“Taking time–in to focus your attention on your internal world has been shown in research to grow those important prefrontal fibers that integrate your life, give you a strong brain and enable you to have healthy relationships .”
Daniel J. Siegel, M.D., BRAINSTORM, The Power and Purpose of the Teenage Brain (Penguin Random House, NY, 2013).
Psychiatrist Daniel J. Siegel considers “the emerging adolescent mind” as spanning ages 12 to 24. He discusses that stage of brain development as a scientist, as a former teenager, and as a parent who has lovingly facilitated his two children through those critical years. Regardless of your age or parent status, his book can “teach you how to grow the integrative fibers of your brain by learning how to focus your attention in very practical ways.”
Siegel explains, “ ‘Time-in’ is a term I use to describe the time we can take—be it a minute a day, ten minutes a day, or throughout the day—to intentionally focus our attention on the inner world of our mental, subjective experience. Much of what happens in families and in schools, and even on the Internet with social media, pulls our focus of attention to the outer world. Think of how much time many of us spend on smartphones, iPads, and other devices absorbing endless streams of information. For many adolescents who’ve grown up with the Internet, e-mailing, chatting via text, and surfing the Net are just a regular part of life. And while there are a lot of great connections we can make through social media that enhance friendships and social connections in general, the danger is that we fail to pay attention to other aspects of our lives. Hours and days can go by without out taking time-in to just be with our inner life, the life of our own mind.”
Move Toward Integration
He discusses why this is such an important issue. “Because without at least some time spent exercising our mindsight circuits focusing on the inner world—of ourselves or others—those circuits won’t remain healthy and strong. To move our lives toward integration, we can’t focus solely on the outside world of physical objects. We need mindsight to develop the integration in our inner lives that cultivates our insight and empathy.
Let Go of Judgments, Expectations
“Taking time-in on a regular basis is helpful because it exercises the mindsight circuits that can integrate our brains and empower our lives,” states Siegel. “One way of taking time-in is to develop mindful awareness, ways of training the mind that help us develop the ability to be present with what is happening in the moment and to let go of judgments and focus instead on accepting life as it is rather than how we expect it to be. The way we focus attention to train the mind in general is called ‘meditation,’ and studies of mindfulness meditation show how it supports healthier functioning in the body, in the mind, and in relationships.
Let Go of Judgments, Expectations
“For example, research has shown that the more present we are in life, the higher the level of telomerase, the enzyme which maintains and repairs the life-preserving ends of our chromosomes, called telomere caps,” cites Siegel. “With the day-to-day stresses of life and the natural progression of the aging process, these chromosome caps are slowly whittled down. Building up more telomerase can help us be healthier and live longer. Some people come by presence naturally; others may learn it through mindfulness training.
Build Healthier Molecules and Cells
“For those who were taught to train their mind to be mindful, their ability to be present was increased, their immune system functioned better, and their level of telomerase increased. Amazing, but true: How you focus your mind’s attention inwardly can change molecules in your body that make you healthier and make your cells live longer,” Siegel writes.
Improve Emotional Management
“With presence, too, our ability to be aware of our emotions and make them work for us instead of against us will be improved. And our ability to focus attention so that we can learn what we want to learn will be strengthened. As if that were not enough, other studies of mindfulness meditation show that we will be able to approach, rather than withdraw from, challenging situations and actually feel more meaning and fulfillment in life. Some people call that happiness. It is a way of living a life of meaning, compassion, and purpose. Simply put, time-in helps us to be at our wisest.
“For our relationships, time-in and the mindful awareness it creates will help us become more empathic with others,” he reports. “Not only is the compassion that arises from such a skill set directed at being aware of others’ feelings and helping them feel better, it also helps us feel more compassionate towards ourselves.
“So, yes, time-in is a fundamental part of having mindsight. And time-in is a win-win-win situation, helping our bodies and brains, our minds and inner lives, and our relationships with others. It even helps how we relate to ourselves in a kinder more supportive way.
“Why, then, isn’t every school teaching time-in practice? Teachers could expand their focus beyond the traditional three R’s of reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic to teach reflection, relationships, and resilience,” suggests Siegel. “I think this is generally not being done because people are simply not aware of these scientifically proven outcomes of such inner practices. And teaching such internal education in schools would mean taking a step back from routines and busy schedules and creating a new approach to education overall.
“Yet there is a lot of research to suggest that taking time-in and developing the mindsight foundations of social and emotional intelligence enhance academic achievement. Schools can embrace these findings and support adolescents in developing this prefrontal program that supports a healthy mind. A number of innovative programs are being adopted in some schools to bring this new approach to internal education into the classroom. Since presence has been proven to promote happiness, the presence that such a time-in curriculum fosters may even make a happier set of students, and probably teachers, too.
Siegel reminds us, “As families, we can make time-in a part of our daily lives. In many ways, parents are their children’s first teachers. So why not have this internal education begin at home for everyone in the family?
“There is no better place to begin than with ourselves. Mahatma Gandhi had a great saying: ‘We must be the change we wish to see in the world.’ And with this in mind, I invite you to join me in developing these basic time-in practices so you can become a mindsight maven and develop more presence in your life. Whether you are beginning your adolescence or are in the middle of it, whether you are at the end of adolescence or deep into adulthood, these time-in practices can work to bring presence into your life, catalyze integration in your brain, and strengthen your mind,” he encourages.
Right now, direct your attention to your nostrils and the sensation of the air coming in and going out. After a few breaths, move your attention to your chest expanding and releasing for a few breaths. You’ve just begun time-in practice. See how easy it is? You can listen to Dr. Siegel narrating Breath Awareness practice on his website, DrDanSiegel.com, and click on the Resources tab and the everyday mindsight tools. Many Living Well columnists have described meditation. It is a common topic through out all forms of written and recorded media. Please continue to practice every day.
Siegel has written seven other books, all as user friendly and practical as BRAINSTORM. Check out Mindsight: The New Science of Personal Transformation; The Developing Mind: How Relationships and the Brain Interact to Shape Who We Are; Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind; The Mindful Brain: Reflection and Attunement in the Cultivation of Well-Being; The Mindful Therapist: A Clinician’s Guide to Mindsight and Neural Integration; Parenting from the Inside Out: How a deeper Self-Understanding Can Help You Raise Children Who Thrive (with Mary Hartzell); The Whole-Brain Child: 12 Revolutionary Strategies to Nurture Your Child’s Developing Mind (with Tina Payne Bryson).
Karen is a naturopathic physician who has taken holistic healing and education into the realm of quantum physics. She is credited with “the first major breakthrough in Swedish Massage ~ research demonstrating energetic interconnections ~ since Peter Ling systemized it in the early 19th century.” International recognition for her healing and educational work includes an honorary degree, a silver medal, listing in Who’s Who of Professional and Business Women, appearances on TV and radio, lecturing in Europe and in the U.S. for professional symposia, colleges, corporations, community groups, and being featured in professional journals, magazines and newspapers. She has published more than 200 articles on holistic health and education. She has facilitated joyful well-being and health for hundreds of students she has personally certified in holistic healing and holistic massage and for hundreds more clients she has personally touched including luminaries in science, medicine and religion.