A Higher Degree of Mindfulness

One of my companies, Energetix Corporation, launched a new stress reduction initiative today. Modeled after programs currently running in companies like General Mills, Google, Apple and Deutsche Bank, we’re offering training in yoga and meditation as a means of generating a higher degree of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is defined as being “a state of being fully present, aware of oneself and other people, and sensitive to one’s reactions to stressful situations.” Studies show that leaders who are mindful tend to be more effective in understanding and relating to others, and motivating them toward shared goals. Moreover, they tend to be happier, more relaxed and more productive at home and at work.

A growing body of scientific research explains this phenomenon, long recognized as being true in Eastern spirituality circles. An recent Financial Times article on the topic of yoga, meditation and mindfulness in the corporate world notes:

This may sound like New Age mumbo-jumbo, but a growing body of academic research provides a scientific explanation. Meditation is shown to reduce levels of cortisol, a hormone related to stress. When cortisol levels drop, the mind grows calmer and gains the stability to become more focused. “Mindfulness is an idea whose time has come,” says Google’s [“Search Inside Yourself” program founder, Chade-Meng] Tan. “For a long time practitioners knew, but the science wasn’t there. Now the science has caught up.”

I’m excited to see what comes of this initiative and if my own experience with mindfulness is a guide, those on my team who are interested in participating are in for a wonderful experience. There is no reason why we cannot be more aware of our connection to the rhythms and cycles of the earth, more conscious of our interrelatedness and more at ease in our own skin and I am confident that this program will open the door to that experience.

A Greater Person

When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds. Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.” ~ Pantanjali

A friend of mine sent me this lovely quote from Pantanjali (who is purported to have authored the Yoga Sutras) and I am pleased to admit that it really got me thinking.

For starters, I love the idea that a shift in attention can lead to an expansion of both consciousness and capability. The way in which we focus our attention either binds or loosens our inherent capacity for the expression of beauty, strength and wisdom.

Rare is the person who, once ignited by a great purpose or an extraordinary project, maintains the flame through to fruition. For most, attention wanders, vision dims and passion fizzles. If great care is not taken, the clarion call to greatness that once titillated the hearer is lost in the din of prisoner’s cups clanking on the bars of their own making.

The world is full of distractions that will consume your attention if you let them. You must deliberately place your attention in a direction that matters.

An open door is set before you, that only you can shut.

Flexibility and Control

My Pilates instructor shared an interesting video with me after attending the recent Atlanta MANIA fitness tradeshow. The video featured Chuck Wolf, M.S., an exercise physiologist who developed an interesting fitness training modality called “Flexibility Highways,” who expanded on the basic point that: “Mobilizing muscles and joints without incorporating a stabilizing movement pattern can actually increase the client’s risk of injury.” Take a moment to reread the last sentence. It’s an important point!

Increasing flexibility without increasing control is risky business.

This principle works well in this setting, but does it hold true in other phases of life? I believe so. Yesterday we considered what it takes to “step it up a notch” in your personal expression. I have found that stepping up my game requires that I first relax more deeply in relation to some point around which I have held unnecessary tension. That relaxation – physically, mentally or emotionally – allows the life force to course more freely through body, mind and heart, providing a natural source of strength and inspiration to overcome previous limitations.

New capability without new control is dangerous.

Think of this in relation to children who are allowed to go on the internet for the first time. At first the control must be provided externally, by a parent or limited access restrictions on the search engine, but it makes sense to ease those external controls over time as the internal control builds in the maturing child. If you were to give a child free access to the internet without such controls, the results could be disastrous.

Whenever you mobilize new capability, pay attention to the corresponding stabilizing movement. There will always be one.

In business terms, this would relate to the corresponding strengthening of infrastructure that must accompany a growth in sales. Many wonderful companies with excellent products or services go out of business because of a failure on this point. Their growth outpaces their infrastructure and the company implodes or the infrastructural development outpaces the growth and the company starves to death. Either is an ugly and inglorious ending. Both are generally avoidable if care is taken to add a dash of stabilization whenever a pinch of expansion is experienced.

Principles such as these abound in life and the nice thing is that one principle properly understood can be applied in millions of different ways. What you learn, experience and know in one area of your life can be tremendously useful in other areas of your life when you learn to connect the dots. It’s not that hard, really.

Go ahead, give it a try!

Mind moves matter, if you let it.

You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ~ Marcus Aurelius

The practice of yoga is more challenging – and more rewarding – than it looks. One of the lessons I took home with my shaky legs and becalmed mind was that your mind can stand in the way of easy progress in your life if you let it. Likewise, it can be the key to forward movement, healing and growth if you let it.

My yoga instructor used an example that made a lot of sense to me. She described the fact that scar tissue, limitations in movement and inflexibility that come from physical injuries can often be worked through and healed if you are willing to work through the mental hesitation and mental convictions of disability that block the way to restored function.

The positions you get into and hold for what seems like hours in yoga have an uncanny ability to expose the parts of your body – and the aspects of your mind – that are in need of stretching or strengthening or both. A new pose, like Reclining Hero Pose or Half Moon Pose, brings you swiftly to the edge of your personal performance envelope, the quickly narrowing corner where the power of your mind, the depth of your conviction about the power of outside events and your present physical and mental agility and fortitude meet.

Relinquishing limiting assumptions unleashes hidden inner strength. Call it life force, qi, prana or elan vital, but as with any flow system, when you find a way to open the pathways, flow is restored. While some physical limitations are irreparable, I would venture to say that the large majority of them are reversible. What stands in the way is more a state of mind than a state of matter.

MENS AGITAT MOLEM. Mind moves matter.

Dust of Snow

Dust of Snow by Robert Frost

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree

Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

It has been an interesting weekend, starting with an all-nighter caring for a sick child on Friday and ending in the first of two company parties yesterday evening. What was sandwiched in between was, in a word, rueful: a dead HVAC unit, a minor flood in the office, my recuperating hawk perching on my shoulder and then head and finally a close friend’s new puppy diagnosed with parvovirus. Oh, that I had happened upon a crow and a hemlock tree!

On the bright side, Northeast Georgia (Dahlonega in particular) is experiencing unseasonably low temperatures and drumroll, please…snow! Having spent most of my childhood in colder climes, the freezing temps aren’t that big of a deal, though past injuries do seem to creak a little more than in summer and than in my youth.

Frost’s poem is delightful to me as I’ve often considered how a change in heart leads immediately to a change in mood. I was speaking with a yoga instructor friend of mine at dinner last night and she made an interesting statement. She said that most people take up yoga with a desire to gain physical flexibility but if they stick with it long enough they become more mentally end emotionally supple.

Mental and emotional resiliency come from the inside out. If you base your mood on what is going on outside of you, you will live life on a roller coaster. Your good moods will come when things are going well and your bad moods will rear their ugly head, well, the rest of the time. It doesn’t need to be that way.

You can use your heart radiantly as well as reactively. Most people emphasize the latter capacity, but those with true grit regularly exercise the former. The expression of radiance does not require more exertion, in fact, it comes as a result of greater relaxation.

Unrelieved tension is the nemesis of radiance. You cannot try to be radiant. You either are or you aren’t. Engaging in regular changes of pace, such as yoga or massage, when you lead an otherwise busy, go-getter life, generates valuable space in heart and mind that lead, in turn, to a greater expression of radiance.

Wise, stable and sane is the person who cultivates this balance, a balance achieved, incidentally, through oscillation between rest and exertion or put differently, between “being” and “achieving.” Foolish, unstable and nuts is the person who relies solely on cues from the environment to determine the state of his heart and subsequently his mood.

Radiance comes from an inexhaustible source deep within. When you truly understand this you won’t rue another day. Some days will provide more openings than others and if you’re lucky and you’ve forgotten that every day is an opportunity for radiance, you might just be lucky enough to be sprinkled by the dust of snow from a hemlock tree as a gentle reminder!