Mind

REWIRING YOUR BRAIN

REWIRING YOUR BRAIN

Fundamentally I believe humans would rather not get angry, impatient or be in a negative headspace. Unfortunately in everyday life this can happen often throughout the day. With some determination and a great deal of self-awareness, we have the capacity to change. 

NEURAL PATHWAYS

When certain thoughts and behaviours are repeated neurons fire together creating a ‘neural pathway’. If you’re on the tube and it’s jam packed and you’re hot and people are pushing you, and your reaction is anger, that fires a series of neurons together. The first time you have a reaction to something you are laying down the foundation for that neural pathway. Each time you have the same reaction you are reinforcing the neural pathway and eventually it becomes very easy to have the same angry or negative response. In fact, the response is no longer a unique reaction to a unique stimulus, it is a habit. A well known phrase to describe this is ‘neurons that fire together wire together’. 

The below explanation explains it clearly for us:

“Just think of your brain as a dynamic, connected power grid, with billions of roads and pathways lighting up every time you think, feel or do something. Some of these roads are well travelled. These are your habits; your established ways of thinking, feeling and doing. Every time you think in a certain way, practice a particular task, or feel a specific emotion, you strengthen this road, and it becomes easier for your brain to travel this pathway.”

Scientific research has now proven that we’re able to change the way we think. Where as previously it was thought that the adult mind was fixed and hard to change. Now it has been proven that we can alter our mind patterns by rewiring our neural pathways that regulate our emotions, thoughts, and reactions. This means we can create new neural pathways that lead us to compassion, gratitude, and joy instead of anxiety, fear and anger. With a great deal of awareness, mindfulness and acknowledgement of the present we can begin to reprogram our brain. But this is no easy task!

This process of rewiring your brain by forming new connections and weakening old ones is called “neuroplasticity”. 

The brain is constantly adapting and rewiring itself. Our thoughts and behaviours influence this process. If we consciously change and adapt our thoughts and behaviours we can begin to rewire our brain to a more positive state. SO…..

How can we begin to change our neural pathways?

  1. INTENTION SETTING - think of a situation where your emotions are triggered and set an intention to change the way you react. Set positively phrased intentions (click here for more on intentions). 
  2. VISUALISE - visualise the situation that triggers a negative reaction and then visualise yourself reacting different in that situation. 
  3. PAUSE - when you feel your emotion bubbling. Stop. Pause. Connect To Breath. If we can find a moments pause before we react we can then consciously react to the situation, rather then habitually. 
  4. COMPASSION - once you’ve paused put yourself in their shoes. If it is a person imagine what kind of day they could of had. You never know what someone else has gone through. Dig deep and practice compassion and find kindness for the situation and see how that changes your perspective. 

MY JOURNEY & INSIGHTS ON MEDITATION

My journey & insights on meditation 

Someone sat opposite me at a wedding said to me ‘I don’t believe in meditation, it’s the biggest con’. I spent a minute trying to sway her but then thought fair enough. Sometimes I forget what it must look like from the outside if you have no interest. Being told to sit still for 10 - 30 minutes NO THANKS. 

I started meditation when I was 24, 7 years ago. I did the 10 day free trial on the Headspace app and I loved it. It was a profound experience. I realised that underneath everything going on in my life I was happy and calm somewhere within. And it only took me 10 minutes (at the time) to come to the realisation that everything was ok as it is. I was not drowning under the weight of everything going on, I was not treading water, which I often thought I was. I was just fine. I committed to the 10 days and did it each morning before work. I’ve had moments when I’ve struggled with the practice and moments when I could sit for 40 minutes. There have been times when I feel like I haven’t gotten anything out of it and days when it really helps me land in my body and quieten the noise. 

I have stuck with the practice (albeit at times with a struggle) because I can feel the difference in how I treat myself, and how I react to situations. If I don’t practice and allow things to build up, and don’t allow things to process and filter through, my tone is much harsher. My practice has taught me to notice when my inner critic is fully engaged and that niggly inner voice is getting the better of me. It’s how we interact with our thoughts that is important, how we allow them to manifest and affect us. How we interplay with ourselves affects how we are with others. 

I was chatting to a friend the other day who was upset as a girlfriend of hers said a flippant and hurtful comment that clearly wasn’t thought through. However it was how the girl dealt with the comment after that was most hurtful for my friend. We might say things and think things out of our control (saying is of course more in our control) but it’s how we grab the moment and react to these things, which is important. 

I have random insecure moments when my mind is telling me crazy things, which I know are utterly insane. I have to work hard to accept my insecurity with compassion and then consciously not allow those thoughts to manifest. It might sound unbelievable but only through my practice have I been given the tools to do this. (Not to say that this is the only practice that works but it’s what has served me).

Giving yourself the time to sit allows us the chance to observe what is going on. You might even write some things down that come naturally after meditation. Writing things down in itself is an incredible process for healing and working through stuff. 

Give meditation ago, it takes time so don’t beat yourself. If it’s not for you that’s ok. Figure out what does help you get out of the mind and into the body and in to the present and do that. 

N:B photo taken on the stunning Lake Kariba in Zimbabwe where I meditated each morning to the sunrise. 

TUNING IN NOT SWITCHING OFF 

 

TUNING IN NOT SWITCHING OFF

Often people have the misconception that in yoga we are switching off. In fact we are tuning in!!! YES we are putting down our screens and stepping away from the intensity of our everyday, BUT we are very much not switching off. 

Our culture doesn’t priorities or teach us the skills to listen to the body and be in tune with the bodies needs. Noticing the subtle energy of the body and then developing an understanding of that energy takes practice. What makes yoga so different to other forms of movement or physical exercise (not that yoga has to be done for exercise) is the fact it teaches us to appreciate the nuances of the body. 

Our practice gives us the time and space to bring awareness to intricate details e.g. the connection our feet has to the ground, the sensation of our palms touching, the movement of breath in our body, awareness of thoughts and feelings. It’s not to say we have to move about our day slowly and be hyper aware of everything we do. When we first start to embody this practice (for me also) the aim is to have moments of awareness. If something happens in your day whether frustrating, stirs up sensations of anger, or even if it’s a subtle feeling of guilt or jealousy - we can stop for a moment and observe where we can feel it in the body, and how the body is responding. What areas are we holding tension? Can we soften, release and let go. Locating the sensation is the first step - it's common to clench the jaw, or loose your stomach because of nerves. Once you’ve located the sensation in the body pause and breath deeply, see if you can work through the feeling with breath techniques, meditation, and/or mantra and then either respond to the cause at hand with greater clarity, or let it go. 

On another scale, we might find that we become more in tune to when the body is hungry, tired, stressed, anxious and we start to learn what we actually need to nourish ourselves rather than what we think we need. The art of listening and tuning in will have profound affects as to how you feel about yourself.  

When you next practice yoga remind yourself to keep tuning - checking in with the breath, the jaw, sensations in palms/ feet. You’ll have to reset often and you may even remind yourself ever few seconds but to remember to be aware is the first step. 

 

WHY IS YOGA AN ANTIDOTE FOR STRESS & ANXIETY ?

WHY IS YOGA AN ANTIDOTE FOR STRESS & ANXIETY?

Stress and anxiety are increasingly common complaints in today’s fast-paced world. We tend to live in a constant state of alert due to stressful situations that can’t be resolved quickly e.g. financial worries, commute to work, job satisfaction, conflicts with coworkers, relationships etc. Anxiety is a cognitive state which is linked to an incapacity to control or regulate our emotional response to stress. The practice of yoga and meditation can help you to combat anxiety and lead a calmer, more relaxed, centred and stress-free life. How does it work?

Yoga helps us to turn on and tune into our parasympathetic nervous system (PNS), often dubbed the “rest and digest” system. Many of yoga’s health benefits stem from the ability to turn up the dial on the parasympathetic system and to tone down the sympathetic nervous system, also termed as “fight or flight” system. When our PNS is stronger we have the ability to react with greater clarity and control to testing issues. 

We are strengthening our PNS through focus and awareness of the breath and body in our yoga practice. Focus and awareness are antidotes to stress and anxiety and through conscious breathing and attention to the subtle changes of the body (as we move from pose to pose) we develop greater awareness of our internal make up. As we become more aware of where we hold tension, where we feel and don’t feel the breath, how our body changes day to day, what effects us physically and emotionally, the tone of our mind; we begin to understand ourselves a bit better. With greater attention we start to notice the signals of when the body and mind are getting stressed and anxious. We can then begin to catch ourselves before reacting in ways in which we might not want to; we can start to influence our reactions and take action. When we face problematic issues we can bring our yoga into the every day e.g. pausing to take conscious deep breaths, do 5 minutes meditation, hold a pose that helps you feel connected and centred for 10 minutes (perhaps a forward fold, or an inversion), write down thoughts to process feelings and to give your self time and space to think. These exercises can help the breath and body calm and find a sense of connection to self, so we can respond from a place of greater clarity and calm, which we gain from a stronger PNS.

It can be hard to get to this point of control, but through a regular yoga and meditation practice, we find the discipline and develop the tools to manage the negative mind and increased heart rate. When our PNS is stronger we are in a better position to deal with the stresses of everyday life.


‘SUNDAY NIGHT ANXIETY’ 

I know a lot of friends that suffer from slight anxiety on Sunday night. Often it can be hard to sleep on a Sunday evening after an active weekend and knowing you have an early morning with a busy schedule and pressures a waiting you. What has helped when I have the ‘Sunday night feeling’ is 30 minutes of yin, restorative yoga or meditation. Often I’ll do 2 yin poses for 5 minutes or more and then 10 - 12 minutes meditation. This helps get the body and mind into the PNS so you can let go and relax. 

BUTTERFULY   - Create a diamond shape with the legs and bring the soles of the feet to touch  - Use blocks or pillows under the thighs to support the legs and aid relaxation (you could place a bolster under the head or stack pillows to support the neck)  - Focus on the breath flowing deeply and softly in and out of the lungs  - Focus on softening and letting going  - Be aware of sensation and how sensation changes as you hold the pose   - Hold the pose for 5 - 15 minutes, or until you're in a place of calm 

BUTTERFULY 

- Create a diamond shape with the legs and bring the soles of the feet to touch

- Use blocks or pillows under the thighs to support the legs and aid relaxation (you could place a bolster under the head or stack pillows to support the neck)

- Focus on the breath flowing deeply and softly in and out of the lungs

- Focus on softening and letting going

- Be aware of sensation and how sensation changes as you hold the pose 

- Hold the pose for 5 - 15 minutes, or until you're in a place of calm 

CHILDS POSE   - Bring big toes to touch and knees wide  - Lie on bolster either with face down or facing one way. Make sure to change the turn of the head half way through. If you don't have a bolster you can stack pillows.  - Focus on breath and sensation   - Hold for 5 plus minutes

CHILDS POSE 

- Bring big toes to touch and knees wide

- Lie on bolster either with face down or facing one way. Make sure to change the turn of the head half way through. If you don't have a bolster you can stack pillows.

- Focus on breath and sensation 

- Hold for 5 plus minutes

HOW & WHY MEDITATION WORKS?

I started meditation about 4 years ago. I committed to the Headspace app intro, 10 minutes for 10 days, and I immediately felt the affects of slowing down the mind. I loved it! The first 10 days were a real eye opener but I know for some clients and friends it has been a tough hurdle to overcome.

Over the past 4 years I have tried to be disciplined and meditate everyday but haven't always succeeded. The last 2 years I have been particularly diligent and I more or less meditate daily and have slowly increased the time I meditate. Some days it flybys and other days it's a real slog. In London, in my flat, I am slightly guilty of ticking meditation off my list but when doing meditation in nature it's a whole new experience. Regardless of where you are, who you are, how happy you are, the benefits of meditation are tenfold. 

I wanted to share this article by Ashley Tuner on the How & Why Meditation Works. 


HOW & WHY MEDITATION WORKS by Ashley Turner 

Meditation is one of the most crucial aspects to cultivate more peace and happiness in life. It is literally the first thing I recommend to all my students and clients to build self- esteem and intuition, hear your truth, make wise, skillful choices, improve communication, increase creativity and productivity and let go.

We can be in one of two states - either the mind is running us or we are running our mind.

My mentor, Dr. Ron Alexander, speaks of MIND STRENGTH and the changes that can occur as we begin the process of training the mind. Mind strength is one of the most empowering tools we can employ to impact and improve all aspects of life.

Here's the breakdown of how meditation works.

There are five major categories of brain waves, each corresponding to different activities we do. Meditation enables us to move from higher frequency brain waves to lower frequency and calm the mind.

Slower wavelengths = more time between thoughts = more opportunity to skillfully choose which thoughts you invest in.

5 Categories of Brain Waves: Why Meditation Works

1. Gamma State - In the Gamma state, the brain waves are at frequencies ranging from approximately 30 – 100Hz. This is the state of hyperactivity in the brain and active learning. Gamma state is the most opportune time to retain information. This is why Tony Robbins and other educators have audiences jumping up and down or dancing around - to increase the likelihood of permanent assimilation of information and lasting change in one's "state".

If overstimulated, it can lead to anxiety.

2. Beta State - The Beta state, which is where we function for most of the day, is associated with the alert mind state of the prefrontal cortex. Brain wave frequencies in this state range from 13 – 30Hz and this is a state of the "working" or 'thinking mind': analytical, planning, assessing and categorising.

3. Alpha State - Brain waves in the Alpha state range from 9 – 13Hz. This is the state where brain waves start to slow down out of thinking mind. We become more calm, peaceful and anchored. We often find ourselves in an "alpha state" after a thorough yoga class, a walk in the woods, a pleasurable sexual encounter or during any activity that helps relax the body and mind. We are lucid, reflective, have a slightly diffused awareness and at peace. This is often accompanied by an inner and/or outer glow - sometimes felt as "spacey". The hemispheres of the brain are more balanced (neural integration).

4. Theta State - When brain waves range from 4 – 8Hz in the Theta state, we are able to begin meditation. This is the point where the verbal/thinking mind transitions to the meditative/visual mind. We begin to move from the planning mind to a deeper state of awareness (often felt as drowsy), with stronger intuition, more capacity for wholeness and complicated problem solving. The Theta state is associated with the 6th Chakra (3rd eye), so in this state we are able to practice visualisation.

5. Delta State - The final state is the Delta state, where brain waves range from 1 – 3 Hz. Tibetan monks that have been meditating for decades can reach this in an alert, wakened phase but most of us reach this final state during deep, dreamless sleep.

A Simple Meditation: How to Meditate

A simple meditation to use to begin the transition from Beta or Alpha to the Theta State is to focus on the breath. The breath and mind work in tandem, so as breath begins to lengthen, brain waves begin to calm and slow down.

1. To begin the meditation, sit comfortably in your chair with your shoulders relaxed and spine tall. Place your hands mindfully on your lap, close your eyes and as much as possible eliminate any stimulus that may distract you.

2. Watch your breath. Simply notice your breath flowing in. Flowing out. Don't try to change it in any way. Just notice.

3. Silently repeat the mantra: "Breathing In. Breathing Out." As your mind begins to wander, draw it back to your breath. Notice that as your breath begins to lengthen and fill your body, your mind begins to calm.

4. Consistency is Key. Try to do this breath meditation for 10 – 15 minutes first thing in the morning and/or at night. Be consistent with your meditation practice, particularly if it is difficult to sit still as you begin. Shorter meditation sessions on a regular basis are more productive than long sessions every few weeks.

Meditation is the #1 Tool I recommend to ALL my clients + students!

PATIENCE

 

|| PATIENCE ||

We could all do with a little bit more patience in our lives. Modern society has not moulded us to be patient. With everything at a tap of a finger, now more than ever, we need to practice being patient not just for our own sanity, but for our nearest and dearest too. I have been working with being more patient over the last few weeks and it’s such a relief when you give yourself permission to relax and let go. 

Some of the smallest things can be SO grating whether it’s standing in the queue at Sainsbury’s, getting on public transport, walking behind a very slow person on a busy pavement, being patient when your family winds you up, or being patient with ourselves in reaching goals. It’s often the closest people to us who are on the receiving end of our impatience and being a little bit more patient will transform our relationships with others and our own internal relationship. 

I did a 10 day meditation recently with Headspace focusing on patience, which has really helped me manage and recognise when I’m being unnecessarily impatient. It’s such a relief to be able to let go of that feeling and to continue with whatever you’re doing without frowning, or tensing up in the body. 

The meditation trains you to recognise and note to yourself when your mind is wondering off on a tangent as ‘thinking’. By recognising that we’re thinking we become more aware of the patterns of our mind. When you’re feeling impatient, practice noting to yourself that what you’re feeling is just ‘impatience’, and then let it go (appreciate at times this is easier said then done). When our mind is boggled with negative thoughts its very easy to let it spiral. If we can become aware of when we’re spiralling and note that then it’s easier to let go and move on from the feeling. It takes practice but it really works and it feels so good to realise that you don’t have to be so tense. 

My favourite saying at the moment is ‘life is your own creation’, and if we want to be impatient we can be and if we choose to let go a little more, we can…..with practice. Half the time my thoughts get the better of me, but the other half my practice comes into action. 

If you’re out and about it’s pretty hard to drop to the floor and do yoga. But if you’ve had a long and stressful day, and you want some chill stretch time at home, I find the below poses soothing and calming. 

 
 

RAG DOLL 

So simple and easy. Bend the knees and allow the torso to drape over the legs. The feet are hip distance apart, make sure the weight is spread evenly in the feet, and the knees track over the second toe. Either grab opposite elbows or let the arms dangle. Release the neck and allow the weight of the head to encourage the torso to lengthen as the hips lift. Option to interlace the hands behind the back. It’s a little bit more intense but a nice shoulder opener. 

HAPPY BABY (Ananda Balasana) 

In happy baby allow the lower back kiss the mat and at the same time the neck and shoulders to be soft. If holding the outside edges of the feet causes tension in the neck and shoulders, or the lower back to raise off the mat, then hold the ankles or further down the legs. Alternatively bring the knees wide and into the chest, placing your hands on top of the knees. Close the eyes breath and let go. 

BADDHA KONASANA Restorative 

Make a diamond shape with your legs and place the souls of your feet together. Your feet should be about half a metre or more from you pelvis. Bring your head towards your feet and round your back. Either place your hands either side of your feet, or grab your toes and gently draw yourself towards your feet. This pose is also great with a bolster so you can rest your head. Either place the bolster between your legs at an angle between your forehead and against the floor. 

SETU BADDHA KONASANA 

Come to lying on your back, place the souls of your feet together, and let the knees fall out wide. For a slight chest opener you can place your arms above your head and grab opposite elbows. Alternatively place the right hand on the belly and left hand on the heart. If you start to feel discomfort in the hip flexors lengthen your legs, or place the souls of the feet on the ground and bend your knees.