Take time for yourself in the New Year! Annelies Richmond is an international teacher of personal development, meditation, wellness, and leadership programs for the Art of Living Foundation. The foundation provides happiness, yoga, and meditation workshops around the world — offers four ways to increase productivity and balance with meditation and breathing techniques to conquer chaos and help you find needed peace in 2016.
You've heard it a million times from friends and family: "Take time for yourself." But, like most clichés, it's easier said than done. Between chaotic work schedules, trying to fit in the new workout routine you promised yourself you'd do, and struggling to somehow keep a semi-functioning social life, the ever-important idea of "me time" usually ends up becoming an afterthought. As a society, we are more stressed out than ever. It's important to find balance to not only achieve inner piece, but be more productive and find a balance in our lives that doesn't come at the expense of time. Luckily, with meditation, you can do just that.
1. Our mind wanders most of the day — calm the storm inside the mind
Did you know the average person spends at least 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they're doing? This makes us far less productive in life and affects our ability to be present with the tasks or the people in front of us. Imagine being physically present in a room with friends and family, but mentally we are nowhere to be found.
This mind-wandering has been directly correlated with decreased happiness. Take it from Matthew A. Killingsworth of Harvard University, who conducted research on this and found, "how often our minds leave the present and where they tend to go is a better predictor of our happiness than the activities in which we are engaged."
The Solution: Practice of meditation has been shown to make the mind quieter. With so many thoughts bouncing around in our minds, most of us have trouble starting meditation or even sitting for it. Try these yogic alternative breathing techniques as the solution. Our breath is intimately connected to our state of mind — we have observed in our lives that when we get angry, the breath has a certain quality and speed to it, when we are sad, the breath changes its pattern and length, and when we are happy, the breath moves in a different rhythm. The breath is intimately connected to our emotions and state of mind. When we use the breath skillfully for a few minutes, with ancient yogic techniques that have stood the test of thousands of years of human use, then we can effortlessly calm the mind and nervous system. Daily practice of these techniques brings our mind more and more into the present moment, and trains it to stay there.
2.An unhappy person is far less productive — achieve inner happiness first to increase outer productivity
Current research shows over and over that a happier person is more productive. Even a small boost in happiness increases productivity by 12 percent. I like to think about it this way: imagine getting the tasks at work that typically take you an hour, done in 48 minutes instead. It may not seem like a big difference, but if you think about it, this saves us an hour and 36 minutes by the end of the workday alone. That's enough time for some exercise and to spend time with a friend.
The Solution: Meditation practice has been shown to literally "re-wire" your brain for happiness, but we don't have to rely on research to show us this; try meditating for a few minutes every morning — you will see that your happiness level is higher as you start your day. There is nothing I have found that increases my happiness more than my morning practice. For example, I use Sudarshan Kriya, advanced techniques taught through Art of Living Foundation — which have been shown to significantly increase feelings of optimism and well-being, while also improving emotional regulation.
3.Lack of mental rest focus breaks down our concentration — realign your approach to mindfulness
Most employers realize that when an employee loses their lunch hour or break times, their productivity goes down because their focus decreases. When we have no mental breaks during the day, and are constantly thinking, analyzing, planning and worrying, the mind does not get a chance to recharge. It starts functioning slower and not so efficiently. Even during sleep, to some degree, our mind goes on chattering, processing, and worrying. You don't always get a full rest through sleep or napping.
The Solution: What is the supreme mental break? You guessed it — meditation! Meditation improves our "concentration stamina." Many people think of meditation as concentration — making the mind concentrate or focus on something. But in fact, meditation is the opposite! It is de-concentration. When we give the mind a few minutes each day to "de-concentrate" — to do the opposite of what we force it to do all day — then our mind comes back incredibly refreshed, rejuvenated, and with a new ability to focus intently.
4.Too much stress makes us less productive — make better decisions without stress
Stress is an energy zapper, so reducing stress will add time to your day because your energy levels will be higher. When stress is high in our system, there is impairment in our minds of division of attention, decision-making, working memory, and multitasking — all of which we need to be productive in life and to have more balance.
When we are stressed, we often make fear-based decisions instead of choosing what would bring us the most balance in life and what would bring a positive long-term solution.
When we are stressed, the mind is not clear . . . and a disturbed mind often makes very poor decisions.
The Solution: Cortisol is considered the "stress hormone" in the body, and an indicator of the level of stress. Both meditation and breathing techniques have been shown to greatly reduce cortisol in our system, as well as boost immune system function. This makes our body and mind function at its best.
Overall, I'd recommend learning meditation from an expert teacher, someone who has been meditating for many years and has been trained in a longstanding tradition. There is no substitute for being trained in person by a real, live teacher. Also, find a buddy to meditate with! Classes, gatherings and workshops are open all over the country for group meditation. There have studies conducted all over the world about how group meditation is socially powerful and has a measurable effect on the greater population. One of the most famous examples is known as the Maharishi Effect. One of the largest group meditations in the entire world will take this March in New Delhi, India.
Lastly, if you can't get enough of wellness mobile apps, check out Sattva, the world's first advanced meditation timer and tracker. It contains challenges, trophies and guided meditations to inspire you to meditate every day! Happy meditating!