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Mindfulness | Being Present | Relational Coaching | Stress

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The Happy Monk: the 2000 year old science of happiness and healing

The Happy Monk: the 2000 year old science of happiness and healing

by Moyra Mackie on November 22, 2013

Rebecca  arrived at our first coaching session apologizing that she had a headache and sore neck and shoulders.

Ninety minutes later her headache had lifted and the pain had gone. She left my office elated and incredulous.

I know what you’re thinking.

How did that happen?

For those cynics in the room, who may not be that charitable, please keep reading.

But the answer to the question above is: we had a trustful coaching session and then we ended with seven minutes of mindfulness.

What is mindfulness?

mindfulness, coaching, Moyra Mackie

How can “paying attention on purpose” ease physical pain?

This is a question that has long interested Professor Richard Davidson who – perhaps inspired by Shakespeare – wanted to know why some people cope with the “slings and arrows” of life better than others.

He was interested in the science behind resilience and happiness

Davidson is an expert in the emerging field of contemplative neuroscience; studies that combine cutting edge brain research with the ancient art of meditation. By working with the Dalai Lama and others he found 21st century evidence for something that 1st century monks understood instinctively.

Mindfulness changes the function and structure of our brains

MRI scans can identify which parts of our brains are more active and engaged than others.

The left side of our brains are associated with positive feelings – love, contentment, happiness.  The right side of our brains are associated with negative thoughts, including fear and depression.

In his initial research Davidson scanned the brains of 150 people and saw the full range of activity from highly active right brains to highly active left brains.

And then he scanned the brain of a monk called Khachab Rinpoche.

His left brain activity was off the scale; this was one happy monk

Further studies confirmed that he was not unique – all monks showed similar brain patterns.

What’s more, scientists could compare how monks responded to traumatic images compared to that sample of 150 people.

Monks remain calm in the face of adversity and stress

Further studies on populations of depressed and stressed people show that regular mindfulness exercises:

  • Boost memory
  • Increase feelings of happiness
  • Decrease pain and inflammation
  • Strengthen the immune system
  • Make us more resilient

Meditation can re-wire our brains

Science is beginning to reveal what Daniel Goleman describes as “the upper limits of human potential”.  Or, as Davidson says:

“Who we are today, is not who we have to end up being”

So how can you start?

Monks are the Olympic athletes of  mindfulness, with a minimum of 10,000 hours of meditative practice.

But you don’t have to be an Olympian to work out regularly.

Slow down, stop running

Thich Nhat Hanh a  Buddhist monk, and writer said this week:

“We are always running.  We run because we are not comfortable in the here and now.”

Mindfulness is the practice of consciously staying in the here and now and in holding our attention without judgement.

Do this by finding a place and time to sit quietly and focus on your breath, noticing the pace and nature of your inhale and exhale.

Before long your mind will wander. That is normal.  Just notice and bring your focus back to your breath.

The exercise is in the discipline and resistance

Just as you build muscles by exerting control against a resisting force, so you rewire your brain by consciously resisting random thoughts.

Practicing mindfulness builds my coaching muscles

As a relational coach I am trained to pay attention to what is happening “in the here and now” in the coaching room.

I guide my clients to notice what is happening inside themselves; how they are feeling and interacting and how this might help them understand the issue they have brought to coaching.

In order to be effective I need to be fully present and focused. I need to pay attention to what I’m thinking and feeling and what is taking place between me and my client.

But smart people beware

The more you pride yourself on your ability to think a problem through, on your analytical and research skills, the harder you may find the early stages of mindfulness.  And many people give up.

Thinkers start here

I’m a thinker with a restless mind, as are many of my coaching clients.

So I’ve devised a way of learning to pay attention on purpose that can be done anywhere that you can sit comfortably and close your eyes.

It acts as a warm up for mindfulness and meditation. This is the seven mindful minutes Rebecca experienced.

Take a listen, try it out and then tell me what you experienced

Please leave a comment here or visit my Facebook page.

And  if you want to experience what it is like to work with a relational coach, then you know where to find me.


Moyra Mackie

Moyra Mackie helps leaders and teams to work with courage, compassion and creativity. She is an executive coach and consultant and the founder of Mackie Consulting.

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