Category Archives: Gen-Do Lifestyle

Why Mind-Body Practice Is Sexy

The term “mind-body” has become really popular in modern U.S. culture—most noticeably in California. Today, like Forma Gym, a growing number of health clubs have a mind-body studio. Mind-body integration is definitely a trend. In fact, I see it as the “next sexy thing.”

We live in a fast-paced society where everyone seems to be on a never-ending go-go-go treadmill. Modern life is so hectic, we all need to press “pause” to get some downtime. We need time to reflect, stop doing, just breathe, and be.

In the health-club industry, mind-body integration is a “hot” trend. By developing mind-body unity and performance, we not only become fitter and healthier, we also become more confident and attractive. No doubt about it, mind-body health is a beautiful thing—both inside (mind) and outside (body).

Silence and Mind-Body Balance

Mind-body balance often comes from a practice of deep silence, where the incessant chatter of our monkey mind shuts off for a while. Silence can happen in stillness or during a sweaty workout. Either way, this quality of silence can ground you deeply in your body, and give you increased mental clarity. When your mind-body tingles with vitality after an energetic workout, you feel sexier, more attractive . . . and this is something others will notice, too.

As social creatures who like to be liked, we naturally tend to do things that others like to do. We tend to gravitate toward what’s “hot,” and, consciously or otherwise, we frequently monitor the media or listen attentively to conversations to find out what other people are excited about.

As the saying goes: “Different strokes for different folks.” Not everyone jumps on the same bandwagon, but we all like to be onboard some bandwagon. We like to feel up to speed and part of a current trend. Some folks like to tune into the latest music by their favorite artist; others get turned on by inspiring ideas coming from the frontiers of science. Take me, for example: I happen to really like quantum physics and electromagnetic field theory—because they give me a deeper understanding of the mind-body connection. In fact, I find exploring these ideas much “sexier” than watching Beyoncé strut her stuff on stage.

Let me clarify what I mean: My passion is exploring, practicing, and teaching mind-body unity, and helping others use this to improve their lives. Problem is: Modern science focuses only on the “body” half of this unity. Even when it addresses the “mind,” it really only looks at the brain and nervous system. This has spilled over into modern medicine and health care, too. Unfortunately, the biomechanical point of view that dominates modern medical science limits our potential by ignoring the crucial role that our mind—our consciousness—plays in how our lives unfold. Without sufficient focus and awareness on the mind half of mind-body integration, we sell ourselves short by treating our body as an object, as a kind of “machine.” Our minds give meaning to life and everything we do—including engaging in fitness and movement routines to build healthy bodies. We ignore the mind-body connection at our peril.

That’s why in my work I always encourage clients to open up to the balance of yin-mind and yang-body. We need to live healthy, fulfilled—and, yes, sexy—lives. One of the most effective ways to cultivate mind-body integration is through the intentional practice of silence. In silence, we can pay closer attention to whatever shows up both in our minds (thoughts, emotions, judgments, etc.) and in our bodies (sensations, movements, pain, pleasure, etc.).

In silence, you let your body guide you as you explore these subtle qualities. With practice, life becomes a series of enriching moments that help you maintain optimum mind-body health and performance. Without a healthy mind-body, it’s hard to imagine anyone being “sexy.” And that’s why I see the trend toward mind-body workouts as the next sexy thing.

Learn to Unlearn: How Mirror Neurons Shape Our Lives

Meditation is now a common and widespread daily practice for millions of people, and is even recommended by doctors to reduce stress, which causes various degenerative diseases. Mindfulness is a form of mediation that gets you in touch with the present moment. Research shows that regular meditation practice can “rewire” our brains by building new neural connections. These brain changes, in turn, change our physiology and experience. Specifically, using meditation regularly, we can develop our prefrontal cortex (a part of the brain some people don’t develop until age 25) to increase our capacity to become aware of our awareness so we can respond to situations instead of reacting to them.

Most of our reactions are triggered by how we perceive ourselves and the world around us. The body is a living matrix that stores all our past experiences. Literally, every person carries his/her whole history in every single moment. When we instinctively react to a threat (from another person or from our environment), the body registers this as a traumatic experience, and stores the trauma in the form of implicit memory. Once the memory is stored in our body, it can produce a variety of negative effects such as shortened breath, muscle tensions, or contraction in the myofascial tissues. We unconsciously carry all our traumatic events (small of large) in our bodies.

These stored embodied memory patterns become unconscious and automatic psychosomatic habits that can show us as or contribute to body tension and can lead to chronic pain. From this perspective, healthy movement becomes more about learning to unlearn these patterns in the body, as a way to let go of tensions.

At the beginning of twenty-first century, neuroscientists discovered something called mirror neurons in the brain. Based on past stored memories, these brain cells automatically register and interpret events in our external environment a moment before the actual event happens, and that’s why we often see or hear what we “expect.” This means that physiological processes based on reactions in our bodies occur not only because of what actually happens in the environment but also, and perhaps more so, based on our interpretation or expectations.

Imagine living in the world that has little to do with the actual events but, instead, is mainly shaped by our past memories, where our expectations color our experience moment by moment. Well, that is, in fact, the reality we live in. But by consciously exercising our minds (e.g., through meditation) we now know from neuroscience that we have the ability to re-wire our brains in ways that influence how we experience reality. It’s called “neuroplasticity.” In short, we can consciously choose how we relate to the world and how the world shows up for us—but, of course, it takes dedicated practice.

Paying attention to what is happening now is not just about being in the moment. It also involves a deep inquiry and personal exploration into what’s present in our unconscious —the hidden engine that drives our lives because of the intimate connection between our mind and our body. Tension patterns in our bodies are markers of our past, our recorded experiences. Through mind-body practice, however, we can learn to unlearn those patterns. Being aware of the effects of mirror neurons and how they influence our responses to the world is a first step in learning to live and respond from our direct experience instead of reacting to stored memories from the past.

Learning the Language of the Body

The trend toward mind-body health shows up in different industries—including medicine, fitness, and psychotherapy. For example, in the last few decades more and more people have recognized the health benefits of meditation and yoga, rivaling or even surpassing a doctor’s prescription.

But what is a mind-body practice—really? In particular, just what is the “mind” component of mind-body practice? Is it simply the ability to think or does it involve some other inner capacity—such as feeling? I sometimes ask people if they can locate the mind part of their mind-body practice, and more often than not I see them pointing at their heads. In other words, for many people, their “mind” is something that goes on in their brains. While, of course, our brains are closely related to our minds, that is far from the whole story. In true mind-body work, we recognize that the mind is fully embodied, and not shut up inside our skulls. People who think their minds are confined to their brains reveal that they really don’t have a good grasp of their own mind-body nature.

We all come into the world without the ability to speak or understand language. Then as we grow up, we soon start developing the cognitive functions associated with learning language. Later, as language develops, we internalize it, forming beliefs about ourselves and the outside world. In short, we develop a “world view”—a way of understanding the world based on the limits of our beliefs which, in turn, are limited by our language. What we believe is always an extension of what we think, and both reflect what we have learned in the past. In other words, our thoughts and beliefs are always rooted in the past, and disconnect us from reality as it is happening in the present moment. When we talk about “mind” (as in the “mind-body connection”), we refer to awareness of how events unfold right now—not to some abstract thought that blurs our ability to be fully present. The main point I want to emphasize is this: our thinking mind (cognition) is just a small part of our total consciousness. Based in language, it is something that is socially constructed. By contrast, our true mind—our consciousness itself—is innate to our entire body, and transcends the limitations of language and ideas. Mind is something we feel. It is not what we think.

Mind-body practice, then, is all about moving away from this mental cognitive capacity, the constructed or socially conditioned mind. Whenever we get lost in our thoughts or become strongly attached to our beliefs, we lose touch with what’s happening in our body. We suppress our feelings and emotions, and block out our body’s natural instincts. The human body has evolved over hundreds of thousands of years, and during that time, it has developed its own innate intelligence. We call this the “embodied mind.” Effective mind-body work, therefore, gets us back in touch with the body’s natural deep intelligence—crucial for mind-body health.
When we realize this, we also realize that we need to unlearn most of what we learned through our cognitive development. We need to cultivate our ability to feel and be guided by our natural embodied intelligence. That’s how we learn to expand our capacity to connect with our bodies and with what’s happening at a subconscious level. Mind-body practice begins by letting go of thoughts and, instead, learning the language of the body. The vocabulary of our embodied language is silent, and shows up as feelings, sensations, and pulsations.

To sum up: Your mind is not in your head. It is embodied throughout your whole body. However, it is not “inside” the body (you will not see it!), like your brain is inside your head. Instead, your mind is your entire body’s natural ability to feel and to purposefully direct itself through movement. If you want to explore and cultivate your mind, start by paying attention to your body—because your whole body is, in fact, your embodied mind.

Your Biological Thermostat: The Secret to Change

Why do so many people have a difficult time changing routines? The answer is simple: Most people have their biological thermostat set on “habit” mode. Breaking habits or changing routines is not just a biological issue, it is also psychological. In other words, it’s really a mind-body issue—with emphasis on awareness and choice.

Sometimes we tend to live our lives on autopilot—repeating the same routine with little or no conscious attention, just getting through the day. What is the point of that? This often happens when people get trapped in their heads, fantasizing about the next thing to do, distracting their attention from what’s present now. When that happens, the body becomes like a machine following whatever the head decides.

When awareness is dominated by thinking, we lose touch with our body’s own innate wisdom. Running on autopilot, the body lacks awareness of fitness goals, and simply goes through the motions needed to stay alive.

Take a look at how you live everyday. If you are like most people probably up to 90 percent of what you do is routine. You get up the same way, get into your car in the same way, drive the same routes, park at the same spots, and so on. You purchase more or less the same stuff at the supermarket every week. Review what you eat, and you’ll probably find you tend to eat the same kinds of food. The ways you spend your money and time are likely to be consistent—forming a pattern. This happens because we often move through life with our “thermostat” set on “habit,” and rarely stop long enough to take notice.

But if you are unaware of your habits, how can you make a change?

Quite simply: You switch your thermostat from “habit” to “choice.” Choice is a sacred, conscious act. Choice is creative, and we don’t need to have any reason for choosing. In fact, having a reason blocks real choice and throws us back into the mechanism of habit. Choice always happens now, in the present moment.
When we fully realize that everything always happens in the present moment, we naturally pay conscious attention to what’s actually going on. With this awareness, we can exercise choice to make our actions line up with our intentions—leaving little room for habit.

It starts by realizing that making a choice is a fully embodied process, an expression of our unified mind-body system. We draw on our body’s innate intelligence to guide our actions. By contrast, living in our heads—acting from intellectual abstractions—turns us into machines, working on autopilot like the gears in an engine. And as long as we act from habit, we can never make any changes.

Living from our whole body moves us away from what the head thinks, and allows us to be fully engaged in the present moment. Then, it’s easy to make changes.

So what do we do?

First, bring attention to your breath and become fully aware of this moment. When you connect with the present moment, the rest naturally follows. You start to observe your own actions and soon realize that you have shifted your thermostat from “habit” to “choice”—priming creative action that facilitates change.

How to Get from Where You Are to Where You Want to Be

Although mind-body practices encourage us to be in the moment, in order to grow we also need to get where we want to be. Being fully present now helps us prepare for the future. This can apply in general to our careers, relationships, education . . . or more specifically to something you need to practice or a particular problem you want to solve.

Coaches often point out that one common reason people don’t get where they want to be is because they haven’t decided where they want to be. It all begins with a clear vision of where you are going. Next, you need to identify where you are right now. Once you determine the starting point A and the destination B, you simply need to come up with a plan to fill the gap. Until you create a plan, your goal remains a wish.

In order to move toward your goal, planning and scheduling are essential. As you observe your own behavior, you will begin to notice that you usually repeat the same actions over and over. Repetition and regularity—consistency—are important keys to help you accomplish your goals. Good coaches will focus on establishing healthy workout schedules and programs for you.

Quite often, a new workout regimen will be designed to break old habits and patterns that don’t serve you. Your coach will work with you to change your habits by training you to develop new patterns. Wherever you are right now is a result of what you have been doing, the way you have been doing. In other words, you are where you are because you have been repeating habitual behaviors. In order to change the outcome, then, you need to establish a different pattern of behavior. Changing habits always begins with awareness so you can take note of habits that don’t work for you, and consciously decide to change them. And this is precisely where mind-body practices can help us to develop both our body and mind.

The ability to reflect what is really happening is necessary to find out how to create a new pattern. Once you discover what doesn’t support you reaching your goal, you can begin to change or even eliminate old habits by daily reflection or meditation and observing your behavior.

Every decision we make in life is driven either by a desire to feel pleasure or to avoid feeling pain—or both. Whenever we take action, we unconsciously make this “emotional measurement” (on the pleasure/pain spectrum). For example, you might give in to the desire to eat a tasty sweet desert because the pleasure you experience will offset the pain of not meeting your fitness goals. Or, of course, you might calculate the other way: You could decide not to eat the sweet because the pleasure of being fit and healthy overrides your desire to experience a fleeting pleasure.

Unfortunately, many people ignore physical pain until the symptom becomes severe enough for them to take action. Even though they dislike the pain, they “grin and bear” it because changing their routine might be more uncomfortable. However, when the pain reaches a certain threshold (beyond the discomfort they might feel by changing behaviors) people finally take action. Our brains are wired for repetition, and this makes it is easy for people to stay within their comfort zone.

Understanding the pain/pleasure principle is key to developing awareness of our behaviors and for shifting to actions aligned with our goals. When we shift to behaviors that get us closer to our goals, we can speed up the development process by making the new behavior a habit. Eventually, repetition of this healthy behavior automatically takes us toward our goal.

Jim Rohn, one of the most influential motivational speakers of all time, said: “Either you run the day or the day runs you.” The difference hinges on awareness and disciplined observation of our own lives—plus a willingness and commitment to change.

How to Escape from Virtual Reality

In ancient times, the Earth was assumed to be flat. Now we believe it is round. We have all seen the NASA image of Earth floating in space—we’ve seen this beautiful blue globe with our own eyes! So we believe that is the case. But how do we know what we believe is really true?

Today, we get our facts mostly through electronic media and books. We live in an information culture, where technology takes over. And even though the new media encourage us to “connect,” in some ways we are losing true inter-personal connections.

Neuroscientists today talk about “neuroplasticity,” which simply means that our brains constantly change, growing new networks, shaped by our daily activities. In other words, what we do and what we think shapes who we are—and how we see the world. We believe the world is really the way we see it. But how can that be true? When we do different things our brains filter the world differently. Nevertheless, we believe that’s the way reality is. What we perceive shapes what we conceive—perception creates conception.

It gets more complicated because our concepts—our thoughts and beliefs—act like lenses that filter our perceptions and experiences. Most of the time, we are not aware of this process, and we mistake our beliefs for what is really real. We let our beliefs hijack our moments of experience—rather than experiencing our experiences as they happen. Instead of getting stuck in old belief patterns, we can practice mindfulness or meditation and become more and more aware of what happens in our experience from moment to moment. Doing so, we can use our minds to rewire our brains, laying down new networks of nerve cells. By remaining open to our experiences as they happen,we can liberate ourselves from fixed beliefs rooted in static patterns formed in our brains.

Soon we realize there are two “realities”—a perceived reality based on our beliefs and filters (I call this our “virtual reality”) and actual reality, what is really happening in the moment. We can know actual reality by paying attention to our direct experience—our whole-body experience right now. Mind-body practice bridges the gap between these two realities by tuning into the direct experience and acknowledging that we also continually create a virtual reality though our interpretations, thoughts, and beliefs.

Our virtual reality is mainly created by our cognition or intellectual mind, which is known to be only about five percent of our total capacity for intelligence. The other 95 percent, our unconscious, embodied mind, always connects us through direct experience to the universe as it actually is.

A common phrase explains the holistic, integrated mind-body view: Everything is connected to everything else. Eastern philosophies, such as Indian ayurvedicmedicine and traditional Chinese medicine, follow this principle. Our embodied mind connects us directly with actual reality, with the unfiltered universe.

Today, we think we increase our connections through Internet. However, as a matter of fact, we are already deeply interconnected. The whole universe is interconnected and our direct experience is part of this universal connectivity.

Back in ancient times, no-one questioned the belief that the world was flat. Today, we would say that those ancient people were mistaken, even deluded, because that’s just how it appeared to their eyes. But now notice how much of our own daily lives are filled with ideas we have constructed about really because that’s how it appears to us—just like the flat world of our ancestors! The “reality” in our heads, based on our beliefs, is just as imaginary, just as virtual, as the flat-Earth reality of the ancients.

Do we want to continue to live in a virtual reality that misses 95 percent of what is actually real? Or do we want to investigate the deeper aspects of the world? Awareness is key because our beliefs habitually take us back to the virtual reality we construct in our brains.

We need to integrate mind-body practices into our lifestyles in order to transition from “virtual reality” to “actual reality.” It doesn’t really matter whether the world is flat or round because, either way, what we “know” is based on our perceptions and beliefs—which selectively filter or distort reality.

Here’s a question that really makes a difference: What is your direct experience at this very moment? That’s your touchstone to reality.

Happiness 101: from Awareness to Love

Is there a science of happiness? Is love a skill? In the last decade, neuroscientists have been exploring brain functions associated with happiness, and have discovered how this is trainable with different kinds of meditation.

One interesting piece of data they found: happiness has something to do with cultivating compassion and empathy, related to the fact that we are social animals.
In the latter decades of 20th century, a new scientific field arose called “psychoneuroimmunology” (PNI). Basically, this science tells us that our thoughts, feelings, and emotions can affect our physiology by influencing our immune system. Pharmacologist Candace Pert discovered what she calls “molecules of emotion”—technically known as neuropeptides. Based on her research, she claimed that emotions exist all over in the body—so, for example, when we say we have a “gut feeling,” a physiological reaction is actually happening in our gut!

Her discovery of the “molecules of emotion” rocked the scientific community, because it meant that the brain is not the headquarters of human functioning. We are not “top-down machines,” always reacting to what goes on in our heads. Instead, we are mindful-sentient organisms whose bodies teem with intelligence in every organ, in every cell. The communications systems between body and brain, and between mind and body, work back-and-forth. It’s a two-way dynamic between brain and the rest of the body. Based on scientific knowledge about what makes us happy, I would like to reveal here what I call “the three dimensions” of happiness. People seek happiness in various ways, through . . .

      external gratification that temporarily makes us happy.
      a feeling of satisfaction associated with (and often “attached” to) our individual self.
      a deeper sense of fulfillment that comes from simply recognizing and appreciating what is.

Our level of consciousness fluctuates throughout the day, and it is natural to move around these three layers. Essentially, nothing is wrong with experiencing external gratification (#1), and we all need to balance these three layers of happiness as we grow. We are all familiar with external gratification, so I don’t need to explain that here. Examples, of course, are our desires for chocolate, coffee, etc. When we respond to these desires, we get a feeling of satisfaction (#2), and this is what most of us seek. This kind of satisfaction can be related to work, our relationships, friends, family, and so on.

Attaining level #3 happiness and a deeper kind of fulfillment, we need a certain level of awareness. On the famous “hierarchy of needs” identified by pioneering human potential psychologist Abraham Maslow this kind of happiness is associated with “self-actualization”—the state of mind Dalai Lama encourages us to cultivate by practicing compassion, (I think this is what Oprah Winfrey tries to achieve with her audiences, too).
A couple of years ago, the lyrics of a song caught my attention. They went something like: “Love is not something you give or receive; it’s already there when you realize it.” The key phrase for me was “When you realize it.”

I tend to view feelings of satisfaction that rely on something external needing to change as “horizontal” happiness. However, I see deeper fulfillment as a vertical process—by accepting “what is,” we open to the rich depth and variety of what life has to offer. In doing so, we expand our awareness. This kind of fulfillment does not come from achieving things—it arises from within, from being. In fact, this mode of happiness doesn’t require us to do anything or to go anywhere. All it takes is full acceptance of what’s happening right here right now. It all begins by becoming aware of what’s present and realizing that the world is already filled with love. This step starts by unlearning what we know, by detaching ourselves from the self-image we have developed—especially if that image depends on externalities such as how we dress, how we look, how big or beautiful our home is, or how much money we have. Instead of protecting our fragile self-image, we can succeed in life by fully connecting with, expressing, and contributing our deepest natural self—the self that is mostly “unconscious” or transpersonal—the self that connects us with “something bigger.”

Access Your Subconscious Awareness

Modern lifestyles encourage us to live in our heads. But how far can we go with this over-intellectual approach? Can we live and express our fullest potential? Living in our heads tends to blind us to our own internal bodily experience.

The body really does not know how to lie; yet it is often numb because our minds learned to suppress what the body tells us. Many people live from expectations—their own and those of others. As a result, many respond like puppets to “social norms”—or worse, they restrict themselves by living according to norms constructed in their own heads. As a result, many people evaluate happiness according to how their expectations are fulfilled.
An intelligence exists in the world that nobody can fully explain (understanding it is beyond even the most qualified psychologists and quantum physicists). This intelligence sustains the planets, and animates and informs animal bodies (including humans). As long as we stay in our heads—stuck in our ego-minds—we shut down access to the universal intelligence present in our bodies. Embodied intelligence heals the body and connects us with the environment—and, ultimately, with the whole universe.

Paradox of Unconscious Awareness

The phrase “subconscious awareness” might sound like a contradiction because awareness indicates being conscious. But the contradiction is only apparent. While we (human organisms) are mostly unaware of what goes on in our organs, tissues, and cells, our bodies themselves tingle with their own intelligence and awareness. Just because we are unconscious or unaware of something happening in our body doesn’t mean that our cells or organs lack awareness. That’s what we mean by “subconscious awareness.”

Our brains can do only one thing at a time, so the current fad for multi-tasking is actually based on a myth. When we use our brains to focus on something external we become unaware of what is happening in our body—that’s the subconscious mind.

Embodiment, then, is a practice of getting out of your head so you can start connecting with the native intelligence of your own body. When you successfully connect with your body, you awaken to your unconscious power. You can literally connect with the whole universe because your subjective experience (consciousness) connects with universal consciousness.

A good example of this is synchronicity, where some “coincidental” event happens in your life that brims full of meaning for you. We all know the case where we were thinking about a friend and at the very next moment that friend calls. Consciousness (or more accurately collective consciousness) transcends space—and, therefore, all consciousness connects and shares meaning with all other consciousness. This universal connection is happening all the time, more than most of us realize. Nevertheless, until we awaken our subconscious awareness, we often ignore our embodied experience.

And so the question naturally arises: “How do I awaken my subconscious awareness?”

Simple answer: You pause your thinking for a moment and get in touch with your felt-sensations. Then, just stay with your embodied sensations, observing and monitoring them, without trying to analyze them. The moment you analyze, you are back into your head.

Bottom line: Embodiment does not require language because the body has its own language and intelligence.