When I was in my mid twenties, I practised karate. I had already achieved my black belt but I knew instinctively, my training had really only just begun. The coach I had at the time was good, but I wanted more. I had heard about Mervyn Etienne and his unorthodox training methods and I was intrigued. I wasn’t sure if I was a high enough standard at the time , but luckily for me , Mervyn must have seen something in me and took me on. Mervyn and his wife Laura, both took the time to train me and I loved every minute, I often look back on those times as, “Golden Years.” The training was physically tough, we were doing vertical hill runs, lifting seriously heavy weights , and being stretched in directions my body was not built for! But it was the mental development that was so unique, Mervyn made me meditate, do visualisation exercises, put me on a light and sound box, learn NLP, practise meditation and neurofeedback and also self healing, ( this is 25 years ago , so these methods were unusual to say the least!) Other karateka were practising their punches before competitions, we were visualising winning! We all became very close, like family really, and I believe their support and care has shaped me, and helped become the person I am today. Life throws you curve balls, but the more tools you have, obstacles and problems become easier to deal with.
Laura is still the person I go to with my problems, and she is still the only person I know, who can actually make me roll around the floor in laughter. (A very rare thing these days!)
Hi Laura, Can you tell us a bit more about yourself ?
My ex husband Mervyn introduced me to meditation and Neurofeedback, we were both practicing karate. Mervyn was competing Internationally and was representing Great Britain, and I was competing nationally. We used neurofeedback on myself when I was training for the English championships. I went on to win , and I believe my focus from the neurofeedback training was the main contributor. A few people even commented after the competition, that they could feel I was more mentally focused. In 1999 I ended up on a meditation course with Anna Wise. Mervyn, Natalie and I went to one of her workshops in Holland. The workshop was brainwave monitoring and guided imagery for healing. I had an amazing experience and ended up going to California to train with her. I worked through Anna’s guided meditations, and I assisted her on workshops. I travelled to the Esalen institute in California with Anna, where I met some Tibetan Buddhist monks and became interested in Buddhism.
Moving away from peak performance, I ended up using neurofeedback to assist in my own healing and believe it has helped me to remain strong, through some very difficult situations.
Through my own experiences in healing, I became interested in trauma and have had incredible results helping people heal, people who have had complex post traumatic stress. The neurofeedback combined with other techniques, help people release trauma and reset the brain to a much more peaceful and functional place. It amazes me how it works, and the outcomes and positive changes it helps people achieve.
What are the Benefits of Meditation?
There are many benefits to meditation, reduced stress, better focus, less anxiety improves sleep, decreased blood pressure, however it seems to be forgotten that meditation is not just for reducing stress, these just happen to be dude products of what is essentially a method for developing spirituality , and reaching different states of consciousness. Meditation should help us reduce our egos and increase compassion as well as giving us insight into our internal world, which when open and exposed gives us the opportunity to work with our ‘demons.’ This can take bravery but confronting our own issues, and working with them to develop ourselves into better people is essential not only to our well-being but for those around us too.
As our minds learns to still, meditation will allow us to observe the mind, allowing us to experience our true nature, which is obscured by our thoughts, desires and attachments, through this we find inner peace and perhaps even bliss.
How can we learn to Meditate?
We must remember that meditation is not day dreaming or fantasy. Meditation is a method for stilling the mind. The way to a still mind is to give full attention to whatever object you choose for your meditation, the simplest object is your breath, focusing on each inhalation and and exhalation. There should be no judgment only openness, if you notice your mind wandering, bring it back to the breath. Gradually your mind will wander less. As the mind can create distractions so can the body, pain and discomfort thoughts are all distractions to pull you out of yourself. Try not react to these, do not label bad or good, just be aware through this we learn not to be disturbed by our thoughts.
Now meditation can be very hard for people who experience high levels of anxiety, depression, PTSD and other problems. In this case, guided imagery can be an excellent tool for addressing these issues. Though with extreme PTSD and anxiety disorders it may be necessary to find someone who you trust as a facilitator, someone that can help you work through the imagery or any memories that may arise. Fear can also be a problem that blocks mediation, and a facilitator can help encourage a fearful person through the process. If someone wished not to use a facilitator then writing down the experience after can be useful in making the experience concrete (like a dream the experience can dissolve away. Writing it down helps with remembering, and allows for analysis) It can also help to use a positive affirmation before starting, something like I am safe and it is safe for me to go inwards and meditate.
Any Tips on Making that First Step to Meditate?
Take it easy don’t turn it into a chore. Start with a few minutes, actually do less then you think you can, so if it’s 10 minutes make it 8, so you feel like doing more. Create a nice environment for yourself and or a special place for your meditation and pick an easy time when you can do it and don’t beat yourself up for struggling.
What Should We do to Stop our Minds Wandering into Thoughts?
The act of focusing will eventually stop our minds from wandering. Though it’s best not to get to hung up on wanting this to happen. It’s more about excepting our thoughts and not allowing our thoughts to disturb us. Remember to just be an observer of the mind.
When We Meditate should we see Colours or Images?
We shouldn’t be attached or focused to seeing things unless we are doing specific healing work, e.g. for trauma.
Anything we see or experience in meditation are ultimately distractions that we want to free ourselves from. By learning not to react or be distracted by our wandering minds, freedom from our mind will gradually occur.
Can You explain Neurofeedback to us and What it Does?
Neurofeedback uses EEG (electroencephalography) to measure monitor and give real time display and feedback, to teach the self-regulation of brain function. Neurofeedback is well researched and is used to treat anxiety, depression , PTSD, addictions and ADHD , as well as being used for improving damaged done by stores concussion. Neurofeedback addresses the problem that is actually caused by the way the brain outputs electrical signals.
What is the Difference between Neurofeedback and Meditation?
Neurofeedback actually pinpoints the area of the brain and the frequencies that is causing an individuals issue,
EG anxiety is a symptom of the brain over firing in certain areas. So neurofeedback allows specific treatment for the conditions. Now there is a protocol called Alpha Theta that is trained at the back of the head and increases the slow brainwaves and reduces the high ones. This protocol has been used successfully to treat PTSD, anxiety and alcoholism. Alpha and Theta frequencies show up in the brain’s meditators. High theta was observed in yogis by Elmer Green, an early pioneer of biofeedback, because of this Alpha Theta protocol has also been described as the meditation protocol, though I think this is over simplistic. As neurofeedback is a tool that allows us to observe our inner process, and gives feedback to allow us to know if we are on the right track. It removes some of the frustration, and guess work out of meditation. It’s an excellent tool for individuals with trauma, to help kick start meditation.
Can Meditation Help with Physical Ailments?
Yes I believe it helps in terms of managing discomfort and for exceptance. It also helps calm the mind and the nervous system.. When we have a lot of stress, the nervous system becomes aroused, if we can’t calm this down , we may be more prone to stress related illness and anxiety. Meditation reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, as this activity is reduced the parasympathetic nervous system can begin to calm the body down. read more about this here.
We hear the term “The Ego” a lot , Can you explain to us what this is , and Why we need to avoid playing into that?
Complex question. I believe it is essential to avoid playing into the ego. The ego is connected to our attachments, desires, cravings and emotions. One of the problems of focusing meditation for its health benefits and ignoring the spiritual aspects is running into the risk of strengthening the ego and actually becoming more attached to the self. This may affect the individual by possibly being more selfish and self obsessed. This obviously will not be conducive to a happy peaceful life and the damage it can cause to others.
When I speak of spiritual aspects, I do not mean religion or faith in something external to us, an atheist can be spiritual, and this spirit helps with keeping our egos tame. It is more about interconnectedness and the ability to see how our actions and intentions can not only harm us, but others too. Spirit is about how we interact with others, our compassion and understanding that everyone is different. We all have our own suffering. It is also the ability to have compassion for ourselves and acceptance. The ability to look at ourselves fearlessly, giving us the strength to be honest about our own defects, problems and pain and to work to improve ourselves. An over attached ego will make us defensive, it can feed anger directed not just at others but inwardly to ourselves, this is damaging. Enter meditation with love and openness.
Will Meditation Give Us more Focus and Direction in Life?
Yes I believe so, meditation requires discipline and focus, this will spill into our everyday life.
In Your Opinion, is the Difference between Successful People in Business and Sport, the Mind/Body Connection?
The mental state is the same whether we apply that state to sport or business. I believe if you have people with the same abilities but one has developed focus, attention and calm , then they will out perform those without the mental training.
Thank you so much Laura for sharing your wisdom and experience with us. I have found this an absolutely fascinating read, and it has given me a real insight into meditation and Neurofeedback.