Editor: Guest post by Jan Goss, mindfulness meditation practitioner and coach. I bumped into Jan by pure chance. One day, my head full of ideas about researching the issues of stress and well-being in small business, I walked out of my office and stared straight at a small poster seeking participants for a study into mindfulness, and its application in work. Since that day, Jan and I have worked together with entrepreneurs, and she has introduced them – and me – to mindfulness as an approach to life.
‘…yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why they call it the present.’ (Eleanor Roosevelt)
You can have anything you want. It all starts with your mind…Indeed!
Al Kavadlo’s entry on the blog really resonated with me. Yes, I believe it is possible to have anything that we want. I have read this philosophy consistently over the past 15 years, in the ‘Cosmic Ordering’ of Babel Mohr, the ‘Heal Your Body’ philosophy of Louise Hay and more recently, and somewhat ‘explosively’, in ‘The Secret’ of Rhonda Byrne. The underlying message from all of these best-selling authors is where focus goes, energy flows. Our thoughts are constantly creating our experience. Everything begins with a thought and the amount of attention and ‘air-time’ that we give a thought is fundamental to its potency.
Have you ever heard the expression ‘be careful what you wish for’? Much of the time we are making unconscious ‘wishes’ in the form of thought. Thoughts are creative. They are a necessary step in the process of evolution. Indeed, everything begins with a thought. It therefore makes sense that we become aware of what we are thinking and where our attention is focused.
With heightened awareness it becomes possible to see the effects that our thoughts are having on our life experience, on our emotional state and on other people. It also becomes possible to see the effects that other people and their thoughts are having on us and with this vital awareness we are able to discern whether those ‘thoughts’ are contributing positively or negatively to life.
The good news is we can train the mind with a simple and effective tool known as mindfulness practice, a tried and tested method. Research into the effects of mindfulness repeatedly shows that we are able, not only to reduce stress (and who doesn’t need some of that) but also alter our basic brain chemistry. The prefrontal cortex of the brain has been shown to be ‘plastic’, it can continue to change and develop at any age. Research involving MRI technology has proved that with regular mindfulness practice the brain actually alters shape, a term known as ‘neuroplasticity’.
Harvard-trained doctor and Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Daniel Siegel states ‘Mindfulness is a form of mental activity that trains the mind to become aware of awareness itself and to pay attention to one’s own intention’. It is a method of concentration and focus on one’s self, from a kind and curious perspective. It allows us to become aware of our habitual and ‘unconscious’ thoughts and behaviours. It is an enlightening practice that incorporates myriad benefits.
Mindfulness practice can be done whilst sitting, walking, eating, listening, speaking, studying or working. The list is endless. The skill of concentrating awareness is highly transferable and of paramount importance if we are to succeed at any task. Its cultivation is especially needed in these times of ‘sensory overload’.
So, in response to Al’s blog entry, yes physical health starts with a thought, but so too does the whole of our life experience…
‘A Kennedy march is a long-distance march of 50 miles or 80 kilometers (note that 50 miles is actually approximately 80.45 kilometers), named after former American president John F. Kennedy’s following words uttered in 1963: “I think most American people are so weak, they can’t even walk fifty miles within twenty hours”. Kennedy marches have since been organised to prove John F. Kennedy wrong in this pessimistic view.’ (source: http://www.worldlingo.com/ma/enwiki/en/Kennedy_march)
There has been a recent flurry of media coverage of the failings of physical education in our schools. It is a good time to look back into earlier times. In the postwar United States, the health and fitness of young people became a prominent political concern. Changes in diet, work, and leisure were seen as threats to vigour, strength and fitness.
The former warrior President Eisenhower knew that there had been concern about the physical condition of conscripts in both World War II and the Korean War. During his first term, attention to the problem spiked when a report by Kraus and Hirschland demonstrated that US children lagged behing those from other nations in terms of fitness. Eisenhower inaugurated the President’s Council on Youth Fitness in 1956. The Council never gained traction during his presidency, its focus remained contested, and fitness itself lacked definition. Though he established the Council, Eisenhower seldom spoke about fitness. In contrast, John F. Kennedy’s brought a totally different approach to the problem of fitness and the role of the Council.
Kennedy used the fitness issue to capitalise upon his relative youth, which was in other areas a cause for jibes about inexperience. It suited his political messages concerning preparedness, which resonated with contemporary anxiety about weakness in the Cold War era. Apocryphally, it was said that the Soviets did not take coffee breaks, they took exercise breaks instead! Kennedy made it clear that physical fitness was a concern of government, and he made frequent reference to the subject in his speeches, and he gave the Council new authority. One of Kennedy’s interventions led to the fifty-mile march gaining national prominence.
In an earlier time, Theodore Roosevelt had challenged U.S. Marine officers to cover a 50 mile mach in twenty hours. Kennedy brought Roosevelt’s executive order to the attention of General David M. Shoup, then commandant of the Marines. Shoup was told to present the old order as his own find, and to propose that contemporary Marines should be tasked to complete the challenge. Shoup agreed, and Kennedy indicated that assuming Marines could match the fitness of their forebears, he would then turn the spotlight towards White House staff. White House press secretary Pierre Salinger understood well that “look[ing] into the matter personally”, as the President suggested, would mean him walking fifty miles himself. The portly Salinger never accepted the challenge, humorously pointing to Attorney General Robert F. Kennedy’s own fifty miler as evidence that the administration was fit for office. President’s Kennedy’s brother had made the distance on impulse in 1963, marching out of his office wearing leather Oxford shoes, striding through Washington slush and snow (and would it not bring joy to our hearts this December to hear of our politicians tramping home to their constituencies, on a whim?)
The fifty mile march rose in public esteem, though the President’s Council issued a guarded press release advocating a gentle program of walking for exercise. Many communities organised their own marches, and thousands took part. It was made clear that the administration was not sponsoring fifty mile hikes per se. The freshly-coined ‘Kennedy march’ achieved fad status in the UK, and the extant Keswick to Barrow 40-mile walking challenge dates from that period. It arose from a friendly discussion between US and British shipyard workers at Barrow.
So, aside from being an interesting story from the history of 20th century physical culture, what is there in this tale that is relevant today? It seems likely that the average American would still be seriously challenged by a fifty mile hike. The history of government involvement in promoting the physical health of young people is an inglorious one. Here in the UK, despite the recent euphoria of the 2012 Olympics, the situation is not reassuring.
My verdict: it is a good time to remember the old environmentalists’ credo of ‘think global, act local’. In this context that means look after your own fitness, do all you can to help others, especially your children. Make no expectation of what education or government will do. Kennedy was right – be prepared.
Today renowned New York City coach, athlete, author and blogger Al Kavadlo is our guest author. I have just finished reading his book We’re Working Out!, which concisely presents his philosophy on training. Here he is discussing motivation. Thanks Al.
You can have anything you want; It all starts with your mind.
Exercise is the most clear cut example of how we can use our minds to manifest the reality of our choosing. Once you put that mental focus into action and start a consistent workout routine, your body starts to change right before your eyes.
If you have the mental focus to be in tune with your body, and you practice using that body, you can actually effect physical change in yourself. How cool is that? Really think about it.
The amazing thing is, everything else in life is pretty much the same way. Anything that you give your full mental focus to can be yours. That doesn’t mean it’s going to come easy, but if you want it badly enough, and you take the necessary steps towards that path, things that may have seemed impossible can become possible!
There were many challenges I once deemed out of my reach, but have since overcome; muscle-ups, human flags and one arm chin-ups were all exercises that once intimidated me. When I doubted my ability to perform these feats, I shut myself off from my potential. Once I realized that, however, I began to adjust my beliefs and start taking action to manifest my dreams. With practice and discipline I have since trained my body to do those feats and many others. And you can too!
Want a better body? It’s yours for the taking.
Beware of all enterprises that require new clothes. … —Mark Twain
As was demonstrated on Wednesday, darn it, there is just no need for a special place (a gymn), clothes, or other fim-flam. Gear freaks might be saddened, but Mr. Twain would agree.
Thanks to everyone for their interest in, and contributions to, Wednesday’s event. I hope that each of you learned something from the day that you can make use of in your own lives and workplaces.
For those who want to develop a more robust exercise habit, please get in touch and let me know if there are any resources that you would like. I would also be keen to hear any ideas for future events or even a programme that we could put together to support your efforts (and which might involve your staff too) – I have some ideas which I will float in the near future.
Some of you may be feeling a little muscle soreness, which shows that you put some good healthy stress on under-used body parts. If you are resolved to keep this up but can’t quite remember the simple circuit that Steve Cody led, then some variation on this are a good place to start:
- Gentle warm up (the things Chris taught would be great for this), getting more vigorous
- 30 seconds press ups or tricep dips off a chair
- 30 seconds active recovery (walking, jogging, skipping (not so easy!))
- 30 seconds squats or lunges
- 30 seconds active recovery
- 30 seconds crunches
- 30 seconds active recovery
- [only three minutes so far – this could be done while a kettle boiled]
Either repeat above one or two times more – total then only six or nine minutes
Or move to one minute chunks once through (adding another 6 minutes or 4.5 if you keep recovery at 30 seconds), maybe finishing off with another round at 30 seconds again. The total time of going through as suggested, first 30 second intervals, then 1 minute ‘on’ and 30 seconds rest, ending with 30 seconds again is only ten and a half minutes. As you will remember from the barn on Wednesday, that sort of duration can really ramp up our metabolisms.
By varying the duration of the exercise chunks, adding in exercises, reducing rest periods, running through it all more times, and so on, you can construct almost limitless variations. This ‘convict conditioning’ approach can be done in a very small space, needs no special equipment or clothing (sorry chaps, that comes later!), and shows that even if you only have ten minutes you can do some useful movement practice in this ‘exercise snack’ format. We all know this, but it is worth re-stating here: frequency is the most important thing, i.e. doing this stuff most days of the week. Two or three decent walks or runs, plus two or three runs through of a simple bodyweight circuit a week will build a great foundation of fitness. Have fun, take is slowly, and let us all know how you get on.
I also personally love the philosophy of the 100 Reps Challenge movement. Basically, that states that modern life has removed so much of what was once commonplace physicality from our lives that, regardless of what other exercise practice we undertake on any day, we should, as a bare minimum and in order to replace some of that lost ‘background’ movement and energy demand, do some movement every day.
Tackling stress and enhancing well-being
On November 3rd, which was National Stress Awareness Day, a group of small business owners gathered at Forrest Hills, near to the campus, for a one-day workshop organised by theInstitute for Entrepreneurship and Enterprise Development at Lancaster University.
In a morning devoted to physical aspects of health, attendees received instruction and vocal motivation from ex-Forces PTI Steve Cody. Steve discussed the crucial role that personal motivation plays in any exercise program (or lack of). He then demonstrated a range of movements and approaches to combining these into a fun but quick circuit. Everyone present agreed that just 10 minutes of this ‘high intensity interval training’ approach can produce quite a sweat and be great fun.
While one group enjoyed Steve’s instruction, others met with Chris Shaw, an expert practitioner of the Chinese martial arts. Chris led people through a series of approaches from Qigong and Tai Chi. The beneficial relaxing, stress diminishing and energising qualities of shaking, cicrcling, and slapping movements, as well as self-massage were are all experienced, before the group were led through some good-natured exercises in pushing, being pushed, and avoiding external physical stresses. The metaphorical lessons in this were clear to all, especially when after lunch, we turned to focus on themental aspects of stress, coping and well-being. Former mental health nurse, now working as a stress and conflict resolution counsellor, Donna Burden led a group discussion on how stress manifests physically, how it links to depression, and what constitutes good mental health. It was interesting to hear that exercise is first among the NIHCE guideline recommendations for the treatment of mild depression, reinforcing the value of the morning’s activities.
The final session of the day was led by Jan Goss, who began a discussion on the topic of mindfulness before leading the group through a 25-minute long guided mindfulness meditation session. It was good to have several attendees present who had previously worked with Jan’s methods, as they were able to vouch for the benefits which they had experienced from this practice.
It was a packed day, but gave everyone a lot of things to incorporte into their own lives. As I write, several participants have been in touch to confirm that DOMS (delayed onset muscle soreness) indicates that we managed to help them find the muscles that they had forgotten!
November 3rd, 2010 is National Stress Awareness Day
Join us for a day-long innovation and wellness workshop that will give you an opportunity to learn more about how stress impacts you and your workforce, and to try out a number of stress reduction techniques that will be introduced to you by experts in their fields.
In order that people may be happy in their work, these three things are needed: they must be fit for it, they must not do too much of it and they must have a sense of success in it. (John Ruskin, 1871).
Under Health & Safety law there is a clear obligation on employers to consider all components of workplace health, including mental health. As an owner manager you are therefore responsible for your workforce. You are also responsible for your own physical and mental well-being. Mental health is ‘the emotional and spiritual resilience which allows us to enjoy life and to survive pain. It is a positive sense of wellbeing and an underlying belief in our own and others’ dignity and worth’ (Health Education Authority, 1997). It is therefore at least as important as physical health and safety.
A struggling business or a failure does of course cause stress: but there is also some evidence that stress might also contribute to business failure. Research has found that business owners who do not deal with stress also fail to act in ways that navigate their businesses through tough times. By avoiding stressors they cap the growth of their companies. If you have been through the LEAD programme, then you will be familiar with thinking about how your behaviour effects the growth and success of your business. Join us on November 3rd for a different take on this subject.
We have lined up four experts to inform and instruct attendees on a broad range of stress-related areas. It is easy to read a book advising that we all need to eat well, exercise more, and relax. But sometimes knowing where to begin is the hardest part. Come on this workshop and, in addition to an informative and energising day, you will take away a set of new ideas and practices to incorporate into your own lifestyle. These things will also be applicable to your workplace, your colleagues and employees, and your wider life. And there is no need to wait until the New Year to consider some healthy new practices!
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu
Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)
We will start the day with a morning of movement and activity. The usual caveats apply of course, but for many people the following warning is more appropriate:
Before beginning a program of sedentary living and isolation from the natural world, see your physician, your therapist and your insurance agent. While you’re at it, check with your family and friends. You are about to embark on a perilous lifestyle that is dangerous not only to yourself, but also to those around you. (Frank Forencich, 2010)
Steve Cody is an ex UK Forces physical training instructor now working freelance in the UK and in the United States. Steve works with students, busy executives, boot camp attendees, and as personal trainer to household-name celebrities. Steve will explain, demonstrate, and take you through a number of exercise routines that can be beneficially fitted into the busiest lifestyle. This will not be a ‘boot camp’ session, but will leave you re-energised to improve or adopt your own healthy exercise habit.
Chris Shaw is a Tai Chi and Qigong teacher based in South Cumbria. As well as training and teaching at the highest levels in a range of Chinese ‘internal’ martial arts, Chris is experienced in working with novices in corporate and classroom settings, delivering health and wellbeing training to a range of organisations in the North West of England. On November 3rd, Chris will introduce a range of simple movement practices that can invigorate, energise and reduce stress. Easy to learn, these movements have proven health benefits and can easily be adopted for personal use.
After a break for lunch, we will address the mental aspects of well-being from two different approaches.
Donna Burden is a former psychiatric nurse and is currently acting as mental health adviser and specialist in conflict resolution to a range of UK corporations. Donna will give an overview of key concepts and points to consider in regard to your own, and your employees’, mental well-being. Drawing on her background knowledge of the practical application of psychology, Donna will look at mindset and thought patterns which can be counter-productive, or which can be applied to bolster our mental health.
Jan Goss has over a decade’s experience as a mindfulness meditation practitioner and teacher. Jan will guide the group through a mindfulness meditation practice and show how this can be incorporated into daily life. Jan will also discuss how the concept of gratitude can make you happier. Workshop attendees will leave with an MP3 recording of a guided practice that can be used in their own private time.
Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough presence. Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence. (Eckhart Tolle)
Our venue of November 3rd will be Forrest Hills, a pleasant rural environment adjacent to the University campus and easily accessed from the A6 and M6. The day will run from 09.15 to 17.15, and participants should wear comfortable clothing suitable for performing some moderate exercise. A warm layer is also recommended for outdoor activity.
The price for the workshop is £75.00. LEAD graduates or current participants will benefit from a reduced price of £50.00, and members of Lancaster University’s GOLD programme will be charged £40.00. This fee covers the workshop, all refreshments, and take-home items including an audio file and workbook.
To register, please email me, Magnus George, on firstname.lastname@example.org. I can also answer any questions that you have about the workshop and its suitability for you.
Take a seat. No, on second thoughts stand up and jiggle about to read this. Two studies from the USA, a decade apart, highlight the peril that lurks beneath us.
A paper by Lars Bo Anderson and colleagues, published by the American Medical Association in Archives of Internal Medicine (160:1621-1628) in 2000, looked at the risks associated with physical inactivity. Physical activity at work, sports participation and bicycling to work were all considered. The researchers undertook a prospective study, beginning with a random sample of 13,375 women and 17,265 men. They sought to ascertain the whether physical inactivity posed a consistent threat in different demographic groups. Follow-up fourteen years later identified 2,881 deaths in the women and 5,668 in the men. Headline results include that, compared with the sedentary, physically active groups showed between 0.68 (lowest level of activity versus a sedentary lifestyle) and 0.53 (most active) of the age- and sex-adjusted mortality rates. That would be about half.
The team’s analysis of physical activity at work took into consideration features such as primarily sitting at a desk or housework not involving children and with domestic help (the lowest level of activity); sitting and standing with some walking, such as teaching or housework); walking, with some lifting (e.g. postal work or housework with young children); and, at the upper end of the scale, heavy manual work. A similar categorisation of leisure pursuits was also used.
For women, greater physical activity at work was associated with a decreased mortality rate. However, for men, the paper reports no difference in age-adjusted mortality rates in regard to different levels of workplace physical activity. Interesting, and maybe reassuring given that so many may use the demise of physical activity in work as an explanation of illness.
The authors stated that the ‘major findings of this large-scale epidemiological study were that in both sexes and in all age groups there was a lower mortality in the physically active compared with the inactive.’
A second study, published in the American Journal of Epidemiology in 2010 (172(4): 419-429), examined the impact of sedentary leisure on mortality. Alpa Patel and colleagues surveyed time spent sitting as well as physical activity in a large sample (53,440 men and 69,776 women who were all disease free at the time the project began). Fourteen years later, 11,307 of the men and 7,923 of the women had died. The team found that, after allowing for a range of other factors, such as smoking, body mass index and physical activity, time spent sitting was associated with mortality in both men and women. Cardiovascular disease was most strongly associated with sitting. Sedentariness was independently associated with mortality, regardless of the level of physical activity. The authors concluded that ‘public health messages should include both being physically active and reducing time spent sitting’.
We are undoubtedly complex animals, and the mechanisms in play will have many contributory factors. Given that so many of the modern workforce now spend a large part of their working day (not to mention their travel to work and leisure) seated, some form of movement might be a good idea. Long duration sitting, as in long-haul air travel, is notoriously associated with the rare but serious threat of DVT or deep vein thrombosis. Studies such as the ones mentioned here point to another, and possibly more prevalent, form of DVT. That is ‘Desk-bound Vitality Threat’. Concerns about posture at workstations seems to me only the small part of the picture. However ‘ergonomic’ the alignment may be, movement is what is required and not some fixed and optimised structural arrangement. Even though actually getting up and roaming about may be unfeasible for lots of office workers, the onboard exercises promoted for air travel suggest that something can be done. And Andrew Bellamy has suggested on the 100 Rep Challenge site a ‘covert’ routine of isometric exercises that can be performed whilst seated, virtually anywhere.
As anthropologist and 21st century physical culturist Frank Forencich put it in the frontispiece to his 2006 book Exuberant Animal,
‘Before beginning a program of physical inactivity, consult your doctor. Sedentary living is abnormal and dangerous to your health.’