Pause has power to keep you sane

Tensions are running high as the various parties resume negotiations on which coalitions will be in effect and for which municipality.

One would hope that tensions would run high only in times of high pressure and then quickly subside. Unfortunately, this is not the case. We have all become accustomed to ways of working that have us constantly under pressure and stress.

This is as true in the world of politics as it is in our day-to-day working lives.

In some contexts, this approach to life is celebrated, with people expressing pride in their levels of exhaustion and the number of hours they put into one task. I find it insane that alarm bells are not ringing.

Conditions such as stress, burnout and depression have become worldwide epidemics. For example, Germany is estimated to be losingà10-billion (R149-billion) a year due to lost productivity.

A Harvard Medical School study found that 96% of our leaders felt burnt out – a third of them describing it to be at extreme levels. Just last month, another survey, by Groupon in the US, found that 60% of people said they could not find time to relax.

This way of operating is not sustainable. We cannot continue to live in a world in which being at, or near, burnout is an enabler for success.

We need a solution that will change the kinds of leaders and role models we celebrate.

We can start by learning how to pause. A simple five- to 10- minute pause can give our bodies the break they require to rest and recharge.

One of the most effective and cost-free techniques of pausing is meditation and mindfulness practices. These are ancient practices of calming and relaxation that have benefited societies for many generations.

Recently, they have attracted the attention of business leaders worldwide as more people realise the power we can gain from a simple pause.

Examples of highly successful business leaders who have benefited from meditation include LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner, Ford chairman Bill Ford, Huffington Post president Arianna Huffington and the former CEO of Apple, Steve Jobs.

Oprah Winfrey has introduced a 21-meditation experience programme with Deepak Chopra after personally benefiting from it and wanting to share the experience with the world.

Some organisations have introduced rooms that staff can use for meditation, yoga, napping and any other technique that allows them to use the strength that comes from pausing.

They do this not because it is the latest fad, but because they see the improvements these bring to the lives of their teams.

Results show improvement not just in physical wellbeing, but also mental, emotional and spiritual vitality.

In May, a group of scientists studied the brain activity of monks in Nepal and found that they had higher than normal levels of brain activity during and after meditation. This is consistent with prior research, such as that by the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness in 2011, which showed that meditation rebuilds the parts of the brain responsible for learning, memory, self-awareness, compassion and introspection.

Meditation is one of the pillars of my day.

I was introduced to Vipassana meditation a couple of years ago through the free 10-day courses taught by SN Goenka. I discovered it at time when I was eager to find a universal tool to help me take a break from living from one deadline to the next.

I have made the course an annual tradition. I see myself becoming more effective in what I do mainly because I am more focused, attentive and self-aware.

In his book The Metaphoric Mind: A Celebration of Creative Consciousness , Bob Samples states: “Albert Einstein called the intuitive or metaphoric mind a sacred gift. He added that the rational mind was a faithful servant. It is paradoxical that in the context of modern life we have begun to worship the servant and defile the divine.”

I encourage everyone to find their own simple ways of enabling them to leverage the power of the pause.

You do not need to retreat to the mountains or read a manual to learn how to pause. It is as easy as taking a minute, five minutes, to give yourself the break that your body needs. It could be meditation, breathing exercises, yoga, stretching, walking or just a simple nap.

This article was first published in the Business Times on 14 August 2016

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