Far from being wishy washy, it is well established that the mind plays a major role in how your body works. After all the brain is responsible for controlling pretty much every part of the body.
How your body reacts to what the world throws come back to the brain, and this cycle continues. However bad habits can become deeply ingrained, and also it is often possible to get more out of you mind and body through training.
I want to show that even some age old ideas are not far wrong when it comes to the actual practice of these disciplines, and in a secular way you can benefit from them too.
One of the simplest ways is through focussing on the breath and the bodily sensations, overriding the inner dialogue that saps your focus. This technique is thousands of years old. It is not a coincidence that people who practice these techniques often exhibit different brain function in scans and consequently their physiological repose to stressors and other inputs is quite different than average. Google ‘buddhist monks neuroscience’ or similar to find out.
What might be a surprise to some people is just how dynamic things are, and it is not that hard to get positive results fairly quickly. What takes a bit more work is developing a more permanent reflex, and to unlearn the less healthily reflexes and become more efficient.
Of course exercise, and diet are an important part of the mix. I don’t really use the word ‘holistic’ much, but physical and mental health from multiple front is definitely the way to set a positive trend.
It is great to get personal confirmation, but it is even better to get corresponding data as well. When you take incoming data from biological indicators and this is dynamically fed back into to the training in order to condition, this is called biofeedback. Biofeedback is a great complement to ‘blind’ or self regulated techniques such as ‘Mindfulness’ breathing and meditation. Nuerofeedback is an important subset biofeedback, which I have also benefited from, influencing brain waves by rewarding or inhibiting them accordingly. It is a bit too intricate to explain this post, instead I told you about my experience heart variability and coherence biofeedback and that training relates to simple breathing exercises that you can do at home.
So what is sinusoidal breathing? It basically means breathing smoothly in and out following a sine wave. However you don’t have to think of it that way. You might have seen the circular hand motion used in Chi Gung and Tai Chi exercises. These provide two aspects of mindfulness: Feeling rather then thinking and focusing on your breath and body and letting go of everything else.
These derive from the older Yoga and Buddhist meditation practices. In fact Chinese martial arts were born out a a marriage of ideas from Chinese folk religion and Chán (Zen) Buddhism. But actually it doesn’t really matter where it came from or what you believe, and this kind of focus could have just as well being discovered independently (probably did), given enough time and dedication. The fact is it works, the belief part is a means to an end but not a requirement at all. In fact it can even be detrimental if you are not able to to let go of your thoughts.
My cousin (a neuroscientist) tested Tibetan monks on visual rivalry. In normal test subjects the visual brain is constantly switching between the sides as a reflex. But in her study monks held one side for up to 12 minutes straight using one point meditation. The control meditation which involves contemplating suffering didn’t have that result, but then again that is not the point of that mediation.
I’ve seen first hand such practice change your brain state, and preps me for further nuerofeedback training. If you would like to know some simple mindful breathing techniques that you can do at home turn the page.