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Lessons in Mindfulness from a 5-year-old.

Finding the fun

Finding the fun

My favourite days are the ones when I’m in charge of getting my daughter ready for school. She’s five and this is her first year at school. I love the mornings with her for a glorious raft of reasons. But there is one reason that has struck me quite powerfully in our change of routine this year.

It is simply this. Children it seems, are instinctively mindful.

Jon Kabat-Zinn (the father of modern western mindfulness) says that Mindfulness means paying attention is a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.

From a Psychological perspective, it is seen as the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience … an orientation that is characterised by curiosity, openness and acceptance.

Children are naturally inclined to be present. As I prepare my little girl for the school day, she reminds me of this in so many ways.

Eat slowly. Remember to chew your food.

Meal times with children can be painful. My daughter takes a terribly long time to eat her breakfast. I often find myself getting impatient and telling her to “hurry up”.

Then I remember how often I scoff my meals back, barely tasting them, because I’m in such a rush to get on with doing things.

One of the simplest mindfulness practices we can do is to pay attention to the experience of eating. Sit down. Eat slowly. Chew the food.

Take the time to savour the smell, the taste, the feeling of the food in your stomach.

This connects us to our bodies, enables us to receive feedback when we are feeling satiated and keeps us anchored in the present moment.

Accept it. You just can’t rush some things.

The school bell goes at 9.10am. My daughter gets up around 7.30am and we aim to leave the house by about 8.45am each morning.

All she needs to do is eat her breakfast, clean her teeth and get dressed in her school uniform. In between of course, she mucks about an awful lot – playing, goofing and looking for distractions.

Then there are the delay tactics. “I need to go to the bathroom” is a desperate plea I regularly hear just as we are about to step out the front door.

“You’ve just been!” I say through gritted teeth, but she insists she must go again.

So in we go. Again.

You can’t stop another person from peeing. And you can’t make them poo faster. Its one of those things that is simply beyond our control.

Now you can go and get all frantic and bang your head against the wall. Of course you can. I’ve taken that approach many times.

The alternative, I discovered, was much better.

Just accept it.

Cultivating acceptance of something as it is without overlaying stories, defences or rationale, is a key aspect of mindfulness practice.

Slow down. Notice what’s right in front of you.

We are fortunate to be able to walk to school each day. For an adult the walk is about eight minutes. For little legs it takes about twenty or more.

The pace varies and there are regular stops along the way. Every tree, bush, flower and blade of grass have their own fascination. Even the dead leaves on the floor have a story.

I feel my frustration mount as my daughter stops yet again to carefully examine a dead bug or admire yet another pink flower. “We’ve got to get to school!” I hear myself exclaim in complete and utter exasperation.

Then I remember, yes the bug is intriguing, yes the flower is beautiful. Yes, pause for a moment. Look. Notice. Take the time to really see what’s in front of you.

Children are very good at seeing. They are beautiful little reminders to be present so we can see what’s right in front of us.

You never know what you might notice or how that might change your day, your perspective, even your life.

Meander a little. Linear is boring.

To get to school we turn right out our front gate and walk straight up the hill. It really is that simple. Yet if you traced the path my daughter and I take, it would look like a squiggly, zig-zagging, circuitous, backtracking kind of path.

My usual approach to walking is rather determined. I step quickly. With purpose. After all, I’m going somewhere.

Children on the other hand seem to have a few natural speeds. Flat out running, skipping, hopping, jumping on one leg, or very extremely incredibly painfully slow walking. Whatever their speed, they are enjoying the experience of moving, of being in their bodies and connecting with their surroundings.

It takes concerted effort on my part to switch off my auto-pilot walking pace and step outside my determined mindset so desirous to get somewhere.

In fact, walking at my daughters pace is mentally uncomfortable for me.

But as I notice this tendency of mine, I’m fostering awareness of my doing mode and how dominant my linear left brain can be. From that place of awareness, I can start to flex into my being mode and switch on my right brain a little more.

Smile. Find the fun.

Since having a child I have realised just how serious I can be. The way I walk is rather characteristic of the way I approach many things in my life. I am dominantly left brain and very linear and structured in the way I work.

My tendency is to approach the walk to school as a functional task. A process of getting my daughter from a to b so she can start her school day.

But the walk to school is my favourite part of the day. It has become this because I have chosen to resist the urge to make it purely functional.

It’s an opportunity to be really present. To feel the sun on my face and the air on my skin, to observe the changing seasons, to connect with my daughter.

It’s also a time in my day where I can be childlike and have fun. It’s not uncommon for my daughter and I to be garden fairies flitting our way to school, magically zapping every plant we pass. Yes. Every single one.

And its really good fun.

Listen. Profound insights emerge in mundane moments.

It’s not uncommon for my mind to wander when I walk my daughter to school. I spend a lot of time in my head. It’s one of the reasons why I love practicing yoga and mindfulness so much – it helps me switch off the monkey mind and find some peace and quiet inside.

In spite of my best intentions, my mind still wanders off at times. The problem with this isn’t the wandering per se, rather it’s the fact that when I let my mind wander, when I drop into my head, I’m no longer present with my little girl. I’m no longer listening to her.

One thing that I have discovered about children is that they are not calculated in their communication like adults can be. If they have something important to say, they don’t plan how and when they will deliver the news. They just blurt it out when it comes to mind. This could be on the toilet, just before they go into class, or in between rather banal banter about the weekly visit to the library.

Some of my daughters most important stories have been shared as she’s scooting down the hill after school. They’ve always popped out of nowhere completely un prompted and without warning.

What strikes me most in these moments is the realisation that if I wasn’t paying attention, I would have completely missed her story.

So when I realise my mind has wandered, I remind my self gently to come back to the moment, to listen to my little girl. After all, you never know what sorts of gems will emerge.

Happy walking.

Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator

www.madmindworks.com

katherine.mair@madmindworks.com

For related sources see:

S.R. Bishop, M. Lau, S. Shapiro, L. Carlson, N.D. Anderson, J. Carmody and G Devans, Mindfulness: A Proposed Operational Definition, 2004

Jon Kabat-Zinn, Wherever Your Go, There You Are, 2005

Feeling like poop.

Feeling like poo!

Wired. Stressed. Exhausted.

This is what my partner says when he’s having a bad day or his body is staging a rebellion – except he says it more emphatically and with a somewhat stronger choice of words.

Let’s face it we can all have a shitty day or sometimes wake up feeling like poop.

 

Perhaps you had too many drinks the night before or a heavy meal that left you wondering why one earth you ate it in the first place. Maybe you’re exhausted after too many tight deadlines or a hectic week running helter skelter chasing your tail. Maybe you’re just plain wired, finding it hard to switch off in order to get a good night sleep.

Whatever the reason – and the list is endless – when we feel like poop, our energy is low, we feel sluggish and it’s hard to focus, be productive or engage with others positively.

The good news is there are some super fast and simple things you can do to get out of the doldrums and pep yourself up.

This month, in the M.A.D. curriculum, we’re focussed on movements that elevate and extend the spine.

The awesome thing about extending the spine is that it’s a natural mood elevator.

Lifting the spine, broadening the chest and opening the arms are expansive movements that make us feel good.

Furthermore, when you sit up straight, you activate a bundle of nerves in the brain stem that instantly make you more attentive and alert.

Your communication will improve and so will your confidence.

So next time you feel like poop, try this simple technique:

 

Energising Breath

It’s an instant pick-me-up. Enjoy!

To find out more about what we do, contact us at M.A.D. Mindworks.

Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator

www.madmindworks.com

katherine.mair@madmindworks.com

For related sources see:

Amy Cuddy, Presence: Bringing Your Boldest Self to Your Biggest Challenges.

Rick Hanson’s, Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom.

Application or Instant Gratification

Application Gratification.

The incessant drive for instant results

The incessant drive for instant results

When we go to school, we’re encouraged to apply ourselves. After all learning happens through practice, exploration and application. When a student applies him or herself, they uncover their potential, hone their skills, build their abilities and experience achievement.

For this we praise and celebrate them.

In equal measure however, we shake our heads when we see our youth so driven by instant gratification.

Fast food, fast friends, fast media all create an immediacy that is easy to like, yet hard to detach from.

When fuelled too much, it fosters destructive behaviours and poor physical and mental health.

My daughter will never know, nor tolerate, television as I knew it when growing up. As a child who has grown up with iPads, Netfilx and iView, she has zero tolerance for adverts and knows there are gadgets and apps that enable her to watch what she wants when she wants. Television has no appeal. Why on earth would she wait for a set day of the week or time in the day to view her favourite show when she can view it now.

Much about the way we all operate facilitates and reinforces this. I don’t have to wait to get to the computer to check or manage emails, they’re right here on my phone. Too busy to make dinner tonight, easy, hop online and place an order and it will be there when you get home. Wondering what Jo’s been up to lately, simply check her Facebook feed.

So while we desire and praise application, much of our way of being rewards and reinforces instant gratification.

This same dichotomy permeates the workplace.

I’ve had countless conversations with clients who struggle with the demand to be agile, responsive, flexible, do more with less, fail fast and grow even faster. Everything is urgent. It’s necessary and its needed now.

At the same time we want engaged workforces – teams with deep expertise, applied capability, and positive attitudes and behaviours who contribute meaningfully to a dynamic culture, build great places to work, and help us become great organisations to deal with.

The inherent tension between responding to the multifaceted pressures of market forces, shareholder demands, customer needs and team dynamics leaves many of us feeling pulled in all directions, energetically depleted and mentally frazzled.

Like instant gratification, an emphasis on urgency and instant results has its destructive side. Driving a rate and pace of work that is fundamentally unsustainable, it critically undermines longer-term culture shifts and can reduce engagement initiatives to mere lip service.

Engagement and culture take time to build. They require clear vision, alignment, ongoing reinforcement and application of the behaviours and ideals we say we value. It takes practice and patience as the journey unfolds, connections form and something bigger than any one individual evolves.

The benefits of a longer-term focus and sustained application are clear. Yet finding ways to foster this is the eternal conundrum, especially in environments where instant results, instant gratification, have become the norm.

Operating in an industry where reactivity is common, pace is frantic and expectations are high, the team at one of M.A.D.’s clients walk this tightrope daily. Since commencing weekly Work and Wellbeing sessions with us in October, they’re realising the benefits of slowing down.

Right from the get go they found our 30-minute sessions each week helped them to energise and focus. Over time they have reported greater individual self-awareness and better teamwork and collaboration.

This is exciting. Sustained application of some simple practices over a period of time enables people to better deal with the daily demands of a hectic workplace. Such practices better equip them to respond flexibly while staying focussed on what’s most important.

So while the juggling act doesn’t necessarily change, our engagement with it does.

When we take a relatively small amount of time each week to apply ourselves to a practice of quietude and patience, our ability to move more effortlessly from one state to another, self regulate, and channel our energy to where it matters most improves exponentially.

Interestingly, application helps us to be more discerning when it comes to instant gratification.

Perhaps its worth slowing down in order to speed up. To find out how, contact us at M.A.D. Mindworks.

Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator

www.madmindworks.com

katherine.mair@madmindworks.com

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.

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