Text and photo by TL Grace West
Most of us are familiar with the often-used quote “all you can count on is change.”
However, we hold on to the belief that our adult brains do not change. How many of us reached our 25th birthday and bought the line “it’s all downhill from here.”
With advancements in science over the last 40 years, we now have evidence that our brain can adapt and change (called neuroplasticity) given certain experiences.
“Mindfulness” is one of the experiences that has been shown to change how our brains are wired, which can result in greater happiness and peace.
Mindfulness is an awareness of the present moment, in a certain way–with intention and non-judgment for your well-being.
Why is there so much interest in mindfulness? In 2014, Time magazine called the expanding resources on this topic “The Mindful Revolution.”
The National Institutes of Health is funding research. Mindfulness training programs have been developed for teachers and students, the military, business (Google has a mindfulness in-house program called “Search within yourself”), chronically ill patients and more. Resources about mindfulness can be easily explored online.
One reason mindfulness has become more mainstream in our society has to do with increased information about how our brains function.
Neuroscience has discovered that for survival, our brain’s ability to register negative thoughts and experiences is much greater than our ability to tap into positive ones.
When trying to think of something good that happened today, most of us will immediately picture an unpleasant event.
With specific training about how to pay attention, we can rewire our brains to not only feel better mentally but also physically.
Optimists live longer, are better athletes, have less anxiety and depression and report either less pain with a chronic illness or have an increased ability to cope with pain.
An example of a simple mindfulness practice that will help you develop more neuro networks in the happiness part of your brain is to remember a specific time you were incredibly happy and hold these memories in your mind daily for at least 20 seconds.
When you do this exercise over the course of eight weeks you will notice a change for the positive in how you pay attention.
Historically, mindfulness is rooted in the East–in the Buddhist tradition.
Dr. Kabat-Zinn learned about and studied mindfulness under several Buddhist teachers, including Thich Nhat Hanh.
This gave him an Eastern foundation in mindfulness that he integrated with Western science to develop a program called Mindful-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). He successfully showed a reduction in stress with chronically ill patients.
Kabat-Zinn in 1979 founded the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
Since the 1990s many more researchers in universities and clinical settings are studying and developing more mindfulness resources.
The science, particularly as it applies to mindfulness, is far from conclusive. But this scientific component is another reason it’s difficult to dismiss mindfulness as fleeting or contrived. Mindfulness is gaining traction with people who might otherwise find mind-body philosophies a tough sell.
And, yes. You can study mindfulness on Ocracoke in Mitzi Crall’s weekly workshop at Ocracoke Island Yoga Studio on Back Road.
“This workshop provides an exciting opportunity for education, self-care and awareness,” said Katy Mitchell, owner of Magic Bean Coffee Bazaar.
She found this class provides a safe space for emotional exploration.
“Mitzi’s class gave me tools to bring more peace into my life,” said Mona Aly.
Savana Harwood, yoga instructor, said she loves the information about how our brains work paired with a lot of experiential exercises.
“Even after this class, it had me thinking more in depth and in touch with being mindful of everything I was doing, down to simple tasks like walking down the street, listening more closely, noticing things I pass by every day and hadn’t noticed before which all contributes to my feeling of health and well-being,” she said.
Amy Hilton, massage therapist/ATSI bodyworker and yoga teacher at Angie’s Gym, has eased into an instructor’s course to teach Structural Integration Bodywork with more confidence after working with Crall.
Hilton was able to let go of past mental holding patterns so that she can move forward into challenging new arenas in her life.
“It’s like clearing away clouds so I can have a more forward vision,” Hilton said.
With years of neuroscience study and specific mindfulness study at the Nalanda Institute in NY plus many other diverse training and certifications, Crall is dedicated to helping others learn how to restructure their brains to be more in line with their true desires.
Before coming to Ocracoke, Crall taught at the Living Foods Institute in Atlanta, Georgia, a Healing and Educational Center devoted to helping people heal from any disease, no matter how serious.
Crall has also taught at the Association for Research and Enlightenment in Virginia Beach, has been a presenter at Unity’s Annual International Convention and has clients and students all over the world.
Ask her to tell you some of her amazing success stories.
Over the past seven years on Ocracoke, she has helped people cope with anxiety, depression, addiction, insomnia, physical pain, asthma and allergies, grief and more.
Her weekly mindfulness class is from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Tuesdays. For more information, contact Crall at 770-310-4873.