#16 Benefits-Gyrification

human brain figurine

If there is one positive to this pandemic, are the opportunities to slow down. I have found that there are more times throughout the day to practice mindfulness and meditation.

One of the benefits to these practices is something called “Gyrification”.

Everyone has seen a picture of a brain before. If you haven’t, look up!

See those folds and wrinkles? Gyrification is when the brain creates more folds.

What do these folds do for us? Well, for one, it creates more surface area for the brain. Think of it as increasing the processing power of your computer. Try this. Take a napkin and fold it like you were making a fan. You have the same amount of napkin occupying less space. Mindfulness and meditation has been shown to increase the number of folds in our brain.

This is also a great way to destress.

Try this today. Take a 30 second break from everything and just breathe slowly. Unplug, put the phone away, go outside. Anyone can detach for 30 seconds. If you can’t, do 15. Then try to increase by 5-10 seconds everyday.

Hope you are well and safe!

What a crazy couple of weeks!

I hope everyone is healthy and safe! As an educator, I have been busy putting together my “Distance Learning” plan. It is coming along and so far the students have been engaged and working hard. When I haven’t been doing that, I have been working on my online course on Stress and what we can do about it. Seems like a good time to launch it. If you are interested or know a teacher who might be, please share out this link. Stay healthy and safe!

www.teacherstoolbox.thinkific.com

Update

Hey everyone! I just wanted to give you an update on what I have been up to. Lately, I have been working on an online ecourse. It is taking a lot of time setting it up, so my blog writing have been taking a little bit of a backseat. The ecourse is called “The Teacher’s Toolbox”. It is taking my blog posts on Stress and it’s impacts on health and supercharging it! There will be about 10 hours of instructional video’s, journal writing, assessments and techniques that will help improve our health and ability to manage stress. If you’re interested on being one of the first in the class, you can sign up below. Thanks!

https://christopher-s-school-07c5.thinkific.com/pages/coming_soon?fbclid=IwAR0Wgi54osb5vyEuD1dIHW9mqJxvLeG1u6oJk41MpkSUdypCGHrfjO1S7-s

#15 Benefits Part 2

Last week, I talked about how practicing mindfulness and meditation can help us become “more present”.

What are some of the other benefits?

Image result for pain

One of the most interesting, is reduction in pain.

Pain is an alert that something is wrong. According to a 2015 Wake Forrest Baptist medical study, that having a mindfulness practice can help reduce the severity of pain. (https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2015/11/151110171600.htm)

Nowadays, when there is pain and you end up in the doctor’s office, you might end up with a prescription to help with the pain. For me, I try to avoid medication as much as possible. If you NEED it, by all means, do what you think is best. However, I hope my own mindfulness practice can help deal with it.

We always associate pain as a bad thing and attached negative feelings towards the pain. Our first thought is “How do I get rid of this pain?!” Pain is something that we want to escape because it is uncomfortable. By associating negativity with pain, it can end up making it more painful! This can end up being a vicious cycle. The more we dwell on it, the worse it gets. According to some of the research, being aware of the pain without judgement (easier said than done!) can help in the recovery.

In a 2011 study by Grant et al, they found that meditators that were in pain, had an increase in activity in brain regions associated with processing sensations of pain and a decrease in activity in brain regions associated with emotion and memory.

In a 2015 study by Zeidan et al confirmed those findings and also showed that mindful meditators actually had a different neural pathway in perceiving and processing pain, therefor feeling better.

Image result for toolbox

Meditation and mindfulness can be another tool in the toolbox. If you are in pain, give a “full body meditation” a try. Meditation is not a “magic pill”, but it might help you find a little relief. (here is a link that you can use to help https://www.mindful.org/a-3-minute-body-scan-meditation-to-cultivate-mindfulness/)

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#14- Benefits

Why even bother with mindfulness or meditation? What are the pros and cons? In my opinion, there is little to no downside. Other than a time commitment, I don’t think there is a downside.

One of the biggest upsides is the ability to remain in the present. It is said that depression comes from living in the past and anxiety is a fear of what is to come. I appreciate that both of these conditions have a deeper root than just thoughts causing them, but they are an ingredient.

One of the problems in today’s society is distraction. With technology, it seems impossible to be in the present. Just go out in public and just observe the amount of people who are staring at screens.

Over the past week I took a “Social Media Vacation”. No Facebook, no Instagram, no Twitter. I wish there was a way to quantify this, but I definitely felt less stressed. There were times when I mindlessly opened my phone and started to look for FB and Insta app, but I remembered I was taking a break and didn’t open it.

When I awoke this morning to a grunting Obie (my yellow lab if you didn’t know). This is usually a sign that it is time to eat breakfast. I opened my facebook and started to scroll. After a few minutes, I thought, “This is really what I (we) do with our time?” Nothing of real interest or consequence to see on social media.

Over the last week, I felt more present and less anxious. If something was of great importance, I hope the person who is posting would call or text me if I NEEDED to know.

When you have a mindfulness practice, you are practicing “being in the moment”. Yes, our mind will wander from thought to thought, it is inevitable. This is where we learn to be non-judgemental and just let the thoughts happen. According to Jack Kornfield (an expert in meditation, I highly recommend him) he says that mindfulness and meditation is like training a puppy. You tell the puppy to “stay”, and then after a few seconds, he wanders away. You pick him up and put him back and tell him to “stay”. You don’t beat the puppy (if you do, you are an awful human)you are gentle with them so they can learn.

A combination of a mindfulness practice and limiting social media exposure are, IMO, the two most essential things you can do to become more present.

In a small cafe in Brugge

Time is finite. It is our most valuable resource that we think we have an abundance of. I have reflected back on times with loved ones and remember, there are times where I (or we) were mindlessly scrolling through our news feeds. I am suggesting that you spend your time talking and being present with the ones that you care about. There will be a “last time” when you are with someone. Make the time count.

Regret is an awful feeling. I try not to have many regrets, but as life is continuously changing and evolving, I need to remember to be present in my daily life and the ones that I am with.

I challenge you to take a “social media vacation”. It can be a day, 2 days, or a week. It’s up to you. Give it a shot and let me know how it goes!

Thank you for reading and please give me a like, a share, or sign up for emails!

Have a great Sunday!

#13-Gratitude

What does being grateful mean to you? The above quote is what it means to me. In today’s society, it seems we focus on what we don’t have and what is missing. Social media has definitely made this worse. People constantly compare themselves to what they see on Instagram or Facebook. “I wish I had that lifestyle” or “I wish I had that house” or “I wish I looked like that”. I am not any different. There are times I look at other bloggers where all they do is travel. I would love to do that! See the world and golf in many amazing places.

Maybe they are like Tim Ferris, where he interviews the top 5% in any given discipline. It could be acting, finance, music, psychology, investing or the food industry. The amount that I have learned from his books and interviews is incredible. I highly recommend him. Tim wrote and incredible piece this week on his blog (which you can read here) titled “11 Reasons Not to Become Famous”. It was really eye opening to the downside to being internet famous. Teaching at a junior high, becoming famous on snapchat or Tik Tok is all they talk about. Most think they will become famous, because they think being famous will solve all their problems.

This also made me think about gratitude. Now, gratitude is something that I have been working on for a while now. Every morning, I post on facebook my “Morning Gratitude”. It can be absolutely anything that you are grateful for having in your life. This means, the mere presence of this thing, makes your life better. If it was gone, it would have the opposite effect. When I discuss gratitude with my students, it is very important not to compare your life to someone else’s. “Well, at least I don’t live in war torn Syria”. This isn’t gratitude. It can be a start that leads you to gratitude. Instead of using that language, you could say “I am grateful I have a roof over my head” or “I have access to clean water”.

There is a lot of stress that builds up in us when we focus on what we DON’T have versus what we do have. If you are reading this on a computer or smartphone, there is probably a lot you can be grateful for. This isn’t always easy. Sometimes we go through dark times in our lives, and it is tough to see the silver linings.

My challenge to you, is to start your own gratitude journal. If you want to post along with me on facebook, please do. If not, just write it down in a journal or a notebook. Commit to write one thing for a month. It can be anything. The sunrise, hot water, food on the table, the feeling of being loved. It’s up to you. Then at the end of the month, read your list. Things aren’t as dark as you think, and the grass isn’t always greener on the other side.

What do you think? Leave a comment, share, or sign up for emails! I hope you have a great day.

#12 Mindset- Do You Work on It?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.”- Albert Einstein

The mind is probably the most overlooked area to work on in order to improve one’s life. At the most basic level, we are all a little narcissistic. Very rarely to we ever view ourselves at the root cause of many our problems. We might take a “victims” mentality or completely blame others without taking ownership of our lives.

We just can’t believe that maybe we are the ones that are creating our own suffering.

So what do we do? If you don’t do anything to help your mindset, and you complain about things that happen around you, that is kind of insane.

There are two things that I do that help me work through problems. Now, I am not always successful at it and fail most of the time. Meditation and gratitude.

Today, I will talk about meditation. Meditation is something that for years I had a lot of trouble getting into. My “monkey brain” just couldn’t sit still long enough to find any rhythm. It wasn’t until I took a trip to the jungles of Costa Rica for a Strength and Conditioning retreat. Every morning before breakfast, there was an optional 15 minute meditation practice. Leading this was a father and son combo, Kim and Ben House.

“Mr. Kim” as he is empathetically known by all that learn from him. We would sit on this balcony overlooking the canopy of the jungle and just breathe. They used the traditional singing bowls and sticks to signal the start, midway points, and the end. Before I came to the jungles, I couldn’t sit still for 5 minutes, let alone 15! The community (There was about 25-30 participants) was a tremendous support. Just the fear of looking like a fool squirming was enough to help keep me in my kneeling position for the 15 minutes. But it wasn’t easy.

Later on, I was able to get a Mala bracelet. It is a beaded bracelet that can be used for counting breaths. Just think of how Catholics use the rosary to keep track of their prayers. This helped immensely over the couple of days. This tool helped quiet my mind and allowed me to focus. I can still remember and feel the lightness I felt after being able to calm my mind and my thoughts for 15 min. All of my worries and insecurities vanished into the jungle mist.

Meditation is still a daily practice. At minimum, I try to get 5 min every morning before work. As a teacher, I even start every class off with what I call the “Mindful Minute”. I have a singing bowl and a 1 minute hourglass timer. Most of the students seem to enjoy it. Sometimes I need it more than them!

Another easy meditative practice is just walking in nature. I am fortunate to have a state park across the street. Getting outside and just walking without your Airpods is a simple way to practice some mindful meditation.

Mediation helps calm my thoughts and allows me to see that a lot of my stress is of my own doing. By accepting it, I can know take steps to correct the situation, with a clear mind. If you have read “Thinking Fast and Slow” by Daniel Kahneman (Highly recommend) I think meditation gets us into our “Type 2” thinking process.

Do you have any meditative practices? If not, what is holding you back? Please leave a comment or share the post with someone who might need it.

Next post we will talk about gratitude.

Have a great Sunday!

#11 Mindset Continued

“No one is coming to save you”. -David Goggins from “Can’t Hurt Me”.

Currently, I am listening to the audiobook “Can’t Hurt Me” by David Goggins. If you don’t know who David Goggins is, do yourself a favor and get this audiobook. What makes the audiobook great, is that it has mini-podcasts with the ghost writer and David in between chapters. It gives you more context to the book. David is an African-American man who endured many horrors growing up but used those experiences to change his life. This post isn’t a review of the book, I don’t want to ruin it for you. One quote that he says throughout the book that resonates with me is “No one is coming to save you”.

It seems in today’s society, many people are waiting for their savior. Waiting for someone to do the work for them. No one wants to get their hands dirty. Every year, I see it more and more in education. Everyone gets a trophy and people won’t try to succeed. If they never start, they can’t fail.

The focus of the book is getting your mind right to make the changes that you want so you can become the person that you want to be. No one is coming to save you. If you want to change, YOU have to decide to do it. Be the hero of your own story. The book is more inspirational than it is motivational. As David says “Motivation is crap”. It will wane on you.

Once you stop blaming everyone and everyone else for why you are not where you want to be. Great things will happen.

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Part 10# How are your thoughts?

“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t–youre right.”-Henry Ford

How healthy are your thoughts?  You talk to yourself more than any other person.  Monitoring our thoughts are imperative. How often do you say to yourself, “There is no way I can do that!” or “I am so bad at this!” ?

Being a teacher, I hear “I am terrible at math!” at least a billion times a year. Or they will tell you how bad they are at anything. Of course we don’t want the complete opposite and hear how awesome they are at a certain skill all the time. Don’t worry, their parents will tell you how AMAZING so and so is at something, or you’ll see it on social media…

Photo by Dariusz Sankowski on Unsplash

The stories we tell ourselves drive our behaviors more than you know. Stories can be our perceptions of things, or they can be our day to day thoughts. Think of it as the “self-fulfilling prophecy”.

Ameteur golfers do this ALL the time. Here is an example. I often golf with my dad (who is an excellent golfer at the age of 77, and I still haven’t beaten up, this is the year!). We were playing a match with some other guys and we were on the same team.  The third hole is fairly straight and it has some water on the right hand side. I smashed a drive down the middle of the fairway and I was in great position. As I set up to my ball, I thought “Just don’t hit it into the water.” I mean, how could I? I just hit an awesome drive, it’s a short shot, what could go wrong? 

I’m sure by now, you know what happened…. I hit it dead right into the water. You see, the brain is always listening. The above quote is what Ford was getting at. Your mindset can be a tremendous asset or it can be your biggest nightmare. Test it yourself. Think of something that terrifies you. For some of you, it might be spiders, or clowns, or wet koala bears. If you have never seen a wet koala, stop right now, and go google it.  Good luck sleeping, straight nightmare juice. Anyways, did you notice an uptick in your heart rate, or that nauseous feeling in your stomach? Maybe you started sweating a little bit. This is the stress response kicking in. If you are constantly thinking negatively, your brain and body will respond.

However, the opposite is true. Thinking positively about situations can change your mindset. Going back to golf, the best always talk about “seeing the shot that you need.” Meaning, as I step up to my shot, I need to visualize the ball flying through the air and see it land where you want it to. When we do this, the subconscious mind will move the body in the way that it needs to create the shot.

Will it happen every time? No, it won’t and that shouldn’t stop you from trying. Positive thinking is a skill. Just like any skill, it needs to be practiced.

Mind your thoughts, because they will determine your actions.

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#9 Mindset

In my last post, I talked about New Years and goals. Congrats! Making a decision or picking a goal is a step in the right direction. But, what does your mindset look like? You talk to yourself more than anybody else throughout the day, what are these conversations like?

I’m sure you have heard this old Cherokee story before about a grandson talking with his grandfather.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.“It is a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil–he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, and ego.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, and faith. The same fight is going on inside you–and inside every other person, too.” The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather: “Which wolf will win?” The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

This “fight” can be your own thoughts. are you saying things like “I’ve got this” or “Nothing is going to stop me from reaching my goals. Or are you saying “I’m not good enough” or “I’m not smart enough”?

These types of behaviors can have cascading effects on us. A negative mindset can cause unnecessary and unneeded stress on our system. (see post #4 and #5).

If we can control the mind and focus on the positives rather than the negatives, it can go a long way in improving our overall mental and physical health. In my next post , I will get into more detail on how to do this.

Thank you for reading! If you have any questions or comments, I would love to hear them. Have a great Sunday!

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