Starting a Mind Fitness Practice
Building an allied relationship between the thinking brain and survival brain requires training our attention in a systematic way. That’s because where we direct our attention has profound ripple effects through the survival brain, nervous system, and body.
For this reason, initially it’s important to choose target objects of attention that help the survival brain feel safe. The first exercise in the MMFT® sequence is the Contact Points Exercise. (You can get a free download of this exercise by joining my mailing list!) By directing your attention to the sensations of contact between your body and surroundings, your can show your survival brain that you’re grounded, stable, and safe.
Practicing each day in the same place and at the same time—such as mornings or after exercise—can help build the habit. In the morning, the mind tends to be receptive before the day’s busyness has begun. Research shows how cardiovascular exercise encourages beneficial brain changes, so practicing right afterwards can help. There is nothing more important for building the new habit than consistent practice. It’s much better to practice for just five minutes each day than to binge and bust.
Especially when you’re experiencing a lot of stress arousal, it can be helpful to sit in a stable chair, with your back facing a solid wall rather than a door, window, or open space. This can help your survival brain feel more stable and secure. However, if you find the Contact Points Exercise to be significantly distressing, it’s best to back off and seek some help from a therapist, preferably someone trained in body-based trauma techniques. See the links below.
Seven Questions To Ask Mindfulness, Meditation, and Yoga Instructors
The explosion of popular interest in mindfulness has created an expectation that there’s some quick and easy path to peak performance. Yet, for people who’ve experienced prolonged stress and trauma without adequate recovery, awareness practices like mindfulness meditation and yoga have the potential to make symptoms worse.
If you come from such a background, understand that when you bring your attention to physical sensations and emotions in your body, your survival brain may feel threatened and produce more stress arousal. This isn’t a problem, as long as you understand why it’s happening and how to work with it effectively. (I explain why and how in Widen the Window.)
In fact, to teach and work with others most effectively—especially others who are coping with profound dysregulation—requires that we’ve already deeply engaged that process for ourselves. There’s no substitute for intensive practice in dealing with the range of experiences that can come up in the human mind and body.
With this in mind, here are seven questions you might ask your meditation or yoga instructor, to help your survival brain trust them to guide you safely through your practice.
- How long have you been practicing? What is your own daily practice?
- Have you ever engaged in intensive silent practice, like a retreat? For how long?
- Do you have a personal history with chronic stress and trauma? How did you go about healing and recovering from those experiences?
- Have you completed any teacher training certification? What was involved?
- How long have you been teaching?
- Do you have a particular population that you teach most often? Why?
- Do you have any clinical training? In which therapeutic techniques?
Find A Therapist
If you’re confronting profound dysregulation, working with a therapist trained in body-based techniques is essential—especially when you’re beginning mindfulness practice. These practitioners can help you pace your survival brain’s bottom‑up processing, so that it happens gradually and safely.
I strongly recommend that you seek out a trained professional to help you navigate your way through the process, so that you don’t inadvertently flood your system, retraumatize your survival brain, and exacerbate your symptoms of dysregulation.
Here are links for finding a certified practitioner for Somatic Experiencing and sensorimotor psychotherapy. Both kinds of practitioners can skillfully assist your survival brain and nervous system in coming back into regulation.