The growth of Mindfulness into the Mainstream of life

“An idea is like a play. It needs a good producer and a good promoter even if it is a masterpiece. Otherwise the play may never open; or it may open but, for a lack of an audience, close after a week. Similarly, an idea will not move from the fringes to the mainstream simply because it is good; it must be skillfully marketed before it will actually shift people’s perceptions and behavior.” David Bornstein, How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas

“A moment of mindfulness is a moment of compassion and kindness. It is not a panacea, after the froth has gone and what will be left when the tide of Mindfulness recedes, what will be left?” Is a question that I heard posed to Professor Mark Williams during a recent webcast. I wanted to check out whether Mindfulness was on the increase and whether it had hit what could be called the main stream or if it was just as was asked “froth”?

Checking online, and you can see that the number of scientific publications on mindfulness has rapidly grown from the mid-noughties. The full article can be found here: http://www.slideshare.net/Global_Net/mindfulness-and-authentic-leadership-webinar

The next question that was posed, was “Where is it being driven today?”

Prisons: It is being used in prisons and being taught to prisoners with remarkable results. Just for example: Sahaja Yoga Meditation in Prisons being run across 22 countries, including Australia, Austria, Belgium, Canada, Colombia, Czech Republic Finland, France, Holland, India, Italy, Mexico, New Zealand, Nigeria, Russia, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan and the UK.

Government: It is being taught in government circles: in the US congress, congressman Tim Ryan is leading the drive for mindfulness – I have listed his book at the end of this article.In the UK Houses of Parliament – 10% of the parliamentary labour party MP’s have done a mindfulness course. There are even classes being launched at the European parliament.

Healthcare: the UK Nice organisation [the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence] has recommended Mindfulness since 2005 for keeping patients with recurrent depressive vulnerability, depression-free. In the USA, The Greater Good Science Center is the leading organisation that studies the psychology, sociology, and neuroscience of well-being, and teaches skills that foster a thriving, resilient, and compassionate society across the USA.

Schools: The first large randomised control trial of Mindfulness training compared with ‘teaching as usual’ in 76 UK schools, which will involve nearly six thousand students aged 11 to 14. Other parts of the study are a programme of experimental research to establish whether and how mindfulness improves the mental resilience of teenagers, and an evaluation of the most effective way to train teachers to deliver mindfulness classes to students. The £6.4 million research programme will be carried out by teams at the University of Oxford, UCL (University College London) and the MRC Cognition and Brain Sciences Unit, in collaboration with the University of Exeter, over seven years.

Business: For the past few years, Mindfulness has been an agenda item at the Davos World Economic Forum. If you check out their website, there are over 110 articles on Mindfulness, including podcasts, and research papers on the development of mindfulness in business. This year, 2015, saw the biggest gathering of business leaders at the mindfulness discussions.

I would contend that even with the froth in the media around Mindfulness, the growth in practitioners, both personally, socially, in education, healthcare and in business, means that mainstream it has become.  

I leave you with the following quote:

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” ― John Lennon

World Economic Forum Website:

http://www.weforum.org/search/google/mindfulness?query=mindfulness&cx=005374784487575532108%3Azwr8u4lxoba&cof=FORID%3A11&sitesearch=
The Book: A Mindful Nation: How a Simple Practice Can Help Us Reduce Stress, Improve Performance, and Recapture the American Spirit , by Tim Ryan – elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 2002 and is currently serving in his sixth term representing Ohio’s 13th Congressional District.

10,000 steps and the benefits of walking

“Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

The company I work in has recently finished competing in the Global Corporate Challenge (GCC). What is this you might ask? The GCC provides employers with a simple and engaging way to create a true culture of health right across their business.Each year, for a period of 100 days, hundreds of thousands of employees around the world compete in teams of seven as the GCC takes them on a journey that will improve both their physical and psychological health. What has this got to do with 10,000 steps?

Well, the core of the idea is that each member of the team is given a pedometer and access to their own record keeping web page. The premise is that you walk, or swim or cycle the equivalent of 10,000 steps per day. Walking can lower your risk of developing high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and it can lead to fat loss. It is recognised that the 10,000 step exercise burns at a minimum of 500 calories. In addition, the GCC programme adds in a number of discrete challenges at twenty-day points, plus advice on nutrition and lifestyle. The web site allows you to enter your daily pedometer total, compare yourself to your team and compare yourself to other teams.

The “challenge” for me was how on earth do you do this when you are an office worker, as I am? Well, the first “step” is actually committing yourself to participating in the challenge and continue to the end of the 100 days. Next, I remembered to put on the pedometer every day by putting it in the pocket of the trousers I was wearing. Here are some of the other tricks I used:

  • I would get off the train one stop short of where I needed to get to and walk the extra distance..
  • I would park at the far end of the office car park, then walk in. I would also park at the far end of the train station car park or even the supermarket.
  • I used the stairs instead of the lift. This was really hard as one of the offices I work in has 7 floors and walking up and down them numerous times a day was an effort.
  • I got into the habit of taking the dogs for a walk every day, in the evening when I got home from work and for at least an hour at the weekends.
  • I would walk to a co-worker’s office instead of calling, skyping or emailing.
  • When I was on a teleconference, I would stand and if possible walk up and down.
  • At lunchtime, I would make an effort to go for a walk outside of the office, or even walk around the car park a couple of times.
  • I would use the walks as time to practice mindful walking, as well as listneing to podcasts

Having competed in the challenge, I managed to walk on average 14,000 steps per day. Some days more and some days less. What else were the benefits? I’ve lost an inch off my waist. I am healthier and can walk further than when I started. I’ve seen new places as I have wandered about the offices I work in, as well as the local area where I live.

So what is to stop you from starting today? If you want further information, the National Health Service has a great website with further information:

http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/loseweight/Pages/10000stepschallenge.aspx

I leave you, as always, with the following quote:

“If you don’t go after what you want, you’ll never have it. If you don’t ask, the answer is always no. If you don’t step forward, you’re always in the same place.”

Nora Roberts

Mindfulness and how it helps in business

“Being the richest man in the cemetery doesn’t matter to me. Going to bed at night saying we’ve done something wonderful… that’s what matters to me.” ― Steve Jobs

If you work in a business, at some point you are going to have to sit in front of your colleagues and present an update on your part of the business. Whether this is yearly, quarterly or even monthly, this is the beating heart of the company business review cycle. I have worked in organisations where the reviews can be any and all of the above. I think probably, the only company where this does not happen with such rigor, is if you run your own one-person business, though I am sure there are other pressures.

I am in the current company review cycle. The normal process is to review current performance for the period that has just past and to then predict what will happen the following period. Now, this takes time, skill, lots of effort and understanding of the business. And, unless you are in a guaranteed utility business  where the run rate of the business can be predicted over a long time scale – say years – requires a degree of, how can I put it, “predicting the future”.

So how can mindfulness play into this? For the past six months, I have been deliberately practicing a series of mindfulness exercises during the preparation period and even more so, on the day of the review. The reason is twofold: to help me reduce the tension and stress of the review and more importantly: enable me to be more focused in both the preparation and delivery of the review. Mindfulness actually helps improve your attention by getting you to focus on the present moment.

How does it work? For the three or four days leading up the final meeting I do the following. Firstly, I get up early. Well, if you are like me, your mind is going to going at a 100mph anyway, so why on earth stay in bed and ruminate when you can be doing something about it. I practice mindfulness movement exercises and focus really hard on the movements to still the mind. Secondly, I practice a forgiving meditation – this I will cover in a separate post. The combination eases my mind and at the same time, makes me feel more calm as I carry out the review.

So what is the mindful movement exercises? A short explanation follows:-

You want to start at the top of the body, with head and neck movements. Next you move onto the shoulders and the arms. Finally, you move down the body to the feet. I base mine on the audio CD of the book “Mindfulness: Finding peace in a frantic world”, though you may have your own approach.

One of the areas it has helped me to identify is where I have a stress related pain. Generally, in my neck and shoulder area. It has helped me to “lean into that area” as the exercise suggests. First, recognising that the pain is there and also the reason for the pain – the stress. Next, it asks you to accept the pain and move into the pain, exploring with kindness, what that pain is. I know this sounds really weird, but trust me, give it a try for a few days and it really, really works.

The website with the guide notes and also a audio of the exercise is below. Please do try it out, it makes such a difference.

http://franticworld.com/huffington/ main web site

http://cdn.franticworld.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/10/03-Mindful-Movement-Meditation.mp3

Exercise audio instructions

I leave you with the following quote:

“Our life is made up of time; our days are measured in hours, our pay measured by those hours, our knowledge is measured by years. We grab a few quick minutes in our busy day to have a coffee break. We rush back to our desks, we watch the clock, we live by appointments. And yet your time eventually runs out and you wonder in your heart of hearts if those seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, months, years and decades were being spent the best way they possibly could. In other words, if you could change anything, would you?”

Cecelia Ahern, Love, Rosie

Mindfulness at work – How are you developing it?

“Do more than belong: participate. Do more than care: help. Do more than believe: practice. Do more than be fair: be kind. Do more than forgive: forget. Do more than dream: work.” William Arthur Ward

The practice and discussion on Mindfulness is expanding into the workplace. The list of blue-chip businesses and public bodies that have adopted mindfulness programmes grows and grows. They include:- Google, Apple, Sony, Ikea, BT, Transport for London and the Department of Health. I have seen a number of YouTube videos from Google, where they have invited speakers into their organisation to discuss, share practices and promote Mindfulness at Work. If you have time, you can check them out at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jUlWDxhSlt8

I have read with interest, articles in the UK press on the expansion of Mindfulness into the corporate world [I enclose at the end of this post, ones from the FT & Independent], with many professionals extolling its virtues to help people deal with the pressures of work and also to help improve performance whilst at work.

As part of the Corporate Social Responsibility programme at my place of work, one of the HR colleagues has put together a short overview for one part of the organisation, where they wanted to trial a short set of mindfulness practices. I was keen to find out more and contacted them. The overview covered the basics, but in terms of a fully developed programme, that is still a way off. I would reflect, it is more of a “try before you buy” approach, to see where the benefits manifest themselves. Still it is a start.

As a practitioner of Mindfulness, I know the benefits of regular practice, but have tended to practice outside of the work situation. I work in an open plan office and with people constantly walking past, the idea of practicing meditation at my desk has felt strange. However, I have tended to do short, three minute practices at lunch times, especially when I have experienced a stressful morning, or feel that the afternoon will run away with me. The three-minute breathing space meditation is explained below:

Three-minute Breathing Space meditation

Minute 1: Acknowledging what is going on

Deliberately adopt an erect and dignified posture, whether sitting or standing. Imagine that there is a string attached at the back of your head and spine, gently pulling you upright. If possible, close your eyes. Then, bring your attention to your inner thoughts, asking: what is my experience right now?

  • What thoughts are going through the mind? As best you can, acknowledge thoughts as mental events.
  • What feelings are here? Turn towards any sense of discomfort or unpleasant feelings, acknowledging them without trying to make them different from how you find them.
  • What body sensations are here right now? Perhaps quickly scan the body to pick up any sensations of tightness or bracing, acknowledging the sensations, but, once again, not trying to change them in any way.

Minute 2: gathering and focusing the mind

Now, redirecting the attention to a narrow ‘spotlight’ on the physical sensations of the breath, move in close to the physical sensations of the breath in the abdomen…… expanding as the breath comes in…… and falling back as the breath goes out. Follow the breath all the way in and all the way out. Use each breath as an opportunity to anchor yourself into the present moment. And if the mind wanders, gently escort the attention back to the breath. Acknowledging that that is what minds do, with kindness and compassion.

Minute 3: expanding attention

Now, expand your field of awareness around the breath so that it includes the body as a whole, your senses, the skin, your hands and toes, your posture and facial expression, as if the whole body was breathing. If you become aware of any sensations of discomfort, tension, feel free to bring your focus of attention right into the sensation by imagining that the breath could move into and around the sensation.  In this, you are helping to explore the bodies sensations, befriending them, rather than trying to change them in any way. If they stop pulling for your attention, return to the breath, aware of the whole body, moment by moment.

The hourglass shape of the Breathing Space

It is helpful to view your awareness during the Breathing Space as forming the shape of an hourglass. The wide opening at the top of the hourglass is the first step of the Breathing Space meditation. In this, you open your attention and gently acknowledge whatever is going on.

The second step is the narrowing of the hourglass at the neck. It’s where you focus your attention on the breath, generally in the lower abdomen. You focus on the physical sensations of breathing, gently coaxing the mind back to the breath when it wanders away – as it always does. This helps to anchor the mind. In effect, grounding you back into the present moment.

The third step is the broad base of an hourglass. In this, you seeking to open your awareness to life as it is, preparing yourself for the next moments of your day. Here you are, gently but firmly, reaffirming your grounded place in the world. THat your whole mind and body together, just as it is, in all its peace, compassion and whole.

If you have specific ways that you practice or ways you have developed at work, or if your organisation has started a mindfulness programme, please feel free to share. It would be fantastic to share what you are doing with my colleagues. 

I leave you with the following quote:

“He who becomes the slave of habit,

who follows the same routes every day,

who never changes pace,

who does not risk and change the color of his clothes,

who does not speak and does not experience,

dies slowly.

Martha Medeiros

The FT article on Mindfulness at Work

http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/ee65c5e4-c82f-11e4-8fe2-00144feab7de.html

The Independent article on Mindfulness at Work

http://www.independent.co.uk/life-style/health-and-families/features/mindfulness-meditation-is-big-business-in-londons-square-mile-10100970.html

Mindfulness Habit Releasers

“Renew, release, let go. Yesterday’s gone. There’s nothing you can do to bring it back. You can’t “should’ve” done something. You can only DO something. Renew yourself. Release that attachment. Today is a new day!”  Steve Maraboli, Unapologetically You: Reflections on Life and the Human Experience

I came to Mindfulness through the book by Professor Mark Williams – Mindfulness, finding peace in a frantic world. You can get further resources from the associated web site at: http://franticworld.com/

One of the exercises in the book I really like is called  “Habit Releaser.”  I would encourage you to give it a try.  All of us have habits. After all that is mostly what our lives are founded on. Whether it is cleaning our teeth, having a wash, shaving washing our hair, getting dressed, driving our cars, going to work, and so many more. Our lives are surrounded by habits.

A “Habit Releaser” is where all you have to do is make a deliberate choice to break out of one (or more) of your usual routines.  For instance, notice which chair or sofa you normally sit in at home, at a meeting in work and then sit somewhere different and new.  Or perhaps you could drive a different route to work. Anything.

Mindfulness helps you to stand back from your thoughts and view them objectively. It helps you to engage with moment to moment living. Mindfulness, is not just the practice of meditation, it is being mindful in the present moment. Don’t forget, Mindfulness is NOT about clearing your mind. In fact, mind wandering is needed for mindfulness. It is the directing of the mind, that is the key.

In the book, the authors provide some examples of “Habit Releasers.” Why don’t you stop for one minute and write down all the habits you practice on a daily and weekly basis, no matter how mundane. You will be surprised how many you have. Here are some ideas you might want to try yourself.

[1]. Brush your teeth with the opposite hand, or look at the non-brushing hand whilst you brush your teeth.

Brushing your teeth is something that everyone does. Hopefully, at least twice a day. but the goal is to become aware of when you’re out of touch with the present moment. How much more would you have to be present and thinking about this activity if you switched it over and used your non-dominant hand?

[2]. Sit somewhere different

Be honest, how often do you sit in the same chair or sofa out of habit? Whether it’s the sofa at home, the chair or desk at the office, or where you like to sit when you are out with friends. I noticed when I was in a coffee shop recently, a group of people arguing  as to who was sitting in someone else’s seat. Comments like “you are sitting in my place” make you realise that people are comfortable with this habit. So, instead sit somewhere else, and use this as a cue to shake things up and be present.

[3]. Take a different route to work

Autopilot is one of the worst things about going to / from work. So many times have I completely forgotten how I drove to work and get back and think, “Did I really just drive that?”. It would appear that we are either daydreaming or more commonly, we are on autopilot. This can be really dangerous. Have you ever got to a road junction and turned left or right as you always did, without looking for other traffic users. Just because for the last 20 times, there was no traffic there, it only takes one time, for disastrous results. So to break out of this habit, find a new route to take when driving. Mix things up, check out some new scenery, concentrate on a new route and become aware of your experience.

[4]. Put down the TV remote for just one day

I don’t watch much television these days, but there was a time when I could get lost in the distracting world of the square mind numbing box. Hours would pass without me even realizing it. Watching TV can be a very mindless activity. It is completely passive as an experience. It makes us waste time we could devote to other valuable things. So why not do a day without the TV. and notice what you do instead. Do you read a book? Talk to friends or family? Cook? Mend something? Start an activity you have put off, since you do not have “time” which you have wasted watching the TV!

[5]. Throw away clutter

The girls hate me for this. They think I am some sort of tidy freak. I am not. I look around the house and see all the things we have collected over the years and realise that most of it, has no sentimental value to me at all. I know that can be odd. People keep all sorts of things to help engender memories. However, at what point do you say “enough is enough”? I like to try to clear out things that I have not used for a year or so. If they are of any use, I will give them to friends or even to charity. I know this one is potentially the most controversial “Habit Releaser”, but go on, do give it a try.

[6]. Go for a walk somewhere new

Walking can be a very relaxing activity as well as one that helps your fitness. I have been participating in a Global Challenge at work and managed through a lot of effort, to walk about 15,000 steps every day. I have had to find new paths to go along, else the same path every day becomes boring and repetitive. Get out in nature and find a new path you can explore. Go for a walk and be present and mindful of your experience. Notice the sights, sounds, and physical sensations with each step you take.

These are just a few ideas to help you pay more attention to life and stop those “habits”. If you’re feeling a stuck, pick one, or a couple of these ideas to help you bring more awareness to your experience of life.

I leave you with the following quote:

“You must learn to let go. Release the stress. You were never in control anyway.” ― Steve Maraboli, Life, the Truth, and Being Free

Habits upside down

“Confusion now hath made his masterpiece.” ― William Shakespeare, Macbeth

Habits form the basis of our lives. Large or small, we build and maintain our view of the world on habits. From simple things like cleaning your teeth, through to driving a car, the ability to move conscious tasks into the subconscious means that up to 70% of our waking lives activities are habit based.  

Even in Mindfulness, we can create habits. I have created the habit that very morning when I get up, I practice mindful movements, followed by a short 15 to 20 minute mindfulness meditation. The habits I created all stemmed from the fact that at the time I started practicing, we had eleven people living in our house – which was not designed to house that number of people – and the only time I could guarantee the space, quietness and bathroom time, was first thing in the morning, around 5:30am.

By the time the people had all moved out it was about 3 months later and by then, the habit was formed. I have kept to the habit ever since, for more than a year. Through spring, summer and into the autumn, the same routine has been there. The result in terms of being able to focus on the practice of mindfulness has been fantastic. The idea of a habit, has not really reared its head.

So what has changed?

One of the my family has come to stay with us for a while and that means I have had to change my routine. No longer can I just get up and go to the spare room and start the mindfulness routine I have created. I had to practice in the lounge and then go to get ready.Times of the day are a challenge, so to is the quiet. So, today, was the first day of this “habits upside down” approach to the practices I have followed for eighteen months. The results are interesting. I found the practice of the breath was more intense and far reaching. The worry and angst beforehand was higher, but this settled quickly. I would say, overall, that changing your approach and habit are of benefit. Even to mindfulness practice.

I wanted to remind you of one of the mindfulness practices, called a “Habit Releaser”. A “Habit Releaser” is where all you have to do is make a deliberate choice to break out of one (or more) of your usual routines.  For instance, notice and take a different route you drive to get to work.  Or perhaps something really simple, for instance, you could use the other hand to clean your teeth. Anything. I will follow up in a separate article on what you can do. I will trial the changes and see where it leads.

In the mean time, I leave you with the following quote:

“Your beliefs become your thoughts,

Your thoughts become your words,

Your words become your actions,

Your actions become your habits,

Your habits become your values,

Your values become your destiny.”

Mahatma Gandhi

How do you make time for Mindfulness when you have no spare time?

“Those who make the worst use of their time are the first to complain of its brevity.”  Jean de La Bruyère, Les caractères

One aspect of mindfulness is that you need to put aside time to practice. In our busy and hectic world, when it is suggested that you take 20 minutes or even 10 minutes out of your day to perform a mindfulness meditation, most people will say that they do not have the time.

Considering that we have 24 hours in a day or 1,440 minutes, you would think that we could squeeze in some time. I thought I would check on what the average adult spends their time on. I checked via the wonders of Google and came across a US Labor Census report from 2014 [a link is at the end of the article] and an article from OFCOM, published on the BBC, which mentions we spend more time on technology activities than asleep! Some of the numbers are quite surprising:

  • Adults spend more time on technology & social media devices [8 hours, 41 minutes] verses asleep [8 hours, 21 minutes]. When you break down the media consumption, you see that TV is still the most popular activity:
    • 3 hours 52 minutes watching TV
    • 2 hours 46 minutes listening to radio – either online or via a device or in the car
    • 1 hour 8 minutes on the internet
    • 28 minutes using a mobile phone
    • Only 9 minutes talking on a fixed land line phone
  • We spend 1 hour and 10 minutes eating
  • Over 1 hour and 45 minutes on household chores and activities
  • The remaining 4 hours a day are spent on many different types of activities: shopping; caring and helping household and family; education activities; leisure and sports, are just some activities mentioned. Oh and don’t forget washing and grooming ourselves.

As you can see from the list above, our lives are roughly shaped into thirds. One-third is spent at work, one-third on social and personal care and the final third is spent asleep. You would think that we could squeeze in some time?

I was speaking to a colleague at work and he was moaning about the fact that he wanted to get fit. His issue was that he did not have the time to dedicate to getting fit. He had membership of the gym as his partner works there and he has free membership. No, it was the time to get to the gym, do the exercise regime and back, it is just over 5 minutes drive from his house. Rather, as he worked from home at least three days per week, he would get up at around 6am and start work, checking and sending e:mails and the like.This had become a habit and he could not see where he could free up time. We talked through some of the reasons and with some prompting, he realised that putting in a regular checkpoint call with his team at 8:00am; before the full rush of the day; he could actually get up at his usual time, go to the gym and be back in time to start the workday. He has started to change his old habit and is loving the time he can spend at the gym.

I too have changed my habits to allow me time to practice mindfulness. I get up slightly earlier in the morning and dedicate at least 30 minutes to mindful movement exercises and a short practice. Research shows that regular practice, even of a short duration, is better, than irregular activity. It took time and even now, on occasions, I fall out of habit and miss a day. Rather than go into self-doubt, self-criticism mode, I accept that it has occurred, forgive myself and carry on with the practice.

A quick tip if you really do not think you have the time. Why not jot down a week’s worth of activities on a time diary? Use your diary on your laptop, tablet or smartphone. Once you have done this for a week or so, sit and reflect on the amount of time you have spent and the tasks. You will see that there are time slots in the day, where with a small amount of effort, you can free this up to enable mindfulness practice. Then set up a schedule, write it down and when you have completed a session, reward yourself. A coffee, tea, sweet or other small reward and you will soon see that effort becomes habit.

I leave you with the following quote:

“I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book.”  ― Groucho Marx

Subnotes……….

The following article is from the USA Bureau of Labor [American spelling] that lists the average hours per day spent in primary activities

http://www.bls.gov/news.release/atus.t12.htm
BBC article: Britons spend more time on tech than asleep, study suggests.

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-28677674