Last year I started a daily meditation ritual, I began with 7 minutes and for a long time it was the longest 7 minutes of my day. My mind was like a washing machine, thoughts of what I had planned for that day, what I’d eat for breakfast, what I did the previous day, what I needed to do the coming week and a thousand other things spun around in my mind. It was if I had a flatmate living with me that wouldn’t shut up. Sitting in stillness and attempting to silence my flatmate so I might have a few minute of peace was a frustrating experience.
I persisted, initially I used meditation music to help focus my awareness and I gradually increased the amount of time I sat in stillness each morning. After a few months of practise I found that I didn’t need or want the music and slowly, painfully slowly… I noticed moments of actual stillness come into my practise. Moments when my flatmate had shut the hell up and I wasn’t thinking a million thoughts, moments in between the thoughts. I also noticed that if my flatmate did pipe up, I didn’t get involved in the dialogue, I was able to let the odd rant or chatter pass while maintaining my sense of stillness and awareness of self.
I had been teaching Mindful Movement for around six months when I began my stillness meditation practice, with the idea to train in Mindfulness Based Stillness Meditation (MBSM). I felt mindfulness training would compliment my teaching of Mindful Movement and assist me in my own life. Last week I spent the week at the Gawler Foundation Living Centre in the Yarra Valley, in a residential meditation teacher training program and it was a wonderful experience that I could have easily continued for longer than the five days!
I was collected and shuttled into the beautiful Yarra Valley and to the Gawler Foundation property, a retreat set within 40 hectares of natural bushland. Our group for teacher training consisted of 29 women and 1 man, which was no doubt a little daunting for the gentleman now known as Goddess Murray… It was a group of magnificent people from across Australia, from a range of different backgrounds, some of the people had previously attended cancer programs at the Gawler Foundation and were back to learn about teaching what they had learnt so they could help others. It was a truly inspiring group of people to share such a wonderful week with.
Day 1 began with learning and practising mindfulness based meditations that focused on the breath and the sense of awareness before our closed eyes, we learned about the fundamentals of the thinking mind and about the function of our awareness and attention. We were nourished with a delicious plant-based diet and given the opportunity to get to know each other and to explore the property, making friends with the large population of kangaroos that casually roamed the grassy plains.
After breakfast the following day we gathered together for Day 2 of teacher training. It was if the attendees from Queensland had brought the weather with them as the sun shone brightly and I was distracted by the flurry of orange and red leaves falling from the tree outside our training room window. As our teacher Paul Bedson mentioned ‘distraction is resistance to mindfulness’ my attention snapped back to the training and the present moment.
Day 3 started with what was called ’Noble Silence’, we awoke and went about our morning routines in silence, as well avoiding contact and gesturing to our fellow attendees… the only sound at breakfast was the symphony of spoons clanging against the crockery. I didn’t manage to maintain my silence, although I still claim that it wasn’t really my fault as I was startled by a staff member unlocking and entering the bathroom I was standing stark naked in!
As we moved through the training we came to mindfulness of emotions, a process of nurturing the felt sense and placing our awareness on and within our bodies. Day 3 came to a close with a serene mindfulness through music experience, a session of live harp music it was wonderful and relaxing, so relaxing, I took a little nap mid meditation!! After the official schedule of the day was fulfilled our magnificent little group took the music outside under the Full Moon for some more harp, blended with percussion and a little dancing on what felt like almost balmy midsummer night!
Day 4 and 5 expanded on both our teaching knowledge and learning new mediations, including a full body awareness meditation. Over the course of the retreat we meditated between 1-2 hours a day which really deepened my own personal practice and brought several personal insights and opportunities for growth and healing. The retreat finished with an inspiring and touching graduation ceremony and the chance to share our personal insights. We all were able to connect with one another in gratitude and with an amazing sense of openness and vulnerability throughout the week and I felt a real connectedness and bond within our group. We have already planned to remain connected and expand our network through both an alumni social media group and a reunion retreat next year.
I can honestly say that meditation has changed my life, here are the three big things I’ve gained through my practice:
Search meditation in Google images and you'll get a tirade of people sitting in cross legged postures and pictures of pebbles precariously balanced on top of one another. The idea of meditation commonly conjures images of monks, hippies, bare feet and tie-dye; interestingly though, in modern culture it is becoming more commonly associated with business suits and corporate success.
Its time for the business and corporate world to let go of their stereotypical ideas and begin to embrace meditation practices for what they can deliver. Jeff Weiner, founder of LinkedIn claims meditation as his 'single most important productivity tool', Ray Dalio, one of the worlds most successful hedge fund managers says meditation is his secret to success. Steve Jobs, Oprah Winfrey, Bill Ford, Russell Simmons, Evan Williams, Larry Brilliant, Tony Schwartz and more recently Rupert Murdoch, all declare that meditation underpins their success in business and in life.
So, what is it and why should you do it. Meditation is in its simplest form, is taking time out from constant engagement, connectivity, appointments, phone calls, emails and social networking to disconnect. Disconnecting can be many things; it might be a simple 60 second thought exercise, it might be a walk or run in the park, it might be a morning mantra and breathing activity, it might be a lunch-time 30 minute session of Mindful Movement. Meditation can be almost anything, anything that enables you to disconnect, to quieten the mind and embrace relaxation. To turn off from the endless thoughts, to do lists, schedules and responsibilities.
Meditation has been declared a game changer, a productivity tool and essential for maximising success by some of the world's most successful people. Meditation can deliver results. People report increased productivity and creativity, lower stress and anxiety, increased clarity and focus, improved physical health and better decision making abilities.
If the recommendation of the worlds most successful people isn't enough, an increasing amount of research shows that meditation and mindfulness techniques effectively lower stress and anxiety and improve memory and cognitive function. A form of ancient Kundalini meditation is even recommended by the Alzheimer's Research and Prevention Foundation, the practice decreases stress and increases activity in areas of the brain related to memory.
Some of the biggest and most successful businesses in the world are embracing corporate meditation programs for their teams and leaders. These programs teach people how disconnect so they can achieve more; how to manage their emotions and stressful situations, and better understand the needs of their co-workers.
I can hear what the little voice in your head is saying… Where do I find the time to meditate? It doesn't need to take a huge amounts of your time. To be effective and produce results, it DOES however need to be a regular practice, a new keystone habit in your daily life and you need to make commitment to persistently and patiently develop your skills of consciousness and awareness. Just like physical exercise, if you go to the gym once or twice it's not going to have much of an effect, meditation is the gym for your brain.
If you want to maximise your success, optimise your team or take a step up to the next level in your career then its time to embrace a meditative practice. Forget the idea of hippy fluff and cross legged postures and do what the most successful people and businesses in the world recommend for success - meditation.
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.