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Attunement

Attunement is the process of focusing our attention on the other and making the other feel “felt”, “seen” and “heard”. We take the other’s essence and internal states into our inner world.  Much of what we communicate is nonverbal, and we take in through our senses and not thru words. A posture, facial expressions, tones of voice, the rate of speech can communicate energy and information.

To be truly attuned and open to another person’s signals, we need to move toward an open state of presence rather than being biased by our past experiences and restrictive expectations. Put simply; attunement requires a complete surrendering of judgment.

Attunement is necessary for interpersonal attachment, which is vital for our sense of well-being and resilience.

The first phase of attunement is Simulation: The focus of attention on the signals from another. The neurons in our brain are fired and relayed downwards to stimulate changes in our bodies.

The second phase is Interoception: The shifts in our subcortical bodily states are relayed upward back to the brain to shape our states of reactivity or receptivity. We perceive the interior sensations of our body.

This metarepresentation of our body in our mind allows us to regulate our bodily states, consciously, and allocate our attention and regulate our emotion.

Our awareness of our body’s state influences how we organize our lives. As we attune to another person, we focus on their signals and use this information to shape our own subcortical states and internal world. Unknowingly, when we attune, we “sync” our heart rate to the heart rate of the other. This has been demonstrated to happen between therapists and patients (Siegel, 2010) and in sports psychology between elite horseback riders and their horses (Baltzell, 2016).

- The key to attunement is to be willing to say, “I don’t know” and “tell me more”. There is a common misconception that we “know” what the other is thinking but inevitably when you invite open exploration without judgment, the person reveals aspects of their inner world that were previously suppressed.

Mindsight skills, therefore, require monitoring both our own and another individual’s internal states and modifying this internal flow of energy and information.

The feeling of needing a connection but not receiving such attunement from another creates a state of shame and withdrawal.  This is why attunement is crucial for interpersonal relationships. There is evidence that mothers who did not receive good parenting from their parents, can be “present” for their children, which can lead to the creation of secure attachments if the mother has “made sense” of their childhood. These attachments in childhood later shape your romantic attachments. On the other hand, if the primary caregiver had a traumatic childhood and did not “make sense of it” then he/she will not be “present”. Instead, that adult will be acting under the influence of his/her past and will likely recreate the unstable attachment that they experienced in their childhood.

Shame exercise

  • The following exercise of mindsight training focuses on times when a lack of interpersonal communication in a relationship may have limited your ability to regulate your internal state
  1. Write down what you feel your greatest fears may be of connecting with another person
  2. Write down times I your life when communication with another person in your personal life was challenging. What was going on for you? What signals from the other did you find most distressing? How did this difficult connection make you feel?
  3. Consider a time when someone had significant difficulty attuning to you. What was that like? What led to it and what was the outcome like for you? What did it feel like to be ignored, dismissed, or misunderstood? What did you notice were the possible reasons the other person was unable to attune to your internal state of mind?
  4. This feeling of needing connection but not receiving that attunement through interpersonal connection can create a state of shame. See if you can locate where in your body this feeling of shame may reside: sensations in your chest, eyes, or stomach? Take these images, sensations, feelings, and recollections and put them aside for a moment.
  5. Now imagine a peaceful scene (park, ocean, forest, a special room in your home). Let this peaceful image intensify in your mind. Notice the sensations in your body and mind. This is your home base – a deep, calm, grounded place of tranquility that is always available to you.
  6. Knowing that you are able to build this internal source of strength, you can practice just sensing your breath or imagining your peaceful place each day.

(Siegel, D. J. 2012, p 47-49)

Resonance

Resonance occurs when two independent entities form a functional whole, where the whole is larger than the sum of its parts.  For people to resonate with one another, it requires not just understanding the other person, but to become engaged with them.

  • When the observed takes in the observer having taken them in, the two become joined. This is how we feel “felt” and how two individuals become “we”.

There is physical evidence showing that two states (people) can become one:

  • There is evidence of synced heartbeats and breathing between two resonating beings.

There are also subjective findings that show people having sad emotions while listening to another persons’ upsetting story. This is an example of how resonance enables us to feel others’ feelings.

An important aspect of a person’s resonance capability lies in childhood attachment.

If a parent has made sense (created a narrative) of their own early life history, their child is more likely to have a secure attachment to them.  If a parent hasn’t made sense of their early life history, their child is more likely to have an insecure attachment to them.

  • Resonance is easier for those who have a secure attachment to their parental figures and harder for those who have an insecure attachment to their parental figures.

Those who have insecure attachments growing up can move to a secure attachment style as an adult if they take the time to make sense of their childhood.

  • It is necessary to put words to an emotional experience à creating a narrative

Making sense of our past frees us to be present in our lives and to become a creative and active author of our own unfolding life story.

Reflecting on and understanding your attachment history is a crucially important way to understand your mind and have the ability to modify it toward security.

If you are to look into your past childhood traumas, you can learn to make sense of the times that resonance wasn’t there.  If there was trauma, survival was the only option.  By creating a narrative and understanding that trauma, you no longer just have to survive, but you can now thrive.

Secure attachment and mindfulness traits are remarkably consistent with one another.

Training 

Mindsight Skills

Neuroplasticity refers to our ability to create, strengthen, and modify synaptic connections

Neurons that fire together wire together

  • When synapses between neurons occur repeatedly, this increases the myelin sheath around the interconnected neurons
    • Myelin increases conduction speeds by 100 times
  • When you practice mindsight over and over, these same neurons keep firing and this builds strength in that connection

When you face an obstacle, constant practice, instead of avoidance, allows for the development of that skill and promotes the wrapping and maintenance of myelin sheaths around those connected neurons

By trying hard to do things you can barely do, in deep practice, then, your skill circuits will respond by getting faster and more accurate

  • This effort is essential to developing the skill of mindsight
  • Deep practice in mindsight skill training involves moving into these distinct minute by minute steps movement by movement, but then also seeing the larger picture overall

The whole idea of mindsight is to approach your mistakes, rather than avoid them

The process of mindsight training involves stabilizing our mind with openness, observation, and objectivity; making sure to track when our attention wanders, then redirect our attention and attunement with kindness and understanding to achieve a state of openness

Awareness enables us to intentionally focus our attention to activate specific neuronal circuits and change their connections so that they integrate the brain

Throughout mindsight skill training, we are training nine specific functions of our brain: regulating the body, attuned communication, emotional balance, response flexibility, fear modulation, insight, empathy, morality, and intuition

  • With deep practice across these nine aspects, we can harness the power of careful attention to let the mind promote the neuroplasticity that can integrate the brain and transform our lives
  • This is mindsight’s power to move our lives toward health 

Reference 

Siegel, D. J. (2010). The mindful therapist: A clinician’s guide to mindsight and neural integration. New York: W.W. Norton & Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Loving-Kindness 

- There are many different forms of love, for example, an intimate partner, child, friend, family, or other humanity. Each form of love has the fundamental elements of Curiosity, Openness, and Acceptance, which equal Love (COAL) (Siegel, 2010)

  • “Loving-kindness means bringing a COAL state of being present, attuning, and resonating with the person” (Siegel, 2010)
  • Being present, attuned, and resonating are skills that need to be deeply understood and need development. Please ask us for the research summaries we have available for each of these skills

- “The following are a few examples of loving-kindness phrases. These phrases can evoke internal states of clarity, compassion, and integration as they facilitate the neural firing of our resonance circuits, which enable us to be attuned to others and ourselves. With practice, these intentionally created states of kindness can become long-term traits of compassion and caring concern” (Siegel, 2010):

  • “May I be happy and live with a joyful heart“
  • “May I be healthy and have a body that gives me energy”
  • “May I live with the ease that comes from well-being” (Siegel, 2010)

- With the practice of loving-kindness meditation, a person’s relationship to his/her negative internal experiences will change. This change is what makes this practice essential to learning self-acceptance and managing self-critical thoughts

  • “By accepting aversive thoughts and feelings, eventually less attention is placed on such aversive emotions (fears, anxiety, and self-doubt) and attention can then be freed up to be placed on the present moment” (Baltzell, 2016)

- “Self-compassion emphasizes soothing and comforting the self when distressing experiences arise, remembering that such experiences are part of being human.” (Neff & Germer, 2013 as cited in Baltzell, 2016)

- “Empathy for others is stimulated when we perform loving-kindness exercises and when we develop attunement internally” (Siegel, 2010)

- “When one’s thinking process is maladaptive, the individual tends to experience either cognitive fusion, when a person reacts as if their thoughts are literally true, or experiential avoidance, when a person attempts to escape or avoid the event” (Hayes, 2004 as cited in Baltzell, 2016).

- The problem is not a person’s thoughts, but how one responds to the problem (Hayes, 2004 as cited in Baltzell, 2016)

- Even though this type of meditation might feel a little strange at first, please remember that within six weeks, new neural pathways will be formed. This type of Brain Training capitalizes on your brain’s neuroplasticity. The new neural pathways eventually enable you to live a more productive life and disentangle your self-critical thoughts that immobilize you

- The research evidence on the use of self-compassion with elite athletes and executives has demonstrated that self-compassion/self-acceptance results in significantly improved performance, more resilience to setbacks, and steeper growth rates. It is an essential feature of Performance and Sports Psychology

Self-Compassion Increases Failure Tolerance –>

 Less Recovery Time after Failures & Enhanced Problem Solving

 

Failure Tolerance –> Better Mental Health Outcomes and Growth

 

 

Brain Training Link

Guided Mindfulness Meditation Series 1 with Digital Booklet by Jon Kabat-Zinn (Track 4 = Loving kindness)

*To access this practice, search Jon Kabat-Zinn into the ITunes Stores. Purchase is required. ($19.99) The album is titled “Guided Mindfulness Meditation, Series 1 with Digital Booklet.”

This link can be used on Mac Computers but not in iPhones or iPads.

References

Baltzell, A. L, (2016).  Mindfulness and performance. Cambridge University Press

Siegel, D. J. (2010). The mindful therapist: A clinician’s guide to mindsight and neural

integration New York: W.W. Norton & Company

 



Wheel Of Awarenes

- The center hub of the metaphoric wheel represents the “knowing” of being conscious, while the elements on the rim stand for the “known”

- As seen in the diagram, known elements on the external rim include:

  • Our first five sense – what we see, hear, smell, taste and touch
  • What we sense from our inner bodily sensations
  • What we experience with our mental activities – feelings, thoughts, memories
  • Our sense of relational connections with humanity

- The power of practicing the Wheel of Awareness is to integrate consciousness by differentiating hub from rim, and intentionally linking these various elements on the external rim

- This integration of consciousness allows us to free our mind to learn to move recurrent thoughts and moods towards an open space of knowing – the hub

- This practice can liberate the mind from embedded patterns of cognition and emotion and help you emerge with a more open sense of awareness

PDF copy of the Wheel of Awareness diagram and practice tips:

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/19d8e8d7be6b54af722e6e723/files/Wheel_of_Awareness_Guided_Meditation.pdf

Wheel of Awareness (Introduction):

http://www.wwnorton.com/common/flvplayer/?flvID=/npb/MindfulTherapist/WheelofAwarenessI.mp3

Wheel of Awareness II (actual mindfulness) (four rim sectors):

http://www.wwnorton.com/common/flvplayer/?flvID=/npb/MindfulTherapist/WheelofAwarnessII.mp3

https://gallery.mailchimp.com/19d8e8d7be6b54af722e6e723/files/Wheel_of_Awareness_Guided_Meditation.pdf

 Reference

Siegel, D. J. (2010). The mindful therapist: A clinician’s guide to mindsight and neural integration. New York: W.W. Norton & Company

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 



Breath Awareness Instructions

In this summary, we include much of the science that is not usually explained in “regular breath awareness”. More importantly, we emphasize subtle methodological changes that make all the difference in terms of the results you can get from meditation. Please make sure that you read this and implement the instructions as it will very likely speed up the results for you. The sections in italics are the “musts” of the technique. 

1. What is Breath Awareness?

Breath awareness is a type of meditation.  During breath awareness, it is important to know that we are not watching our breath, but rather sensing ourselves breathe – without judgment.  The idea is to breathe normally and to observe how it feels. We are turning on our sensory awareness, and turning off our logic, conceptualizations, thinking, etc. (i.e. during breath awareness the goal is to utilize sensations in your body as your primary guide). Breath awareness is about very strong, and single mindedly focusing your attention – you are not relaxing. Instead, breath awareness is about creating the neural pathways in your brain that allow you to be in the present moment. The ultimate goal of breath awareness training is to bring your focus to the “very next”.  To experience the very next sensation during the very next millisecond allows the “very next” to be brought from your future to as close to the now as possible. 

2. Brain Fitness

Breath awareness is thought to be a type of exercise that is toning the muscles of the brain (our neurons). With increased brain fitness comes increased overall health, mental health, and healthy interpersonal relationships.

Breath awareness is the most effective sensory awareness – especially for the formation of neural pathways. Within six weeks of breath awareness training, we can create and strengthen synaptic connections, stimulate new neurons to grow, and enhance the conduction speed of neurons. The end result is that the connected neurons (the new neural pathway that you are building through the practice during the six weeks) build myelin around the axons. Myelin acts as a conductor between neurons and speeds up the processing of information between neurons. After six weeks, the myelin speeds things up and allows the neurons to communicate 3000 times faster than any of your other dominant pathways.

“Myelin can increase conduction speed by 100 times.  And while all neurons need to rest after firing, myelin can reduce that resting time – called a refractory period – by 30 times.  The end result, you can imagine, is that if you and I are neurons in a circuit and we’ve been training well, our communication with each other will be 3000 times faster than an unmyelinated pair of connected neurons. Three thousand times more efficiency in the brain means that our functional connectivity will outshine other neuronal communication.  The brain overall can be considered a competitive real estate market: Action goes to the most active bidder.  In this case, our enhanced communication will dominate over our competitors, and our circuits will become a prominent player in the overall impact of neuronal firing in the brain as a whole” (Siegel, 2010).

“The number of hours of practice is proportional to the amount of myelin wrapping the relevant circuits. Expertise, practice, and myelin go hand in hand.  To become a mindsight maven, to learn to see and shape the flow of energy and information within our subjective lives, we need to train the mind to myelinate the brain in specific areas” (Siegel, 2010).

3. The “Very Next”

The ultimate goal of breath awareness training is to bring your focus to the “very next”.  To experience the very next sensation during the very next millisecond allows the “very next” to be brought from your future to as close to the now as possible. This allows you to experience every tiny nuanced sensation that is happening in the present, rather than anticipating what is to come in the future.  For instance, at the beginning of your training, you may be thinking of your very next as what you will be having for dinner later on. Then, after some practice, your very next will be brought closer to the point where you are thinking of your whole breath, and then eventually brought so close to observe what you are sensing millisecond by millisecond in the present moment.

4. The Key Ingredients:

  1. Everyone struggles with breath awareness at the beginning – that is completely normal.  The mind is constantly wandering and juggling countless thoughts.  It is important to remember it takes time to train your brain to be in the moment.  Practicing once a day for even 5-10 minutes is enough to train breath awareness. Once properly trained, five breaths can bring you back to the moment. Struggling while learning this meditation is not optional – it is neurologically required.
  1. You want to feel your breath millisecond by millisecond.
  1. Every distraction is a welcome opportunity to notice you are distracted and to train your ability to detach from a distraction and refocus. This ability to witness a negative thought, feeling, etc. and then detach from it is extremely effective at bringing mental health. You are directly rewiring your brain to tolerate uncertainty and unfinished business in real life because each and every time you practice, you are accepting a distraction and then moving on calmly. After training for a few weeks, this ability permeates your day-to-day life.
  1. You are rewiring your brain not to get entangled or blinded by a thought, memory or powerful emotion and this as well extends to your day-to-day life within a few weeks.
  1. Finally, you are also rewiring your brain to tolerate failure calmly and with discipline, rather than with harsh self-criticism. Each distraction puts you against a small “failure” and the only way to refocus is to be gentle with yourself (not self critical) and return to your focus. This way of facing failures or frustrations in a gentle non-critical way is a result of the rewiring of your brain that you do with the practice.

Meditation Links:

Breath Awareness Introduction: http://www.wwnorton.com/common/flvplayer/?flvID=/npb/MindfulTherapist/BreathAwareness.mp3

Breath Awareness Practice (Jon Kabat-Zinn): A better option. Please remember that it takes at least 5-7 minutes to generate precursors to dopamine. Dopamine results in more focus and feelings of well-being. So try to continue past the 5-7 minutes, as it usually gets much easier.  NB: If you cannot complete all of this meditation it is not an issue. Do more than 7 min and as much as you would like.

*To access this practice, search Jon Kabat-Zinn into the ITunes Stores. Purchase is required ($19.99). The album is titled “Guided Mindfulness Meditation, Series 1 with Digital Booklet.”