Imagine a world of things that can be sub divided into two separate worlds; the world of clocks and the world of clouds. Within the world of clocks are neat orderly systems that can be defined and evaluated. We can take these things apart and see how they fit together. In the world of clouds are things, which are irregular and dynamic. They are hard to study and change from second to second.
The uncertain nature of clouds makes them beautiful but some how ghostly and not quite there. They are constantly being formed and being destroyed. They emerge and withdraw. They are nature’s great example of the constant wash of creation and destruction. They remind us of our own impermanence. “I wandered lonely as a cloud….”
Does this explain our desire to live in the world of clocks? Things that can be divided and explained provide comfort and protection from the flow and flux. The rational subdivision and explanation of experience pacifies the mind wracked with existential angst. Things can be ordered and kept safe… I can be ordered and I can be kept safe.
From Descartes to Darwin to Freud and on through the 20th century the world of clocks has come to dominate our politics, wellbeing and wealth.
My own background is in the world of clocks. I trained in old-fashioned economics. Pareto, Keynes and the ideas of Milton Friedman were drummed into me. After that I studied to become a chartered accountant. Here I learnt to freeze time at a balance sheet date and talk wisely to people who would pay me to explain how things were, how things are and how things maybe in the future.
I spent most of my childhood and working life understanding how to divide things up and “explain” to other people how things worked and I used information to prophesise how things may be in the future.
My left hemisphere thinking was finely honed. I lived in a world of clocks; of dissected finite time, a world of mine and yours, a world of success and failure. Around about the time of the new millennium this desire to explain and understand the world through dissection started to feel a little hollow. I craved connection to something bigger than me.
The Greeks describe this as Thumos; the desire for union and recognition through the development of a higher self. This is the feeling we have when we recognise, celebrate and unify with one another through the development of the great human strengths of kindness, compassion, bravery and love.
After twelve years in finance I studied to become a massage therapist and found a connection to a higher self through human touch. I felt that I was a good therapist. I felt I was kind and compassionate and provided a nurturing touch, which helped both my healing and my clients.
There were moments when I worked as a therapist that I felt that the world stopped. I would stare at a back and become absorbed in an area of the persons body. It felt like my being was part of the being I was massaging. I experienced euphoric feelings of oneness. There were times where I felt that I could see my molecules and the client’s molecules coming together and merging. In those moments I could see and feel the truth that humans and everything in the universe are emerging systems. We are constantly forming and un forming. We are connected to and of our environment and each other. Dissection of mind and body cannot explain our essence and can only have limited potential in helping us grow.
My years as a massage therapist helped me to develop a holistic view. I started to live and enjoy the world of clouds. I no longer felt lonely as a cloud and fearful of uncertainty but started to enjoy and embrace that uncertainty.
With my imagined or real observation at the molecular level of the floating and fleeting nature of reality I began to experience more freedom in my life. I became grounded in uncertainty and abstraction. The very fleeting and precious nature of life enabled me to grow. I began to gently kiss and caress life as it flowed around me rather trying to hold onto things.
However I still live in a world of clocks. Each time I float as a cloud I feel drawn back to the world of mine and yours. I feel the neediness of my left hemisphere thinking. The desire for comfort, the desire to be liked, the desire for material reward, the desire to hold and grab this precious life and not let this moment go. And the desire to shackle and control my thoughts and feelings and those of the people around me.
I take steps forward and then many steps back. I feel sometimes I have “it’.
It’s just there. It’s there when I see a sunrise or a rainbow. It’s there when I run into the sea or see the light refraction on the bottom of a pool. It’s in the smiles of my family and it’s in the air that brushes my skin.
And then it’s gone again.
After my years of bodywork I became a yoga teacher and this provided me with amazing new tools enabling me to embrace flow and connection.
And after my yoga training I was drawn once more to the world of clocks. I took a masters in psychology and learnt how psychologists like to count like accountants. I was suddenly back in the world of numbers and systems and control. I studied system after system that attempted to explain our inner workings.
But the more time I spent with evidenced based psychologists and exploring their models I began to have the same strange clock like disconnected uncertain and unhappy outlook on life. I felt many of the practitioners I met were not trying to develop Thumos. They didn’t seem kind are altruistic or compassionate or uncertain. There was something about the lack of humility and the lack of positive intention that I found disturbing.
As I studied economics I read more and more work by behavioural economics by people like Daniel Kahneman. I became interested in their ideas that people are more like clouds in their composition and outlook and behaviours.
I learnt how psychology studies were weird ie based on sample populations who were mainly white, educated, industrialised, rich and democratic. I also learnt that more 64% of psychology studies could not be replicated. I became concerned at the lack of real evidence behind much of “evidenced based psychology” and disappointed at the way many health practitioners use the evidence based badge of psychology to maximise their wealth.
From my studies of neuroscience I learnt that we are infinite selves within this self. Our 80 billion neurones with 10,000 (plus) possible synaptic connections enable us to perceive the world and ourselves in an infinite number of ways. We can try and explain human behaviour through dissection, correlation and extrapolation but this can only be of limited use in helping us develop Thumos.
We behave in ways depending upon context. Our inner systems of like and dislike can not un see or un experience what we have seen or have experienced. We cannot see or un see what our forebears have seen or experienced. We are guided by inner systems of like and dislike and we are intimately and intricately connected to all that is and all that has ever been.
There seems to be one huge mind which has no barriers and no limits and is filled with knowledge. I learnt through my body work, meditations and yoga that I can tap into this universal sea. When I behave cloud like I can use my intuition. I can tap into a source of knowledge and energy that is infinite. It is always there but my yoga teaching explains to me how it is often obscured by koshas or layers of ignorance that bind me to duality.
With my business background and body work and yoga training I chose to retreat from the world of psychology. In the last 10 years I’ve dipped my toe back into the areas of emotional intelligence coaching and positive psychology but I spend little time with people with similar qualifications to me. Accept some….In my travels I’ve been blessed to meet some people from the world of psychology who are filled with love and positive intention. They are also filled with confidence and humility. I’m blessed that they are my friends and colleagues and if you find a coach or counsellor or clinical psychologist who manage to combine the world of clouds and clocks stick with them!!
And now I’m at a crossroads. I feel love and connection in the world of clouds but mainly earn my living working with clocks. I’m uncertain how to proceed. I’m not sure if I’m on the right track but I can take comfort from the growth, fun and love that I’ve experienced since I first started to explore my cloud like self.
This blog will continue but we have a new way of connecting – please check out www.breathe-magazine.com
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
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
Archbishop Desmond Tutu refers to the african concept of humanity – Ubuntu – in an introduction to a small book containing the words that inspired Gandhi.
Ubuntu is the spiritual essence of humanity and the archbishop defines it in two parts: the first is compassion, the second part openness. This simplification is mine, the Archbishop spends more time highlighting examples of ubuntu; caring for those weaker than yourself, living without fear of other human beings and with a generosity that allows you to treat others as you would like to be treated yourself.
The book itself contains a large number of quotes from Gandhi, both from his time as a lawyer in colonial South Africa, and later as leader of the Indian satyagraha consciousness movement.
Desmond Tutu’s take on ubuntu is one that transcends his Christianity and is applicable across all religions and philosophies – the points he makes in defining Ubuntu are:
humanity is not be achieved by an isolated individual, but always in relationship to others – understood by western science through social psychology and social cognition. Gandhi’s quote “I am what I am because of who we all are” expresses this perfectly.
the qualities expressed by ubuntu are, first and foremost formed by an acknowledgement of a oneness of spirit or energy – understood in relationship to modern civilisation as the shared social space of culture AND/OR the shared spiritual space of religion.
with this acknowledgement of a shared spiritual state comes a responsibility to maintain (and create wherever it is required) harmony in this shared socio-energetic space
the way to go about producing this harmony is through this mutually beneficial quality known by southern African culture as ubuntu, and by western culture as ???
The question marks are my personal evaluation of the modern civilisation we find ourselves in. We often know how we should act to achieve a harmonious state – and see examples of it all around if we observe closely – those who give their time and energy out of a love of doing good for others, people who are able to offer comfort or heal pain and suffering simply by being around, listening, touching.
Yet sometimes we don’t know how to act to achieve unity of spirit. We may not have role-models to base our experience on, we may simply choose what initially appears to be an easier way out – blocking out others, isolating ourselves from a problem through fear of reprisal or judgment. If we choose to create social disorder rather than harmony, we deny ourselves – and often others – of ubuntu. This can be seen again and again in observing social history, and conquering the cycle of oppression and fear is only truly done with the quality of ubuntu. This has been famously personified in the twentieth century by people such as Mandela, Gandhi, close to the heart of the man who gives us the definition in the title of this article. It is also personified in small actions all around us if we look closely or take our ubuntu with us when we venture outside.
Sometimes we might fall short of achieving ubuntu in our actions. The ancient Hindu philosophy of ‘adwaita‘ (meaning “there is only one”, or literally in Sanskrit “not two”) contains the seed of ubuntu. Ignorance is the fallacy that our destiny and wellbeing is neatly packaged in separate boxes. Truth is that we are connected. We share pain and sorrow. Standing up for truth can sometimes feel lonely and unusual but also empowering and rewarding.
“The straight path is as difficult as it is simple. Were it not so, all would follow the straight path. Do not crave to know the views of others, nor base your intent thereon. To think independently for oneself is a sign of fearlessness.”
with metta… om shanti.
Todays blog was written by Breathe London founders Tom TeWhaiti and Andy Roberts
Gandhi, M., Tutu, D. (2007) Peace: The Words and Inspiration of Mahatma Gandhi. Blue Mountain Arts, Inc.