The current world runs on what is referred to as the knowledge economy. The term used to describe people in such a knowledge economy is “knowledge workers”. And that is largely a reflection of using a higher proportion of our mind and our brains in the work we do. Traditionally humans have been working in physically demanding jobs such as in agriculture and manufacturing. But the services economy has taken centre stage with more than 52% of total jobs (www.worldbank.org) and consequently we are using our minds and brains a lot more.
Even in these physical sectors of the economy, there is a higher degree of knowledge being used. In agriculture for example, a farmer would rely on local climate data provided by the weather department to decide whether to or not water his crops. Soil chemical sensing allows him to now know exactly how much fertilizer is needed, and market data on pricing and demand for his crops allows him to price it so he can get a good return.
Manufacturing jobs too have evolved rather significantly with automation replacing physical and often dangerous working conditions. And as a result manufacturing jobs have become more knowledge intensive that requires less “doing” and more “thinking”. It is this shift from using less of the physical and more of the mental that has brought about rapid strides in productivity and innovation. We are able to produce more with much less effort and that means we have more time to imagine newer products that enhance productivity even more.
Of course there is, as always, a downside to all of this great advancement of technology and rapid multiple fold increases in productivity. There is a constant demand on us to innovate, to stay ahead, to create something new, or risk the peril of being left behind, of not having enough. There is always a threat to jobs, with technology snapping at the heels of employees. No profession is safe. Doctors have robots performing surgeries, accountants have computers perform financial transactions, artificial intelligence has made deep inroads into mimicking and adapting human ways of working and replacing humans.
So where are we going with all of this? What impact is it having on our minds? Are we at risk of “losing it”? All of this coupled with a constant competitive pressure at workplace has increased stress which shows up in a number of different physical maladies – heart disease, diabetes, gastroenteritis, and even cancer. There is also competition outside of work, in our social circles, thanks to social media. We are now driven by the number of likes we get for pictures of us, our vacations, our family and our events.
So how are humans coping with all of this stress? I am sure nature did not design us to take so much stress. And that shows in the physical form in terms of “lifestyle diseases” and also in mental forms with increasing rates of anxiety and depression in the current population Traditional forms of treatment include psychotherapy, prescribing medication such as anti-depressants, and in severe cases hospitalization.
Unfortunately these treatments are all post facto. They only solve or remedy a problem after it has occurred. There is no way medication can prevent mental illness. So, is there another way? Or are we limited to popping pills and spending hours in therapy? One has to look to more traditional forms of living for the answers. In traditionally eastern cultures there is a significant emphasis on meditation. On discovering the inner self and aligning one’s internal energies so that there is balance. A lot of these practices are now being followed the world over with newer methods and techniques being incorporated into traditional forms of meditation.
This is the #1 technique you need to master to be more effective in your life.
So what is meditation? Meditation is a practice where an individual uses a technique – such as mindfulness, or focusing their mind on a particular object, thought or activity – to train attention and awareness, and achieve a mentally clear and emotionally calm state. (Wikipedia). Traditionally meditation has been associated with religious practices, but it has nothing to do with religion. It is a universal practice that involves looking inward and bringing awareness of the self. Coupled with breathing techniques, meditation has a very calming effect on the mind and as a result on our bodies.
According to headspace (www.headspace.com), meditation is both a skill and an experience — a formal exercise to cultivate awareness and compassion. By sitting with the mind, we’re training it to be more open and at ease, and we consequently discover greater calm, clarity, contentment, and compassion. In doing so, we increasingly learn to have a direct experience of the present moment. And this translates to a number of physical benefits such as lower blood pressure, improved immune system, more energy, relaxation, and mental benefits such as lower stress levels, improved concentration, lower anxiety levels, greater emotional stability, lower chance of getting depression and increased compassion. And the best part is you don’t have to spend anything to get all of these benefits. They are all for free.
3 simple meditation techniques that are guaranteed to work
A number of clients I work with find it extremely hard to meditate. All of them see the immense benefits of meditation and have experienced them to some extent but seem to not be able to make meditation a habit. Some find it hard to focus, to not allow stray thoughts into the mind. Others find it boring and would rather go to they gym. I also find a few of them not being able to keep up with doing it every day.
So something as simple as spending time with oneself in a quiet space has become an extremely difficult task to do, more difficult than even working 10 hours a day at our jobs. Seems rather strange that people spend a lot of money and time with a doctor to solve a blood pressure condition or to manage their diabetes but find it difficult to spend as little as 15 minutes every day meditating. Is it because it has no technology associated with it or a science that explains how it works? Humans have become increasingly distrustful of simple and free things in life.
If you are one of them who has tried meditating and failed, or someone who has never tried it for whatever reason, I have 3 simple ways you can meditate and experience its countless benefits. The first 2 techniques require you to commit spending 15 minutes each morning for meditation. The third technique can be used at any time during the day and requires not more than 5 minutes. But irrespective of what technique you choose, there needs to be a strong commitment you have to make to yourself. And that commitment will help you go a long way to leading a stress free and effective life.
I call this technique “step relaxation” as it relaxes your body one step or one part at a time. This is great if you are trying this for the first time or find it difficult to keep your mind free of random thoughts while meditating. This is best done in the morning although with every meditation technique you can do it at any other time of the day as well. This technique is a form of guided meditation that follows a set process and works well for people who are highly analytical and left brained.
Begin by sitting in a comfortable posture. Ideally don’t rest your back against a support but if you find it difficult initially take the support of a cushion but try and keep your back as straight as possible. Close your eyes and breathe slowly and deliberately. Take a few breaths, deep ones, until you feel comfortable. Then bring your attention to your forehead, say to yourself “my forehead is relaxing”, and feel it relax. Then slowly move to your eyes and again, say to yourself “my eyes are relaxing”, and feel them relax. In this manner move to other parts of your head, the nose, mouth, cheeks, back of the head, neck and throat. Each time say to yourself that the part is relaxing, and feel it relax – feel the tension go away.
Then continue slowly to other parts of your body and get as granular as you can. For example, instead of saying my arms are relaxing, go over each part of your arms – biceps, triceps, elbows, forearm, wrists, and fingers. Continue this technique until you have covered your entire body, up to your toes, until your entire body feels relaxed. At this point stay in that space for a few more minutes before slowly opening your eyes and closing the session.
Like I said you can do this first thing in the morning or at any time of the day. Just find a quiet place and ask not to be disturbed for 10-15 minutes. That’s all it takes, and you will notice a big difference in the way you feel. Give it a shot.
Deep breathing technique
Once you have achieved some level of comfort meditating using the first technique you will find it is easier to be able to relax without going over each part of your body. You can try the second technique after having practiced the first one for a 2-week period. If you find it difficult to meditate even then, I suggest going back to the first technique which forces attention to yourself rather than on stray thoughts.
This deep breathing technique is simple. Again, find a quiet place, sit in a comfortable posture but with your back straight. Focus on your breath going in as you inhale, and then on your breath going out as you exhale. Breath in and out as deeply and as slowly as you can, without feeling any discomfort. Concentrate on the breathing and nothing else. Watch the air go in and then watch it go out. At this stage don’t think of anything else. If thoughts come to you, and they most likely will, try to bring your attention back to your breathing.
As you do this for 5 to 10 minutes you will find your breathing slowing down considerably. And you will also find thoughts enter your mind quite frequently. The trick is to keep bringing the attention back to the breath going in and the breath going out. This form of meditation is good for those who are generally able to concentrate or are generally more mindful of their state. If you are able to achieve this meditative state comfortably you will find it very easy to close your eyes any time of the day and in any place, bring your attention back to your inner self and be able to calm yourself down.
Instant meditation technique
In the age of instant everything, from noodles to making friends and then making them like you, this technique can be very useful in a fast-paced environment. This meditation technique can be used at any time of the day and in any setting to bring a sense of grounding before an important activity or event.
I use this technique before a coaching session with my clients. it helps them and me get disconnected from whatever it is that they were doing before coming to my session so that they can then be fully present for my session. And the same applies to me as a coach. I have also used this in a group setting before a team meeting to get all participants in the same space to better use the time we have together. I have found this technique very useful in these situations, in getting to the desired outcomes in the most optimal manner.
Say you are going to be speaking with one of your team members about their performance. This is typically a high-strung conversation especially when performance hasn’t been up to mark or when you have a not so good bonus you are handing out to them. After you get into the meeting room and settle down, you may want to introduce this instant meditation technique. First seek their permission to do this describing to them that you would be asking them to close their eyes for a while. Say that you would be participating in this exercise as well.
By seeking permission you are elevating the relationship to a higher level which will then serve you well during the rest of the meeting. Assuming the other person is ok with it, you both sit in a comfortable position, close your eyes and just breathe slowly. And as you breathe in and out very slowly, just focus on the inhalation and exhalation. You need to do this only for 10 cycles of inhaling and exhaling, and then slowly open your eyes. Both of you will feel grounded, relaxed, free of any preconceived notions or ideas you may have come to the meeting with and be ready for the agenda for that meeting.
This technique can also be used in a group setting with your entire team, or with a peer group just before a business review meeting or a strategy session. You will experience a higher level of presence of the group and collaboration to be able to achieve objectives in the shortest possible time. Give it a try and see how your work environment transforms.
I hope these techniques I use for myself and my clients will be useful to you. They don’t cost a dime, are super effective, and bring about a radical transformation in oneself and at work. But it is important to be committed to the process, to making meditation an integral part of your daily routine. And then the benefits kick in. Good luck…!