There are so many preconceived notions about meditation what it is and what it isn’t.
I’m going to be very clear… from my perspective sitting for any amount of time trying to aimlessly clear your head is a total waste of time. Allow me to explain.
But first.. for those of you who don’t know me, my name is Elizabeth Deboo, I am Physical Therapist of 23 years specializing in Meditation and Awareness Coaching for entrepreneurs helping them to create structure and a system for success from the inside out!
Why is sitting and trying to clear your head a waste of time?
Here is why… our brains are wired for filtering scenarios based on past experiences to figure stuff out. So let's say I have a challenge, a problem, an irreconcilable difference. And it is somehow limiting me. I have hit a block. I am indecisive. Through my own perceptions of the problem, my brain will access all past files and begin to contrast and compare them to each other searching for a solution, giving many, many possible solutions.
There are infinite possible solutions. Your brain will look at a problem from every angle if you allow. And it will continue to do this as long as you allow it, and it can even continue to do so sub-consciously. On and on it goes…you know it reminds of the spinning beach ball my mac does when the system needs a reboot.
And even then you hit re-start and THAT doesn’t even stop the spinning beach ball. You know how that doesn’t even interrupt it and re-boot it. At that point, I actually have to shut it down. Because it is stuck looking searching filtering filing and I don’t know enough technically about computers to tell you what it is doing…but I imagine it to be doing the exact thing our brains do when we are overthinking, searching for the one right solution with our brains giving us endless solutions to choose from, endless scenarios… And just like the computer that we just simply need to shut down… sometimes our brain needs to shut down. Not just a re-start, but a shutdown.
I want to address this misconception and language around “clearing your mind”. There may be a specific form of meditation that I am not aware of that claims to do this. But what I can tell you for sure is that we are not wired that way. Our brains do not work that way. Our minds will never be clear. And to be completely truthful our brains will never actually shut down. Your brain will shut down only when you no longer have a living, breathing body.
It is less a shutting down process and more of a shift in awareness from the constant barrage and busyness that is the nature of the brain and mind. For which we should be super grateful for.
When too many windows are open or too many programs are running on our computer, it slows down and eventually, the beach ball will keep spinning as long as all the windows are open and we don’t do something to interrupt it. The same holds true for the windows of our mind, our brain, and our experiences. They will go on and on and on.
But just like when you shut the computer down… you don’t actually push away all the information. You don’t get rid of it and you don’t clear the information. It is all still there… it just re-files itself, closes, and quiets down. I have noticed what a relief it is when it does. The lights, and the almost inaudible hum of my mac just go quiet when I shut it down. It is so peaceful. Have you ever noticed that? And this is exactly how it feels to me when I meditate…when I take a break state and breath when too many brain and mind windows are open.
Sitting and aimlessly trying to clear your head is like half-heartedly hitting re-start button and the system fails to restart and reboot. The beach ball keeps spinning. So there you sit and wait. In terms of your computer, how long would you actually sit and wait for the beach ball? I would guess not long. I would guess your sense of urgency for whatever project you were working on is going to make you hit the power button and just shut it down to re-boot it.
That is exactly the scenario that is happening inside your body and your being when you try to sitting and aimlessly trying to clear your head. Your brain and mind will continue to spin just like the beach ball.
Is this a waste of time…my opinion…yes if your goal is to be productive and creative, and have to focus and be able to concentrate. Just as it is a waste of time to sit and watch the beach ball spin on your computer. You’re not going to be able to get anything done. You won’t be able to focus, you won’t be able to concentrate, and you will be frustrated and no amount of creativity will squeeze through this frustration.
The shutting down of your computer and what it requires is the same effect your brain, mind, body and your entire being can benefit from by taking a meditation timeout, a broken state…the actual “shut down” effect that mediation can offer.
Let me assure you, the files stay. They are re-filed, Saved, organized in their folders just as before but they are not open.
When we shut down our computer we don’t actually expect the files to go away. We aren’t even trying to push them away. We just need to close some windows because there is some sort of overload and some systems need to shut down.
Imagine how strung out you feel sometimes and you lose focus, lets say you go try to find a piece of information, do a search with multiple windows open, you are drawn into something interesting, which leads you to click on some link, another window open, you hear a notification or a box pops up that you have a message or an email, this brings you back out of the rabbit hole, and then you notice you have gotten completely off track.
You notice all the open windows, but you cant’ quite focus to remember what the heck sent you on that journey. It takes you a minute to remember what you were working on. You feel a little lost. You need to re-orient. Ok now we are in big time overload, your internal beach ball is spinning.
This is exactly the time you need to shut down and reboot. And at these times during your work day especially if you work behind a computer, notice how many windows are open at the same time on your computer and I would bet that your overwhelm and your lack of focus corresponds to the number of windows open on your computer. The numbers of windows open on your computer correspond to your inner lack of focus and concentration…and just forget about being creative!
It is at these times that many hard-working well-meaning people of impeccable work ethic…. keep going.
It is at these exact times that focus, concentration, and creativity are at an all-time low. It is at these times that the expectation of the one behind the computer is to push through instead of taking a broken state, a mini time-out, even if that is just 1 or 2 minutes to focus on your breath.
Next time you are in this position try actually shutting down your computer and then walking away.
Step away from the computer.
Sit in a comfortable chair. Close your eyes and soften your body and anchor in your breath.
In your comfortable position let breath be the anchor. That’s it... just observe your breath as you breathe in and out.
One very common deterrents my clients tell me is that “I’m afraid I’m going to fall asleep”
Ok …and the problem with that is??? Usually, their response is that they don’t have time to fall asleep. But the issue here is lack of productivity, focus, and creativity due to exhaustion. So I would argue that they couldn’t afford to not fall asleep if that is what is needed.
Another common hindrance for people is that they feel really strung out as they sit and try to breathe. But it just takes 5-10 minutes and there will be a shift in the nervous system at which time there will be a calming of the feeling of being strung-out. We need to gift ourselves with some patience and the gift of time.
There are so many types of meditation. I do not claim to know them all or be a master of them all. I know Mindfulness, I know Awareness and this is what I coach and speak to. This is how I intend to live my day.
My brand my version has everything to do with being in your body. This is where we start. Always! Why? I’ve said it before and I am sure you will hear me say it again, if you aren’t in your body how can you be the authority in your body, in your life, in your business, and in your world. If you aren’t in your body you are not present. If you are not present how can you expect to meet goals, be creative, focus, and concentrate? It simply will not happen. And if it does, it is all by chance.
But one thing you can be sure of, your chance and luck will run out. You cannot run a business on chance and luck. You run a business on structure, systems and cause and effect.
This is why I teach to anchor into breath:
1. The breath immediately anchors us into our body
2. It is always with us. No matter where we
3. Your breath breathes itself.
Your job is to get present and pay attention. Sometimes if we are so exhausted due to stress and overwork we will fall asleep and my answer is to allow that. And start to work on exhaustion recover, exhaustion rehab by giving yourself opportunities to rest, break states, and nervous system time-outs.
Resting calms your nervous system. And that is what my first goal no matter for every single one of my client who talks of being overwhelmed, stressed, unable to sleep, constantly sick, in pain, and the list goes on. It is also my personal goal especially when I am in overdrive with a million things to get done.
We start with first calming the nervous system.
Beyond that, there are amazing miraculous magical things that can happen in your life, your business, and in your world through a meditation practice. But calming your nervous system is the first. My take…
How do we calm the nervous system? Your breath! Your breath is the fastest and most intentional and conscious way I know of to drop your nervous system back into rest and digest. That calm semi-vegetative state that supports digestion, sleep and rest. It is the exact opposite of fight or flight.
Here is how I explain it to my clients: for health and well-being and for you to have the resources to be your best self you need to be in rest and digest. This is the parasympathetic nervous system. Rest and digest. It will serve you well when it comes to focus, creativity, and concentration.
My clients are often surprised and actually embarrassed when their stomach starts to gurgle and they start to yawn as we work. As soon as I explain this to them it makes total sense. This means we have shifted the nervous system into rest and digest, back into parasympathetic dominance. We are wired to be in parasympathetic dominance most of the time! The only time fight or flight otherwise known as a sympathetic nervous system, the only time is during a stress response.
This is hard wiring form way back when the saber tooth tiger threatened our existence. This wiring remains and I don’t see it going anywhere. I just see it dominating so many people. I am grateful for the sympathetic nervous system and its ability to keep us safe, but not when it is unnecessary…which, by the way, is most of the time, most of the time our very existence and safety is not being threatened. Most of the time we are not thrown into a stress response because our existence is being threatened.
Let's say that you are driving down the road and unexpectedly a child steps out in front of your car. Does your nervous system serve you well by kicking into a stress response, with the sympathetic tone dominating? Of course! Your Vision gets clear, your HR goes up, you breath rate increases, your necessary muscles kick into action, blood is shunted from the core of your body to the periphery so that your muscles and limbs can respond swiftly. Here, fight or flight is helpful and necessary to avoid the child.
A healthy well balanced nervous system will take some time to calm down, move the adrenaline through the system the HR will gradually slow, the breath rate will come down, muscles will soften from their tensed state and the nervous system calm back into the parasympathetic tone.
These two parts of our nervous system are inversely related. What I mean by this is that when one is up the other is down, when resting the digest/parasympathetic control is dominating and on high volume fight or flight/the sympathetic tone must quiet and vice versa.
So in our scenario of moving to a comfy chair to breathe for a few minutes, you tap into your breath and as soon as you begin to calm into rest and digest this is when you are going to start to feel sleepy or hear gurgling. This a good sign that you are in parasympathetic tone& rest digest.
We need frequent, not long, but a deep practice and deep experiences of breathing, time out, and body scans for very good reasons. Thorough the Sympathetic tone/fight or flight system, your brain and body have a swift neuro-feedback loop. Hormones and neurotransmitters are working as chemical messengers telling you to go flee or fight…to keep pushing, keep going, even if that means overdrive.
Fight or flight runs on a feedback loop and the stress response will be perpetuated by this brain/body feedback loop. Your brain checks in with your body “hey how you doing down there.. is there still a stressor? DO you need more adrenaline and cortisol?” Your body answers back with a “heck yea” in the form of your tight and tense shoulder and back muscles, clenching of your jaw, HI BP, elevated HR or breath rate. So the brain responds with messengers to increase adrenalin and cortisol into your system. Which perpetuates that shaky stressed feeling in your body. The adrenaline in your body tells your body, yep we are still under stress, which tells your brain yep I need more of that stuff that keeps me going… that keeps me alive. This will go on and on.
Ultimately, there are a lot of worst case scenarios here ranging from adrenal fatigue and to adrenal burnout to a significantly depressed immune system which cant fight off even minor colds so they take hold and seem to last forever. Diabetes is a common side effect of chronic stress because in the fight or flight response your body responds by increasing blood sugar levels so that you have energy because remember it think you need the energy to flee or fight and your body thinks it needs the extra energy. Pancreatic burnout… otherwise known as diabetes type II comes into play, and even worse, chronic fatigue, cancer, and a whole host of symptoms that the medical community usually begins to lump into what they call syndromes that is… ill-defined conditions in which symptoms frequently happen together.
Back to the original topic of sitting and aimlessly trying to clear your head… no this will not help! This will likely exacerbate the problem probably in fact.
The only way to interrupt the spinning beach ball in your mind and the stress feedback loop happening in your brain and body is to shift into rest and digest. I'll say it again… breath.
Breathing actually reminds our body, our brain, and our mind that we are safe. And ultimately the stress response is all about not feeling safe and secure…. and that is another topic for another day…stay tuned!