In this week’s episode of The Whole Circle Podcast we talk all things mindfulness with Dr Elise Bialylew.
Who is Dr Elise Bialylew?
Dr Elise Bialylew is a coach, meditation teacher and social entrepreneur who trained as a doctor and psychiatrist. She left the hospital wards to pursue a deeper calling to start a global mindfulness meditation movement and founded Mindful in May in 2012. The campaign has taught thousands of people from around the world the skills of mindfulness and raised funds to bring clean safe drinking water to developing countries.
Dr Elise combines her deep psychological understanding, her training in mindfulness meditation, and her passion and creativity to coach people to discover their own life purpose and transform ideas into action. She thrives on helping people make positive change in their lives through freeing themselves from self-limiting beliefs and developing the confidence and courage needed to take bold action. In short, her mission is to help people flourish and reach their full potential.
Apart from coaching, she has trained in relationships counselling, psychotherapy, cognitive behavioural therapy, acceptance commitment therapy and a range of other modalities which have enriched her practice and enabled her to help people with a diverse range of challenges.
She has also attended regular silent meditation retreats to deepen her understanding of the mind and trained with some of the world’s leading meditation teachers including Jon Kabat-Zinn. Her writing and work have been featured in the Huffington Post, New York Times, United Nations and on National Australian Television. When she’s not catalysing transformation in her clients’ lives, she can be found dancing salsa, reading non-fiction or brainstorming her next creative project.
What happens to our brains if we don’t meditate?
In this day and age, lives can be spent not actually being present in each moment. That means that our minds are not focused on what we are doing at that given time. For example, you may be reading these show notes but in actual fact your mind may have wandered, possibly thinking of what you have to do next, such as picking up the kids or what you are going to have or dinner etc.
Our minds, by nature, are like this and whilst this can have benefits such as being able to forward plan, the reality is we haven’t actually been trained on how to use our minds effectively.
There is really interesting research done by Psychologist, Dr Daniel Gilbert showing that for about 50% of the time our minds are not actually present, they’re wandering all over the place. Dr Gilbert found that when our minds are wandering it’s actually creating stress in our mind and body because we’re usually running through to-do lists which then, in turn, stresses us out.
He concluded this research by saying that a human mind is a wandering mind and a wandering mind is an unhappy mind.
How many of you can relate to this?
How can meditation help?
Meditation is a form of mental training. It won’t help you to stop thinking or completely just living in the now and not worrying about the future, that is simply unrealistic and not useful, but meditation is about harnessing the power of the mind to its greatest capacity so that we can reduce and transform the stress in our lives. This then allows us to be present in our lives when we want to and when we want to effectively plan, we can do so.
The fascinating part about meditation is that whilst it may look like the person is sitting there doing nothing, the research is telling us that if you meditate regularly, a huge amount is actually going on and transforming your mind, brain and body in quite profound ways.
Most of us would have all heard about the pre-frontal cortex of our brain. This is the part of our brain that helps us to focus, manage our emotional state and make decisions with greater ease, just to name a few.
This part of the brain actually thickens which means that there is growth going on in this part of the brain which is associated with greater skill. Basically, whatever you do repetitively, the structure of the brain will echo that, and you will get better at whatever it is you’re practising.
Essentially, mindfulness meditation is practising how to focus, and it’s also got a spin-off effect where you’re actually becoming better at sensing and becoming self-aware at what emotions are present and you’re getting better at managing those emotions.
It is very compelling to know that this is a practice that we are doing with our minds that is actually transforming our brain architecture at some level.
In the fast-paced world that we all live in today, anything that we can do to help our minds and our emotions are definitely worth investing the time into.
How do we meditate?
There are many different forms of meditation. Dr Elise is very passionate about mindfulness meditation.
There are lots of apps around for meditation, but in order to get the most out of it, especially if you are a beginner, find a course or a teacher to get you started to optimise your meditation experience.
At its essence, meditation is really simple but also challenging. You are trying to train your mind and your attention to stay in the one place.
As an example, if you take a minute now, sit down and close your eyes, notice where your thoughts are taking you. You will notice immediately that you are being pulled to other thoughts such as maybe your to-do list or maybe even just random thoughts. This is your monkey mind, your untrained mind that is going all over the place.
In meditation, it works best if you choose an object for your attention. This could be your breath or sounds. Something to focus your attention on so that you can recognise when your mind has wandered. Interestingly, most newbies quit pretty quickly after they’ve started because they come to the conclusion that they’re hopeless at it because they can’t focus. We can hear Jo nodding her head now! haha
This, however, is actually a really good sign because it means you are paying attention to your wandering mind. You cannot expect to be perfect at it first time around, you are training your mind just like training muscles in your body if you go to the gym. It takes time and practice.
Each time that you recognise that your mind has wandered and you can let go of that thought and bring your attention back to whatever it is you’ve chosen to focus on, which is most commonly the breath, then that’s all part of exercising your mind to focus and part of the meditation process.
Where can you meditate?
You can take the time to meditate anywhere.
Take 5 minutes during your day to close your eyes and focus on your breath. You don’t have to necessarily be sitting down in a quiet area. You can do it at your work desk, outside standing up in a garden. Wherever you feel comfortable.
Whilst Jo may not be the most consistent with her meditation, she does like to do it when she can, even though she is a mind wanderer. She used meditation and focusing on her breath through her birth with Jacob which made a massive difference to her birthing experience.
Tracey even liked to meditate for the 5 minutes in her car before the school bell went and her girls piled into the car and the chaotic after school afternoons began.
Find the pockets of time wherever you can.
Mindful in May
Mindful in May is a transformative one-month online mindfulness program which brings together the world’s best meditation teachers, wellbeing experts and neuroscientists to teach you the tools to transform your mind towards greater well-being and happiness – all whilst giving you the chance to transform the lives of others living in poverty.
The statistical data from Mindful in May that they now have shows that the people who have participated in the program, committing to 10 minutes a day of mindful meditation, benefited with:
- reduced stress levels
- greater positive emotions
- reduced negative emotions
- greater self-compassion
- greater ability to focus.
It’s important to note that doing this meditation isn’t about finding a blissful state of being for 10 minutes a day and then the remainder of your day is chaotic and overwhelming. It’s actually about training your brain and the benefits of that training are going to have a ripple effect onto your everyday life. It’s a much higher return on investment than simply feeling good for 10 minutes.
What does Mindful in May involve?
It is 10 minutes of mindful guided meditation a day for the month of May. In the online program you will receive different resources digitally delivered to you so you know what to do each day, whether it’s listening to a video interview that speaks about an aspect of meditation, the brain or a guided meditation and in the process you’re actually helping to raise money for developing countries via the fundraising component of the program as well.
So far, they have raised over $600,000 and built multiple wells via the clear mind for you, clean water for others initiative.
It can be a misconception that meditation is self-absorbed, but actually, the practice does help support positive emotions and positive things in your life. If you fill up your own well it spills out, so you find yourself being more patient with people, you are more generous, your mind is inclined towards the positive such as gratitude and appreciation. There’s a natural connection between doing this practice and the way that it actually builds a greater sense of interconnection within your life which then has a natural flow-on effect where you turn your attention outside of your own stresses and making a difference to others, making it a win/win program.
The program runs for the whole of May so get in quick to secure your spot.
You can find out more and register for Mindful in May >>> here.
Community is everything
When you’re committing to something new, whether it be a new way of eating, detoxing your life or physical fitness, finding a community of like-minded people will help keep you accountable and give you a space to feel inspired and encouraged.
Children and meditation
From Jo’s experience schools seem to be integrating meditation into the school curriculum which is just amazing.
During the 6 years that Dr Elise has been running Mindful in May, she has seen exponential growth in bringing meditation into schools for the benefit of the kids.
Science is informing us that with training our minds we can do so much better so to bring this into schools and train our kids in meditation from such a young age is amazing.
The World Health Organisation at the moment states that depression is one of the leading causes of the global burden of disease and as mothers, we have all seen the alarming rate that anxiety is affecting children.
Meditation is not a fad, what we’re seeing is that it is now becoming embedded in our education which is really important.
It’s a wonderful way to be able to develop our children’s emotional intelligence so that they can grow up to be well-adjusted individuals.
Whilst this is slightly off-topic, our brains are wired to learn things from a repetitive nature. Our kids live in such a technological and high-paced world now, gone are the days like we had when we were kids where smart devices weren’t around. We got used to being bored and making up our own fun and playing outside.
Kids these days don’t know how to cope with being bored, it’s all about finding the next thing to distract them whether it be tv, devices etc. And as parents we’re no saints in all this, we’ve given our kids devices to distract them so that we can get done what we need to. There’s certainly no parent-shaming here because we’ve done it too.
The reality is we simply don’t know the long-term effects of this as technology, in its present form, is still relatively new.
Jo is now finding that she’s pulling her kids away from technology as much as she can, giving them the chance to be kids and have fun and use their imaginations and even learning to be bored.
How do we implement meditation in the home to include our kids?
Modelling is the most powerful influencer. As a parent, the best thing you can do is learn meditation for yourself. Don’t just learn how to meditate but delve into learning the science behind meditation. This will make such a difference because then you’re empowered to know why it’s so beneficial. This will help to boost your emotional intelligence and build resilience not only in you but also in your children.
This will help to change the culture of your family as well because if your children see that you value meditation as part of your everyday life, then they will too.
The Happiness Plan
In Dr Elise’s book, The Happiness Plan, she offers a roadmap to a happier life. Drawing on her background in medicine, psychiatry and mindfulness meditation, she has created a powerful one-month mindfulness program that will lead you to a more balanced and fulfilled existence.
In this transformative guidebook, you’ll discover simple practices to:
- increase your sense of wellbeing, balance and joy
- reduce stress and worry (and its negative impact on your body)
- improve your focus, performance and fulfilment at work
- create more fulfilling relationships
- increase your sense of purpose, connection and meaning in life.
Featuring access to guided audio meditations, daily mindfulness exercises, fascinating scientific insights and recipes to inspire mindful eating, The Happiness Plan has the power to transform your mind and your life.
You can check out The Happiness Plan >>> here.
Links and Resources