Chapter 1 Traditional Mind/body

1.1 Being Attentive Reduces Stress
Most Americans do not take the debilitating effects of stress seriously. You know that it is important to quit smoking and exercise, but do you take the time to regularly relax? When you finally take the time to relax, do you find it difficult because you are trying too hard? If you try too hard, you will tense, and relaxation will not happen. It is like trying to sleep. Let go or you will peek at your alarm every hour. Mindfulness will help you to relax. Relaxation can begin in your body or your mind: The choice is yours.

During extended periods of unrelenting stress, your norepinephrine and cortisol levels remain elevated. These are your stress hormones. They contribute to high blood pressure, abdominal weight gain, insulin resistance, and a fatty lipid profile. Combine these physical effects of stress with too many calories and limited activity, and you have the beginnings of cardiovascular disease. Stress also affects your immune system by over-secreting cortisol, which can increase your chances for bouts of asthma, skin problems, irritable bowel syndrome, and arthritis. Your "B" immune cells that normally fight off infection decrease when you are under stress. During stressful times this immune response contributes to increased colds and flu. If you learn to recognize the symptoms of your stress, you can mindfully curb the harmful side effects. Recent research has demonstrated that stress causes impaired memory and is associated with brain cell loss. When stressed, you have problems with brain function.

Additionally, stress also decreases fertility. For example, often couples put unnecessary pressure on themselves to conceive a child, but they cannot do so. Yet when they finally give up their attempts, they conceive because the pressure was taken off. Relax, do not try so hard, and things will come to you. Relaxed concentration leads to mindfulness, and mindfulness enhances your performance.

Different thresholds of stress create boiling points for some and enjoyment for others. There is no exact measure of how much stress one can handle, but it is important to deal with your feelings of anger and hostility to remain healthy. Do not allow negative feelings to ferment. Deal with negativity immediately. Choose your coping strategy, and decide exactly how to proceed.

When times get tough, try a combination of humor and optimism. Awareness of your stress levels can keep it from gaining a toehold and uprooting your mindfulness.

Not all mind/body activities require physical relaxation, although relaxation is a side effect of it. For example, if you practice repetitive punches, or pedal a bike, you will be surprised to find mindfulness. Punching methodically, and pedaling at an easy cadence are naturally relaxing. Think back to peaceful times. What were you doing? Were you mindful? Go there now.

There are many simple ways to relax. When stress gets the best of you and you have had enough, look out of the window, doodle, or daydream. These are automatic mind/body strategies that seem to be instinctive and may help remove some tension and allow you to relax. During times of increased tension choose activities where you are controlled, relaxed, and focused. For example singing is a natural path to relaxation and mindfulness. Singing slows neural impulses and calms brain activity as well as regulates your breathing and heart rate. When you are stressed, try humming your favorite song instead of counting to ten.

Your various activities are governed by your brain. Left brain activities draw on your logic center while right brain activities draw on your creative center. Right brain activities include artwork, playing musical instruments, and riding your bike. You practice imagery from you right brain. Your right brain sees the whole picture. Alpha brain wave patterns produced by such activities pull you into a state of relaxed concentration or mindfulness. My wife, Danese, was a computer science major and is logical and very analytical. I am right brained and am more concerned with introspection, form, physiology, and emotion. See if you can figure out whether you are left brained, right brained, or a little of both. Understanding where you are helps you to change if need be. This is mindfulness.

Mindfulness allows you to immerse yourself in activity. Because you become immersed in what you are doing, mindfulness decreases stress, boredom, and anxiety. Mindfulness exists in the moment.

Mindful activity reduces stress, tension, anxiety, and depression. It increases your vigor and helps you to think clearly. Physical activity gathers pent-up, fight-or-flight energy and turns it into a homerun blast or a front kick through a heavy bag. When you practice physical and mindful activity, your body becomes calm, relaxed, and refreshed, and your mood will remain mindful.

Mindful exercise also decreases burnout and increases your self-confidence. Those who practice mindful exercise regularly view their jobs as less stressful than those who do not practice mindful exercise. Mindful individuals find that they are more productive and can concentrate better than their sedentary counterparts.

Your body was designed for mindful activity. Movement is play, not something at which you have to work. Everyone has a set-point for happiness. As an example, let us look at joyfulness on a continuum from one to ten. Perhaps a colleague of yours may hover around eight, while you may be stuck at three. Boosting your level of happiness requires mindfulness, awareness of your activation, and concentration. Such a level of mindfulness will allow you to change. Mindful martial arts training and exercise promote an endorphin release -a morphine-like substance that relieves pain, and enhances your capacity for joy astronomically, helping to raise your set point level.

1.2 Characteristics of Mindfulness
Answer honestly the following questions:
Are you spending time working toward your health and fitness?
Are you mindful of your exercise?
Do pleasures have to be justified or earned?
Think for a moment about your answers. You must realize that you do not have to wait for a reward for exercising or training in martial arts. Rather than thinking about what you are going to do next, enjoy each moment of your workout for its own sake. Otherwise, you will probably quit.

Put yourself in the moment during your workouts and take them seriously. Set workout goals and do not worry about instant gratification. Results will take as long as they take. Allow your workouts to be an enjoyable, healthy escape from the real world. To do this, be familiar with your surroundings, wear comfortable clothing, and compete only against yourself. Turn off your Walkman or cardio-theatre. Begin with a deep cleansing breath and warm up by performing your activity at a slow pace. While training, your mind may stray from your movement. Try to stay mindful of the movement; exist in the moment, and gently remind yourself to focus.

Pay attention to how you schedule your time. If you have too much to do and not enough time in which to do it, you will be stressed and feel out of control. Remain in control and enjoy a sense of purpose. You will be more resistant to stress. The last thing you need when you have got a lot going on in your life is to get sick. Illness can be like a warning signal; it may be the only thing that will slow you down. If you stay in control you can avoid such situations. Keep yourself healthy, get enough sleep, eat right, take a multi-vitamin, avoid too much caffeine and alcohol, and workout every other day. Exercise is a form of stress management. It also helps to prevent cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, osteoporosis, obesity, anxiety, and depression. Activity provides a break in your busy day and helps you feel relaxed and refreshed as well as improving the quality of your sleep.

Some people work out to improve their mindfulness as well as their physical condition. Many search for mindfulness through the ultimate mind/body experience. They "spin" stationary bikes or practice pilates or yoga; others turn to martial arts, taijiquan, cardio-kickboxing, or forms of aerobic exercise to help them achieve mindfulness. Some people follow fitness gurus who claim if you follow their teachings you will find "the way." In fact, these gurus are throwbacks from the Maharishi days of the early 1970's. It seems that every 20 years or so, cycles repeat and, in reality, there is nothing new under the sun.

Although there is no single mind/body strategy, mindfulness is worth pursuing. I have yet to meet anyone who has achieved a constant state of mindfulness. That is okay, though, because mindfulness is taking one moment at a time. It is a process. When things are right, you know it. You want that moment to last forever. Prolong it. Remain relaxed and focused.

I spoke to a taijiquan master and asked if he knew anyone who was mindful one hundred percent of the time. He first spoke of his own experience. He meditates four hours a day, from 4:00 a.m. until 6:00 a.m. and then from 1:00 p.m. until 3:00 p.m. This man wrote more than 30 books and earned a Ph.D. in electrical engineering. I was amazed by his discipline and asked him about his progress towards mindfulness. He told me he had not reached perpetual mindfulness and that he did not know of anyone who has. He said, "if someone has reached this state, he is living far away in the mountains."

In my own experience, I found that repetitive activities help me achieve mindfulness for brief periods of time. Martial arts, cycling, meditating, skipping rope, and walking are mindful activities for me. While my body is busy pedaling, my mind is free to be mindful or to simply focus on breathing. When I focus on my breath, my body relaxes. I have not reached a state of perpetual mindfulness, but at least I am experiencing it more often.

Meditation or prayer may not provoke mindfulness outright, but they can help. Because we are all individuals, no one person can say his or her way is the only way to mindfulness. It is important to find your own way. Pedaling a bicycle across America or meditating four hours a day will not ensure that you will live mindfully. Some gurus may suggest that repetitive activity or repeating a mantra is all you need to do. They say repetitive practice will provide the discipline and perseverance to find yourself totally. If it were that easy, everyone would do it. Yet we do not all do it.

Misinformation and misperception of fitness enthusiasts and athletes is rampant. Sure, there are a few brain-cell-challenged athletes who perpetuate the stereotype. However, some of the smartest people I know are athletes. They are paid millions to play, and "play" is a perfect activity during which to practice mindfulness. These individuals understand that if you lose your focus, you lose your game. Professional athletics require extraordinary mindfulness. Making a game-winning free-throw, "threading a needle" with a touchdown pass, and breaking a couple of cinder blocks is not easy. Mindfulness makes it possible.

Activity increases oxygen to your brain and stimulates your creativity. Some studies suggest that movement will increase your alertness, reaction time, and decision-making skills. So next time you see a professional athlete or martial artist, pay him or her the respect due to such an athlete. They understand the mind/body connection and-who knows-they may turn out to be a prototype of you.

1.3 Choosing Your Mind/body Strategy
So far we have discussed a few physical strategies to enhance mindfulness, but what about spiritual and psychological techniques? There are dozens of such techniques practiced today. Taijiquan, meditation, and prayer are examples of spiritual techniques that may help you on your quest for single-minded focus.

The difficulty, however, lies in discovering which mind/body strategy works best for you. For example:

*Some folks were raised as followers from childhood to death. Their eyes never waver, and there are no questions. They are certain of their future and remain disciplined in their faith. They have no time or inclination for mindfulness.

*Others, however, spend years searching for mindfulness. They delve into different mind/body techniques, and, after years of trial and error, they find their answers and develop a single-minded focus.

*Still others spend their lives adding and deleting to an amorphous profile, constantly refining their strategies. They combine physical and psychological techniques while learning the secrets to mindful living. They improve their focus and continue their path to increased mindfulness.

Perhaps you are in the last of the above-mentioned situations. Maybe you have sampled different techniques, yet still have something missing. Maybe you tried meditation-for awhile, that seemed to work, but not for long. You realized there was more. Your search for enhanced mindfulness is never ending. Perhaps that is why you chose this book. Develop what works for you. Choose bits and pieces of the strategies presented in this book and create your own mindfulness program. There is no reason to flounder in a sea of misinformation. A guru may say "my way or the highway." Meditation instructors promise if you pay just $499, you will reach enlightenment in five to eight years. Achieving mindfulness begins today, and the truth is that there is no single way to do it.

As I mentioned earlier, some individuals substitute drugs and alcohol as alternatives for mindfulness. These substances cannot provide lasting effects. Do not be fooled, however; activities like martial arts, meditation or riding a bicycle do not provide lasting effects either. Repeating a mantra or fitness training can help, but when you stop, soon your problems will return. You need a gentle reminder every few minutes of every day to be mindful. Mindfulness is ongoing twenty-four hours a day everyday. It begins when you awaken and continues until you sleep. You get better and better with practice, so practice whenever you can. The following checklist can be used to help you remain mindful. As you begin to practice mindfulness, ask yourself these questions every hour.

1. Are you tired, bored, or too excited?
2. Is your focus of concentration appropriate to your task?
3. Is your activity thought-provoking or non-productive?
4. Is there an ultimate goal to your activity?
5. Is your breathing from your chest or from your abdomen?
6. Are your thoughts scattered or focused?
7. Is your body tight or relaxed?
8. Are you focusing on the nostalgia of the past?
9. Are you worried about the future?
10. Are you afraid of failure or success?

After you have answered the above questions, manipulate your environment to achieve mindfulness. Mindfulness is the reward for your efforts. Do not try too hard, though, because that will bring tension. Give yourself permission to enjoy yourself. If you are afraid to fail, you will. Practicing mindfulness is a daily ritual. Although you may be mired in fear of the future or worried about something over which you have no control, you are doing better than you think. List the positives and pay attention to them.

1. Your energy level.
2. Your relaxed mindset.
3. Your ability to focus.
4. Your productivity.
5. Your ability to enjoy yourself.

Please keep in mind, however, that there are frauds pedaling mind/body wares on every corner. For your own sake, learn to recognize self-proclaimed mind/body gurus that will separate you from your money and nothing else.

1. They say they know all of the answers.
2. They are too sure of themselves.
3. They say, "it is easy" and "anyone can do it."
4. They are moody.
5. They are irritable (perhaps when you are not watching).
6. They are unfriendly and aloof.
7. They try to appear as if they are always in control.
8. They are emotionless.
9. They say that their way is the only way.
10. They are obsessive, overweight, or controlling.

It is important that you learn to trust yourself. Your mind/body program should meet your needs, not the needs that someone else tells you to meet.

1.4 Benefits of Mind/Body
Mindfulness in your martial art and physical activity affects your mental and emotional processes. Practicing mindfulness will allow you to think more clearly, be more creative, increase your brain cell growth, improve your self-esteem, decrease depression, and improve your short-term memory. It has always been a wonder to me why people do not get off of the couch sooner. To me, it is more excruciating to sit than it is to enjoy mindful activity.

It is not scientifically known why mind/body programming helps you to think clearly and improve your memory, but it may be related to increased body temperature and improved oxygenation of your brain. We humans were not biologically designed to be sedentary. Your body functions best when you move. Take children, for example. They cannot sit still for a minute. Somehow, in our overfed, under-active society, we have lost the desire to move. The less we move, the less we oxygenate our blood and the more stagnant we become.

In addition to the benefits you get from moving, mind/body fitness programming provides several other benefits.

1. Mindful exercise decreases stress. Let me explain how this works. First, exercise is a stressor so it teaches you to deal with other stresses. Second, mind/body workouts help you to relax so you are less stressed when you complete your program.

2. Since you are biologically designed to move, couch potatoes generally become depressed due largely to their sedentary lifestyle. Thus, mind/body training is a natural antidepressant. Movement is stimulating, and physical activity provides you with energy. The harder you train, the more energy you have. It seems like a paradox, but it works.

3. Mindful exercise improves self-confidence because exercise increases bodily attractiveness, strength, and muscular fitness.

4. Increased confidence provides you with energy and increased energy allows you to complete your mind/body program. It is an energetic cycle of completeness.

5. Although you may have heard the myths about "dumb jocks," regular mind/body exercise has been shown to spur the growth of new brain cells in laboratory animals. Exercise also prolongs the survival of brain cells. I do not know about you, but I can use all of the brain cells that I can get.

6. Faith is another type of mind/body training, and it can also increase health and longevity. More than 300 studies analyzed the effects of faith on healing. Seventy-five percent of these studies have shown that believing in God or a higher power is good for your health. Individuals that are deeply religious exhibit a longer life expectancy, quicker recovery, better quality of life, and lower rates of depression and substance abuse. Every culture has a belief in some sort of higher power; belief in it, it seems, is empowering.

A study at Dartmouth College revealed the best predictor of heart bypass survival rates was whether or not patients believed in God. It was found that six months after surgery, twelve percent of non-believers died yet one hundred percent of believers were still living. A Gallup survey found that 90% of Americans believe in God, 60% to 70% contend that faith can help people recover from illness, and 41% say their faith has healed either mental or physical problems.

Although doctors rarely discuss religion with their patients, 99% of physicians surveyed responded that faith or meditation aids in healing. Eighty percent of MD's surveyed think that spiritual concepts should be part of a doctor's training. In America, only one-third of the medical schools offer courses in spirituality and healing.

1.5 The Mind/Body connection for Stress Management
Stress is anything that stimulates you and increases your activation. Life without stimulation would be incredibly dull and boring. However, life with too many stimuli becomes unpleasant and tiring and ultimately damages your health.

*Stress happens when your survival or health is threatened, when you are under pressure, or when you experience a challenge. When you are under stress, adrenaline is released, and you experience symptoms that your body is preparing to fight-or-flight.

*Internal stress comes from worrying about events beyond your control, from a harried approach to life, or from an addictive-type enjoyment of stress.

*Life stress occurs when your work or living environment causes anxiety. Noise, crowding, pollution, dirt, and other distractions can lead to life stress.

*Burnout is a type of stress that builds up over a long period. This happens when you push yourself too hard or when you forget to use proper time management skills.

If you can remember the following ten tips, you will be able to manage stress.

1. The stress you experience is largely under your control.
2. Stress comes from a variety of different sources.
3. Short-term stress is situational.
4. A certain amount of stress keeps you invigorated.
5. Too much stress hampers your performance.
6. Breathing and other anxiety management techniques help you handle stress.
7. Chronic stress comes from a gradual buildup.
8. Chronic, high level stress can cause illness.
9. Chronic stress is best managed by changes in your lifestyle and attitude.
10. Understand the causes of your stress, and then channel it to improve your performance.

Stress enters your life through your senses. You can also use your senses to relax. Make time in your life where you can mindfully enjoy relaxation through your senses. The following are ways that we can relax by experiencing with our senses.

*Touch. Hug a friend or a pet. Get a massage. Both massage and hugging have been proven to reduce tension. If you calm your body, your mind will follow.

*Sound. Relax and enjoy the sound of rustling leaves, surf rolling, or raindrops falling. Listen to relaxing music such as baroque music played at 60 beats per minute. Enjoy silence. You will even find that the sound of silence during meditation is magical.

*Smell. Some people find comfort in relaxing scents: lavender, vanilla, rose, and jasmine to name a few. Some may find the aroma of baked goods brings back memories of a warm comfortable kitchen.

*Taste. Comfort foods can increase seratonin in your brain, which helps you to relax. These include carbohydrates - breads, cereals, grains, fruits, and vegetables. Eating such foods when you are stressed can help you relax.

*Sight. Peering into your child's bedroom while he is fast asleep or delighting in the antics of a playful puppy can awaken profound feelings of relaxation and joyfulness.

1.6 Traditional Mind/Body Workouts
Mind/body is not just adding a meditative warm-up or taijiquan cool down to your training. Characteristics of mind/body training include:
1. Adjusting your activation level so you are not bored or agitated.
2. Relaxing through your entire mind/body experience.
3. Actively focusing on the proper cues to enjoy alpha brain wave activity.
4. Possessing a non-competitive attitude.
5. Never trying too hard. Expend efforts that increase, not decrease, your energy.
6. Existing in the moment. Do not worry about the past or wonder what the future holds.
7. Not judging your performance.
8. Consciously associating or dissociating from your activity.
9. Focusing on your breath. Your breath may be the focal point of your training.
10. Paying attention to your posture. Are your shoulders back? Is your spine neutral, and is your chest is open during your entire activity? Examples of traditional mind/body training include yoga, taijiquan, progressive relaxation, autogenic training, and some martial arts. Depending on your fitness level, choose the training that appeals to you. For example, taijiquan improves balance, flexibility, and concentration in young and old alike. Yoga can improve your strength, flexibility, and reduce your stress levels. However, Pilates and some forms of power yoga can be very vigorous. Below are several mind/body workouts for you to sample.

1.6.1 Taijiquan (Tai Chi Chuan)
The word taijiquan translates into "supreme or grand ultimate fist." Its roots come from ancient China approximately four thousand years ago. Taijiquan originated from the Taoist (Daoist) school of thought and was practiced for self-defense and spiritual cultivation. Taijiquan is a relaxed and slow-moving meditation as well as an effective martial art. Practice of it can help center you and get you in touch with you body and mind. As you practice taijiquan you will become aware of your body's internal energy or qi (chi). Continued practice can result in smooth qi flow and good blood circulation. Taijiquan is based on the study of the yin and yang diagram, which represents a perfect balance between two opposing forces. Achieving this balance is a function of your qi: keeping an uninterrupted flow of qi promotes your physical and psychological well-being.

A variety of studies have demonstrated that taijiquan increases your balance and coordination. Results of a recent investigation demonstrated that taijiquan also increased aerobic capacity. Because of its graded, gentle increase in intensity, taijiquan is an ideal mind/body strategy for people of all ages, and it can be especially beneficial program for older adults. Taijiquan increases you balance by improving your proprioception (body awareness), thus making it a great tool for learning and practicing mindfulness-and for older adults, it decreases their chances of falling. Recent investigations involving older adults produced evidence that taijiquan helps lower blood pressure. Blood pressure reductions in older taijiquan participants have been found to be similar to subjects who participated in moderate-intensity aerobic exercise. Older adults who practice taijiquan daily show significant improvements in heart health and cardiovascular function. Taijiquan can be effective by!

itself or in addition to aerobic exercise. For example, taijiquan can be practiced along with a cardiovascular activity such as walking. Best of all, taijiquan is safe. Students of taijiquan are taught to be aware of their bodies and their physical limitations. Practitioners learn to maintain stable footing until they develop a firm "root" or connection to the earth.

Taijiquan movements are low impact. Rheumatoid arthritis patients who practiced taijiquan for ten weeks had no increase in joint symptoms in comparison with patients who were not involved in taijiquan. An instructor who is appropriately trained in the art should supervise students so as to monitor their postures and movements. What is nice about taijiquan is that anyone can do it; the instructor can modify the postures to accommodate the specific needs of your body.

1.6.2 Qigong (Chi Kung)
Qigong like taijiquan has roots in ancient China. The practice of qigong is the study or understanding of your body's qi. Qigong in its narrowest sense is a series of exercises and meditations that promotes a healthy body and mind. Its study, however, goes well beyond the healing realm. The practice of qigong can help promote mindfulness and a connection to nature. When you practice qigong movements you stimulate energy pathways or meridians in your body that help your qi flow. Many of the movements are patterned after animals such as the monkey (agility), crane (steadiness), and tortoise (longevity). All of your movements are used to stimulate qi and generate powerful energy.

It is believed that qi circulates through all parts of your body. Optimum strength and health depend on the natural uninterrupted flow of this little-known power. If the flow is blocked, diseases are free to strike. Normal qi flow is dependent on correct eating, sufficient exercise, and positive emotions/thoughts and qigong practice. The mind/body connection that qigong promotes is a powerful one. If practiced correctly, it not only promotes a healthy body but a healthy mind as well. If you are interested in learning more about qigong there are a number of good books written on the subject available. However, best results will come if you can find a qualified instructor.

1.6.3 Yoga
Yoga is an eastern discipline that employs meditation, breathing, and physical exercise to connect the body and the mind. Yoga begins with your body and ends with your mind. By practicing breathing, twists, bends, balances, poses, postures and movements, you develop discipline and self-control. The postures bring your body alive by promoting flexibility, strength, and power. Far Eastern yogis incorporate meditation and physical practice to reach altered states of consciousness. They develop a unique ability to focus their concentration to block pain and achieve extraordinary postures. Yoga practitioners do not see the mind and body as separate; they think of both as one. Science and common sense show the two have a direct effect on each other. Practicing yoga does not merely achieve a perfect pose or posture; yoga students attempt to focus their attention on the specific postures as well. A combination of yoga stretching and breathing brings about changes in your central nerv! ous system as well as an increase in blood oxygenation and circulation. Yoga can be as strenuous as you want it to be. Some say you could get better exercise jogging, but yoga masters argue that jogging will not improve your mindfulness.

A recent study compared yoga to swimming in the area of stress reduction. It was found that they both reduced stress, but in men yoga also helped decrease anger. It was found that the breathing exercises practiced in yoga stimulate your vagus nerve, which is part of your peripheral nervous system. Such stimulation w

Author's Bio: 

Marcus Maldonado resides in Los Angeles, California with his
beautiful wife Amara. He invites you to learn more about dangerous, toxic chemicals in personal care products and what you can do to protect yourself. His web site can be found at To send an email,