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
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:
“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that we are given”
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)
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?”
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
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:
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
If you are interested in learning more about how acupuncture, cupping and herbs can help you please contact Simon Plant at Breathe London. Free 15 minute chats are available if you would like to know more.
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
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