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

Friday - - Health -

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

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