‘Focusing on that mind-body connection.’ Performance and mindset health adviser helps kick off Wellness Week at Northeastern

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Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University

Wellness Week at Northeastern kicks off Monday with dozens of virtual and in-person events across the university’s 14 global campuses. The week is dedicated to developing and supporting students’ holistic wellness.

A full schedule of events is available on the Office of Prevention and Education website. 

Wellness Week events include: “Reframing Rejection,” a talk on how to deal with rejections in the job search, making a self-care kit, a HIIT dance class, and the benefits of having and caring for dorm room plants. 

From 2-3 p.m. Monday, Michael Pitt, a performance and mindset health adviser at Northeastern, will hold a seminar called “Remote Control For Your Brain.” Pitt will talk about the science behind breathing and exercise-based interventions and how they relate to our minds, bodies and emotions. 

Northeastern Global News sat down with Pitt to discuss some essential tips that he plans to share during the session:

First, can you describe what you do for your job?

The services that I provide fall into what people call performance mindset training. It’s for motivated individuals or organizations trying to optimize their performance to get better, physically, mentally or emotionally. 

I’m trying to help you create an awareness of where you are currently, create a game plan for where you want to go, and improve strength in areas you want to continue to lean into. I then provide actionable steps and routines, rituals and habits that will aid in creating a holistic environment and climate for you to move forward. 

This is not a diet. I help people create a lifestyle change and a shift in how they think and perceive themselves and the outside world. 

In summary, what is your talk on Monday going to be about?

Our society has evolved, and some of us still live in the same world from 20 years ago. Mentally, emotionally and physically that does not work. [The talk] is gearing down and focusing on that mind-body connection. One of the tools and levers that I use with individual clients and organizations is breathwork. There’s no clearer dovetail between the mind-body connection than with breathing. 

I will explain why and how neurodevelopment, neuropsychology, and how our thoughts affect our bodies and our bodies affect our thoughts. The clearest way to do that is through different breathing practices and exercises.

The talk is called the “Remote Control of Your Brain” because of how thoughts and feelings release different types of neurochemicals. 

I know for myself, as somebody who grew up in an unconventional childhood, experiencing childhood anxiety, depression, self-harm and suicidal ideation—thinking that these were things I had no control over. For anybody, it leaves you very helpless. And what I’ve discovered through different training and learning is that the breath can be that remote control to either turn the volume up or down to regulate in areas when our systems are overloaded. 

What are the biggest challenges you see athletes facing, and how do these techniques get them past those hurdles?

A fair amount of my work has been with athletes. Most of my work is about not having the motivation to do the work. The athlete population is highly motivated. They want to get better, and their coaches and staff are motivated to see them get better. 

Some of the biggest hurdles I found for individuals, in general, is an awareness of themselves and their environment and trying to be present in that awareness in that moment. 

But there has been such an emphasis on the end goal, really, for younger adults. You know, I need to get this job, I need to start making this amount of money, and they forget simple tasks such as do you show up for work on time? Are you writing your resume as well? Do you have peers or mentors guiding you? Do you know what questions to ask? I start with the exploration piece. 

What tips do you give to athletes that you think anyone could benefit from?

The breathwork is the main piece. But even before that, it’s self-examination—the awareness of self, both positive and negative amplifiers and things that impede our progress. 

Breathe work—the visceral reaction that people can see fairly instantly—I find it to be hugely motivating just due to the enlightenment that it provides almost instantaneously. During sessions with my clients, within the first 15 minutes, they’re like, “whoa, wow, alright, something’s going on here.” So I think that’s a great stepping stone for people to get into that mode of self-exploration and progress. 

Why do you think it is important to take the time to focus on one’s well-being and goals?

Instead of lifespan, the time we’re alive, people are now referring to your health span, or how much of that time we’re on this earth. How much of that are we healthy functioning individuals? If we can operate at 80%, I think we’re winning physically, mentally and emotionally. 

But since the ’80s and ’90s, diet, exercise and nutrition have been focal points. You can make the case that therapy has started becoming more in vogue as of late. But the mental and emotional part is still very much on the back burner. Because of the society that we are in, where we don’t take time to let our engines rest and cool off—they’re always being revved up. It’s like stepping on a car’s gas when it’s parked. Even when you are in “relaxation mode,” most people spend that time inundating themselves with information, flipping through their phones, or trying to catch up on work. 

I’m a huge advocate that everybody should seek some sort of counseling or therapy from an outside source. But a lot of times, that’s not an option. The self-work is the easiest place to start. 

Beth Treffeisen is a Northeastern Global News reporter. Email her at b.treffeisen@northeastern.edu. Follow her on Twitter @beth_treffeisen.