From my clientele of CEOs, celebrities, executives and entrepreneurs, I hear a consistent and resounding desire for tools to manage high stress, increasing demands on their time and volatile interpersonal situations. Add to this the challenges of fighting fatigue, creating work-life balance and learning how to truly relax. In order to effectively manage their responsibilities and decisions, these influencers need something greater than a workout at the gym or a night at the bar.
For hard-working leaders in their field, the following article on meditation will explain the benefits most applicable to someone with intense demands on his/her time, and offer some simple meditation practices to weave into already over-full days.
The Business of Meditation
There are currently more than 1,000 meditation and mindfulness apps in the App Store. Clearly, this ancient practice is being embraced by many in the world of business. CEOs of Tupperware, Legal Seafoods, News Corporation, Monsanto, Green Mountain Coffee, United Fuels International and Rush Communications have all been in the news, lauding the benefits they have experienced from meditation.
(More on mindfulness in The Art of Mindfulness Is a Masterpiece of Moments in the 'Now' (5 Tips on How).)
In fact, the practice of meditation is one of the best things people can do to reduce stress, overcome exhaustion and insomnia, and increase memory and attention. And for the CEO, the benefits of increased focus, mental clarity, efficiency, creativity, resilience, non-reactivity, and emotional awareness are of particular import.
Only by functioning at your greatest capacity — physically, mentally and spiritually — can you be an optimal leader. Through meditation you will find a greater joy in life, and therefore be able to more effectively manage and inspire those who look to you for direction.
Time to Focus
Our minds have a tendency to wander a great majority of the time, away from what is happening in this present moment. Add in the interruptions of people’s questions, text messages, phone calls and emails, and it’s no surprise that we have a hard time staying focused. By training the mind through focusing techniques in meditation you can curb the tendency toward distraction, and strengthen your ability to stay on point.
Learning to focus the mind single-pointedly is the first step in any meditation practice. And it is the most important one toward developing inner peace. A focused mind is a calm mind. A calm mind is a clear mind, available to intuitive inner direction. Competitive advantage is gained when an executive can quickly clarify what really matters, create an inspired vision for implementation, and commit to wise decisions. The calm mind achieved through meditation is agile and flexible, able to easefully execute its goals. Long time meditators report that work is accomplished more quickly and efficiently as a result of the focus developed in meditation.
Additionally, creativity is a valued by-product of meditation. When we are in a relaxed state of mind, divergent thinking or the ability to perceive the greatest number of possible solutions to a problem, happens. This is a key component of creativity. Once we see the array of potential solutions, then we can draw upon intuition to illuminate the best choice.
Resilience, Non-reactivity, and Emotional Awareness
Through the development of relaxed focus in meditation, we build an inner resilience to stress that is unparalleled by any other activity. Research has shown that consistent meditation decreases anxiety and boosts our ability to perform under stress and duress. Within each of us, peace exists as our true self. As we learn to tap this innermost core, we feel calm and can extend an even-minded presence into all of our activities and responsibilities. We become more fully available in work and interpersonal situations.
By returning again and again to the state of non-reactive, even-mindedness through meditation, we strengthen our ability to regulate emotions. Leaders know how essential it is to manage their anger and put themselves in others’ shoes. By patiently utilizing the meditation skill of deep breathing to pause and listen, the CEO can avoid responding in an emotional manner. Employees that feel heard and understood will naturally be more committed and perform better.
Finally, the calmness developed through meditation allows us to expand perspective and practice greater patience and empathy for others. With an increased sense of connection, team relationships improve and even in times of conflict, we maintain our own peace of mind.
Your 5-Step Plan
If you are thinking that you have enough on your plate and don’t need another thing to do, it is important to recognize that meditation is "non-doing." It is an emptying of thought, planning and analysis, and an opening to receive rejuvenation, peace and inspiration. Everything you are working on will still be there when you are finished, but you will have shifted into a more relaxed relationship with it.
Start with a small amount of time. Five minutes is fine. First thing in the morning, upon waking is optimal, before checking your phone or engaging with anyone else. The mind is as clear as it can be at this time, and if we establish the habit of tuning in to the stillness, opening to hear the direction of our highest, clearest intuitive self, then the course of the day will be set. Below is an outline of a five-step practice, with components of relaxation, concentration, deep breathing and affirmation. It can be done before starting your day, and additionally at some point during the day, to reset yourself to peace and clarity.
Set Your Intention
Consider what quality or benefit you desire to cultivate as a result of meditation. Create a short affirmation that you are already this. For instance, if your intention is for clarity, the affirmation would be "I am clear." If you need greater focus, it would be, "I am focused." Keep this simple and clear and remember it for step four below.
Relax the Body
A stressed body causes a stressed mind. So, release body tension by consciously relaxing the muscles, one body part at a time. Start in a comfortable sitting position, close your eyes and take a slow deep inhalation. Forcefully exhale the breath in a double sigh. Mentally move through the body letting go of tension and relaxing the head, eyes, jaw, neck, shoulders, chest, back, abdomen, arms, hands, legs and feet. Scan through the body again for any remaining knots of tension and repeat if necessary to fully relax. Then sit with the spine straight, but not rigid. Allow all the muscles to soften around the structure of the bones like a coat hanging gently over a hanger.
(More on how to Unlock the Stress in Your Body With Healing Yoga Techniques.)
Regulate the Breath
A relaxed body breathes better. Once you feel some release in the muscles, attend to the pattern of your breath. Count slowly as you inhale naturally. At the top of the inhalation, pause the breath momentarily. Exhale to the same count as you inhaled. Never strain for the breath in any way. After 10 rounds of breathing in this pattern, check with the body again and repeat the deep inhalation and double sigh exhalation to consciously relax even deeper. Allow the breathing to resume its natural rhythms.
Focus the Mind
Now direct your inner gaze upward toward the intuitive center located at the point between the eyebrows. This upward inner gazing signals the awareness that you are shifting focus from outer attention to inner attention. Begin the affirmation you created at the start of the practice, mentally repeating it with each breath. Don’t worry if it coordinates or not with the in or out breath. Just let the affirmation begin to roll repetitively through your mind. "I am peace. I am clarity. I am wisdom," etc.
Let All Effort Fall Away
Release all techniques of focus and regulation of breath, but do not jump up and move into action! This defeats the purpose of steeping in the rich calm that meditation brings. Sit in the stillness and peace you have cultivated, and enjoy.
Regardless of your initial intention for meditating, you will experience benefits on all levels — body, mind and spirit. Even with only this short practice, if done on a regular basis, stress will become easier to handle, people will trigger you less, and you will feel greater clarity and intuitive direction in handling all the demands on you. You will establish work-life balance and the ability to relax with ease.
Give yourself, and those you manage, the gifts that come from meditation. Begin now.
(Read on for a Quick Office Yoga Sequence to Relieve Muscle Tension and Stress.)