Updated: July 30th, 2021
I would like to pose the following question to you; have you ever found yourself really fascinated with something that you never thought you would?
I think it is fair to say that at one point or another we have. Some of us dive into statistics from our favorite team, some into fashion, and that’s just scratching the surface. I recently attended the Yoga for First Responders (YFFR) Instructor course, and I find that not only have they changed my perception of yoga, but I have learned more about my brain than I ever thought I would. I thought I knew my brain pretty well, but one could say I opened my mind’s eye. In this essay, I will cover some of my newfound knowledge, and may even strike new thoughts about your brain.
As part of the Yoga for First Responders Protocol and for yoga all over the world, mindfulness is a key skill when practicing.
In the YFFR curriculum, it is taught that mindfulness is made up of three items: Intention, Action, and Awareness. An example is that the protocol asks the student to be mindful of what your body is carrying in its muscles. If you are not mindful, one can end up hurt, or may not be ready to deal with the thoughts or stress released when practicing.
In the book “Mindfulness for Beginners” by Jon Kabat Zinn, mindfulness of your thoughts is key to meditation based stress reduction. For example, when a thought enters the mind, one is being mindful if they can recognize it for what it is: a thought. If one reacts to the thought, then they have failed in that moment and need to start again. The importance of being mindful is that if you can recognize a thought for what it is, one can then recognize how they can accept and move past it.
I think of both the concepts I learned in the YFFR class and combine it with the ideas from the book. It really made me consider how much stock we put into our thoughts as they come to the forefront of our mind. Especially when our bodies are physically drained and there is more to be asked of you. It also made me revisit decisions I have made in the past. Most importantly, I thought of how even just being mindful is such an important tool for today in my military career. How many more of our service members could be here and thriving if they had been given the tools of mindfulness and recognize the thoughts they were having. It also sparks excitement to see how effective it can be for future service members.
While mindfulness helps one with dealing with their thoughts, there were other concepts brought up when it comes to the brain. I was very intrigued by the science and concepts behind neuroplasticity. This subject deals with the brain's ability of neurons to forge new connections or make new pathways. The science behind it excited me because we already do not know so much about our brain, but it seemed to get me one step closer.
As part of the YFFR protocol, we learned to use cognitive declarations during our physical drills.
The science behind the cognitive declarations is that the protocol is testing, stretching, or even developing the neuroplasticity for our students when we use them. We are helping develop neuropathways that will benefit them in times of stress. This is especially effective when we are challenging them physically with a difficult pose like a squat or plank position.
In the book “Neuroscience for Leadership'', it discusses habitual behaviors and how it relates to neuroplasticity. It talks about how our most common habits are the deepest pathways ingrained within us. It is not only the deepest pathway, but it becomes the easiest pathway for one to use in any given situation. Although they may be the deepest, it talks about how new pathways or behaviors can be formed. That in its most simplest of terms is forging new connections. Eventually, if practiced enough the new behavior can become the easiest path, making the old behavior harder and harder to come back to.
Again, I think about the concepts of what I learned in the YFFR class and in the book. The YFFR protocol brought to light how we can use yoga to develop the new neuropathways when it comes to resilience. The cognitive declarations are the physical manifestations that we tell our subconscious and we begin to forge. Over time practice with the protocol will then instill that resilience within us and keep our minds sharp when we are subjected to high stress situations. Any bad habits or thoughts that we were used to at the beginning can be pruned and eventually that pathway will dissipate.
I believe I have become so passionate about these notions because it is a genuine eye opener for me. I can really use these ideas within my everyday life. It can make me a better peer, spouse, father, and supervisor at work. The thought of lacking this insight makes me feel like I have been missing out. One can become a better leader by being mindful. You can be presented an issue and you can react to it or you could see it for what it is. If you can see it for what it is, you can accept it and move through it or past it with your team. You will all have better resilience when facing it the next time.
Leaders should also be able to be mindful and develop new ways to move past issues.
They need to identify them and give the proper time and effort to develop the new ways to move past. Eventually, you find that leading your team can become easier if you can become more malleable to hardened behaviors.
Like I said, this can be applied almost to any aspect of life. I am actually very excited to see how this can make me a better husband, father and person. I can be mindful to my thoughts and feelings, and help develop the pathways and behaviors that can make me the best me for my family, friends, and coworkers. This can be a great tool for every military member to learn, and it is all easily accessible. I hope you have enjoyed a journey into my brain, and I hope you find some time to journey into your own.
Written by YogaShield® Instructor Cheyenne Cochran Class 0017 S3
Mindfulness for Beginners,
Auth. Jon Kabat Zinn.
Neuroscience for Leadership: Harnessing the Brain Gain Advantage
Auth. Tara Swart, Kitty Chrisholm, and Paul Brown.