By JiJi Russell
Contributor, Sports and Fitness Network
These days, the practice of meditation is being invoked within many corporate, sports, and medical environments, and with much documented success. Mindfulness practice, a type of secular meditation, requires no financial outlay and no equipment. The practice “simply” asks us to show up, pay attention, and become present as we hone our ability to turn inward and cultivate compassion, clarity, and/or guidance.
Some medical organizations and integrative health centers have dedicated entire facilities and programs to mindfulness practices and/or relaxation techniques as a means to reduce the impact stress can bear on us physically, mentally, and emotionally.
On the minds of leaders
Last April, I attended a training course in “Mindful Leadership” with nationally-known instructor Janice Marturano. Below is a reflection I wrote to encapsulate the experience I had as a participant over the four days of training, which included intensive daily meditation and a detachment from electronic devices, all within a serene and majestic high mountain valley in the Catskill Mountains of New York.
As leaders, we must develop the ability to recognize our own habits of mind and states of mental, physical, and emotional balance (or imbalance). In this way we can come from a more skillful place as we respond to the many and urgent matters that arise in our work and at home. If we neglect our own inner work, we risk falling victim to our own distracted minds and perhaps unskillfully reacting, instead of responding, to the people and situations at hand. In the Mindful Leadership training, I learned a lot about my own path toward better balance, and I do truly believe that we can “rewire” the brain to break mental habits and give way to greater attention, clarity, compassion, and other qualities that make us more skillful leaders.
Today I will offer you a sampling of mindfulness practice. If you find the practice interesting or helpful in any way, I encourage you to reply to this blog post and/or to seek out some of the references listed below.
Five minutes, and call it “good”
Come to a seated position that allows you to lengthen your spine and sit tall, yet relaxed. The “longer” your spine, the more spaciousness you create in your chest and belly for deeper breathing.
Deeper breathing is known to activate the parasympathetic nervous system, a key to greater mental clarity and better overall health, according to many branches of exercise science. Science Daily summarizes the main job of the parasympathetic nervous system as follows: “Sometimes called the rest and digest system, the parasympathetic system conserves energy as it slows the heart rate, increases intestinal and gland activity, and relaxes sphincter muscles in the gastrointestinal tract.”
Back to you sitting tall. Try to relax your feet onto the floor. Do not cross your legs or ankles. “Ground” yourself through your feet and your buttocks.
Now, exhale all your breath out, until you reach bottom. From there, draw in a long, slow breath (inhalation), and then exhale for about the same duration as your inhalation took. You can count to yourself to find inhale/exhale equality. Take at least five breaths in this focused and deliberate manner.
Do not fixate on “emptying” your mind. You might have to sit for ages to make this unlikely event occur. Instead, notice that you are thinking when thoughts arise, and then return your focus to your breath. Inhale, counting; exhale, counting.
A question worth asking
Next, ask yourself the following question: What is one quality I possess that serves me well as a manager, coach, or other leader? Ask yourself the same question three different times, each time “listening” to what answers might arise if you remain open and observant.
Take one word or quality that came up for you, and use it as a word or image to ask yourself the next question: Is there a current role I serve, or a current situation that would benefit from my application of this quality or skill? What is the role or situation, and how can I use my special skill? Ask yourself this two-parted question a few times; and once again, remain open to discovery.
This meditation might help you to access the deeper knowledge of yourself that you inherently possess. If your mind jumped on your questions with all of its clever input, you are surely not alone. It takes practice, but with a little mental training, via meditation, we can find out deeper and more valuable information about who we are and how we might best serve the ones we lead.
Resources for Mindfulness Practice
Mindful.org – a great web site, based on the hardcopy magazine Mindful Magazine, which includes informative articles and blogs, including an “At Work” section often highlighting good insights for managers.
Janice Marturano and the Institute for Mindful Leadership: http://www.instituteformindfulleadership.org/index.html
The writings of Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program at the University of Massachusettes. Books include Full Catastrophe Living and Wherever You Go, There You Are
The Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachussettes: http://www.umassmed.edu/cfm/index.aspx