Brain Training Without Equipment: Mindfulness Meditation

Imagine yourself sitting back for a nonlinear neurofeedback session....

That means that your brain is going to have a "conversation" with itself (which I recently described in my newsletter, Not Just Neurofeedback, as the brain looking at itself in a mirror - let me know if you want to be on the list and have access to back copies like this). Your conscious mind doesn't really have anything specific to do in order to "make" something happen "on purpose". In fact, the best thing you can do is to get out of the way. ;- )

But what does "get out of the way" mean, exactly? How do you "get out of the way"?

Getting Out of the Way of Change

Linear approaches to neurofeedback have you target the deliberate creation of certain kinds of activity in your brain waves.

Nonlinear neurofeedback approaches are different in that they result in changes in brain activity by letting the brain adjust its own functioning based on what it sees "in the mirror" of its own activity in each moment.

When we "try" to create a specific state, we limit to some degree the freedom the brain has to create its own kind of change. While this can be useful during "real life", it can actually interfere with optimal nonlinear change. We can also create extra "ripples" of changes in the brain's activity that it needs to accommodate during the training process.

So our brain, as a self-regulating system, can learn most effectively when we aren't interfering or distracting it from the new information it's getting from the feedback process.

But most of us don't have a good strategy for what to do when we need to do as little as possible in our heads...

Getting Out of the Way by Being a Tourist - Just Watch the Changes Happening

So, I have two methods I frequently suggest to my clients. Both of these tend to enhance the benefits of nonlinear neurofeedback. But they're not just useful for neurofeedback training, they're also essentially a way of training your brain by interrupting the dysfunctional "looping" that re-creates our symptoms day in and day out.

Change is faster with the added information of neurofeedback added in, but if you don't have access to equipment or a trainer, then they are great strategies for brain health generally.

The first is to practice heart coherence. Since I talk about this in several of my other articles here, I won't go into it right now, except to say that maintaining heart coherence during training enhances your brain's overall resilience and ability to make productive changes.  Feel free to ask questions by using the Comments link if you don't get how it applies here...

The second is the practice of "mindfulness", which is a very popular meditative technique right now -- although most people aren't thinking about how it affects their brain. Research suggests that practicing mindfulness may improve mood, decrease stress, and boost immune function.

In its shortest description, mindfulness is about being fully in each moment - not staying hooked on thinking back to the past or anticipating the future. To be mindful is to be aware ofyour thoughts and actions in the present, without judging, just observing what comes and goes.

It's particularly useful for enhancing the changes your brain can make during neurofeedback for two reasons:

(1) Unlike other meditative techniques that try to create a specific "state" of way of feeling, mindfulness is practice in accepting what it is - right now, in this moment (and each brand new following moment). So your conscious awareness isn't the driver and your system can unfold according to its own inner-directedness.

(2) Many difficulties people experience are rooted in living somewhere other than the present moment. For example, lingering fears and anger are based on recall of past experiences; other anxieties and depressed moods are coming from an anticipation of the future -- that something won't be ok, or that it will never be any better than it is now. Even chronic pain is a "memory" in the pain systems of the brain that hasn't let go -- even if the original source of the pain has resolved. In essence, we re-create our pain (of whatever kind) in each new moment.

So if your brain can interrupt those old cycles of activity, then it is freer to create and practice new ways of being and doing.'s Alternative Medicine site has an article on how to do Mindfulness Meditation. Here are the basic steps from their article:

1. Find a quiet and comfortable place. Sit in a chair or on the floor with your head, neck and back straight but not stiff.

2. Try to put aside all thoughts of the past and the future and stay in the present.

3. Become aware of your breathing, focusing on the sensation of air moving in and out of your body as you breathe. Feel your belly rise and fall, the air enter your nostrils and leave your mouth. Pay attention to the way each breath changes and is different.

4. Watch every thought come and go, whether it be a worry, fear, anxiety or hope. When thoughts come up in your mind, don't ignore or suppress them but simply note them, remain calm and use your breathing as an anchor.

5. If you find yourself getting carried away in your thoughts, observe where your mind went off to, without judging, and simply return to your breathing. Remember not to be hard on yourself if this happens.

6. As the time comes to a close, sit for a minute or two, becoming aware of where you are. Get up gradually.

If you're ready for a more inclusive look at practicing mindfulness, Dr. Alan McAllister in Peterborough Ontario has written a very readable introduction to the hows and whys of mindfulness meditation called:

The Attentive Mind Workbook:
Self-healing through meditation

You can contact him at drampsych at (just fix the email address to look normal -- I've changed it to avoid the dratted spammers capturing his address!).

What do you think? Do you already practice mindfulness? -- Have tips or experiences to share with others just learning? Or are you just trying for the first time? What did you find from your first practice sessions?