What do sports stars, politicians, comedians, actors and business people have in common? Success, money and fame – perhaps. But also, pressure, unwanted attention and big responsibilities.
For many – including Jennifer Aniston, the England football team and Madonna, to name just a few – they cope with their chaotic and challenging lifestyles by practicing meditation and mindfulness.
What is mindfulness?
According to Mindful.org: ‘Mindfulness is the basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we’re doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what’s going on around us. While mindfulness is innate, it can be cultivated through proven techniques, particularly seated, walking, standing and moving meditation; short pauses we insert into everyday life; and merging meditation practice with other activities, such as yoga or sports.’
Why practice mindfulness?
Rooted in Buddhism, mindfulness can help you find new ways of responding to situations, as opposed to trying to control them. It’s also not confined to our professional lives. Being mindful can improve how we experience family ties and relationships with friends; how we study, learn and interact with teachers and peers; and how we conduct our daily lives.
Practicing mindful meditation can encourage you to let go of the self-imposed stress of needing to get things done. But importantly, especially for professionals, this can also help you focus more clearly on the task at hand and even improve your overall performance.
Mindfulness is perfect for accountants whose job is rooted in left-brain thinking and linear productivity. Accountants are trained to get from point A to B as quickly as possible. Mindfulness helps you to you focus on each moment, rather than the past or present. It helps you improve clarity and concentration under pressure.
Stress and pressure can lead to poor leadership, unnecessary risk-taking, lapses in ethics, financial crises and disregard for colleagues. Mindfulness can help you make better decisions.
Many of these techniques can be easily integrated into your day – during your morning coffee, on the way to work, sitting at your desk, in an elevator, stuck in traffic, or walking somewhere.
Breath is a connection between the mind and the body. Much of meditation revolves around breathing. When you begin to feel stressed or your mind is running away with itself, take a few breaths: inhale, exhale, and repeat. Focus on the breath as it flows past your lips and/or nostrils, coolly into your lungs and warmly on its way out. It may sound simple, but it can be done anywhere and it takes seconds or minutes.
Many of us eat or drink with distractions or entertainment. For example, we read the news on our phones/computers or watch TV. Do away with all this when you’re eating lunch or taking a coffee break. Give your food your full attention – focus on its tastes, smells, textures and colours. Really enjoy every mouth full or sip.
What’s around you?
Take a walk. What’s going on around you - the light, the sky, the plants, buildings and animals or other people? What do your feet feel beneath you? The idea is to be ‘in the present’. You may be going to an important meeting, a lesson or a job interview, but for now feel the air on your skin, the breath that you breathe and the sights you see – and appreciate them.
This is best seated with your eyes closed – lying down could lead to sleep!
What you’ll be doing is essentially taking time to focus on each part of your body. Start by closing your eyes and drawing in a breath. Feel the breath going into your lungs then imagine it dispersing throughout your whole body, all the way down to the tips of your toes and fingers. Another way is to simply start at your toes, imagining the tips then following your attention all the way up the body slowly. It’s basically a way to clear your mind and make you feel connected to your body, the present and the place you’re in.
Yoga is well known to improve joint flexibility, posture, balance, upper-body strength and to relieve certain ailments like lower-back pain, wrist pain, neck and shoulder pain, sore feet, and poor circulation.
But it also complements mindfulness. Yoga improves emotional and spiritual health by shifting awareness away from the causes of stress and focusing on the breath.
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