We’ve all heard about these weird Eastern practices that suddenly seem to be everywhere.
Google and Apple are recruiting Zen Masters. Wolverine is photographed doing Yoga. And Johnny Depp, Russell Brand and other A-listers are huge fans of Transcendental Meditation.
But what is all the fuss about? Do they actually work? And how can you start to bring them into your day-to-day life?
Welcome to your mind-body
This may come as a surprise to you, but you’re not JUST a body. And you’re not JUST your mind.
You’re in fact an amalgamation of the two. You are what is increasingly being called a “mind-body”.
You see, advances in the fields of quantum physics, bioenergetics and epigenetics are revolutionising our understanding of the body-mind connection. It is now widely accepted by scientists and researchers that your body is simply an extension of your mind.
What does that mean?
That your body is the sum of all the experiences and thoughts you’ve had throughout your entire life. That’s right: everything you have done, felt or even thought has impacted your body. But how?
With the advent of quantum physics, scientists realised that our brains are like radio masts, with each thought being transmitted as a wave of energy into the ether around us. Every single one of them: from the “OMG I look awful in that dress” to the “I wonder who will win X-Factor”.
Recently, biology scientists have been looking into how our thoughts and our environments affect our cells. This has led to the creation of a new field of research called Epigenetics. One of the pioneers of such research is Dr Bruce Lipton (@biologyofbelief), with his book The Biology of Belief (highly recommended).
What has been discovered is pretty astonishing: each and every single one of our cells (including our DNA) is surrounded by a thin membrane, which reads signals from the environment as to how the cell should act.
And these cells are one hundred times more efficient at responding to electric signals such as thoughts, electromagnetic waves and sound/light frequencies than chemical signals such as hormones or neurotransmitters.
What does this mean? That although there exists a certain genetic predisposition, your thoughts and the environment in which you put yourself will determine if and how your genes express themselves.
It means that your body is a printout of your thoughts: each one affects your 100 trillion cells moment-to-moment and gives them signals as to how they should act. And it means that what you believe to be true has a dramatic impact on your health.
One recent discovery for example, highlighted by Kelly McGonigal (@kellymcgonigal) in her acclaimed TED talk, shows that people who believe stress is harmful have a much higher chance of dying from stress than people that think stress is healthy. The way they perceive stress affects how their bodies react to it!
The bottom line is this: you have far more control over your health than you may have believed up until now. So in order to develop Superhero health, it’s imperative that you nurture your mind as well.
How to nurture your mind-body
Simply by having the knowledge of how powerful your mind actually is will give you a great incentive to explore your own beliefs (I hope!) The key is to learn to develop presence and mindfulness, in order for you to become aware of what thoughts you are putting out on a moment-to-moment basis.
That’s when practices such as meditation, Tai Chi or Yoga can be extremely useful. They teach you to recognise when you’re “wrapped up” in your thoughts. With practice, you learn to get out of your mind and connect to your body.
Because the truth is, our minds are designed to set goals and intentions, but not to overanalyse or judge everything that is going on. In our current Western society, we are in a state of “Disembodiment Crisis”: we spend too much time in our heads, seeing our bodies as some form of sinful obstacle that must be shaped according to our mind’s image of ourselves. We abuse it with food, alcohol, smoking and excess sitting. Then we wonder why we get sick, die prematurely or suffer from depression and anxiety.
Stretching and opening up your body is essential to finding a healthy and relaxed state of mind. As we’ve seen, your thoughts are energy. They can easily get trapped in your body, causing tightness, pain or weight gain. Stretching is good way to release this energy: it’s very common for people to experience emotional release in yoga classes. I’ve even felt inexplicably close to tears once during a Downward Dog!
Other practices have developed that use the body to release these built-up emotions. Core Energetics for example combines Psychology with Movement, and has been proven very effective in working with individuals with anxiety, depression, personality issues, sexual dysfunction etc.
Although it wasn’t developed with such emphasis on the mind as Yoga was, Pilates can be an effective way to release tightness in your body too. But the truth is, almost any form of exercise can be used to practice mindfulness and embodiment: running, swimming, even strength training.
Connect to your breath and form, and feel the sensations in your body. Avoid using mirrors too much – unless you need them to build your technique. Notice when you are stuck in thought, and bring your awareness to your movement instead. It requires constant practice: you may need to bring yourself back into your body dozens of times within each session.
The benefits of nurturing your mind-body
Meditation, Yoga and Tai Chi bring your body into a relaxed state, which allows it to auto-regulate and repair itself. You see, in our current society we are constantly under stress. Our bodies are designed to work well under stress - and to get us as fast and far away from sabre-tooth tigers as possible. However for many of us there is little respite from it: our jobs, careers, relationships bring us constant worries and fears.
By slowing down, focusing on the breath and connecting to the body, you allow it to enter its natural state of relaxation and balance. Only then can the body switch on its innate healing abilities, leading in turn to great health benefits.
Relaxation is known for example to decrease blood pressure, boost the immune system and even increase fertility. It decreases inflammation, which is linked to heart disease, arthritis, asthma and skin conditions and also helps increase your emotional balance and sense of wellbeing.
By learning to become more embodied and mindful, you become more present in your life: you are less prone to analysis of the past, planning or worrying about the future. This in turns increases your happiness, as you focus less on the doubts, worries or struggles that bring you down.
This presence has a big carryover to the rest of your life: it increases the quality of your communications, relationships, your happiness, and makes your life feel lighter and more pleasant. Your focus improves: you are able to concentrate better in work situations and to face your daily life with a more grounded attitude.
Finally, building focus, concentration and mindfulness bring inner strength: they allow you to see the limits of your own mind. You can develop an ability to move beyond your own fears, to push past your comfort zone and live life with more fullness and attention.
Yoga, Pilates and Tai Chi are also great for developing flexibility, mobility and core strength, for boosting your energy levels and increasing your stamina and endurance – a great thing for the fans of endurance activities and more high-intensity sports alike.
The benefits of practicing activities that focus on both the mind and body are pretty much endless. But how can you begin to practice yourself?
How to start
You can nowadays find Pilates, Yoga or Tai Chi classes very easily: in London there seems to be a yoga studio on every other street. When you first start I would suggest you sign up to a local class until you have mastered the basics. Yoga, Tai Chi or Pilates classes are about £10-£15, and you can buy 6-12 weeks of sessions at a discounted rate. Once you are more proficient, you can also buy some DVDs to practice at home. However it’s always a good idea to continue going to classes, as each teacher has his own way of teaching and you can always learn something new. Plus you’ll be able to ask questions and get your technique checked by a professional.
You can start practicing meditation from home. There are a number of apps you can use for guidance: the ones I prefer are Omvana, Insight Timer or all the Andrew Johnson apps. However one the best practices is simply to sit in silence while breathing deeply and relaxing your body. Notice when you get wrapped up in your thoughts and bring yourself back to your body. Do not judge yourself when your mind wanders – it’s part of the process. You are not looking to “switch off” your mind – that’s impossible as that’s its job – simply to change your focus. Start with 5-10mins then build up to 20-30mins.
The key is really to find something that you enjoy, and to keep practicing. Nurturing your mind-body is a lifetime choice, and one that will bring many benefits along the way, including becoming a Superhero (how do you think Superman got his powers?). The changes may be subtle, but with continuous effort and the right intention you will notice them for sure!
Take a minute to think about ways to integrate more superhero mindfulness into your life: a daily practice, a class, an intention. Then leave a comment below with your plans - and your results :)
Love & Health,
- The Biology of Belief – Dr Bruce Lipton