Long ago, I discovered the spiritual connections and benefits of staying connected to neurological research. Many of the same things have continued to provide helpful connections in personal devotion, youth ministry, and as we’ve grown in areas of parenting, and especially parenting a child who had experienced trauma before arriving in our home. It doesn’t make us experts, and these are not magic, but they certainly help give us a better understanding as we seek to be faithful with all God has given us.
So it is no surprise that I loved discovering the “Healthy Mind Platter” developed by David Rock & Daniel J. Siegel, M.D. It was discussed in Sissy Goff’s newest book “Raising Worry-Free Girls“. It makes sense, especially as we increase our understanding of how connected our neurological health is to every other aspect of our body & being. Many of us were raised knowing we needed to pay attention to a healthy diet: a specific amount of grains, meats, fruits/veggies, dairy, etc. But with a better understanding of our brains, comes an understanding of “diet” we are feeding our minds as well. The creators don’t suggest a specific amount of time for each category, but the understanding is that each individual may have particular needs for their own health. Each category comes with its own benefits, and our brains (& neuro-chemistry) respond accordingly in ways that help bring long-term health conditions that impact our entire being. They’ve broken the categories into (in no particular order):
- Physical Time (exercise): Aerobic activity helps increase the oxygen levels in the blood, which contributes to brain health in important ways. “Exercise releases endorphins, which are neurotransmitters produced in the brain that reduce pain. Exercise also increases the serotonin…which is often known as the “happy Chemical” (Goff, 2019)
- Time In (introspection/silent prayer/mindfulness): Reflect on what has happened, what is happening. This is time without screens on, where there is space to be aware. Time here could also be spent reading and/or writing.
- Focused Time (learning/purposeful): This is time to grow or nurture a skill or study a subject. This helps build focus and makes or strengthens new connections in the brain.
- Connecting Time (in-person/ eye-to-eye contact): Especially in a “virtually connected” world, this can be important for social development, as well as neurological health. At every age, our “mirror neurons” help contribute to our understanding of others, our ability to be compassionate, and even our self-understanding through the eyes of others.
- Sleep Time: Healthy and consistent sleep patterns are more valuable than our production/profit-driven world often gives credit for. This gives our hippocampus time to process memories into long-term storage, restore and organize thoughts/feelings, and reminds us spiritually that we’ve been “set free” from the brick-making patterns of Egypt.
- Down Time: When’s the last time you let your mind wander in a healthy way? To gaze into the falling leaves, watch water flow downstream, enjoy watching the kids play nearby, or simply lay back on the couch breathing slow? When your mind (or the kids) say “I’m bored” – let it be cause for celebration, in our overstimulated world. It allows time for recharging the brain’s batteries, inspires creativity, and allows contemplation.
- Play Time: Not practicing an athletic ability, but truly “playing”. Here we have the opportunity to exist with lowered stress levels, build problem-solving, and remember to exist child-like. Go mini-golfing, play Chutes & Ladders, bust out the old Atari, forget who wins, and enjoy the game itself.
You can follow the links or read the books to dive deeper into any of this, but I wanted to share it simply here. We are called by Jesus to “Love the Lord your God with all of your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.” (Luke 10:27) I hope and pray that growing in these areas will help me to be faithful with what God has given me, help me to improve as a father, as a pastor, and as a friend. May these things be a blessing to you as well…