Before we dive in, don’t forget that there’s a complementary guide to today’s topic that’ll help you explore things personally. It’s kind of like a little Life Coaching at home. You can get that at www.triciazody.com/guide.
Okay, listen, y’all are going to have to excuse me. I’m a little fired up.
Currently, I’m taking a course called Neurobiology: The Effects of Trauma on the Brain. Y’all. Oh my goodness. I don’t think - unless you’re a neurobiologist, neuroscientist, neurophysician, neurosurgeon, anything with neuro in front of it, or you’re a psychiatrist or psychologist - I don’t think us lay-people understand the power we have to change our entire metabolic system and epigenetics just by being mindful. Mindful, y’all. I think the researchers are just now coming to realize the fullness of this one thing to change our bodies to prevent inflammatory diseases - including Alzheimer’s, Heart disease, Diabetes, Immune system disorders. Y’all. I’m beside myself with excitement. Can you tell?
One of the doctors teaching this course is Bessel Van Der Kolk, author of the well-known book, The Body Keeps The Score. I have mentioned him many times in this podcast. I read it after I was losing my hair and my heart was racing out of my chest -- all due to stress. Whatever is going on in the mind that you refuse to attend to will show itself somewhere in the body. I talked a lot about this in Episode #2 - Mind, Body, Spirit Wholeness. The mind and body are directly and intimately connected.
Another doctor teaching this course is Dan Siegel - Clinical professor and Co-founding director of the Mindfulness Research Center at UCLA. Listen to this. It blows me away. He said, “Within integration of the mind, you actually alter epigenetic controls – that’s what the research shows. We now know what you do with your mind and what you do with your relationships changes the molecules of health. It literally changes enzymes. It literally improves your telomeres. It literally optimizes the non-DNA histones and methyl groups that are helping to prevent inflammatory disease.”
Let me just remind you that inflammatory diseases include certain forms of diabetes, certain forms of cancer. Some researchers are even including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease – and, of course, and heart disease.
Stress is caused by the fragmentation of the mind. It’s where the emotions of the primal brain and the logic and reasoning of the pre-frontal cortex is not integrated in an experienced event. So, stress from life experiences would make it more likely that you're going to have these inflammatory diseases if you’ve not attended to integration or defragmentation.
Now, if you’re one of my past or current clients, now you know why I keep telling you to use the tools I’ve taught you. We knew the effect it had on our brains for immediate relief. But now the scientists are figuring out more long-term, lasting, and critical changes that they’re making in our whole being -- mind and body.
Dr. Siegel says that it’s by mindfulness that the mind is integrated. He makes it clear that the kind of mindfulness that he’s talking about is bringing an awareness and a focus to present experiences with acceptance. This removes resisting or avoiding our emotions associated with the experience. Instead, it’s allowing emotions by bringing awareness to them by owning them, naming them, exploring the reasons for them. Like, why are we feeling this emotion? What are they trying to tell us? Where are they trying to move us? I go more in depth in how our emotions “speak” to us in Episode # 54 - Can You Trust Your Emotions? There, I make arguments for why you may not be able to rely on your emotions, but you certainly can trust them.
Emotions give us clues as to what we want and need. They are guides for our self-protection, and much more. They are also the reason why we can connect with other people in deep ways, creating bonds that are uniquely human. Your emotions are constantly sending you messages all day long that provide you with vital information for your survival -- both physical and mental. It’s from this place of awareness that we’re able to make choices and decisions for ourselves. Emotions are powerful directors.
Neuro researchers and psychologists, and the like, call resisting or avoiding the processing of our present experiences a mild form of dissociation. It’s simply distracting ourselves from unpleasant experiences and trying to forget about them. Dissociation makes us numb to the things and people around us. It decreases our memory, perception, and normal functions of consciousness. The distraction can even look like something good. Like putting attention to someone else’s immediate needs instead of our own. We think we’re being selfless. But in reality, we’re just avoiding having to think about or deal with our unpleasant situation and the negative emotions it brings up. But in reality, what you resist continues to persist. We are creating an environment in our mind and body that encourages the festering of those emotions we’re trying to avoid. And they just keep persisting.
So, what do you do with your mind that does that? Mindfulness training. By the way, this is not meditation. It’s different. It’s literally just being purposefully present and aware. Being aware of what's happening as it's happening; bringing an awareness and a focus to present experiences with acceptance. It’s definitely not ignoring, or avoiding, or resisting how you’re feeling or experiencing a situation. It’s not pretending “it’s fine, I’m fine, everything’s fine,” when clearly it’s not.
Let me give you an example of this mindfulness from my personal life. This past Sunday afternoon, I was laying in my hammock on my back patio. It was awfully quiet back there as the breeze gently swung me to and fro. After about 30 minutes, I was bored. And then I started thinking what everyone else must be doing on a Sunday afternoon: couples holding hands strolling through the park or enjoying a meal on the patio of their favorite restaurant, families enjoying the Astros baseball game. Ugh and look at my life. Boring, boring, boring. It was going downhill fast. So fast. I could feel the pity-party and the self-loathing starting to consume me. You may not have thought of it this way before, but this is a form of stress on the mind.
But then, my brain did something amazing! Because I’ve been working on transforming my life by the renewing of my mind - like Romans 12:2 says - my brain offered me a new thought. “Who do you know that would love to be quietly swinging in the hammock right now? Quietly. No distractions. No responsibilities of others that would make them quickly jump out of that hammock? Who do you know that would love to be exactly where you are right now?” Maybe even some of YOU are raising your hands. But this, my friend, was my brain integrating or defragmenting.
So, I want you to see this. I experienced something that conjured up certain feelings driven by my emotional brain. That’s normal. And then I acknowledged that I felt that way. I let myself feel the boredom, and then the sadness, and then the self-pity. That was not a problem. I can feel any emotion and it won’t kill me. So, allowing myself to feel it was being present and aware in the moment as it was happening. I did not resist it by beating myself up for feeling that way. I also didn’t resist it by saying, “I’m fine. Everything’s fine.” I just recognized it and let it be. But then, I invited my adult brain into the moment. My adult brain brought the logic and reasoning that allowed me to shift my perspective and see my circumstance from a different lens. That’s what shifted my focus from one of lack to one of abundance. It’s why I was able to relax my mind and lay there in the hammock for a good part of the hour, just letting the breeze flow over me and rock me into a brief, but oh-so-refreshing nap. So much gratefulness there. And that’s so different than the emotions a pity-party evokes, right?
This is mindfulness. I’m wondering, friend, if you could think of a recent situation where the outcome of your day could’ve been completely different if you had practiced mindfulness. Where are you refusing to be present and aware of what you’re feeling because either you think you’ve got to gloss everything over with a positive attitude, or because you’re afraid to feel the emotions it might bring? Either way, those emotions are not going anywhere. There’s still going to be there, and probably even more persistent. Or, as we also know, perhaps they’ll show up in your body somewhere, just trying to get your attention. Let me encourage you to start practicing this mindfulness - this present awareness. You have the opportunity to alter your epigenetic controls and the molecules of your health. That should get you super excited, too. Be mindful today, friend. Your life just may depend upon it!
Friends, you might find it difficult to allow yourself to be present in the moment of an event that also brings hard or negative emotions. You’d rather just sweep it under the rug and not deal with it. If this is you, I’d love to be your Life Coach and teach you the tools you’ll need to allow awareness to begin the process of mindfulness. Believe me, your life just may depend upon it!
I’ve put a link in the show notes for a free 30-minute call just so we can see if we’re a good fit to work together and show you how Life Coaching would work for you.
Also, don’t forget to get the free, downloadable guide that complements this episode. It has a few prompt questions that will help you personally work through some of the things I’ve talked about today.
Have a wonderful week, friends. See you next Wednesday for the next episode of Another Beautiful Life podcast.