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  • Ann Wade, Wade into Fitness

Is Your Brain a Popcorn Popper?

How to turn it off and turn on the power of healing and true fitness!

"The mind tends to send out messages of fear when faced with challenges - start listening to your inner voice, the one pointing you to what feels right." says Eric Lindberg Author of Just Say Yes, Life Coach, and Cancer Survivor.* For some, the inner voice is a connection to one's deepest self, for others it is the Holy Spirit, for others a connection to the universe, but each of us recognizes this inner, guiding voice.

Like most of the body, one of the mind's major functions is to protect you from potential threats. So our minds are often constantly evaluating "what if" scenarios. In fact, our brains are so creative, they often come up with threats that will never happen (aka worrying). While this instinctual protection design has a powerful purpose, too much of this vigilant, continuous "on-switch" exhausts us.

I liken the mind as being like a popcorn popper with random thoughts popping off every second. Constant popping of thoughts wears us out mentally and physically.

Brain popping, worrying, and clutter translate from our brain to the body as a potential emergency. This can damage the body as it responds with stress chemicals to deal with the perceived threat. (Even though it is not actually happening!) If this cycle repeats consistently, research suggests this may alter the brain's actual structure, chemistry, and function. We can use powerful tools, however, to prevent or reverse this.

The Tools:

Face & Replace: One tool is called "Face & Replace" in psychology. This is when we catch ourselves as we start to have a negative and/or redundant thought and replace it with a positive realistic thought. We learn to recognize the busyness of our thoughts and catch ourselves, particularly with negative thoughts. Then we replace it by refocusing on a thought that is positive and relaxing. For example, many people may think, "I'm not in shape enough or flexible enough to take a fitness or yoga class." Replace this thought with, "I'm on a journey to flexibility and getting in shape. I'm here. I'm proud of myself." The first thought can become a lifetime self-fulfilling prophesy. The second carries a message to our mind and body that is vastly different and gives energy and courage to move forward toward a new, healthy, future.

Flow or the Zone: Getting into one focused lane is deeply relaxing for the mind and is often called "flow" or "the zone" in psychology. Flow is a mental state in which your focus on an activity is fully immersing and gives you a feeling of energized focus. It can come from anything that keeps you positively in one focused lane so the brain has time to relax. This state can happen when we immerse ourselves in meditation, prayer, a good book, or focus on a creative outlet. Exercise is excellent for achieving flow, as we dance like no one is watching, have a great focused workout, practice Yoga or experience Thai Chi. Sitting in nature also helps achieve flow. This time spent will not "steal" valuable time from your day - it will add to your energy, productivity and clarity for the entire day!

Meditation: is a great tool to stop the constant popping in our head. Meditation calms the mind and entire body. The mind and body interconnect constantly in a feedback loop to try to establish homeostasis (balance) down to the cellular level. This is why meditation has been shown to have so many benefits. Stopping the mind from worrying, getting stuck in negative thought cycles, self-ruminating and constantly fretting over 'to do' lists helps ease anxiety, depression, aches, and disease. Controlling the tempo of thoughts your body and mind are barraged with will become easier as you learn to meditate. At first, it may be only seconds before a distracting thought pops in, but over time, you learn to create more time between thoughts by refocusing. This rests and re-energizes the mind.

Yoga: In yoga circles this popping is often called "mind clutter." Yoga addresses mind clutter and shifts us toward clearing the mind (aka "flow" for psychologist; parasympathetic system for doctors). The practice of yoga is not a religion, it a process or tool that takes your mind and body on a structured journey which requires focus to execute. This focus limits the mind ability to wander. Our mind is therefore able to stay with the flow or zone. By the end of the session, the brain has blissfully been able to stay in one lane while also balancing, strengthening, and stretching muscles. Only then can the most important pose in yoga, "final relaxation," called Savasana be achieved. If we said after your busy day, "Lay down on the mat and immediately clear your mind" - that's hardly going to happen!**

The ability to turn off the popcorn popper of our thoughts allows us to enter the flow zone. This zone has many names for the same concept -"rest & digest", relaxation, and healing parasympathetic zone. Using the above mentioned tools keeps us out of the high alert, vigilant, sympathetic "fight or flight" zone. When you use these tools regularly turning off our popcorn popper of our thoughts gets easier. In that quite, positive space, we heal and strengthen.

© Ann Wade. All rights reserved. No portion of this information may reprinted or copied without author


*As quoted in Bottom Line Personal 6/15/15

**Except in the case of individuals who have been working for a long time with meditation and other mind calming techniques. - then it is pretty cool to watch them do it - there are computer programs that can monitor these folks quickly sinking into the relaxation, parasympathetic zone. I've seen it - it's very impressive!


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