Quite often when I start working with executives who have experienced burnout, the concept of meditation can seem quite alien to them, and many think it’s impossible. This is part of the problem of burnout; the body doesn’t know how to shut off or settle down. Practising mediation is quite simply learning to be still, to be quiet and to allow the body time to restore itself back to homeostasis and a place of calm. There are a lot of preconceptions about meditation and what it means; I was very dismissive of it when I first came across it, thinking this wasn’t something I had time for or needed. The truth is, everyone would benefit from meditating, even if it’s only for ten minutes a day. The other misconception about meditation is that it involves being guided through a twenty minute dream-like state, or sitting in the Buddha position, or falling into a trance imagining yourself swimming with dolphins.
Meditating to me is about taking some time, even just a few minutes, and spending it thinking about nothing else but your body and what’s going on. Your mind should be still, your thoughts should be boxed away, and the best way to start is to focus on your breathing. I was on a sales training day many years ago, and the sales director asked us all to sit in silence for several minutes and then make a note of the noises we could hear. Almost everyone came back with the same noises; passing traffic, pedestrians talking on their phones, the sounds of footfall on the pavement, the creaking of chairs, clothes rustling, and so on. No-one in the room (there were over 100 people there) said they heard the sounds of their breathing, despite it being the closest noise to them. This is because it’s something that we do automatically, and therefore we don’t hear it. What meditating does is bring your attention back to your breathing, and to allow you to focus on yourself again. In the same way that none of the salespeople in the meeting noticed their breathing because they were focusing externally on the white noise around them, if you’re focusing on your breathing you automatically block out the white noise around you so you can fully focus. When asked about meditation and mindfulness, Steve Jobs of Apple said this:
‘If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is. If you try and calm it, it only makes it worse, but over time it does calm… Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before.’
I also find reading in a quiet area can be very restorative, mentally. Just lying down and closing your eyes can also work. It’s all about quietening the mind and taking some time to consider how you’re feeling; the where, when and how isn’t important, as long as you can disconnect from the outside world. It’s not uncommon to see sportspeople meditating and going through visualisation exercises while waiting to come onto the court, pitch, athletics field or enter the ring. This in spite of the noise around them. Try it.
To some degree, all forms of meditation activate the ‘relaxation response’, a term originally used by the Harvard cardiologist Dr. Herbert Benson. The relaxation response is the opposite of the stress response, and describes the effects an activity or state of being have on the parasympathetic nervous system. The parasympathetic nervous system controls our basic processes of rest and digestion, and maintains homeostasis. This is the system that reduces the respiration and the heart rate; reduces the metabolic rate; decreases the production of stress-related cortisol; increases blood flow to the brain, and increases activity in the left frontal cortex which can strengthen the immune system and increase feelings of happiness. Through the practice of concentrated and committed meditation, you can enjoy all those benefits in exchange for ten to twenty minutes of your day. Now imagine a time when you felt most stressed, anxious or run-down; if I could offer to alleviate those thoughts and feelings, or even reduce them by 30% in exchange for twenty minutes of your time and a willingness to fully focus, would you take me up on my offer? That’s what meditation could do for you.
Leanne Spencer is an entrepreneur, coach, TEDx Speaker, author of Remove the Guesswork, and Rise and Shine: Recover from Burnout and get back to your best and founder of Bodyshot Performance Limited. Bodyshot is a health and fitness consultancy that helps busy professionals get more energy by removing the guesswork around their health, fitness and nutrition. Visit http://www.bodyshotperformance.com for more information or connect with us on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
Originally published at medium.com