Meet the newest member to the BuDhaGirl Scientific Board! Dr. Claudia Aguirre is a neuroscientist and skin expert, specializing in the connection between the mind and the body. Dr. Aguirre has presented in the brain-skin connection at TEXxUCLA and has also created several TED Education lessons, which have reached an audience of millions worldwide. Today, Dr. Aguirre consults internationally as a professional speaker, writer and spokesperson in the health and wellness industries. Her work has been recently featured in Vogue, The Atlantic, The Guardian, YouBeauty, Refinery29, Open Culture and Netflix. We sat down with Dr. Aguirre to discuss how people compromise their brain health, and can increase brain function and heighten creativity and focus.
BuDhaGirl: BuDhaGirl’s purpose is to affect cultural change by turning routines into rituals. BuDhaGirl is also a fashion company. Were you surprised by the concept of BuDhaGirl?
Claudia Aguirre: At first yes, but when thought about it a bit more it suddenly made perfect sense. Getting dressed is perhaps one of the only behaviors we all share that can be considered a regular ritual.
BDG: How can setting intentions at the beginning of the day affect us?
CA: Setting an intention for the day is a great way to begin the day. In fact, an intention with a clear and actionable goal is a much more efficient way to reach a goal than simple motivation. We can wake up feeling motivated to start the day, but that can easily get derailed by a number of things out of our control. Setting an implementation intention can support our personal control over our thoughts and behaviors, making us more at ease with how our day goes. It can also help us offset some automatic behaviors that we may be trying to reduce in our daily lives. This way, an intention can help us break old habits, make new ones, or keep an open space for unplanned events. Motivation alone isn’t linked to consistent action; but an implementation has been shown to result in achieving goals, however small they may be. Here are a couple examples of how our morning intentions can help us throughout the day:
“If I haven’t called my mom by 8pm, then I won’t watch TV until I do.”
“If I haven’t said thank you by noon, then I will..."
“Today for exercise, I will take the 1pm class.”
Notice these are quite specific, often with ‘if-then’ strategies. These may be easier and make goals more attainable for many people, rather than setting very general intentions such as, “I will be nice today” or “I will not get angry today.” These may again be derailed and the loss of control may turn one’s mood sour for the day. Instead, by providing little strategies that help boost our self-control, we can learn to roll with the punches.
BDG: Why is “mindfulness” entering mainstream society now?
CA: Probably for a variety of reasons. For instance, we know more about meditation thanks to the sophistication of neuroscientific techniques. More studies mean more attention in the general media regarding mindfulness, and this of course comes at a time when many people feel stressed, overworked and under-appreciated. These two worlds collide and help produce products, such as at-home meditation programs, yoga and tai chi studios, mindful eating programs, etc. Basically nowadays you can find mindful (fill-in-the-gap) programs for anything from parenting to eating to moving.
BDG: What techniques can we use to de-clutter and refocus; or what steps can we take daily to increase our brain function and heighten creativity and focus?
CA: The great thing about learning to meditate is that all the skills learned can affect all of the above. For instance, to get into a meditative zone, you don’t need to sit cross-legged, fingers twisted and chanting om. Being in the moment, whether you’re surfing, drawing, writing or doing anything you enjoy that requires focus, can be considered meditative. Meditation training is brain training and it has different techniques, leading to different results: from increasing focus to quieting a fidgety mind. On the other hand, getting a bit lost can boost creativity, whether you’re wandering around a new city or simply daydreaming. One of my favorite and easiest ways to make a change in our body and brain is through breathwork. Again, there are different techniques, but simply using our breath can lower our stress, excite us, and take our bodies to the next level.
BDG: What are common practices that people commit daily that is compromising their brain health and function?
CA: An interesting question. I’d say brain health is compromised by our lifestyle choices. A poor diet that leads to chronic inflammation can also affect the brain, and may even lead to early onset dementia. Losing sleep on a regular basis (that is less than 7hrs for most adults) also compromises brain health, and has been recently linked to a variety of neurodegenerative diseases down the line. Stress is another inflammation trigger that can have lasting effects. Unfortunately, stress and duress can affect us at the epigenome level; for instance traumatic experiences in a person’s life can affect how their child (or even grandchild) will react to a stressor in their own life. This is why taking care of our bodies and minds on a daily basis is so important not only for our own health, but for the health of future generations.
BDG: What actions/ritual do you perform in order to be present during your day?
CA: I like to stay present during conversations with others, making eye contact and listening. Seems simple, but we’re in an attention-deficit world after all. I also try not to have my cell phone on the table while having a meal. Finally, I just like to look around. I’m often traveling so I even take the ‘tourist’ mindset while at home, appreciating flowers or a good sunset any given day.
BDG: What do you do for ultimate relaxation?
CA: I’d say for the ultimate relaxation, it would be a get-away to a relaxing place where I can disconnect and unplug. Last year I went on a trip to unplug and unwind, and I felt synced to nature’s rhythms and so much more relaxed. There was no internet and no electricity so I really had to shut down after sunset and wake early to the sound of pounding waves. Getting in tune with nature is the ultimate relaxation for me.