Happiness At Work #123 ~ Breathe. Breathe. Breathe. Take the next step…

This post collects together some different ideas about why pausing and making time for quietness and simply to breathe is essential to our happiness at work, along with some practical approaches and techniques for doing this.

When did you last think about your breathing?

For as long as we are alive, we are guaranteed to keep breathing whether we think about it much or not: no matter what we do or do not do, think or do not think, we will keep right on breathing. But just as with any other aspect related to our normal body function, most of us are likely to only really think about what is happening to us when we notice a problem or difficulty: we are out of breath or having to breathe extra hard or feel our breath racing away on us or need to stop and catch our breath or to get our breath back.

Perhaps normal breathing is a bit like the way we tend to think about silence and not talking, a kind of nothing, or, at best, a neutral state that is primarily inactive and passive. But, just as silence and not saying anything can be one of the most potent, active and consciously vital actions we can bring to our encounters and the people we engage with, so, too, can breathing be one of the most enlivening, empowering, sustaining, and rebalancing actions we can take.

Rather than an absence of action, our ability to be silent effectively and productively demands that we learn how to be skilled, alert and attentive listeners.

We also need to learn how to become expert at breathing.

And If we become more conscious, deliberate, flexible and skilled at breathing we will get from this to . . .

  •  …feel more confident and more truly ourselves;
  • …grow and continually renew our sense of capability and influence over the world we inhabit;
  • …quiet, calm and control feelings of anxiety, stress or terror in times of panic or unsureness;
  • …fire our inspiration into life and trust our unconscious minds to bring us the ideas and solutions we need;
  • …radiate an animated, dynamic and receptive presence and come across to people as bright, charismatic and attractive;
  • …and take us across a creative leap from our personal breathing practices into something more profound and collective that can affect the vibrations and creative possibilities of our encounters in groups.

Simply by becoming better at breathing opens up for us a myriad of fresh possibilities around us. If we practice even very simple breathing exercises over time, we will build a stronger, more resilient sense of confidence, ease and energy that can lead us to feel more intensely open, enlivened by and connected into the world and its people.

And better breathing not only makes us feel more alive and vital, it significantly adds to our overall and long-term health and well-being.

As the mainstream scientific community begins to assimilate the growing body of research that points to our ability to re-wire our brains, breath practices are emerging as one important methodological family from which we can draw in order to actively co-create ourselves and influence the flavour of our life experience.  So breathe, breathe, breathe!  Whether it’s a slow change in a habitual thinking pattern or an ecstatic experience of divine union that you are seeking, the breath can take you there.  (Rev. James Reho)

As well as the articles that follow, you can also find practical ways to develop your breathing awareness and expertsie in our toolkit: Six Ways Of Breathing, which link breathing practice to:

  • Breathing to Feel More Alive, Whole & Connected ~ Everyday Breathing Exercises
  • Breathing for Renewal ~ Exercises for Taking Time Out to Breathe
  • Breathing for Recovery ~ Building Resilience and Regaining Balance
  • Breathing Ideas Into Life ~ Exercises to Ignite New Ideas and Trust Unconscious Thinking
  • Breathing for Presence ~ Exercises to help Build Confidence and Presence
  • Breathing for Creative Collaborations ~ Exercises to Help Unleash and Harness your Creativity in Groups

10 Places To Find Time To Think

by Time Management Ninja

Once your day gets going, it never seems to stop.

Busyness. Interruptions. Noise.

You feel like you can’t get a moment to think, time to plan, or even a moment to collect your thoughts.

If only you could find a place to stop and think about your day.

Finding Time to Think

It’s just run, run, run… all day long.

In the hurried pace of your day, you find it difficult to stop and think.

Wouldn’t things be easier if you could stop for a moment to plan what you are doing? Prioritise your work? And even decide what you shouldn’t be doing?

With noise and interruptions in the workplace, it can be hard to get time to think. Even harder to find a place to get some peace and quiet.

You need to ask, “Where can I find a place to think?”

Even in the busiest environments there are locations to get away and plan for a few minutes.

Here are 10 Places to Find Time to Think:

  1. In Your Car – The next time you are driving in your car, try the following experiment: Turn off your radio. Put your cellphone out of reach. (You shouldn’t be using it in the car anyway.) Then, listen to the silence. I bet you won’t be able to drive more than a quarter of a mile before you start to hear the thoughts in your head.
  2. Before Everyone Wakes Up – OK, this is a time, not a place, but the early morning before the world gets up is a great time to think for yourself. Whether it is just you, or you are getting up before the morning kid chaos, find time for yourself before the day begins.
  3. In Your Office – If you are fortunate enough to have an office for your job, shut the door and get some planning done. (Yes, you can shut the door.) Then when you are done, you can open the door and re-engage your team.
  4. Go Outdoors – Going for a walk outside is a great way to get some peace. You don’t have to go deep into nature. (Although that can be great, too). Many workplaces have walking paths or simply sidewalks where you can go for a quick walk and recoup your thoughts.
  5. At the Coffee Shop – Personally, I am not the Starbucks type. However, many people find isolation in the public noise of coffee shops. Find a table in a secluded corner and get some work done. (Or bring the coffee shop to you with an app like Coffitivity.)
  6. In Your HeadphonesUse your headphones to create your own privacy. Shut out the noise. Play your favourite music. Even silent headphones can bring privacy and the expectation that you are not to be disturbed.
  7. In the Library – There is a reason why libraries have a “quiet rule.” Go there to find a silent place to think and plan. And if someone is making noise, you are justified in saying, “Shhhhh!”
  8. The Unused Conference Room – If your workplace has unused meeting space, make a meeting with yourself. Take advantage of empty meeting space to get work done.
  9. At Lunch – It’s nice to go out to lunch with the gang, but sometimes it’s helpful to book lunch with yourself.  Feed your body and your mind with a lunch date alone to think and plan the rest of your day or week.
  10. The Secret Place – Every workplace has one. The secret room, hidden nook, or unknown alcove that only a few people know. Find your own secret corner to hide away and get some quiet time

A Place for Your Thoughts

You can find a place to take the time to think about and plan your day.

Depending on your circumstances or work place, you might need to get creative. However, getting some “think time” for even a few minutes can boost your productivity in a big way.

Today, go find your quiet place and take time to gather your thoughts and ideas.

read the original article here

12 Totally Unexpected Ways to De-stress

by Aja Frost for The Muse

Have you ever heard exercise helps you de-stress? What about meditation or deep breathing? We don’t know about you, but we’re a little tired of being told the same de-stressing techniques over and over. So here you go: 12 relaxation suggestions that (we hope) you haven’t seen before.

  1. Go on: Drop an F-bomb or 10. Just not where your boss can hear.(Scientific American)
  2. Make a beeline to the office kitchen and sniff an apple. Not only will the scent ward off headaches, it can make you less stressed. (Eating Well)
  3. Massage your ears. No, seriously: The action releases endorphins! (Zen Habits)
  4. Start pacing. That’s what one super successful entrepreneur does when he’s deep in thought. (Tech Co.)
  5. If you’re at your computer, try shutting it down and working on a task that doesn’t involve a screen. (Psych Central)
  6. There are actually foods that calm you down. We suggest eating them.(NPR)
  7. Green is the new black! Turns out having a plant on your desk relaxes you.(Forbes)
  8. You might want to close your office door for this one, but listening to head-banging music and rocking out will help you release all that nervous energy.(Inc.)
  9. If you’ve got 20 minutes to spare, looking at fractals (like a picture of snowflakes or ocean waves) will make your brain happy. (Everyday Health)
  10. What have you accomplished today? Whether it’s big or small, tell yourself—out loud—what an awesome job you did. (Reader’s Digest)
  11. Blowing up a balloon forces you to practice deep breathing, so make a run to the drug store. Or just take a deep breath. (U.S. News & World Report)
  12. conceptualise stress as a good thing. It’s your body’s way of preparing your for a challenge. (The Muse)

read the original article here

Letting Your Mind Wander Can Make You More Productive

It’s estimated that we spend nearly 50 percent of our waking lives in a state of daydreaming.

For something we do so often, mind-wandering sure has a bad reputation. It’s often described as a mindless activity – one that makes us more lazy, unproductive and dissatisfied with our lives. A Harvard study even concluded, “A wandering mind is an unhappy mind.”

But why would we so readily spend half of our lives engaged in a fundamentally purposeless activity? The answer is that we don’t – a wealth of new research in psychology and neuroscience suggests that daydreaming is anything but purposeless.

In fact, these self-generated thoughts might make us more creative and productive, and may even bring meaning to our lives.

“We (and others) have been arguing that daydreaming serves a function — evolution would have not let so much metabolic energy go to waste,” Dr. Moshe Bar, cognitive neuroscientist and author of a new, surprising study on the subject, told The Huffington Post. “It helps us prepare for the future, plan, think about self and others, and generally engage in mental simulations that facilitate our interaction with the environment.”

But in addition to staving off boredom and giving us the opportunity to reflect, Bar’s research suggests that daydreaming might make us more productive at the task at hand – even as it offers us an opportunity to allow our minds to run wild.

Bar and his colleagues were able, for the first time, to induce mind-wandering in study participants… Participants reported daydreaming most when stimulation was focused on the frontal lobe of the brain. While daydreaming and control might seem antithetical – mind-wandering seems to involve a lack of attention, while executive function plays a role in regulating attention — the researchers hypothesised that there might be a connection between the two. Both brain regions are involved in organising and planning for the future, for example.

But the researchers made another, more surprising finding: Rather than distracting the participants from the task at hand, when researchers induced mind-wandering in the participants, it actually improved performance on the number-tracking task. Mind-wandering seems to enhance the participants’ cognitive ability, helping them to succeed at the task while also allowing them to enjoy some pleasurable mental diversions.

Bar suggested that this improvement is due to the fact that mind-wandering combines the thought-controlling activity of the executive network, and the thought-freeing activity of spontaneous daydreaming, which occurs across the brain’s broad default mode network. The activation of multiple brain regions during mind-wandering, Bar says, “may… contribute to the ability to stay successfully on-task while the mind goes off on its merry mental way.”

“What I think is cool about this study is that it’s possible that the stimulation simultaneously increased activation of working memory (allowing for greater focused attention) and increased mind-wandering,” psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman, who specialises in daydreaming and creativity but was not involved in this study, told The Huffington Post. “If true, this would suggest that attention and mind-wandering need not be at odds with each other and can even facilitate each other.”

As Kaufman suggested, the study points to a harmony between mind-wandering and mindful mental states, which we tend to think of as being at odds with each other. In fact, mind-wandering may not be defined by the inability to pay attention so much as the ability to draw attention inward – to our own thoughts, reflections and dreams.

read the original article

What Mindfulness and Daydreaming Have to Do with Getting Things Done

“You can only feel good about what you’re not doing when you know what you’re not doing.” (David Allen, author of Getting Things Done.)

This podcast on productivity tips for the 21st century conditions we are now working in includes:

  • Why it’s increasingly important to find ways to keep your head clear and stay productive
  • The addictions that constant updates via smartphones are causing
  • The myth of multi-tasking (it doesn’t work when trying to be productive)
  • The 2 Minute Rule – any email you can answer in 2 minutes or less, you should reply to right away
  • How to focus on only what you are doing instead of being distracted by all your other to-dos
  • The importance of day dreaming after doing something productive
  • How to have a “mind like water” and how that helps you react properly to situations
  • The difference between having direction and having discipline

read the original article here

Making happiness count at the workplace

An organisation that proactively creates and spreads happiness at work is better off

adapted from an article by Carole SpiersBBC Guest-Broadcaster and CEO of a business management consultancy based in London.
March 20 is the International Day of Happiness, now celebrated throughout the world and confirmed as such by the UN in 2012. The day recognises that ‘happiness is a fundamental human goal’ and calls upon countries ‘to approach public policies in ways that improve the well-being of all people’.

Being happy at work is one of the keys to being truly happy in life as most people spend 20 to 30 years working, which is about 30 per cent of the average human lifespan.

There are, of course, many factors that impact professional happiness, including business relationships, professional development, work-life balance, environment and organisational culture. Obviously, you have no control over whether your employees are happy at home, but you do have some control as to how happy they are at work.

And if you don’t know if your employees are happy, then why not ask them? If your team is working in a positive atmosphere, this will be reflected in their performance levels, and while the additional cost to you is zero, gains can be substantial.

So let’s look at small actions that can make big differences:

Value and Appreciate

This is top of my list. Make sure that the company’s culture values its human resource and that employees don’t feel as if they are just an insignificant part of an impersonal system. Bosses and team leaders should tell their team that they are appreciated. A simple ‘thank you’ Post-It note left on someone’s computer will probably be kept for many years.

Celebrate

Strengths-based leadership is proven to bring huge increases in productivity, creativity, engagement, commitment, confidence and risk-taking.  Focus on what is already working especially well – successes and achievements – at least three and even five times as much as any negatives and performance weaknesses.  Celebrate team triumphs, employee of the month, as well as birthdays, births, etc. There are always reasons for a celebration … so why not share in someone else’s joy? And doing with this something special to eat helps to make it even more of a shared experience.

Quiet room

Sometimes people need to speak in confidence with someone else. A small room with comfortable chairs and a coffee table could provide this staff amenity.  But even more than this, a lovely space where it is legitimate and valued for people to go and ‘just think’ for a bit can add miracles to what people then go on to do.

Smiling co-workers

A smile costs nothing but has immense value. Any day seems to go better when you are surrounded by colleagues who smile and are willing to help you.  All emotions are contagious and spread from person to person – so you may as well increase the spread of happiness across your team.

Welcome

Care about people’s experience in activities you lead as much you care about the results they need to achieve.  Be a friendly host. Welcome visitors or staff members to your department with a smile. It is sometimes difficult to summon up the courage to go and see someone in a large department, but if each office had a list of names of people and their pictures on the wall outside, then this could encourage people to come in.

Getting to know you

You may have worked with your colleague for many years but I wonder if you know what they do when they go home? Once a month, individuals could give a talk, at lunchtime, about their favourite hobby or interest.

Brainstorming sessions

Set time aside each week to get your team together to have brainstorming sessions. You will be amazed by the mountain of ideas of hidden creativity, just waiting to be unleashed. Have a suggestion board where employees’ ideas would be considered and constructive feedback given. Appoint an ‘ideas champion’ to follow through accepted ideas.

Meet the Management

Maybe once a month, managers could attend a lunch arranged by different members of their team. One month it could be Asian style, another month Indian or Iranian, etc. Whoever is responsible for the meal could give a few minutes of presentation on their individual culture and the food that has been prepared.

A unique benefits package

This could include staff discounts or free gym membership, or free parking.

Flexible schedule/hours

Being able to leave the office by arrangement when you have personal business to take care of, is something that makes any company position, extra special.

In the current economic climate, many companies struggle to gain market share. Fortunately, leaders are beginning to realise that the smartest way to gain competitive advantage is through employee engagement — that means ensuring an environment where it is pleasurable to work.

read the original article here

3 Reasons Why Today’s Leader Needs Mindfulness Meditation

Marketing and business development expert, Deborah Holstein, highlights just three of the benefits of mindfulness for business…

Many people hear the term mindfulness meditation and instantly their eyes narrow with alarm or roll back into their heads. I think I can see the thought bubble over their head flashing “Yes, I know, I know…but I’m trying to build a career here! I don’t have the time!” Because in the busy life of today’s leader (or rising leader) there never seems to be enough time for anything, much less 15 minutes a day for mindfulness meditation. That’s a mistake.

If you do not practice mindfulness, you may be short shrifting your career because you are neglecting to develop critical skills you need to grow and thrive in your career — and in the rest of your life.

Here are 3 reasons why cultivating mindfulness through meditation is necessary for your success.

Mindfulness changes your brain – for the better

You may already be aware of the many health benefits of meditation: lower blood pressure, less inflammation, pain management, to name a few. You may not yet have heard that research has also shown that mindfulness meditation also benefits your brain.

In fact, with a regular meditation practice, the source of your “lizard brain” (the amygdala) actually begins to shrink. And as this primal region of your brain shrinks, the area of your brain associated with higher order thinking (the prefrontal cortex) — awareness, concentration and decision making — becomes thicker. These brain benefits were visible within just 8 weeks and correlate with the amount of time devoted to meditation.

Leaders need take on bigger and ever more complex business challenges, so you need every edge. Starting your regular mindfulness meditation practice now — whether you’re already an executive or plan to be one someday — is like money in bank because the brain benefits will be there when you need it.

Your stress hurts your team

A leader’s stress is contagious. Your team members who see you under stress – tired, frazzled and unfocused – will experience empathic stress responses including increased cortisol. And if you allow your stress to progress into full fledged burnout your team is far more likely to mirror your negative attitudes. This is especially dangerous in today’s open workspace environments because there isn’t an office door to shut to prevent your team from “catching” your stress or burnout.

For all leaders, a big portion of your day-to-day is about motivating and inspiring your team. You don’t want to increase your team’s stress or hurt their health or productivity so you need to be in control of your emotions and proactively managing your stress – all things that stem from a practice of mindful meditation.

Leaders need more soft skills

As a leader, your role – and your value to the organisation – changes from being the one “doing” the work, to being the one ensuring the “right” work gets done. And all the work gets done by and with other people. This means that as you rise in an organisation more and more of your success depends upon your ability to effectively communicate, motivate and mediate.

A mindfulness meditation practice teaches you to be present and more aware of the meta messages inherent in any interpersonal exchange. Truly listening to your team and colleagues and staying aware of their emotional responses — both expressed and not — will help you to most effectively adapt your communications and responses for the best result.

read the original article here

Work hard, work harder: How we’re screwing up the pursuit of happiness.

by GLAIN for The Executive Roundtable

Once upon a time, in a work galaxy far, far away, there was a mantra that companies used to use. It went like this: work hard, play hard. Over the past decade (or possibly more), the mantra has changed to work hard, work harder as companies move their focus from why they do what they do, to a single minded drive to make money and increase shareholder value. Sure, there are a few bright sparks on the horizon. A handful of companies are bringing back the drive for purpose – Zappos, G Adventures, Whole Foods to name a few – but they are overwhelmingly few and far between. In my observation, this quest for the almighty dollar is wreaking a boatload of misery into our work lives… and our homelives…

If you’re feeling like you’re in a never ending numbers grind at work, try changing the focus. Here are a few very simple ways I do this at The Executive Roundtable:

  1. I open our weekly team meetings asking people to share something great that happened to them the week before – personal or work related. Whatever makes you feel good.
  2. We celebrate progress… even when we’re behind on budget. We look at what we’ve accomplished.
  3. We take time to appreciate each other’s contributions by sharing peer feedback.
  4. I make a list of 5 of our members that I haven’t spoken to in a while and reach out to see how they’re doing and share a laugh.
  5. I get inspired by reading an inspiring book, watching a TED Talk or writing a blog post like this one that I think might help others.

As many of you head into the March Break week with your families, think about how you can bring more happiness and balance into your life by taking the emphasis off money and material objects and putting it onto the things that ultimately matter most: love, relationships and community.

read the original article here

Nine Steps To Work-Place Happiness

To achieve greater happiness at work, you don’t need your boss to stop calling you at night. You don’t need to make more money. You don’t need to follow your dream of being a sommelier, or running a B&B in the Cotswolds. The biggest obstacle to happiness is simply your belief that you’re the prisoner of circumstance, powerless before the things that happen to you. We create our own experience. Here are nine steps to happiness at work:

1. Avoid “good” and “bad” labels: When something bad happens, don’t beat yourself up. Instead, when you make an error, be aware of it without passing judgment. Do what you have to do, but don’t surrender your calmness and sense of peace.

2. Practice “extreme resilience: Extreme resilience is the ability to recover fast from adversity. You spend too much time in needless, fruitless self-recrimination and blaming others. You go on pointless guilt trips and make excuses that you know are fatuous. If you’re resilient, you recover and go on to do great things.

3. Let go of grudges: A key to being happy at work is to let go of grudges. Consciously drop the past. It’s hard, but with practice you will get the hang of it.

4. Don’t waste time being jealous: When you’re jealous you’re saying that the universe is limited and there’s not enough success in it for me. Instead, be happy, because whatever happened to him will happen to you in your current job or at another company.

5. Find passion in you, not in your job: Sure, you can fantasise about a dream job that pays you well and allows you to do some kind of social good, work with brilliant and likable colleagues and still be home in time for dinner. But be warned against searching for that perfect position, or even believing that it exists. Instead, change how you think about your current situation. For example, instead of thinking of yourself as a human resources manager at , identify yourself as someone who helps other bank employees provide for their families, take advantage of their benefits and save for the future.

6. Picture yourself 10 years ago and 10 years from now: Most problems that kept you awake ten years ago have disappeared. Much of what troubles you today will also vanish. Realising this truth will help you gain perspective.

7. Banish the “if/then” model of happiness: Many of us rely on a flawed “if/then” model for happiness. If we become CEO, then we’ll be happy. If we make a six-figure salary, then we’ll be happy. There is nothing that you have to get, do or be in order to be happy.

8. Invest in the process, not the outcome: Outcomes are totally beyond your control. You’ll set yourself up for disappointment if you focus too much on what you hope to achieve rather than how you plan to get there.

9. Think about other people: Even in Britain, where so much of work is every man for him or herself, it’s better to inhabit an centred universe. If the nice guy gets passed over for a promotion, he may still succeed in less tangible ways. He may rise later, and stronger. Challenge the assumption that you need to be a dog-eat-dog person to survive in a corporate environment.

read the original article here

Riding the Breath: Breath As A Spiritual Praxis

by The Rev. James Reho

Breathing is never really simple.  Our breath bears our emotional history and is a playing field for our flirtations with both Eros and Thanatos.  While our relationship with our breath is often barely conscious, the quality and form of our breathing enhances and communicates much about our emotional state.  As children, we hold our breath to get what we want; breath steels and expresses our will.  When we are frightened, we gasp for breath sharply with the upper chest; breath influences and expresses our anxiety level.  When we sleep, exercise, concentrate, make love, or meditate, our breath takes on again other patterns to support our activities…

Tradition as well as experience and research indicates that conscious work with the breath can help heal emotional and even physical pain and disease, and can vitalize our body/mind complex in ways that are so extraordinary that I hesitate to describe them… you simply wouldn’t be likely to believe me…

The words for “breath” and “spirit” in several scriptural languages are related:  ruach in Hebrew, ruh in Arabic, pneuma in Greek, and spiritus in Latin.  From this last, we have in English words like “inspire/inspiration” and “expire/expiration” that carry dual meanings relating both to breath and to spirit in various forms (creativity, vitality)…

Why breathe?

In the fifth chapter of the Chandogya Upanishad (8th – 7th century BCE) the faculties of speech, hearing, seeing, thinking, and breathing have an argument concerning which of them is primary for the human person.  These bodily functions[xvii] ask Father Prajapati (the uber-person) which of them is the finest.  He answers that the one whose departure leaves the body in the worst case is the primary function.  Speech, hearing, seeing, and thinking each in their turn leave; upon their return, they all discover together that the body can still function, albeit with some deficit.  When breath determines to leave, however, all the other faculties find they are dragged along with it; indeed, breath is the most important of these.

Aside from its obvious necessity for physical life, the breath expresses and influences our emotional and mental states.   The various techniques of working with breath—from traditional pranayama and hesychastic breathing to more modern practices such as breathwalk[xviii] and holotropic breathwork—we can utilise this often-unconscious process to affect our lives physically, mentally, and energetically:

“Life is not under your control and the mind is not obedient, but there is something the mind does obey.  That is the rate of the breath…” [xix]

Yoga and the Transformational Power of Prānāyāma

Prānāyāma, the control of the breath (really, of the life essence which is carried upon the breath) is one of the eight traditional limbs of yoga.  There are hundreds of methods of prānāyāma, devised to enhance very particular aspects of one’s being and/or address very particular weaknesses in the physical, emotional, intellectual, or psychological being of the yogi.  Practitioners claim that directing the breath in particular ways can build and enhance cross-hemispheric functionality of the brain as well as optimise the function of glandular systems and mental and physical performance…

Mastery of various forms of prānāyāma is an endeavour requiring years of practice and study.  One learns to exercise precise control over inhalation (puraka), exhalation (rechaka), and breath retention (kumbhaka): through building stamina and extremely sensitive muscular control, one can “move” the breath with precision into various areas of the lung, retain the breath for extended periods with fine control over air pressure, and also finely tune the nature, rate, and form of the exhalation, creating a nearly infinite array of possible breath patterns.

The benefits and effects of prānāyāma are nearly unbelievable to those who have not experienced them. Directing the breath into various bodily energy centres can bring about experiences of expanded consciousness or incredible bliss; slow alternate nostril breathing can calm and balance the mind and emotional self; and strong, mouth-based prānāyāma such as is done in breathwork can open levels of experience and consciousness typically thought accessible only through hallucinogens or years in a snowy cave in the Himalayas or upon Mt. Athos.  Sound interesting?  Here are some starting points to begin gathering your own data on the power of breath…

Getting Started: Jumping into the Experience of Breath 

Here then are three entry-level prānāyāma exercises that can give you a first taste of what is eventually possible through the control of breath.  I am a certified yoga instructor, but am not a healthcare professional: please check in with your doctor or healthcare professional before beginning any of these practices, and if you become dizzy or ill… stop and rest.

Deergha Swasam (Three-part Yogic Breath):

Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine, either cross-legged on a cushion (making sure knees are lower than the hips) or in a chair with feet on the floor.  Rest the hands in the lap.  Eyes are closed. Begin by inhaling slowly through the nose into the diaphragm/abdomen.  Once the abdomen is full, allow more breath to come into the chest, expanding it forward and outward (i.e., both the front and sides of the chest expand).  Finally, bring in even more breath so that the collarbones slightly rise.  Let this long inhalation be smooth and gentle-but-firm.  Now exhale the same way: let the air come out from the collarbones, from the thoracic cavity, and finally from the abdominal cavity.  Fully empty the lungs by bringing the navel in toward the spine.  Repeat for ten minutes.

This breath builds lung capacity in a pleasant way (there are really tough prānāyāmas that do so in a less-than-pleasant way!).  Our typical, unconscious breaths usually involve inhaling about 500 cubic centimeters of air; through a full deergha swasam breath, you will inhale (and expel) about 3000 cubic centerimeters of air.  Six times the air means offers six times the oxygen.  Aside from fuller oxygenation and removal of toxins, deergha swasam helps steady the emotional state and create a peaceful, alert focus of the mind.

Kapalabhati (Skull-shining Breath, or Breath of Fire):

Sit as above.  Here you focus on the exhale, which is sharp and brought about by quickly “snapping” the navel in toward the spine.  The inhalation will occur naturally as the abdomen relaxes.  Build this up so that you can accomplish two or three cycles per second.  Both exhalation and inhalation occur through the nose.  This breath can be practiced with arms raised to the side at 60 degrees, elbows straight, palms up.  Bring the focus of the closed eyes to the point between the eyebrows.  Practice for three minutes, then inhale and hold the breath.  Finally, exhale and rest for two minutes with hands sweeping down at the sides and coming to rest in the lap.  Let the breath return to normal.

According to practitioners of kundalini yoga, this breath builds the aura and cleanses the blood and the lungs.  It invigorates the whole body and is great to do as part of your wake-up routine.  Although in the early stages of learning this breath we focus our energy and concentration on the exhale, there should be a balance between the exhalation and inhalation so that you do not become breathless.

Nadi Sodhana (alternate nostril breathing):

Nadi sodhana is really a family of prānāyāma techniques that focus upon balance and opening of the nadis, energetic channels that are said to exist in the subtle (pranic) body.

To perform nadi sodhana, sit again as outlined above.  Allow the left hand to rest on the left thigh or lap.  The right hand forms a two-pronged pincer, with the index and middle fingers bent into the palm.  The extended thumb forms one end of the pincer and the ring finger and pinky, kept together as one finger, form the other.  Take a few preparatory deergha swasam breaths, and then after an inhalation, use the thumb to close off the right nostril.  Exhale.  Inhale.  Now use the ring finger-plus-pinky to close off the left nostril and remove the thumb to allow the exhalation to pass through the right nostril.  Inhale.  Now again block the right nostril and open the left.  Exhale and inhale.  Continue, gradually working to lengthen the inhalations and exhalations.  Once you are comfortable, you can work on having the exhalations last for twice as long as the inhalations.  To complete a cycle (let’s say, ten minutes to start), let the right hand return to the lap and the breath return to normal after an exhalation through the right nostril.

This nadi sodhana practice calms the mind and the heart and balances the hemispheres of the brain.  It builds strength in the lungs as well, especially when one pauses to retain the inhaled breath and then pauses again when the lungs are fully evacuated as part of the practice.  Yoga teaches that we alternate which nostril is dominant roughly every 90 minutes (experiment with this; you’ll see it’s about right), corresponding to our natural “switching” between hemispheric brain dominance.  Through the practice of nadi sodhana, we simultaneously active both hemispheres of the brain, bringing both balance and deeper connectivity between the hemispheres.

read the original article here

Happiness At Work #123

All of these articles are gathered together in the new Happiness At Work collection along with many more more that give ideas, tools and techniques for increasing greater leadership, balance, productivity, creativity, learning, resilience and flourishing at work and in our lives….

see the full collection here

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Learning Mindfulness

photo credit: db_in_uk via photopin cc

photo credit: db_in_uk via photopin cc

I am at the early stages of teaching myself mindfulness, and am, so far, thoroughly enjoying its practice, the ideas and research findings associated with it, and the small incremental but appreciable benefits that I am already noticing and experiencing.

What Are The Benefits of Meditation? (Action For Happiness)

There is a plethora of materials available on this subject and its application, and mindfulness shows all the signs of having its moment of zeitgeist across an array of contexts and situations, from banks and city firms, to schools, Silicon Valley technology and new media companies, to new thinking powering into a contemporary women’s leadership movement, to health and community group contexts, to creativity, to psychology and therapy settings.  In fact it might be harder at the moment to find a context in which mindfulness is not featuring or making a central contribution.

In my earlier post, Happiness At Work #58 ~ happiness and balance, I featured a number of articles that considered the merits and popularity of mindfulness for the benefits its practice can bring to our greater sense of – and actual physical, emotional, psychological, even neurological – balance.

In this post, I am concentrating more on the practical application of mindfulness.

But first here is what I hope is a helpful introduction to what mindfulness is and works as a practice, from Corey Jackson, an accredited CEB trainer, majoring in psychology and sanskrit at the University of Sydney and is the Tibetan interpreter at the Vajrayana Institute:

In Their Words: Corey Jackson & How Long Is The Peace of a Meditator?

photo credit: Joffley via photopin cc

photo credit: Joffley via photopin cc

It seems meditation is the new black. So many articles about the benefits of meditation reach my inbox that I have trouble finding the time to read them all – even if I delete the ones about celebrities.

Public awareness and curiosity are increasing as the scientific and anecdotal evidence mounts. People are overcoming addictions such as cigarettes and alcohol, losing weight, reducing stress as well as increasing wealth, kindness and compassion. There are many accounts of improved athletic performance, people are overcoming severe anxiety and depression, heart disease and the list goes on…

Broadly speaking, there are three main types of meditation, designed to enhance different qualities and skills. When used together, their practice is like a balanced diet tailored to each of our personal needs.

The first of these forms of meditation is the one most researched and talked, known as mindfulness, which essentially involves strengthening our powers of concentration to overcome distractions and pay better attention. In mindfulness meditation, we try to keep an object (our breath for example) in the foreground of our attention and leave all the usual opinions, chatter and activity in the background. Over time, this ‘background noise’ subsides and we become better able to focus on any object we may choose for ever- longer periods of time.

It doesn’t take long before the benefits of these skills spill over into our daily lives, making us more attentive to the emotional lives of ourselves and others. This leaves us with a much better chance of maintaining our emotional balance and not being overwhelmed by them…

An emotionless life wouldn’t just be difficult or boring, it would be pretty much impossible. Fear, enjoyment, sadness and so on are all necessary to make sense of the world around us. They are the primary way we experience life and without them we would not wish the best for ourselves and others, nor would we strive to overcome difficulties and achieve goals. But they can also cause us to say and do things we later wished we had not and for most of us, control over this kind of emotional behaviour could be life changing.

This brings us to the second type of meditation which is designed to help us understand how our emotions work and identify particular traits and habits we would like to cultivate. It involves all sorts of fun emotional experiments performed on ourselves and helps us to see the world around us with a fresh curiosity we usually lack.

Finally, we use our improved ability to pay attention and the results of our emotional experiments to set about cultivating the qualities and skills we identified as desirable. Cultivating these qualities such as kindness and compassion in meditation means they will inevitably show up in our daily lives. These qualities traits have been shown to increase the overall happiness of ourselves as well as those around us, with even physical benefits such as improving the immune system.

When we consider the full picture: Sitting on a chair or cushion during a session of mindfulness meditation is like anchoring in a protected lagoon, relatively safe and unaffected by what might be happening in the open ocean. It’s peaceful, restorative but only a temporary stop before we move on through our day. Once we are back in the open water of our daily life, the mindfulness we have developed functions like a keel, keeping us upright as we are swamped and buffeted about in the turmoil of our own emotional oceans.

Link to read Corey Jackson’s article in full

photo credit: goingslo via photopin cc

photo credit: goingslo via photopin cc

For me the very best, truest, most helpful teachings have so far come from Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding director of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, and author of the book Full Catastrophe Living: how to cope with stress, pain and illness using mindfulness meditation,  which I am finding an immensely helpful and enjoyable read.

An Evening With Jon Kabat-Zinn (Action For Happiness)

If you can possibly give yourself 90minutes I really recommend this video of the talk that he gave in London for Action For Happiness in March.  I have no better introduction to mindfulness than this.  His presentation includes some moments of mindfulness practice, enormous warmth, intelligence and wisdom communicated with lightness and humour, and poetry.

Practical Guided Mindfulness with Jon Kabat-Zinn

The following two videos are in fact both audio guided mindfulness sessions, the first concentrating on the fundamental practice of mindful breathing, the second involving a ‘Body Scan’ you complete with your mind and which is also a core component of building this form mindfulness practice.  Each take about 20minutes and each provide a practical introduction to mindful meditation.  If this is new for you, know that you need to feel you can give yourself and your attention for the full time of the guided session to really try them and find out what they offer.

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Breathscape Guided Meditation

Jon Kabat-Zinn: Bodyscape Meditation

If you don’t have even 20minutes for either of these exercises, here is a much shorter way of tuning in and starting to practice mindfulness:

One Moment Mindfulness (Action For Happiness)

This’ll Make Your Commute A Whole Lot Less Dreadful

photo credit: davitydave via photopin cc

photo credit: davitydave via photopin cc

“In many ways, because it is something so ordinary — so familiar — it provides all the right conditions for us to practice [mindfulness],” says Andy Puddicombe, mindfulness expert and co-founder of Headspace. “The added bonus, of course, is that it doesn’t require us to take any additional time our of our day. Instead, it makes good use of potential ‘dead-time.’ Think of it as time better spent.”

Whether you’re driving, walking or commuting by train, a commuter’s mindfulness practice will deliver you to work and back home again with a nice dose of clarity and calm. Puddicombe’s meditation below will add an extra purpose to your commute and could actually make you look forward to your ride. Check out the simple steps below, then try it on your next journey to the office.

1. Take a minute to set up the right approach to the exercise. Take a couple of deep breaths and remind yourself what your intention is: To be present, open and curious about the experience, and deciding not to carry all the usual dread you attach to it.

2. Next take a minute to acknowledge the physical sensations in the body. It might be the feeling of your backside on the seat (if you were lucky enough to snag one), your feet on the ground, your hand on the rail, the weight of your bag, or anything else. Not judging, just feeling.

3. Every time you realize your mind has wandered off, simply come back to those physical senses. By bringing the focus back to the the physical sensations, you’ll be able to be less involved in your thoughts. Maybe you’d prefer to focus on the smell of something, the sound or even the taste.

4. The mind will most likely wander off often and will want to repeat the pattern of many years, getting caught up in thoughts. That’s fine, but when you realize you’re thinking, simply say to yourself (silently) “Oh, thinking” and then come back to the most apparent sense. No matter what the distraction (emergencies excluded), whether internal or external, treat it in just the same way, gently returning to the physical senses.

5. It really is that simple. In fact, it’s deceptively simple. The trick is to not get frustrated when the mind gets distracted, to not put in too much effort in simply being present with everything and everyone around you, to not getting caught up in the interesting stories or commentary in the mind. It is a fluid and effortless technique, all about cultivating awareness.

Link to read this article

I am combining my mindfulness practice with my Qigong exercises, the exercises that help to build and support Tai Chi.  Qigong and Tai Chi both involve a fluidity and constancy of movement that are very much like the flow of breathing, and therefore mindfulness, each moment passing into the next.  I am finding this helpful in developing my skill and discipline to keep my mind light and contained more on the momentary moments and sensations of my breathing and not so much on the rapid flutter of monkey thoughts that my mind naturally wants to pull itself away into.

So I am very pleased to have discovered this article, outlining the 3 different energy centres of Qigong, and how to nurture the all important lowest energy centre of the Dan Tien, located about an inch under the navel.  This form of breathing is familiar from my performance and voice training, and it is helpful to learn of its importance too to both Qigong and mindfulness practices…

photo credit: GMF-Productions via photopin cc

photo credit: GMF-Productions via photopin cc

Qigong for Health and Longevity

Simon Boylan

A great initial Qigong practice you can try to stimulate Qi (energy) in the lower Dan Tien involves abdominal breathing.  Abdominal breathing or diaphragmatic breathing, is a much deeper, natural way to breathe, and stimulates Qi production in the lower Dan Tien when practiced consistently.

As we age, the location of our breath gradually moves from deep in our abdomen to our chest.  Try this simple exercise.  Sit up straight and place one hand on your chest and one hand on your belly.  Now, breathe naturally, as you normally would.  Which hand moves more?  If you are like most adults, your chest will move, and your belly may not move at all.  This shallow chest breathing does not fully oxygenate your lungs when you inhale, and does not prime the Qi ‘pump’ in your belly, thus not allowing the body to produce the Qi that it could.

Thankfully, the habit of abdominal breathing is easy to cultivate again with some conscious practice.  Place your hands back on your chest and abdomen again and this time, try and direct your breath down into your belly when you breathe in.  Try not to force this, allow your chest and belly to remain as relaxed as possible.  Feel what the sensation is like to breathe deeply like this.  Now allow your hands to come to rest in a comfortable position in your lap and continue to breathe into your belly for 5 – 10 minutes. Try and repeat this practice at least once a day, breathing in a deep, relaxed manner, expanding your belly as you inhale.  You may be surprised how quickly your body will ‘remember’ this way of breathing and you will naturally do it throughout your day without consciously thinking about it.

When this process is again ‘natural’ for you, you can move onto the next stage of this practice.  When you breathe in and out of your belly, place your mind down there, just below your navel and inside your abdomen.  Observe there quietly as you gently breathe in and out.  Placing your mind here will help Qi collect and grow.  In time, you will begin to sense a ‘ball’ of energy located here.

Link to read  Simon Boylan’s article in full

How To Be With The Breath

This article provides guidelines from a range a different practitioners, including…

U Pandita says to watch the abdomen rise and fall:

Now place your attention at the belly, at the abdomen. Breathe normally, not forcing your breathing, neither slowing it down nor hastening it, just a natural breath. You will become aware of certain sensations as you breathe in and the abdomen rises, as you breathe out and the abdomen falls. ~ In This Very Life ~

Ayya Khema instructs us to pay attention to the nostrils:

This [breath] is ideally experienced at the nostrils. Breath is wind, and as it hits the nostrils, there is feeling. That feeling helps us to focus at this small point. ~ Being Nobody, Going Nowhere ~

Ajahn Chah is more inclusive:

Simply take note of this path of the breath at the nosetip, the chest and the abdomen, then at the abdomen, the chest and the tip of the nose. We take note of these three points in order to make the mind firm, to limit mental activity so that mindfulness and self-awareness can easily arise. When our attention settles on these three points, we can let them go and note the in and out breathing, concentrating solely at the nose-tip or the upper lip, where the air passes on its in and out passage. ~ On Meditation ~

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: weegeebored via photopin cc

photo credit: weegeebored via photopin cc

See also

How To Practise Mindfulness Of The Breathing

I  Adapt your daily life so as to be conducive to practising mindfulness of the breathing

Lead an uncomplicated life — reduce or eliminate unnecessary activities such as eating, working, traveling, and social functions. Don’t worry about losing friends; some old friends may move away, but you will gain new good friends (kalyanamitta).

Concentrate on fulfiling your duties. Allocate more time for the important aspect of life; that is, find time for the study and practice of the dhamma. Compose your actions and speech by observing the five precepts and maintain a healthy mind.

2  Prepare a suitable place If you can find a quiet place, that is best.

Find a room or comer in your home where you will not be disturbed by others.

3  Prepare your body

Finish all matters that have to do with others. Wash yourself. You should not be too hungry or too full. Some light exercise is good in order to prepare your body for lengthy sitting.

4  Prepare your mind

Ask yourself if you have matters needing immediate attention. If yes, take care of them or note them down to remind yourself of all future commitments, e.g. tomorrow you have to meet someone or get someone to do something, so that you have nothing more to worry about. Once you have done this and are free from all worries, both internal and external, allow your mind to be neutral and serene.

5  Observe mindfulness of the breathing

The first step is to try to preserve the good feelings or wholesome states of mind (kusalacitta) with every in- and out-breath. In whatever posture, be it standing, walking, sitting or lying down, focus on the breath, cling to it as you would to your best friend. With mindfulness and clear comprehension, be conscious of the mind, whether pleasure or displeasure arises, so as not to cling to or follow cognitive objects or craving (tanha). Take deep breaths, release extended and relaxed exhalations while maintaining a continuous and unbroken awareness at each and every in- and out – breath. Sustain a tranquil and joyful mind.

Maximise Your Inner Happiness, With One Simple Mindfulness Practice

 offers this exercise, which is very like Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Bodyscape Meditation:

How we feel falls into three categories: pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. Most of us don’t stop long enough to notice, and yet this is precisely what we need to do if we are to maximize our inner happiness.

The practice goes like this:

1. Sitting down, eyes closed, get in touch with your breath and start paying attention to the quality of your experience, moment to moment, asking yourself the question, is it pleasant or unpleasant? Do this for a few minutes.

2. Then pay attention to how you react. Most likely, you will find you want to hang on to the pleasant moments, and you wil want to escape the unpleasant ones. This is how the human brain is wired. We are pleasure-seeking organisms.

3. Next notice the accompanying physical sensations in your body, particularly places of tightness. Whenever we react to our experience, our body naturally responds by tensing the muscles. We each have a place that our body favors. For me, it is a knot in the stomach, but it could just as well be tightness in the throat, or tension in the shoulders…

4. Without judgment, acknowledge the pain. The pain is two-fold, mental and physical. We stress our mind with our resisting thoughts, and we stress our body with our physical tensions. We can relax around this added discomfort, and discover the relief when we are just present for our experience, whether pleasant or unpleasant.

We can take this practice into our daily life.

Link this article in full

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photo credit: Swamibu via photopin cc

Handling Intrusive Thoughts While Meditating

Advice from 

…During mindfulness meditation you keep your attention on your breath, but you want to be fully aware in this moment. So you still take note of sounds and smells, aches and pains, all that makes up the present moment. When thoughts arise the instructions are to notice them, let them go, and return to the breath.

But to just blot out thoughts without paying attention to them would not be very mindful at all. Don’t ignore your thoughts… Instead, work with them.

As a thought pops up, acknowledge it, let it go, and return to the breath. Don’t carry it out to a conclusion. Don’t dwell on it. Don’t try to add reason at this time. Notice that you’re thinking, that your mind has pulled you away from your awareness of this moment, and place your attention back on the breath.

Labeling the thoughts may help you release them. If you’re sitting stewing about something you should have done differently this morning, label it judging and let it go. If you’re thinking about what to make for lunch or what to do this weekend, label that planning and return to the breath. If you’re taken by thoughts of beaches and the sun, label them fantasy and bring your attention back to the present moment.

The point is never to not think. The point is to remain aware of what is going on in and around you right now. Too many scattered thoughts can drag you away from the moment and cheat you of your present experience. Acknowledging thoughts, labeling them, and coming back to the present, to the breath, can help you stay centered and focused…

Link to read this article in full

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photo credit: loungerie via photopin cc

Email Is Killing Us: Reclaim Your Mind From Technology

An extract from Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s “The Distraction Addiction”

…The monkey mind’s constant activity reflects a deep restlessness: monkeys can’t sit still because their minds never stop. Likewise, most of the time, the human mind delivers up a constant stream of con­sciousness. Even in quiet moments, minds are prone to wandering. Add a constant buzz of electronics, the flash of a new message landing in your in-box, the ping of voicemail, and your mind is as manic as a monkey after a triple espresso. The monkey mind is attracted to today’s infinite and ever-changing buffet of information choices and devices. It thrives on overload, is drawn to shiny and blinky things, and doesn’t distinguish between good and bad technologies or choices.

The concept of the monkey mind appears throughout Buddhist teachings — one small indicator of the fact that the mind and its rela­tionship to the world have been studied deeply for thousands of years. Every religion has contemplative practices, calls to use silence and solitude to quiet the mind. In John Drury’s introductory note to the Anglican Matins and Evensong, he exhorts worshippers “to be patient and relaxed enough to allow a long tradition to have its say” and “allow our own thoughts and feelings to become closer to us than life outside admits.” Only then can one fully enter “the cool and ancient order of the services which gives a space and a frame, as well as cues, for reflec­tions on our regrets and hopes and gratitudes.” Catholic monastics treat meditation as preparing the mind to receive God’s wisdom; the busy mind cannot hear the divine. in Buddhism, though, mental discipline is more an end in itself, rather than just a means to an end. The everyday mind is like churning water; learn to make it still, like the mirror-flat surface of a calm lake, Buddhists say, and its reflection will show you everything…

For too long, we’ve left the chattering monkey in charge of our technologies, and then we wonder why things go bad. We want to be like the cyborg monkey (albeit not as hairy and without the electrodes). We want that same capability to use complicated technologies without thinking about them, without experiencing them as burdens and dis­tractions. We want our technologies to extend our minds and augment our abilities, not break up our minds.

Such control is within our reach. Rather than being forced into a state of perpetual distraction, with all the unhappiness and discontent such a state creates, we can approach information technologies in a way that is mindful and nearly effortless and that contributes to our ability to focus, be creative, and be happy.

It’s an approach I call contemplative computing…

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photo credit: svenwerk via photopin cc

Contemplative computing isn’t just a philosophical argument. It’s theory and practice. It’s a thousand little methods, mindful habits informed by the four principles. Guidelines for checking e-mail in non-distracting ways. Rules for using Twitter and Facebook that encourage thoughtfulness and kindness. Ways of holding —literally holding —a smartphone so it commands less of your attention. Techniques for observing and experimenting with your technology practices. Methods for restoring your capacity to focus.

Information technologies are so pervasive, so much a part of work and home, so thoroughly embedded in modern life, it can be hard to know where to push back first. A good choice is to begin where many contemplative practices start. With breathing.

Link to read the rest this article , including details about the Cyborg monkey experiment referred to above, and Alex Soojung-Kim Pang’s principles and guidelines for contemplative computing

photo credit: Philerooski via photopin cc

photo credit: Philerooski via photopin cc

10 Habits To Make You A Great Meditator

Julianna Raye

Any time you actually sit down to practice meditation, you’re doing it successfully! But because meditation is an inner process, there’s lots of room for misunderstanding, which can go on for years if left unchecked. Many people practice meditation on their own, informed only by what they’ve read or heard. Even if you’re lucky enough to find a teacher you trust, that teacher will still rely on your input to support you in finding greater insight.
The hope is to make your time on the cushion as efficient as possible, so I created this general list of tips to help you optimize and accelerate your practice. It’s based on what’s been shared with me by my teachers, as well as what I’ve gained from my own experience.
Here are some suggestions to help your practice help you:
1. Develop clarity about what you’re doing and why.
 …Whichever you’re drawn to, do your best to understand the nature of that practice and each time you sit down, relate to practicing the way you would time at the gym. Don’t meander. Use proper form. Do the work.
2. Find a practice that resonates.
 …Listen to your instincts, find a practice you’ll want to stick with and be motivated to do and find an effective support system. If you’re not making progress, assess the situation and adjust. Avoid being dogmatic about it and do your best to trust yourself.
3. Make time for intensive practice.
A healthy practice involves a combination of daily sitting and periods of more intensive formal practice, like weekend or week-long retreats. Intensive practice shows you your true potential and can be life changing, but it needs to be supported in the long term with a daily or weekly routine.
4. Practice in action.
Bridge the gap between your practice and your life. While formal practice will naturally seep into the rest of your life over time, for faster results, you can also use strategies to intentionally integrate practice into the activities of your life.
5. Try strong determination sitting.
My teacher, Shinzen Young, recommends this as a fast track to his students seeking quicker results. The idea is to sit without moving for extended periods of time. You can start small and slowly build up your stamina. Not easy, but powerful!
6. Teach others.
 …Teaching nourishes our own practice in untold ways.
7. Get feedback.
The best way to know whether you’re making progress is through those closest to you. … If your practice is off track, the people who love you will make that clear. Likewise, if your relationships are off track, meditation can make that clear.
8. Sit, sit, sit.
 …Bottom line, at this point in history, lots of sitting practice is still the best solution discovered to ease our suffering. Just make sure the sitting is informed. See tip #1.
9. Practice with a group.
Group practice can accelerate the process of learning and spiritual growth. You can ride on the group energy and collective act of consciousness raising.
10. Become self-sufficient.
As long as you imagine your liberation is dependent on any relationship, you’re a slave to that relationship. Free yourself.

Link to read Julianna Raye’s guidelines in full

And if you are interested in the range and breadth of places and people that mindfulness is happening with, here is a selection of recent stories on this subject from across a sweep of different publications…

photo credit: michiexile via photopin cc

photo credit: michiexile via photopin cc

The new technique investment banks are using to keep employees happy and productive

by Paul Clarke

Stress is a growing problem in the financial sector. Psychology surgeries serving bankers are busier than ever, investment banks are employing resilience specialists to add some mental steel to their employees. And, increasingly, they’re turning to a psychological technique with roots in Buddhism.

The likes of Barclays, Citigroup, J.P. Morgan and the large professional services firms like PwC are offering their employees the chance to partake in mindfulness – a technique that emphasises active attention on the moment to block out the clutter of day-to-day life. The aim is to improve mental capacity, reduce stress and even counter depression. William George, a board member at Goldman Sachs, is also a big advocate of the technique, and is a member of the Institute for Mindful Leadership.

…Google offers mindfulness to its employees, although Grazier suggests this is further away from the clinical version of the treatment, and it’s being described as the ‘new caffeine’ in Silicon Valley. Its popularity is also helped by the fact that the U.S. Marine Corps is incorporating mindfulness into its curriculum.

However, it’s also gaining more traction in the financial sector. Louise Chester, director and co-founder of Mindfulness at Work, which works with City firms, credits it with saving her sanity during a “crazy period” working for UBS’s telecoms research team in the 1990s.

“HR departments like mindfulness because it makes their employees more effective,” she said. “It increases memory capacity, focus, emotional intelligence and makes you smarter. It trains you to use your prefrontal cortex, which allows you to make more measured responses in a way that adds value and reduces stress.”…

Link to read full article

Esquire Tackles Mindfulness, Meditation In September 2013 Issue

There’s something different in the latest issue of Esquire: a how-to guide for meditation.

Meditation, of course, is central to The Huffington Post’s Third Metric initiative, and it’s something that Esquire has embraced as well. The men’s lifestyle magazine is more known for covering fashion, culture and entertainment and running features like “Sexiest Woman Alive” than for tips for de-stressing. But that’s exactly what’s in the September issue.

photo credit: marimoon via photopin cc

photo credit: marimoon via photopin cc

Wilderness Festival: Best Quotes On Mindfulness, Wellbeing And Work-Life Balance

As part of our partnership with Wilderness Festival, HuffPost UK have been hosting daily panel discussions covering a range of topics. On Saturday, we explored Less Stress, More Living.

Hosted by editor-in-chief Carla Buzasi, the panel included Claire Hamilton (head of Secret Sanctuary and acupuncture therapist), Jayne Morris (burnout expert and HuffPost UK blogger), Cherry Healey (TV presenter and HuffPost UK blogger), Ruby Wax (comedian, TV personality and mental health activist) and Susie Pearl (happiness and wellbeing activist – who also has the best job title in the world).

We’re pulled the top quotes from our experts on mindfulnesswellbeing and striking work-life balance.

Questions from the audience included whether mindfulness is accessible to all, de-stigmatising mental health, and how gender affects our willingness to seek help for stress.

We need to start thinking about how to manage our minds” – Susie Pearl

Thoughts aren’t fact, so don’t take them seriously” – Ruby Wax

I want to instil a positive mindset on my daughter. I realised that to do this, I had to change my own mindset first. I needed to think about the way I think and speak about things – for example body consciousness – because Coco learns directly from me.” – Cherry Healey

The body and mind are intrinsically linked. Stress and anxiety are the root of many illnesses, we need to listen to our minds to prevent them.” – Jayne Morris

“You shouldn’t run away from your problems, you need to aim straight for the heart of the beast.” – Ruby Wax

I suffer from ‘Room B’ syndrome, I always think other people are having a better time than me. Social media has made this worse – when comparing yourself to others, you rarely come out favourably.” – Cherry Healey

There is not a one-size-fits-all solution, everyone needs something different to get some balance in their lives. It might be yoga or meditation, or even singing and dancing” – Claire Hamilton

We need to shift habits so that people catch themselves before reaching burnout” – Jayne Morris

For me mindfulness is like building a house, so the next time the tsunami that is depression comes I’ll have a structure in place to resist it.” – Ruby Wax

Meditation isn’t about feeling perky and happy, it’s about feeling shit and sticking with it.” – Ruby Wax

Link to the rest of this article including its slideshow of pictures

photo credit: drp via photopin cc

photo credit: drp via photopin cc

From Both Sides: Secular Buddhism and the “McMindfulness” Question

by 

The debate over the relationship between Buddhism and the mindfulness-based interventions (MBIs) has heated up recently to a red hot glow. On July 1, Ron Purser and David Loy published an attack on the mindfulness movement in the Huffington Post under the title, “Beyond McMindfulness.” As I write this, a Google search on “McMindfulness” generates over 7,700 hits, many of them praising the original article and joining in to bewail the “decontextualization” and watering-down of the sacred Buddhist traditions.

Unfortunately, as I have noted elsewhere, this “McMindfulness” meme often appears to be driven largely by fears instead of facts, as defenders of traditional Buddhist lineages fret over “what is being lost” as mindfulness enters the Western mainstream. From my perspective, as one who came to Buddhism through the MBIs, this is a terrible shame. We may have an irretrievable opportunity at this moment to enrich the cultural conversation between Buddhist ideas and values and those of the West, and the mindfulness movement clearly is at the crux of that conversation. It is my heartfelt wish that we do not waste this opportunity in a reactive backlash against this latest moment in the evolution of the dharma…

…the MBIs are in themselves outgrowths of Buddhism. Pioneers such as Jon Kabat-Zinn, Daniel Segal, Jack Kornfield and others took what they learned practicing traditional Buddhism and adapted it for use in medicine and psychology. In order to make these practices susceptible to research and acceptable to secular health care institutions – and perhaps most of all to make them easier for the average patient to absorb and accept – the traditional doctrine was simplified and demystified, replaced with plain-English explanations of the practice and how it worked.

In turn, acceptance by research and health care institutions had an inevitable impact on how mindfulness is taught, learned and practiced. The emphasis on such positive health care outcomes as stress reduction, alleviation of depression, and the treatment of chronic pain encouraged the application of the MBIs in a standard clinical regimen. Students were “patients” who had received specific diagnoses and were prescribed an 8-week mindfulness course to address the specific symptoms of their diseases. It is not surprising, then, that first the health care community, and increasingly, the wider public, has come to see the MBIs as merely another item in the doctor’s bag of medical interventions. To this extent, the critics of mindfulness are correct in their assertion that the MBIs have been “decontextualized.”

As I have tried to demonstrate elsewhere, however, the prevailing institutional (and now cultural) absorption with specific outcomes misrepresents what the MBIs are and how they are practiced.

…the defining tasks of mindfulness – the embracing of lived experience, the recognition that one need not be compelled by one’s habitual reactivity, the development of equanimity and the ability to make wise choices as a result – are the same actions that are prescribed by the Four Noble Truths. The insight into the ephemeral and impermanent nature of the ego that is a hallmark of the MBIs is an expression of the Buddhist concepts of Impermanence and Not-Self. While shorn of much of traditional Buddhism’s Pali/Sanskrit terminology, doctrinal concepts and cultural trappings, the MBI’s owe their effectiveness, I believe, to the wisdom of the dharma that Gotama taught more than two millennia ago, a wisdom grounded, then as now, in universal characteristics of embodied human awareness…

…My experience with the mindfulness practice community I am part of has shown me that community is about more than just support. Within the container of the practice community, one has the opportunity to experience the intersubjective resonance of a group of people dedicated to being mindful of themselves and each other. This experience is a powerful and visceral manifestation of not-self, and one that promotes the recognition of shared humanity from which compassion can grow. The group practice environment is ideal for exploring such concepts as kindness, compassion and non-harming, and learning what it’s like to put them into mindful action. And the awareness that the community has a tangible, ongoing existence, even if one may not immediately be able to participate in it, permits one to feel connected to it and supported by it, regardless of one’s distance from it…

…As Secular Buddhists, we get it from both sides. Skeptics demand to know why we are concerned about teaching and preserving an esoteric, mythology-drenched religion; traditionalists make many of the same charges of “throwing the baby out with the bath water” against Secular Buddhism that they make against “McMindfulness.” If there is an advantage to this position, perhaps it may be our ability to understand and share the perspectives of both sides in this conversation, and to present and model a middle way between them…

Link to read Mark Knickelbine’s article in full

Shamash Alidna: The Mindful Way Through Stress at Mind & Its Potential

  • De-stressing: why bother?
  • Where does your stress come from?
  • How can you calm down “mind chatter” in a busy life?
  • Tips for being more energised and focussed at work.
  • How does mindfulness lead to joyfulness?
photo credit: cleverchimp via photopin cc

photo credit: cleverchimp via photopin cc

Back-to-school is back-to-stress for some kids; coping techniques can help

By Helen Branswell

…others praise so-called mindfulness techniques as a way to help kids young and old to gain control of the anxiety that may be cluttering up their minds.

There are a variety of approaches, but the basic idea is to bring children into the present – as opposed to worrying about the future – as a way of grounding them and helping them calm themselves. Some ways of doing this are to focus on breathing – taking “brain breaks” in the language of the Hawn Foundation (started by actress Goldie Hawn), which has been a leader in bringing mindfulness techniques into schools…

Schonert-Reichl says one way to use mindfulness techniques to help with the stress of resuming school might be to focus, while walking to school, on all the sounds one hears. Instead of having a head full of anxious or negative thoughts about what the coming day or year might bring, the child can be helped to focus on what he or she is experiencing at that moment…

Link to read this article in full

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

photo credit: Nanagyei via photopin cc

6 Simple Tips To Be More Mindful In Everyday Life

 

Thankfully, you don’t need to spend hours a day sitting in a Buddhist monastery to achieve the benefits of meditation. Rather, you can use everyday experiences as opportunities to practice being mindful and connected to the present moment.

1. Practice mindful driving

…How does your body feel in the seat? Is it hard or soft? How do you hold your hands on the wheel? What sounds do you hear coming from your car and out the window? Can you feel the vibrations of the road? Was it recently paved or are there a lot of potholes?

When I drive like this I find it to be a much more peaceful experience, even if I’m caught in traffic.

2. Practice mindful eating

Instead of scarfing down your food as you read the paper, watch TV, respond to emails, or whatever else, practice just eating. Really slow it down.

What does that first bite of food taste like? Is it different from the second? How soon do you reach your fork for more? What does it feel like as you swallow? What does it sound like as your chew?…

3. Practice leaving no trace

I’ll admit that when I get caught up in the responsibilities of daily life, I can really let clutter build up in my home. So I decided to pick one room in the house and practice “leaving no trace.”

I picked the kitchen, and what this means is that when I leave this room, I try to leave it exactly the same as I entered it, as if I had never been there.

…This practice can help you become more aware of the impact you have on your environment, and it will probably make anyone you live with really happy, too!

4. Practice mindful listening

Often when we listen to another person talking, only part of our mind is listening. The other part is thinking about what we’re going to say in response, or making judgments about if we agree or disagree, or even daydreaming about something completely different.

Instead, practice really listening to what the person is saying, as if you were absorbing their words like a sponge. Pay attention to the sensations in your body as you listen. Do you feel excited? Tense? Calm?

Pay attention to the speaker’s voice, their body language, their tone. What emotion or feelings do you imagine them experiencing?

The best part about this exercise is that you are giving a gift to the other person. Is is so rare that people really get the full attention of another person.

5. Practice mindful waiting

This is perhaps my favorite exercise, because we typically view “waiting” time as a waste of time, but it’s actually an opportunity for your to pause, observe, and be mindful.

The next time you are standing in line at the bank, or sitting in the waiting room of your doctor’s office, or sitting at a restaurant waiting for your friend to show up, use that time to be mindful.

Without judging, observe how you are feeling in your body. Do you feel tense and impatient? Excited? Bored? Where in your body do you feel it? Is it like a tightness in your chest or a buzzing in your head?

You can even practice directing your attention to a neutral object, like your breath or the ambient sounds. When your mind wanders, bring it back.

6. Answer the phone mindfully

Often we hear the phone ring and immediately jump up to answer. Instead, practice pausing and taking two deep breaths before you answer the phone. Pause, deep inhale, deep exhale. Pause again, deep inhale, deep exhale.

Notice what you are experiencing for these few seconds. Do you feel excited about who it could be? Anxious about what task or obligation this could mean? Just pause, notice, and then proceed to answer the phone.

As you can see, mindfulness does not need to be some elusive or abstract concept, and it does not need to take extra time out of your day to practice.

And as you start to practice these small habits, you will notice big benefits. Mindfulness is a skill that you can develop, and as you do, you will start to notice and appreciate small joys in your day that had previously gone unnoticed.

Link to read the full unedited version of this article 

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

photo credit: Chris JL via photopin cc

Happiness At Work Edition #60

See this week’s new collection for these – and many more – stories about mindfulness and self-mastery, happiness and wellbeing, creativity & artistry, resilience and learning, leadership, changing ourselves and changing the world…

Link to Happiness At Work Edition #60

We hope you find things here to enjoy and incorporate in your own work, life and continuous learning.