Article by Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel
Mindfulness, derived from ancient Buddhist traditions, is the latest trend to hit the world of business. But what exactly is it? ‘Mindfulness’ was first introduced to the West in the late 1950’s and was then secularised into mainstream medical circles in the 1970’s where it was initially trialled, with extreme success, for patients with incurable and/or terminal pain and illness. Since this time it has gained respect and recognition within the fields of mental health, education, medicine, sport, prisons, the creative arts and business. The benefits of mindfulness, all scientifically supported, include stress reduction, pain management, increased productivity, enhanced creativity, improved memory function, greater self-confidence, more self-awareness and self-care and, above all else, a significant increase in happiness and well-being.
Sound too good to be true? Well, we all know that that usually means that it is. However, this is an exception to an extent. By this we mean that mindfulness requires no special tools, abilities, spiritual virtues or self-denial, what it does require however, is lots of practice, patience, care and curiosity. Whilst there is plenty of research to substantiate that mindfulness really does help you to work more effectively the best test is to try it out for yourself. If you have an open-mind and are committed to exploring your own habits, thoughts and emotions in order to gain confidence and well-being, and to find more effective ways to manage your working life, then perhaps you would like to begin your journey (or extend it if you’ve already tried mindfulness before) with the following exercise?
Develop your skills to pay attention
This exercise is designed to help you develop your skills of paying attention, staying focussed and gaining greater mental clarity. Our lives are filled with distractions and demands on our attention; not being aware of the present moment becomes habitual, as does trying to do too many things at once, and as a result efficiency and productivity decreases. Mindfulness calls on us to train our minds to stay present and aware of the moment we are actually in right now. As you try this following exercise just notice how often your mind drifts away from the present or latches onto something completely different! Be aware that this is perfectly natural (no need to berate yourself), it helps to take a non-judgemental stance towards yourself – to be interested, gentle and curious rather than critical. You can do this exercise sitting at your desk, or on your commute to or from work, standing or sitting down. You are welcome to do this practice quite quickly (say about 2 minutes or so) or to take your time and linger.
- First allow your attention to go to your feet and the contact they are making with the ground. Notice where the soles of your feet touch the floor and also the sensations of your feet inside your shoes. If you can’t notice much, just be aware of the absence of any sensations. Simply be open to noticing whatever comes right now.
- Notice your feet, be aware that you are doing this and let your feet take centre stage in your awareness.
- Now let your attention come to your legs, just take stock of the position of your legs – noticing weight, pressure and posture. Let whatever arises in your awareness be welcomed, there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’.
- Let yourself become aware of any sensations , or absence of them, in the legs.
- Allowing the awareness of your legs to slowly dissolve, now bring your focus to your arms. Notice just your arms and nothing else right now. Become aware of sensations arising and falling away again and simply be open and curious to this.
- Next let yourself pay attention to the areas of the body where you notice the sensation of air meeting the skin. This may be the face, neck or hands or anywhere else. Let yourself fully experience these sensations just for this moment, letting all else fall away, just for now.
- When you are ready begin to scan your body from head to toe and back again, just sensing into whatever is present in the whole field of bodily sensation. For instance you might become aware of pleasant, unpleasant or neutral qualities of sensation, temperature, areas of comfort, tension, pressure, etc. Allow your whole body to be included and bring whatever arises to the forefront of your attention.
- Take a moment to recognise the constant ebbing and flowing of sensations within the body – even in quite tight and contracted areas you may still feel subtle changes. Even with this constant flux occurring, there is still awareness and the you that observes these sensations and experiences remaining unaffected.
- To close the exercise, bring your focus again to the feet. Feel the contact with the floor, find your base and ground. Notice the feet and notice that you are able to direct your focus at will, that you can draw your attention to the present at any time, just like this.
- When you are ready begin to open the field of your attention again to become aware of some of the objects, sensations and actions of the environment around you.
Dr Michael Sinclair and Josie Seydel are the authors of Working with Mindfulness. It is out now, published by Pearson, priced £13.99