Mindfulness, Tai Chi, & Performance Biofeedback

3 practices for self-discovery


What will you learn when you start learning the mind? Get ready to be thrown for a loop -- an information loop!

Mindfulness

When you practice mindfulness, you are "listening in" on the information signals that are working inside you. These are the signals that give you your experience. They let you feel what you feel and think what you think. They let you do what you do!

We can get in the habit of blocking out a lot of these signals. This happens when we feel stressed. We think, "This can't be happening to me!" or "I have to make that happen!"  Thinking this way makes it harder to have full information about what is actually happening.

The current scientific definition of mindfulness is "giving your attention to your present-moment experience with a non-judgemental attitude." It's a practice of not letting stress about shoulds get to us so much.

This definitely reduces stress. But mindfulness does much more than that. When you can more fully experience whatever is actually happening right now, you can respond in more creative, flexible, and appropriate ways. Your actions become more effective.

It might be helpful to think of your mind as like a map. If we had a map, we would want to be able to use all the information on the map to guide us to the full potential of our actions. We wouldn't want to use just a little piece of the map. But that is what we do when we are stressed!

With mindfulness practice, we can first explore -- and then get in the habit of using -- the whole map that we have available to us.

Biofeedback

There are tools that can help us in our exploration. It can be hard at first to know how to "listen in" to your own experience. There is so much to your experience -- and it's yours! You probably take a lot of what is happening for granted and not really notice it at all.

A biofeedback tool is something that helps you to notice some part of your overall experience. For example, just a small clip on your ear can open up a window into what nervous system is saying to your heart and even what your heart is saying to your brain. This is called Heart Rate Variability (HRV) biofeedback. The feedback can be a change in color on the smartphone or tablet screen or a change in the pitch of a note. When you see the change in color or hear the change of pitch, you know that there is a signal inside of you that changed, too.

Our brains love information like this! Without even realizing it, your subconscious brain will run lots of experiments to figure out what is going on: "If I do this, will the color change?" "If I feel this way, will the sound change?"

Biofeedback with a special sensor can only look indirectly at a tiny bit of all the information signaling that is happening inside us. But because it is very clear feedback, we can use it to uncover whole new areas on our maps that might take years and years to discover without the help of the technology tool.

Tai Chi

There is also a deeper biofeedback "technology" that can be very, very helpful, if we know how to use it. It's not a special sensor or machine. It's something that is part of you -- and it is so complex that even a supercomputer wouldn't be able to manage it.

It's your movement.

Your movement comes about because of the information going in and out of your brain. Movement is neuro-movement. It is the ultimate "biofeedback"!

Long ago, a handful of people in ancient China began to practice slow, mindful movements until they could move effortlessly like the flow of water. Then, when they needed it, they had the power, speed, and responsiveness to perform their very best. They could even defeat an opponent who was stronger than themselves.

These were the masters who created the internal martial art of Tai Chi.

Through the martial art tests of Tai Chi, we can get feedback about our levels of awareness. How much of the "whole map" are we using to guide our movements? For example, there is a downward force (called gravity) that keeps us on the surface of our spinning planet. It is always there. But how fully do you feel this downward force at work in your actions, especially when you try to do something difficult?

If you are acting without fuller awareness of your inter-actions, you won't have the strength that you could. You won't have the power -- including the "inch power" of the internal martial arts -- that is possible.

This is why Tai Chi is much more than "the moves" of Tai Chi form. It's like an amazing biofeedback game where you can learn to optimize your awareness and all the signals that are going on inside you.

The tradition of Tai Chi also gives us endless possibilities for practice. There are slow, mindful movements in the Tai Chi forms. There are also quick kicks and punches. We can practice sword moves with hand-fans and staffs. We can learn to be mindful of a partner in Tuishou ("sensing hands") forms. We can even learn to be mindful when we are trying to unbalance another person!

In this way, Tai Chi can help us bring the power of mindfulness into our everyday lives -- and even into our greatest challenges.

Comfort and Stress

With mindfulness, biofeedback, and Tai Chi, we are learning how to handle the information that is in us and is part of our actions. There's a lot of information that's going on! But when we feel more and more, we actually feel more comfortable. We feel a sense of togetherness. Our bodies and mind are working together better. Any situation and our response is more together, too. They are more in sync.

When we feel stressed, we can tend to be reactive. Our mind and our body might feel like they are no longer working together. In stress response, the best we can do is to use just a little part of the whole map. Then our actions don't fit as well with what is actually going on.

It takes practice, but we all can learn how to continue to use the full map -- the comfort response map -- even in stressful situations. With that better info to guide us, we can have better action.