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Mindfulness and Meditation Made Manageable

17 July 2012

Allison read Mark Kirby’s article Mind Over Stairmaster from the May 2012 GQ and was glad to see another effort to make mindfulness and meditation a little more manageable.

Tags: allison read, balance, communication, happiness, leadership, mindfulness

We’re big believers in mindfulness at Allison Partners since it’s a proven pathway to balance, happiness, better communication, leadership and generally just feeling good. Mindfulness is getting a lot of positive press these days and more people are able to access its gifts, but I still find that many of us hear the word and think, “Well sure. That seems like a good idea, but how do I do it?”

There are many ways to define and think about mindfulness, but I especially like the definition you’ll find on the UVA Mindfulness Center’s web site. “Regardless of whether our stress is based in work pressures, financial security, relationships, health problems, or internal pressures such as self-criticism and perfectionism, we can develop skills to effectively improve the quality of our lives… [Mindfulness] is the practice of focusing our attention on our inner experience at the moment that it is happening. By practicing these skills, we learn to be more ‘awake,’ more alert to the moments of our life as they unfold. Being present to our life increases our opportunities to make conscious choices."

I encourage you to learn all you can about mindfulness and the many ways to build mindfulness skills. I thought you might appreciate knowing how I help people begin thinking about mindfulness so I’ll do that now before I return to the GQ article on meditation I mentioned above (I promise I’ll get back there in just three paragraphs).

First, I teach a relaxation technique where I get people to breathe in and out deeply and then slowly find the pause at the end of their exhalation where they can rest more easily once they’ve slowed down their breathing. They don’t have to be in such a hurry for the next breath. Once they get the breathing down, I have them say these statements quietly in their minds with each step, “I am breathing in, I am breathing out, I am relaxing.” I encourage them to try this for a few minutes a few times a day. It’s a very accessible relaxation tool and I’m glad I read about it many years ago in Dr. Maxie Maultsby’s Coping Better, Anytime, Anywhere: The New Handbook of Rational Self.

Once clients master this breathing technique, I encourage them to try some muscle relaxation and guided imagery audio tools. These days you can walk into your local book store and find many you might enjoy, but I still like the CD from the CHAANGE program best of all. CHAANGE is geared toward individuals with more severe anxiety, but the first CD in the program, Relaxation Through CHAANGE® Code: CD01, is still my favorite for moderate stress and general relaxation (probably because it’s the first one I ever listened to more than 20 years ago). If you're curious about other audio approaches, check out the five free audio recordings provided by the UVA Mindfulness Center. In addition, I find that a yoga, Pilates, tai chi or some other similar practice can be particularly helpful as you explore this mind / body connection further.

Once people have experienced some of these tools, I find they are ready to begin thinking about meditation. There are so many ways to approach meditation. I’ve had clients and friends who have had a lot of success with Dr. Jon Kabat-Zinn’s work. He founded Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction and is, “internationally known for his work as a scientist, writer, and meditation teacher engaged in bringing mindfulness into the mainstream of medicine and society.” You’ll find more links to his work at the UVA Mindfulness site too. I’ve also had good experiences with the Centerpointe program. And I’ve spent a lot of time learning about hypnosis and self-hypnosis tools from a local psychologist and professor at UVA, Dr. John Boyd. I could go on, but I’ll stop here and get to the point of the article I read in GQ.

I’m not a regular reader of GQ, but I definitely pick it up when it’s next to the pedicure chair or in line at the grocery store. Mark Kirby is one of their regular contributors on fitness and other topics. His article tells a great story about Tom who, “Is more jock than swami—a Long Island native who spends his days stalking perps as an honest-to-god P.I.” Tom goes to yoga every morning at 5:30 a.m. primarily for the 10 minutes of meditation because, “he swears it’s the most important thing he does all week.” Kirby’s article goes on to explain how other world class athletes have used meditation and why it’s not just a “new-agey” tool. He explains his own experience with meditation and then, here’s the reason you should take a look at this article in your library or download it on iTunes, he provides one of the best basic set of instructions for meditation I’ve ever seen called, “Sit Down and Shut Up: A Three Step Guide.” Meditation can be hard work and Kirby shares that many people feel like they’ve failed at first, but his straightforward instructions get to the heart of the matter and make it seem like just about anybody can give it a try. I hope you will. And if you’ve seen other simple instructions for trying meditation, please include those resources below. Rachel says that Get Some Headspace: How Mindfulness Can Change Your Life in Ten Minutes a Day by Andy Puddicombe provides lots of manageable tools. I'm looking forward to reading it soon.


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