The body has been designed to operate within a natural rhythm of high energy states and recovery modes. In scientific terms, it’s called the sympathetic and parasympathetic system. The reason for so many of our health and emotional issues is we have an overly stimulated sympathetic system and in fact, we have even become addicted to it. The parasympathetic system (rest and recover mode) has been pushed out of the equation.
In order to manage our energy effectively throughout the year, we need to consciously train the parasympathetic response back into our system through recovery loops. We need to be activating micro recovery loops through the day with deep breaths, mini recovery loops by simply being mindful and macro recovery loops like long weekends away, time in nature and body therapies.
With the nature of our busy lives, it is important to take time to plan what these recovery loops will look like in your life.
DAILY: Create bookends on either end of your day. Begin your day mindfully with a walk, meditation, deep breathing or journaling. End your day with a wind down routine activating the relaxation response before you go to bed. With off the TV and electronic devices before bed.
WEEKLY: Take out 3-4 hours to switch off from technology and do something that feeds your soul.
MONTHLY: Block out a whole day just for you. A day out at a spa is a good example
QUARTERLY: Take yourself out of town for a weekend away.
Human beings need constant excitement. Variety and change are inherent human needs required for growth and fulfilment. While certainty and a sense of safety are just as important, life can tend to feel mundane and uninspired when we are stuck in the drudgery of routine. That’s why we love meeting new people, travelling to new places and experiencing new things. Each time we experience something for the first time, new neural pathways get fired up, changing our brain architecture. Our senses wake up pulling us fully into the present moment. We feel alive. Every now and again, we need to take ourselves away from the familiar into unknown territory where fear and exhilaration meet to break down self imposed limitations.
If you are feeling jaded, restless and and uninspired, it may be time for a growth spurt, a fresh perspective. It doesn’t have to involve a sabbatical or an overseas holiday, it may simply mean consciously weaving the 5 C’s of Passion into your life.
1.Curiosity. Be open minded, challenge your beliefs and preferences. Adventure to new places in your own city, talk to different people, taste new flavours , read someones biography , learn a news skill explore your inner world.
2. Challenge Complacency .There is a fine line between peaceful acceptance of that which we cannot change and complacency that is born from cynicism.
3. Courage. Acknowledge your greatest fears and move in its direction, breathing and relaxing every step of the way.
4. Creativity. Fresh perspectives feed creativity and innovative thinking. Make conscious choices to engage in activities that feed your soul and bring stillness. Creativity is the outer expression of inner stillness.
5. Change. Lasting change starts from within but sometimes changing the external environment catalyses and inspires and inner shift. Move your furniture around, unclutter your space, paint a wall, make a change that supports your growth while appreciating what you already have.Read More >>
You are feeling under par. Thinking back you’ve been feeling like this for awhile. Heartburn, constant headaches and muscle tension. You feel irritable and anxious.
You are wake up at 3am every morning. You mind is always racing. You can’t put your finger on it. You see your doctor. She runs the usual tests. Everything comes back clear. She gives you a script for antacids and sleeping tablets and tells you to eat better and exercise more.
Alcohol takes the edge off at night. Caffeine and carbs keeps you going during the day.
It’s been going on for years. Only now, you are constantly exhausted. You wake up tired. You get heart palpitations and feel lightheaded. You feel edgy and impatient, abrupt and cynical. You can’t focus and concentrate. Everything makes you anxious. Nothing interests you. You just want to be left alone.
You are one of millions of people who are burning. Burning out.
The term ‘Burnout’ was first coined in the 1970’s by Herbert Freudenberger, an American psychologist who used the term to describe a set of symptoms centred around lack of motivation, cynicism and disillusionment often seen in health care workers. More recently it has been used synonymously with the term adrenal fatigue. While there is still no clear definition for Burnout, it implies that the body’s internal energy system or ‘fire’ is not being sufficiently attended to and is literally ‘ Burning Out ‘. My work as a medical practitioner and my study of this field has served to refine my thinking about this global phenomenon of the digital age, and opened my eyes to the depth of this phenomenon. It is especially pertinent to South Africa which has been rated the second most stressed country in the world, after Nigeria. I see the effects every day in my practice. I see it on the roads and in shopping centres. I see it reflected in marriages and businesses. I see it in hospitals and addiction centres. I see it at schools. It’s a problem.
Over the last 15 years, i’ve worked with hundreds of patients who experience vague physical and emotional symptoms that don’t fit a specific diagnosis. After exhaustive investigations, they are left with no answers and no solutions or simply diagnosed with depression. If we examine the problem within a broader perspective we can see that we are dealing with a spectrum of physical and behavioural symptoms related to the way our system adapts, and then eventually maladapts to prolonged stress.
Our neurobiological system has been primed for survival based on the stress response. It activates a massive amount of energy into the system when our survival depends on it and in any high demand situation. This system works most efficiently when we replenish our energy resources in the baseline resting mode. The problem is that our baseline has shifted. It has geared up to meet our rushed and complicated lives. Relaxation is no longer a natural state but a forgotten art.
The chemical cascade that floods the system in response to stress gives us a burst of energy, but now gets released constantly in a low grade fashion, causing inflammation, a dampened immune system, digestive problems, sleep disturbances and irritable behaviour. Many of us deal with these low grade symptoms for a while, until it begins to threaten our performance and relationships ,or becomes a question of life and death. Only then do we start to pay attention. Until then, we trudge along in denial. In fact we become quite dependent on ‘adrenalised energy’ that gets us through the day with the help of caffeine, sugar, alcohol and cigarettes.
We know that our survival based stress response requires the oscillation of the high energy and periods of rest and relaxation, but we are designed for more than survival. We are innately resilient creatures, primed to thrive through our ability to adapt. Every day neuroscientists are discovering the magnificent potential of the brain and how this adaptation actually works. We are only now beginning to discover the potential of the brain to spark up neural pathways in response to new environments. The brain is adapting to this fast pace, multitasking, and instant gratification. At a price. The adaptation is occurring in a way that keeps us constantly ‘switched on’ and that is not supportive of our overall health and energy and our innate need for deep rest, relaxation and restorative sleep.
It is crucial that we find ways to use our brains ability to adapt to create new upgraded software or habits that supports the body’s innate functioning.
Before we even get there, we need to acknowledge that this is a problem that none of us have the luxury of ignoring. It is a challenge that we are facing not just in terms of health but in the way that it plays out in our collective behaviour as a society. Living off adrenalised energy also means that the more primitive part of the brain is running the show more than our rational human minds. We are fear based, reactive and are less able to tap into kindness, empathy and compassion, the qualities that make us truly human.
So how do we go about the process of adapting our energy management system for the modern age?
We all know that recovery time is important and sleep is essential. We can’t escape the fact we need to rest, eat wholesome unprocessed food and exercise. Attending to the physical aspects is almost the simple part. The other factors demand a certain inner enquiry. Even if we are eating the healthiest diet, exercising daily and sleeping eight hours a night, our default reactive behaviour like multitasking, impatience and distractibility will keep feeding the adrenalised monster as will our judgements, fears, resentments and guilt based thoughts.
Energy management asks that we support the body, mind and heart as a whole.; that we cultivate a way of living with more awareness of habits of thought, behaviour, choices and triggers of our stress response. We need to be living more mindfullly.
As the world becomes more complex, we find that are the most simple and obvious things like breathing and learning to be present in each moment are the most effective methods to cultivate mindful living.
Mindfulness has become a huge buzzword in business as a tool to boost productivity, efficiency and energy. Companies like Google have made it a part of their culture, business schools are bringing into their curriculum. It’s a step in the right direction. But let’s not lose sight of the essence of mindfulness. It is a way of using conscious awareness to access compassion both for ourselves and others. Perhaps our ‘heart’ is our true source of energy.
Supporting our ‘Heart’s Intelligence’ asks us to allow our vulnerability, foster our connection to others and cultivate greater empathy. The ‘heart’ also requires constant inspiration, the peace inducing effect of nature and the cultivation of gratitude.
The HeartMath institute is an organisation that has done intriguing research on the measurable energy field that surrounds the heart, the heart -brain connection, its relationship to managing stress and fostering deeper connection with ourselves and others.
One of their biggest studies have demonstrated that negative and positive emotions are easily distinguishable by distinct patterns in heart rhythm patterns and that through certain techniques such as breathing we can alter these patterns and thus its effect on our health and energy.
We can no longer deny the fact that burnout is becoming a global phenomenon, and one that is threatening the very fabric of society. More and more doctors are seeking ways to address their patients needs more holistically. There is a massive move towards integrative medicine that is less symptom based and that supports the whole person. It is imperative that health care schemes create awareness of the problem of burnout and work on methods to support more conscious and energised lives. While some health care schemes, support and reward better lifestyles, the approach is still too fragmented. Business need to move away from old paradigm of wellness. We need to consider ways to spark awareness and cultivate more sustainable change in lifestyle and behaviour that supports Body, Mind and Heart. Schools should be making ‘energy management’ part of their curriculum starting with simple and practical tools like the use of breathing techniques.
Not enough work has been done to look at burnout and in a more integrated way.
I believe that we at a point when we urgently need to address the issue of ‘burnout’ and the ways that it is manifesting for us individually and collectively. We have the opportunity within all the systems in which we live and work to cultivate a way of living that is more conscious, integrated and supportive of the whole person. A way of life that is inspired meaningful and harnesses our magnificent human potential. Perhaps this is the gift of burnout.
Begley, S.Train Your Mind, Change your Brain: How a new science reveals our extraordinary potential to transform ourselves . New York: Ballantine Books, 2007
Kabbat Zinn. Full Catastrophe Living. Bantam Books, 1990.
Hanson, et al. Buddha’s Brain. The practical neuroscience of happiness, love and wisdom.
New Harbinger Publications, 2009
www.HeartMath.org Science of the Heart. Exploring the Role of the Heart in Human Performance.
http://www.atlasandboots.com/most-stressed-countries/BurnoutRead More >>
A few years ago, an alarming trend was showing up in my practice. My patients were presenting with a very similar set of symptoms; fatigue, weight gain, insomnia, digestive issues and hormonal imbalances. On an emotional level, anxiety was at the top of the list of symptoms. I also noticed that entrepreneurs, human rights activists, NGO and health care workers, change makers, lawyers, visionaries and artists, moms staying at home to raise future fit children, people who were passionate about making a difference in the world, were starting to lose their fire. It was showing up in all kinds of ways; emotionally, physiologically, in their relationships and at work. In fact ,what was happening is that either they were beginning to disconnect from the energy that fueled their passion or were so consumed by their work that they became addicted to adrenaline, in my opinion, the most dangerous drug of our time.
We are facing a global personal and collective energy crisis. Being busy and exhausted is becoming a shared narrative of modern living. Feeling like a wide eyed zombie is a common collective state. Stats are revealing that burnout is becoming an alarming and common phenomenon .We can’t afford to wait until our health and performance gets compromised before we wake up to the conversation about how we are managing our energy. Not only will it play out with our health, we will see it in our interaction with others and the impact on our efficiency and focus. We will become a society of cynical, exhausted, disillusioned, grey faced animals, chasing our tails, cut off from our hearts.
The early signs of energy dysfunction :
- Working all the time without being able to switching off
- Less time with your loved ones
- Not living in alignment with core value systems
- Neglect of self care (eg healthy eating and exercise)
- Dependency on stimulants and external relaxation aids e.g. coffee and sugar as “ uppers” and alcohol, sleeping pills as “ downers”
- back pain
- muscle tension
- digestive niggles ( heartburn, bloating, constipation )
- disrupted sleep patterns
There are certain personality types who seem to be more prone to burnout.
The rescuer/ helper. This is the person who is always there to support others, is driven by the deep desire to make a difference in the world and feels responsible for maintaining a state of peace and harmony. He may find it difficult to set boundaries and fears being judged by others. Interestingly, it would seem that the more idealistic someone is, the more they are prone to energy depletion.
The perfectionist. This is the high achiever, driven and ambitious. No matter what she has accomplished, she will always strive to do achieve more. Her greatest fear is ‘failure’ and ‘not feeling good enough’
1. The Type A Rescuer. This individual has a combination of both of the above traits
If you can relate to the above traits you probably have or will experience some form of burnout.The nature of our modern life demands that we examine what supports our energy, manage what drains it, and harness the stress response so that it works for us. We are living in a time that demands that we develop new strategies to grow and thrive. Energy management is that skill.
Three Energy Management Tips:
Extreme self care. The will be challenging as it will involve setting boundaries, saying no and disappointing some people.
2. Activating Recovery Loops: Consciously insert recovery loops into your day, eg deep breaths, mindfulness practices. More about recovery loops next month.
3. Letting Go Skills: Let go of judgements and assumptions and instead cultivate the ability to be curious.
If you are needing support in optimising your energy management skills, please contact me.
I offer the following support:
One on one sessions which are based on Integrative Medicine principles
6 week Energy Management programme
Energy Recovery Retreats
Talks and Workshops
Have you ever thought about how the most difficult experiences in your life have shaped you? Were they catalysts for a change in direction? Did you decide to “toughen up “and get on with it? Did you make a decision that you would set up your life so that it would never happen to you again? Did the situation leave a bitter taste in your mouth? Perhaps you didn’t deal with it at all? Or maybe you went to the roots of your pain and began to see yourself and the world in a whole new light.
The ability to master life is not so much about seeking happiness through external experiences but rather cultivating the inner resources that support resilience and inner joy.
Many see resilience based on its original definition: the ability to ‘bounce back ‘ to our original state after a period of extreme stress or adversity. For me, it’s about how we can grow through and from the experience.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of perceiving resilience as merely a ‘coping mechanism’. Often , when we are under pressure, survival mode kicks in, we become goal oriented and action focused and we feed on adrenalized energy. Whilst this is a helpful built in mechanism and strategy in the short term, the danger is that no space and time is created for recovery. The other common pattern is that we attach certain thoughts and behaviours to the situation, and fall into the trap of blaming others, or taking on more responsibility for the situation than is necessary.
Peak performance and the ability to thrive in a business environment requires the cultivation and development of the quality of resilience.
10 qualities of resilient people:
- Feeling of safety and belonging in the environment
- A solid support structure within the organisation and the ability to access sources of support on a professional and personal level.
- Emotional intelligence which requires a strong sense of self.
- The ability to feel and channel emotion appropriately, which translates into the ability to respond rather than react to situations.
- The ability to harness and manage energy through rest and recovery , physical health and conscious lifestyle.
- Adaptability and open mindedness
- Cultivating belief systems and perceptions that facilitate using challenges as opportunities to grow.
- The skill of shifting areas of focus appropriate to the situation.
- Self awareness and mindfulness
- A sense of meaning and purpose.
Resilience is about cultivating equanimity, the skill of resting in the eye of the storm knowing that “this too shall pass”.
But how does one get there? It begins with awareness that we already have all the inner resources at our disposal. We simply have to be reminded how to tap into them.
Mindfulness and Conscious Breathing are simple keys.
A daily breathwork and mindfulness practice just 15 minutes a day will build up your resilience muscle, will assist you to ride the waves of change and light up new pathways in your body, mind and heart.
Simple mindfulness practice :
Set the timer on your phone for 15 minutes, making sure that you won’t be disturbed.
Sit or lie in a comfortable position and become aware of the physical sensations in your body and breath.
As soon as you become aware of the thought, simply watch it and return to your breath.
The key is not to create an empty mind, but rather to create a distance between you ( the “watcher “) and the reactive mind .Read More >>
Through the ages spiritual seekers and practitioners of all traditions have studied and practiced the art of meditation as a way to access the source of spiritual energy or inner peace; a skill to be harnessed on the path to enlightenment. There are thousands of meditation techniques that range from chanting, creative visualization and transcendental meditation to name just a few. Mindfulness is a technique that is the foundation of the Buddhist method or Zen practices.
However, in recent years mindfulness has spread from of the monasteries , finding it’s way into medicine, the corporate world and the lives of many who are seeking a way to navigate a world of distraction and intensity. Millions of people across the planet are seeing mindfulness as a tool of resilience and a way to fulfill their potential and support their health. Resources are now being poured into medical research around the effects of mindfulness.
Jon Kabbat Zinn, a Canadian medical doctor, has been instrumental in creating a widely used programme called ‘ Mindfulness based stress reduction’ applying it in medicine as a tool to manage pain and the effects of stress. Leading business schools are now offering mindfulness as part of their curriculum and many organizations are beginning to integrate it into their business culture. Leading the way are businesses like Google who have initiated an entire programme for their employees called ‘ Search inside Yourself’. The subject has even found it’s way on the cover of Time magazine recently and has been featured in a recent issue of the Harvard business review.
What is mindfulness?
Mindfulness has been described as the practice of having COMPLETE FOCUS on the PRESENT MOMENT with NO JUDGEMENT. While this might sound simple, in a world of constant distraction, this can be quite challenging. However, it has been found that people who have a dedicated daily mindfulness practice experience far greater, focus, clarity and better health.
An recent study has demonstrated that just 12 minutes of a consistent practise for 8 weeks creates a permanent thickening of the grey matter in the frontal cortex of the brain, in the area responsible for logical thinking, focus and empathy.
About 85% of our thinking, perceptions, choices, impulses, addictions and other behavior patterns are governed by the subconscious mind or the reptilian brain which contains all the memories of our past experiences. This ‘ reactive mind’ creates the filters through which we experience our world. Most of us get through our daily lives by handing over to our ‘ autopilot ‘ mechanism of the subconscious mind; the home of self sabotaging behaviour. We battle constantly between our hard wired patterns and what we ‘ know’ is more supportive of our wellbeing. As result we suffer the long term effects of stress and disconnection from our body’s wisdom.
5 reasons to practise mindfulness :
- It is a powerful way to exercise the ‘ muscle of awareness’ of the conscious mind. New neural pathways get fired up in the brain. We develop the skill of being less reactive and more responsive to life and we tend to make better choices for our lives and health.
- As a result of living a high demand life, we are running on ‘ adrenalised energy’, which is damaging to our long term health. Mindfulness is a way cultivate the ability to harness and manage our authentic energy, by being able to de activate the chronic stress response that we are locked into.
- Mindfulness is a pillar of health, activating the body’s innate wisdom and enhancing the body’s ability to heal itself.
- It is a tool for creating greater focus, clarity and calmness. The result is greater effectiveness, resilience and the ability to grow from challenges rather then being depleted by them.
- When we practise mindfulness we live more consciously, and are better equipped to fulfill our potential in all the aspects of our lives.
2 simple mindfulness practices:
- Choose a short daily task that only lasts a few minutes, for example, brushing your teeth or washing the dishes or having a shower. Practise becoming fully present in that experience by waking up all 5 senses.
- Sit or lie in a comfortable position and bring yourself into the present moment by focusing on the breath. Without trying to ‘ empty the mind’ welcome all the feelings , thoughts and sensations without judgement. Just simply observe them. As soon as you become aware of the mind activity, just gently let your breath guide you back to the present. Do this for 10 minutes a day and work up to 15- 20 minutes.
Just as we are not aware of the constant running commentary that is directing our thoughts and behaviors, we are not usually not aware of how our breathing is responding to the constant chatter. Every thought, emotion and physical state that we experience has a corresponding breathing pattern.
Bringing our attention to how we are breathing in our everyday life allows us to slow down and become aware of our internal dialogue,reactions, physical posture and external environment. It is way to activate intuitive wisdom,manage our energy, sharpen our listening skills and create a gap from the reactive mind.
Not only is breathwork a tool of mindfulness but is also the most powerful and simple way to deactivate the hardwired stress response. The body has built in mechanisms to do this, however, we have suppressed them in the attempt to ‘ be polite’ . Yawning and sighing are natural mechanisms that are employed to release tension and access authentic energy. Amazing research has been done on the neurobiological and immunological effects of yawning. Not only does yawning optimize the oxygenation and the flow of energy to the brain, it also activates our mirror neurons which would explain why yawning is contagious!
There are thousands of breathing techniques that can be practised and practically applied in every day life.There are various techniques that can be used to achieve different effects for example creating calm before sleep or kickstarting energy when it starts to wane. Conscious breathing practices wakes up the ‘ breath intelligence’. As a result, oxygenation to the cells improve, the immune system is strengthened and the body’s metabolism is optimized. The breath then automatically changes in a way that is most appropriate to the situation. In other words the ability to master the breath supports the ability to master life.
3 simple breathwork techniques:
- The sigh of relief
As soon as you notice that you are feeling irritable and the body is tensing up, take a deep long slow breath in and snap the exhale out with a soft and complete sigh. You can do this more than once. This is a quick and effective way to let go of a build up of tension. This is useful when standing in a queue or siting in traffic.
- The square breath
This technique is useful for regaining a sense of control when you are feeling overwhelmed. Breathing in and out through the nose, breathe in for a count of 4, hold the breath for a count of 4, exhale slowly for a count of 4, and hold again for a count of 4 before inhaling. Continue for 5 minutes.
- The energy breath
Breathe in fully, exhale naturally. At the end of the exhale , suck the belly button in towards the spine and hold the breath for a few seconds until you feel the urge to breath in again. To enhance the effects, let the spine curl as you exhale bad straighten up as you inhale and fill your lungs. Continue for 5 minutes.
“ Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.” – C. G. Jung
We have reached a point in our evolutionary process where we have a deep and innate desire to grow and expand our consciousness. We are all in the process of gravitating towards a state of wholeness, a felt sense of contentment, energy, wellbeing and skill to consciously navigate the challenges of life. Each of us has our own unique sense of what is needed to achieve this feeling. For some of us , it could be something practical like getting a degree or moving to the coast, for others it may be about creating a more healthy lifestyle or becoming more ‘mindful’.
Imagine what it would be like if we were able to immediately act on our intentions and arrive at the place in a flash? We would probably miss out on an entire process of discovery. We would deny ourselves the opportunity experiencing of the exciting, mysterious and undiscovered world of what I call the GAP. When it is not seen in this way, the GAP is the treacherous landscape that exists between our intentions and our actions or what we believe we should shift or change in our lives in order to grow, improve and feel whole versus the action that is required to create that shift.
The GAP is the black hole of our psyche. It’s the place we fear most. The Gap feels insurmountable and treacherous. We avoid it, deny its existence and try to find ways around it. In the process a great conflict and struggle ensues, leaving us frustrated and asking big questions of ‘ Why can’t I….. ? “ or “ why do I always do this to myself? “ . We blame ourselves, feel guilty, try harder and so the gap feels even wider.
Closing the Gap and the 7 Steps of Change
4. Taking Action
Through 20 years of working with people who have been floundering in “ The Gap” , Including myself, I have identified a certain pattern that this process has.
When we are able to bring our full awareness to where we are on this “gap grid” , we can more easily guide ourselves forward along the path and have great fun along the way.
Step 1: Excuses
While the intention or desire exists to instigate change,many excuses will be made as to why the action cannot be taken.These excuses usually appear as very valid. The most common excuse is that “there’s no time.” Other other elaborate excuses will also be found, drawing on spiritual concepts, a recent article or a past experience.The entire database of information that is held in the brain will be called on to design the excuse that validates and justifies the procrastination, addiction or pattern of behaviour.
“I’ll start on Monday” , “ Its not the right time”, I”m just being in the moment”, “I’m listening to by body”. “ I need to do X first, before i do Y “ are some of the common things we say to ourselves.
At this point in the process, the motivation for change may be externally driven. For example, a doctor has advised that you should start exercising and should lose weight because you have insulin resistance. Mostly we stay stuck here because this old “ way”, behaviour or thinking patten has been so deeply entrenched that our entire neurological circuitry and biology have adapted to this way of being. Recent research in the field of psychoneuroimmunology has firmly established the scientific relationship between mind and body. The physical body becomes a reflection of deeply healed thoughts and belief systems through the emotional chemistry. The cells become primed to receive the chemicals that are released in response to stress and anxiety and literally become hungry for more. Any threat of changing the status quo will result in a revolt from the shadow armies in the gap as their land is up against an “invader”.
There is a very real neurological and biological basis for why we stay in a state of ‘comfortable misery’.
Step 2: Blocks
The energy and desire to move forward is mustered up but we still come up against some big obstacles that are seem out of the field of our influence. Somehow things ‘ happen’ that prevent change from being made. Common examples are cars breaking down, being stuck in traffic, sustaining an injury or bad weather. A block is really a cleverly disguised excuse that is blamed on someone or something else. The ‘block’ seems like the ‘universe’s’ way of preventing the change and relieves us of the responsibility of making the change.
This makes sense from a quantum physics perspective where physical objects, thoughts and emotions are merely waves of energy vibrating at different frequencies. Fear and subconscious belief systems resonate at a frequencies that will draw the experiences and situations with a similar vibration. In other words, we attract what we fear. Like attracts like, and so the cycle gets perpetuated.
This is where many of us halt the process of closing the gap and the old entrenched neural circuitry takes over as the operating system. Behaviour and body trigger emotion which feed thoughts which reinforce the belief systems.
The old tired rusty wheel keeps turning.
Step 3 : Awareness
This is the major crossroads on the path that will determine whether the change will actually be made.
At this point, there is an opportunity to create an inward shift that arises from the NON JUDGEMENTAL ACCEPTANCE of the old pattern. There is a recognition of the old programming, habits and patterns and what has given rise to them.There is a deep acknowledgement of the fear and a surrender to the opposing forces that stand the protect the territory of the GAP.
At this juncture, as the white flag is raised, an alignment occurs between the desire to change and our most deeply held authentic value systems. The shift is made from being motivated to being inspired. There is a willingness to stand at the top of the cliff and get a birds eye view of this undiscovered interior territory and ask the questions:
What got me here? What is my greatest fear? What will this change really mean? Where does this desire to change come from? What’s the alternative? What will i give up or lose as i make this change?
What does failure mean? Is this choice in alignment with my most deeply value systems?
This is the first choice point.
Courage, acceptance, self compassion and support are required as preparation for the further journey inward.
Step 4: Taking Action
As we begin to close the gap, we arrive at the point where our intention aligns with our internal state and value system. There is a real and genuine attempt to take the action steps of change.
As the new skill set is being learned, neurons begin to spark up different connections and a new neural circuitry is created in the frontal lobe of the brain, the seat of choice and self awareness. This is usually experienced as quite exhilarating but sometimes scary as new territory is being discovered. It easy and natural to want to retreat to what is familiar and it is important to be vigilant and mindful of how and when the old behaviour shows up.
And guaranteed the old behaviour will creep in as soon as soon as the guard is dropped and we might find ourself at step 1 or 2 again. “ This is taking too long” , “ This is too hard” , “ It’s not working” is what we will say to ourselves.
This is a normal part of the process. Remember that the new pattern has just been fired up but the old circuitry is still deeply entrenched.
It is at these juncture that we make an inspired and deep commitment to ourselves and gather the support, encouragement and guidance of those who we trust and who have our best interest at heart, whether that is a friend, coach or mentor.
Step 5: Crossroads
The baby steps lead us to the crossroads or another major choice point.
The journey has begun but the old circuits and the old ‘ self ‘ feels threatened and begins it fight for survival. The new circuitry is being entrenched through the new thoughts, feelings and actions. The cells are no longer receiving their fix of ‘feel bad’ hormones and will begin to pick fights with the new self. If we engage these battles, the conscious brain and the old subconscious being will begin a full scale war. It feels easier at this point to throw in the towel than to continue.
Be aware that this is not a linear process, rather, it is akin to walking a labyrinth. As we head toward the centre, we can feel as if we are moving away from it. It easy to feel despondent and default back to the old circuitry. The key to entrenching the new pathway, is to keep catching the old behaviour and with gently guide ourselves back.
Once again, courage, support and re alignment with value systems are required here.
Step 6: Practice
Like learning any new skill, the process of change requires perseverance, practice, commitment to self. More than that it requires patience and support. It’s interesting to see here how the “old “ way of operating will sneak into this process. If we are perfectionists we might want to do this process “ perfectly” or if we are needing validation, we constantly seek validation that we are doing well. Without judgement, it it helpful to watch these feeble attempts and let them simply pass through with full awareness and compassion. “Nerves that fire together wire together “ so the more the skill, habits, behaviour, feelings and emotions are practised, the more deeply the neural pathways will be entrenched. In response, new receptors become switched on and primed on the surface of the cells and the physical body begins to transform. In my 15 years experience of working with the mind body connection I have hundreds of examples of people who have healed their physical ailments and completely changed their relationship to life and themselves by working through this process.
Step 7: The Shift
The new neural pathways have become deeply embedded. The entire body-mind system has become rewired to create a new habit or way of living and being. This is the “ new normal” .
The software of the subconscious mind has been re programmed. While the “ old programme “ will probably rear its head every now and again, it passes quickly as the new default programme sets in. This however requires constant awareness and vigilance. By now, the skill of mindfulness has become more finely tuned.
The breath as the guide and the tool
As we travel along this journey, we require a navigation system, support, fuel and some tools along the way. In both my personal journey and as a guide to this process, the breath is the one constant tool that I draw on.
The breath is a programme that is always running in the background and it kicks in without us even being aware of it. It’s a great gift of life that we take for granted. In every moment, the breath is at work to maintain balance, homeostasis and energy. But like the cells in our body that get primed to the stress hormones, the pattern of our breathing also adapts to a particular mode of operating.
For example, if we have developed the habit of living in an adrenalised mode or slouching over a desk the breath will correspond accordingly.
If we tend to have defensive patterns and tend to keep people at arms length it will show up in the breathing pattern. If we find it difficult to trust ourselves and trust life, be sure that the breathing pattern will reveal that. Often its the pattern of breathing that will reflect a way of being that may not have revealed itself to the conscious mind yet.
When we turn our attention to the breath, we can start to begin our journey inwards.
Simply by watching the breath we can move to the next step of being the observer and watcher of our experience. It allows us to create a gap to close the gap. Now the breath becomes a core skill to develop mindfulness. And so the journey begins.
While there are thousands of breathing techniques that all facilitate different feelings and experiences, the most radical, powerful and transformative breathing technique that i have been taught and that I use every single day personally and with my patients is a technique called “ Conscious Connected Breathing “ When I was first taught this technique by Breathwork Master, Dan Brulé a few years ago, he said that he believed that it was the most powerful breathing technique on the planet. 5 years later and hundreds of breathwork sessions later I can safely say that I agree.
It is a simple technique that involves breathing in a certain rhythm in a connected way for a prolonged period of time. This breathing pattern of a long active inhale and passive soft and complete exhalation reflects reflects the pattern of the new. The active inhale reflects action while the passive exhale reflects surrender. It is the skill of relaxing through the intensity that sparks up the new pathway. A conscious connected session is like a fast track through all 7 steps all in one session.
Usually as the intensity of the energy builds through the session, the stress or sympathetic response kicks in as the body and mind reads a “ high demand situation” . At this point in the process, we have an opportunity to practice mindfulness, to watch without reacting. Instead we can practise taking the next steps by continuing to breathe in the same connected way. A new neural network begins to light up, as we spark up the ability to relax through discomfort . More than that we are practicing, perseverance ,determination and courage. This technique that bridges the gap between intensity and relaxation firmly re in forces the new pathway. Staying awake to the sensations you experience lights up the left prefrontal cortex, the seat of conscious awareness and shuts down the activity in the parts of the brain that regulates stress. Eventually, the body and mind become one and the body’s innate wisdom takes over. The body and mind wake up to your essential self and the battle is over. The gap is closed.
Of course the journey continues as we keep evolving and growing and arriving at new frontiers within ourselves, but with the help of the breath we are able to navigate it in a different way. Because we have switched in the magic of the breath we a use the breath in different ways depending on the landscape. When we feel stuck, even taking a breath is an action that propels us forward. Whether we are walking through a field or climbing a mountain, the breath can be harnessed to get across the gaps with comfort, ease and grace.Read More >>