MIND YOUR FITNESS
From gym classes to marathon training, boosting our physical fitness is often at the top of the agenda these days – but are you keeping your mind in shape too? Abi Jackson investigates
It’s always intriguing to ask well-being experts about the best advice they’ve ever been given. “Well, ‘be happy’ is always a good one!” replies Steve Braithwaite when the question is posed to him. Then he laughs, well aware of the ironic complex-simplicity of his statement.
“‘Be happy’ – but what is that? That alone opens up a huge journey in itself,” he says.
“Another important one for me is ‘Be your own master’. That’s all about feeling in control of what you want from life and what you do in life.”
These two things are part of what Steve calls Mind Fitness. And just as physical fitness requires a certain amount of practice and training, so
does Mind Fitness, and that’s why Steve is on a mission to help others flex and hone their minds with a series of seminars and retreats, and his blog, www.steverichardbraithwaite.com. Quite simply, Mind Fitness is about being your best self.
But that doesn’t mean being the best in the world – the richest/ brightest/fastest. It’s about having peace, control and fulfilment within yourself and, ultimately, less stress and more happiness. Comparing your own successes and achievements to those of others defeats the purpose. Being burdened by how we ‘measure up’ is a tricky trap to avoid, but Steve insists that we’ve “got to try”.
“There’s no need to compete and compare with Mind Fitness, it’s a personal journey,” he explains. “If we’re constantly driven by somebody else telling us what we’re meant to do and how much we’re meant to do, people can get injured because they’re ignoring themselves or what they’re feeling inside. Everything has to come back to ourselves.
“If I go for a run today and feel I could do a bit better, I should give a bit more,” he adds. “If I don’t feel so good, I should pull back a bit.” This approach is one Steve lives by, and it means that he’s able to make decisions that are right for him, and enjoy his achievements and blessings, big and small – it’s all part of that ‘being your own master’.
“A lot of fitness talk is focused on the physical aspect, being weight loss or toned look or a muscular body. It’s about aesthetics, rather than feeling,” says Laurence Arca Bathe, Reebok fitness expert and founder of Urban Energy Fitness in Dubai. “People who come to us often say, ‘I want to lose my belly’, ‘I must get rid of my baby weight’, or ‘I need to tackle my love handles’ – it is very rare that someone says, ‘I want to feel great’ or ‘I want to understand how my body works and respond to it’.”
She believes Mind Fitness should be considered in the context of brain training, that is, keeping your mind alert and operating at its optimum level to get results. “The key is to be mindful of how your body responds, and adapt it to suit you,” she says. “A mind connected to a body equals a body that responds well to activity.”
Laurence, who is a mum of two, stresses the value of visualisation, which she says, “is a great tool when you work out. Isolate the muscle you
are working and visualise it working step by step. It will focus you and will ensure that you optimise your technique for a more efficient workout.”
Steve’s interest in the mind is rooted in his childhood. His grandparents were fans of Eastern philosophies and they often imparted their knowledge and wisdom to young Steve, who was fascinated by self-improvement.
“I grew up in Canada and played a lot of sports,” he recalls. “From a young age I realised that, often, to excel in sports without great physical capability was very difficult, but even the people that did have great physical capability, they didn’t necessarily excel.”
The crucial link, he surmised, were the mental aspects. “Until you address your mind, it’s very difficult to sustain anything. The mind’s supporting everything else; the mind is very powerful.”
Steve moved to the UK during his 20s, pursuing a career as a singer-songwriter. He also worked quite extensively as a hairstylist, and his interest in self-development and improvement often crossed over into whatever field he was involved in. He’s been leading stress management and mindfulness courses for big corporations for more than a decade, and more recently has been working with National Health Service breast cancer patients in the UK.
But it’s now, at the age of 53, that he feels the time is right to really push Mind Fitness into the spotlight, and he hopes a book he’s working on will be finished later this year.
“I’m really excited to be doing this,” he says. “I’ve had 30 years of delving into this area and I think it’s really relevant for all of us, especially now. We all deserve to feel great; it’s our life and life is there to enjoy, but we’ve kind of lost that a little, you know?”
So, how does one join this Mind Fitness regime? Key to Steve’s philosophy are the Four Minds of Development. The Fundamental Mind, which is all about the skills and knowledge that form the foundations of how we cope with day-to-day life; the Reasoning Mind, about perception and how our own intellect and emotions interpret what we encounter; the Creative Mind, which is constantly skimming between the past, present and future and hatching plans and dreams, and, finally, the Observing Mind, the one that’s focused on what’s happening right now.
“The Observing Mind is about the here and now, being in the moment; that’s the place where I try to remain most of the time.”
It’s about stopping and smelling the roses, being present and engaged – not so easy when we’re permanently plugged into devices, or distracted by deep-seated dissatisfaction or anxiety. The Mind Fitness retreats Steve runs help guests to centre on the Four Minds, unravelling the pros and pitfalls of each and developing techniques for adapting their attitude and thought processes. It aims to get
‘The Observing Mind is about the here and now… That’s where I try to remain most of the time’
the most out of their minds, and get the minds to work with them, rather than against them. If it sounds a bit complicated, it’s not.
“Mind Fitness is for everybody,” says Steve. “Even children and people of all ages, it’s never too late to better ourselves!”
Endless mediation or scary chanting isn’t mandatory, either. While Steve’s spent a lot of time studying Eastern philosophies and wisdom he realises that, for a lot of people, these practices may not be accessible. “I’m trying to stretch the boundaries and make the connection between the Eastern philosophy and way of life and theWestern philosophy.”
Four Minds aside, Steve also focuses on purpose, acceptance and expectations.
“Do we really believe that no one’s perfect? Because if no one’s perfect, why do I get so upset or angry when they let us down, or don’t get things completely right?” he says.
“Once you truly hold that belief, it makes a huge difference because we’re not getting so angry all the time. Sometimes our expectations are too high. And you can learn to put less pressure on yourself, too. Go easy on yourself.”
It’s important to stop and fully take in what’s around us, according to wellbeing expert Steve Braithwaite
Steve’s programmes focus on purpose, acceptance and expectations