By Amber Hudson
Here at SW+A we’re thinking a little differently about employee engagement. We call our approach “Spirit of 32” and this blog series will chronicle our journey. We’ll share what we’re learning along with resources you can leverage. We’ll be your test bed so if you have ideas, please let us know.
First, anyone who knows me would spray their coffee out of their nose upon hearing I’m meditating. It’s so against my nature; as in I walk fast, I talk fast, I’m the one you want to avoid giving more caffeine to. Well here I am, meditating. Never in a millions years did I ever think I would meditate, let alone write about it (and teach my colleagues at SWA how to do it). So what the hell happened? Well first I heard others talk about it. And by others I mean people who go on 2 week silent retreats in an ashram (not me, sister). But then I started seeing the mainstream media pick up on it. And when you read articles in Times, Forbes, Financial Times, Huffington Post; or hear the NFL is using it to help players quiet their minds and visualize success, it all starts to lend a bit of credibility. Then I found a 10 minute guided meditation on line that was neither too spiritual nor too deep….and I loved it.
So get yourself into half lotus position (let’s face it, full lotus is too damn hard) and allow me to share with you some myths about meditation, some facts and a mini-guide on how to get started.
TOP 6 MYTHS
#1. YOU HAVE TO HAVE A BLANK MIND. This is probably the #1 myth and the one that by understanding it helped me the most. It’s important to know that your mind isn’t something you can just switch off. We have what’s called a ‘monkey mind’ – it hops and jumps all over the place, and it’s difficult to calm down. So while you can’t control your thoughts, you can control how much attention you give them. What surprised me is meditation is actually a very active process. Focusing your attention on one single point is hard work. As a beginner your ultimate goal is a reduction in mental activity. Not the absence of it.
#2. IT’S ESCAPISM. It isn’t to tune out or run away, it’s actually to tune IN and get in touch with yourself and what’s around you.
#3. IT’S WEIRD. What’s so weird about sitting and breathing?!
#4. IT’S RELIGIOUS OR SPIRITUAL. Nope, only if you want it to be.
#5. IT TAKES YEARS OF DEDICATED PRACTICE TO GET THE BENEFITS. AND YOU HAVE TO MEDITATE FOR HOURS A DAY: No way! Benefits are immediate and long term. Just a few minutes a day and you’ll start to see the benefits…which I’ll talk to shortly.
#6. YOU’RE SUPPOSED TO HAVE A TRANSCENDENCE EXPERIENCE: I was kind of disappointed when I wasn’t transported to another dimension or didn’t see colors, levitate or hear a choir of angels. Sorry to disappoint but these aren’t the purpose of meditation.
SO WHAT IS MEDITATION AND WHY IS IT IMPORTANT?
When you boil it down, it’s about relaxing the mind. I think it was Deepak Chopra who explained meditation slows down the mental chatter, releasing repetitive thoughts to create a space for new ones. In other words, meditation creates a relaxed mind that is more receptive to learning.
This is clearly important in a world where we’re increasingly busy, stressed, anxious, frustrated, being pulled in many directions. Meditation helps you pause, clear the clutter and just…breathe.
Long associated with peacefulness and physical relaxation, meditation also has cognitive and psychological benefits. Here’s but one study that proves this: a study by Harvard and Massachusetts General Hospital enrolled 16 people in an 8 week mindfulness course. Each person received an audio recording of guided meditation to do at home. MRI scans were conducted before and after and what they discovered was not only did meditation decrease anxiety and provide greater feelings of calm it actually produced growth in areas of the brain associated with memory, empathy and stress regulation…meaning meditation can actually change the structure of the brain. Some examples of what meditation can do:
So now I’m sure you’re thinking this is all fab, but how do I do it? Here’s a great a 12 step guide by Daniel Scott:
1. Set a clear intention: Do you really want this? If the answer is yes…commit!
2. Eliminate excuses: Blow your nose. Turn off the technology. Apply lip-balm. Go to the bathroom.
3. Find a comfortable seated position: This could be in a chair or cross-legged on the floor. Rest your hands on the knees. The active word here is comfortable…
4. … But not TOO comfortable: The point is to focus awareness, not shut it down. Constantly falling asleep is an indication that you need more rest in general. It could also mean you should sit up while you meditate.
5. Keep a tall spine: Inhale, roll the shoulders up to your ears. Exhale, roll them bad boys back and down. This stacks the head atop your neck while floating the shoulders over hips. Consider this a neutral, tall spine. Every time you feel yourself hunching forward or slumping, reset your spinal situation with this inhale/exhale rolling shoulder magic.
6. Gently close your eyes
7. Maintain a simple breath: No rush or pause. Nasal breathing makes it easier find a smooth, even pace. It may seem easy, but the mind often wanders. When you realize awareness has drifted, gently guide it back to the breath.
8. Give it time: There are days when closing my eyes is like flipping over an old log. Thought bugs scatter and burrow deep into my brain. For these first few moments, I’m just trying to stay calm while my mind finds equilibrium.
9. Observe without judgment: The difference between observation and judgment is the attachment of meaning. Don’t try to dissect the WHY, HOW, or WHERE. What happens when you chase rabbits? You’ll end up barreling down rabbit holes.
10. Don’t go to your thoughts. Let them come to you: When they arrive, avoid holding on. Meditation is like playing a game of chicken with your mind. Try not to react when the crazies knock you down. Just calmly refocus back on awareness of breath.
[Author’s note: when I find thoughts have slipped in I visually put them on a cloud and let them float away. Then get back to focusing on my breathing]
11. Shift happens: Distractions create discomfort, which causes frustration, which triggers feelings of failure. This is a common pitfall. Observe the reaction and pattern your response (just breathe).
12. Move if you must—just not too much: Not everyone who meditates is a serene-faced monk glowing in the light of eternal peace. Legs fall asleep. Itches fire up. Shoulders slump. It takes time to sit comfortably for extended periods of time.
At the end of the day he reminds us to:
- Start small, five minutes a day is a great start. You’ll feel better adding on than taking away.
- Don’t beat yourself up – it’s not about success or failure. It’s about a journey
- Take your time! It’s easy to rocket off once the alarm sounds. Don’t jet off to the next appointment. Slowly unwind yourself. Take some deep breaths. Stretch out.
- Remember, this should not be torture – If you need to stop because you’re just not feeling it, follow that intuition.
So, my almost-meditating friends, if you’re ready to get started here is a great 2 minute guided meditation for beginners from Fragrantheart.com (they have a TON of great guided meditations): http://www.fragrantheart.com/cms/free-audio-meditations/five-day-course/learn-to-meditate-day1
But play around, find what works. iTunes has tons of apps, check out YouTube, talk to others who meditate. Start with 1 minute, 5 times a day:
- When you wake up
- Get to work
- Between meetings
- Before a meeting
- At lunch
- In the car (eyes open please, eyes open!!)
- After work
- With your kids
- Before bed
As an old Zen saying tells us: