[Note: This is a major revision of a post I wrote some time ago on my This Old Brain Dot Net blog.]
Can Integrated Body Mind Training Reduce the Stress in Your Life?
That may be the wrong question.
The real question is whether it is better than mindfulness meditation. And, from my experience, the jury is still out on that one.
Here’s a snippet from a blog article.
Unlike other meditative techniques that focus on thought control, Integrative Body-Mind Training focuses on a state of restful alertness and body mind awareness developed by instructions from a trained IBMT coach. The usual struggle for thought control is replaced by body postures and balanced breathing which eventually help students achieve thought control.
This less stressful approach is validated by physiological tests in the laboratory showing IBMT students achieving lower heart rates, skin conductance responses and deeper chest breathing amplitudes – all telltale signs of less effort, less stress and more relaxation. Tests have also shown that doing IBMT prior to a mental math test produced lower levels of stress hormone cortisol in the body. What is Integrative Body-Mind Training (IBMT)? Training, Deep Meditation, Stress Reduction in Five Days | Suite101.com (10 October 2009)
What does the coach do? The coach observes. The coach watches the meditator for signs of struggle – struggle with resisting thoughts, of getting in the way of the flow.
What does the coach look for?
The furrowed brow, tension in the face, starting, stopping, changing breathing in any way would all be signs of the struggle.
So, why is this such a struggle?
Ever tried to stop a thought. Thoughts are a runaway freight train, especially when we dare to resist. Try this.
For the next minute, whatever you do, don’t think of a white bear.
The futility, when you meditate or practice mindfulness, isn’t from trying to end negative thoughts; it is for struggling with resisting thought in the first place. Doesn’t it make more sense to simply allow – or maybe accept is the better word – the thoughts and feelings be there. After all, they are there anyway.
This is not easy. I don’t mean it is difficult in the sense of heavy lifting; it’s in the sense of being tricky, like that pesky white bear.
Why do you meditate, if you do? You probably do it as a method of quieting your mind. Even though you may have been told that you didn’t have to do that, the movie version of meditation or mindfulness is to empty oneself.
Following Your Breath
In reality, what you may find yourself working at – at least what’s always been the starting point – is following your breath. Isn’t that usually the instruction?
Within minutes, you might catch yourself stuck on a thought, or off on a tangent of thoughts. If your experience is anything like mine, you will find yourself off on a full-fledged daydream.
Either that or walking down a grocery aisle thinking about what it was you were supposed to pick up!
The next step is simple, right? You just get yourself back to noticing the breath.
You know what the hardest part of that is? Actually, I think this is the impossible part. It is to get back to the breath without blaming and judging yourself for losing track.
Here’s an advanced secret passed down from the old masters, people who know much more about this stuff than I could ever hope to know. It’s okay to judge. It’s what minds do. Just like getting caught up in seemingly irrelevant thoughts is what minds do.
Your mind abhors a vacuüm. It wants to chatter away.
Even with the usual instruction to say to yourself, “thinking, thinking” when that happens, it still feels like you are supposed to fight the thought, that when these thoughts come up, you are doing something wrong.
That is also what minds do.
Not fighting the thought is, as I said a tricky task. A coach could be of great help in the endeavor.
It might help to remember that the goal is psychological flexibility and a more resilient life. Trying to force ourselves to drop thoughts and feelings or to cultivate certain thoughts and feelings is more likely to lead to mental rigidity. Ouch!
There is a simple exercise that may help. It’s an ACT exercise called “Leaves on a Stream.” It may help you be with your thoughts, whatever they are. It might be helpful to record this little exercise and then listen to it as an instruction. Remember to put in lots of pauses and give yourself some time in the process.
Leaves on a Stream
Imagine you are sitting or standing in the middle of a stream.
The water is flowing away in front of you.
Notice if there is any sound from the running water.
Notice if there are any trees, etc. on the banks of the stream.
Now see leaves floating down the stream away from you.
They can be any shape, color, or size.
As the thoughts come into your mind – positive, negative, neutral – be aware of what the thought
is, and then place it on a leaf.
Now watch it float away down the stream.
At times, you will forget the stream and follow a thought out into the wilderness. At others, you will find yourself right on the leaf with the thought or feeling.
As you acknowledge each of your thoughts, you do not need to hang on to
them or push them away. Just put them on the leaf and let them do what they do.
Just acknowledge it and then place it on a leaf.
By watching it float away, you may begin to notice that the thought – or the feeling – is not you. It is something you have.
When you notice this, also notice if the hold it has on you changes.
Do this for as long as you like.
The key to this practice is not to get rid of thoughts. It sounds silly, but just let them be there. They’re there anyway. And when you can, let them go.
Both mindfulness and Integrative Body Mind Training (IBMT) are ways to give your brain a break.
Here are a couple other versions of the Leaves on a Stream exercise, with therapist Julian McNally, using trucks on the highway.
And here is a similar exercise I created myself. It’s not perfect, by any means, but I think it works to help when the mind wanders.
I hope some this post and these resources are helpful for you.