Recently I was able to attend a Mindfulness Training for Professionals which focused on transforming one’s life, work, and those whom one serves. The professor, a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor, Certified Hypnotherapist and head instructor for Karatedo Doshinkan, offered us many ways of re-awakening to the moment through an array of practices found in different cultures and religions around the world. Those of us who registered and attend the two day seminar were from various cultural and social backgrounds, worked with different populations of both children and adults, in a variety of settings (school teachers, social workers, private practitioners), and had different experiences and exposure to mindfulness practices. Although we were different people, who came to the training for different reasons, we were able to find a technique or strategy which resonated with our personalities and needs in the moment.
This reminded me, no matter where we came from or who we perceive ourselves to be, we all share special characteristics which make us human. If we are able to tap into one of those characteristics, breathing or feeling bodily sensations, we can tap into the oneness which is in us all, that we are all here together with the same afflictions, difficulties, and needs.
Here I share some of the insight and strategies I received throughout the training. This is part two of a two part series. If you have another practice or strategy, please share it with everyone at the bottom of the post.
Trauma and How it Creates Limiting Beliefs
Trauma and how it affects the brain and body is complicated. As I like to say in the yoga classes I teach, “Every body is different”. Because of this, trauma, and other brain patterns, are stored differently in different people.
There are five factors from which a belief, or way of thinking leading one to act or behave in a certain way, stem. One does not have to experience all five to create a belief about themselves or someone else.
- Authority figure
- Multiple people
- Emotional Experience
These factors create positive and negative patterns or ways of thinking. The following story is a belief created early on in a young boys life, which has negative effects. One can imagine the positive patterns created by these very same factors.
An example Dr. Boyes used was an adult male who couldn’t spell and was looking for help. Digging deeper he remember his second grade teacher (first authority figure) calling on him, when he wasn’t paying attention, to spell a word which he didn’t know in front of the entire class. The other students, following the teacher’s disapproving look, laughed. At the end of the week, the class took a spelling test and the boy didn’t perform well. He brings the test home to his father (second authority figure- multiple people) and his father scolds him for not doing well. The boy then cries (emotional experience). The father tells his child, “You just aren’t a good speller, neither was your mother, so each day you come home from school we are going to practice together” (identification).
Although this boy did not have each characteristic of trauma occur, he had multiple, which created a limiting belief that he could not spell. This translated to him not being able to spell, even as an adult.
Creating limiting beliefs of what one can accomplish is just one side effect of trauma. An analogy Dr. Boyes used in our training was imagining trauma of a dog leashed to a stake in the ground. The traumatic experience in the stake, the limiting beliefs the leash, and the person affected, the dog. One cannot change the stake driven into the ground or the trauma which has occurred. Recognizing the beliefs based on the trauma and choosing to believe something different is where freedom exists, possibly inquiring, ‘What if this belief wasn’t true? What would my life be like? What would it feel like?’.
To get past this trauma one has to recognize their beliefs, allow them to be present- holding them in awareness, investigate the belief, and finally rest in natural awareness which allows one to not identify with the belief. This practice is known as RAIN. Find out more about this type of mindful practice by visiting the website www.mindful.org. It is amazing what one can do when limiting beliefs are identified and held with awareness, offering freedom and choice.
Trauma and the Brain: What is going on here?
When trauma is happening, the prefrontal cortex is offline and the limbic system (fight, flight, freeze) takes over. When this happens memory comes in bursts as our brains and bodies cannot fully process, in the moment, what is taking place. Because the brain does not know how to process the event, the traumatic experience stays isolated. By practicing mindfulness, one gives the brain and body a tool to process and the event, without having to re-experience the trauma.
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
The brain doesn’t know the difference between real and vividly imagined experiences. With PTSD those experiences can be played over and over again in the brain, re-traumatizing the victim. As Dr. Rick Boyes said, “PTSD is not a remembering, but a re-experiencing”. Mindfulness allows one to recognize when the brain is re-imagining a traumatic experience. By bringing the awareness to body sensations, the breath, or both, one can reawaken to the present moment. Try using the 3 R’s or Belly Breathing from Part One of this series.
Another option for those suffering from PTSD is the iRest Program created by Dr. Richard C. Miller which incorporates Yoga Nidra and offers deep relaxation.
Mindfulness and Addiction
Most addictive patterns come from not wanting to feel certain body sensations (i.e. pain) or emotions (sadness, fear). The brain, wanting to escape from those feelings/emotions tries to distract itself. Think of the last time you reached for a beer, coffee, cookie, or cigarette. What were the body sensations or feelings which came right before the action? Because the action is automatic, one might not recognize the thought which came before the action.
By practicing mindfulness, one might realize the craving for a bowl of ice cream, a martini, or a donut, pause awakening to the moment- realizing the action is optional, and from there make the decision mindfully whether or not to indulge. Creating this space between thought and action allows a person to take back control of their mind, body, and life.
“Neurons that fire together, wire together”. The practice of recognizing thought as a trigger, pausing- realizing, ‘This is optional’, and, with awareness, choosing the action can change brain can assist in rewiring the brain. This interrupts the cycle of addiction by increasing the mindful presence, or full body sensations. This could alter one’s patterns to a more joyful and pleasant state.
Have you ever grabbed a bag of chips, sat down on the couch to process the end-of-the-workday-meeting-which-went-past-schedule only to awaken from the haze to find no more chips and a craving for more? Because we are asked to accomplish more with less time, many Americans find themselves multi-tasking while eating, giving less of their attention to what is put in their mouths, and more of their attention to their to-do list. The Center for Mindful Eating describes mindful eating as, ‘… allowing yourself to become aware of the positive and nurturing opportunities that are available through food selection and preparation by respecting your own inner wisdom. By using all your senses in choosing to eat food that is both satisfying to you and nourishing to your body, acknowledging your responses to food (likes, dislikes or neutral) without judgment, and becoming aware of physical hunger and satiety cues to guide your decisions to begin and end eating you can change your relationship to food’. By bringing the awareness back to the food one is eating, one can enjoy their food more, because they are actually experiencing their food. Here Thich Nhat Hanh explains to Oprah how he mindful drinks his tea, taking him nearly an hour!
I struggle with this each day, ‘sit down and enjoy lunch and spend an extra 30 minutes at work or eat while working and leave sooner?’. I have noticed if I enjoy my lunch, I am less irritable and tired at the end of the day, even if I have to stay for a longer amount of time. Not only that, but I am more satiated, have more energy, and am happier in general.
Claire Ragozzino offers simple steps for Intuitive, Mindful Eating:
- Identify your hunger – Is it a physical need or emotional desire? If it’s emotional, write down what feelings are coming up and what foods you’re craving. Use the process of writing to clear the way for receiving what your body truly needs.
- When you’re ready to prepare your meal, eliminate any clutter or distractions from the kitchen – Turn off the TV, take out the trash and wash the dirty dishes. A clean kitchen means a clear mind as you begin to prepare your mindful meal.
- Before you eat, take a few deep breaths to relax and ground yourself – This also shifts your nervous system in a resting state (the parasympathetic nervous system) where your body can digest and receive the maximum nutrition from your meal.
- Eat slowly, without excessive talking, loud music or TV in the background – Quiet the chatter around you and connect with each bite. As you eat, practice chewing until your food has become a liquid (50 bites or more!). In the process of chewing, our bodies secrete enzymes that help break down food and signal digestion to begin.
- Take a pause for a few minutes and check in with your body to gauge your fullness level – If it is helpful to you, rate your fullness (0 = empty, 10 = overstuffed). Aim for around a seven on the fullness level, leaving at least a 20-30% feeling of empty.
- When you feel comfortably satisfied, take a few deep breaths and reflect on the experience and give gratitude for all those who’ve had a hand in your meal.
How Can Mindfulness Help Children?
Children are at heightened states of suggestibility 24 hours a day, seven days a week beginning at week 13 as a fetus to 9 years of age. They also are unable to discern real experience from vivid imaginings (real life event v.s. movie). Because of this parents and teachers must become the filters for children, screening the input and experiences throughout their day.
The University of Washington’s Eric Chudler writes the following, ‘The brain grows at an amazing rate during development. At times during brain development, 250,000 neurons are added every minute! At birth, almost all the neurons that the brain will ever have are present. However, the brain continues to grow for a few years after birth. By the age of 2 years old, the brain is about 80% of the adult size’.
An amazing byproduct of children’s rapid brain development from birth to nine years old is they can learn in their sleep. Further informing parents and teachers of the importance of filtering children’s experiences to support growth.
Children realize early on, ‘If I express my feelings it impacts myself and others either positively or negatively’. Children have to figure out how good or bad (receptive radar) those around them are feeling, act based on others feelings, ensuring their safety and happiness. For example, a child might learn quickly how to read their father’s emotions as he comes in the door and change his/her attitude accordingly based on whether the parent is in a good or bad mood. This helps the child to receive less unnecessary punishment for doing or saying the “wrong thing at the wrong time”. To protect themselves children put in this type of situation often learn to mask their emotions, becoming a camelon.
Children are adaptive, and can come back from this type of conditioning when it is safe for them, either in a different situation or later in life. Bringing mindfulness practices into the lives of children gives them tools to use when in these types of situations, while providing them a safe place to express their emotions. Here kids explain how mindfulness has supported their wellbeing in everyday situations.
By using the 3 R’s, belly breathing, and RAIN one can wake up to this moment and live.
Thank you for reading.
“Awareness is like the sun. When it shines on things, they are transformed.” -Thich Nhat Hanh
Resources, Meditations, and More…
Youtube Videos- Meditations
Jon Kabat-Zinn https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3nwwKbM_vJc
Pebble Meditation https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Pc1pdjPG9BM
George Carlin- Stuff (Not a meditation, but funny and insightful) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MvgN5gCuLac
Youtube Videos- Mindfulness and Kids
Kids explaining Mindfulnesshttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awo8jUxIm0c
‘Just Breath’ https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RVA2N6tX2cg
Youtube Video- Meditation Music
*I have found this information through my own research and the research of clinical practicing professionals. I have done my best to provide accurate, up to date information on the subject.