Rest in Unlikely Places.

Rest in Unlikely Places

Rest in Unlikely Places

It was a crazy morning. Not so much what was going on outside. But inside. Mind racing. A terribly anxious feeling in my gut. That awful, free floating, up in the air kind.

I’d had several hectic weeks and a to-do list that felt completely overwhelming.

But this was my day with my daughter. No work schedule at all. It seems it’s always when we stop that the lurgies rise up and release a rebellion in the mind.

By the time I’d bundled my daughter in the car to head off to the dentist I was frazzled. Add traffic and the need to find a toilet stop in the middle of it all, well, I was running late and completely frantic.

We were late for her appointment. Then we were late for my appointment.

Then something completely unexpected happened.

As I reclined into the dentist chair a warm calm descended.

One doesn’t customarily associate the dentist with relaxation. Yet here I was, mouth stretched unnaturally open, a woman probing my teeth with ominously sharp silver instruments, and I was utterly at peace.

I started practicing a specific breathing technique at the dentist some years ago now. It all started when I’d had a bad adrenal reaction to a needle. From then on, whenever I was in the chair and especially when I was to have a needle, I would work hard to stay with my breath to keep myself calm.

It’s a soft sounding breath – known to yogis as ujjayi or victorious breath – and aptly named so because by focusing on gently constricting the throat to make a soft sound with the breath, we are able to conquer the mind and create some distance between ourselves and our incessant thoughts.

Initially I had to put in conscious focus and effort to breath like this when I went to the dentist. Over time and with practice, it became easier to do. Then, as I realized recently, at some point it kicks in automatically.

Neural plasticity is truly miraculous*. With a little focused attention and effort, we can change old patterns and forge new, healthier connections in our minds.

This is precisely what happened to me. Without any conscious thought or effort at all, the minute I hit the dentist chair, I started the victorious breath.

And that’s exactly what it was – a total annihilator of anxious thoughts and conqueror of the racing mind. The rest of the day unfolded with a more easy-going mindset and in a far more relaxed way than it had begun.

All thanks to a little mindful breathing.

With silly season in full swing and as we run from one social engagement to another, lurch from one appointment to the next, race through to-do lists and shopping lists, perhaps you can find a few moments to pause and steady your breath.

You never know, you might just find a moments rest in the most unlikely of places.

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator

www.madyoga.com.au

*For more information on the power of neural plasticity refer to Norman Doidge, The Brain That Changes Itself.

Finding the Laugh.

“Everything is Impermanent. When we realise this we can begin to laugh at ourselves.”

My daughter came home from pre-school and said; “I have to start eating sandwiches. Big girls eat sandwiches and you have to get used to them.” Over lunch, she’d told her Pre-School Director she didn’t like sandwiches and this was how she had responded.

My husband is a coeliac. We have a largely gluten free diet. So there is a very practical reason why my daughter doesn’t get sandwiches. Very few, if any, gluten free breads make nice sangers. So she gets a bunch of other stuff for lunch, often leftovers, and always nutritious food we know she likes.

When I raised the sandwich topic with the Director the next day however, things didn’t go so well.

I had wanted to clarify that we don’t eat sandwiches because we follow an alternate diet.

She was preoccupied, on the other hand, with telling me they don’t heat lunches.

We were talking completely at odds.

The whole conversation and how it had unfolded – or unravelled – bothered me for hours afterwards.

Then I remembered something a teacher and colleague said to me in a meditation session. Everything is impermanent. When we realise this we can begin to laugh at ourselves and lighten the burden of the situations we encounter in life. 

So I found a way to laugh at the absurdity and intensity of the sandwich conversation and remember; lunch is just lunch. It’s my job to offer my child good nutritious food. It’s her choice whether she eats it.

Ironically the festive season can also bring with it a similar absurdity and intensity. Whether that be the mad rush to wrap everything up as the year closes out, dealing with packed calendars or interacting with family, friends and colleagues.

As we embark on the festive season, and when we encounter those absurd and intense moments with each other, perhaps there is some room to find a little lightness and enough space to laugh at ourselves.

Wishing you some lightness and laughter today and right throughout the festive season.

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator

www.madyoga.com.au

Right Under Our Noses.

Conscious Breathing has a Powerful Impact on the Nervous System

Conscious Breathing has a Powerful Impact on the Nervous System

We have a profound and powerful tool at our disposal to approach challenges with a greater sense of equanimity.

And it is quite literally under our nose.

It is the breath.

To breathe in. To breathe out. With conscious awareness.

It’s positively inspiring to watch the response when I guide people into a deep breathing technique known as Abdominal Breathing.

Whether they are busy professionals or stressed out teens, the response is always the same. Their faces soften. Their shoulders drop a few centimetres. You can see them physically relax and mentally become very present.

You can do this anywhere at any time during the day when you need to re-set, re-focus or transition from one thing to the next.

SIT TALL: Lengthen the spine. Relax your shoulders.

STEP 1: Take 2-3 slow breaths. Breathe into the centre of your CHEST.

STEP 2: Take 2-3 more breaths. Now breathe into your RIB CAGE.

STEP 3: Take 2-3 more breaths. Then breathe into your BELLY.

BRING IT TOGETHER: Now take another 2-3 breaths. Draw each breath progressively down into the CHEST > RIBS > ABDOMEN.

When you practice this regularly you will find that you start to engage the technique automatically in challenging situations.

It’s simple. It works. And it’s right under our noses.

Have a M.A.D. day!

Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator

www.madyoga.com.au

Our Future Is Now.

Our Future is Now.

Our Future is Now.

There are some alarming statistic floating around about the physical and mental health and wellbeing of our younger generation, our future.

When it comes to the Physical Health of young Australians;

  • 30% of 5-24 years olds are Overweight or Obese (that rate is even higher for 12-24 years olds). This is amongst the highest in the world and increasing at one of the fastest rates (we rank 14/16 against OECD countries on this measure).
  • Studies have also shown that children whose parents are obese or overweight are far more likely to be obese and overweight.
  • 10% of 0-14 year olds have Asthma. We also rank poorly at 14/16 on this measure compared to other OECD countries.
  • 66% of 15-24 year olds do not meet National Physical Activity Guidelines with 57% of them sedentary or engaging in low levels of activity.
  • 95% of 12-24 years olds do not meet Australian Dietary Guidelines.
  • The proportion of 12-15 years olds whose teeth are decay free is on the decline with an estimated 45% of children aged 6 and 39% of children aged 12 with Dental Decay. We rank just 12/31 against OECD countries for dental decay.
  • The incidence of Type 2 diabetes is on the rise in children and youth across the board (Type 2 diabetes is related to lifestyle factors).

Children and young people who have poor physical health are more likely to develop health problems and conditions such as obesity have been linked to psychosocial issues including social isolation, discrimination and low self- esteem.

If we consider other Mental Health factors the emergent picture of our future is less than idyllic;

  • One in 4 young Australians currently experience a Mental Health Condition.
  • One in 6 young Australians currently experience an Anxiety disorder.
  • One in 16 young Australians currently experience Depression.
  • Prescription of drugs for ADHDs is on the rise. In 2011 and in NSW alone, over 20,000 children and high school students had been prescribed ADHD medication. This number includes over 1000 children under the age of 6.
  • Suicide is the biggest killer of young Australians accounting for the deaths of more young people than car accidents. We rank 20/33 for youth suicide rates against other OECD countries.

These statistics are sobering indeed.

Evidence suggests that half of adult mental health conditions emerge by the age 14 and three in four by the age of 24. 

In other words, our future is now.

If we are able to establish healthy patterns in our youth, we set them on the right track for life. These developmental years offer a crucial window for establishing a foundation for ongoing mental and physical health and wellbeing.

It is encouraging to know that there are a plethora of tools and techniques readily available and eminently teachable to help our youth address these challenges and build a brighter future. Now.

The paradigms of yoga and mindfulness draw on a vast array of tools that can help our youth:

  • Re-establish balance,
  • Foster connection and self-respect,
  • Introduce them to the joy of movement,
  • Encourage them to make healthier choices,
  • Build their confidence and esteem,
  • Increase their self-awareness, and
  • Give them tangible tools to more effectively self-regulate.

These tools include physical postures and sequences specifically designed to build strength, flexibility, balance, proprioception and body awareness along with stimulating and supporting optimal function of the circulatory, lymphatic, respiratory, and digestive systems.

Other powerful tools include the learned control of breath to self-regulate – whether that be to calm or energise – along with exercises in concentration, discipline, mindfulness, meditation, positive thinking and relaxation.

Each of these tools comes with an enormous variety of techniques that are simple, accessible to anyone, easy to learn and readily transferable to daily life. And systematic research is starting to confirm their efficacy;

  • Yoga helps lower performance anxiety and significantly reduces the incidence of anger, depression, general anxiety and tension among music students (Khalsa 2005 and 2009).
  • Regular yoga practice has a positive impact on concentration, cognitive development and academic performance (Peck et al 2009).
  • Yoga is effective in promoting relaxation in children and adolescents with recurrent headache (Fury and Kedia 2013).
  • Yoga offers a gateway to a more active lifestyle for sedentary and obese youths (Hainsworth et al 2014).

The simple, accessible and teachable techniques of yoga and mindfulness have the potential to make a profound impact.

Our Future Is Now. What are we waiting for? Lets get started.

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator

www.madyoga.com.au

RESOURCES:

Health & Wellbeing

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2011. Young Australians: their health and wellbeing 2011. Cat. no. PHE 140 Canberra: AIHW.

Australian Institute of Health and Welfare 2012. A picture of Australia’s children 2012. Cat. no. PHE 167. Canberra: AIHW.

The Wellbeing of Young Australians – Australian Research Alliance for Children and Youth

Mental Health

Beyond Blue – The Facts

The Mental Health of Young People in Australia, Sawyer et al, Mental Health and Special Programs Branch, Commonwealth Department of Health and Aged Care, 2000.

The Rising Rate of ADHD Drugs for Kids

The Increasing ADHD Drugging of Australia’s Children

Parental Influence on Food Preferences

Obese parents increase kids’ risk of being overweight

Parental influence on children’s food preferences and energy intake

 

Have a Mindful Day.

Choose Your Own Path Into Mindfulness

Choose Your Own Path Into Mindfulness

Wondering where to start with all this mindfulness mumbo jumbo?

It’s really rather simple. Here’s some suggestion for fostering mindfulness in your day:

MORNING

  • Waking – take 3 slow breaths before you get out of bed.
  • Bathroom – look in the mirror and make an affirmation or set an intention for your day.

“Today I will bring positivity to all I do.”

“Today I will find humour in frustrating experiences.

”Today I am confident and in control.”

“Today I will listen with an open mind.”

“Today I will take the time to connect with those around me.”

  • Eating – tap into your senses. Take the time to sit down to eat your breakfast. Chew slowly. Pay close attention to the taste of your food and the smell of your morning tea or coffee.

WORK

  • Getting started – sit down, take 3 slow breaths before you open your computer. Repeat your affirmation for the day.
  • Emails & Calls – switch off your email alerts and even turn your phone to silent. Schedule set times to check your emails and phone so you minimise distraction and maximise focus.
  • Meetings – commit to be there early or on time today. Can you listen to others without judgment, criticism or preparing your response. Just listen.
  • Between activity – pause and take 3 slow breaths before you shift from one activity to another, one space to the next. Consciously commit to let go of what you’ve just done and commit your full attention to what you are about to do.

EVENING

  • Transition – harness your commute to switch modes from work to home. Breathe in. Consciously breath out any preoccupations, to-do’s, and negative self-talk. Visualise them dissipating with your out breath.
  • Dinner – reflect on the food you have and where it has come from. Consider all the people and processes that brought it to your table. Cultivate a sense of gratitude.
  • Wind-down – lie on the couch or in bed. Place one your hand on your chest and one on your abdomen. Feel your hands rise and fall as you breathe in and out.

Mindfulness is simple. You can practice it in an endless array of ways that aligns to who you are and what’s important to you.

But it isn’t easy to switch off “doing” mode and move into “being” mode.

That takes practice.

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator

www.madyoga.com.au

The Proliferation of the List

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Drawing Connections

There are a lot of lists flying about these days. The top 30 ways to better manage time. The top 20 things great leaders do. The top 15 things you should never do. And the list goes on.

How on earth are we supposed to remember twenty things?  Can there really be a top twenty? Doesn’t that seem like a lot? Was the author simply unable to decide in the end what really was most important?

We make lists for all sorts of reasons. For the groceries, to pack for a trip or note our key to-do’s for the day. I’m definitely a list-maker. I probably couldn’t function if I didn’t make lists of all things I had to get done. My brain simply can’t hold all that information. And in all honesty I don’t want that junk rattling around in there.

Lists are essentially functional tools. They remember for us so we don’t have to remember all those little things we need to buy or pack or do.

And herein lies the problem. When we apply the list approach to richer, more complex information or experiences that we genuinely want to process and assimilate into our psyche, then long lists simply don’t work. No one remembers them.

Our brains aren’t wired to remember a long list of things (without extensive training that is). Most of us mere humans are limited to holding between five and nine items in short term memory (Miller). In other words those who are good will retain nine, those not so good retain 5 and the average is 7. Actually even 7 seems like a lot of hard work.

What we really remember best are relationships – the connections that link items together in more meaningful ways (Minto). These linkages help us and others get to the heart of a subject, draw out its theme or essence. They also help us to assimilate more of the important detail.

We exist in a world where we are bombarded with data and information. It screams at us from televisions, tablets, mobile phones, laptops, billboards, shopping malls, buses, bosses, train stations, airports, and every corner of our existence.

It’s so noisy.

Lists are helpful here. They help us get through the day by shutting out some of the noise.

Yet those days where we lurch from task to task mechanically working though a long list until we get to the end of the day feel laborious, unrelenting and unrewarding.

What makes something memorable are the connections we make. What makes it meaningful is a sense of connecting what we do with our purpose, our essence. When we do this the rest of the detail falls more effortlessly into place. 

This is true for a complex subject around which you want to engage others or simply our every day experience.

It starts with the connection we make to ourselves. What are we aiming to do? What are we really trying to say or share? How does that link to our purpose?

It unfolds with the connection we make to the subject itself. Can we be fully present with the moment and the task at hand and give it our full and undivided attention and positive intention? Can we take the time to reflect on the detail so we can identify the themes we want to draw out or linkages we want to make?

It deepens with the connections we make to others. Can we set our ego aside and go and ask for help or input? Can we commit to taking feedback on board without resistance or resentment? Can we genuinely engage with and explore perspectives different to our own and without judgment?

So next time something you’re working on starts to look like a long list;

Pause.

Take a few slow breaths.

Then ask yourself, is the subject important to you?

If it is, try instead to draw connections between the details, distil the essence and share something more lasting, meaningful and memorable for you and your audience.

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator

www.madyoga.com.au

Just Because It Feels Good.

Just because it feels good.

Just because it feels good.

Katherine. What do you like doing? I like going to the shops. What do you like doing Katherine?

I like going to the shops too” I tell Nicole.

I like handbags. And Shoes” she says.

Oh. Me too.” I replied with a smile from ear to ear. “Who doesn’t like shoes and handbags!

Sorry. What’s your name again?” asks Nicole.

It’s Katherine.” I reply.

Oh yes. I’m sorry Katherine.” Nicole says with abject sincerity.

My Mum died Katherine. I miss my Mum Katherine. Where is my Mum? I miss my Mum” whispers Nicole.

And she must miss you.” I said, tears welling in my eyes at the thought of this innocent soul left to the vicissitudes of a world without her Mum.

I’d spent the day at The House With No Steps. As a volunteer, you help the people who work there with their daily tasks. On Tuesday it was packing Faber Castel highlighters ready for shipment to stores.

The people who work at the house with no steps are amazing. In our society we call them “people with disabilities”. The very word implies a sense of lacking, less than whole.

Yet the individuals I met last week are larger than life. They are certainly more whole than I. Lisa, Adrian, Nicole, Mark and Amber were honest, kind, thoughtful, frank, real and connected in a way that I simply can not describe.

They were fantastic conversationalists. We traversed everything from vegemite and the debunking of Tony Abbott, to the pain and heartache of losing loved ones. All in the process of sorting and packing a bunch of highlighters.

They were also open and up front. There was none of the usual social awkwardness, dilly-dallying and politics most of us usually experience at work and in life. The minute you were in their presence out came a hand and a hearty handshake followed promptly by a ready introduction and a warm welcoming smile.

I was almost bowled over by Colin at morning tea. His beaming smile and proud tenor spoke volumes as he introduced himself and exclaimed,

I’ve worked here for over thirty years!

A Scot I am” he says.

Been to the tattoo in Edinburgh.

Yeah and a lil’ol town they call Paris too” he says with a grin.

I couldn’t hep but smile. From ear to ear.

All day long.

It just felt so good working and chatting away with these lovely people who welcomed me so readily into their work place for the day. They shared their rituals, routines and tea break with me. They shared their stories, their thoughts. And they opened their hearts as we worked together throughout the day.

What struck me most was the unabashed sincerity, honesty and insight my new colleagues possessed. Adrian made a comment he later deemed inappropriate. So readily announced he was sorry if he offended. Lisa started talking about her brother who had died. So she cried a little and told us she felt sad. Nicole worried about running out of shower soap. So asked for advice about how to go and get more.

We go about our lives. And for an abundance of reasons, we add screen after screen, build wall after wall. Instead of saying sorry, we launch into an all out defensive trying to cover our butts. When our hearts ache and we feel pain, we do everything we can to numb the senses so we can get on with what’s supposedly more important. When we don’t know how to do something or which way to go, we lurch blindly instead of asking for a little help, a little advice. (Perhaps Buddha had a point when he said suffering was a matter of our own choosing).

I felt so damn good after my day at The House With No Steps. I spent a day doing a repetitive task that was inherently meditative. More importantly I spent a day with some people who interacted with me from their hearts and without the usual ‘screens’.

It was joyous, uplifting and liberating beyond words.

It felt really really good.

Yes, I know I said that already.

It felt really really really really good.

The only strange thing was at the end of the day. I was given a certificate for being a volunteer. I did nothing.

Lisa and Adrian and Nicole and Mark and Amber and Colin and all the wonderful people at The House Of Steps did all the giving.

Spending the day with them was a truly wonderful gift.

When I teach yoga to teenagers, I feel exactly the same sense of reward and joy. Their energy is electric and contagious.

When we connect positively with others, for a reason beyond ourselves, or for no reason at all, it feels absolutely fantastic! It brings buoyance and cultivates pure joy.

As we move into the school holidays and the end of Q4 for the year, we have an opportunity to pause before we launch into exams or that final spurt of productivity to hit target.

Why not re-energise with a random act of kindness?

For anyone. Anywhere. And just because it feels good!

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator

www.madyoga.com.au

Mindfulness Makes an Impact in the Classroom.

How can you be more present with what you do?

How can you be more present with what you do?

It’s inspiring to see just how much research has started to emerge about the impacts of mindfulness in both the work and educational settings. This article from the Garrison Institute provides some fantastic insights into how teaching teachers to be mindful has real impacts on their ability to provide emotional support, but also their overall effectiveness in the classroom.

Much of this relates to self-regulation. Mindfulness practices cultivate an ability to self-monitor and then to self-regulate. When we do this we foster and build greater Emotional Intelligence and the ability to respond to situations and others with less reactivity and greater equanimity.

It makes perfect sense that if we can be more present in a situation, then we are better able to control our reactions and manage our responses to that situation. With this comes an enhanced ability to connect with others, along with improvements in the overall quality of our interactions, and the outcomes that result from those interactions.

To explore how you can adapt more mindfulness tools into your classroom or workplace, contactus@madmindworks.com

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator

Mindfulness 101.

Cultivating greater awareness in the present moment.

Cultivating greater awareness in the present moment.

According to Jon Kabat-Zinn to be ‘mindful’ is to pay “attention in a particular way; on purpose, in the present moment, and non judgmentally” (Kabat-Zinn is the father of modern mindfulness).

Cultivating mindfulness enables you to be more focussed and fully present. And more and more people in the Business World and the Sphere of Education are starting to recognise the benefits of being mindful at work, throughout our schooling, and in all spheres of life. These include the ability to focus, listen better , regulate emotions, and make decisions, to name but a few.

The first step to cultivating mindfulness is to cultivate self-awareness. One of the simplest ways to do this is to pay attention to physical sensations in the body.

We simply observe the body. No stories. No judgment. Just feel.

Here is a basic recorded exercise to help you do this. It invites you to systematically observe the sensations you feel in different parts of your body. It comes with the added benefit of being deeply relaxing. Best of all, it only takes 10 minutes. Enjoy!

If you’re interested to find out more about how you can cultivate greater mindfulness in your place of work or study, contactus@madmindworks.com.

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator

Yes I Am. Vulnerable.

Putting a Face On It?

Putting a Face On It?

There are times when it might be seen as a dirty word. A sign of weakness or inability.

Yet the ability to show and share our vulnerability paves the way for establishing trust. If we think about the Trust Equation, vulnerability helps us to establish greater Intimacy by virtue of sharing or revealing something people may otherwise not know about us.

And trust is intrinsic to building relationships and connecting with others. Rom and Ori Brafman provide some great insights on how vulnerability can quite literally help us better ‘click‘ with others.

I saw this first hand recently during a workshop I facilitated with a team wanting to build better relationships with each other.  We did a simple exercise where everyone got five minutes to talk about their frustrations with the group and without interruption. To an extent the process also asked participants to share their vulnerabilities and some participants did exactly that.

What this ultimately did was pave the way for the team to have more open and frank discussions as the day went on. It helped them better understand each other and start to connect with each other a little more.

On a more personal level, my daughter is about to have a tonsillectomy. My partner and I are afraid about her having a general anaesthetic because of its implicit risks. Rationally the benefits are obvious. Emotionally it’s just plain scary.

Funnily enough when I share this fear with people, reveal my vulnerability, people always respond with kindness and support. They commonly share their own experiences in turn – from the funny to the heartbreaking.  Revealing vulnerability it seems triggers empathy and instigates reciprocity, which deepens the relationship from both sides, making it more human and more personal.

So while on the surface showing vulnerability can feel like weakness, I find myself often pondering the notion that the ability to accept and reveal our vulnerabilities is in fact a hidden strength.

Certain yoga postures can make us feel physically vulnerable, especially when held for a sustained period of time or engaged intensely or repetitively. These include positions where we lift the sternum  or breastbone and others where we externally rotate the hip joints.

What the practice asks of us in these moments is to cultivate the ability to be in a physically vulnerable position. To sit with that raw, naked vulnerability and simply experience the sensation. When we open ourselves to the experience of vulnerability we also open up the possibility of accepting and connecting more deeply with ourselves. 

These physical poses are a metaphor we can interpret quite literally.

Perhaps next time you find yourself concealing or withholding something for fear of being perceived to be weak or incapable – instead could you make a different choice? Perhaps you could share a little about that perceived fear, weakness or vulnerability with someone? You might even ask for their help?

I wonder what new possibilities and deeper connections it will open up for you.

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator