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The Mind Can Also Follow the Body


As mindfulness in the West is picking up and taking off as a popular movement, I’m getting the feeling that
many people are being introduced to it as a purely intellectual and mental practice. After all, the word “mind” is in mindfulness.

However, there are different ways to achieve a state of mindfulness that can be accessed beyond your mind
. The key is also moving and training your body.

Mind-Focused Learning

Education here in the U.S. is obviously very focused on training the mind. In my experience from kindergarten through high school, almost all the teachings were about training your mind in some way. There was one period of Physical Education a day, and it was taught separately from everything else rather than integrated into other courses.

Our energy and focus were all put into training our minds and learning things intellectually. Even feelings of assertiveness and confidence were trained to revolve around the mind. 

Intellectual competence can certainly result in positive bodily effects like feeling relaxed. There’s definitely some truth to the assumption or belief that the body will follow the mind. When you focus your attention and energy on training your mind, the bodily effects will follow.

That was by and large how I learned: You focused on your mind, but exercise and training your body were completely different disciplines.

A Different Perspective

However, I’ve learned through martial arts that the mind can also follow the body.  I’ve studied a few different martial arts and remember one lesson in particular during which one of my teachers was taking us through an exercise. He started to become frustrated with us because we weren’t conveying or expressing an assertive attitude. He felt like we were holding back or not really putting 100 percent of our energy and intention into each attack.  

At one point, he said, “If you’re having trouble getting that assertive intention and 100 percent focus on the attack — that mental aspect of it — before you start, bend your front knee forward.”

Normally, as you start to move forward, you would bend that front knee to shift your weight forward as if you’re almost leaning forward to prepare yourself for an attack. Priming your body in that position will help induce the mental state of assertiveness needed to carry out the attack.

Then the teacher said, “The mind follows the body.”

I remember being confused for a while. What does bending your knee have to do with feeling mentally assertive? I spent a lot of time just stewing on it. I think it’s something I’m still trying to integrate myself, but I have come to basically understand that the mind can follow the body just as the body can follow the mind.

Striking the Right Balance

In our culture, our body is often ignored and looked down upon. There’s a very strong overemphasis on the mental and intellectual to the detriment of the body.

Martial arts differ from this tack by taking an outside-to-inside approach with the body and mind. The instructor teaches you to train your body and learn the physical techniques, and as you start to become more proficient, you advance through the ranks. The teacher then shows you how to bring your mind into the practice. At first, very little attention is paid to the mind or even understanding why you’re doing what you’re doing. Focus on the physical, and then turn your attention inward.

When I regularly practiced meditation, I found that a sitting meditation involved the inverse order.

To me, both perspectives feel very valuable. I train both the body and mind.  I’m concerned that people are learning one way and not even considering how the body relates to it all. Balance is crucial: The mind can follow the body too.

Responding, Not Reacting to Your Smartphone


Have you ever watched a tennis sequence in which a player serves and the receiver runs in reaction to the serve and then hits the ball back off balance? Throughout the exchange, the server stands firm and it seems like they’re dictating where and when the receiver moves. 

Do you ever feel like that with your smartphone? Are you the receiver and is your smartphone the server?

You’re woken up every day by an alarm on your phone, and from that moment on, you may feel like you’re frantically reacting to it. We’ve all been there and know the feeling.

You can see it in many if not all competitive sports: One side appears to be in control of the flow and is doing what it wants while the other side is just barely keeping up and trying to react. It’s prevalent in many human interactions as well. I see it frequently in negotiations, with one party taking the lead and making the first strong offer while the other party just reacts.

When you’re on the receiving end and feel a lack of control, it’s obviously not enjoyable. It can almost feel like you’re a puppet for the other party, and even if you’re ultimately deciding how you’re reacting to them, you’re still reacting in some way.

In terms of mindfulness, it’s certainly a situation in which you are not acting based on your own intention or self-direction.

Apply Some Mindfulness

There is hope, though. We don’t have to be this way — with our smartphone, in sports, or in negotiations. In all of these scenarios, there are strategies that have been developed for learning how not to react or how to break out of that cycle.

The first suggestion is a very general and personal one. If you feel like you’re often out of control, reacting to your smartphone, and your habits are mindless, apply some mindfulness. You may actually want to sit down and meditate or think about your life in general. Ask yourself if there are particular situations in which you regularly feel grounded, in control, able to set your intention and consistently act according to it, and not reactive to technology or people.

We are all complicated beings. Sometimes, we can be very grounded, self-directed, and have the initiative in one context (ex. at work) but not in another (ex. with our family). It’s very common for people to not be reactive with close family members.

Think carefully about your life and I bet that you will find at least one context in which you do have skill, wisdom, and the ability to not be reactive. This is not something you’re going to figure out in one sitting, but asking yourself, “What is it about me in that context that has enabled me to be non-reactive?” would be beneficial.

Transfer Your Skills

The goal is to learn about yourself in one context and then try to see the parallels in another. In this case, can you try to apply those same kinds of habits or skills in connection with your use of technology?

I’ll leave you with two final tips:

1. You may find it easier to transfer over skills to the smartphone context from one in which you had to consciously practice and learn how to be grounded, focused, and not reactive.  If you are naturally a good negotiator but find it hard to negotiate with your family, it may be harder for you to transfer that natural talent because you may not be conscious of how or why you are effective. It might take more effort to understand the how and why.

2. Start practicing whatever you think may be useful from the one context in which you’ve been successful, happy, and self-directed. Then you can develop some ideas for how you can apply that practice to your smartphone use. See if it works. Don’t expect it to work immediately or give up too quickly. Practice every day or throughout the day.

By following these pointers, you can identify and leverage the skills needed to wrestle control back from your phone.

You Use Technology More Mindfully Than I Do


Since I write and teach about using technology mindfully, many people assume that I’m somehow naturally gifted at that practice.  They believe I’m always focused at work and never struggle with distractions when I should be doing something more productive.

In fact, when I tell people about my work in this field, they get embarrassed and think I will look down on them because of how poorly or distractedly they use technology.

I’m in the Same Boat

What I tell them is that I’m just as prone to mindlessly using technology as anybody else. I suspect making positive and healthy use of technology is even more challenging for me — and that’s why I’ve become so obsessed with this topic.

If it came easily and naturally to me, I probably wouldn’t be focused on it at all because I wouldn’t realize the need for improvement.

This reminds me of the founder of one of the karate styles I study. He was a pretty weak, sickly child. It isn’t hard to understand why he turned to karate, as he saw so much benefit from it compared to other children who were naturally strong and athletic.

The main reason I’m saying all of this is to let you know that if you’re having any self-critical thoughts or feelings about how you interact with technology, I’m in the same boat as you are. Even those who have practiced and taught the discipline for many years have expressed difficulties with staying mindful.

There isn’t anything wrong with you.

Focus on Your Improvement

In my experience in several different areas, I found that people who have natural talent in a particular field often aren’t very good at teaching it.

My theory is this: Those who are naturally talented have never had to struggle or work through challenges. There wasn’t much conscious thought behind it. Generally, they are great at demonstrating but often aren’t very effective teachers, as they can’t understand or relate to others’ learning experiences and see what they need to improve. 

So when you’re working on being more mindful — even though you may feel like you’re struggling — practice self-examination and you will develop your skill and ability to identify ways to continue being mindful.

Focus on how you’ve improved as a result of your efforts and not just your perceived shortcomings.  Have a bit of self-compassion.

The Pros and Cons of Mindfulness Reminders

There are many apps out there that can remind you to meditate or be mindful. You can set them to remind you at a certain time and configure them in all kinds of ways. Some of them ring a bell to remind you to be present, and then it’s up to you to do what you want at that time, such as pause and breathe, stretch, or meditate. Some of them will ring a bell and then actually play a sound to help you in your meditation. Some of them will offer you an inspiring quote or guided meditation.

I’m a big fan of these apps — I’m actually using two of them right now. I suggest you experiment with them and find which ones work best for you. It’s always up to you to experiment, investigate, and pay attention to what feels good to you.

But there’s an interesting paradox here. As I’ve said many times, when your phone or computer pops up a reminder or notification about something, that itself can be distracting, create anxiety, and therefore be counterproductive to your mindfulness. The very apps that are reminding you to be mindful — if they remind you too much, in a wrong way, or at the wrong time — can actually end up creating the problems we’re trying to help to alleviate with mindfulness.

I was at Wisdom 2.0 a couple of years ago in San Francisco and attended the breakout sessions on technology and mindfulness. Some of the people in the group were app developers and one of them talked about a category of app that he called “Nag Apps” — apps that nag you to be mindful. I really like that term because when an app is bothering you to be mindful, it can indeed feel like it is nagging you.

Lately, I’ve been test-driving a new app. I’m not going to say what it is, but it has a very wide range of notifications that can provide reminders during the day. After installing it, I found that it was popping up notifications left and right. “How are you feeling now?” “Check in with your body,” asking me to write a journal note about how I was feeling. The frequent reminders were really frustrating.

That’s an example of the potential downside of using technology too much to be mindful. That’s why we have to be mindful of our use of technology, how we configure it, and how we choose to automate it.

What I like about this app is the settings: I can get complete control over when and how I receive notifications as well as what I am notified about. After some trial and error, I’ve struck a balance that’s good for me. Kudos to the app developers for thinking that through and giving the user the power to configure the app. If it wasn’t customizable, if it just always reminded me when it wanted to, I probably would have stopped using it because any mindfulness benefits would have been counteracted by annoyance with the many reminders.

As users, we also must take responsibility for how we configure our technology and how we choose which technology to use. We must also stay aware over time of whether the apps we’re using remain helpful.

There might be some apps that are beneficial for six months, but then you find that you no longer need the app to remind you anymore. Pay attention to how you actually feel when you’re using these apps. Pause and think: “Is there something about this that I like and something I don’t like? If so, are there any settings here that I can change to make it work more like how I want it to?”

I don’t know if it occurs to a lot of people, but if there aren’t any settings to change, you can contact the app developer to request an improvement. While I’m not saying they will necessarily be responsive, there’s so much competition among apps these days that developers are just craving feedback from their users — it’s one of the things they spend the most time, money, and energy on. If they’re using something like a lean startup methodology, a key aspect of that is staying in touch with their users and keeping in mind what works and doesn’t work for the users.

So if you’re thinking, “There’s no point in contacting an app developer. What are the odds they’re going to make a change for me?” You might be wrong about that. Get in touch with them. And I don’t just mean by posting a review. Send them an email or message them on their website and let them know what you would like changed. You may be surprised.

I’ve even done this for software from my law firm. The vendors I’ve contacted have made changes based on my feedback. When a company gets feedback from one user, they usually assume that for every one user, there are probably a hundred others with the same issue or concern.

Another thing: Contact app developers when you like something too. Don’t wait until you have a problem and only tell them about the negatives. If there’s something that really works well for you, let them know. Or if you found a problem or bug that you want fixed, tell them something that also works really well that you don’t want to change. That’s really helpful for them and may actually make someone’s day. Most businesses — not just app developers — often only hear from customers when they have a complaint. That means they never hear back from customers when things are going really well.

In the end, it’s tough to strike a balance between the benefits of mindfulness reminders and the risks that they will actually frustrate you and impede your mindfulness.

But even if you are not a programmer or software developer, there is a way to take a more proactive stance to influence how the technology you use is developed and deployed for your own benefit, others like you and the technology companies that put a lot of time, energy, money, and other resources into creating apps that will help people be mindful.

Tips for Mindful Task Management: Part 2

Here are some more ways to apply mindfulness to tackling the tasks on your to-do list.

1. Time Your Tasks and Prioritize Them

Sometimes it feels overwhelming to get the to-dos onto the calendar — particularly at the beginning of the week.

I start out by just dumping all of my to-dos on a Monday and creating an appointment, description, and duration for each item. I throw them all onto Monday in any order simply to get them out with a description and period of time I want to allocate to them. Then I start dragging them around to different days and different times of day to see what feels right by looking at them visually. If you’re a visual thinker who feels hesitant and overwhelmed by the scheduling of to-dos, this tip could prove beneficial. I find that seeing them out there not only helps me schedule them but reduces the anxiety I have about the idea of organizing them, which then makes it easy to revise the schedule if I slip up on anything.

2. Incorporate Mindfulness into Processing Your To-Do List

What does this have to do with mindfulness? There is great value in stepping back from everyday chaos and thinking mindfully about when to-dos should be completed so that you can focus on what’s important rather than simply what’s urgent. To me, that’s all an exercise in mindfulness.

If our norm is to mindlessly race from one thing to the next throughout the day and then again every time we have a spare minute to scan our to-do list for an item to check off, that’s a somewhat mindless approach — regardless of how important or relevant the to-do is.

This process of stepping back periodically and really thinking carefully about what needs to be done and why represents an exercise in mindfulness. Reducing the stress and anxiety level can help facilitate a more mindful state. If I know that my important to-dos are sitting on my calendar somewhere, I feel much less anxious than when I’m thinking, “Oh no, there are things I know that I need to get done, but I don’t even know if I have them written down or indicated somewhere.” If I know I’ve scheduled them, then I’m less likely to believe that something critical is going to slip through the cracks. That decrease in anxiety can help me be more mindful overall.