Mindfulness is for everyone.
The art of meditation, and how to meditate, is a long story and is sometimes thought of as "fluffy". Will something that monks and hippies practice actually benefit anyone? Luckily, meditation has gone mainstream thanks to another practice which is now very well known - mindfulness, particularly mindfulness in the workplace.
Having said that, I believe, for men, mindfulness is similar to yoga. It feels very feminine. We all know this isn’t right, and I say this without any prejudice, but often we carry this stigma as men that anything deemed "fluffy" doesn’t sit with the image of a "tough bloke".
I can hear some people thinking this is just stereotyping, but unfortunately, to this day, the stigma of a "tough bloke" remains. It's only in recent years, that "men" are accepting their need to take care of themselves, and that it is by no means “unmanly” to do so. Whether that is yoga, meditation, or even spa days - I'll never forget my first spa day many years ago, it’s was just delightful!
I discovered mindfulness almost 15 years ago. I was interested in Buddhism and it’s philosophy and I started attending meditation sessions, but not much came out of it. I had prejudices too, but as I practiced I noticed the benefits of mindfulness. And, with more awareness of mental health, let me just say that after a few redundancies and potential burn-outs (we never talk about that either), I wasn’t ready to give up. Mindfulness literally saved my sanity!
What is mindfulness? It’s about being in the moment and being self aware. Similar to Emotional Intelligence, it is about self awareness and awareness of others - being mindful. For mindfulness, the NHS uses the example of consciously feeling the banister when you are walking up or down the stairs. Being able to take your surroundings in, non judgementally, just very mindfully.
Meditation is the art of practising mindfulness. It is about sitting still and quietening the mind. That’s how most people would define it anyway. Personally, I think if you go for a jog or relax in the sauna, sit at the beach and watch the waves, you are meditating too; you are definitely mindful and compassionate with yourself. It’s your own personal form of meditation, whatever fits in better with your image of the world.
My routine is a 20 minute quiet meditation every morning. It’s like going to the gym, we train our brain to focus on the present moment and not to focus on our thoughts. We do that by sitting or lying down, being still and observing the mind. We can also find objects to meditate on. When we notice that the mind attaches itself to a thought, we bring our attention back to our breathing, in a very gentle and mindful way.
Let’s go through an example of mindfulness meditation. Start with short sessions, maybe sit down for just a minute or two. Close your eyes or gaze down on the floor with a soft focus and just concentrate on your breathing. The reason we use the breath is to give us an anchor point. When we focus on our breathing, we might notice that our mind wanders, but that’s ok, we just bring our attention back to our breathing. Try that a few times. You can start by doing this for one minute a day, then increase the length of time gradually. This is exactly how I started. I didn’t just sit down one day and meditate for 45 minutes in one go!
When I teach my mindfulness courses, we start with training the mind to bring the attention back to our breathing. Then we experiment by focusing on sounds and thoughts, and later we do a body scan, which helps you experience any sensations in the body. There is a very strong body and mind connection - we develop a mindful awareness of our body and mind. If you are a yogi, you will notice the deep connection even further.
In my mindfulness at work courses we also teach a goto meditation. It is called a "3 step breathing meditation", because you can do it in 30 seconds, 3 minutes or 30 minutes.
You can follow these instructions:
Firstly, sit down and let all your thoughts come to your mind, like a scan of everything that is going on. So when you feel overwhelmed and busy, and your mind is trying to keep up with your to do list, you want to jump into this quick meditation.
You collect all that’s going on in your mind and "compartmentalise" your thoughts. Take about a minute or two to do that, and then focus on your breathing. Don’t let the mind go back and focus on the things you need to do, just focus on your breathing. This clears the mind, and brings your attention to the present moment.
The third step is opening up your thoughts to what’s next. A task at hand, a break, maybe lunch. Whatever it might be, just open up and you will realise it isn’t as difficult as you may have thought.
Come on guys give it a go!
You can find out more about Volker's Mindfulness Classes here or contact him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org to enquire about his Transition Coaching for career or life changes, or any other improvements!