than this), the elephant is the intuitive/emotional response part of our reasoning processes and the rider the analytical part.

The following fascinating bits of research demonstrate how easily how instinct can be influenced :

- What the elephant eats and drinks changes the way we think and act – In 2011 participants in a study were asked a series of moral dilemma type questions – for example, should cousins be allowed to marry? What are good time limits for abortions? etc. Prior to being asked the questions, half the group were given a bitter tasting drink and half, a sweet tasting drink – you guessed it! The bitter drink tasters responded to the questions in a more moralistic manner. The elephant was primed to react in a certain way through drink – bitter, don’t like, shouldn’t, don’t do that (Eskine, Kacinic, Prinz 2011) and the others, responded in a more thoughtful and analytic way.

- What the elephant touches, changes the way we think and act – In one study participants who were asked to wash their hands prior to the study gave answers which were more moralistic. - I’m clean, you should be too, behave in a morally upstanding way. (Chenbo Zhong at uni of Toronto 2010) .

- What the elephant smells changes the way we think and act - In another study participants who were exposed to fart smells also gave answers which indicated “higher” or more conservative moral standards – that’s disgusting, I’m experiencing disgust, I’m expecting to be disgusted, that moral dilemma scenario disgusts me, this is my reaction……….

- What the elephant sees changes the way we think and act - In trials, juries are more likely to acquit attractive people and judges give leaner sentences – you look cute, I like you, I’m expecting good things from you, there must be a reason you did what you did. In US elections to the Senate and House of Representatives, those judged most competent according to their pictures won their elections in two thirds of cases – You look dependable, I trust you to do the right thing, You have my vote…. In his research Todorov, found that these gut decisions about looks and competency are made in about 1/10th of a second

- What the elephant hears changes the way we think and act - Priming words set expectations that can confuse us! For example, if you link of a series of words in pairs such as sunshine, prolife, happiness, cancer, love, slug etc certain pairings lead us to confusion. For example we read sunshine and then read slug and feel disgust. It takes us a while to compute this conflicting information. It also depends on our deeply held political views. For example, conservatives view ‘prolife’ as a positive term, liberals, a negative infringement of the right of the mother. Link these words for a conservative and they quickly decide whether they like or dislike the pairing. For a liberal the pairing leads to a different type of thinking ie. ‘I like sunshine but I don’t like the word prolife’ – the rider of the elephant becomes engaged because of confusion ! (Morries et al 2003)

In a complex world, where we often have to make difficult decisions, we should try to get the elephant and the rider considering issues together. In the early part of my career at KPMG, we were often instructed to be logical and analytical. An “emotional” response to a situation was frowned upon. There is nothing more irritating than been told to stop being emotional! But in reality, most of us, most of the time, are making little (and big) decisions based purely on gut feel – simple like/dislike triggers – These are the samskaras which have been watered with love or hate throughout our lives.

Dale Carnegie, in his book “How to win friends and influence people” was totally aware that people tend to make decisions based on these primal like/dislike urges. The elephant makes up his mind and then the rider comes up with the logic to back up that gut feel. Once we have made up a story to back up our gut feel it’s really hard to change our point of view. His advice when trying to influence someone was to “begin in a friendly way, smile, be a good listener, never directly contradict” . He was aware that you need to talk to the elephant, to understand where they are coming from. In this way, with an open heart you may also be in a position to appreciate that the truth lies through dialogue and that is probably somewhere between your points of view.

Friendly dialogue primes the elephant – he’s nice and friendly, I’m expecting to hear nice things, I’m relaxed and open to share ideas.

For those of you thinking that it would be a good idea to somehow train the mind to just be analytical – for the rider to take control and analyse each situation, Antonio Damasio’s research gives the strongest business case for emotional intelligence coaching there is. He studied people with damage to the ventromedial prefrontal cortex . People damaged in this area are unable to feel emotions such as joy from beautiful images or horror when shown pictures of gruesome murders. Without feeling, these people were paralysed by indecision. Each of the thousands of choices they had to make every day had to be analytically reviewed. These people made terrible life choices.

Research in this area suggests that although we make very quick gut decisions. These decisions can be reversed if we alternate view points from other people. However we need to absorb and reflect on these alternatives. Participants in a study who were provided with arguments against their decision were more likely to change their minds about a topic if they were given a couple of minutes to consider alternatives – so occasionally we need to sit down and reappraise what our default view of the world is.

 Emotional intelligence and yoga

This is what emotional intelligence coaching and yoga does. The practices help you slow the world down and observe your habitual patterns. Yoga also helps you maintain a calm balanced view of the world – Its hard to listen to what your gut is telling you if you are so stressed that your flight or fight mechanism is making every part of your body ache and grumble.

In the next blog I’m going to explore how yoga helps you re-appraise your habitual responses to situations. In the meantime, at work consider your interactions with colleagues and how in order to persuade and influence, you need to have a chat with the elephant in the room.

Emotional intelligence development – engaging the rider and the elephant

To take the MSCEIT emotional intelligence test and take part in our 30 day programme to develop your emotional intelligence email me back and I will send you login and payment details. The programme includes two online psychometric tests (a month a part) , two private and confidential feedback sessions, two group sessions and a 30 day programme to develop skills. 250 (UK pounds) or approximately 370 (Australian dollars) per person

 

Returning heroes – PTSD

This clip is about soldiers returning from Afghanistan and seeing their dogs for the first time is amazing! Watch this video

I’ve just spent a really happy month in Townsville, North Queensland. Apart from having lovely weather and an abundance of beautiful scenery it is also home to Australia’s army. A chance posting by a friend on Facebook showing the happiness of one dog as his owner returns from service in Afghanistan and a coffee with my mate Kenny got me thinking about how to help returning soldiers. No matter what you think of the rights and wrongs of the Afghan and Iraq campaigns , the returning personnel and their families are heroes. The clip shows just how much love there is for many of our returning heroes.

While there is great sadness for the wrecked lives and wasted years of the Iraqi and Afghan people, there will also be many Americans, Brits, Canadians and Australians who return to empty shattered lives.

During our coffee conversation I thought about all the amputees coming home and also all those who are whole-bodied but might still have had the trauma of seeing roadside bombs rip their mates apart. Such shocks to the sensations slash straight to the core of humanity. To be covered in your best friend’s blood, sweat and shit is such a heightened life experience that it may seem impossible for them to experience the world in a “normal” happy balanced way in the future.

At the same time as the shock, there’s also the loss they feel as they return home and their friends stay on the front line – the sense of guilt at not having to endure the pain any more, the loss of camaraderie, the loss of structure and certainty, the loss of meaning and the loss of hope

Being part of something
Soldiers since Alexander’s time have practiced marching precisely in formation. William McNeil noted as far back as 1941 that something magical happens when you ask people to march together. In studies, people who behave in a synchronised manner with their team members bond closely. Many also report that they feel a part of something bigger. They lose the sense of “I”. The right holistic side of the brain is engaged when we practice in formation. We become more willing to share and sacrifice and feel meaning and contentment.

Mirror neurons fire when we observe those around us behave. For example when I pour a cup of tea and you watch me a part of your brain engages which mimics the action of pouring a cup of tea. So in neural imaging we can observe that area of your brain linked to the physical aspects of raising the tea pot and aiming the tea into a cup being engaged even though you are not actually pouring any tea – you’re just looking at me doing it!  When our physical bodies begin to move in unison our brains become more attuned – we start to think, act and feel in similar ways. This can result in bloodthirsty mobs or transcendental uplift. The mood of a crowd is volatile and contagious.

When we become attuned and crowd like we act as a bee hive. We strive for the common good rather than out of self interest. Returning soldiers may loose this sense of being part of something bigger. People are often more able to deal with hardship and suffering when they feel a part of something. When they are alone they may feel a loss of the feeling of oneness – all they may have to focus on are their aches and pains and memories. Any rehabilitation program should therefore address this loss of connection to something bigger.

There are other ways to reduce the sense of separateness from the world. To feel small and insignificant can bring comfort – knowledge that we have a small but important role to play in how the universe plays out. Research suggests that some of the other ways that universal connection can be enhanced are as follows:

- being in jaw dropping scenery – awe impresses on us our smallness and comparative insignificance. It helps us raise our gaze from our own internal mutterings. It re-bases us and helps us focus on what’s truly important in life
- group exercise – there’s something magical that happens in a yoga class when the mats are aligned and people perform the same yoga posture at the same time – it feels like magical synchronicity
- meditation – when you practice focusing on the breath you disassociate from thought and appreciate that thoughts come and go. You begin to observe a deeper expansive connection
- hallucinogenic drugs – Aztecs used the mushroom Teonanacatl for thousands of years as part of their spiritual practices as have many other indigenous communities. People with depression are now being treated with hallucinogenic drugs in trials
- supporting teams  – being in a crowd – chanting – singing

All these things make us behave like a bee in a hive and make us connect to that which is outside of our thoughts (and problems).

The importance of touch
In addition to the sense of loss from leaving a group returning soldiers are often also plagued by their memories. One amazing feature of human touch is the connection that is has with a vital neurotransmitter, oxytocin. Studies show elevated levels of oxytocin during and after humans touch each other (and animals). Research in this area also reveals heightened levels of interpersonal trust for people with elevated oxytocin levels. In addition Anthony Lane’s study in 2012 suggested people with elevated oxytocin levels are more likely than a control group taking a placebo to share their emotions with other people. This could be really important in getting returning soldiers to start to open up about painful experiences.  In addition, oxytocin has been described as the amnesia drug (Heinrichs et al 2004). Studies indicate it has a role to play in “wiping away” memories. That doesn’t necessarily mean we forget when we touch but elevated oxytocin levels may enable us to see the past with a more optimistic perspective – we can start afresh.

Helping the returning heroes
According to the Department of Veterans Affairs in the US , 11% to 20% of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans are suffering from PTSD. Roughly 2,413,000 young Americans have served in the Iraq or Afghanistan war, so far. Between 250,000 and half a million of them may be struggling with PTSD and major depression. Add to this the Brits, Australians and other nationalities and you have a big problem for the young people returning, their families and communities

Looking above its clear that these young heroes need to feel part of something again, to have opportunities to express themselves in their own time and to feel the warmth of human touch.

I started with dogs and that’s where I’ll end. In the US Operation freedom paws is a charity to enable returning vets to work with and train dogs.

Awesome
http://operationfreedompaws.org/

Can you measure emotional intelligence?

About five years ago I trained to administer a psychometric test called MSCEIT. This aims to measure a person’s emotional intelligence level. It does this by using an online questionnaire which takes about 30 minutes. The psychologists behind the test spent many years investigating what makes up and defines emotional intelligence. They suggest that it’s the degree to which a person remains open to information provided by emotions (both yours and the people around you) and your ability to incorporate this successfully into your decision making process. Making good decisions which are well communicated, and in tune with those around you, is at the heart of emotional intelligence.

The designers of the test divided an assessment of a persons emotional intelligence into four areas:

Recognising emotions – the ability to observe the physical manifestation of emotions in yourself, others and in your general environment – for example you are shown faces and asked to say which emotion the person is probably experiencing

Using emotions – the ability to match an appropriate emotion to a thought task – for example when the task at hand is creative, perhaps the emotion should be fun and upbeat . Where analysis and concentration is required, perhaps more focused, vigilant emotions are required

Understanding – the ability to see cause and effect relationships as emotions come to the surface – you are able to understand why someone is feeling in a particular way and how the situation may develop based on past and current information

Managing emotions – the ability to use the information that has been observed and incorporate it into successful decision making – this is the ability to blend analytical information with what your emotions and those around you are telling you. In the short term this may be the ability to handle stress – perhaps by counting to 4 or going for a run. In the longer term it means understanding what the emotions in yourself and others mean, changing behaviours in yourself, and facilitating change in those around you.

The test results are back in a few days and give your overall assessment score compared to the average population. It also divides the test results into layers so that you also receive test results on each of the four areas. It is this pattern of results which is of most interest. For example one can imagine a situation where someone is great at recognising emotions in other peoples faces but have no idea how to use, understand or manage this information. Or another situation where a person is great at recognising, using, understanding and managing emotions, but very poor at managing their own emotions to create positive work and lifestyle changes. The permutations are endless!

The good news about emotional intelligence is that unlike a personality type (for example how agreeable you are, or how open) which is difficult to budge, emotional intelligence levels can be increased with training. For example, teachers get better at being able to recognise emotions as they spend their careers observing children (often through the backs of their heads!). We all have these abilities, but to develop them it takes effort and focus. I have given feedback for this test many times and have found it very useful in my own life. You obtain feedback from a coach and are then given a program for developing these skills.

“If there is one secret of success it lies in the ability to get the other persons point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own”

Henry Ford

Developing your emotional intelligence – I need volunteers!

All you need to do is:

- take the test once initially, and then again in a months time

- after the first test I will give you private and confidential feedback on your results

- I will then get all the participants together to discuss a program for improving your ability to recognise, use, understand and manage emotions

- Over the next 30 days I will ask you to put the training into practice once a day, and to record your experience. This means deliberately using a model of recognising emotions, using appropriate ones, understanding where they came from and managing emotions. There will be just one task or challenge per day

- If you wish I’ll also get you into a buddy system so that each week you can have a telephone chat with your partner or meet up to discuss how each situation developed and what you have learnt

- during the 30 days you’ll be given online tools to help you recognise emotions – for example there are lots of emotional recognition tools out there

- After 30 days you will take the test again, receive confidential feedback and we’ll get together as a group to share experiences

I will also take the test and do the 30 day challenge with a friend. And hopefully we will all be more emotionally intelligent!

The cost for two psychometric tests plus two group workshops and two one to one feedback sessions is £250. If you can persuade work to pay for it that would be wonderful! If you have friends or colleagues who may be interested in improving their emotional intelligence levels in 30 days please forward this email.

To register interest just email me back and I’ll send back payment methods and organise start times.

Next week I’ll set out the business case for why developing emotional intelligence is a good idea. You might think this is a strange order for things – surely its a good idea to set out the argument for something before trying to sell a test measurement and program for change. Not in this case. Its a no brainer for two reasons. Firstly most people have a gut instinct that getting along with people and understanding what they are about is a key component of success at work, in life and for health reasons. Secondly, most of us like to know how we compare to others. The thing about emotional intelligence or any “skill” is that we are notoriously bad at judging our abilities. For example on average most people who drive a car rate themselves as being above average at driving – obviously this can’t be true. And so it is with emotional intelligence skills. If we have poor skills in at recognising, using, understanding and managing emotions we don’t tend to recognise the fact.

 

Hope you found this useful

 

Andy

 

City stress

City stress

Most of the wellbeing courses that I’ve taken in the last 15 years have been in India, Australia and Canada. We chose to set up shop in London because that was where the demand was. It’s also an exciting, fun and financially rewarding place to live. It attracts seekers, people who are looking for the most fun and the most meaning. Its a place for the young. It tests you. The historian Peter Ackroyd describes London as an energetic vortex that sucks people in and either they ascend or they are pulled down into the gutter.

Economically, people are drawn to cities because of an amazing relationship between wealth and population. Geoffrey West notes that for every doubling of a cities population average wealth per person increases by 15%. No wonder people have been drawn to cities for centuries. In 1800 only 4% of the US population lived in cities, now its 80%. Every week 1 million people around the world move to a city. This amazing 1:1.15 growth relationship also applies to other statistics, including crime. As we move to cities we become wealthier but the wealth grows with a widening normal distribution ie. the poorer are poorer and the richer, wealthier. The rest of us in the middle are therefore exposed to this wealth chasm. We fear the effect of the vortex – that we will end in the gutter. We aspire to use the force of the vortex to help us climb the materialistic ladder. Its all there, in our face, rich and poor, light and shade. For more details check out thisTed talks clip:

http://www.ted.com/talks/geoffrey_west_the_surprising_math_of_cities_and_corporations.html

Numerous studies in Positive Psychology have compared how satisfied people say they are with their lives, with how much money they earn. The results of hundreds of studies around the world conclude that how much you earn has little to do with how satisfied you are with things. BUT…..lots of other studies have also indicated that we have a tendency to look upwards. We are aspirational.  We covet what our neighbour has.  We are jealous. We take this to an extreme so that in the workplace people who are offered salaries which put them near the top of their departments pay scale would rather this, than be offered a higher salary which puts them near the bottom of the departments pay scale.

So we are not profit maximisers, we just need to be alpha male, top dog, chief chimp. We value ourselves through money even when the reality is that if we are able to cover the basics like a nice house, car, education, holidays plus a little bit of F**k you money we don’t really care how much we earn.

Now back to cities. People arrive and they aspire to the rich fruits. People in cities work harder and compare themselves to others much more than our country cousins. A recent bit of research by Andreas Meyer Lindenburg in Mannheim demonstrated potential mental vulnerability in city dwellers. They compared city folk to town people and country people. They found that when people were asked to complete brain teasers in a test situation, city people were more conscious of their performance and more susceptible to criticism. They did this by occasionally interrupting the study and cajoling participants to get a move on and also giving them feedback that they were under performing compared to their peers. They measured brain activity in areas like the amygdala (one of the areas of the brain associated with emotional judgment and fight or flight). They found that city dwellers were much more sensitive to criticism.

In a follow up study the team found that an area called the perigenual anterior cingulate cortex (pACC) was much more activated in people who had spent many years living in a city. Studies indicate that the pACC has a positive impact of inhibiting the worst excesses of fight/flight (muscle tightness, breathing problems, inability to focus, short term memory loss). This over activation may prevent this natural inhibiting feature.

Why people living in cities are more susceptible to stress could include many factors such as social comparison set out above, as well as noise, lack of sunlight, constant visual distraction, lack of green space and increasing social isolation.

Another feature of city living is the rise of single person households. Add to this the reduction in team sports and rise of internet relationships at the expense of face to face contact and you build a picture of vulnerable, isolated people striving to avoid the traps of the vortex and aspire to the riches. The obvious conclusion to this is ever growing cities with ever increasing exposure to mental instability. This may be borne out by the relationship between schizophrenia and city living (Stanley Zammit, Cardiff University).

The good news is that a wide circle of friends has a powerful positive effect on the amyygdala/pACC relationship. During moments of bonding and touch hormones such as oxytocin and vasopressin are produced, which counteract the negative effects of fight/flight (or rather improve brain functioning such that we are able to deal with regular day to day stresses and strains in a balanced, relaxed way). Another way to manage fight/flight is by taking lots of exercise and learning techniques to concentrate the mind (such as breathing exercises, mantra and meditation)

I suppose this blog is just a long advert for the business case behind Breathe London. We are an integrated wellbeing business with a range of physical (touch ) and talking therapies which try to address many of the issues raised in this article.

Here are some quick tips to counteract the effects of city living:

- take a break, go to the countryside and turn off your twitter, facebook, phone

- cherish your friends and actually do something different with them

- be spontaneous – a friend of mine organises his life months in advance – when you do this you constantly package the future up

- enjoy the amazing things that London (or your big city) has to offer

Breathe is expanding!  Lesley is opening a new Breathe London in South Kensington in April and I’m in Australia setting up here www.breathe-australia.com

Hope you found this useful

Andy :)

The benefits of Yoga

A year ago I began a series of newsletters/blogs about the wellbeing courses that have inspired me. I wrote quite a few articles about the benefits that I received from studying Positive Psychology and Emotional Intelligence courses

In this newsletter I take a look at Yoga. I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to get around to this because of all the courses I’ve taken over the last 15 years it’s the thing that’s been the most beneficial to my physical and mental wellbeing.

One of the reasons that I’ve left it so long is the sheer complexity of Yoga. I teach about 15 hours every week and often find myself trying to encapsulate its usefulness. Each time I try, different words come out. The narrowest possible view is that it makes you more flexible. This is true but of equal importance is the increased physical strength, the improved balance and ease of movement.

However the physiological benefits derived from practicing the Asanas (physical postures) are just one part of the practice of Yoga. Yoga is a complete wellbeing system. The physical and psychological tools it provides you with enable a diligent practitioner to move towards mastery of the body, thoughts and emotions. In Yoga there is no delineation between the body and the mind. The body is trained to benefit the mind. The mind is trained to benefit the body.

 

Whether or not you attend Yoga classes in gyms or in Yoga centres we can begin to introduce a Yoga practice into our lives. It is not a religion and does not require a special place to practice. It is based on 4,000 years of human observation of the complex relationship between the body and the mind.

If you are interested in improving your wellbeing but have little interest in attending Yoga classes then this newsletter provides three simple techniques for bringing the practice of Yoga into everything you do:

1. Be aware of your physical essence – For example, if you are exercising a particular part of your body focus on that body part. In past newsletters I’ve set out research which indicates that when you focus attention on the muscle group you are exercising, the muscle develops more strongly than when your attention is scattered – energy flows where your attention goes. As another example, notice how when you are commuting or driving, your energy levels improve and thoughts become brighter when you sit up straight and focus on your posture.

2. Be aware of your breath – Observe your breathing in a dispassionate way (ie. not directing the breath to make it fast or slow). When you do this the act of observation has the effect of focusing the attention and engaging the parasympathetic nervous system. If you focus on your breathing, your attention is diverted away from anxiety stimulating thoughts. Thoughts have a consequential physiological impact. We find it difficult to multi-task and by focusing on our breath we learn to sharpen our attention and enable a feeling of centered calm to reside. By feeling calm and centered inside we are less likely to pay attention to our own internal thoughts and prejudices and more likely to observe the fine detail of the world around us.

In Yoga breath is Prana or energy. In addition to breath there are other forms of subtle energy. If we allow ourselves to observe the present moment we can tap into a limitless supply of universal energy. In my last sentence I’m not repeating what I’ve read in a book about Yoga. It’s what I’ve observed in my own practice. The more you practice, the more you observe the complex relationship between thought, energy and matter. Yoga is a about practice and personal observation of cause and effect.

3. Observe your thoughts and emotions – As you move through the world, continue to observe your thoughts and emotions as they flow through your mind. Become the observer of yourself. In Buddhism there is no delineation between thoughts and emotions. They are bundled together. One does not precede the other. They emerge blended. Through the practices of Yoga you charge your energy levels by allowing a universal energy to flow through you. You feel light, connected and balanced. As you feel connected you feel less isolated and more confident in the world around you and your place within it. Once you cease to observe your thoughts they can wander and become scattered. This scatters the energy you have built up. Even worse than this is that in an absent-minded way your thoughts may drift to a situation that causes you anxiety. Immediately the energy that you have built up seeps away – energy flows where attention goes.

When you focus on your physical presence, your breathing and subtle energy as well as remaining aware of your thoughts, you charge your body with positive energy. In yoga you focus first on your own wellbeing. From this position of confidence and strength you can then choose to help others.

Hope you found this useful

Andy

New things at the Breathe Centre

Sara is practicing Chiropractic care 6 days a week at the centre now

 

Lindsey is now practicing Holistic Massage on Fridays 12 to 5pm and all day Sunday

 

Zoe does sports massage on Fridays 5 to 7pm

 

Pawel is focussing on Craniosacral, Mysofascial release and Reflexology on Tuesdays 5 to 9pm

 

 

Trying to find a yoga quote for new flyers

We are in the process of branding up everything we do under the Breathe London banner.  So we are producing new flyers for each are of our business…massage,  acupuncture, yoga etc

On each flyer I’m looking for a non cheesy quote so for on the massage one we have

A mind free from all disturbances is Yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits.

Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny. Upanishads

 

A man should look for what is, and not for what should be. Albert Einstein

 

“It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”

― Anonymous, The Bhagavad Gita

“The happiness which comes from long practice, which leads to the end of suffering, which at first is like poison, but at last like nectar – this kind of happiness arises from the serenity of one’s own mind.”

― Ved Vyasa, The Bhagavad Gita

A man is but the product of his thoughts what he thinks, he becomes.

Gandhi

You must be the change you wish to see in the world.

Gandhi

Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.

Gandhi

It is health that is real wealth and not pieces of gold and silver.

Gandhi

Happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.

Gandhi

Each one has to find his peace from within. And peace to be real must be unaffected by outside circumstances.

Gandhi

Glory lies in the attempt to reach one’s goal and not in reaching it.

There is more to life than increasing its speed.

 

 

 

 

 

Developing emotional intelligence

Recently I did a series of Wellbeing workshops for staff at the House of Commons.  In most of the workshops I introduced myself as a former Corporate Finance manager
who retrained by taking a Masters degree in Positive Psychology and then spent years investigating the parallels between Western Psychology, Buddhism and Yoga.
In one of the workshops I introduced myself as a Yoga teacher who used to work in finance.  In general the feedback from the staff was excellent. From the group where I described myself as a Yoga teacher the feedback was decidedly mixed! For example , “why are we taking  wellbeing advice in the workplace from a yoga teacher?”
It was an important lesson for me.  If you have knowledge and experience, let people know about your expertise. I know it sounds obvious but it really brought home to me
the importance of how you project yourself and the power of first impressions. People’s impressions of who they think you are dominate your future relationship.
We need to train our mind to overcome this initial priming and learn to listen with depth – not just to new people but to the colleagues and loved ones that we have had
relationships with for many years.  Our past experiences can drown out the fresh information that people may be trying to give us.
The most emotionally intelligent amongst us stay open to new ideas and fresh signals and use conversations with both old and new acquaintances to better understand
their place in the world.
I started this newsletter by setting out my expertise but my knowledge does not equate to mastery.  As we become more expert in a subject we need to strive to develop the strength
of humility.  Experts need to be confident in their ability to absorb information but not be consumed by their subject and aloof from the rest of us.  Masters in a subject acknowledge
that the more they learn, the more there is to learn and the less certain they can be in their views.  They have confidence in not knowing and seek out the views of others.
The same applies to all of us.  We need to keep listening with fresh ears and eyes.
If you’re interested in learning a model for developing emotional intelligence I’m running an intro course on Saturday s 19 th January
http://breathe-london.com/wellbeingworkshops

New Saturday clinic

Sports,Deep Tissue and Holisic Massage all day with Zoe and Claudia
One to one Yoga OR Deep Tissue Massage and Reiki with Andy 1 to 5pm
Acupuncture and Chinese medicine with Simon 1 to 5pm
Call 0207 261 1658 to book
Hope you found this useful Andy :)

Abundance

Abundance

Last week one of my clients told me about a lovely short story which explores how compassion and kindness can transgress social and economic divides. The story ends abruptly with the word ABUNDANCE!  On the tube on the way home the details of the story had already faded but the word abundance still resonated strongly.

What makes people feel abundant?
Research from the fields of behavioural economics and positive psychology informs us that feeling good has little or no relationship to our earnings or how many material possessions we have.  Providing we live in a stable political environment, have access to education and basic healthcare, earning more does not lead to an equivalent incremental increase in how happy we say we are.

Positive Psychology research appears to support some Buddhist teachings – that happiness is a state of mind which can be developed through training rather than through the acquisition of additional material resources.  The pursuit and attainment of wealth may lead to the development of an internal state of happiness but the research suggests it is not the wealth itself that creates happiness, but the journey that is made to attain wealth (ie the friends you meet in your career, the places you visit and enjoy, the sense of self worth developed through the achievement of goals.

Abundance
Life coaching gurus often recommend one of the most important priorities in life is to develop an internal mindset of abundance and wellbeing.  This feeling of abundance somehow attracts more abundance in the form of material wealth, friendships and opportunities.   This kind of moves us into the sphere of quantum physics and the law of attraction – somehow we manifest our physical reality through our intention.  No matter how many quantum physics books I read I’m not sure whether I will truly understand what Schrodinger and his cat were all about, but
I do know that in the social sciences the observer affects the observed and the outcome of the experiment.  I also know that when I observe a part of my body it changes.  For example if I imagine doing bicep curls my biceps grow more than if I was, for example, playing chess  (Shackell, Standing study, Bishop’s University)    A few months back my blogs were about how our perception of “reality” is influenced by mood, eg. happier people see a greater variety and ranges of colour.  But can it be that my thoughts create and influence all I see?

How does feeling abundant attract abundance?  Ignoring the quantum physics possibilities for a moment I thought of three evidence-based ways in which abundance (or the opposite) might spread.

The spread of emotions – maybe we smell them
Researchers at the University of Utrecht have uncovered a mechanism by which emotions may spread and this may impact our feelings of abundance.  It appears that different emotions have different chemical compositions which we can perceive in each other at a very subtle level and are transferable.  The smell of perspiration released by men while feeling afraid or repulsed was enough to trigger the same emotional reaction in women, an experiment showed.  When exposed to bottled sweat given off by men as they watched clips from the film “The Shining”, women began showing physical signs of being afraid such as a fearful facial expression, darting eye movements and heavier sniffing.  In contrast, the smell of perspiration from men who had been watching MTV’s Jackass – which features stomach-churning stunts – caused a disgusted facial expression and other signs of the emotion including a reduction in eye movement and sniffing.

These findings suggest certain emotions can be contagious and can be detected via chemical signals, even though the women were not aware of it at the time, researchers said.  This system might have evolved as an unconscious form of communication, where fear could be spread between people to warn them of imminent danger, and disgust could be shared to highlight the risks of toxic foods or chemicals.  Dr Gün Semin of Utrecht University, who led the study, says “these findings are important because they contradict the common assumption that human communication occurs exclusively through language and visual cues. Importantly, the women were not aware of these effects and there was no relationship between the effects observed and how pleasant or intense the women judged the stimuli to be.”

Further studies could help establish whether other emotions like happiness or anger, which are less directly related to survival, are equally contagious.

If we pick up the message “this person is giving off abundance vibes”, we may be more willing to trust that person.  We may expect they are more likely to give us something rather than try and attain something from us, and are more likely to welcome these people because they are unlikely to detract from our own abundance.

Spread of emotions through facial signals
In their 2003 study Ebling & Levenson suggest people have a simplistic subconscious system of attract versus repulse and these prime directives are expressed in signals on our faces.

As far back as 1986, Mullen’s study of the influential effects of news broadcasters’ expressions on presidential elections, concluded that micro-facial expressions have a significant impact on peoples attract/repulse mechanism. A newscaster’s clear positive favouritism towards one candidate was shown to influence voting patterns. The study noted this was in spite of the tendency of the news channel in question to run negative stories about the candidate. The positive micro expressions seemed to be more influential than the negative words expressed. In 1980 Wells & Petty illustrated how facial impression and movement of the head (nodding agreement) can be influenced by “senders” of energy and this in turn influences decision making and mood. Positive and negative emotions are as much an outside-in as an inside-out mechanism.

When one group of individuals are asked to remember a stressful event they produce identifiable, common facial patterns. When a second group is asked to mimic some of these expressions, without being asked to consider a stressful event, both groups suffer similar physiological effects. This implies that the face not only mimics inner thoughts and feelings but also drives these processes. The face may be both a display cabinet for emotions and also act as a creator of authentic emotions.

Our abundance or lack of it can be on display for all to see.

Choosing the right goals 
When you feel abundant you are more likely to feel calm, centred and relaxed.  In this state you may be less likely to follow the crowd.  You have the confidence to choose the goals and activities which are meaningful to you.  Being motivated by fear and a sense of internal poverty may make us work hard but seeking abundance through external gratification often fails to satisfy the inner hollowness.

Recommendations
If you can smell an inner mental state on other people, and see it written on their faces and these states are able to transfer between people, its sort of understandable why on meditation retreats people are asked to avoid contact with each other.  We’re trained to develop a positive, abundant internal mental state which we can then, hopefully transmit to the world around us.

A great book aimed at creating an abundant mindset is Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love and Wisdom.  Its a wonderful fusion of neuroscience and Buddhist practices.  It explores how you go about training your mind to feel kind, compassionate and abundant.

Hope you found this useful
Cheers Andy

Building an ethical business

 Our Mind/Body business

This weeks blog talks about the wellbeing business we are trying to create in central London

Community – We operate out of a community centre run by a non government, not for profit organization, Jubilee Hall Trust. The rental income we pay directly supports the young, elderly and vulnerable in our SE1 community;

Quality, commitment and passion – Some of the best therapists in London operate from our centre. We charge them a minimum amount for use of our rooms so that you know that most of the money you pay for care goes to your therapist

Positive intention – Breathe is a Positive Psychology based organization. To find out what this means read our blogs and newsletters by following us on Twitter @Breathelondon and on Facebook Breathe London

Creating an integrated Mind/Body business - We believe that our physical wellbeing goes hand in hand with our mental wellbeing. Our physical therapies focus on developing fitness, posture and strength. As we positively influence our physical body we develop our mental wellbeing.

Our talking therapies introduce tools enabling our clients to be more optimistic, embrace change and play to their strengths. As we develop mental stamina and balance we positively influence our physical bodies.

 

 

The time we are given

The time we are given

A few days ago a good friend, Emily Collins, shared a message on Facebook which suggested that on average once you are into your 30s you have something like 1,800 weekends left to live (I did the math and thought it should be a bit more).  Some people posted that they felt that it was grim news but I felt that it was an uplifting a message about making the most of the time we have.  If you don’t believe me listen to Gandalf:

www.youtube.com/watch?v=vrlTeoFcf-Q

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that we are given”
JRR Tolkein

Research suggests that we find the concept of finite life so difficult to comprehend that we use every power that our ego possesses to suppress this truth and base many of our life decisions (both economic and psychological) on the false premise of continuity.

For me the 1,800 weekends left idea is a validation of my decision 9 years ago to leave the world of corporate finance to do a job I love.  I wanted my Monday to Friday and holidays to be at least as joyful as the weekends.

Meaning and joy
Thinking of life as a finite thing makes you approach each day as a special gift.  Of course we may already have just a few weekends left or maybe none.

If we look at our daily activities we can ask a simple question, “Does this activity bring me either joy or bring me a deeper meaning and understanding of who I am and what my place is in the world?”  Of course there inevitably follows a far more complex question.  “If the activity that I am doing brings me little or no joy now but I know that it enables me to have joy in the future, to what extent do I defer joy if life is uncertain and finite?”

The benefit of deferring joy is that it builds tenacity and willpower.   In studies, little kids who are able to sit in a room on their own and deny themselves the pleasure of eating a sweet now, compared to waiting for two in 10 minutes, are on average happier in later life, achieve more academically and are more successful in their careers.

The only problem with deferring joy is that it can become a habit.  Some people do it until they retire, counting the days away.  And in all those long years of denial they forget how to be playful and childlike.  They lose their creativity, their spark and their energy.

So perhaps we can look at what we do each day with more awareness and remind ourselves:
-         Life is precious and short
-         Am I clear that if I am deferring joy today it is because I am working towards something which has a deep meaning and I value (what I truly value – not what my peers, family or society values)

Experiencing joy
Obviously with 1,800 weekends or so people are tempted to pursue hedonism – to fulfil themselves through consumption (food, sex, cars, houses etc).  The problem with these joys is that they tend to be fleeting and habit forming.  Because they entice the senses so much they invite repetition and can squeeze out other forms of joy that the world has to offer.  Again the key is to raise awareness and ask:

“Am I repeating this joy out of habit?”
“What future joys can be experienced by choosing a more difficult path or trying something new?”
“Does this joy bring me closer to my loved ones, help me understand myself better and connect with new people?”

Connecting
And finally I’d like to explore the greatest joy – connecting to friends and understanding yourself.  Research in Positive Psychology suggests that the greatest building block of wellbeing is the closeness and depth of your relationships.  Friendships are not measured by the number of Facebook friends that you have, but through having a handful of friends that know your highest highs and lowest lows, who love you even when you act and look like a car crash, and fill you with warmth and love when you succeed in life.

When you meet such people cherish and love them dearly.  Thanks for the inspiration Emily.

Hope you found this useful

Lots of love Andy

Being in nature – how it changes your mind

Wellbeing and nature

This weeks Breathe newsletter explores the benefits to health of being in nature.

I’ve just spent three magical weeks in Australia and for four days of the holiday we hiked and camped on a tropical island called Hinchinbrook.  The island is a few kilometres off the coast of northern Queensland.  It’s about 40km long by 3km wide and unlike most of Australia has a sharp backbone of granite mountain peaks rising to over a thousand metres. The island is a national park set within the Great Barrier Reef marine park.  Most of the island is covered in thick rainforest and there are dozens of remote, beautiful palm-fringed beaches, waterfalls and freshwater lagoons.  The rainforest is some of the oldest in the world and home to many species unique to the island.  As you approach the island you get the feeling you’re coming to Jurassic Park

Hinchinbrook is uninhabited and a maximum of 43 people are allowed to visit and camp on the island at any one time.  You have to bring your own food and camping equipment and are required to take all your rubbish away with you when you leave.  The suggested track to walk along is on the eastern side of the island facing out to the blue Pacific. The Western side faces the mainland of Australia, is full of mangrove swamps, and swarming with crocodiles.  You are therefore cut off from the mainland by the steep mountain peaks behind you.  At night the only lights are the stars and the only sounds, the animals.

Each day consisted of a seven hour hike through dense tropical rainforest and over beaches carrying heavy backpacks.  We woke before the sun came up at 5am and slept at 6.30pm as the sun set.

As we left the island for the hour long trip back to the mainland I thought about why I felt so amazingly healthy.  I felt as though every molecule in my body had been replaced with something better. Physically there are lots of reasons for this transformation:

  • Clean fresh air
  • Minimum food
  • Lots of exercise
  • No light and noise pollution

But I was also interested in the transformation of my mind. By about day three of our adventure I realised that if I walked in front, along the track, there was nothing in my field of vision which was man made.  All I could see was rainforest, beach, sky or sea.  There was nothing on the island made by man.  Throughout our journey all we had to consider was where to get water from and to be alert to dangers such as snakes and crocodiles – we met several snakes on the path and saw crocodile tracks near our tent!

I’m interested in what happens to your mind when all you see is nature.  I think we reflect what we see and fall into harmony with it.  Man-made things are usually other people’s attempts to satisfy our existing needs and desires, or to entice us to manufacture new needs and desires.  Occasionally man-made things are simply produced to be beautiful.  Man-made things force us to make decisions.  They play to our senses, they make us compare what we have to what others have, and what we could have. Even things made by man for beauty force a decision from us about whether we think it is a beautiful thing or ugly.

Nature is different.  The plants and animals around us have come into existence through evolutionary efficiency.  They evolved to become the form they are because nature has no choice.  Things flow into a new form in order to thrive.  Nature is not on display for our satisfaction.  It is arranged to be the best it can be.  The plants and animals fight and co-operate with each other in perfect harmony to create perfection.  Man’s creations are based on opinions and thoughts.  Man-made objects attempt to freeze time and create a false idea of the permanence of beauty, or usefulness.  When we surround ourselves with nature we reflect its non-thinking state and become engrained in the moment.  We become part of the cycle of birth, death and rebirth.  As you walk along the path and observe rainforest you start to feel that the boundary between you and the forest is illusory.  You detach from your thoughts and realise you are part of a whole and not separate.

As we become more connected and use technology to do great things with our lives we also need to spend time immersed in nature.  If we fail to do this we move away from our true essence.  The more time we spend away from nature, the more we turn inwards and inflate our egos.  Our thoughts are fanned and we become isolated people.  Nature reflects our true essence of belonging to the earth and the elements.

In the photograph below you can see the rubbish that two of us created in four days – about the size of two or three Pret a Manger sandwich wrappings.   Optimising our wellbeing and having great experiences does not equate to ever-increasing levels of production, consumption and material acquisition.  Our weak politicians fail to understand this.  Growth is still the mantra.

While we were on the island a report came out that half the Great Barrier Reef’s coral has been destroyed in 27 years.  Experts argue over the causes of the destruction, however, most of the blame for the massive reduction in biodiversity that follows the death of coral reefs can be placed squarely on the growth of the use of man-made chemicals in farming and mining along the Queensland coast leaching into the Pacific.

I hope you found this useful and thought provoking.

Love,
Andy

Staying hungry

Staying hungry

This weeks newsletter explores the recent research that suggests intermittent fasting may be good for us.  I take a brief look at the medical evidence for this, then consider why, psychologically, it might be a good for us and why its good for the planet.

A bit of the science
Scientists are uncovering evidence that short periods of fasting, if properly controlled, could achieve a number of health benefits as well as potentially helping the overweight.  Calorie restriction, eating well, but not much, is one of the few things that has been shown to extend life expectancy, at least in animals. For example mice put on a low-calorie, nutrient-rich diet live far longer. There is some evidence that the same is true in monkeys.

The world record for extending life expectancy in a mammal is held by a new type of mouse which can expect to live an extra 40%, equivalent to a human living to 110 or longer.  It has been genetically engineered so its body produces very low levels of a growth hormone called IGF-1, high levels of which seem to lead to accelerated ageing and age-related diseases, while low levels are protective.

The IGF-1 hormone (insulin-like growth factor) is one of the drivers which keep our bodies in go-go mode, with cells driven to reproduce. This is fine when you are growing, but not so good later in life when age-damaged cells are replicated.  There is now evidence suggesting that IGF-1 levels can be lowered by what you eat.   The reason seems to be that when our bodies no longer have access to food they switch from “growth mode” to “repair mode” – rather than replicate damaged cells, we repair them.  As levels of the IGF-1 hormone drop, a number of repair genes appear to get switched on according to ongoing research by Professor Valter Longo of the University of Southern California.

One area of current research into diet is Alternate Day fasting (ADF), involving eating what you want one day, then a very restricted diet (fewer than 600 calories) the next, and most surprisingly, it does not seem to matter that much what you eat on non-fast days.  Dr Krista Varady of the University of Illinois at Chicago carried out an eight-week trial comparing two groups of overweight patients on ADF.

“If you were sticking to your fast days, then in terms of cardiovascular disease risk, it didn’t seem to matter if you were eating a high-fat or low-fat diet on your feed (non-fast) days,” she said.

An alternative to is an easier version, the so-called 5:2 diet. As the name implies you eat normally 5 days a week, then two days a week you eat 500 calories if you are a woman, or 600 calories, if you are a man.  People who experienced this diet had improvements in blood markers, like IGF-1, glucose and cholesterol, as well reduced body fat statistics.

Although there are few long term studies on this sort of diet we can look at the experience of Norwegians during the second world war and Cubans after the fall of the Soviet Union (resulting in a reduction in the subsidy they received).  Both populations experienced dramatic falls in their calorie intake and both experienced a huge improvement in their wellbeing statistics.

The psychology of hunger
All the major religions have fasting as a core element of their spiritual and wellbeing practices.  One of the most interesting findings from the fasting research is that people seem to get smarter ie., they are quicker at solving problems and have improved recall. Why? Perhaps it’s because our brains are designed to work well when we strive.  We get up in the morning to find food, acquire material possessions for warmth and protection and to look for sex to replicate our genes. We are also looking for meaning in life, looking to acquire knowledge and finding ways to help others.

So perhaps in the same way that we learn to restrict our diet we need to explore how to stay hungry in our career, in our love lives and how to stay open to new experiences, travel and friendship. Maybe people get old quickly when they become too satisfied in each area of their lives.  In Positive Psychology we often measure people’s wellbeing levels by asking them how satisfied they are with their lives and we design interventions to help people to become more satisfied. Maybe we need to explore the power of restlessness and dissatisfaction to inspire growth and change?

The thing is, restlessness and dissatisfaction just don’t sound right.  Somehow we need to cultivate a mindset of inner contentment whilst retaining an ambitious, engaged action orientated outlook – a difficult balancing act!  In the yoga sutras the teaching is to keep your feet on the ground whilst striving to be as tall as you can.  You work as hard as you can but you don’t overly attach to the fruits of your labours and outcomes.

A health planet
Approximately 100 million people in the US and 150 million in the EU are obese.  Child deaths through malnutrition in 2011 were six million.

The food industries in the US and Europe are not controlled by evil people, but they are businessmen who want to sell us as much as possible at as high a margin as possible.  To do this they have to sell highly processed food made from the cheapest ingredients.  They take corn, (which is an ingredient in virtually every product we buy in a supermarket), add sugar, salt and fat, make it look attractive and sell it to us.  This attractive looking stuff is served up in lovely packaging which builds our food cravings.

This kind of food robs our energy (because we eat too much of it) and robs the futures of the malnourished.  Imagine the boost to global human energy if we distributed food fairly and ate foods that were not deconstructed and reconstructed into stuff so far removed from its original source (sunshine).

Lots of love,
Andy.

How our biases get in the way of making good decisions

This week’s newsletter briefly explores our biases and tendencies and how they can get in the way of good decision making and collaborating with people.  In an earlier newsletter I looked at the limited spectrum of information that we are able to comprehend.  This is what I wrote a few months back:

It seems that what we think we are observing around us is such a small percentage of reality. Not only do we miss the “big picture” as well as the fine details, we actually fail to observe and recall hardly anything at all.  In an amazing experiment students were asked to observe four differently coloured shapes for a fraction of a second.  The shapes were flashed momentarily again and one of the shapes was rotated either to the left or to the right.  The subjects were then asked to state whether there had been a rotation to the left or right.  Most people failed at this task, and in fact average people were only able to tell if there had been a movement to the left or to the right if there were less than three objects to observe… Imagine that! We think we can know all that is going on around us but in fact at a conscious level we can hardly observe or recall anything.

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine and explains how limited our perception is:

“We open our eyes and we think we’re seeing the whole world out there. But what has become clear—and really just in the last few centuries—is that when you look at the electro-magnetic spectrum we are seeing less than 1/10 Billionth of the information that’s riding on there. So we call that visible light. But everything else passing through our bodies is completely invisible to us.  Even though we accept the reality that’s presented to us, we’re really only seeing a little window of what’s happening.”

There is simply too much information out there for us to process.

When we observe with limited perception we tend to believe in what we see, smell, touch and hear and we form rigid views based on that perception.  For a simple example of how optical illusions play tricks on us check this out:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vJG698U2Mvo

Take a look at the clip before reading the next bit.

If you followed the task how many of you saw the gorilla?  If not take another look.  This is a great example of the importance of attention.  When our attention is diverted by a task we can miss the obvious.  As Daniel Kahneman says “we can be blind to the obvious and blind to our blindness”.

Just think how often your attention is taken by a task at work or stolen by advertising images, and then imagine how the world is misrepresented by your senses and your captured attention.  That’s one of the reasons why its useful to train your attention to make it less easily manipulated.  We’re surrounded by optical and other sensorial illusions and these become cognitive illusions as we process the information.  Our thoughts and feelings are therefore based on an illusion.

That does not mean that all is illusion and to lack confidence in your thoughts and actions.  However it is useful to cultivate more humility and understanding that your view of the world is just one impression and that others have an important perspective that can provide you with amazing insights.

This brings me onto the second point about how we develop cognitive illusions based on the illusions of our senses.  Heuristic biases are the environmental factors that have influenced the way we interpret the information flowing from the sense organs to the mind.  Up until the 1970s scientists broadly accepted two ideas about human nature:  First, people are generally rational  and second emotions such as fear and love explain departures from rationality.  In the 1970s Daniel Kahneman documented more than twenty types of systematic errors in the thinking of normal people which were not based on deviations from the norm caused by strong emotions.

I’ll provide you with one example of an heuristic bias – the amount of media coverage on a particular topic impacts the importance that people place on that topic, its potential economic impact and the likelihood that it will impact them personally. That’s one of the reasons why Silvio Berlosconi benefits from control of the Italian press.  There are many other biases, such as how our parents encouraged us to perceive the world. So what we see, or think we see, is influenced by the way we have see that thing before.  We experience the world in an increasingly rigid way and thats why its so good to travel and experience different cultures or learn a new language so that you begin to think and express based on a different set of cultural norms.

These heuristic biases, combined with illusions of the senses (influenced by our ability to pay attention), creates an imperfect impression of the world and leads us to imperfect thinking and decision making.

None of this is a problem!  By definition it’s impossible for us to observe everything in a perfect way.  All it means is that all of us, especially the experts and leaders in our society, need to develop the strength of humility.  The more we learn, the more we realise there is more to learn and that others have an interesting perspective. Deepening our knowledge about misperception and heuristic biases enables us to explore each others thought processes and idiosyncrasies with humour and playfulness . It enables collaboration and fosters dialogue.  It reminds us that we all have a story to tell, each as precious and as valid as the next

PS. when I  studied the Bhagavad-Gita in India there was a conversation between Lord Krishna and Arjuna about the impossibility of humans being able to take in the reality of their surroundings.  When Lord Krishna enables this briefly Arjuna is flooded with knowledge, colour and beauty.

“O Arjuna, I have innumerable forms of diverse colors and shapes. There are many miraculous things that you have not seen before. The whole universe, both animate and inanimate, exists in one part of My divine body. You are not able to see the whole of My form with your sense perception. Therefore I will give you a divya chakshu (divine eye) through which you can see the form of the Lord as a whole.”

Reading ideas :
The invisible Gorrilla Christopher Chabris and Daniel Simons
Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

Building a Positive Psychology business

In this week’s newsletter I’m going to explore some ideas on building a business based on the values of Positive Psychology. When we set up Breathe London in 2003, we didn’t have a clear strategy or a clear idea about what we wanted to achieve. For my part I knew what I didn’t want to do, ie. to continue working in corporate finance, but it wasn’t clear what I wanted to create or what I truly wanted to do. The picture has emerged slowly after lots of trials and many errors.

From the start the guiding light for developing a new career was based on a few basic ideas:

  • I wanted to create a job that I loved
  • I wanted to make Mondays at least as interesting as the weekends
  • To create a pattern of work that allowed me to explore my interest in health and fitness
  • To help other people as I supported myself financially
  • Strive to add more to human and environmental wellbeing than I took through my consumption

Over the last nine years Tom and I have travelled to India, become Yoga teachers and studied for Masters degrees in Positive Psychology and Cognitive Science. During that time we’ve both explored many areas of wellbeing, including varied spiritual, physical and psychological practices. This wandering has been an important of what has made our business thrive. There’s a lovely JRR Tolkien quote:

“Not all those who wander are lost”

Sometimes you need to go on a wander to appreciate what’s important.

The findings from Positive Psychology and teachings from Yoga and Buddhism seem to support the decision we made to radically change our career paths. Some of the core findings from Positive Psychology include:

  • Beyond a certain financial level, and given adequate healthcare, education and a stable political environment, additional material resources do not make us happier
  • People who feel that they are happy and engaged in their worklife are more likely to be like this in their home life

In an earlier newsletter I touched on the idea of the three pillars of wellbeing:

  • Autonomy – To feel free to do what you want to do in life
  • Competence – To feel skilled in your role, or know resources are available to attain new skills
  • Relatedness – Your life roles bring you into contact with people who you value (love) and value (love) you

Its taken a long time but I now think we have a network of amazing therapists at Breathe London, and are supported by great landlords in Jubilee Hall Trust/Coin Street and have a wonderful group of clients from whom I learn so much. As we expand to four treatment rooms and increase our corporate wellbeing events it’s important to reflect on why success has come. We broke all the rules of business development.
We didn’t (and still don’t have a strategy).
We take the minimum amount we can from the therapists that work under the Breathe banner’s earnings, to support our overheads
We want to work with clients to provide them life enhancing tools so eventually, they no longer require our services
We send clients to other organizations without expecting reciprocal arrangements

We have learnt many things over many years of wandering, but the most important thing is that while its important to work hard, you should not take yourself or your business too seriously. Try and stay playful when you build a business and look for opportunities to have fun.

Hope you found this interesting

Andy

Meditation and swimming

This weeks newsletter is a continuation of the meditation theme.   Although I have learnt and practiced many different meditation techniques I often find it difficult  to sit down, close my eyes and stop busy thoughts.  The excuse that I use is that I live in a big, busy city and feel bombarded with interesting, exciting images and ideas.  In this newsletter I introduce a really simple mindfulness technique and then talk about the evidence base which supports the exercise.

The practice
One technique that Tom Te Whaiti taught me years ago in Australia was to take an every day activity I love (swimming) and match this to a body scanning technique.  This is how it works – On the first lap you focus your attention to the crown of the head and feel for how it feels for the water to rush against it, on the second lap you move your focus down the body to the forehead , on the third your focus should be on the throat, continuing all the way down through the body’s energy centres until you reach your toes.  As you practice this you become totally wrapped in the moment – you hear that noise you make as you breathe out, you see the light making magical patterns on the floor of the pool and how it feels for the water to massage your skin.  If you do this for 20 minutes  its like being fully connected and in tune with reality as it unfolds.  Its euphoric and energising.  You can also do this technique running or on an exercise bike.

The evidence base for body scanning and swimming

  • Your environment effects your state of mind – mirror neurons in your brain reflect your circumstances.  When you take the time to observe beauty (say patterns of light at the bottom of the pool), you create beautiful patterns in your mind – you create a beautiful mind.  I’ll give you one example study illustrating how potentially vulnerable we are to our environment.   In a study participants were asked to sit in wobbly chairs and then rate how secure famous couples’ relationships were (for example Barack and Michelle Obama).  Another group were asked to do the same exercise on secure chairs.  Amazingly the wobbly group on average rated relationships as being insecure and craved security in their own relationships. (Kille, Forrest, Wood – University Waterloo Canada).  Thats just one illustration of how vulnerable our minds are to our environment – so its useful to train our minds to reflect on beautiful things.
  • Training our minds to be mindful and observe what arises in the moment reduces stress (Jon Kabat Zinn studies) and increase wellbeing levels ( Barbara Fredricksons research on loving kindness meditations)
  • Mindfulness and meditation exercises make permanent changes to the way we think – we observe more, are more creative and less vulnerable to negative shocks (Read the Dali Lama at MIT and the Buddha’s Brain for the latest neuroscience and decision making research in this area)
  • When you observe a body part working ( for example during the swimming body scan technique I observe my biceps moving in the water) you build more muscle than when you do an exercise and think about other things.  (Shackell, Standing at Bishop’s University).  Just by thinking about doing an exercise you build more muscle mass than a control group just asked to sit and do mental exercises.  One of the Ka Huna principals is energy flows where attention goes and this seems to be true.

Hope you found this useful
Love Andy

PS:  When I write these newsletters I try to emphasise a few points:

  • I try to provide practical examples of how I use Positive Psychology, meditation and other holistic practices in my life ( I take other peoples ideas and try and make them useful for me living in a big city)
  • Introduce the science supporting holistic practices
  • Explore the similarities and differences between Western Psychology and Buddhist/ Vedic practices  

Meditation training

Meditation in the workplace
In this week’s newsletter I look at how meditation techniques have helped people in the workplace and how some people confuse meditation with other mental states such as sleep or relaxation

Meditation and working well

There have been many studies which indicate that the introduction of a meditation program within the workplace has a significant positive impact on the wellbeing of employees.  There are few studies which investigate the link between these programmes and the financial productivity/performance of the business.  The few that have been run suggest that such programmes would have a significant positive impact on business:

Gustavsson looked at the effects of meditation training on the employees of a Swedish utility company.  The study commenced by introducing a programme to top managers and then gradually to all staff. They found increased levels of trust, team spirit and sharing of information within the team.  One year after the study, improvements in teamwork and other benefits, such as reduced absenteeism, continued to be experienced.

Gottwald & Howald invited 20 employees, from a workforce of 100, to take part in meditation training.  Over the course of the following four years there was a general improvement in the work climate, a reduction in absenteeism and a growth in profits of 300%, (with only a 27% growth in employee numbers).  These findings were confirmed by a similar study in a chemical manufacturer in the US and a mutual fund company in Australia.

Confusion about the “goals” of meditation
The lack of research in this area may be because of the comparatively few organizations offering such training to their employees and also because a general misunderstanding about the point of meditation

Many people perceive that the “goal” of meditation is to deliver intense relaxation, however this state is often one of the occasional side effects of such training.  The goal, if there is one, is to sharpen the mind to enable it to focus on reality as it emerges in the present.  It teaches us to look at reality through fresh eyes rather than through the lenses of past beliefs and future hopes/fears.

Different mental states
The confusion about meditation may arise because of the experience we have had to date – ie eyes closed means a switched off lazy state. Sleeping is a vital time in our day and many of us don’t get enough of it.  Meditation is a state between waking and sleeping/dreaming.  It is a state full of paradoxes:

-       Relaxed intensity
-       Soft reflection, sharp focus
-       Non-thinking and yet allowing thoughts and feelings to emerge and then dissipate like bubbles coming to the surface of a drink

Some of the benefits
When we practice focussing our attention we are better able to do the following:
-       Use our intuition – more about this later
-       Be aware of the emotional signals that other people are sending
-       Zone in to study detailed information whilst retaining the ability to see the bigger picture – tenacious in investigating the detail, but not becoming bogged down
-       It builds resilience – It trains us to be dispassionate about both positive events and difficult challenges.  This does not mean a lack of passion but it cultivates the understanding that highs and lows are inevitable in life and not to fixate on either

Last week we looked at how meditation training disrupted habitual thinking patterns and routines.  Hundreds of occupational psychology studies have demonstrated that employees and organizations that thrive in times of change are those that look at challenges in a fresh light.  Meditation training does not just train us how to relax and not think, it trains us to observe the world with fresh clarity.  After meditation we switch to the thinking state and we feel more engaged and often experience fresh insights.  Insights that are based on smooth dialogue with clients and colleagues. We are better able to feel for solutions using intuition (as noted in an earlier newsletter, the US army are using such methods to locate enemy bases in Afghanistan).

I hope this newsletter stimulates debate in HR departments.  This sort of training should not be about passivity, is not necessarily about spirituality and can deliver significant business improvements for the organization.  And most importantly it helps us create a place of work that we feel we want to be part of, and return to.

Next time before a busy meeting spend just a few minutes focusing on your breath touching the tip of your nose.  Every time thoughts emerge keep returning the attention to the feeling of breathe in and out of the nose.  Feel how cool it is as it comes in and how warm it is as it leaves.  Notice how the breath slows as you focus on it.  Notice how your thoughts lessen and how you are more receptive to ideas when you finish.Meditation in the workplace
In this week’s newsletter I look at how meditation techniques have helped people in the workplace and how some people confuse meditation with other mental states such as sleep or relaxation

Meditation and working well

There have been many studies which indicate that the introduction of a meditation program within the workplace has a significant positive impact on the wellbeing of employees.  There are few studies which investigate the link between these programmes and the financial productivity/performance of the business.  The few that have been run suggest that such programmes would have a significant positive impact on business:

Gustavsson looked at the effects of meditation training on the employees of a Swedish utility company.  The study commenced by introducing a programme to top managers and then gradually to all staff. They found increased levels of trust, team spirit and sharing of information within the team.  One year after the study, improvements in teamwork and other benefits, such as reduced absenteeism, continued to be experienced.

Gottwald & Howald invited 20 employees, from a workforce of 100, to take part in meditation training.  Over the course of the following four years there was a general improvement in the work climate, a reduction in absenteeism and a growth in profits of 300%, (with only a 27% growth in employee numbers).  These findings were confirmed by a similar study in a chemical manufacturer in the US and a mutual fund company in Australia.

Confusion about the “goals” of meditation
The lack of research in this area may be because of the comparatively few organizations offering such training to their employees, and also a general misunderstanding about the point of meditation

Many people perceive that the “goal” of meditation is to deliver intense relaxation, however this state is often one of the occasional side effects of such training.  The goal, if there is one, is to sharpen the mind to enable it to focus on reality as it emerges in the present.  It teaches us to look at reality through fresh eyes rather than through the lenses of past beliefs and future hopes/fears.

Different mental states
The confusion about meditation may arise because of the experience we have had to date – ie eyes closed means a switched off lazy state. Sleeping is a vital time in our day and many of us don’t get enough of it.  Meditation is a state between waking and sleeping/dreaming.  It is a state full of paradoxes:

-       Relaxed intensity
-       Soft reflection, sharp focus
-       Non-thinking and yet allowing thoughts and feelings to emerge and then dissipate like bubbles coming to the surface of a drink

Some of the benefits
When we practice focussing our attention we are much better able to do the following:
-       Use our intuition – more about this later
-       Be aware of the emotional signals that other people are sending
-       Zone in to study detailed information whilst retaining the ability to see the bigger picture – tenacious in investigating the detail, but not becoming bogged down
-       It builds resilience – It trains us to be dispassionate about both positive events and difficult challenges.  This does not mean a lack of passion but it cultivates the understanding that highs and lows are inevitable in life and not to fixate on either

Last week we looked at how meditation training disrupted habitual thinking patterns and routines.  Hundreds of occupational psychology studies have demonstrated that employees and organizations that thrive in times of change are those that look at challenges in a fresh light.  Meditation training does not just train us how to relax and not think, it trains us to observe the world with fresh clarity.  After meditation we switch to the thinking state and we feel more engaged and often experience fresh insights.  Insights that are based on smooth dialogue with clients and colleagues. We are better able to feel for solutions using intuition (as noted in an earlier newsletter, the US army are using such methods to locate enemy bases in Afghanistan).

I hope this newsletter stimulates debate in HR departments.  This sort of training should not be about passivity, is not necessarily about spirituality and can deliver significant business improvements for the organization.  And most importantly it helps us create a place of work that we feel we want to be part of, and return to.

Next time before a busy meeting spend just a few minutes focusing on your breath touching the tip of your nose.  Every time thoughts emerge keep returning the attention to the feeling of breathe in and out of the nose.  Feel how cool it is as it comes in and how warm it is as it leaves.  Notice how the breath slows as you focus on it.  Notice how your thoughts lessen and how you are more receptive to ideas when you finish.

How meditation changes the way you think

Meditation training

For the last 6 months I have been writing regular newsletters about the courses and teachers that have most influenced me.  In the next few newsletters I take a look at different forms of meditation.  This week I’m looking at the effects of meditation on our style of thinking, and given the huge health benefits, what are some of the barriers to starting a meditation practice.

What is meditation?
William James described meditation as “voluntarily bringing back a wandering attention over and over again”.

It can be categorized into three types; concentrative, opening up and mindfulness.

  • In concentrative meditation, attention is paid to an object (perhaps for example your breath or the light from a candle). When the meditation practitioner notices awareness shifting away, they return to the focus of concentration.
  • Opening up meditation attempts to expand awareness to feelings, thoughts and emotions as they arise, without offering judgement.  Concentrative and opening up meditation offer insights on the inner world,
  • Whereas mindfulness is the attempt to focus on a stream of experience, both internal and external.

Wilber stated that meditation is a gradual turning in of consciousness from outward focused thoughts.  He notes the slowness of this transition, because of the vibrancy of the gross outer world and the more subtle nature of the inner.  This shift he translated as “awareness becoming capable of clear, accurate perceptions”.  In my Vipassana meditation training the constant instruction was to see the world as it is – don’t take the world for granted, its changing all the time.

In the Vedic tradition, it is emphasised that the outer, gross world is constantly changing and therefore its shifting nature is fundamentally unreal; the energetic and conceptual boundaries of all things being temporary and therefore indefinable.  Sustained focus on the unchanging nature of “true” reality is a source of great comfort at times of chaotic change.

By focusing your attention internally you become more practised at observing what is directly in your presence in this moment.  By being less distracted by the past and the future you increase your opportunities for experiencing new events.

Why it may be good for you
In their studies Baumeister & Heatherton consider attention to be key in weakening the potency of impulses and other physiological reactions that result in “undesired” responses.

Given that attention is considered to be the first stage of processing information, responding to situations in a manner which optimises your wellbeing is difficult if problematic thoughts and feelings arrive and go unnoticed (ie you’re not aware of what you’re thinking and feeling and what the events that led up to that state was).

According to Baumeister & Heatherton, learning follows three stages.

  • In stage 1, individuals rely on others to help regulate new behaviours (ie we follow the tribe – friends, families and colleagues).
  • Thereafter learned behaviours become controlled by the individual.
  • The final stage is where the behaviour becomes familiar, requiring little effort, freeing the mind for the acquisition of new processes.

Whilst habitual thinking frees the mind for advancement, it can lock the individual in negative patterns of behaviour and can place a veil over the link between cause and effect (we pay little attention to our thoughts, feelings and actions and don’t investigate whether they are useful for us).  Increasing demands placed upon our attention would seem to dictate that we learn ever more habitual patterns simply to allow space for our minds to continue to explore the world.

If an increase in habitual behaviour is a prerequisite of being able to function in an increasingly complex world, what strategies do individuals have to ensure patterns are constructive and serve purpose?  Habitual behaviour can be examined by bringing attention to it through meditation.  Meditation raises wellbeing through a number of different pathways including the following:

- Liberation of attentional resources (away from anxiety stimulating events – you become more aware of what your thinking about);
- Disruption of non serving habitual thought patterns; and
- Clarification of values (you get to examine which thoughts, emotions and actions are useful for you).

The barriers to a meditation practice
Most people are aware of the benefits of meditation for a healthy mind and a healthy body.  In this letter I’ve given some examples of how meditation helps us change the way we learn, think and perceive our environment.

So it seems like no brainer – practice training your mind as hard as you train your muscles during exercise.  Being aware of the barriers to meditation is the first stage in understanding how to use your brain so that it becomes your greatest ally rather than an annoying distraction. Some of the barriers include the following:

-       We get excited by new experiences and quickly become addicted to the joy they bring
-       It can be physically uncomfortable to sit still for long periods
-       We can be scared by emptying our mind of thoughts.  Without distraction deep troubling thoughts can arise
-       We don’t trust that it will be of benefit
-       In a secular world the spiritual aspects can seem uncomfortable for some people

You can be assured by the following:

-       Practicing being in the moment does not reduce experience it heightens experience.  You can see, smell, touch much more and absorb far more information.  Refer to previous newsletters – the more joyful emotions you experience the more accurate your perception of the world
-       With time the practice becomes easier and you begin to look forward to it – its a virtuous circle of positive experiences.  The more you do it the more it becomes magical, mystical and joyful
-       The medical benefits are irrefutable – 1,000s of studies in mainstream academic journals
-       With time the joyous feelings multiply which squeeze out negative emotions as they arise.  You start to view the world through a prism of positivity. Suffering and hardship are ever present but by practicing meditation you sow the seeds for a harvest that you can reap in the future .  This harvest will sustain you when times are hard
-       It doesn’t need to be a spiritual practice.  It may well become that but meditation training is a wonderful wellbeing tool without the spiritual aspect as well

Being mindful of this moment puts the world into perspective.  It stops you from getting out of kilter with reality and allows you to experience the fine detail of life as it emerges.  We can experience life in a more brilliant way and with heightened experiences by never taking the present for granted.

“The quality of experience of people who play with and transform the opportunities in their surroundings is clearly more developed as well as more enjoyable than that of people who resign themselves to live within the constraints of the barren reality they feel they can not alter.” Csikszentmihalyi, from his book FLOW

Developing emotional intelligence

In the last few weeks I’ve introduced some of the concepts behind emotional intelligence coaching.  The key idea is that we should begin to think of emotions as packets of information which in conjunction with out intelligence, experience and personality enable us to make great decisions.  I’m going to introduce a four step approach for getting the most out of the information that comes with emotions

Recognising emotions

Emotions have a physiological response.  The first step in harnessing the power of emotional information is therefore to recognise how we are feeling inside and how others appear (for example through their tone of voice and body language).  In order to do this it’s useful to imagine that you are a third party observing yourself.  Get into the habit of doing this in a non judgmental way.  There is no goal, no perfect emotional state.  Just observe how you are now without forming a view of how you should be or someone else should be.

To observe you need to step back from for a moment and breathe.

Using emotions

Recognising the emotional state that you or a colleague is in is a product of a complex series of preceding events.  You also recognise that this state is a rich source of information about how we and others perceive the world.  You may feel miserable because the weather is poor or your football team has lost.  Or it may relate to a deeper sense of frustration about work or home life.  At this stage it may be useful to park this emotion and your thoughts about the underlying cause/causes.  Parking it does not mean suppression or ignoring the reality of an emotional state.  It means noting it and dealing with it an appropriate point in a mindful manner in a measured way.

“Anyone can become angry – that is easy, but to be angry with the right person at the right time, and for the right purpose and in the right way – that is not within everyone’s power and that is not easy.” Aristotle

 Acting as though you are a third party observer allows you to take the time to act in a measured way.  It doesn’t mean not living the emotion or becoming emotionless it means to allow the emotion to flow through you without destroying your positive inner sense of self

Armed with the tool of awareness it’s then possible to identify what emotion best suits the task at hand.  For example upbeat and positive to facilitate creativity OR serious and focussed when fine attention to detail is required.  The key is to find a way to tune into the emotion in the room and some how flick a switch to help build a new theme of emotions appropriate to the task at hand.  The challenge is to blend the existing emotions in the room with the emotion that you feel best suits the style of thinking that’s required.  We need to find a way to evolve into a new emotional state with a smooth transition.  For example it may be appropriate to identify the problem behind the current emotional state and discuss whether its appropriate to deal with now or better suited to deal with at a later stage.

It’s important to continue to observe the emotional state of yourself and others as you explore the using emotions stage.  If messages are confusing seek confirmation about how people are feeling.  We often get emotional signals wrong and by gently asking our colleagues and friends about how they feel we do an important reality check on the situation.

Understanding emotions

Having the self awareness to step back and observe how you and others act in the world allows calm contemplation of some the factors behind the emotional state.  It is always a complex web of causes however calm reflection sometimes allows us to pick out major factors.  It also allows us to weed out background noise and underlying mood. There may be deep causes such as the illness of a loved one over which we have none or little control.  In these (and in fact in all circumstances) the only thing that we can control is how we choose to react to events that swirl around us.  Part of understanding emotions is to understand that there is often little we can control.  This awareness can be a surprising source of comfort. Ultimately we are all in the same boat.

As with recognising emotions it’s useful to do a reality check with others before you assume the reason you’ve assigned to the emotional state to be the truth. As we’ve discussed in the last four newsletters truth can only evolve from dialogue between people with different perspectives.  Without this third party discussion we can make mistakes when managing our own and other peoples emotions.

Managing emotions

This is a vital bit of the emotional intelligence change model.  Without it useful emotional intelligence information is lost and there is a lack of growth in decision making patterns and behaviours.  Quite often once we have parked emotional information, in order to get on with the task at hand, we don’t return to it and the opportunity for change is lost.

The key here is to cultivate positive intention for yourself, others and the wider community.  The challenge is to marry this positive intention with accurate knowledge.  This is why its so important to do the reality check and discuss with others what their understanding of underlying causes may be.  Misdirected positive intention is not necessarily a source of positive change.

A summary

The next time you have an important moment or event at work practice being the observer of emotions and use the Recognising, Using, Understanding and Managing 4 step approach to enable positive change and growth.  Observe how the model works and observe what the change is.

The 4 facets of emotional intelligence can be measured using an online psychometric tool.  You get an overall score and a score for each area. To learn how to do the emotional intelligence test drop me a mail.  The good news about emotional intelligence is that its not a personality test.  Once we know how good we are at it we can practice being the observer and making more informed decisions from the emotional states around us and within.

 

Emotional contagion; how emotions spread at work

Contagious emotions
I am fascinated by the research about how emotions are transferred between us. For example in their 2003 study Ebling & Levenson  suggest that people have a simplistic subconscious  system of attract versus repulse and these prime directives are expressed in signals on our faces.

As far back as 1986 Mullen’s  study of the influential effects of Newscaster expressions on presidential elections, concluded that, micro facial expressions have a significant impact on peoples attract/repulse mechanism. A newscaster’s clear positive favouritism towards one candidate was shown to influence voting patterns. The study noted that this was in spite of the tendency of the news channel in question to run negative stories about the candidate. The positive micro expressions seemed to be more influential than the negative words expressed. In 1980 Wells & Petty illustrated how facial impression and movement of the head (nodding agreement) can be influenced by “senders” of energy and this in turn influences decision making and mood. Positive and negative emotions are as much an outside in as an inside out mechanism.

When one group of individuals are asked to remember a stressful event they produce identifiable, common facial patterns. When a second group is asked to mimic some of these expressions, without being asked to consider a stressful event, both groups suffer similar physiological effects. This implies that the face not only mimics inner thoughts and feelings but also drives these processes. The face may be both a display cabinet for emotions and also act as a creator of authentic emotions.

Emotions in the workplace

In 2005 Losada studied a number of management teams formulating business plans. He observed the relationship between the volume of positive expressions to negative expressions between team members (both verbal and non verbal). He then looked at the performance of the teams in the following period and found that the transmission of positive and negative emotions, through words and non verbal expression, was shown to lead to a state of flourishing, if the ratio was greater than 2.9.

In that study flourishing was defined as the profitability of the team as well as customer and staff satisfaction. In a 2004 study Shelly found that when there is a supportive network of people, to share positive events with, it is the sharing and rejoicing of an event that leads to greater wellbeing than the event itself. The degree to which positive, affirming words and body language are used in relation to sharing an event predicts the level to which wellbeing is raised.

Barbara Fredrickson has spent many years investigating the effects of positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment and love and has concluded the following:
- They allow us to think in a broad expansive manner
- They undo the effects of negative emotions on physiology, the way you think and the way you act
- They build intellectual, physical, social and psychological resources; and
- They create a virtuous spiral of emotions leading to increasing levels of wellbeing.

The Losada research also looked at teams where there was a ratio of positive to negative expressions in excess of 8 to 1 and found that these teams were also languishing rather than flourishing. This points to the obvious conclusion that we need some bite in the workplace as well as nurturing.  I think that the key points that HR departments need to draw from this research are as follows:

- Ensure that staff have a clear understanding of how to use emotions at work, in particular how to match the appropriate emotion to the task in hand
- Be aware that because emotions are easily transferable and escalate its easy for the mood of an organization to tilt into a downward spiral (below the magic number of 2.9)
- Get into the habit of celebrating the strengths and achievements of individuals and teams
- Find authentic, fun ways to raise the overall mood of the organization

We need to learn skills to help us switch between emotions in a calm manner and have the ability to return to the default position within an organization which is happy and upbeat.  In our next newsletter we will explore a simple system for recognising, using, understanding and managing emotions in the workplace.

 

 

Positive Psychology – dialogue & debate

Difference between dialogue and debate

This is the ninth in a series of blogs/newsletters about the courses, teachers and books that have inspired me in the past ten years.

Our view of the world is imperfect
This week I’m continuing to explore the idea the idea that our perception of reality is narrow and imperfect.  As I mentioned in an earlier newsletter, David Eagleman, a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine, explains how limited our perception is:

 “We open our eyes and we think we’re seeing the whole world out there. But what has become clear—and really just in the last few centuries—is that when you look at the electro-magnetic spectrum we are seeing less than 1/10 billionth of the information that’s riding on there. So we call that visible light. But everything else passing through our bodies is completely invisible to us. Even though we accept the reality that’s presented to us, we’re really only seeing a little window of what’s happening. There are so many examples of this such as optical illusions and false recall by eye witnesses . Illusions demonstrate that these really simple things that you think are going on in front of you are not actually representing physical reality but instead your brain is constructing something.”

Recognizing this limited view is an important step in recognising that the truth of reality can only emerge through dialogue. David Eagleman describes this as the umwelt : the assumption that our reality is the only reality out there. In yoga this imperfect view is described as Avidya (basically ignorance).This umwelt creates a belief that our view is the correct one and also an arrogance about our abilities compared to others.  Part of yoga training is to start to understand this veil of ignorance.  Our brains can never be equipped to understand the universe and that it is only through dialogue between people, between communities and between humans and the rest of the natural world that something approximating to a higher truth can emerge. Yoga training also teaches us to be confident about our place in the world and to play to our strengths whilst also developing humility ie. we need to be humble because our singular view of the universe will by definition be imperfect

How to explore a more perfect truth through dialogue
Take a look around the people at work and spend some time listening to what they say and what you are saying.  Begin to start analysing conversations and decide whether conversational exchanges are debating (ie. arguing a case to support a particular view of the world) or dialogue (ie. developing and exploring someone else’s ideas).

We find that many conversations are defensive in nature where we seek to find evidence to bolster our world view and we also align our world view with our sense of confidence and position in the world.  Authentic leaders have the ability to separate their feelings of confidence with the dialogue that unfolds around them.  They listen to emerging truths and don’t hold rigidly to a set world view.  Allowing ourselves to accept that others have difference insights (and sometimes greater knowledge) can be unsettling.  It requires great courage and real internal confidence to listen to others even when they might be in more socially junior positions to us.

Over the next few weeks at work listen to others and what you are saying and ask yourself whether ideas are being created or positions bolstered. To help with this process these may be some of the differences between dialogue and debate:

The conditions for good dialogue at work:

Hospitality
The group is welcoming, everyone matters and is included, being ‘in dialogue’ is celebrated, participants are attentive to the physical environment.

Participation
There are many ways to contribute, no one is compelled to talk and each kind of contribution impacts on the group. Each person’s contribution is acknowledged.

Mindfulness
Paying attention at many levels, of what is said, how it is said, how it relates to what has already been said. Attention must also be paid to what is not said.  Mindfulness is also about an awareness of the discussion as a whole and how well it is addressing the issues being explored.

Humility
No one person’s knowledge and understanding are total.  Participants accept that there is always more to learn and the group’s collective wisdom benefits each individual.
Humility demands deep listening; humble participants listen at three levels, to self, to others and to the group for shared learning.

Mutuality
The more each person is free to contribute the more everyone else profits.  Mutuality also suggests a commitment to inquiry, raising questions to foster individual and collective understanding.

Deliberation
This refers to the willingness of participants to explore issues as fully as possible, offering arguments and counter arguments.  Deliberations obliges us to take strong, well substantiated stands unless there are good reasons not to.

Appreciation
Taking the time to acknowledge a useful insight or contribution.  The opportunity to discuss difficult issues is life-enhancing and so we should seize opportunities to express gratitude to others as part of that.

Hope
Hope is a mainstay of good dialogue.  It assumes that good can come of people taking the time to discuss important issues.  It affirms our collective capacity to use dialogue to envision new possibilities and act towards the common good.

Autonomy
We have a responsibility to stand up for what we believe.  It doesn’t negate the value of learning from and with the group, but there are times when we feel we must defy the group and go our own way.  The importance of autonomy reinforces the idea that groups are strongest when individuals are affirmed and allowed to voice their views.

Dialogue vs Debate
with

common meaning

listen for meaning

enlarge and change

complicates issues

flexible

stresses skills of synthesis

multiple perspectives

temporary suspension of belief

everyone part of the problem

mutual learning

open minded

vs

vs

vs

vs

vs

vs

vs

vs

vs

vs

vs

vs

at

oppositional

listen for flaws

affirms own views

simplifies issues

rigid

stresses skills of analysis

singularity

invest wholeheartedly in own belief

one solution wins

competition

final answer

Traditional Chinese Medical theory is based in part on ancient Buddhist, Taoist and Confucian philosophies, living in harmony with nature and being aware of how the change in seasons impacts on our health and wellbeing is a central principle of Taoist thinking. The ancient Taoists developed a subtle and profound system of thinking that looked at how our body reacted to changes in the seasons. The Wu Xing or Five Elements or Phases represents the dynamic change in the seasons throughout the year and the ancient Taoists related this to our physiology and how our vital energy or Qi transforms throughout the year.

Our ability to adapt to the seasons is important to maintain health and wellbeing throughout the year. In Chinese Medicine the emphasis is on health preservation and developing body awareness, through techniques such as yoga or Tai Qi and being mindful of what we eat and nourishing ourselves with adequate rest. By developing mindfulness and body awareness we are able to identify any problems that may arise early and deal with them before they develop into something more serious or chronic.The change in seasons is incredibly important and can impact on our health and wellbeing.  Spring is related to the Wood element in the Five Elements system of thinking, spring is a time of growth and a flexible outward flourishing of energy.  In terms of physiology the Wood element is related to our Liver and Gallbladder, which in Chinese terms is responsible for the smooth flow of Qi in our body. When Qi flows smoothly our body’s function well and our emotions are balanced and our physical body as well as our mind is flexible. As the spring energy comes into fruition the Wood element dominates and if our Liver is poorly regulated, from either poor nutrition, lack of exercise or unresolved emotional issues manifesting as frustration, our Qi can become easily stuck.

Stagnation of Qi can manifest in pain particularly along the pathway of the Gallbladder meridians which traverses the neck and shoulders, and chronic habitual neck and shoulder pain is often a sign of Qi stagnation.  Stagnation of Qi can also manifest as IBS type symptoms with abdominal bloating and pain and alternating constipation and diarrhea and in woman stagnation of Qi can manifest as period pain with PMT symptoms.

The Liver is also responsible for the smooth flow of our defensive qi which protects us from catching colds and flus. If our Qi is stagnant then our defensive qi can become easily ‘stuck’ and not perform its function properly. Our Qi responds to changes in the weather and our environment and with the incredibly changeable weather in Spring, particularly this year, our defensive qi becomes confused.  Seasonal hay fever can be aggravated if our defensive qi is poorly regulated.

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine can help many of the problems associated with stagnation of Qi, each of us is unique and as a result acupuncture treatments and herbal prescriptions are individualised. The ancient Taoist’s would treat themselves with acupuncture and herbs when the seasons were changing to prepare themselves and to be in optimal health for the coming season.

How healthy is your wood element?

Are you physically flexible?

Can you bend and flex when circumstances don’t go according to your plan?  Or do you get frustrated and angry?

Are you nourished?

Do you restore yourself after exertion or do you have a residual tiredness?

Is your sleep refreshing or do you wake tired?

How much of your time are you frustrated and angry?

Do you find ways to flow past or grow through meeting obstacles in your life?

SPECIAL OFFER IN MAY

For the whole of May Simon Plant, Breathe London’s Acupuncturist will be offering a £10 discount on your first treatment  (normal price £55), refer a friend and receive another £10 discount.

Simon Plant BSc (Hons) MSc MBAcC MRCHM

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine

Member of the British Acupuncture Council

Member of the Register of Chinese Herbal Medicine

Breathe London Acupuncture Clinic

acupuncture.breathe@gmail.com

www.breathe-london.com/waterloo-acupuncture

07570091568

Three pillars of wellbeing

In a recent study by Andrew Oswald at Warwick Business School it was concluded that there was a positive link between workers’ happiness and productivity. The team conducted a range of exercises in their research. In one, students were asked to add a series of two digit numbers in ten minutes. The subjects were paid an attendance fee, and a performance fee based on how they performed. Some were then shown a ten minute film based on comedy routines. The film apparently led to an increase in the self-reported happiness levels of participants compared to those who did not see it or who watched placebo film clips.

For the people that reported higher levels of happiness after seeing the film, productivity in a subsequent test was significantly higher. The headline was “happier workers were 12% more productive”. They observed that those participants who watched the film but did not feel any happier did not demonstrate improved productivity. They also concluded that if happiness in the workplace was associated with increased productivity then human resource departments would need to consider these implications.

This was reported in the media as groundbreaking research, however it merely adds to the body of findings from the field of Positive Psychology, which has a far more nuanced understanding of the role of emotions in the workplace. Emotions, both “negative” and “positive” have a vital role at work. They are a call to action to help change behaviours. There is a danger in that this type of research might suggest that positive emotions are appropriate in all workplace settings. One of the major points of Emotional intelligence training is to impress on people that different situations, tasks at work and types of thinking require different types of emotions to be generated. For example, research indicates that where fine attention to detail is required, eg when studying the findings of a report, it’s more useful to foster serious, almost downbeat emotions. Where creative, blue sky thinking is required it’s more useful to engender a fun, light hearted approach.
So clearly before HR departments rush out and hire comedians its worthwhile understanding that context and task are at least as important as creating a fun place to work.  It’s not the role of our organizations to make us happy but it does make sense for them to understand what makes us happy.  One of the theories that I found most useful was Ryan & Deci’s Self Determination Theory.  They hypothesised that people would be engaged and happy in a task if three basic pillars were in place:

Autonomy– We have chosen our role, understand the task and within guidelines are given freedom to achieve our organizations goals in the way they we see fit

Competence– The skills we have match the task or if they are slightly beyond us we have confidence that we can receive training when we need it

Relatedness– We enjoy warm, encouraging relationships with people around us

If those things are not in place consider the small changes that you can make to change your role or possibly influence your organization.  Help spread these positive psychology ideas within your organizations.  If you try to feel like you face a brick wall at work, talk to your friends and family about what sort of roles you would like.  Think about future work arrangements based upon the three pillars of autonomy, competence and relatedness.

If you found this useful please share it with colleagues and friends!

Listening to others

This is the eighth in this series of blogs / newsletters.  

Evolution has taught us that it is often adaptive to focus on redressing weaknesses rather than celebrating strengths.  This applies both to how we evaluate our own experience and the actions of others .  At work and school we often focus on training people to improve on areas of weakness rather than setting them free to excel at what they are good at. However, an area of weakness can often only be taken from poor to mediocre, whereas strengths can be developed into excellence.

Creating an excellent team in sport or at work means understanding the roles where people have the opportunity to become excellent.  To do this we need to get into the habit of recognising where people’s strengths lie.  Looking for the best in other people also shines a bright light on our own experience.  At the end of a yoga class, a teacher often finishes with the word namaste, “the light in me recognises the light in you”

In this newsletter we introduce the Breathe London motivational interviewing technique for helping identify other people’s strengths. This will provide you with an invaluable leadership tool but will bring you a sense of joy as you share and celebrate each other’s strengths.

The tendency to focus on deficits can be seen in the way we discuss work performance with colleagues and academic performance with children.  Amazingly the research suggests that when we are asked to identify what other people are good at we find it really difficult to say when they are at their best.  Research also tells us that something amazing happens when people are asked to talk about their greatest achievements, their happiest moments and their heroes – ENERGY!   When we talk about the highlights in our lives something magical happens.  Simply replaying the events helps us relive those events and we enjoy a flood of positive emotions and a positive effect on our bodies.

Discussing when we are at our best enables us to make a cognitive link between a mastery experience and our emotions. By recalling a great moment from our past we may also uncover a great strength that we no longer use or we may tap into old passions which can be enjoyed again.  A flow of positive emotions enables us to overcome current challenges, fosters creativity and helps us identify where we should be investing our time and energy. In order to help people identify their top strengths, psychologists use techniques such as motivational interviewing and have developed psychometric tests to help people tap into their strengths. This is our technique.  I hope you enjoy it.

All we ask you to do is observe friends and colleagues and use the following motivational interviewing technique. Ask a series of questions which help tap into the highlights and peak performance of others.

The cycle of questioning is based around asking essentially the same question about when the person experiences a peak experience.  (Opening) After the introduction question we ask the person to clarify and focus on what in particular about the experience was a highlight (Pursue). The third question asks them how they felt about the experience and how their energy levels were (Energy).  This is a critical stage in the questioning and observation.  When people discuss their passions and highlights their body language and energy levels are clearly raised .  Get into the habit of observing when someone’s body and face becomes more open, their hands more expressive and their voices more elevated and flowing.  These are the magic moments when positive emotions flow between people.  At these times you are sharing and celebrating strengths and helping people make an intellectual link between when they feel good and their actions. To help people cement this link we ask a question to help them link their emotion to their experience (Navigate).  Finally we help summarise and clarify their experience (Summarise) and then repeat the process by asking similar questions.

The whole process of questioning opens the heart, matches experience to emotions and can be summarised as follows:

Opening question – think about strengths
Pursue details – focus and clarify
Energy and feelings – how did it make them feel?
Navigate – assign a reason
Summarise – which strength were they demonstrating

Practice this technique with friends and colleagues and get into the habit of looking for strengths in others.
In order to help you practice using the OPENS model take a look at our list of questions and decide which category ( O,P,E,N or S) they fall into.  This will get you thinking about what sort of questions to ask. I hope you found this a useful tool for getting the best out of friends and colleagues.

Some example of the OPENS questions 

Tell me about yourself.  Tell me some every day thing that you enjoy doing.
You’ve mentioned many things that you enjoy doing.  What would you say you enjoy most?
How does that activity make you feel?

Why do you think that you enjoy this the most?
So it seems to me that [FOR EXAMPLE – you love bringing people together]

Tell me more?
Do you have lots of opportunities to do the activity that you enjoy the most?
You also said that you enjoy doing [ ],.  Why do you think that you enjoy doing this?
You mentioned lots of things that you like doing.  What do you like doing the most?
Tell me more?
Why isn’t it top of your list?
Do you enjoy doing anything outside of work?
Tell me about that?
Why do you think that you enjoy doing that?
Do you enjoy doing anything work related?
Tell me about that?
Why do you think that you enjoy doing that?

What makes you feel like you have had a successful day?  What makes a really good day for you?
Can you tell me about a good example of this?
What made it special?
Can you think of other times like this?  Tell me about it?
Can you tell me about the best thing that ever happened to you?
What made it so good?
From what you tell me you get a real buzz out of [ ]

What are you doing when you feel at your best?
What factors made this happen?
What or who contributed to this?
Why do you think that this is so?
When do you feel most alive and energised?
Looking back to your youth, what were your best times?
Taking everything into account it sounds like you are at your best when you are doing [ ] and [ ]
What were you doing?
What situations do you feel most comfortable in?
What would you say are your pride and joys?
Why do you take pride in this and what gives you a sense of pride?
What would you say that you are most passionate about?
Describe what it feels like to enjoy this passion?
When do you feel that the real me is coming out?
Which situations do you find yourself in when you are expressing the real me
What situations invigorate you?
Tell me more?
I want to know more about this.
Tell me what makes you want to keep doing this activity and not stop?
If you could choose a vision of the future, what would it be?
Why is this important to you?
How will you make that vision happen?
What do you think makes you happy?
It sounds like you’re really good at [ ]
I can see from the way you are talking that you feel passionately about [ ]

All the best Andy

Positive Psychology – Its about time

This is the seventh in our series of blogs and newsletters about the courses and teachers that have inspired me.  This week I’m looking at how our perception of time and the thoughts we have influences our wellbeing

Where we focus our thoughts in time and whether we have a positive or negative attitude to events, affects the way we feel and our levels of wellbeing.  Some thought patterns nurture us and help us to achieve our dreams whilst others hold us back. We have the ability to think about the past, present or future and we can events in these thought dimensions in either a “positive” or “negative” way.

Research tells us that each of us has a certain amount of mental energy which we are able to use for work, rest and play.  It also suggests that we have differing propensities to spend more of this energy thinking about the past or the future than being present and experiencing life in real time.  In addition to this, we interpret the past in either a positive or negative way and interpret the present either by enjoying the moment or by seeing life as a fatalistic stream of events outside of our control.

We can divide our propensity to think in certain ways as follows:

·       Thinking about the past in a positive way
·       Thinking about the past in a negative way
·       Being here and now and experiencing events in real time
·       Experiencing current events in a fatalistic way
·       Being future minded

Obviously there are other ways to think, such as thinking about the future in a positive or a negative way or being in a meditative, non thinking state and so on.  However the five dimensions above cover most types of thinking. We all spend time moving between these five main states, switching from thoughts about the past to help us interpret the present and then dreaming and planning the future.

Each of these styles of thinking serves an important purpose.  Happy memories help us reflect on past achievements, cherish the things and people we love.  They also help create positive emotions, which have a wonderful impact on our physiology.  Negative memories from the past serve as a warning to us to modify behaviours and avoid dangers.

Being present and enjoying the here and now helps us to enjoy life as it happens in real time.  If your thoughts constantly take you away from now, your ability to fully experience events as they happen is lessened.  Occasionally being fatalistic can be of benefit because there is an appreciation that although we strive in life to be healthy, loving and kind, sometimes we all have to let go and accept the inevitability of change.  Thinking about the future sets the stage for our growth, can fuel our optimism and helps us plot a course through life.  This constant movement and progression enables us to enjoy a stream of new experiences in the present.

The ideal situation is for us to have balanced ways of thinking.  This means that our thoughts effortlessly flow between time dimensions and attitudes without getting stuck.  The problem is that our thoughts and emotions tend to be “sticky”. To give you an example, if we have a strong negative experience, we may experience a strong negative emotional reaction which may have a profound physiological effect on our body and neurological effect on our brain.  Sometimes when we experience, or think we are about to experience a similar event, the old thoughts, emotions and physical reactions come rushing back.

Such patterns can develop quickly or build over time and before long, without us even realising it, we are caught in a pattern of ruminating over past negative experiences, replaying them again and again, blaming others, blaming ourselves and reducing our energy and ability to think about other things. Such patterns can debilitate us and lock us into the past. In such a scenario, if we have a propensity to negatively ruminate we increase the likelihood that we interpret new events in a negative manner.  The way our thoughts determine our enjoyment of experience is profound.

The happiest people tend to be able to switch effortlessly between different thought dimensions. The unhappiest people tend to spend most of their time negatively dwelling about the past or being fatalistic about their lot in life. Being happy is associated with a good balance of being future minded, enjoying the present and reflecting positively on the past.

Consider the following questions :

Are you grounded and feel warmth and love from past memories?
Is the past a place of fear that stops you enjoying the present and planning for a positive future?
Are you resigned to your lot in life?
Do you live life now and feel life as it flows past?
Do you spend your time dreaming about the future?

Increasing awareness of where your thoughts tend to lie is an important stage in personal development.  Once you know you have tendencies to think in particular ways then you can reflect on how these affect your life and what, if anything, you would like to change.

The future:
I’d like to be more future minded:
How can I set goals which will energise me and are achievable ?
What can I do to learn how to use positive visualisation to imagine a bright, vibrant future?
How can I identify what I’m best at and how can I use my top strengths best?

The present:
I’d like to enjoy and savour living in the present
How can I introduce mindfulness and meditation in my life?
How do I ensure that I spend a few moments appreciating the natural environment every day?
How can I focus my attention every day on the little things that bring me joy?

The past:
I’d like to spend more time savouring the good things from my past and my achievements:
How can I spend a few moments every day thinking about the heroes in my life?  What strengths do they have and how do they provide a guiding light in my life?
What can I do to challenge my beliefs about people or situations that have hurt me in the past?
How can I spend more time reflecting on my achievements and those of loved ones?  What did I learn from those experiences?

Maybe we have a tendency to spend less of our energy living in the present and listening to other people because as we grow older there is more information about the past contained in our memories and we are constantly drawn to reliving past experiences and interpreting the present by relating it to the past.

Following on from last weeks newsletter, we delude ourselves that we are getting wiser as we get older and that we have a safe bank of reliable data to rely on.  This is very far from the truth.  Research about wisdom indicates that there is no relationship between age and wisdom.  We need to be more like children and not take the present for granted.

The present is magical and real.  Life is to be enjoyed here and now.

Positive Psychology and staying open to new ideas

This is the sixth in a series of blogs/newsletters about the courses, teachers and books that have inspired me in the past ten years.  This week I’m looking at Positive Psychology and staying open to new ideas.

We can only see a fraction of reality

It seems that what we think we are observing around us is such a small percentage of reality that not only do we miss the “big picture” as well as the fine details, we actually fail to observe and recall hardly anything at all.  In an amazing experiment students were asked to observe four differently coloured shapes for a fraction of a second.  The shapes were flashed momentarily again and one of the shapes was rotated either to the left or to the right.  The subjects were then asked to state whether there had been a rotation to the left or right.  Most people failed at this task and in fact on average people were only able to tell if there had been a movement to the left or to the right if there was less than three objects to observe..Imagine that! We think we can know all that is going on around us but in fact at a conscious level we can hardly observe or recall anything.

David Eagleman is a neuroscientist at the Baylor College of Medicine and explains how limited our perception is:

“We open our eyes and we think we’re seeing the whole world out there. But what has become clear—and really just in the last few centuries—is that when you look at the electro-magnetic spectrum we are seeing less than 1/10 Billionth of the information that’s riding on there. So we call that visible light. But everything else passing through our bodies is completely invisible to us.

Even though we accept the reality that’s presented to us, we’re really only seeing a little window of what’s happening. There are so many examples of this such as optical illusions and false recall by eye witnesses . Illusions demonstrate that these really simple things that you think are going on in front of you are not actually representing physical reality but instead your brain is constructing something.

Our construction of reality shapes and alters our view of the physical world. It also limits our cognitive ability because we weigh our views more importantly than others. This blinkered view can often put us in opposition to our friends and colleagues.

A lot of this happens unconsciously. We don’t know how much we’re interpreting. The world presents itself like it’s reality and we don’t know how much we’ve already filtered that. We perceive the world as real, but we’re doing a lot of interpretation of  the data as it comes in. This can be a real impediment when we’re in an argument because each person sees the world as real and thinks the other must be crazy or deliberately trying to destroy things when in fact they’re just trying to bring their own expectations and facts to the table.

Recognizing this limited view is an important step in recognising that the truth of reality can only emerge through dialogue. David Eagleman describes this as the umwelt: the assumption that our reality is the only reality out there.

This umwelt creates a belief that our view is the correct one and also an arrogance about our abilities compared to others.  At work, politics and in our home life it can be a recipe for disaster.

 

Our perception of reality is influenced by many factors including mood and language

As a further illustration of how our interpretation of reality is illusory and not constant our perception of colours is influenced by our moods. Over the last few decades there has been a growing body of research suggesting that how we interpret what we see is subjective and contextual, with many influencing factors such as the social context we’re faced with, and our prior learning and habits.  For example there are a number of languages in Africa and in Europe (such as old Welsh) that have only a small handful of words differentiating colours.  One African tribe had just five words to describe colours and used these words to group colours in ways which Western eyes could not comprehend.  The tribe lived on the red dusty savannah and had developed a unique and useful way of perceiving their environment in order to extract the maximum nutritional value and beauty from their environment.  Their language developed as their perception developed and may have helped shape how they experience the world. When faced with a range of similar colours and asked to choose the odd one out, Westerners typically found it easy to pick the odd one out whereas tribe members struggled.  Tribe members however, were able to pick out different shades of the same colour which were imperceptible to the Western eye.

Recent research suggests that in addition to the construction of language and social preferences, our emotional state also has an influence on colour perception.  People feeling more in control of their lives, confident and upbeat about the future can perceive a greater range of colours with a greater degree of accuracy compared to people feeling they have little control over their lives and the future.  They are also better at identifying solutions or opportunities when faced with complex problems or decisions.  Positive Psychology suggests that we can use these influences to alter not only our perceptions of the physical world such as colour perception, but the construction of our mental world – attitudes, biases and ways of representing information.  When we experience a healthy balance of positive to negative emotions we are able to process information in a more accurate manner than people who have a lower ratio of positive to negative emotions.

So what we can perceive is very different from people around us and is influenced by the language we speak and the mood we are in.

We think we are observing truth

As we observe the world it is a human tendency to think that the way we see things is “the correct way”.

The asymmetry of human perception means that we have a tendency to attribute our success to our skills and our failures to external events causing us to have a strong belief that we are better than others at what we do for a living.  Nasssim Nicholas Taleb reviewed journals
investigating the difference between what we know and what we actually know.  In a series of replicated studies, experts and lay people were asked to provide confidence limits surrounding an assertion.  For example, “I am 98% confident that the population of Brazil is between 100 and 200 million”.  It turns out that on average the 2% error rate is more like 45%.  We are 22 times more confident in our beliefs than we ought to be.  The studies indicate that the more “expert” we are, the greater the average error rate.  The more information we have the more a confirmation bias (looking for confirming evidence) and belief perseverance (stickiness of beliefs), creates the illusion of certainty.

Compounding our errors

The problem of limited perception may be exacerbated by the asymmetry of our brains. Iain McGilchrist has written about this in his brilliant book, The Master and His Emissary.  The conventional notion is that the left hemisphere is for fine processing of information whilst the right is more holistic and big picture.  This is a vast over simplification but hold this thought for a moment!

 

The book’s title comes from the legend of a wise ruler whose domains grew so large that he had to train emissaries to visit them instead of going himself. One of these, however, grew so cocky that he thought he was wiser than his master, and eventually deposed him. And this, says McGilchrist, is what the Left hemisphere tends to do. In fact, the balance between these two halves is, like so many things in evolution, a somewhat rough, practical arrangement, quite capable of going wrong. The bifurcation seems to have become necessary in the first place because these two main functions – comprehensiveness and precision – are both necessary, but are too distinct to be combined. The normal sequence, then, is that the comprehensive partner (right) first sees the whole prospect – picks out something that needs investigating – and hands it over to the specialist (left) , who processes it. But, once those pieces of work are done, it is necessary for the wider vision to take over again and decide what to do next.

Much of the time this is indeed what happens and it is what has enabled brains of this kind to work so well, both for us and for other animals. But sometimes there is difficulty about the second transaction. Since it is the nature of precision not to look outward – not to bother about what is around it – the specialist partner does not always know when it ought to hand its project back to headquarters for further processing. Being something of a success-junkie, it often prefers to hang on to it itself. And since we do have some control over this shift between detailed and general thinking, that tendency can be helped or hindered by the ethic that prevails in the culture around it.

 

McGilchrist  notes that there is a tendency for the left brain to dwell in detail that it believes to be real and seeks confirmation of its world view ( a process perhaps enhanced by personalised google searches  which reveals the world to us based on what an algorithm thinks we want to see.)

This tends to narrow our field of vision further and makes us strongly attach to our ego and beliefs making us difficult, cantankerous and old. So not only is our perception flawed but we tend to seek confirmation of misperception as we get older

Staying open to ideas

So in order to stay open to the ideas of others  and keep a fresh perspective we need to know about the tendencies we have to pick up false information and hold a rigid world view. McGilchrist describes the left brain delusion as like living in a hall of mirrors where we constantly reach out to what is familiar and comfortable.

To break free of these chains we need to do at least two things:

-       Increase our field of perception

-       Understand that a closer proximity to truth can only come through dialogue

 

 

Increasing our field of perception

There are a number of strategies for doing this:

  • Rearrange Your Home Environment and take different routes and find new areas to explore
  • Set goals which are slightly outside comfort zones but are attainable
  • Change How You Present Yourself – dressing differently makes you feel, think and act differently
  • Reintroduce play into your life – being happy fosters neural plasticity – you are 30 times more likely to laugh in the company others compared to being alone
  • Construct goals and “to do” lists which are divided between maintaining your existing world view and developing a new one
  • Human touch fosters neural plasticity – its associated with a hormone called oxytocin which is related to a flexible thinking style – so get a massage!

 

Seeing the reality that others see

Our view can never be perfect but a more accurate view of reality comes when you weave together different stories:

  • Explore the differences between dialogue and debate – what are the characteristics that harden opinions in one and foster creativity in another
  • Identifying strengths of colleagues – spend some time thinking about what they are good at
  • Force Yourself to Think from Alternate Points of View in Monotonous Situations
  • Write Out Your Day From Another Point of View – explore your experiences from the view point of another
  • Edit Your Own Story – examine a challenge that you have in your life and write about it on three separate occasions.  Note how your mood, the time of day and other factors influence your interpretation of the issue

I hope you found this interesting.  If you did please pass on to your colleagues and also  read old blogs by choosing to follow our blog

Hypnotherapy and virtual gastric bands

Monica’s Weight Loss Clinic at Breathe London is now specializing in the Virtual Gastric Band Surgery Technique. This technique has helped thousands of overweight people worldwide to lose weight without the need of actual surgery.

With growing worldwide concerns about the ramifications of an increasingly overweight population, the undoubted links between obesity related diabetes, cardio/respiratory disease, plus numerous other preventable conditions, such as arthritis and orthopedic related conditions, make intervention necessary in changing habits and behaviors of overweight patients, but also economically valuable. The long term drain on NHS and health care providers can be significantly reduced.

In many cases, surgeries cannot be performed due to the patient’s weight, and the need to delay surgery whilst patients try to lose weight can be life-threatening. In others, losing weight can reverse symptoms thereby avoiding surgery altogether. Surgical interventions such as the use of the gastric band have been shown to result in improvements in quality of life and a reduction in overweight related diseases as mentioned above.

Hence weight loss surgery is on the increase. However, as we know all surgeries carry a risk, so if a safe alternative to surgical interventions in weight management can be found, the benefit to patients will be significant and lifelong.

In a recent report 21st March 2011, Jacque Himpens MD of the European School of Laparoscopic Surgery stated “…surgery is not the answer to reducing obesity. It has a part to play, but we should focus on changing behavior, reducing the amount of food eaten and eliminating snacking”.
This is in line with the Hypnotherapeutic approach using Virtual Gastric Band Surgery.

VIRTUAL GASTRIC BAND SURGERY
Hypnotherapy for the Virtual Gastric Band Treatment is a new and fast growing aspect of hypnotherapy, and the preferred alternative to Bariatric Surgery.

Designed for people who find it difficult to lose weight on their own, Virtual Gastric Band surgery is a method that utilises a patient’s conscious and unconscious mind to the maximum benefit without the obvious necessity of undergoing a surgical procedure and the inherent risks that involve.
Monica combines approaches within the eclectic nature of Hypnotherapy so that treatment can be tailored to each individual patient.

VGBS consists of 5 – 6 sessions taking you through the programme by the use of NLP, CBT, and Hypnosis. From the first session you’ll find your entire attitude towards food changes, and this gives you a new and permanent healthy way of life to go forward with, allowing you to maintain your ideal healthy weight. You’ll find all of this will have a knock-on effect by boosting your self confidence and self-esteem.

WHAT IS A ‘DIET’
A diet is: – “Any system of eating that attempts to exert external control over what, where, when or how much you eat” so FORGET DIETING:

Diets don’t, work. When you deprive/deny yourself of something you become depraved – all you can think about is that food you’re denying yourself of.

By going ‘on’ a diet’ means you will be coming ‘off’ a diet . Diets are a short cut to a feeling of failure and ultimately an increase in weight occurs. Overall research shows that 90% of diets fail!!! Also diets do not address the reasons as to why we become overweight and that emotional relationship those who are overweight have with food.

The word ‘diet’ comes from a Greek word ‘Diata’ which means “manner of living – or way of life”. A true diet therefore has absolutely nothing to do with a short term attempt to lose ‘a bit of weight’. A true diet is ‘a way of life’ that gives you the emotional and physical requirements for you to be your ideal weight (and health) for the LONG TERM.

The hypnotherapeutic approach using Virtual Gastric Band Surgery will also deal with the reasons you have become overweight. Food is not your enemy it’s your friend.

More and more research is looking at the all important link between the brain and the gut. We now know that approximately 80 percent of the human body’s total serotonin is located in gut cells. Only a few years ago we thought serotonin only existed in the brain. Serotonin is “the happy neurotransmitter”, responsible for the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, as well as muscle contraction. It also has some cognitive functions, including in memory and learning. Ever had a “gut feeling” about something? Well, now you know why! It is therefore hardly surprising that our relationship with food is so deeply emotional. So much so that – in most instances – our minds are the best place to start when looking for the root of problems relating to body weight, eating disorders, and even digestive issues. Given that appetite regulation is one of the key functions of serotonin, understanding this brain-gut relationship seems paramount to resolving any issues with portion control, overeating and weight management.

To find out more about Breathe Londons weight management programmes with Monica, Jo and Claudia go to  http://breathe-london.com/nutrition-therapy-waterloo and http://breathe-london.com/hypnotherapy

Super foods OR super myth

Superfoods: myth or miracle?
I think one of my new year’s resolutions should have been to not tell people – when out in social situations – that I am a nutritional therapist. I guess that means to become a liar? As soon as I admit my vocation, I frequently find myself listening to people’s nutritional woes, practically giving mini consultations when I’m effectively ‘off duty’. And quite frankly there is a time and a place to talk bowels and bloating. More often I’m asked quick fire questions such as ‘can cherry juice really help my insomnia?’ or ‘will green tea help me loose weight?’ or ‘what foods are real superfoods?’ So here is a little note about the latter.
The term ‘superfood’ is applied to foods with an above average number of disease-fighting-antioxidants. Experts believe that a diet rich in these foods will improve your overall health. The sentiment is true – antioxidants are important in disease prevention and overall health – but when most of the products heralded as superfoods are charged at premium prices, are we right to be slightly dubious as to whether the actual claims such as (‘broccoli may undo diabetes damage’) are legitimate or is it all just a clever marketing ploy?
In 2007, EU legislation banned the use of the term ‘superfood’ on packaging unless it is accompanied by convincing research. But this ban hasnt stopped the media continuing to hail a new superfood on an almost weekly basis. If we believed everything we read, we might think that a diet of curry, wine and chocolate is the secret to eternal life!
The facts about the latest dietary discoveries are rarely as simple as the attention grabbing headlines imply and to accurately test how one food may affect our health is arduous and complex. There is no real harm in the superfood claims if they get us eating more nutritious food but it’s important to remember that the studies behind the claims are riddled with limitations, bias and confounding factors. For example, the effects of a particular potent property is likely to have been carried out in a test tube or on an animal. Our bodies act very differently to a test tube or a mouse. Certain vitamins, such as Vitamin C for example, are water soluble and any excess our body does not require is excreted in our urine. Therefore once you have hit your daily remit, it doesnt matter how many blueberries you guzzle, the vitamin C will be flushed away. Much like the £4 you spent on the punnet of them in the first place.
Here is the lowdown on a few of the classics.
GREEN TEA: there is some evidence that green tea helps heart health but the links to weight loss and cancer are contradictory. It will certainly help you remain hydrated and as it’s calorie free it’s a good alternative to tea with milk if you are dieting.
● GOJI BERRIES: The test that marked Goji berries No1 on the antioxidant scale (ORAC)were done in test tubes and doesn’t reflect what happens in the human body. The vitamin content of Goji berries are high but you would have to consume a huge quantity to make a significant difference.
COCONUT WATER: Claims to be more hydrating than water. There are some vitamins and minerals in coconut water but it is not a particularly rich source. And as for being more hydrating than water – that’s actually impossible.
EDAMAME BEANS: There is no evidence that they can help you loose weight. They are high in fibre, especially soluble fibre, which can help lower cholesterol levels.
The message is really this: it’s great to include these foods as part of an all round healthy diet as long as you dont expect any overnight miracles. Eat a balanced diet with a range of foods to ensure you get enough of the nutrients your body needs. Limiting your intake of alcohol and high fat, high sugar, salty and processed foods and regular exercise are also important.

For more nutrition advice with Jo Lewin go to Breathe London nutrition

 

Positive Psychology – barriers to happiness

“When you arise in the morning think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think to enjoy, to love”  Marcus Aurelius

 

As a race humans are, in general, optimistic about the future.  When asked how satisfied we are with our life now the average response is approximately 7 out of 10  and when asked how satisfied they think we will be in the future most people say they will be more satisfied then than now. At the same time research suggests that we have a tendency to focus on our deficits rather than our strengths, our failings rather than our successes and what we crave rather than what we have. So on the one hand we are satisfied whilst at the same time restless and feel incomplete.

The power of restlessness can be a motivating energy that drives us forward and helps us to achieve great success in life.  It moves us on, thrusting and conquering.  It can be a force for great good, for example when scientists and philanthropists diligently apply their energy, passion and knowledge to overcoming the challenges we face.  It can also be the most destructive force on the planet destroying individual wellbeing, global wellbeing and the environment.

So lets consider the barriers to happiness and why we may feel this underlying restlessness:

The hedonic treadmill – When we enjoy a new material possession, for example a car or a house, our minds quickly adjust to the heightened experience.  Research suggest that at first when we enjoy a new thing we feel “happier” but within no time at all we are back to where we started, restless and seeking the next thing to consume

We are more alert to danger and our defects rather than our opportunities and strengths – From an evolutionary perspective this makes perfect sense.  In the 19th century life expectancy in the UK was 35.  Prior to the 20th century it was often a violent and dangerous world and we needed to be on our toes. As Steven Pinker noted in “A history of violence” despite all its carnage the 20th century was statistically the least violent century there has been and the trend is continuing to improve in the 21st century.  There are many challenges facing us now but in general we’ve never had it so good.  However brains change slowly and training the mind to be receptive to the positive as much as to the negative influences around requires tenacity and heightened awareness.  There are many wonderful exercises arising from Positive Psychology research which remind us to cherish what we have and remind us to count our blessings.  When we are aware of our evolutionary bias, which tends to focus our minds on problems, we can re train our minds to focus on our strengths and those of colleagues and friends. A positive mental outlook goes hand in hand with positive emotions and a healthy body.  With positive emotions and a healthy body we are better equipped to overcome the inevitable loss and suffering which inevitably will come into all our lives

Our ancestors – Studies indicate that when we respond to a survey about how happy we are, the answer that we give is likely to be highly pre determined by heritable factors.  Whether you are a 5 or a 9 out of 10 is determined by three main key factors: your ancestors, the circumstances in your life (for example how much money you make) and lastly the choices that you have made that day to influence your mood state. 50% of the variance between your answer and the average for the population is determined by heritable factors.  In psychology that’s a huge percentage and suggests that the view that we have of our own happiness and how happy we think we will be in the future is fairly well determined at birth.  And as a reminder of why this self evaluation of happiness is important – the more satisfied people say they are with their lives the longer they are likely to live and the healthier they are likely to be.

On the flip side studies indicate that just 10% of our self reported happiness levels are down to the circumstances in our life (eg how much money we earn) and a further 40% is down to the choices we make on a daily basis.  That’s a great positive message.  With this knowledge we can remind ourselves each day that although we have a tendency to have a certain level of happiness which is influenced by our ancestry, it is not fixed.  We have the power to re-write a new future for ourselves and our children.  The key to this may be to raise awareness about the tools that we have been born with – the tendencies that we are born with that propel us towards success or destruction.  When we are able to observe these tendencies in ourselves, our parents and our grandparents it makes it easier to create new positive habits and rituals. This is similar to the karmic tendencies that Hindus believe we inherit from past lives.  They also note importantly each day we are given the opportunity to start again, begin afresh and rewrite the present and the future.  They call this Aagami karma – the karma that you are creating at this moment with your thoughts, emotions and actions.

So today Positive Psychology seems to confirm some aspects of 4,000 years of Vedic teaching – that through the power of positive thought it is possible to manifest a beautiful mind and life.  Buddhist and Vedic scholars remind us that life is over in a flash and that true happiness comes from being authentic, compassionate and kind. Ignorance is when we forget to reflect on the marvel of being alive.  Here’s that quote again:

“When you arise in the morning think of what a precious privilege it is to be alive – to breathe, to think to enjoy, to love”

Marcus Aurelius

Over the last five years I’ve been lucky to have been asked to run positive psychology and emotional intelligence workshops for some great organizations including Amerada Hess, The House of Commons, Global Capital, KPMG and the training arm of the NHS.  If you think your organization could benefit from a bit of Positive Psychology forward this mail onto your colleagues or contact Andy Roberts to find out more details about our workshops.

 

Sleep and nutrition

(Skinny) Sleeping Beauty
As a nation we are getting fatter. We’ve heard it. We’ve seen it. We are well aware we are supersizing at an alarming rate. Over the next two decades, the UK will become home to a whopping 11 million obese adults, costing the NHS £2 billion per year. Brits are the fattest in Europe, we’re basically guzzling gastric bands. And as for the kids… we’ll they are certainly not alright. It’s the fault of fast food outlets, video games and our ever increasing portion sizes. Fingers are pointed at advertising agencies, teachers and parents. Although we are brainwashed with cookery programmes on the TV, left alone in the kitchen too many of us are stumped when it comes to making a healthy meal. No time, no money, just deliver me a pizza and leave me alone…..
It is estimated that we spend approximately 217,175 hours asleep in our lifetime. Interestingly in 1960, we slept on average 8.5 hours per night and obesity rates were around 12%. By 2011, the average number of hours had fallen to 6.5 and obesity rates had increased to around 30%.  A recent study published in the British Medical Journal found that a lack of quality sleep is contributing to the obesity epidemic. Thestudy in question was focused on children aged 3-5 and it found that those who slept longer were 61% less likely to be overweight aged 7.  A positive correlation between lack of sleep and increased body weight was apparent even when accounting for confounding factors such as household income (not only the poor kids with crap food got fat), fruit and vegetable intake, television watching (not only the couch potatoes got fat) and the mother’s education.
So how is sleep related to weight gain? Can it really be possible for an adult to sleep themselves thin? No more diets and exercise? Sounds too good to be true. Well let’s start by highlighting the obvious. Less sleep means more time awake = more time scoffing. Less sleep also means greater tiredness during the day = less likely to be active and more likely to make poor food choices (sugary fast releasing energy fixes). But interestingly the key link is that sleep deprivation triggers a hormonal response, sending appetite control haywire.
The hormones in question are call leptin and ghrelin. Leptin is produced by fat cells and plays a role in the regulation of appetite and metabolism – important functions for weight management. As a messenger, leptin communicates directly with the central nervous system, decreasing the “hunger signal” that the hypothalamus in the brain sends to the body. Leptin, in effect, is your body’s own natural appetite suppressant. When your leptin levels are optimal, you tend to consume less food, as well as make healthier food choices. Great. Additionally, leptin increases your metabolic rate, or energy level, so it increases thermogenesis  (fat-burning capability) therefore more calories are burned up. Double great. The hormone ghrelin does the opposite of leptin; it tells the brain that we are hungry and surprise surprise, levels of ghrelin increase when sleep is restricted.
Studies at The University of Chicago and Stanford University have proven that subjects who had trouble sleeping had lower levels of leptin and higher levels of ghrelin than those who received optimal amount of sleep. When you sleep well at night, one of your body’s many jobs is to re-calibrate the levels of your hormones, including leptin and ghrelin. After a good night of restful sleep, leptin, ghrelin and many other important hormones have had enough time to be replenished and are more likely to be back to optimal levels.
● Aim for 7-9 hours per night
● Try to go to sleep at the same time every night
● Avoid caffeine, alcohol and eating large meals before bed
● Limit use of internet and TV watching in bed as it tends to stimulate our senses
● Magnesium is a muscle relaxant and natural sedative. Foods rich in magnesium are legumes and seeds, dark leafy green vegetables, wheat bran, almonds, cashews, blackstrap molasses, brewer’s yeast, and whole grains.
● Tryptophan is an amino acid (from protein) that makes the brain chemicals serotonin and melatonin involved in sleep. Snacks containing carbohydrates and proteins rich in tryptophan such whole grain crackers with warm milk or cottage cheese before bedtime may help to promote sleep.

 

For more nutrition advice with Jo go to Nutrition at Breathe London

 

 

Acupuncture Awareness Week

The first ever Acupuncture Awareness Week launches today Monday 27 February 2012 and will attempt to dispel the many
myths still surrounding acupuncture. Simon Plant, British Acupuncture Council Member will be offering free fifteen minute taster treatments at Breath London at the Colombo Centre and Westminster Gym this week and will be on hand to answer your questions about how acupuncture can help you.

Recent research has revealed that over 21 per cent of the British public think acupuncture needles are as large as the needles used for regular injections. Not true! But it just goes to show that in spite of Chinese medicine’s ever increasing popularity, there are still a whole host of common misconceptions surrounding this ancient form of treatment.

Every year traditional acupuncturists carry out 2.3 million acupuncture treatments and this figure is on the rise. Yet the latest research clearly demonstrates how myths about acupuncture still remain strong. Acupuncture Awareness Week, the first of its kind, aims to banish these myths and provide the public with all the answers they need to feel confident about giving acupuncture a try.

A growing body of evidence-based clinical research shows that traditional acupuncture, as practised by British Acupuncture Council members safely treats a wide range of common health problems including low back pain, [click here to visit BAcC research page],  tension headaches and migraine-type headaches. In fact the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence (NICE) guidelines on best practice now recommend that GPs offer a course of ten sessions of acupuncture as a first-line treatment for persistent, non-specific low back pain.

TV presenter Clare Nasir had had several failed attempts to conceive using IVF alone. She had one last chance, and decided to use acupuncture in conjunction with the IVF to boost her chances of success. She now has a two year old daughter – listen to her story in the video below.

Learn more about Acupuncture by visiting http://www.introducingacupuncture.co.uk/

Learn more about Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine available at Breathe London by visiting http://www.breathe-london.com/waterloo-acupuncture

To book a free fifteen minute taster treatment contact Simon Plant at Breathe London: 07570 091568

 

Simon Plant BSc (Hons) MSc MBAcC MRCHM

Acupuncture and Chinese Herbal Medicine

 

Stress and fertility

We spend most our life taking steps to not get pregnant but when the day comes that we want to become parents how much do we really prepare our bodies both mentally and physically?

According to the HFEA (Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority ) an estimated 1 in 7 couples are having some sort of fertility problem – approximately 1,750,000 across the UK.

There are a number of factors that can affect fertility in couple’s attempts to have a successful pregnancy. If all health factors have been successfully been ruled out, stress can be the main contributor to an inability to conceive and have a successful birth.

GP and hypnotherapist Dr Leslie Brann says: “Women are putting their careers first and delaying pregnancy, and fertility does decline as you get older. I get a lot of women who have mental blocks to getting pregnant or who have convinced themselves they cannot conceive. They often tell me under hypnosis that they don’t see any eggs in their ovaries or that their tubes are too small for the egg to go through. I then try to get them to overcome this ‘block’.

“Mary Coates, a hypnotherapist who treats both women undergoing IVF and childless women who have no medical reason not to conceive, believes women in their thirties are particularly prone to “mental blocks” towards pregnancy.”

“They feel the clock is against them, so panic sets in, which affects their fertility. It’s a vicious circle. Almost every woman who comes to me is in that bracket. If you think that stress can stop your periods, just think what else it can do.”

There is no medical proof that hypnotherapy can cure infertility, which now affects one couple in six. However, it does lower stress and anxiety, which can affect hormone levels and create a mental block to conception. Tests have shown that hypnotherapy can lower a woman’s levels of a hormone called prolactin which suppresses ovulation.

For more information, read the full article at The Independent, “Hypnosis can help you get pregnant” by Sophie Goodchild:http://www.independent.co.uk/news/hypnosis-can-help-you-get-pregnant-1173568.html

Stress is caused by a situation that a person either consciously or unconsciously perceives as threatening; this creates the fight or flight response. Whilst the body is under stress it releases a number of hormones, including Cortisol, which can affect the delicate hormonal balance needed for ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even the health of the fetus. Stress can not only affect the woman’s fertility but also the man’s sperm count and mobility.

Hypnosis can help you to prepare your body for pregnancy, helping you to remove any mental blocks that you have towards becoming pregnant and stay calm throught the pregnancy, giving your body the best chance to conceive and produce a healthy baby.

Simon Plant is the Breathe London acupuncture and Chinese medicine expert specialising in fertility http://breathe-london.com/waterloo-acupuncture

Monica Black is our hypnotherapist specialising in fertility treatments http://breathe-london.com/hypnotherapy

Positive psychology – building blocks of happiness

This is the fifth blog/newsletter about the wellbeing courses that have ment something to me. Following on from last week I’m going to explore Positive Psychology in more detail.

Positive Psychology is a relatively new branch of psychology, which seeks to explore topics such as happiness, meaning and engagement. It does not suggest that the rest of psychology is “Negative Psychology” but merely seeks to explore aspects of human flourishing rather than exploring from what may be wrong with an individual.

Before thinking about how you go about raising your happiness level its worth considering the concept of happiness. One man’s happiness is clearly another’s hell and what do we mean by happiness anyway? Do we mean fun or positive emotions or meaning in life or flourishing?

Everyone has a different interpretation of what these things mean and also a different view on which of these things is the most important. For example “individual A” may view life as a sensorial ride to be enjoyed to the full by packing in the most positive, peak experiences that they can. “Individual B” might be on a mission. They have God given talents which they feel destined to use to create something new for society. “A” could view “B” as being dowdy and missing out on the wonder of life. “B” could view “A” as a selfish pleasure seeker, maximising their own wellbeing with scant regard for their impact on others or the environment.

It may be that A and B have much to learn from each other. “B” may realise that their mission can best be achieved by using the positive emotions generated by enjoying life. “A” might gain insight into the joy to be had from devoting energy and time to a project to help others.

Somewhere between “A” and “B” there are the 6.5 billion of the rest of us trying to make some sense out of life. There are lots of different ways to “measure” happiness but some of the most common ways is to ask a series of questions around satisfaction with life. The questions go something like this – “taking everything into account how satisfied are you with your life?” Rate yourself from 1 to 10, 1 being “I can’t go on” to 10 being “a perfect life”. (*the actual scales and descriptions are slightly different to this)

And, on average, the result is about 7. On average we are 7 out of 10 happy now and on average think we will be slightly more than 7 out of 10 in the future. Many interesting observations have arisen over the last few years. For example, despite the huge increase in material wealth in the last 30 years, this 7 out of 10 statistic has remained fairly constant. Secondly, once your basic needs for food, shelter and basic political stability are satisfied, people are no happier in the West than people in some of the most impoverished countries in the world.

Armed with basic questionnaires about happiness and wellbeing psychologists then begin to explore before and after scenarios. For example, I ask you how happy you are and then get you to take part in an activity. This may be a one off event, or be over several months or even a number of years. After the intervention you are asked the “happiness” question again and in this manner they seek to ascertain which activities in life have a positive impact on happiness and wellbeing. They also seek to distinguish between activities which heighten “happiness” in the short term and those which have a long term effect.

One of the most interesting aspects of this research is that there is a relationship between longevity and peoples self reported “happiness” – the happier people say they are the longer they live and the healthier they tend to be. So if you can do research on what are the building blocks of happiness then maybe you can introduce positive psychology techniques to government policies, education reforms, workplace practices and in personal relationships. As noted above there appears little relationship between increases in material wealth and “happiness” once the basic needs in life are satisfied.

The research seems to confirm that “happiness” and wellbeing is promoted when we do the following:

- take regular exercise
- nurture and develop personal relationships
- find meaning and engagement at work
- cherish what we have rather than coveting what we dont
- find little bits of magic every day
- play to our strengths
- help others
- spend more time living in the present
- feel a sense of autonomy – that we have chosen what we want to do in life

Interestingly the research suggests that there is no relationship between how happy a person is and how beautiful looking other people think they are. There is also little evidence to suggest that peoples happiness levels are affected by age (apart from a slight dip during the teen years!)

The main findings of this research are quite supportive of my decision to leave the world of corporate finance 9 years ago. I get to do what I love every day, I get to develop relationships with the Breathe therapists, I get to exercise when I want, I get to choose when I work and when I dont. The main down side is that I never made the jump from senior manager to partner at KPMG so maybe I earn 10% of what I would have if I had stayed on the same career path. The difference is that whereas my worklife was something to be endured I now have wonderful experiences throughout my day and get to meet amazing new people through the Breathe business.

Next week I’ll be looking at the barriers to happiness and how you can overcome these using practical exercises from Positive Psychology research

Positive Psychology

This is the fourth newsletter/blog detailing the major transformational courses that I’ve been on.

One of the best was the Masters degree in Applied Positive Psychology run by Ilona Boniwell at the University of East London.  I was lucky to be one of the first group of twenty students to be accepted onto this course and was amongst the first group to receive a masters degree in Positive Psychology in Europe.

The overall message of Positive Psychology is quite simple. As a race we are predisposed to be future minded.  This is a blessing and a curse.  We tend to be optimistic about the future and yet dissatisfied and restless.  We forget to cherish and nurture what we have and spend our time comparing ourselves to the tiny percentage of the planet who are materially better off than ourselves.

The coaching interventions in Positive Psychology encourage people to focus their attention on what works well in their lives in order to provide them with the energy and confidence to overcome their challenges.

Over the course of two years we studied many areas of wellbeing research including:

-          Can you measure wellbeing?  For example is it the absence of pain and maximisation of pleasure OR finding meaning in life OR being engaged with life OR some other personal definition of thriving and flourishing

-          Is there a value to measuring such things?  For example if you can find a valid measure of wellbeing then you can seek to ascertain what the building blocks of happiness are and perhaps align government policy, education and employment practices with interventions that boost wellbeing

-          What are the barriers to wellbeing and happiness and what practices help overcome them

-          What is the relationship between money, economic growth and happiness

-          Exploring the role of emotions on physiology, decision making and business performance. We also looked at how emotions flow between us at work and home and influence our ability to make rational decisions

-          Research around what constitutes positive aging (the secrets of successful aging)

-          Exploring the complex relationship between the promotion of wellbeing at the personal, group, national and global level.  Here we considered wisdom and how as we become more aware of the consequences of our actions we attempt to balance the optimisation of our own wellbeing with those of others.  This is a really important area.  Its about deciding who is in our tribe and who or what do we care about

-          We explored the theories about time – how our perception of time and tendency to spend our energy thinking about the past, planning for the  future or living in the present influences our wellbeing levels

-          We looked at the various ideas behind Flow theory.  This is the basic idea that attention to detail and engagement with the task in hand optimises wellbeing levels.  The practical impact on coaching strategies is that it teaches us to set goals which make us feel stretched but not stressed

-          One major area of research in Positive Psychology was around strengths – How to recognise our own inner strengths and those of our friends and colleagues and how to celebrate and use those strengths effectively.  This area covers how we find those activities in life that seem to fit, the things that we feel authentic doing and make us feel fully alive.

There are many other areas of Positive Psychology but for the next few weeks I’ll focus on each one of the above and how it helped me in my life

Love

Andy

 

My friends Bridget Grenville Cleave and Charlotte Style have written some great introductory books for Positive Psychology

http://www.amazon.co.uk/s/?ie=UTF8&keywords=bridget+grenville-cleave&tag=googhydr-21&index=aps&hvadid=10829300000&ref=pd_sl_7q6xw18p4a_e

http://www.amazon.co.uk/Charlotte-Style/e/B004AO5IG8

 

 

 

Learning to meditate

Learning to meditate

This is the third in a series of blogs and newsletters about the different wellbeing courses I’ve attended over the last thirteen years.  I’ve picked the courses, teachers and books that have had the most profound impact on the way that I perceive the world.  One of the most transformational courses was a ten day Vipassana meditation retreat in the Rocky mountains four years ago.

As I left Vancouver on a rainy Summers day I was filled with uncertainty about the challenge ahead.  As the bus snaked through the foothills I was reluctant to leave the misty Pacific and I reflected on the rules that I had agreed to abide by for the next 10 days:

-        No communication with anyone on the course.  This included verbal and non verbal communication.  For example eye contact with fellow participants was to be avoided.

-        No communication with the outside world

-        No ipods, no music, no books or magazines.  Nothing to hear or read or watch for 10 days

-        A simple vegetarian diet with no alcohol, no tobacco or drugs of any kind and just two small meals per day

-        Complete emersion in the practice.  They were to teach us a form of meditation and we were to practice this style only

-        Each day started at 5am and lasted until 10pm.  90% of this time was to be spent in a shaded room sitting cross legged on the floor practicing the Vipassana meditation technique.  The rest of the time was to be spent taking silent walks alone in the forest or receiving meditation instructions.

So you can understand my concern! This was serious spiritual bootcamp. Why endure this when there was so much to see outside – the beautiful snow capped Rocky Mountains.   Why spend time looking inside alone with my hopes and fears for 10 days.  Where would the love be, the touch of another, the smile and the loving support that we all need?

The taxi drive from Merritt greyhound station up to the retreat in the mountains only took about 20 minutes.  What surprised me most was the electric fence surrounding the centre to keep Grizzlies at bay.  Throughout the early part of the course my thoughts kept returning to whether, in the event of a power cut, they had a good backup generator.  I didn’t want to be eaten by a bear just as I was on the threshold of enlightenment.

Before dinner on day -1 we met the people on the course and as usual on such things there were people from all walks of life.  On this course there were four senior members of Obamas election campaign team.  After dinner we received the first of our instructions and from then on we agreed to engage in the practice and not communicate.

We spent the first three days practicing a breathing technique to help make the mind sharp.  Over three days we focussed our attention on the sensation of the breath entering and leaving the nose – how warm it felt as it left the body, how cold it felt as it entered the body, which nostril it came in through more strongly etc.  3 days focussing on the sensations felt at the tip of the nose!

After that we were taught to focus our attention at the top of the head and enquire, without thought, what the sensation of observing felt like.  As we observed the body did we feel heat, cold, joy, pain, light etc ?

From here we learnt to scan the body from top to toe and back up constantly remaining present to the observation of sensation.  Perhaps each scan took an hour to complete.  Sometimes it felt excruciatingly painful in my back and knees.  Part of the process was to learn to become dispassionate about this discomfort.  Sometimes harrowing thoughts and sadness kept intruding. Sometimes the boredom felt crushing and sometimes when you were able to be truly in the moment you felt utter bliss and pleasure.

At the end of each day we received video instruction on how to improve our practice.  Many of the key messages that came through during the 10 days have stayed with me:

-        The mind is lively and excitable.  It’s obvious that we have a brain to think and create with but it’s also clear that having periods in each day where we train ourselves not to think can be extremely relaxing.  It also gives you a sense of calm and understanding that you don’t have to clutter your mind with thoughts and clutter your life with so much stuff

-        Practicing not thinking helps us become more dispassionate.  This does not mean that we loose passion.  During the 10 days observing the body mind relationship you realise that pain and pleasure are often self created mind constructs.  They ebb and flow.  You learn to accept that sometimes there is pleasure, sometimes pain.  That’s not to say that there is no real pain in the world.  The pain of loss and suffering is real but the scanning practice that I’ve talked about here illustrates to us that pain and pleasure are certain throughout life but that these states are not constant.

-        The  practice teaches us to be empathetic and sympathetic to the pain of others but not to allow that pain and suffering to affect the balance and equanimity of our own mind.  This might sound cold hearted but a loss of hope and negative emotions can be contagious if you let them.  You can only be a source for positive change in yourself, loved ones and the world if you engage with the pain of others but not allow it to affect your underlying state.  A daily meditation practice helps you do this by reminding you that pain and pleasure states flow.

-        Similarly you appreciate that the bliss, joy and ecstasy of deep relaxation is also illusory, ie enjoy it whilst it lasts but don’t crave positive feelings.  Craving and desire inexorably leads to pain and suffering because inevitably at some stage in life you wont be able to get what you once had nor do what you once did.  The practice teaches you to stay open to new possibilities and not overly attach to one type of pleasure sensation again and again.  Pleasure can lead to habits, minor addictions, major addictions and suffering for you and others.  Not overly attaching to one pleasure allows the full world of possible sensations to be experienced.  As you focus your attention on one thing with your eyes  closed it enables you to be present to a stream of endless beautiful possibilities when your eyes are open.

-        Lastly towards the end of the 10 days we were instructed in the practice of a loving kindness meditation.  This practice teaches us to harness the good will and positive energy that has been accumulated during the previous 10 days and communicate it to all beings.  We are reminded that the practice of mindfulness and meditation is meaningless without positive intention.  Many people use spiritual practices as a means of withdrawing from the outer world and suppressing emotions.  Practicing meditation without developing kindness and compassion has been described as bare attention ( as opposed to bear attention).  You do these practices not to become isolated from but to become an active, engaged, positive member of society.

On day 10 we opened our eyes and I felt as though I knew my fellow participants in a very deep way.  I felt re wired, buzzing, energised and fully alive.  The next 3 weeks were spent with my family camping in the Rocky Mountains with my eyes wide open.  The world is so beautiful.  Enjoy all it has to offer.

Find out more about Vipassana mediation centres all over the world .  This is the one in British Columbia that I went to http://www.dhamma.org/en/schedules/schsurabhi.shtml

Kahuna philosophy

Continuing the theme of last weeks newsletter I’m going to introduce some of the important wellbeing courses that I’ve been on over the last thirteen years.

This week I’m going to introduce Kahuna philosophy and bodywork.  Kahuna was one of the first types of bodywork that I learnt back in Sydney (some 13 years ago).  The course was run by an amazing Irish woman, Nemara Hennigan and the training venue was in the beautiful South National park in Sydney.  As we were taught we could see the Pacific glinting, the sandy beaches and hear cockatoos and kookaburras playing.

Ka huna literally means light and wisdom.  It is the beautiful marriage of positive intention and knowledge and echoes the core teaching of Buddhism and Hinduism – that at our core, each of us is already perfect and all we need to do is develop practices that allow this beauty and radiance to shine through.

On day one of our training we spent many hours sitting on a beach doing a mindfulness exercise which involved brushing sand into piles and then brushing the sand apart.  We learnt to focus our attention and made our hands move with the action of a wave and gentle caress.  This brought to mind some key aspects of kahuna which have proved valuable in all areas of my life:

- When you do something put all your energy and attention into it at that moment

- Healing is soft and gentle –  it should cleanse and caress you like a wave

- As you brush the sand you stay connected at all times, your hands move in one direction and then turn without loosing contact.  This taught me many things.  In bodywork I approach the person gently and stay connected.  In positive psychology coaching and in my friendships I try to engage, listen and be dependable and supportive

The Kahuna centre in Sydney has explained the philosophies seven key principals in a beautiful way.  Over the years I’ve tried to bring each of these into my own life and into the way that work at Breathe London.  They also formed part of the basis of my interest in Positive Psychology.  Take a look at each of these and see if you can build these principals into your relationships and work.

IKE (ee-kay) - The world is what you think it is

Our thoughts make us who and what we are. If you want to change your situation, all you have to do is change your thoughts! Your body and your life will follow! Alter the way you see reality and you WILL alter reality.

KALA (kah-lah) - There are no limits - Be Free

Following on from Ike – ensure that when you think, you think without limitation! Don’t think about the things that you are “allowed” to have, or the things you believe are “just possible”. The most successful people think without limitations. Be free in your thinking! Whatever the mind of a person can conceive and believe, it can achieve! So THINK BIG.

MAKIA (mah-kee-ah) - Energy flows where attention goes - Be Focused

Have you ever noticed that the more interested you are in something the more likely you are to do something about it? Whatever holds your interest will also tend to attract your emotional and physical energy. The more successful a person is, the more you will find that they direct and hold their energy on something by conscious choice. They don’t wait for something to catch their attention; they go out and catch something with their attention. A person at all times has a choice as what to focus their attention on – so be focused on what you want at all times.

MANAWA (mah-nah-wah) - Now is the moment of power - Be Here

The past or future does not have any power because you can’t touch it, taste it, smell it, feel it or react to it in any way. For all practical purposes it doesn’t even exist! All we have right now is the memory of things, skills, pains, and experiences. It’s the memories that we respond to now – not the past itself. The memories exist in the present moment and you can alter your relationship to them – change your thinking about them and thereby change the effect on your life.

As for the future, no one knows what is going to happen. We can make logical or intuitive guesses but we don’t really know. However if we think of the future as a blank slate (rather than fixed or predestined) then we give ourselves permission to try anything.

ALOHA (ah-lo-hah) –  Be Happy

Aloha means many things, but in one word perhaps it’s best described as “love”. Love is happiness. Aloha is a caring for others as well as or as much as for your own self. Australians say, “no worries” – the Hawaiians use the idea of Aloha to define their society, their relationship with each other and their philosophy of life. It is with “aloha spirit” that all things are done. Not meant to harm and not meant to cause unhappiness to others.

MANA (mah-nah) - All power comes from within - Be Confident

Mana is power or energy. All power comes from within. Hawaiian belief is that Mana is the name for the one source of all the power that exists in the universe. This power is universal and flows through not only us, but through animals and plants, the foundation of the earth, the skies and planets, and everything that we know exists. It’s a life energy so to speak. This Mana flows through us and gives us the power to do what we believe we can do. The power to do anything that we decide to do and that we take action towards.

PONO (poh-noh) - Effectiveness is the measure of truth - Be Positive

Effectiveness is the measure of truth. A method, a plan, certain actions, when put in motion may work. If they work, that is all you need to be concerned with. There are many ways to do most things. Don’t pigeon-hole yourself into thinking that you can only accomplish something in one way or that there is only one truth. For instance, how many ways are there that someone could find happiness? A million? How many ways could someone cook a fish? Create a pyramid? Make money to buy a car? Because you see someone accomplish something using one method, do not believe that there is just that one method. There are likely many more ways to go about it. That there are always alternatives to what you’re doing is the crux of “Pono” – do what feels right for you.

I hope you found this useful

Love Andy

Thank you Nemara  for being such a wonderful inspiration . For anyone going on holiday check out her centre in Paddington http://www.sydneykahuna.com.au/

Our next relaxation and energy course is Sat 28th January http://breathe-london.com/relaxationworkshop

Transformation

Over the course of the next 12 weeks I’m going to talk about transformation.  Eight years ago I was a chartered accountant working in corporate finance.  Now I run Breathe London, teach yoga, massage, do personal development coaching and run positive psychology workshops.

In order to understand how I created the job that I love I’m going to introduce the key tipping points, courses I’ve studied, inspirational teachers I’ve met and books that have changed the way I think and feel.

The courses include Emotional intelligence psychometric testing and coaching, a masters in positive psychology, life coaching, Reiki mastery, Sivananda yoga, Hawaiian massage and Polynesian philosophy, deep tissue massage, vipassana mediation, mindfulness coaching, Iyengar yoga, Tai chi, scuba diving and many more

Each week I’ll explore each area to give you an insight into how each of these courses has improved the quality of my life.  I’ll also provide details on courses that you can attend and teachers that I recommend.

Transformation of the mind can never be pinpointed, it’s an ongoing process.  However there are often key moments which feel like tectonic plate movements.  One of the first that I felt was on a glorious Summers day walking across the Domain in Sydney in 1999.  It was a Friday and I was stressed about a deal that I was involved on.  As I looked into the distance I suddenly noticed how green the trees were in the botanical gardens.  They seemed to shimmer and vibrate.  Next I caught the sun glinting on the harbour and felt it also warm my cheeks.  Overhead a Qantas jet banked over the harbour bridge.  I felt my body and mind fill with light and burst with pleasure.  I felt connected with everything around me. My experience merged completely with my environment.  It was as though for the first time I was in tune with my surroundings. I felt a burst of energy which felt like the whole world was powering me.  I wept and life has never been the same since.

Now whether this event occurred because of the people who implanted ideas or because of the books I read or the courses I attended or because of predetermination I shall never know.  All I know is that every so often when I stop and observe the world I feel fully energised and blessed to be alive.

Have a happy and transformational new year

Love Andy

Loving what you do

One of my clients said to me recently that it was a very special thing to love what you do.  In all sincerity I can truly say that I love the job that I’ve created over the last eight years.  I love teaching  yoga and helping people feel much better with massage.  I love the rich conversations that develop during positive psychology coaching sessions.  I cherish the team of therapists that work at Breathe London and the wonderful support we get from staff at the Colombo centre.  And I love to see our clients, many of whom have become good friends.

Eight years ago when we set up this business we were looking for a fresh challenge. I also wanted to experience what the Buddhists call Right Livelihood ie that my job not only supports me financially and enables me to grow as a person but also enable me to give back to society. I left the world of corporate finance at KPMG eight years ago.  Prior to that I had spent some very happy years in Australia.  It was in Australia that I first became interested in massage, yoga and psychology and over the last twelve years I’ve explored these areas in order to better understand myself and enable me to become a better therapist.

Three years after we started the business we came across the Colombo centre, a not for profit sports and community centre which uses its surplus to fund community programs in South London.  I thought it was a good idea to build a business in a place that promoted wellbeing to those in society that could least afford it. It also enabled me to feel that I contributed to my local community.  Having the Breathe business at Colombo means that we bring affluent people into a community centre .  Many of our clients value us because we offer a great personal service and because we have this strong ethical element.  Some of my city hedge fund managers now practice yoga with people who have lived in the local community all their lives.  I like this mixing.

Breathe has developed as an integrated mind body practice.  We recognise that physical and emotional issues often go hand in hand and we therefore have nutrition therapy, life coaching and hypnotherapy to compliment our physical therapies.  The idea was to create a business that provided our clients with empowering tools to help our clients help themselves.

My challenge for 2012 is to get more people interested in Breathe London and understand more about our ethics and values, where we came from and how we are building an integrated wellbeing practice

Have a wonderful Christmas break and fabulous 2012

Lots of love

Andy

 

Science playing catch up to the benefits of meditation and yoga

The stress response mechanism is way more complex than we previously thought

A number of recent studies on the stress response system have shown individual differences in the way we respond to stressors are much more varied than previously thought.  Many factors have been shown not only to influence what makes us stressed, but also to influence both physical and psychological reaction and coping mechanisms.  Influencing factors include the environment we grew up in as a child, social status, gender and the genes we inherit. 

The human stress response system, which has often been over-simplified in both academic and popular literature to describe the ‘fight or flight’ response, is now being recognised as encompassing a much larger physical and psychological realm than previously thought.  The fight or flight response has deep roots in our evolutionary past.  It occurs when activity in the parasympathetic nervous system increases (activating muscles needed to run or fight) whilst the sympathetic nervous system decreases (keeping our internal organs switched on, but in a kind of standby mode). 

Other stress-response behaviours recently identified include the “tend/befriend” response (seen significantly more in women) associated with turning to social networks of support when confronted with stressors, and social withdrawal and/or anti-social behaviour (seen significantly more in men).  Both these phenomena have been shown to operate at the same time (in some people) or instead of (in others) the fight/flight response.  The deciding factor, and the new buzzword in stress literature and indeed in other walks of life where “social” goals and activities have been thrust into the spotlight) is “context”. 

We can now demonstrate that meditation and yoga have huge benefits to mind and body

A new and holistic scientific approach is emerging that broadens the scope of the stress response system to acknowledge the social world, both from an evolutionary perspective, and in its current context.  This means for example, that the production and transmission of sex hormones and neurotransmitters actively used in our brain’s reward, motivation and control circuits (almost always unconsciously), are now often measured alongside more common metrics such as heart-rate or blood-pressure in experimental psychology and social neuroscience studies. 

One of the consequences of this new science of what makes us stressed and how we respond to our environmental pressures, is that more complex patterns are beginning to emerge that challenge classical psychology/psychiatry diagnoses and provide testable hypotheses to determine previously unproven benefits of alternative therapies or holistic practises such as yoga and meditation.  These are increasingly shown to mediate the effects of stress through what are known in neuroscience as interoceptive pathways.  These are pathways used (usually unconsciously) by the body’s physiological systems to inform other body and brain functions of their relative fitness or functionality.  Yoga and meditation practice has long been thought of by its practitioners to be the embodiment of a conscious exercise in interoception. We now we have the scientific techniques to prove the mental value of what sceptics have in the past regarded as simply a set of physical exercises.

“Stressed” people can be high performing happy individuals in many areas of their lives

But these physiological mechanisms only go part of the way towards building our unique stress response profile.  One of the more interesting findings, that stress response profiles (phenotypes) are more varied than previously thought and are highly correlated with activations in other physical systems has been labelled our “biological sensitivity to context” – and it means many more of our biological systems that have been previously disregarded when building psychological profiles are now seen as key determinants of the strategies we choose when faced with environmental stress.  In a recently published theory (Del Guidice, et al. 2011) four behavioural patterns emerge that are based in evolutionary life-history theory and are used to describe common stress-response patterns.  These don’t correspond so well to classical psychology’s stereotypical introverted/extroverted, high/low-stress-responsivity models, but they do correspond to findings that were previously seen as paradoxes, such as why people with very high stress-responsivity can be found performing very well in highly uncertain environments, but very poorly in low-stress environments.  Its all about context, and what we’ve become used to.  Also, the physiological and developmental changes we all undergo throughout our lives such as childhood growth, puberty, adulthood, menopause, etc., correspond to periods of high neural plasticity, when we literally carve out our future responses to stress from the biological and environmental tools we’re given (or create for ourselves).

 Developing a more tailored approach to stress management

Another consequence of joint research in psychology and the physiology of the brain in the context of social stressors is that emphasis on our biological sensitivity to context will provide more nuanced mechanisms for treating mental health problems related to stress such as ‘internalised’ symptoms of depression or low self-esteem, and ‘externalised’ symptoms like anti-social behaviour.  “Context”, encompasses a rather old-fashioned idea that’s suddenly been given a new lease of life and when taken together with the new data-rich environments currently being studied in social neuroscience (the study of how the brain works in conditions with a social context) provides a real opportunity to produce meaningful and coherent theories that explain common patterns of observed responses/strategies to stressful situations in a way that is consistent with cultural evolution and medical science – something that must surely be regarded as something of a holy grail to psychologists – and opens the way for tailored programmes of intervention through various means, such as life coaching, social engagement, nutritional change, in addition to medical and pharmaceutical help in resolving stress disorders.

 Today’s blog was produced by Tom TeWhaiti, co founder of Breathe London and Breathe Australia

 

Del Guidice, M., Ellis, B.J. & Shirtcliff, E. (2011) The Adaptive Calibration Model of stress responsivity, Neuroscience and Biobehavioural Reviews, 35, pp 1562-1592

 

Training your mind to see the positive

Brains of happy people tuned in to notice positive events

Psychologists Wil Cunningham and Tabitha Kirkland at Ohio state university observed the brain scans of volunteers whilst showing them pictures designed to evoke positive, negative or neutral responses.  Positive images included a basket of kittens and negative images included someone being threatened with a gun.

What they found was that those participants who rated their own subjective level of happiness highly had a greater arousal of the amygdala (a region of the brain used to process information about the world around us and our emotional responses to it) when shown positive images, than participants who rated themselves lower on self reported happiness scales.

 The scans results showed that all the volunteers responded in similar ways to negative and neutral images.  What this may suggest is that people with a rosy outlook on life respond positively to positive stimulus in their environment and are more likely to observe these events, however they are still highly aware of threats around them.  They see the world in a balanced way. 

When I learnt the vipassana meditation technique I was constantly reminded to keep observing the world afresh.  The mantra was to view the world as it is rather than how you think it should be. 

That’s one of the great things about positive psychology – its interventions train your mind to focus on what’s good in the world and by doing so you build the tenacity to overcome your challenges and deal with the threats.  For all the problems in the world its still a beautiful life

Our next positive psychology course details are at Breathe London

Positive Psychology – a little introduction

I was attracted to Positive Psychology by an article in the Sunday Times about six years ago entitled “Can you learn to be happier?”  The article was based on an interview with the leading light of the American Positive Psychology movement, Martin Seligman.  Running a wellbeing business which deals with physical and mental wellbeing I was enthusiastic and curious about the subject and was lucky to be amongst the first group of people in Europe to study for a masers degree in the subject.

My initial enthusiasm turned slightly to scepticism on day one.  Once you start to investigate the practicality of defining happiness/wellbeing and then measuring “it” many logical and practical problems arise. 

The most commonly used measure is Ed Dieners Satisfaction with life scale (SWL).  This asks people to rate their satisfaction with life on a scale from 1 to 7 .  It’s a reasonable wellbeing measurement because it enables values to be included.  For example you may consider a happy life to be one which is filled with pleasure with an absence of suffering.   If this is what you value and this is what you get then you can claim to be satisfied.  If you value meaning in your life and you find your life meaningful then you rate yourself as being satisfied.  The scale reflects values and enables hedonists to be compared to those looking for meaning. There are many other ways that researcher’s measure wellbeing but this one has an advantage because it is simple, clear and inclusive.

A typical piece of positive psychology research would seek to ask participants to rate their satisfaction and then get them to do an activity (anything from meditation to Scottish country line dancing).  They would then ask the participants to rate themselves using the scale during, after and often some months later.  Researchers would also compare groups of people.  For example, they would investigate people on different levels of income, country, age etc.

What they found was that the most satisfied (I’m going to change to the word to happy now even though that opens up whole can of worms – I just think satisfied sounds a bit smug).

What they found was that the happiest people were those having a close group of supportive friends, were in a loving relationship, were optimistic about the future and broadly they felt that their career and financial goals were moving in the right direction.  Hardly rocket science I know but interestingly what the research tends to suggest is that there is little or no relationship between your level of income and happiness.  Once you have enough to cover the basics and a roof over your head happiness levels are fairly consistent across the globe. 

However our level of happiness has a lot to do with how much I get paid compared to the people I know (or think I know or think I should know).  Some research suggests that, if offered a choice between, earning a high wage but being paid less than most of our work colleagues or being paid less but more than our colleagues we would take the latter option.

All these findings are interesting but are they based on fundamental flakiness?  It seems that due to strong heritable factors our self reported level of satisfaction hovers around a set point (Mehls set point).  No matter what we do it tends to move back to this point. Our natural wellbeing level may be 50% due to heritable factors, 10% due to our circumstances and 40% down to the choices we make in the present moment.  This seems to suggest that on a day to day basis we have a great deal of opportunity to choose to be happy but over the longer term we may have less influence

To me this is an empowering message.  Like personality our happiness and wellbeing levels are strongly influenced by our ancestors and its up to us to understand why our parents were influenced by their parents and environment and for us to create new patterns of behaviour.  Its a little like the Hindu idea of karma.  We are born with predispositions.  We have tendencies to behave in certain ways but we have a daily choice as to whether to examine those tendencies and explore whether they serve our long term goals and happiness.

At Breathe London we have put together a 30 day wellbeing plan with many interventions from the field of Positive Psychology – details at http://breathe-london.com/positive-psychology

How emotions spread at work

Emotions at work
In a recent study by Andrew Oswald at Warwick Business School it was concluded that there was a positive link between workers happiness and productivity. The team conducted a range of exercises in their research. In one, students were asked to add a series of two digit numbers in ten minutes. The subjects were paid an attendance fee, and a performance fee based on how they performed. Some were then shown a ten minute film based on comedy routines. The film apparently led to an increase in the self reported happiness levels of participants compared to those who did not see it or who watched placebo film clips.

For those that reported higher levels of happiness, after seeing the film, productivity in a subsequent test was significantly higher. They noted, “happier workers were 12% more productive”. They also noted that those participants who watched the film but did not feel any happier did not demonstrate improved productivity. They also concluded that if happiness in the workplace was associated with increased productivity then the human resource departments would need to consider these implications.
This was reported in the media as groundbreaking research, however it merely adds to the body of findings from the field of Positive Psychology, which has a far more nuanced understanding of the role of emotions in the workplace. Emotions, both “negative” and “positive” have a vital role at work. They are a call to action to help change behaviours. There is a danger in that this type of research might suggest that positive emotions are appropriate in all workplace settings. One of the major points of Emotional intelligence training is to impress on people that different situations, tasks at work and types of thinking require different types of emotions to be generated. For example, research indicates that where fine attention to detail is required, eg when studying the findings of a report, it’s more useful to foster serious, almost downbeat emotions. Where creative, blue sky thinking is required it’s more useful to engender a fun, light hearted approach. So clearly before HR departments rush out and hire comedians its worthwhile understanding that context and task are at least as important as creating a fun place to work.
However most of the research to date suggests that happier, more engaged staff perform better overall. We need to learn skills to help us switch between emotions in a calm manner and have the ability to return to the default position, within the organization, of happy and upbeat.

Contagious emotions
I am fascinated by the research about how we transfer emotions between each other. For example Ebling & Levenson, in their 2003 study, suggest that people have a simplistic system of attract vs. repulse and these prime directives are expressed in signals on our faces. When one group of individuals are asked to remember a stressful event they produce identifiable, common facial patterns. When a second group is asked to mimic some of these expressions, without being asked to consider a stressful event, both groups suffer similar physiological effects. This implies that the face not only mimics inner thoughts and feelings but also drives these processes. The face may be both display cabinet and creator of authentic emotions.

In Mullen’s 1986 study of the influential effects of Newscaster expressions on presidential elections, the conclusion is that, micro facial expressions have a significant impact on peoples attract/repulse mechanism. A newscaster’s clear positive favouritism towards one candidate was shown to influence voting patterns. The study noted that this was in spite of the tendency of the news channel in question to run negative stories about the candidate. The positive micro expressions seemed to be more influential than the negative words expressed. As far back as 1980 Wells & Petty illustrated how facial impression and movement of the head (nodding agreement) can be influenced by “senders” of energy and this in turn influences decision making and mood. Positive and negative emotions are as much an outside in as an inside out mechanism.

In 2005 Losada studied a number of management teams formulating business plans. He observed the relationship between the volume of positive expressions to negative expressions between team members (both verbal and non verbal). He then looked at the performance of the teams in the following period and found that the transmission of positive and negative energy, through words and non verbal expression, was shown to lead to a state of flourishing, if the ratio was greater than 2.9. In that study flourishing was defined as the profitability of the team as well as customer and staff satisfaction. In a 2004 study Shelly found that when there is a supportive network of people, to share positive events with, it is the sharing and rejoicing of an event that leads to greater wellbeing than the event itself. The degree to which positive, affirming words and body language are used in relation to sharing an event predicts the level to which wellbeing is raised.
Barbara Fredrickson has spent many years investigating the effects of positive emotions such as joy, interest, contentment and love and has concluded the following:
- They allow us to think in a broad expansive manner
- They undo the effects of negative emotions on physiology, the way you think and the way you act
- They build intellectual, physical, social and psychological resources; and
- They create a virtuous spiral of emotions leading to increasing levels of wellbeing.

The Losada research also looked at teams where there was a ratio of positive to negative expressions in excess of 8 to 1 and found that these teams were also languishing rather than flourishing. This points to the obvious conclusion that we need some bite in the workplace as well as nurturing.  I think that the key points that HR departments need to draw from this research are as follows:
- Ensure that staff have a clear understanding of how to use emotions at work, in particular how to match the appropriate emotion to the task in hand
- Be aware that because emotions are easily transferable and escalate its easy for the mood of an organization to tilt into a downward spiral (below the magic number of 2.9)
- Get into the habit of celebrating the strengths and achievements of individuals and teams
- Find authentic, fun ways to raise the overall mood of the organization
If you are interested in how we measure happiness and engagement at work, or to find out more about our Emotional Intelligence courses and Positive Psychology at work programs go http://breathe-london.com/wellbeingworkshops

Also use the Mayers Salovey model to measure your emotional intelligence http://breathe-london.com/emotional-intelligence-workplace

Positive Psychology research about being happy and living in the present

Living in the present

The teachings of Buddhism,  Taoists, Polynesian Ka Huna, Confucianism and many other ancient traditions teach that happiness comes by living and experiencing the present moment as it arises. Humans may be almost unique among animals in that they have the mental ability to plan, plot and dream about the future. We also have the ability to fondly remember the past, replay events and imagine different outcomes as well as beat ourselves up for lost opportunities, lost loves and lost dreams.

The ancient teachings inform us that time and energy spent in such states of conjecture lead us away from happiness potentially trapping us in a state of false imagining. All these other states are merely our interpretation of how our experience once was or how it may be one day. A few months back Harvard psychologists Matthew A. Killingsworth and Daniel T. Gilbert published research indicating that not living in the present was indeed detrimental to wellbeing.

They used a special “track your happiness” iPhone app which gathered 250,000 data points on subjects’ thoughts, feelings, and actions as they went about their lives. They found that we spend at least half our time thinking about something other than our immediate surroundings and most of this daydreaming doesn’t make us happy.

Killingsworth and Gilbert found that on average, people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they’re doing, and this mind-wandering typically makes them unhappy. “A human mind is a wandering mind, and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind. The ability to think about what is not happening is a cognitive achievement that comes at an emotional cost.”

The Harvard study

Unlike other animals, humans spend a lot of time thinking about what isn’t going on around them. Contemplating events that happened in the past, might happen in the future, or may never happen at all. Indeed, mind-wandering appears to be the human brain’s default mode of operation.

To track this behavior, Killingsworth developed an iPhone app that contacted 2,250 volunteers at random intervals to ask how happy they were, what they were currently doing, and whether they were thinking about their current activity or about something else that was pleasant, neutral, or unpleasant.

Subjects could choose from 22 general activities, such as walking, eating, shopping, and watching television. On average, respondents reported that their minds were wandering 46.9 percent of time, and no less than 30 percent of the time during every activity except making love.

“Mind-wandering appears ubiquitous across all activities,” says Killingsworth, “This study shows that our mental lives are pervaded, to a remarkable degree, by the nonpresent.” Killingsworth and Gilbert found that people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer.

“Mind-wandering is an excellent predictor of people’s happiness,” Killingsworth says. “In fact, how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged.”

The researchers estimated that only 4.6 percent of a person’s happiness in a given moment was attributable to the specific activity he or she was doing, whereas a person’s mind-wandering status accounted for about 10.8 percent of his or her happiness.

Complex time-lag analyses conducted by the researchers suggested that their subjects’ mind-wandering was generally the cause, not the consequence, of their unhappiness. The implications of this study are profound. I can immediately think of two; how the study findings relate to career choice and the impact of social networking.

Choosing a career

Although it’s only a small study, the Harvard research  may have profound implications for the type of careers we should recommend our children to pursue. If spending time away from the present leads to unhappiness and we want to be happy and healthy what type of job keeps us in the present?

For example there are certain careers, such as being an auditor, where you spend your career thinking and examining the past and giving opinions about whether financial statements were once true. There are other careers, such as project management, where you spend your time thinking, analysing and planning for a future.

Our last newsletter highlighted the recent study from Warwick University which once again provided an evidence base for the assertion that happy employees are productive, engaged and creative people. If this is true then perhaps HR departments need to start thinking about how to get their staff to live in the here and now; encouraging face to face communication, taking breaks and doing exercises to focus their attention.

Computer usage and social media

The research indicated that we tend to be unhappy using a personal computer. What is not clear however is the types of usage of the computer. For example, are we unhappy spending time observing other people’s lives as presented on Facebook? Is the observation of other people’s pictures, pokes, movies and formation of groups a vicarious observation of other peoples experience?

The study found we are at our happiest communicating face to face with other humans, experiencing nature first hand, having sex (rather than looking at someone else having sex on a screen) and exercising. I recently heard about a fashion amongst teenage girls at a Cheshire school to be obsessed with posting picture albums of themselves entitled “Me”. These are close up pictures often taken in the bathroom from various angles – Is this strange? Facebook often seems to be a place where people showcase their lives and show off their achievements. Whilst it enables loved ones to keep in touch from all over the world it may also has the effect of making people feel like their lives are lived in the glare of publicity cast by the yellow glow of a screen. When I meet friends I like to be surprised and delighted by them telling me about their experiences. I like to watch faces light up as they tell me about what they have been doing. I don’t feel this flow of positive experience as much when it comes through a screen. Maybe other people really do. There is a description of people like me as People 1.0 and people like Mark Zuckerberg as People 2.0.

Do you think human beings have changed so much in the last few years?

Let me know what you think……
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 526 other followers