It's not news to anyone that we’re all too busy, we’re time poor, we’re too sedentary, we don’t get enough exercise and many of us don’t get enough sleep or eat well. We’re constantly bombarded with information about what we should and need to do to improve our wellbeing and health but for some reason we’re not doing it.
What is even more interesting to me is that despite the recent reports from PwC and Australian Psychological Society, that clearly indicate the strong financial return on mental health, corporate health and workplace wellbeing programs, employers are still slow on the uptake to make changes in their businesses and make the sound investment of backing their most valuable asset - their people.
The Australian Psychological Society’s Stress and Wellbeing Survey 2013 indicated that Australian workers had significantly lower levels of wellbeing and significantly higher levels of stress and distress, and depressive and anxiety symptoms than in previous years. More than seven in ten Australians reported that their stress impacts their physical health and working Australians reported significantly lower levels of job satisfaction and interest in their jobs.
PwC’s report ‘Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace’ shows that for every $1.00 spent towards improving employee mental health, a company receives on average $2.30 in benefits. Its hard to understand why more companies, especially those where their employees are in high stress roles, are so hesitant to change their culture and to start creating the kind of workplaces that foster health and wellbeing for their employees and in return a better bottom line on the Profit and Loss.
Not only are companies missing out on the return of investing in their people, they’re also exposed to high attrition rates, increased recruitment costs and workplace accidents and injuries that result from workplace stress and unhealthy employees. Medibank Private reports that each employee is absent a total of 3.2 days per year as a result of workplace stress and unhealthy employees are estimated to take on average 9 days more sick leave compared to healthy employees.
I recently approached a major industry body with the idea of providing a short corporate wellness session, that would occur within a ‘Wellness Lunch’ event that they were organising. Their event was hosting several high profile speakers who were talking about wellbeing, the stressful nature of the industry and, I quote how to bring about 'paradigms shifts, strategies and coping mechanisms and more’ in respect to wellness in the Property Management industry.
Interestingly my idea wasn’t embraced with open arms as I anticipated. I had thought an industry event advocating wellness would be the perfect opportunity to practice what they were preaching, to walk the talk…so to speak. The feedback I received was that they didn’t want to make anyone ‘feel uncomfortable’ or place anyone ‘outside their comfort zone’ by presenting a session that may be seen as unconventional or unusual. I wasn’t proposing that we all stand on our heads or break out yoga mats and take to Warrior 1, my sessions bring Mindfulness and Movement together, based on Qigong and Tai chi, combining slow stretches and gentle flowing movements, all of which can comfortably be done in business attire from a standing position. I was informed that the idea of asking everyone to stand and to raise their arms above their heads would be seen as too ‘alternative’ and that they (the industry body) were worried about how they would be perceived and the potential repercussions of advocating something ‘different’ like what I was suggesting.
This would be laughable if it wasn’t so sad. What we need is for industry bodies and people in leadership positions to help to lead the way to wellness, by not only advocating for it and talking about it, but by participating and being willing to pioneer new activities, practices and models into the workplace. It is rudimentary to simply talk about wellness, wellness comes from behaviour change and active participation. We need to start thinking about wellness as a verb not just some buzz word to throw around and have high profile speakers talk about at over indulgent lunches.
On a brighter note there are some organisations empowering their employees and teams from a grassroots level. There are self organising groups at Telstra that gather regularly to practice Mindfulness Meditation and corporate giant Ericsson have just partnered with Vimcore, a corporate wellness benefits tool that enables employees to seek wellbeing advice and find healthy local services.
We are spending more time than ever at work and the expectations and demands of our jobs and careers are now taking up the majority of our time. Studies show that bringing health and wellbeing practices into the workplace gives employees a better sense of work/life balance, better equips them to handle stress and helps them to better connect with their colleagues and clients. If companies want to get the best out of their most valuable asset its time to do away with the archaic model of all work and no play in the workday and begin bringing life and health into the everyday workday through approaching wellness as a verb.
It's amazing how much energy you have when you’re really excited and passionate about what you do. Last night I was on such a high from holding my first workshop and from discussing some new and wonderful upcoming projects that I just couldn’t go to sleep. I then woke up around 4:00am and my excitement hadn’t dissipated so I spent an hour or so lying awake thinking about the great things to come! At 7:00am I sprang out of bed with gutso and immediately went to work on my to-do list.
Since I’ve started consciously creating and living more aligned with my values and the things I bring joy to, my entire life has changed. It doesn’t matter to me what time of the day it is, or which day of the week, work doesn’t feel like work and I can happily pour hours into growing my business, programming classes and workshops and teaching people Mindful Movement and meditation.
Through consciously creating a life I love I’ve realised that my ‘work’ doesn’t have to be limited to one area. I don’t need to only teach Mindful Movement, I don’t only need to be a Holistic Health Coach, I can create my life so that I work and receive an income through being involved in projects that excite me. A portfolio career! All that is really necessary is that I bring joy to and feel excited about what I putting my energy into, and through that my energy becomes boundless and abundant.
Your only ‘job’ in this life is to be in service. To share your gifts with others. To create and live a life you love, to feel excited when you wake up and to feel thankful you’ve been blessed with another day. If you’re not feeling this way about your life then it might be time to create some space, work out why and make some changes.
I was lucky enough that I could create an extended amount of uninterrupted space in my life that gave me a head start on creating a life I love. Not many people have this luxury, there are family responsibilities, financial commitments, schedules, work and a multitude of other demands on our time.
If you can’t just take off for a few months and leave it all behind a good place to start is by consciously creating a little space in your day to day life. Embrace a life practice; here are some ideas to get you on the path to consciously creating a life you love…
The only thing stopping you from creating and living a life you really love, a life you feel passionate about and excited by is you. Do it already.
As we close our eyes we begin to draw our attention inwardly… We stand in 'Bamboo in the wind', a simple and relaxed standing posture, our focus settles on the breath. Observe the inhalation. The sensation of the breath coming in, through the nostrils, feeling it glide past the back of the throat and move down into the chest, the diaphragm expands as the breath pushes further down, deep into the belly, the navel rising. Noticing the moment where the breath transforms into energy, the slight pause before the exhalation, like the pause between a wave rolling into the shore and receding into the ocean.
As the breath settles naturally we enjoy this simple posture for a few moments before our focus and attention turns to the centre line of the body. Scan from the crown, to the brow, to the throat, down to the heart, into the solar plexus, continue down below the navel and into the root area below the tail-bone. We attune our focus to the feeling centre of our body. Allow sensations to rise and fall naturally, just observe and compassionately keeping any feelings and sensations that arise company, no need to judge or change them, just let them be as they are and feel into them.
Once the body and mind feels stillness we begin our mindful movement. Keeping our eyes closed, we start by gently rotating the wrists and hands, first in one direction and then in the other. We then begin to move both the elbows, forearms, wrists and hands in circular motions, again firstly in one direction and then in the other. After a few rotations in both directions we take our hands and place them on our shoulders, our fingers facing forward and thumbs behind, we continue our circling motions, this time with the shoulders and the arms. We inhale circling in one direction, paying particular attention to each part of the movement, while coordinating it with the breath, we then exhale, circling in the opposite direction.
Our Mindful Movement is aligned with our breath, the three fundamental principles of Qigong being body, mind, breath. We are using the movement as our anchor for this mindfulness practice. If the mind wanders (as it is likely to do), just gently bring it back to the movement and breath.
Our warm up continues with circling movements for the head, neck, waist, hips, legs, knees and ankles, warming up each area and allowing our body to lubricate the joints, tendons and muscles.
Each practice of mindful movement and qigong varies, combining gentle stretches, stimulating knocking and accu-tapping and flowing, fluid movements. The focus is on each movement, the flow and coordination of the breath and the complete awareness of the body.
We may start with The Pine Tree, a gentle raising and lowering of firstly the hands and arms, then moving into combination with raising and lowering of the legs. This movement is considered a longevity exercise, the Pine Tree is a symbol for endurance, long life and self discipline and is often associated with god Sau, the god of longevity.
Stretching movements such as 'Holding one arm aloft' from Ba Duan Jin may follow. This is a gentle stretching of the arms in opposite directions and flexing of the hands, again coordinated with the breath. This movement regulates the spleen and stomach while also providing an opening through the sides of the body. Many of the stretching movements in qigong enable an opening of the meridians that run through the body as well as stimulating and massaging the internal organs.
Flowing and fluid movements help to relax the mind and promote a sense of clarity and calmness, bringing about a meditative state. The 'Fountain' is a simple flowing movement where the backs of the hands come together below the belly and gently rise to the heart with the inhalation. The palms open and the hands and arms float out and down with the exhalation. Many extensions and variations can be incorporated into this simple flowing movement.
Mindful movement is a combination of both modern and traditional qigong and tai chi and makes up 30-45 minutes of each class. Each session begins and ends with meditation, using a selection of intention, attention and inquiry based meditations. Classes may focus on particular paired organs and meridians or they may combine a series of movements which focus several different body areas and movement styles.
Mindful movement promotes balance and the flow of energy in the body, it relaxes the mind and creates a feeling of vitality in the body. We receive benefits to the physical, emotional and spiritual aspects of our beings and we build our self healing abilities. Through the focus of body, mind and breath we build a connection to the present moment, a connection to our body and through nourishing our emotions and feelings we build compassion, empathy and the ability to connect to others.
There is an old Chinese saying; 'Health is like water in a well: the importance of the water can never be realised until the well is dry'. Propelled by modern lifestyle, career expectations, family commitments, we rush through our constantly busy lives, many of us chronically worried, unable to focus, feeling tired, overworked, stressed and unhappy.
It is said that we prioritise what we value most. Do we value our careers, our smartphones and iPads, our possessions and our relationships more than our own health and wellbeing? Shawn Phillips puts it perfectly:
'Your body, the only one you will ever have, is the foundation of your life. And its either the anchor limiting your freedom and potential or a source of radiant energy, vitality and joy, elevating your life and the lives of those around you'.
The key to enjoyment of life, excelling in your career and having harmony in your relationships is to keep the well full of water. The way to keep the well full of water is to engage in practices and activities that positively affect both your physical and mental wellbeing and to make them a priority, a habit, a focus.
So you hate the gym, thats fine, exercise is optional, movement however is essential. Take a walk, that is movement in its simplest form, do it regularly, make it a habit. You don't believe in the hippy guff like meditation, thats fine too. Lets call it a minute or 5 of mindfulness, simple, wherever you are focus all of your attention on one thing, choose anything, just do it and do it every day, create a habit. There are a multitude of practises and activities you can engage in to increase your health and wellbeing, to fill up the well, to forge strength and enable your body to provide an abundant and energetic contribution to your life.
When you do these things you will improve your health and you will feel happier. You have more enthusiasm and you will feel motivated to accomplish more in your life, to achieve more at work and in your career, and you will have more energy and enjoyment in your relationships and to share with your family.
Modern lifestyle and technology has led us to choosing the wrong priorities and an inability to stay focused. Its time to put your iPhone away, leave work on time, take a lunch-break, turn off the television, stop playing candy crush and choose your health and wellbeing as a priority and make a commitment to yourself.
We have the to ability to create health and wellbeing in our lives, we can train our bodies with physical exercise and movement and we can train our minds with focus, concentration and mindfulness. Developing the skill of mindfulness increases gray matter leading to more positive emotions, emotional stability and heightened focus. When our bodies and minds are aware and conscious we are able to engage with people and tasks effectively, we can increase our productivity, creativity, compassion and memory and reduce stress, anxiety and depression.
So how about making a 100% commitment to yourself? A commitment to create a tiny habit. A tiny habit that will change your life. Where we put our hearts, minds and focus is what ends up defining us and defining the lives we live. Make a commitment to prioritising your health and wellbeing.
Nicole L Betts
Nicole Betts is an internationally accredited Qigong & Meditation Teacher, Fitness Instructor and Holistic Health Coach.