Nowadays, movement and mindfulness are big business — the ‘meditation market’ alone, a subset of mindfulness, is expected to be worth US$2.08B by 2022.
Mindfulness is all about bringing our attention on to the present moment, sans judgment, creating the mental space and clarity to voluntarily respond to external stimuli, instead of involuntarily react. This can create the conditions for our navigating more deliberately through the world.
There are many paths to becoming more mindful, including meditation, philosophy, and working on one’s emotional intelligence. Some might add movement to the list, at least as far as being present and becoming less emotionally reactive are concerned.
The likes of Joe Rogan, pictured below, swear by the emotional clarity that a good workout delivers.
Others, like Def Jam Records founder, Russell Simmons, swear that they “don’t do shit” ‘til they meditate.
And the science backs them up.
Movement — not necessarily a gym session — has been shown to decrease anxiety and ward off depression, memory loss and more.
It turns out that our caveman brains recognise movement as a moment of stress. It thinks we’re fighting an enemy or fleeing, and as such, it releases BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This ultimately acts as a reset switch which is why we feel happier after exercising or going for a walk.
As researchers from the University of Illinois found (below), the brain lights up like a Christmas tree after a short walk.
Numerous studies on meditation have also found that the practice appears to increase grey matter volume and enhance connectivity between brain regions, as well as make us less prone to emotional reactivity.
But, if we’re constantly feeling anxiety, and needing to hit said reset switch regularly, are we doing so at the expense of addressing the underlying root cause?
Are we just using exercise and meditation — as good as they are for us physically and emotionally— as distractions?
Is doing so any different to popping anti-depressants, hitting the bottle, becoming promiscuous or eating our pain (temporarily) away with a big bowl of Marge Simpson’s favourite strawberry ice-cream?
Are they not just band-aid solutions?
A band-aid effect, according to the Global Ethics University, is characterised by:
Based on that definition, it would seem that meditating, at the expense of addressing the root cause, is indeed a band-aid solution.
Mindfulness students will be familiar with the acronym STOP.
Much of the mindfulness rhetoric tends to focus on this type of narrative; notice negative thoughts or emotions and respond deliberately.
Of course, this is an immensely worthwhile habit to develop, central to emotional intelligence, but doing this alone might not address the root cause of those negative thoughts and emotions, to begin with.
The root cause of our emotional state could be one or more of the following non-exhaustive factors:
Of course, if your emotional state is a byproduct of biological predispositions, then no doubt working out and meditating will provide some respite. If you’re sleeping only five hours a night and not getting enough emotion-regulating deep REM sleep, then a change to your sleeping patterns might cure you.
If being more mindful means you’re less reactive in conversations with your partner or colleagues, then it will only serve to repair any damage caused to those relationships and make them more prosperous.
However, if those relationships are suffering because of a lack of values-alignment, if your boss is genuinely a shitty person or you simply don’t enjoy your j.o.b., then no amount of burpees or “ohms” is going to change the underlying cause of your pain.
Rather than simply mask that pain with the release of powerful neurochemicals associated with movement and meditation (such as dopamine and anandamide) we should seek to solve the root cause problem. That alone will have a far more profound impact on how we feel day to day than the band-aid effects ever will.
Always start with the root cause, and don’t throw those band-aids away, use them’ to supplement your healing and experience of life.