Change the Cycle.

Reflect. Plan. Do.

Reflect. Plan. Do.

As the year kicks into gear, the tension between planning and doing can leave us feeling a little torn. For many of us planning can feel exacting and tedious. The desire to just get on with things can present an overpowering and irresistible urge.

Planning can seem like its bogging us down, chaining us to the desk or holding us hostage to long boring meetings when the real action is out there building stuff, creating things, interacting with clients or working with our colleagues and students.

Herein lies trap #1 – JUST DO IT: We decide this planning stuff is just too dull, too difficult, too dry and decide taking action is best. So we dive in headfirst.

The problem is we failed to read the sign that said “caution, shallow water and dangerous rocks”.

Planning is positively fundamental to driving outcomes. As my Dad said to me, loosely quoting Benjamin Franklin, “Without a plan, you plan to fail.

Plain and simple, the time spent planning up front saves us that big headache down the track.

Yet herein lies trap #2 – PLAN THEN DO: This time we did read the sign. We decide to sit back and do the planning. We get together, we brainstorm, we talk. We’re all aligned at the start of the year.

Then we tick the box, file the plan and get on with things.

In spite of our best intentions, all the rara and inspirational talk, we default straight back to doing. Consumed with immediate and apparently urgent demands, we quickly become the hostage of reactivity, short-term focus and largely tactical activity.

Many of us fall into one of these two traps:

1) JUST DO – The analogy I like to draw here is that its akin to being stuck in our reptilian brain, working on autopilot, mindlessly getting on with things, ticking boxes and largely getting nowhere.

2) PLAN THEN DO – While our intentions are good and we aim to move into a state of more focussed activity, we ultimately get pulled back into just reacting to things. Symbolically, it’s the emotive limbic system that’s in the drivers seat here, pulling us left and right, lurching us here and there depending on who’s demanding most or screaming loudest.

The missing link in the planning cycle is REFLECTION.

It is in the state of reflection where we can more fully tap into a space where we can sit with a concept, objective or challenge. This is the space where our higher order capabilities of creativity, abstract thinking and problem solving can kick into gear. It’s akin to our human brain, the cortex, which when active, enables us to come up with new ideas, draw connections, make decisions and find clarity.

The mindfulness that comes with regular reflection cultivates skilful self-regulation and focussed action rather than unthinking reactivity.

Perhaps its time to change the cycle? Injecting a regular practice of focussed reflection into the cycle of planning and doing will help keep our plans alive and turn them into a dynamic guide that keeps us on track.

Like a lighthouse, it is the beacon on the hill, always there guiding the way, keeping us calm and focussed no matter how stormy, rough and rocky the waters get.

Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator

www.madyoga.com.au

Start Now.

Now is the time.

Now is the time.

In the wake of the New Year there has been much written about resolutions. Setting them. Not setting them. Questioning the fundamental concept of ‘new’. Exploring the unacceptable.

We’re all different. So it makes sense we all have a different take on the transition from one year to the next. It’s tenor. It’s meaning. Or lack thereof.

What resonated for me as I experienced the setting of 2015 and the dawn of 2016 was simple.

Now.

I read a beautiful book while on holidays  – The Art of Attention by Elena Bower and Erica Jago. Strangely enough and unbeknownst to me I had rented the beach house of the artist who had taken many of the photos in the book. I was fortunate to stumble across a copy in his bookshelf.

Aside from the wonderful sequences, the book revealed some lovely ideas through the use of quotations.

This is the one that has stayed with me.

 “We make a mistake when we wait for heaven, wait for enlightenment, wait for change. It is not going to happen in the future. It is happening. It is within our experience. Now is the time. (Peter Rhodes).

It was one of those light bulb moments that felt more like a thunderbolt. When I read these simple few words. Yes. Of course. The future is happening now.

All of a sudden it seemed silly to plan to be something down the track. Couldn’t I just be that now? It seemed pure madness to tell myself I will do that one day. If it was important, why not make the first step? Start now.

This notion of Now resonated so strongly with me. Choosing to make each moment really count.

So instead of wasting a bunch of moments abstracting about what I want to be or do, I’ve decided to keep Now firmly in perspective.

Each moment a valuable one.

And when this moment is embraced fully.

And this one.

And this one.

We find ourselves treading a mindful path that is fulfilling Now.

And Now.

And Now

Katherine Mair, M.A.D. Creator

http://www.madyoga.com.au

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

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

 

The Proliferation of the List

email marketing

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

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

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

Shifting the Needle on Mental Health

The Benefits of Yoga

The Benefits of Yoga, Sydney High School, August 2015 (M.A.D. Yoga Report)

Over the past three months we’ve been teaching a weekly yoga classes with a group of teenagers at a High School in Sydney. Students were primarily female participating in 11 weekly yoga classes based on carefully planned M.A.D. yoga sequence that included:

  • Mindset
  • Physical Postures
  • Concentration Exercises
  • Breathing Exercises
  • Relaxation
  • Mindfulness Techniques

We surveyed the students at the end of the program to gain some insights into their impressions of the effects of yoga and mindfulness practice immediately after class, but also more generally in their life and over time.

While results were overwhelmingly positive across all key factors, the areas where the practice had the most impact were unequivocal. Students who practice yoga experience very real shifts in their Emotional Self Awareness and ability to Regulate their Emotions as well as positive impacts on their overall Mental Health.

Yoga and Mindfulness are fundamentally about helping people to tune into themselves. Our results here demonstrate that yoga definitely does help young people become more aware of, and able to regulate their emotions with 77% of students reporting that at the end of their yoga practice they felt more emotionally in balance, and as a result of practicing regularly 71% reported that they were more aware of how they feel. Moreover, 77% also reported that they paid more attention to how they respond to others.

When it comes to Mental Health, the results were even more positive. At then end of their yoga practice, 94% of students reported feeling relaxed and 88% reported feeling calm. Longer-term effects on mood and outlook were also very encouraging with 65% reporting their overall outlook was more positive and 71% reporting that their overall mood was more stable. 70% felt like they had choices while 65% also reported that they could calm themselves when feeling anxious, worried or stressed as a result of practicing yoga regularly.

Not bad for just 11 yoga sessions.

Imagine what could unfold with continued practice!

M.A.D. Yoga would love to help you bring these benefits into your workplace, university or school. to find out how, why contact us today. www.madyoga.com.au

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator

Pause. Reflect. Reset. Refocus.

Depositphotos_15595573_m-2015

Whoever said change was easy? It’s sure worth it though when we get to the other side.

I’ve just come to a critical juncture in a large piece of work I’ve been involved in. Like any complex project, there have been several teams, lots of people and a large number of moving parts involved.

We’re now at the end of the first phase of work. In so many ways it has been the most critical. It’s where teams form, people click – or not – and where we shape the vision and define more clearly the path for the way forward.

It’s been Exciting. Frustrating. Fun. And Challenging. All in equal measure.

We’re at the crossroads now. Between talking, proposing, and planning. And mobilising, acting, and doing.

This provides an essential opportunity for reflection. Like the pause between breaths, it’s this space in between that offers the real opportunity for recalibration and transformation.

What went well?

Who did I work effectively with?

Who could I have supported more? Or interacted with more positively?

What would I do differently or better next time?

What will I take forward?

What mindsets, attitudes and behaviours will I let go?

The process of reflection asks us to adopt the role of the Observer. Someone who can step outside the situation and see it objectively and as it really is.

Without layering in explanations, stories or excuses.

Just as it is. The good. And the not so good.

Strangely enough, mindfulness and meditation ask us to play precisely this role. It provides a space where we can step out of the small self and into our true Self. In this state we can observe everything that we are with a balanced sense of abiding equilibrium and an open mind that can embrace the positive and redress the negative with impartial acceptance, compassion and without judgment.

Pause.

Reflect.

Reset.

Refocus.

It’s not always comfortable. In fact, it’s usually rather uncomfortable.

Then again, whoever said transformation was easy?

Katherine Mair

M.A.D. Creator