Day Six

DAY 6: Dr Elise Bialylew interviews Kelly Mcgonical

Get inspired to get your body moving


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Mind Life Project Bonus Content:

Download your Transcript here.


Video Objectives

In this video you’ll learn

  • The highly motivating and fascinating science behind exercise and what it does to your brain and body
  • How to make exercise feel less like a chore and more a source of joy
  • How exercise helps us to find hope, connection and courage in difficult times
About Kelly McGonigal

Miracle of the breath and body - 18 minutes

with Elise Bialylew

*click play to listen to the meditation


When I first began meditating it took time for me to feel comfortable tuning in to the sensations in my body. In fact it wasn’t until I discovered some fascinating neuroscience about a few crucial brain circuits, that the purpose of bringing attention to the body and our senses started to ‘make sense’. 

The research describes two different brain circuits that lead to different ways of experiencing our lives, each determined by where we are focusing our attention. If we understand these circuits we can learn how to use them to our advantage. 

The first brain circuit is called the ‘default mode network’, and is associated with thoughts about ourselves – the story of ‘me’. The default circuit often gets us lost in thoughts about the future, worrying about how we’re going to get things done, and analysing and judging ourselves along the way. It is activated when we are in daydream mode and not focused on anything in particular. 

The second brain circuit is called the ‘direct experience network’, and this one is active when we are doing something focused and goal-driven. It’s the brain circuit that is activated when you are experiencing reality directly through your body and senses. This ‘direct experience’ circuit lets you taste the flavours of the meal you’re eating and taste your wine without thinking about what you need to do tomorrow. Rather than narrating, analysing and evaluating the experience, by coming back to the body you are shifting your attention away from thoughts and back to a direct experience of your reality. 

Scientists have discovered that these two circuits operate like an accelerator and brake on a car: they can’t be activated at the same time. 

Both the ‘default mode’ and ‘direct experience’ circuits play a role in helping us make sense of our lives. We need the direct circuit to help us absorb the world around us, but we need the default circuit to help us create a sense of our identity and life story. However, research has shown that too much activity in the default circuit is associated with excessive self-absorbed thinking, depression and anxiety. 

Mindfulness strengthens our capacity to know which brain circuit is active from moment to moment, and to become better at consciously switching from one to the other. Through regular mindfulness practice we strengthen the ‘direct’ experience circuits and improve our ability to get out of our heads and into our bodies – a valuable skill, especially when our thoughts are adding to our stress. 

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