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.
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.
Nicole L Betts
Nicole Betts is an internationally accredited Qigong & Meditation Teacher, Fitness Instructor and Holistic Health Coach.