Sounds a bit scary!

If, like me and lots of others I talk to, the idea of meditation sounds a bit scary and unachievable… worry not… it is a difficult business. “Just sit there, on the floor, cross legged, in your linen garb, and clear your mind… think of nothing” ……of course this is one version of meditation that we could maybe strive for. But don’t be put off if you want to sit in a chair, wear your scruffy joggers, and find that after 20 seconds of clearing your mind your wondering what’s for dinner!

Keep persevering though as it has benefits for your mental health, psychological welfare and productivity that you need to tap into. Meditation, or its less scary cousin mindfulness, has been shown to actually change your brain structure. In drawing together literature on mindfulness Jacky Thomas of California State University found an amazing array of benefits from engaging in the activity. She found that it fosters self-awareness and regulates thoughts and feelings. It activates feelings of kindness and empathy, providing interpersonal attunement. It develops ‘presence’ and promotes more skilful emotional responses to people. These things have been shown to improve personal performance as well as enhancing the performance of teams through the development of feelings of safety.

I love a meme that a friend showed me that said something like “you should spend 20 minutes a day in meditation, unless you are really busy, when you should spend an hour”. This slightly tongue in cheek statement has resonance. The more you have to do the more you have to psychologically ready for the doing. And meditation and mindfulness, I feel, are on a continuum.

You can sit and attempt to clear your mind of everything for half an hour. You will probably fail! But if you want to meditate this way then accept that you may not succeed in clearing your mind. But each time you notice your mind wandering return yourself to focus on your breathing and try to clear your mind again. Despite my negative assertion at the start of the paragraph you will get better with time.

Or try mindfulness. For me (and there are various interpretations) it is about focussing on the moment you are in. So, I love a mindful walk with the dog when I simply focus on the environment around me, focus on what the dog is up to, and simply delight in what I see. I do this while deep breathing – especially when I’m walking across the fields adjacent to my house, breathing in the fresh air and visually absorbing nature – wonderful!

My favourite and most effective exercise is the shortest one I do. If I feel myself getting wound up or anxious about something, or in the moments before I deliver a lecture, I stop my mind, apply the breaks, breathe in for a count of three, hold that breath for three, and breath out for three. I repeat maybe 3 or 4 times…. and the feeling borders on magical!

Try it now and feel the wave of calm!

Have a good day!

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