Being a lover of exercise (never used to be in my younger years) I find myself often comparing mindfulness with exercise, which I believe often serves as a very useful metaphor.
For instance, just like exercise, mindfulness meditations require repetition: practising regular meditation gives us an opportunity to rehearse and repeats a different way of interacting with our sensations, thoughts and emotions (and with their constant wave-like fluctuation). This allows us to develop improved ‘precision’ awareness, detecting change and therefore, gives us the ability to choose responding to that change in a more open, gentle and compassionate way. When we do this, we begin to shift behaviour from body to our Main Storage (the brain), via our carriers of information (neurotransmitters) and begin to change habits (what neuroscientists call neural pathways ).
Just like exercise, however, approach and posture are important in order to ensure we don’t pick up an injury (in mindfulness terms this may mean, for instance, trying too hard to internally fight something we don’t like or clinging too tightly onto something we want, such as a state of relaxation or aiming to achieve a ‘special place’). Approaching the practice with openness, curiosity, being playful and gentle is, in my experience, THE most important ‘intentional posture’ in order to maximise what we get out of the practice.
Many people I teach and train have difficulty with finding or making time to practice and repeat meditations; of course there was this idea that everyone should practice 40-50 minutes per day (which was the case when I first started to practice) but, increasingly, both teachers and the literature are reporting greater benefits from as little as 10 minutes practice per day and, from a brain point of view, once we bring the appropriate quality of attention to the practice. This is because, we can get neurons to fire together and wire together even with just 10 seconds at the time (in other words we create new electrical connections and even build neural structure to be thicker). Just like exercise, trying to do too much at once, booming and then busting are common observations I make! There is this obsession with creating rules about what’s right and what’s wrong.
Clearly it is important to start with a minimum recommended ‘dosage’ of practice (same as food, medication or indeed minimum required number of exercises days and reps to benefit), however, just like a personal trainer, an appropriately qualified and experienced mindfulness teacher would be able to guide you through an appropriately evaluated process to ensure maximum quality of approach and guidance with building up consistency – therefore ensuring maximum return for your valuable time and effort. In western society, this is particularly important as we need to strike a balance between quality and quantity so as to be as efficient as possible with what we do with the very little spare time we have – mindfulness is no different.
Our approach may explain the excellent outcome data we have, which is collected by highly qualified (Masters or Doctoral level team players) via both quantitative psychometric, qualitative data collection and ongoing client feedback.
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