Yesterday we were joined by Dr Henry Ford, fellow ROSL member and an executive coach in mindfulness, as he led members through a variety of exercises to improve their mental wellbeing. 

Everyone knows that stress is bad for you: it can disrupt your sleep, impact your eating habits and has an obvious impact on your emotions. But it goes further than that, Henry revealed. The more stress your body undergoes, the more stress hormones are released into your body which erode your genes. These genes usually rejuvenate and repair the body, but with stress eroding them, they struggle to replicate themselves and to fix the body. This results in those wrinkles and grey hairs we then, ironically, stress over some more.

Practising mindfulness has been proven to affect several areas of the brain relating to perception, body awareness, pain tolerance, emotional regulation, introspection, complex thinking and sense of self. During the session Henry focused our attention on how mindfulness can affect the anterior cingulate cortex (ACC), located in the brain’s frontal lobe that helps us direct our attention, control the fight, flight or freeze mechanism, and switch between tasks successfully. Those under heavy amounts stress usually end up damaging this section of the brain which results in impulsivity, poor mental flexibility and at times aggression.

But what is mindfulness and how can it help beat something that everyone suffers at some point in their life? Mindfulness, Henry explains, means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally. It helps us to process situations that would usually make us naturally fight, flight or freeze in a situation.

For example, imagine something has gone wrong at work and your manager has put the blame on you. One instinct is to fight – defending your decision, perhaps even getting aggressive; to flee the situation – perhaps by deflecting the blame onto someone else and pleading ignorance; or to freeze and be unable to say anything at all, which is a whole other stress. So how do you stop your knee jerk reactions?

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Firstly, Henry explains, you need to pay attention to the situation. You need to ensure your focus is on what is being said and what the problem is, in this scenario. A thought will arise naturally – the instinctive response. You need to be aware of that thought before your mouth runs away with it. Then, instead of just repressing it, you need to acknowledge that thought. It is ok to feel upset or angry in this kind of situation and that is a valid response, but in this scenario it is not appropriate, so then you shelve it and return to focusing your attention. With this complete you can then make a decision with a clearer mind and achieve an outcome that is more beneficial for everyone in the room.

This mindfulness exercise can help in all kinds of situations and was just one of the many things Henry shared with members throughout the evening.

At the beginning of the talk, Henry informed me he preferred the term Guru to coach, because in Sanskrit guru means dispelling darkness. From the relaxed faces in the room and the enthusiasm for Henry to return to do more sessions, I would say Guru Henry definitely achieved his mission of dispelling a little darkness from all our minds.

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