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Mindfulness Meditation, Burnout & Stress

Modern life is stressful and it’s easy to lose perspective of the things that matter. Like your ‘self’. We work longer hours, eat lunch on the go, at our desks, drink caffeine for a boost and go to the gym to ‘relax’. We turn on the TV as soon as we get home, we travel on crowded public transport, and we are at the mercy of our computer and the telephone throughout the day.

Stress & Burnout Symptoms

Have you ever woken up with a clenched jaw, become aware that your shoulders are tensed while you are sitting at your desk, or come home from work with a sore neck and unexplained headache? Have you felt edgy or irritable for no specific reason or lain in bed, unable to sleep with your brain racing full of thoughts? Ever felt burned out, experiencing emotions of hopelessness and depression. These are just some of the many ways that stress and burnout affect our bodies.

My Mindfulness Meditation Experience

I came across the word Mindfulness a few months ago. It’s an attitude that concentrates on the ‘here and now’ by paying attention to your ‘self’ in the present moment. It can be incorporated into your daily routine bringing positive changes to the way you live your life. It has even shown physiological benefits to the brain.

So what does it involve? What do you actually do? As a novice to any form of meditation, I jumped at the chance to actually experience a Mindfulness meditation session with Anne Twohig of Ananda Programmes, Ireland, at the recent NEAR Conference, Dublin.

I am not an early bird and the 8 am ‘early bird’ meditation session was a bit of a struggle, squeezing in a tea and croissant breakfast beforehand and rushing to the conference room to be on time. I was already slightly stressed. Anne Twohig looked awake, refreshed and calm – the perfect advertisement for Mindfulness. ‘Good morning and welcome’ she calmly greeted us.  We settled into our seats and closed our eyes.

Anne’s soothing voice washed over us inducing an aura of calm and relaxation. Her soft Irish tones quickly melted away any tension or external thoughts.

Anne started by asking us to focus on our breathing. Taking deep breaths in and out and focusing on the moment where the in-breath turns into an out-breath.

“Now, focus on your feet… how do they feel. The temperature, the feel of the ground, the space around your feet.”

My mind tried to wander off but I pulled it back into place and focused.  An intense relaxation began to fill me. I became a little light-headed and felt very peaceful.

“Bring your awareness up to your legs, be aware of the position of your legs, the space around them”. We continued this method through our backs, to our shoulders and arms, to the back of the neck and finally to our hands.  By the time we reached our hands I had really relaxed, yes my mind did wander off every now and then, but with Anne’s gentle prompting my mind was kept focused on myself.  I found the peacefulness was within my body, an ‘awareness’ of my being.  And that is what they say – mindfulness is a way of ‘coming into the body’ through the mind.  And unlike a deep trance-like state achieved by Buddhist monks which is notoriously difficult to achieve (it can take decades to achieve that state of ‘Zen’) I found meditation through Mindfulness happened very naturally.

Anne brought us back slowly to the ‘real world’ with a series of chimes on a small bell.  As the last chime tailed off we opened our eyes. Everyone looked so relaxed, and the tiredness that had pervaded us earlier was gone. When I looked at my watch I couldn’t believe it – 40 minutes had passed by! It had seemed like only 20.

Mindfulness for life

Mindfulness is a great start to the day and can be incorporated into sitting, walking and even practised at a desk or during a lunch break. It is something that we should all think about in our hectic, modern-day lives, connecting with our ‘selves’, slowing down, shifting our focus from the external to the internal and living Mindfully.