FAQ: Meditation, Yoga, and “Presence at Work”

FAQ: Meditation, Yoga, and “Presence at Work”

It’s helpful to cultivate dispassion towards thoughts.

When we detach from the thought stream, we create space in our awareness.  Without thoughts anchoring us in a story, we’re more likely to catch the meditation current that draws us inside.

When we cultivate dispassion to our mental-emotional inner landscape throughout the day, we tend to suffer less. Dispassion frees us from the tendency to grasp and attach to outcomes.

With dispassion, we have more mental-emotional space to enjoy the breath and become aware of what’s happening now.

On Dispassion

Meditation

My mind is too busy to meditate. What do you recommend?
I get derailed when I try to meditate because I'm pressed for time, tired, get bored...

Here is some support for overcoming some of the most common obstacles to meditating.

 

Overcoming Obstacles to Meditating

I want to learn to meditate to reduce anxiety. How do I calm myself?

Meditation is a deep practice that offers us many benefits including clarity, deep insights, and joy. Meditation also helps us cultivate equanimity—calm states of mind—but there are also other simple practices that help us calm ourselves.

Calming Ourselves 101

What's the secret to becoming a meditator?

Read about the secret here, in this blog for total newcomers to meditation.

One important tip—in meditation as in life, a sense of humor goes a long way. Don’t take your thoughts or your new practice too seriously. Just keep sitting. Your meditation practice is likely to deepen and unfold organically if you do.

The Secret to Becoming a Meditator

I just sit and watch my thoughts the whole time. How can that be good?

Even if you feel like you’re just sitting and watching your thoughts, it’s very beneficial.

It’s good to be aware of the thought-stream (perhaps until now unconscious) that’s running you.

When you become aware of your thoughts, you might:

  • Spend a few minutes journaling after meditating to explore these kinds of questions: What thoughts surfaced? What was the conditioning that caused you to have those thoughts?
  • If the thoughts that are arising are critical, toxic, or disempowering, recognize you can talk back to your inner critic, have compassion for your self, and choose different, more empowering thoughts.

Watching thoughts can be tiresome when your intention is to meditate. It might help to:

  • Understand that thoughts are not solid; they’re energy. Notice how evanescent they are as they arise and subside. Ask yourself: What’s the space thoughts are arising out of and subsiding into?
  • Keep bringing your attention back to the breath; enjoy the breath.
  • Repeat mantra.

When you watch your thoughts, you become aware that you are not the thoughts that arise and subside; you’re the space, the awareness, that holds thoughts.

Yoga

What's the difference between practicing yoga and working out at the gym?

The physical practice of yoga is an awareness practice; it’s not just a physical practice.

In yoga we do much more than simply strengthen and stretch and become more flexible.

As we practice yoga, we tune into the breath and sensations, we become aware of thoughts and feelings, and we access meditative states.

We also clear out what yoga refers to as our “subtle body,” comprised of nadis, which is Sanskrit for “little rivers.” In Chinese medicine and acupuncture, they’re called meridians.

When we practice yoga—when we breathe deeply and well, in well-aligned yoga poses, our mental-emotional state shifts.

Yoga helps us calm, ground, and center ourselves. We can also use certain poses to energize ourselves. Backbends, for example, are helpful when we need to brighten our mood.

I don't have time to get to a group yoga class. (Or I don't like group yoga classes.) What do you recommend?

Group classes are not everyone’s cup of tea and they’re not necessarily the best option for everyone.

Both of the Western medical doctors I’ve studied yoga therapeutics with emphasized this point: It’s more beneficial to do a short home yoga practice that targets your specific needs on a regular basis, than an hour and a half group class in a studio once a week.

I don’t recommend undertaking a home yoga practice until you’ve learned good alignment from a certified yoga teacher. You can learn the basics in group yoga classes or by working with a Teacher one-on-one.

Know that you don’t have to do an hour and a half yoga class three times a week to benefit from yoga. Just one example: Dr. Fishman’s “yoga for osteoporosis” can be done in 12 minutes a day.

When you’re busy, doing one pose in great alignment is beneficial.

When do Privates make sense?

Privates make sense when you:

  • have physical or mental-emotional therapeutic issues
  • are new to yoga and learning the basics of alignment
  • want to refine and deepen your practice
  • don’t like group yoga classes
  • are pressed for time but want support to stay motivated to practice
  • want to connect more deeply with presence, ease, and bliss

As a Teacher, I much prefer working with someone who has therapeutic issues in private or semi-private sessions rather than in a group class. Private sessions make it much easier to provide the focus and individual attention that’s needed.

A very skillful way to approach yoga is to work with a Teacher to master the basics of the poses that target your specific needs, and then practice at home in a way that works for you. For many people it’s a better strategy to do short (15, 20 or 30 minute) practices when they can find the time at home.

As both a practitioner and a Teacher I still enjoy the energy of group workshops and classes. A community that we touch base with periodically can strengthen and support our commitment to practice.

How has the way we practice yoga changed over the past decade?

There is a lot more support for making your yoga practice your own than there was 10 years ago. When I started practicing yoga in 2005, the main option if you wanted to learn yoga was to attend group yoga classes in a studio.

Now there are many resources available that support a home yoga practice. You can work with a Teacher in private sessions in person or via Skype, which works surprisingly well.

There are also some great yoga classes available online. I don’t make global recommendations for online offerings but when I’m working with someone, I might recommend a particular class to support their practice.

As a practitioner, I much prefer my home yoga practice—tuning into what I need in any particular moment. I love night-time yoga—doing a very grounding practice to breathe, stretch my thighs, open my hips, twist, lengthen, align, and relax into a meditative state before sleeping.

As a Teacher, I like helping students develop a tool kit of poses and some sequences that target their needs. When developing recommendations, I take into account many factors including their preferences and their mental-emotional tendencies.

I always offer people options for when time is limited. What are the 2 or 3 most important poses that will provide the most benefit in the shortest amount of time?

Cultivating Presence and Ease at Work

What's the main reason for bringing these (meditation, yoga, awareness) practices into the workplace?

My friend, John, who has worked in investor relations at a luxury goods company for decades, offers a good example.

John meditates, attends a yoga class once a week, and occasionally spends time on retreat. He mentioned that when the stock market plummets, it’s very challenging for people who don’t have any kind of (meditation, yoga, awareness) practice; they “lose it.”

John mentioned it’s especially difficult for younger people who haven’t witnessed the cycles of the market. “They don’t know the stock market will go up again; they think they’re going to be fired.”

As Jack Kornfield mentions, “We can’t stop the waves but we can learn to surf.”

One of the most important benefits of these practices is they help people stay in their center so they can navigate volatility and radical change with grace. 

Meditation, yoga, and awareness practices also support the overall well-being and flourishing of employees.

Meditators, especially, report increased clarity, the ability to access deep insights, and enhanced creativity.
What do you recommend for Type A personalities and people who work in competitive environments.

In the age of “agile,” when everyone is expected to produce with ever-increasing speed, the concept of “being” rather than “doing” can be hard to grasp.

I worked on Wall Street, in global banking, for many years, so I have some ideas on what might help.

Here are a couple of tips: recognize that every moment is an opportunity to cultivate presence—to tune into your breath and widen your awareness: become aware of your thoughts and emotions, the sensations in your body, and what’s happening around you.

Eckhart Tolle, Teacher of Presence, says it this way: “take pauses throughout the day to create spaciousness.”

Stop whatever you’re doing and pause. Immerse in the breath and in the sensations of your body. Bring your attention to the present moment, to what’s happening right now.

For many people it’s also helpful to commit to a daily meditation practice.

A great meditation koan for my many friends who work in competitive environments or who have Type A personalities is: “Practice without gaining mind.”

For those conditioned to maximize every minute to gain something, this koan throws you in at the deep end of the pool and cuts through to the heart of the matter.

What a relief it is when we drop “gaining mind” and relax into the present moment.

Practice without gaining mind.

What IS mindfulness?

From Jon Kabat Zinn, who created the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction program: “Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.”

When defining mindfulness, people typically mention that when we’re mindful, we’re in the present moment, not lost in thinking—ruminating about the past or worrying about the future.

A Buddhist monk, Jinmyo Renge Osho, writes in The Meaning of Mindfulness: “Mindfulness is… attending to our experience as it actually is—directly, without strategy, without interpretation.”

She mentions that “Practicing attentiveness is releasing yourself into the sensations and colors and forms and sounds. It is letting go of the endless internalized babble of self-image to experience the body-mind and the world in which it arises—as they actually are.”

In my blog, “The Essence of Mindfulness,” I write about one of my favorite practices from the Tantric tradition which offers us a sweet way to cultivate an awake awareness in the present moment.

 

On the Essence of Mindfulness

Why do you use other terms, like presence and awareness (rather than mindfulness)?

Mindfulness is a foundational concept from Buddhism—one that we badly need in the age of distraction.

Two of the best mindfulness trainings—The Power of Awareness, with Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach, and Mindfulness-Based Street Reduction with Saki Santorelli and Florence Meleo-Meyers—are available online, through Sounds True. I have taken and highly recommend these classes.

It’s certainly a positive development that meditation and mindfulness have become mainstream.

There are other ways of talking about “awake” states in the present moment that are also potent. For example, we can ask:

Am I present or absent?
Conscious or unconscious?
In a state of contraction or a state of expansion?
Am I in the grip of ego or do I have access to some space, mentally?

In general, I prefer the term “presence” as it quickly anchors me in the present moment.

Jack Kornfield talks about James Joyce’s character Mr. Duffy, “who lived a short distance from his body.”

In the age of distraction, a lot of us can be like Mr. Duffy—disembodied, so lost in thought, we’re not in touch with what’s below the neck, the sensations in our bodies or the ground beneath us.

“Are you present or absent?” is an invitation to check in and come back into your body if you’re lost in thought.

Father Thomas Keating, who was a meditation master, remarked that “mindfulness” is a kind of “heartfulness.”

Many traditions believe that the seat of our awareness is in the heart center. Breathing in and out of the heart center is a potent practice for getting us out of our heads and into a more present, more awake state.

In the physical practice of yoga we reconnect to the center of pure being in the belly center. We can also open that center in meditation. When we’re connected to the heart center and belly center, we have access to our deeper embodied wisdom.

Aside from “presence,” it makes sense to talk about the nature of awareness. Regardless of whether we embrace a wisdom tradition or a secular approach, what we’re exploring is our primal awareness.

How do we overcome the challenges of adoption? Our people have work-life balance issues and no time to practice.

The communications have to inspire people to practice. The practices have to be respectful of people’s time. In the beginning, especially, they need to be short. The attitude has to be gentle and supportive, especially for people who have harsh inner critics.

My “unique competitive advantage” is my background in global communications. To make these programs work in global corporations, you need nothing short of a professional, internal global communication program.

I think these programs will be most effective if they’re customized for your culture and unique needs.

I also think they need to focus on the practice that has been proven to change both people’s states and neural circuitry for the better, which is meditation.

Finally, these programs need the support of senior management. If you don’t have the support of senior management, it will be hard to effect change in the organization.