What stresses you out? We all have situations in which it is harder to maintain equilibrium than in others. Mine is: having to do too many administrative tasks that should be done by someone else. What’s yours?
Proof That You Should Do Nothing
We know we “shouldn’t” get freaked out and anxious, we know staying present will enable us to find better solutions, we know we “should” be getting a good night’s rest to tackle the situation with a fresh mind the next day, but we can’t always get there without help. We’ve been hijacked. Our patterns are in charge. We’re human.
No one has time to process every single blip in their life. We can’t track down the source of every pattern and sometimes it’s not a pattern, it’s just life. So how do we take care of our health and stay mindful of what’s important when life throws us a curve ball?
Meditation. Mindfulness. Stopping your thoughts. Whatever you’d like to call it.
You know about the well-documented benefits. But are you doing it?
One of the biggest indicators of my clients’ success in stepping up their leadership is whether they have an existing mindfulness practice or are willing to start one.
Dr. Andrew Newberg, a neurotheologist and director of research at Philadelphia’s Myrna Byrd Center of Integrative Medicine recently studied the brains of spiritual leaders while they meditated or prayed. In his video he concludes:
“The more you do a practice like meditation or prayer, your brain physically gets thicker and it functionally works better.”
Mindfulness meditation has long been touted as an effective way to improve our health and well-being but studies have been notoriously subjective and difficult to validate. New studies are reporting that mindfulness meditation helps relieve our levels of perceived anxiety and depression. It improves attention, concentration, and contributes to better sleep. Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, MD sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies, and found 47 trials that addressed the above mentioned issues and which met their criteria scientifically valid research. Their findings, published in JAMA Internal Medicine, suggest that mindfulness meditation can help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression and pain and improve sleep patterns.
A study conducted by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) determined that meditation literally rebuilds the brain’s grey matter. The study only lasted eight weeks and in that time they found benefit equal to prescription drugs—and without the side effects.
The Mind Is A Lousy Master … And An Excellent Servant
One of the biggest causes of stress is ruminating, or repeating a certain stressful thought. The brain sets off down an old thinking pattern and stays there. Mindfulness practices teach our brain to pop up out of that old pattern and recognize it for what it is: a default and well-worn groove that we have a choice to step out of. We can then focus on the candle, on a flower, on a mantra… on whatever we choose to focus on.
I believe we have repetitive thoughts because most of us haven’t trained our minds to be still. Your mind and thoughts can be directed—and you’ll see results fairly quickly. And best yet, in stillness you will find all of the answers you seek.
Mindfulness meditation re-grooves the brain and builds a new neurological network. Do it enough and, like the studies show, you can train your brain like a muscle to stay calm and present in the face of adversity or good old daily stresses of life.
Do Try This At Home … And At The Office
There are many teachers of meditation and books or CDs to show you the way. Here are some of my favorites for beginners.
If you’ve never meditated before, a simple way to start is to breathe in to the count of seven, hold for a count of seven, and exhale for a count of seven. Then repeat.
When you’re counting use the “one, one thousand, two, one thousand, three, one thousand …” method. If your mind starts to wander, gently bring it back to focus on your breath. Set a timer for five minutes before you start. I recommend sitting upright with palms facing up
If you want to close your eyes or light a candle or place a flower in front of you to focus on, do it. When you’re starting out you’re just exploring and finding out what works for you. If you’re having a stressful day at the office, practice the above breathing technique. You can even do it during a meeting!
That’s why meditation is referred to as “practice.” As in “I’m practicing meditation” or “I have a meditation practice.” You’re teaching your brain to interrupt repetitive patterns, calm and center itself.
It takes practice to get to automation, but it’s worth it.
Christine Comaford is the author of SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together.
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