Here we go again. Another MOOC. This time has been Sit Less, Get Active which is offered through the University of Edinburgh. I’m not an athletic person, in fact I think most sporty things I like to do involves sitting like biking and canoeing. I noticed about a month ago that I started to get pain in my right hip, which I later learned was caused by sitting too much. I literally have a ‘weak ass’, which causes my hip pain. Fact.
Well something like an irritation is a gift in disguise.
Recently I was listening to a talk about some of the content that is in the book Spark by John Ratey, in which he talks about the importance of exercise for our brains. Our brain is like a muscle, so when we exercise, it too gets a work out which contributes to a decrease in diseases such as dementia and ADHD. However, he explains that from an evolutionary perspective, our brain was designed for movement; so in effect, if we don’t move it (as in our bodies), we experience cognitive decline from our sedentary lifestyle. Dr. Ratey illustrates this point with an explanation of a Sea Squirt (pictured here), which is a little piece of coral which breaks off and looks similar to a sea horse. When it does this, it develops a primitive brain and neurocord in order for it to move, swimming for roughly 12 hours, until it sits down, takes “roots” , in order launch a new coral. What is fascinating is when this creature finds its new spot, it literally eats its brain, which gets reassimilated into the new growing coral structure. As I take in this example, it provides greater fodder for movement and exercise in my life.
So, with that in mind, I consider this revelation as a new beginning for me, in which I start to reshape my mindset to not see exercise and movement as an inconvenience but more like an opportunity to transform my mind, as well as my body. Perhaps too, it will put me on a path of self-discovery, in which I see my personal development in a more holistic way–literally re-creating who I am, cell by cell. Needless to say, I’m excited by the prospect of transformation and hope that this too inspires you to get up and move, just as you were genetically designed to do.
Keep breathing. (And Keep Moving!)
This past week we celebrated the 4th of July in Indiana. It was a wonderful time of celebration and patriotism–something that I haven’t experienced in a long time due to living overseas. It also was a time spent with family. And spending time with family in the context of celebration can challenge us because we work hard to avoid conflict and remain in a cheerful mood, even if we discover that there are painful realizations about our loved ones (or ourselves) and some members are going through difficult seasons in their lives. It can feel like forced happiness at times. But then, that is the beauty of loving someone–cultivating joy through holding the space of what is possible for someone else and believing in the change that this loved one needs in order to create a shift in their life.
In this past week, I began to see the benefits of mindful communication, by generating more presence and engagement in these conversations with loved ones. Taking my practice “off the mat”, sort of speaking, and into my everyday life, allows me to develop greater empathy and compassion for my favorite Earth travelers–my family.
For me, my greatest struggle was accepting the aging process of my mother. I found myself losing patience at first with her because she has become so elderly, embracing old age and submitting to decrepitude. I have come to witness that my reactions to her are a result of my own fear of aging and worry that I may become a burden to others. My mother is losing her hearing, in particular, and I found myself shouting in order to communicate. At first, I just yelled and I am sure that my frustration came out as I “spoke” to her. Then I decided that I needed to take a mindful breath as I engaged in conversation with her so that my communication could soften and be more gentle. Whether or not I like my mother becoming elderly is a moot point; she is my mother and I love her. (Perhaps one day my own daughter will have to face some of the challenges I have with my mom–what kind of role model am I being for her? Am I showing her how to be kind and respectful to aged persons?) So I just kept breathing, noticing my feelings and accepting my frustration, until it began to loosen its grip on my me.
Obviously mindful communication is not a one-off practice but a habit that must be cultivated patiently. My loved ones provide rich fodder for my practice, especially since I often engage with them in “default mode” in which I have attachment to my opinions of them and how I think their lives “ought to be”. And of course, no one pushes my buttons like them. Bless them! lol
Clearly the challenge now lies in whether I can stay committed to making mindfulness a habit in all areas of my life. And I wonder: Can I really become the person I wish to be?
As I understand that change begins with awareness and then with acceptance. Perhaps in a year’s time, my commitment will create a significant distance toward this goal. Meanwhile, I can be grateful for my loved ones and the struggles, as we journey on the Earth together.
Dr. Craig and Dr. Richard made did a great job summarizing the week’s learning in this video. All the discussions, articles and activities got me reflecting on how I focus my attention on tasks and use my thoughts to either generate affirming ideas or defeating ones.
After contemplating this week about how frequently I am “mindless”, allowing my attention to be diverted by my personal thoughts and the thoughts and opinions of ideas, I am wondering if all of this spent energy and time could have channeled into more productive things. And I’ve been also thinking about leaders who have been moving the masses toward a common goal. Clearly Nobel Peace prize winners must have had focused minds that helped them to overcome challenges and helped them to achieve great things.
Is my mind wandering into “what ifs” that are moving me forward in my life’s goal or are they causing me stagnation and distress? That’s the big question that has erupted as the result of paying attention to my breath and my body sensation. I never expected these deeper questions to develop but I am enjoying the process of unplugging from my thoughts, creating space between my opinions and “reality” and cultivating an openness for creativity and inspiration to emerge.
I am amazed by what has floated to the top, as ideas and thoughts have surfaced through this week’s journey into mindfulness. But as Dr. Craig explains that this is not a one-off practice but a commitment to developing “mindful moments” throughout our days.
That’s my goal for next week: can I raise my awareness?
I’m a bit MOOC fan. FREE EDUCATION!–are you kidding me?–I’m in! So about a month ago I noticed the class offered by Monash University: MINDFULNESS FOR WELLBEING AND PEAK PERFORMANCE and it has finally started- Thankfully because the timing is perfect!
I’ve read books about meditation and watched video and movies on how mindfulness can reduce stress and reduce negative behavior. So I’m actually pretty surprised at how much I’m learning-not that I think I am an expert or anything-but I did think that I might get bored or uninterested early on with the “basics”.
So in Week 1, the instructors, Dr. Craig Hassad and Dr. Richard Chambers are giving an overview of what is Mindfulness. I think my greatest take away from the readings and video lectures is that multi-tasking is a myth. Doing multiple things at once does not make you more productive and in fact negatively impacts your memory and ability to complete task efficient and effectively. There is a blink in your attention in which your brain goes off line for a fraction of a second and you aren’t even aware of it. So you are actually “mindless” as you switch from one task or distraction to another, making completing tasks more stressful.
Research on the effects of mindfulness also indicate that people’s brains are actually impacted as their perspective changes, observing their thoughts as mental events rather than facts, and new areas are developed within the brain to help reduce stress and negative emotion.
I do have to say that just small changes such as turning off my notifications on my phone and laptop have made me feel more present and less stressed this week. I can really focus on a task that I am involved in. Also, it has helped me to remember that I can’t carry on a conversation or engage with people when I am on my devices or doing something else. I have been trying very hard to remain present and focus on people or completing the task at hand. I know this isn’t on the same level as a Buddhist monk, but I think if I keep making small steps towards my goal, I will eventually arrive at a place of greater consciousness and peace.