Who has the time to slow down and be mindful?
We have so much to deal with; deadlines to meet, problems to solve, decisions to make. Who has the time to slow down and be mindful? Mindfulness practice involves meditation, but who in the modern world apart from the Dalai Lama has the time to meditate? Most people are seeking instant gratification; the ‘now fix’ for the i-culture.
Most people will have read about the growing interest in mindfulness, but while it’s a popular topic at dinner party conversations, behind the scenes the science of mindfulness offers a compelling case for board room executives to take the practice seriously as a tool to enhance both performance and wellbeing.
Mindfulness is an active state of consciously bringing our awareness, very purposefully, into the present moment. By doing so, we become fully attentive, with a very special kind of open attention. We learn to do this by training our brains to focus on something particular; it may be our breath, it may be sensations in the body, thoughts, feelings or sounds. Mindfulness offers many different exercises that practitioners can choose from in order to find a meditation practice that most suits them. We recognise we are all different, which is why different exercises are helpful for different people, from breathing meditation, to walking, sitting or even eating meditation.
When we meditate we may choose to pay attention to our breath as we inhale and exhale. When our mind wanders, as it tends to do, we gently bring it back to the next breath. Meditation is not about trying to get anywhere. It is about allowing yourself to be where you are and as you are, without judging yourself; the present moment is fundamental for learning, growing and changing. We can use the breath as our anchor as it is always there, always present, always with us from birth to death. By concentrating on it, we can refocus our mind to engage with the task at hand – not on what has happened or what may be about to happen, just on the now of ‘being’.
Clients often don’t see mindfulness as relevant to the world of work or they see it as something that would detract from their busy schedule rather than enhance their performance. My own experience, as a psychologist, a corporate manager and a coach, is different. Mindfulness is not something that needs to be separated from your life, it is something that is best integrated into it – whatever you do, work or play, and whenever you do it, day or night.
To give just one example to illustrate this, when I work in London and often have to travel between office locations to meet coaching clients, I take the opportunity of the tube journey to meditate. I can be standing or sitting, in a crowded tube or a quiet one. But either way I can engage in a meditation that will ensure I feel more relaxed, more focused and am more effective for the next coaching meeting to come. Below is guidance on how to do this.
Five minute meditation
This is an introductory exercise to a mindfulness meditation practice where you sit in silence. You can do this anywhere, even on the bus, train or tube. In this exercise the aim is to focus on the breath and keep bringing your attention back to it when your attention wanders. You may focus on your breathing in the area of the nostrils, chest or belly.
There is no right or wrong way of doing the exercise. Whatever you do is okay. What’s important is your intention to practise mindfulness.
Prepare yourself for meditating
- Choose a time and place where you won’t be disturbed (the train is perfect)
- Prepare to sit for five minutes
- Sit on a chair with your feet on the floor (you can stand if there are no seats)
- Place your hands on your lap or knees
- Sit erect, but not stiffly
- Look down and if you feel comfortable closing your eyes, do so
Start the meditation
- Tell yourself that you are starting the meditation
- Feel yourself sitting, your body upright and alert
- Bring your attention to your breathing
- You may want to put your hand on your belly and notice the inhale and exhale as your stomach rises and falls
- Your preference may be to pay attention to the in-breath and out-breath from your nose or in the area of your chest as it rises and falls. Either of these is good, but it is a good idea to choose one place and then to stay with that as your focal point
- Notice your breathing: breathing in, breathing out. Breathing in and out, simply observe
- Don’t try to change anything. There is nowhere to go and nothing else to do, simply watch your breathing
- Sit in silence focusing on the breath
- Notice a distraction, like a thought or feeling or an external sound, and without any judgment very gently bring your attention back to your breath
- Breathing in, breathing out; breathing in and out, simply observe
- Again, your mind will wander. Each time you notice that your focus is not on the breath, very gently and without any personal judgment, bring your attention back to your breath.
- When you arrive at your tube stop or when your allotted time is up, acknowledge how well you have done and continue with your day
Meditation is just one of the science-based practices we explore in our MSc in Coaching and Behavioural Change programme. For us, it’s about exploring the wide range of tools and techniques that can help our coaches be the best they can be.