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Mental Health neurological rehab Pre Natal and Post Natal

Use Your Neuroscience to Feel Fulfilled and Grateful Now

Have you ever noticed how you can spend most of your day dwelling on the past, or worrying about and planning your future, or agonizing over your circumstances? When we are so focused in the past and future, finding fulfillment and gratitude in what we are doing now can be impossible. How can we find happiness, fulfillment and gratitude in everyday life experiences when we place little mental attention on the now?

Our morning routine, sitting in traffic, soothing a crying baby, moving with persistent pain: We plan, we daydream, we ruminate; we take in our world through a lens of interpretation and add to our ever-evolving personal story.  This type of narrative thinking throughout our day is pre-programmed and habituated in our lives. We identify ourselves through the stories we create out of our past experiences and our goals for the future.

This type of narrative focus illuminates specific neural circuitry in the medial prefrontal cortex and memory regions including the hippocampus, as in a study by Norman A. S. Farb and colleagues. In this study, mindfulness training changed the neural pathway of experience.

Mindfulness is the practice of purposefully paying attention to the details of your experience as they arise and without judgment: monitoring the state of the body and mind, as we are immersed in an activity, through sensations, tastes, smells, sights, sounds, and thoughts. With direct experience, different regions of the brain become active, including the insula and anterior cingulate cortex, regions used in perceiving body sensations and attention!

Additionally, these two neural circuits are inversely correlated, which means that one is less active while the other is active. This is why when our neural circuitry is focused on the narrative and we feel anxious and stressed about a circumstance it helps to take a deep breath and connect with your sensations in the present moment. This way we can trigger our brains to enlist the insula and anterior cingulate cortex and suppress the narrative that is poisoning our experience. We can cultivate a feeling of being grateful, a feeling of being fulfilled and a feeling of being happy in each moment by tapping into our neuroscience!

 

 

3 steps to make use of your neuroscience to feel fulfilled and grateful now:

  1. Light up your insula. Practice focusing all of your attention to a direct sense, and do it often.
  2. Find a way of practicing mindfulness that fits into your everyday life.
  3. Notice and contrast how you feel when you are experiencing your experiences as they arise, in real-time vs. in your mental narrative, or going through the motions as you plan, dwell or anticipate.

 

I use this process in my everyday life experiences. For example, when my baby is crying, I like to focus on the sensation of her weight in my arms and the sensation of her breathing and mine as she is pressed against my chest. By keeping my insula active even in times that could be considered stressful, I am able to remain calm and grateful for each moment with her, even if she is inconsolable.

 

Not thinking about the past, future or yourself through a narrative story, but experiencing the information presented to all of your senses in real time, allows us to be more adaptable in our interactions.  By focusing on the present moment, we experience life unencumbered by our past, habits, expectations or assumptions, therefore cultivating a feeling of fulfillment and gratitude in each moment.

 

Find a way of practicing mindfulness that fits into your everyday life. With enough practice, you can change your neuroscience and create greater gratitude and fulfillment in your everyday life experiences.

 

Categories
Pre Natal and Post Natal

The Big Reveal

Truth is more than not telling lies.

Truth is doing what feels right, going with my gut.

Truth is not having thoughts that conflict with my actions.

 

If we are doing things that are untruthful, not following our inner guidance, thinking differently than we act, how does that affect how we feel? For me, it causes stress, anxiety, frustration, guilt and fear. This swirl of emotions leads to more thoughts and more emotions and more stress, poisoning my experience.

When I found out I was pregnant, I wanted to wait until I made it through my first trimester to tell my employer. Hot flashes, nausea, dizziness, vomiting: I could barely pick my head up from the bathroom floor. At only eight weeks pregnant I was bloated and sick around the clock. Trying to hide this at work was a nightmare! As an occupational therapist in a hospital setting, I remember having to run out of a patient’s room, unsure if I was going to make it to the bathroom in time.

I couldn’t wait to tell my friends and family I was pregnant. Telling my employer, on the other hand, was nerve-wracking. What would she say? What would her reaction be? Would my job be in jeopardy? My actions conflicted with my thoughts. My gut said, I should just tell her and the rest of my coworkers. As I kept this secret, the stress, anxiety and uneasiness surrounding work continued to build.

Satya, truth in Sanskrit, is one of the observances, or yamas, in Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga. So, why is truth one of the observances? It is not to prevent you from lying. Because what is a lie if it doesn’t disturb us? In my experience, a lie is only detrimental to my well being if it causes me to feel subsequent guilt, or fear of being caught, or another stressful emotion. Truth is more than not telling lies. Truth is doing what feels right, going with your gut. Truth is not having thoughts that conflict with your actions. When you are in conflict with the truth, how does that affect how you feel? For me, a myriad of negative thoughts and feelings prevent me from feeling fulfilled and happy in my life, and that is why Satya, truth, is an important observance: to cultivate omnipresent peace, well being and fulfillment in life we must be truthful with ourselves.

After a few days, I revealed that I was pregnant to my manager and coworkers (although my “morning sickness” persisted throughout my entire first trimester!). Ahhh relief. Their reaction didn’t matter (even though in my case it was positive and supportive); I was finally liberated from my own inner conflict and peace and happiness followed. My thoughts became calm, compared to the frenzied storm of thoughts when I was in conflict with truth. I enabled my energy to focus on what was important, taking care of myself, and my baby. This is the experience of Satya.

Check it out in your own experience: How does it make you feel to be in conflict with your own inner truth?