Dr. Shauna Shapiro, clinical psychologist and professor at Santa Clara University, explains the neuroscience behind mindfulness.
Takeaways from “The Power of Mindfulness: What You Practice Grows Stronger | Shauna Shapiro | TEDxWashingtonSquare”
Fasting can be a form of mindfulness and a tool for training the mind. In mindfulness, much like in meditation, it is about bringing your wandering attention back to the present moment.
In fasting it is sometimes even more obvious when our minds have wandered. For example, you make the decision to fast until 6 PM, then within a few minutes of making that choice you remember the leftovers in the fridge. You feel the urge to go have a bite.
You stop yourself, remembering your intention to fast. Perhaps you tune into your breath or say a little soothing statement to calm yourself (like, “I’ll have those left overs at 6 PM”). You settle back in. Then an hour later (or less) you catch a whiff of a delicious dish and you are tempted to go find some for yourself.
You are half-way to the kitchen before you remember… Shoot, I’m supposed to be fasting! And, the practice continues. You are faced with the choice to act on this impulse or to stay with the intention to fast. It is not easy. Like mindfulness, fasting is a practice that requires diligence and a lot of practice. As you watch her video or read the summary below, what can practice to help you to grow stronger as a faster?
Here are our top takeaways from Dr. Shapiro’s lecture on mindfulness:
We hold ourselves to an unrealistic standard of perfection and judge ourselves when we don’t meet those standards. While the perfection we strive for ourselves is impossible, transformation is not. Transformation, or the process of learning, growing, and changing, is something we all can practice, no matter the circumstance. As a clinical psychologist, Dr. Shauna Shapiro has found that mindfulness is the strongest tool for harnessing transformation.
Dr. Shapiro’s experience with mindfulness is quite unique and suprirsing. At just the age of 17, she had a spinal fusion surgery that required a rehab period of several months. She felt like a stranger in her own body, experienced significant physical pain, and from one day to the next, lost the ability to control her body. But worse than all of that was the fear and loneliness that Dr. Shapiro experienced. She began searching for coping tools, and eventually found a meditation retreat at a monastery in Thailand. During this retreat, Dr. Shapiro struggled to be mindful and present and she began to grow frustrated.
Has your mind wandered just while reading this article? It’s okay. it’s completely normal! Our minds actually wander for more than 47% of the time. Mindfulness is a tool that allows us to train our mind to be present in the moment, and take control of the almost 50% of our lives where our mind is wandering.
Close your eyes, feel your feet on the floor, wiggle your toes, and sense your entire body in this moment. Dr. Shapiro suggests feeling the breaths flowing in and out of your body, like she tried to do during her rehabilitation. When she couldn’t harness mindfulness after continuously trying, she began to judge herself and everyone around her. Then, a monk that spoke English arrived, and Dr. Shapiro shared what was going on. The monk’s response was everything you would expect a monk’s response to be: you are practicing the exact opposite of mindfulness. You are practicing judgment, impatience, frustration, and what you practice grows stronger.
These words stuck with Dr. Shapiro and now she understands the neuroscience behind these beliefs. Repeated behaviors shape our brains and our synaptic connections can be altered and strengthened through mindfulness. A study of London taxi drivers proved that the visual spatial mapping part of the brain was much bigger and stronger than normal because they had continuously repeated the same practices until it was etched in their brains. Meditators are similar in that their attention, learning, and compassion grow bigger in stronger as they continuously repeat these ideas through meditation.
This process is called cortical thickening, which is when new neurons grow in response to repeated practices, which verifies the monks statement Dr. Shapiro had heard earlier in life of “what you practice grows stronger”. So mindfulness can be powerful, but it’s more about how you pay attention than about paying attention alone. If you meditate with frustration and judgment, you will grow more frustrated and continue to judge yourself and everyone around you. But, if you meditate with compassion and gratitude, this will grow too!
We practice mindfulness and growth in every moment, so we must ask ourselves, what do we want to grow or what do we want to practice?
Dr. Shapiro has studied this concept in a wide variety of people,, professions, stress levels, ages, and etc. The data shows that mindfulness really works. Mindfulness has been found to decrease stress, decrease cortisol, strengthens immune functioning, and helps us sleep better. The study, however, also found that there are constant thoughts of insecurity and shame no matter who was being studied. However, shame doesn’t work in trying to create change and growth. Studied have found that when we are shaming ourselves, the centers of the brain that control growth and learning shut down. The amygdala triggers the body to release norepinephrine and cortisol, shutting down our learning center. Energy begins to focus on survival instead of growth and change.
The alternative to shame is self compassion and kindness. Kind attention releases dopamine, turning on the learning centers of the brain and allowing us to be more open to change and transformation. Simply put, mindfulness is intentionally paying attention with kindness.
Dr. Shapiro saw her meditation research in practice when she worked in a veterans home. There was a significant presence of self-shame and even high rates of suicide, but once the veterans began to show kindness to one another, there was hope beginning to fill the home.
When Dr. Shapiro went through a divorce, her therapist helped her to use mindfulness and kind attention to get past the feelings of shame to feel self-love again. Dr. Shapiro suggests taking a moment each morning to say “good morning, i love you” to yourself as you put your hand over your heart, to practice and grow stronger the feelings of self-love that can push you towards transformation.
About Dr. Shapiro:
Shauna Shapiro, PhD is a clinical psychologist, author and internationally recognized expert in mindfulness and self-compassion. She is a professor at Santa Clara University and has published over 150 papers and three critically acclaimed books, translated into 16 languages. Dr. Shapiro has presented her research to the King of Thailand, the Danish Government, Bhutan’s Gross National Happiness Summit, and the World Council for Psychotherapy, as well as to Fortune 100 Companies including Google, Cisco Systems, and LinkedIn.
Her work has been featured in the Wall Street Journal, Mashable, Wired, USA Today, Dr. Oz, the Huffington Post, Yoga Journal, and the American Psychologist. Dr. Shapiro is a summa cum laude graduate of Duke University and a Fellow of the Mind and Life Institute, co-founded by the Dalai Lama. Her TEDx Talk, The Power of Mindfulness, has been viewed over one million times.
Here are a couple of Dr. Shapiro’s other Youtube videos:
Stanford University: The Mindful Pause– How pausing to define your intentions can make you more mindful and break habits to create change.
APEX Leadership Symposium: The Power of Intention – How remembering your intentions can help you experience the most important things in life.
Also, here are a few other fasting resources you may enjoy:
- Fasting For Survival Lecture by Dr. Pradip Jamnadas – In this hour and twenty minute video, Dr. Pradip Jammadas, an award-winning cardiologist, explains in a succinct and humorous way why fasting is so powerful. We sum up his findings in this article.
- The Complete Guide to Fasting – A great one! – 3 min review of the book – An easy step-by-step explanation on how to implement fasting into your lifestyle and why fasting is so beneficial to our health.
- Pure White & Deadly – How sugar is killing us and what we can do to stop it – This classic was way ahead of its time and is more relevant today than it was written almost 50 years ago. The trends in chronic illness, obesity, and Type II diabetes sadly show how right Yudkin was about the detrimental effects of sugar.