Our brains are an incredible, complex and magnificent network of connected superhighways, powering our body and mind 24/7.
Our every move, every thought, every emotion, every action, every reaction and response are all possible because of this wonderful and super complex organism, the driver of our central and peripheral nervous systems.
In 2014, at 46, and as someone whose brain had always behaved just like a brain should, a stroke like episode, which turned out to be extreme hemiplegic migraines, catapulted me into learning all that I could about this incredible lump of gooey mush between my ears.
Mindfulness and Healthy Lifestyle
What I have discovered on this quest to understand all that I can, is that our brains truly are "MAGNIFICENT" and the contemplative practices like mindfulness
in everyday life, formal meditation, yoga and Feldenkrais, all contribute to the health of this incredible organism.
These coupled with a diet that supports good gut health, the right levels of nutrients, fresh air, connecting to nature, spending time with loved ones and friends, and following a passion that allows me to thrive, rather than just survive, all contributed in the journey to regain my health and live a flourishing life.
Mindfulness and Mindful Movement
Why does mindfulness and mindful movement, contribute to brain health? Because the brain controls most of the functions of the body - including awareness, movement, the 5 senses, sight, smell, taste, touch and hearing, as well as what you think, say and how you respond to the complexities of life. All areas that are incorporated into the education and practices taught, in the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program.
Before this health scare, I had practiced yoga and various forms of meditation, sometimes diligently and sometimes sporadically, for 16 years. In my quest to better understand the brain's capacity to heal, a friend lent me a copy of "The Connection" documentary by Shannon Harvey and this opened a whole new world for me.
"The Connection" documentary introduced me to the likes of, Jon Kabat-Zinn, the founder of the world-renowned Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Program; Dr Herbert Benson, from the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at MGH, who researched the Relaxation Response; Associate Professor Craig Hassed, from Monash University; Dr Sarah Lazar, a Harvard neuroscientist; and Professor George Jelinek, author and founder of Overcoming Multiple Sclerosis.
Wanting to learn all I could about our amazing brains and the mind body connection, I discovered Norman Doidge's books, The Brain That Changes Itself; and The Brain's Way of Healing; offering an incredible insight into the neuroplasticity of our wonderful brains.
Inspired by these world experts in the power of the brain to heal itself, I sought out teachers in my home town of Perth and this led me to Belinda Murray, a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) teacher from Openground Mindfulness Training.
Over the 8 weeks of the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction Course, I literally engaged and practiced "as if my life depended on it" (a phrase Jon Kabat-Zinn references in one of his books) and with two young daughters, I felt that indeed my life and my capacity to be the most present and available mum I could be, did depend on it.
Coming into the MBSR course, I was still not well. I experienced frequent hemiplegic migraines, some requiring hospitalisation and it seemed that the left side of my body was struggling to regain its full strength after each hemiplegic episode. Some days I walked around in a world where it felt like my brain was in slow motion. Movement, speech and generally trying to function took all of my will power and energy.
With the gentle and knowledgeable care of Belinda as our weekly group MBSR teacher and each day at home with the audio recorded mindfulness practices so skillfully led by Timothea Goddard, Director of Openground Mindfulness Training, over the 8 weeks of the MBSR course, my health improved significantly.
By the end of the MBSR course, the frequency of hemiplegic migraine episodes had reduced, the left side of my body was catching up to the right and when I did have an episode, the fear that gripped me when these episodes first began was now replaced with an acceptance that "this too will pass". MBSR had given me tools to struggle less, to let go of the intense fear and resistance and to "ride the waves" of these episodes with more ease.
What this offered was a different relationship with this illness. Instead of being terrified out of my wits, instead of catastrophising about all of the what if's or why me's, I accepted that kindness, friendliness, understanding, patience, trust and self-compassion where a much healthier and certainly easier way for me to move through this time.
It took almost a year for me to be back to the level of health I enjoyed before hemiplegic migraines came into my life, and on occasion, when I over commit, a mild episode will give me a nudge to let me know to slow down and connect more deeply with my formal practices of mindfulness, and mindful movement.
Would I wish this experience out of my life? Absolutely not. Without this health scare, it is possible that I may have never discovered the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction program, or Openground and if I hadn’t discovered these, I would not have discovered the Mindfulness Training Institute Australasia which led me to undertake the incredible, in-depth, intensive and life changing training, to become a Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction teacher and part of the Australia wide Openground Team.
In hindsight, this health scare was a gift.