In this post I would like to share some practical ideas for how you can easily bring meditation into your daily work life. This might be especially helpful if your current workplace does not have a dedicated meditation room, or higher level endorsement of this beneficial practice.
I’ll show you how you can incorporate, “mini”-meditations and mindfulness at your place of work, without having to look weird, or needing a, “meditation room”.
This said, having a dedicated meditation room in the workplace would of course be a great asset and high level endorsement of wellness!
I don’t have Time to Meditate at Work!
You may think that you don’t have time to meditate at work! Sure, most of us don’t have dedicated chunks of time during the day to practice formal meditation.
No problem! Lets break down a workday, and see how you can get the benefits from meditation during your workday. Some simple techniques can help you stay fresh throughout the day, and also help you through that afternoon slump.
Most of our jobs involves a lot of sedentary sitting at a computer. But you still get up to go to meetings, or get some water, get your lunch, pick up your mail, go to the restroom, etc. Each of those transitions are opportunities for a quick mini-meditation!
A meditation does not need to be a certain number of minutes or a designated time to be of benefit.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it out and verify with your own experience right now!
Try this Mini-Meditation!
If you are sitting in an office, straighten your back if possible, with your head and ears in alignment with your shoulders.
Put your feet flat on the ground and feel the connection of your feet to the ground.
Lay your hands on your lap, so that your shoulders can totally relax.
Check your breathing, let the breathing relax as well.
Now close your eyes, especially if your screen is still on.
Take just 10 deep and conscious breaths, not hurrying it, or slowing it down on purpose, just 10 relaxed breaths.
Count on each in breath, so that for each in, and out-breath, it counts as one. You can count to 5 (each in and out breath counting as one, next in breath and out breath, count as 2, and so on until your count is at 5 or 10, then return back to one).
Add another 10 if you have another minute!
After you have opened your eyes, tell me you don’t feel just a little bit better!
In all likelihood these 10 breaths took you about a minute of your time. Now imagine doing this multiple times a day, maybe once an hour, and you start to see how this feeling of relaxation and recharging and refreshed clarity might benefit your day at work and into the evening and next day.
Breaking Down a Work Day
So, let’s take a workday and break it down to see where you can squeeze in some mini-meditations.
Going to Work
First going to work. Most of us get into a car, or you get into the subway, or perhaps you are walking or biking to work.
All of these transitions give you an opportunity to meditate if even only for a few breaths.
In the case of your car, be mindful of getting in the car and sitting down. Why not close your eyes and take 3-10 breaths before cranking the engine? Try it, and you will find yourself more intentional and conscious behind the wheel, which will also keep you safer and more awake on the road.
Now say you’re driving, if you like to listen to the radio, you could once in a while hit the pause button, or take a break from listening to the radio (maybe during a commercial) and again breathe consciously for 5 or 10 breaths at a time (there is more distraction while driving, so 10 breaths will be harder to keep track of at the same time you’re trying to be focused on driving.)
Another opportunity to do this simple breath meditation, is while waiting at a stoplight or traffic jam. Why not use the stop lights as small opportunities to meditate? Especially since they may seem like time wasters and may even be frustrating.
Make that waiting your queue to meditate, and become aware of how tempting it is to not want to be present in the moment, because you want to be at your destination.
These are all ways we can become aware of how easy it is to avoid the present moment, because there is always something better in the future to look forward to. The problem with that is that we then end up “missing our appointment with the present” as Thich Nhat Hanh has so wisely observed.
For the subway, bike, and walking meditation, use similar technique as explained above. Find something as your queue to do a short meditation, like waiting for the doors of the subway to close, or waiting at a pedestrian light.
Walking Meditation to your office
So those are some ideas of what you can do to incorporate meditation on the way to work. Same thing when you leave your car to walk into the building. Use the walk to your office to practice walking meditation.
This doesn’t mean you have to walk super slow; just be conscious while walking. Slowing down helps, as we do hurry a lot, and are overall as a species walking faster than we did a decade ago.
Pay attention, and hear the birds, or jackhammer, or cab honking, or fans above your head as you walk underneath them.
Notice your feet walking over the concrete. Notice your breath as you walk in various situations. Is it hurried as you walk over the boardwalk? Does it slow down as you walk on a quiet hallway?
Each breath is unique, and each breath will inform and teach you about how present, relaxed, or tense you are in that moment. Is your breathing coming from your chest or lower down from your abdomen?
The lower and more relaxed your belly and breathing, the more beneficial for your oxygen distribution and your well-being. If your breathing is tense and shallow, don’t worry, just keep practicing. It may just be tense in certain circumstances.
With consistent practice, it will over time get relaxed more often, and you’ll start enjoying the present moment more and more. This will happen even in parts of your life that you previously thought were “boring” or “tedious”.
Opening Doors Meditation
So now you’re at the office, how do you open the door? Is it conscious, or on auto-pilot? How do you greet your workplace by way of opening the door and entering into what is a Big part of your life? This stepping into your office may be a good time to internally think about some of the reasons why you are grateful to have this particular job (even if it is not what you want to do the rest of your life). Being grateful as you get in the office will help you feel good and more purposeful about why you are there at that time
It will likely also make your day go more smoothly, even when there are fires.
Sitting Down into Your Office Chair
So now you sit down or stand to start the work day. That moment of sitting down, just like in the case of getting into the car or subway, is another opportunity to take a few breaths and pay attention to how you sit down and go about your work day.
Check your posture, that it is upright and not tense. Same with your arms, if they’re tense from holding the mouse, it will manifest itself as tightness in your shoulders and neck and turn into repetitive strain.
Now the trick is to maintain that upright posture throughout the day. And of course it is very easy to get totally absorbed in your tasks and end up slumping towards your screen or sitting way too long at a time.
So here are a couple of ideas you can try to avoid that slump creeping up on your as the day wears on, which then can turn into fatigue, if not checked.
What has worked well for me while working in various job environments and continues to do so, is setting timers. I’ll link to a couple of options here. You can use a Youtube meditation timer, such as this 8 hour video, with a mindfulness bell or bells going off, every so many minutes.
You can also install a mindfulness timer app on your computer or smartphone, to help remind you to get up and move around or meditate for a minute or two.
I’ve also tried kitchen timers, however, the mindfulness bells sound way nicer!
One caveat though, if you use meditation bells too often, you may end up ignoring them. So vary them up if need be. And one thing I’ve noticed about a kitchen timer, is that if you use one that keeps on beeping until you reset it, it will force you to get up from sitting, and this will have the beneficial effect of forcing you to move. You can then utilize that pause to reset the timer as an opportunity to walk stairs, or do some stretches, exercises, or do some cleaning.
I’ve gathered all kinds of mindfulness bells and timers here on one page:
Once you have picked a mindfulness sound that works well for you, I would suggest trying different settings and see which one is most optimal for you.
For example, you could try a bell once every 30 minutes, or perhaps in a very demanding day, at least try once an hour.
If you can’t take a 5 minute walk, at least close your eyes in front of your computer, and just allow yourself to breathe for 10 or 20 breaths as mentioned earlier in this post.
As always recommended, please check your posture while doing that to make sure it is upright and awake.
This also has the added benefit of giving your eyes a break from staring at a monitor.
Getting Up and Walking is Crucial for Your Health!
Because extensive sedentary sitting is now known to not be healthy, and is now even compared to the harm of cigarettes. If possible, also try getting up for a brief 5 minute walks through the hallways or staircases of your office or office building. (An outside walk is of course even better. Try to fit that into your day routine as well if possible)
If you have staircases, great! Staircases are ideal, because they are very conducive to meditation. They are quiet, sparse in decorations (distractions), and peaceful. Give that a try! Stairs also have the added health benefits of being a good workout for your body.
If you have only a couple flights of stairs in your building, then just go up and down several times depending on how much time you have.
A consistent slower pace might be more conducive for meditation and mindful walking.
The nice thing about that, is that if you do this every hour or 45 minutes, that when you get back to your desk, your blood is flowing again, your brain is oxygenated, and you can then fully do another chunk of focused work again and be very productive!
You can also do the same type of quick mini-break whenever you walk to the restrooms, the water cooler, or fridge, and before a meeting.
By all means experiment, try things out, the idea is just to incorporate or weave small little mini-meditations throughout your day.
The restroom doesn’t just have to be a place to “get your business over with”.
It can also be a rest-room, where you can take a minute or two to meditate!
For guys like me, even when standing, you can still take an extra 5-10 breaths before finishing up. That’s standing meditation. Same when washing hands, and drying. I notice with many people, the whole procedure is hurried, and treated like an inconvenience. Especially when there are lots of thoughts and busyness in the mind, it will express itself in the way you wash, and dry your hands.
In my case, I often drink about a glass of water an hour, so that consequently meant about one restroom break every hour or two.
If you are a director or manager and you are having issues with unproductive meetings, try and incorporate a one minute meditation right before starting a meeting.
Allow everyone to enjoy some calm and a few moments of silence, and create a collaborative meeting environment where team members can feel included, whether they are extroverted or introverted. Create a conducive meeting environment where it is less about showing off and more about drawing out and giving room to each team member’s talent. Where attention is gathered, instead of scattered.
During lunch take notice of what you’re eating, really enjoy your food. And be mindful of how much you eat and how it affects the rest of your afternoon. If you eat mindfully, and slower, your belly will be able to signal that it is satisfied better, thus decreasing the risk of eating to much. Eating too much, or too much sugar may cause an afternoon slump.
See if you can repeat the above process of taking breaks in the afternoon. As you get better at it, notice how it may be harder to do the meditation/walking breaks in the afternoon.
If taking meditation breaks is more difficult, it is most likely because our will power decreases as the day wears on, we of course get more tired.
All the more reason perhaps to focus even more on these little breaks. It will much improve how you feel in the afternoon. Remember that by breathing fully and mindfully, it helps our brain keep oxygenated, which will help us feel more awake and fresh and available for each moment.
Be Kind to Yourself!
Lastly, be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up if you are doing this hundreds of times, and you don’t see whatever results you are expecting, or you forget to do it, etc.
I stumble with this practice all the time too. And it can be more difficult if your environment or job changes a lot. You’ll have to then develop new mindfulness cues and routines.
Just let it go, and try again at the next opportunity and tomorrow.
Start with one moment during your workday. With one thing that is easiest for you, and continue to incorporate more and more moments, or mini-meditations throughout your workday.
This mindfulness practice is a way of life, an ongoing process of becoming more aware and awake, not a goal to reach or something to cross of the list of things to “do”.
This is not about doing, it’s about learning to be here and now, and show up and fully appreciate your one and only precious life. In the process, you will increase your appreciation for everything else as well.
Enjoy the stumbles and discoveries of being forgetful and messing up. It is a wonderful gift just to be able to take a deep spacious breath and feel alive. And let me know if you tried any of this and what your experience was in the comments below!
Ep 24 – Guided Meditation with Kristina Rood and Ocean Wave Sounds
Kristina used to do diet counseling, and has practiced Zen and TM meditation for a long time. She will be interviewed on this show one of these days, so she can expand on her meditation journey. Please use the comments area below to share your thoughts on this meditation.
She would be happy to create another guided meditation, like a specific meditation for dieting if there is interest.
See also below the Youtube version of her ocean meditation.
Recently Kristina and myself were packing and readying to move to our new house some 1500 miles south, and I recall doing an errant down the hill to the grocery store. It was spring in the Northwest, and the light was streaming through the beautiful green translucent leaves. There was luscious green grass all around, plenty to eat for a rabbit. As I waited to turn on a side street, I briefly stopped to enjoy watching a small rabbit hopping across the street I was turning into.
Then shortly after a sports car appeared quite suddenly from the opposite direction, and a man in it was smiling and chatting on his mobile phone.
He drove over the rabbit, and I could clearly see the rabbit was being torn up and mangled. The man and his car moved on without stopping a beat, and the rabbit was now laying motionless on the street. The man was so involved in his conversation that he barely noticed. He kept on driving and chatting, moving on with his life.
I immediately felt sadness, and went over to the rabbit to at least get him off the street. That way, even if already dead, the rabbits body would not sustain additional damage.
As I approached he body, I could see the legs were broken and twisted, and all of it’s abdomen, stomach, and intestines were hanging out. Even it’s heart was visible, and it was still beating. It was sad and emotional for me to watch this precious little heart beating, but the rabbit was likely no longer there, or unconscious and dying.
I stroked it’s ears and head and talked with it some soothing words. And then told the rabbit I was moving it to the side of the street, so it could die more peacefully.
After having moved it slowly, as everything was hanging out, a few minutes passed. Slowly the heartbeat became less pronounced until finally it ceased. I tried closing the rabbit’s eyes, but they stayed open.
I wished the rabbit peace and got back in the car. I reflected on how all of us, not just the guy on the phone can get so distracted from the present.
As you can see by this example, we really cause harm when not paying attention to what is right beneath or in front of us.
At the same time, I also reflected on my own journey, and could clearly see that this move out of state, while hectic, and with a few minor moments of forgetfulness, was overall so much more stable and less messy, than the move we did 16 years earlier. I could see how years of practicing meditation and mindfulness and mingling this into every day life allowed me to be able to be so much more present for this big life transition than the earlier move was.
However, what the rabbit in it’s death was showing, that we, all of us have a tendency to get caught up in a small bubble with so many distractions that fragment our attention.
Increasingly in recent years, our attention has become fragmented, and our focus shortened. With internet and mobile device use, the rise of social media, advertisements and infinite choices competing for our attention, and so many other demands in our lives.
To me this increasing fragmented attention is highly likely causing harm to something, or someone, somewhere.
We have to keep practicing, keep refining our practice, so we can be awake, and present for this moment, where all life flows.
The more present and awake we are, the less harm we cause.
Please verify this with your own experience. What happens to your encounters in the now when you become more present? Alternatively, what happens to your immediate family, the human family, and the rest of our planetary family when you’re less present?
How did you get started with a meditation/mindfulness practice?
I started out in the Himalayan institute in 2003, and then fell out of the practice for a couple of years. But the seed was planted in terms of cultivating a meditation practice.
But then about 6 years ago, she did notice she had social anxiety (headaches, backaches, stomach aches, etc). Jeena self-medicated.
She was starting to loose hair when she was getting closer to her wedding. The doctor said there was nothing wrong, all in her head. Same with the psychiatrist. The diagnosed her with social anxiety. Again they prescribed more drugs and anti-depressant. But Jeena didn’t want to go down that path again.
It’s just medication, it’s not a cure, its’ a symptom blocker at best.
She had a friend who told her to go to a treatment program at Stanford.
She had two options:
Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT)
Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction MBSR
She didn’t think CBT would work for, and it did work effectively. She recommends this treatment if you suffer from anxiety.
She signed up for an MBSR course as well, and it was life changing for her. Hard to describe. She’s been a daily meditator since.
What is social anxiety?
Jeena had it in small groups, like self-introductions would cause cold sweats, even talking on the phone. They have you list all the things that cause anxiety. For example with phone anxiety, the therapist does role-play with you on the phone.
As a lawyer don’t you also have to do public speaking type of things? Did being in court cause anxiety?
No, not as much in the court. There is always some anxiety though. Anxiety isn’t all bad. But it can be interpreted in a positive way as well. If you just notice the physical sensation, and being with what is.
So Jeena used it as a front, as a way to sharpen your attention, instead of letting it debilitate you.
Explain MBSR Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction a bit more, what is it like?
Was started by John Kabat-Zinn, who is a researcher at U-Mass. He was noticing that people had a terminal or chronic pain condition. He found the treatment options limited (like pain killers). So he brought this program from Eastern culture, and secularized it, and started using it with patients, who changed their relationship with pain, and coming to terms with the knowledge that you’re going to die. Of course we all have to come to terms with that. So mindfulness can be used as a tool to accept and learn to enjoy more of the days and moments you have left.
With MBSR, Jeena says you’ll learn:
Being in the present moment, accepting it as it is
Weekly homework exercise
Noticing body sensations, body scan
Yoga movements are also brought in
Is there a daily component?
Yes, meditate for 45 minutes every single day, but started out with a body scan slowly moved to that over the weeks.
As a lawyer have you found it helpful in your practice?
Yes, so many ways. The biggest way is learning to be less critical of myself and others. The script of not being good enough, not smart enough etc. I learned to be my own best friend. Regardless of how the day gets messed up, I’m not going to abandon myself.
Before I started practicing mindfulness, I treated my opponent as my enemy. I’m out to destroy you, and you me. Now I have a very different understanding, we both have different roles to play. We’re not enemies. I have to respect the opposing party. And accepting and letting go of the things I have no control over. Clients expect a certain outcome. Rarely is the outcome dependent solely to me, it’s up to multiple factors.
Just showing up, and doing the best that I can in the arena that I do have control over, which is ultimately only myself.
Has this effected the outcome in your work?
Yes, I’m more able to pivot. Ex, in a hearing, I have all the facts, and go in with a script on how the argument is going to unfold. And of course it rarely goes that way,
Now I can listen more fully to the opposing and (instead of only listening 30%)
Fully engage and then take a breath and then come up with a response.
No longer get off center, because it isn’t not going the way I expected it should.
Being more comfortable with uncertainty and yeah, practicing law is all about being with uncertainty.
How did you decide to call your new book, “The Anxious Lawyer”?
I used to be an anxious lawyer, I like to think I’m no longer one. When I look back at my life, and connect the dots, all the different things have prepared me to do this work in the legal profession. It’s my life’s work and calling, to help lawyers live a more healthier, more balanced life, with a focus on and wellness and self-care. The key is through self-awareness, through mindfulness and meditation practice.
About 2 years ago, her co-host got her meeting with his editor. They met, and he asked her if she had a book proposal. She certainly did, and had a title ready. He loved the title, and said it would sell well at the ABA.
They need a better way to live, instead of with a sword and a hammer in each hand.
There’s some really depressing statistics for lawyers right?
Yes, 3.5 times more likely to suffer from depression, higher rate of substance, and alcohol abuse, as well as high incidence of suicide rates. This shouldn’t be part of law practice, it doesn’t serve us well, and our clients.
What is causing that high degree of distress?
A lot of different reasons. Lawyers tend to be type A. Top of class,and all of a sudden you’re not so smart. The Socratic way of education within lecture halls of 150-200 other kids and being grilled is pretty traumatic. This constant push to become excellent, lots of pressure. We’re not given any tools for self-care, how to process these experiences. And clients don’t come to us with happy news, we’re exposed to all this trauma from our clients. We suffer from vicarious trauma and compassion fatigue. Similar to folks in the mental health professions, but we don’t get the tools. And people are angry with us, the opposing council, the judge, the clients, and we’re just given a hammer to give precise results, and asked to do brain surgery.
Have you found some of your colleagues appealed by your book?
I think so, but of course there is a healthy dose of skepticism. I don’t want lawyers to take my worth for it, they need to find out for themselves, and see.
What inspired you to become a lawyer?
As an immigrant from Korea when I was 10 years old. None of us spoke English. And as immigrants you get taken advantage. My dad owned a laundromat, and my mother a nail salon. And customers would come in and threaten to sue, or call the police on them for unwarranted things. Jeena thinks because they knew that her parents didn’t know the legal system and didn’t know the language, didn’t know the justice system. People took advantage of us. They lived in this constant stage of fear.
Jeena was inspired by watching Law and Order as a little girl. I thought I’m going to be a lawyer to correct the injustices in the world. Put the bad guys in jail, and all the wrongs would be righted. This I can now look back on as a somewhat naive point of view, but that is what motivated me to become a lawyer.
Do you still get in touch with that initial inspiration you got as a child?
Yeah, I do. She now does bankruptcy work, bad guy and good guy is not as clear anymore. The sum of who they are is not the worst thing that have ever done. Like a heinous crime. That’s not the totality of who they are as a human being. With the mindfulness practice it gave me a whole different perspective.
Most of us are probably a few paychecks away from needing a bankruptcy lawyer. It exists for a reason, it is a right that we all have. I get to help people like me. I can relate to these people.
Do you have some tips specifically have for lawyers?
The most important thing is to cultivate kindness to yourselves. Not be critical and harsh. That we’re all human, and only humans, not perfect. And then take that attitude towards others. Every person is trying their best. The truth is that we are all trying our best. See if from that perspective.
Approach situations with curiosity. Assume that this is a reasonable human being, and why is he acting that way, instead of assuming he/she is a jerk. And will always be a jerk. The golden rule.
For those who say, yeah I’ve heard that. Would you recommend regular consistent practice to allow someone to befriend themselves more?
Loving kindness meditation has been a life saver for me. And life changer to me. Wishing yourself well, and wishing people you love well, people you have difficulty with well, and then finally humanity as a whole. It’s a beautiful practice. This helps you see people in a different light, with more compassion and empathy. Approach people with kindness instead of with a hammer. Because if you have a hammer, all you see is nails.
Yeah, I have to practice it like a muscle, and rewire my brain, not just happen in one day, has to be done regularly.
Yeah, we have different lenses we walk around life with. And that lens may be flawed, it may be obscuring, or distorting reality. If you can’t have stillness and reflection, you can’t see that your lens that you see the world through, is distorted.
I used to think people were intentionally cruel or unkind. And if you approach everyone with that lens, then seeing them that way, they end up living to that expectation. It may be the energy you’re putting out, approaching them with.
Now I try to be friendly, say hello, and lead with kindness. That’s a practice, you have do it for yourself, before you can do it for others. You have to offer compassion for yourself, before you can offer it for others.
Like the flight attendant, with the mask instructions, put them on yourself first.
Yeah, that’s what I use in my presentations. A lot of lawyers think self-care is not for me, tough through it, I have to be strong, if I do that I’m being selfish. Nothing could be further from the truth. Self-care and selfish are two different ends of the spectrum.
Tania de Jong AM is a leading Australian soprano, inspirational speaker, social entrepreneur, spiritual journeywoman and creative innovation catalyst. She founded Creative Universe, Creativity Australia, Music Theatre Australia, Pot-Pourri and The Song Room and works with diverse communities through the ‘With One Voice’ choir social inclusion programs. Tania sings around the world as a soloist and with her group Pot-Pourri releasing 7 CDs. She is Founder and Executive Producer of Creative Innovation Global.
Tania’s TED Talk How Singing Together Changes The Brain has sparked international interest (see Youtube video embedded below). Tania has recently released her solo CD Heaven on Earth.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
How did you get started with a meditation practice?
Tania: Yeah, I started with TM, wasn’t very disciplined at it. For me, singing became my meditation.
Singing is an active form of meditation.
When you sing you have no choice but to be totally in the moment.
You have to be conscious of your breath, and you can’t be thinking about anything else. Your body is an instrument. To actually sing sustained sound, you have to keep your breath going. Its’ similar to meditation, having an even exhalation breath, that’s what the sounds sits on.
If you practice hissing, you get a sense of what happens. You need to keep the air flow going.
Did meditation help you with singing?
Tania: Yoga helped as a more active form of meditation. Its hard to sit and meditate.
Sicco: Chanting is a kind of singing meditation in my Zen meditation. Letting my breath sink, use your whole body as an instrument, instead of just the top.
Tania: Yes, changing and singing correctly engages your whole body right. Through mother earth you bring the sound of the earth. Tania feels like she’s breathing all the way from her feet and up. She feels this incredible energy sphere around her body.
Many have trouble unlocking the full potential of their voice. Many folks think of their voice as just above their neck and up. My voice is my voice box. When you do that, You fail to engage the resonating cavities that are in their bodies. Your body is like a resonating instrument. There’s resonators in your chest cavities. Resonate right through your head. Their upper amplifiers.
A lot of people have a very tight jaw, which is another issue that keeps you from from using the full capability of your voice. When you chant or sing, in that passioned way, you start to relax your jaw as well, which allows you to access those resonators more.
You mentioned clenched jaw, there’s psychological boundaries to get through as well.
Yes, it’s all about letting go. The root of your tongue can get hard too. There are certain exercises you can do to gradually release the jaw, let the jaw relax at night. It’s also about letting go of control. When we’re holding on to issues, wanting control. Instead of Practicing acceptance, we get tight with our jaw, or when we’re afraid. Relaxing that jaw hinge is extremely important. The TMJ (“Temporomandibular Joint”).
Are there other parts of the boy that need to relax as well in order to fully express your voice?
Yes, some folks lift their shoulders up, only breathing in the upper part of their chest cavity. Heave of their chest, you have to learn to breathe at the base of your ribs. I liken it to blowing up a balloon inside your stomach. You blow it up and it is all the way around 360 degrees. When you breathe in your upper part of your chest, that is a stress response, its a fear and panic response. That also induces a relaxation response.
So it helps people with anxiety problems too?
Singing would have to be one of the best ways to heal anxiety and depression that I know of. A lot of people suffer from depression and anxiety. Many people have stopped taking drugs. Singing is the greatest drug of all. Very good for you, a bit addictive perhaps.
Singing is like exercise for your brain, body, mind, and soul. A super duper drug!
And you mention it takes you out of the box thinking?
Yeah, so basically our brain is like a battery, and the right side of the brain, which is our creative intuitive side, is like a charger. But we spend a lot of time, especially in today’s world, analyzing data, overwhelmed with so much information. 85% spend time on the left side of our brain.
So it is very important to spend time doing activities which recharge the right side of the brain so we don’t get burned out, stressed, depressed. One is singing, meditation walking in nature, walking with pets, cuddling with loved ones. Being creative in other ways, all extremely important ways to recharge your mental batteries.
Often times people with depression are not doing enough of those sorts of activities.
And society is also having productivity and bottom line expectations.
But actually organizations will have a much better and achieve their goals, bottom-line if they allowed to recharge their right sides of their brains. Helps with productivity, positive about the future. Whereas stress about the bottom line is unhealthy driven pattern.
That is one of the reasons why there is an increase of anxiety and depression. Mental health issues arising all over the world. Depression is one of the main chronic illnesses of the western world.
You mention uncovering your one voice and your unique voice.
With our one voice we bring together many individuals, job seekers, and others who are struggling in their lives. We bring together all these diverse people, these diverse voices.
We all suffer the same fears, same hopes, we’re all connected, part of this universal consciousness.
There’s something really special when you sing together with other people. Some of the research shows that our hearts start to beat together, when we sing together.
There is this connectedness.
Your creativity sparks when you’re with a diverse people. Most people tend hang around similar people. Dress, talk the same, similar education, etc. I believe that we can get more of our human potential, if we connect with people who are very different from us. We learn a lot from being with people who are very different from us. It sparks our creativity.
Getting out of our own comfort zone is the best way to unlock our own creativity and your unique voice. Otherwise you’re in the box.
We start life being born in a box, then we go home to a house, another box, in the supermarket we buy boxes of stuff, same boxes. We tick boxes on forms, and then we go out of life in a box. I have this theory that, life happens between the boxes.
On the bridges where we connect with other people, with a larger universe.
So to connect with that, you have to get out of your comfort zone.
How do you encourage that?
The biggest way to get out of your boxes, is to connect with other people. Befriend an alien! Sit down next to someone you don’t know. Don’t just hang out with the people you know. You may actually find out you share something, there might be synergies between you.
Look for new experiences. If something really scares you, go and try it. There are a lot of people who are very scared of singing. and public speaking (Glossophobia – Public Speaking). 74% have speaking anxiety, includes extroverts (Source: National Institute of Mental Health). 85% of people have been told at some point in their lives that they can’t sing, their parents, schools, etc. That is why a lot of people have a fear of it. Been told they’re not good enough.
That would never happen in parts of Africa. All tribes sing together, sing in harmony. Singing is a tribal and primal activity. It is only in our western world where there’s such a culture of celebrity. We start judging ourselves.
I was told as a 4 year old, never to bother to have singing lessons. If I believed that, I would not be sharing that gift with the world today. That would be sad for me, and those who enjoy listening to me.
Every single person was born with a voice to share with the world. Our voices are a reflection of who we are as a human being.Voice is the language of our hearts. Many people who are disadvantaged in their lives, their voices are silenced. Not just their singing voice, but their voice.
People often don’t feel like they can speak up, can’t express themselves. They can’t say what’s truly in their hearts. Going through their lives not being able to do what they truly want to do.
My vision in life is to help people find their true voice. And also to change the world, one voice at a time. Which we’re doing through Creativity Australia. We have this big global campaign, “Sing for Good”. Two or more people pump it up on YouTube, and then getting family to vote and support disadvantaged people.
We talk about self-limiting beliefs, a lot of that comes from childhood. Our caregivers and teachers do their best, but sometimes things are said that shouldn’t be said. The negative sticks more to a child than the positive.
We have a lot of big projects designed to help people find their voice, connect with diverse people, and to connect to their creativity. I tried to de-condition myself from deep childhood conditioning, which created self-limiting beliefs.
Yes, things happen, a lot of self-limiting beliefs come from childhood. We have to be very careful what we say to young people. People do their absolute best to give encouragement and constructive to young people.
I’ve talked to tens of thousands of people who have remembered things that they’ve been told, between ages of 0-15 that they remember for their whole lives which stops them from being who they really are.
This celebrity culture (putting people on pedestals) must be part of the system as well right?
Celebrity culture constantly remind us that we’re just ordinary, just living an ordinary life. When it in actual fact, it is the opposite, every person is actually extraordinary. When you speak to people in our choirs, you realize that every single person is extraordinary.
Tania mentions a person with cerebral palsy. She has such incapacity, and yet every week she comes to the program, happy to be there, laughs all the time, she found a job through it. She knows all the songs and the words by heart. Every week she comes there to the choir, and if I’m having a grumpy day, Beth teaches me and all of us about gratitude. It’s just the luck of the draw where we’re born, and our conditions. Are you going to take things for granted, or are you going to live with gratitude? And she is so grateful herself, despite her conditions and adversity.
Truckhaven Rocks with heavy storm clouds behind on the Santa Rosa Mountains
Talk about what inspired you to create the song, “Heaven on Earth”.
I wanted to connect that higher consciousness that we all have, to earth. To create a CD that would take people to a heavenly space, meditation, a space of reflection and illumination. Songs of love, that would help people feel more light, and love and peace.
Some is music by Mozart, Beethoven, and Dvorgak, timeless classic orchestral works, and then there’s also some original work. Like the title track.
Starts with Mark Twain’s beautiful quote,
“Sing like no one is listening, love like you’ve never been hurt, dance like no one is watching, and live like it is heaven on earth.”
I do belief that people need to sing like no one is listening. It’s just come out (see link to music below, and this is played in the podcast as well).
We all have our daily issues, the humdrum of life, but how do we get to experience the glory of life? It’s so incredible to be alive. And looking in nature is a great way to connect with life, for connecting with the right side of the brain. Like looking and smelling a rose.
And they teach us to be here without needing an excuse or justification and unique. Yes, flowers and animals don’t have that judgement that humans feel. Yes, dogs don’t make value judgments, they’re unconditionally loving. How do we as human beings can get more into that space? Of non-judgement, acceptance, love peace, letting go. So that we can truly experience our lives in every moment.
Do you have any tips for someone who wants to be more in that space?
The key is you have to reserve a little time every day, that is your time, where you do something you love, something that gives you a gift.
It could be a beautiful bath, music, or going for a walk, like by the ocean.
Breathing, becoming aware of your breathing in each moment.
Letting go of the past, and any anxiety for the future.
The only moment we can really have any control over, is this exact moment. That’s all there is.
What would I do if my life were to end today or next month, what would I do with my life? Start doing those things.
The rest of your life starts now.
My favorite quote,
By Rabi Hillel says,
“If I am not for myself, who will be for me? But if I am only for myself, who am I? If not now, when?” Ethics of the Fathers, 1:14
I encourage everyone to not put off any longer doing the things you really love to do. Especially singing. Find your voice!
Tom is a dedicated long-time Ashtanga Yoga, Pranayama and Meditation practitioner. He is a passionate Yoga teacher, inspiring Yoga business & life coach, and whole-food & healthy-living enthusiast, based in Germany.
As a Yoga teacher, Tom believes in the benefits of learning yoga through the Mysore style self-practice classes. He encourages students to develop their personal practice rooted in the Mysore tradition yet incorporating their individual needs.p
Tom studied with many senior Ashtanga Yoga teachers and is grateful for the guidance by his primary teacher Paul Dallaghan, who also initiated him in Pranayama practices in the lineage of the Kaivalyadhama Institute.
He mainly leads a traditional Mysore program and Ashtanga Intensives at GaiaYoga School & Shala in Croatia as well as at phoenixarising, a school for Yoga and consciousness practices in Dresden, Germany, and together with his partner Sandra teaches yoga retreats in India.
As a coach, through applying the principles of Yoga, as well as his experience in business and management, Tom supports and inspires Yoga teachers to become aware of their unique gifts and how to share them successfully with the world. In workshops, online programs and one-on-one-coaching sessions, he offers tools and techniques to aspiring Yoga teachers and practitioners to help them get started and/or stay focused in walking their yoga path while supporting the growth of others through their teachings.
This is a summary (not a full transcript) of the interview
How did you end up on a path of Yoga Meditation?
Tom’s brothers both did Yoga, so he got into Yoga based on his brother’s interest of Ashtangha Vinyasa Yoga, and he also broke up with his girlfriend. He was inspired by David Swensen, a well known Yoga teacher.
He started doing this every day. Because of the emphasis on deep breathing, it makes you go deeper into the practice. He got more into it by reading books about it and started practicing it deeper.
In Ashtangha Vineyasa Yoga (breath aligned yoga) Every movement is aligned to your in-breath and exhalation. There’s never a movement without breath happening.
When you follow those 3 techniques, Ujjayi, Trishti, Bandha, that creates a kind of moving meditation.
For many people starting with sitting meditation is hard. With Ashtangha you go more steps before that. Maybe it is easy to connect, but it is easier to use the body, so by moving the body, you have something to do.
If you keep those 3 things in mind, you don’t have more capacity to think. And that creates this moving meditation.
Additionally you always have the same sequence of postures. You just do the same sequence ideally 6 days a week. This Yoga practice creates kind of a mirror every day where you can see the changes over time. Some days are easy, some days not, some days focused, never the same. But a good reflection that everything is changing, and you just have to accept that.
What changes have you notice over the years from your practice?
Tom got a lot more:
More aware what he’s doing from waking to going to bed
More in tune how he feels , what is beneficial and what is not so beneficial, due to this mirror of practice. For example, if you fold yourself in a pretzel position, you will feel it if you had something unwholesome to eat the night before.
If you do constantly something else, like different asana sequences, or different sports, you always have something to distract yourself.
If you always practice the same sequence, you really start to appreciate more detail. You start to feel, because it is always the same, you can see where your resistances or emotional distractions are. You can then relate that to your life, like an argument with your friend, or boss. Instead of letting your emotions take over, you can see more from an observer perspective. You notice it, and then you can stop it, and look inside, there’s a longer response time, a witnessing component to it.
Tom talks about the corpse pose. Good ideas come for Tom from the corpse pose. On a spiritual level there’s a little dying every day. You do your practice, you lie down, and your body lies down. And you let go of your body every day just for a moment.
So it helps you not over-identify with your body?
Yes, it feels like a little detachment of the body. That’s how I feel. All the good ideas (like for his business) often come from that corpse pose.
14:00- 16:00 How did you go deeper into yoga, like reading Patanjali Sutras?
Yes, he started reading and studying more and more, and going to India, and so then all those aspects got more and more integrated. He didn’t think he would go that deep 10 years ago. Slowly through the physical practice it opened him up. And there are also other books, like “Awaken the Mind“. It talks about the brainwave patterns, and also about meditation. It has a more scientific approach, putting the spiritual practices into a more explainable to a rational western mind. He also knows how it feels from his own perspective, and now he can also explain it.
Patanjali’s 8 limbs, Ashtangha Yoga, these 8 steps lead to Samadhi (liberation, divine bliss, experience of oneness state)
8. Samadhi : Union with the Divine
7.Dhyana Meditation is the 7th limb.
6.Dharana You need concentration to get to that, that’s the 6th limb. How do you get to concentration?
5.Pratyahara (control of the senses) Well, you need to keep from getting distracted senses, so withdrawel of the senses is the 5th limb.
4.Pranayama (energy, breath control) Attention goes where the breath goes, the 4th limb is control of your breath energy. without that you will be unfocused. So breath control is that 4th limb. How to control your breath?
3.Asanas (Body Postures) You have to control your body, so that’s the 3rd limb, the Asanas and postures (which means a seat that is stable yet comfortable). You need all these ingredients
2.Yama (Universal Morality) The second and first limb are the Yamas..
1.Niyama, the do’s and don’ts the morality, be disciplined, be content, those are kind of the foundations.
All those limbs, you can practice at once, it’s not a consecutive thing. You don’t have to perfect one step to go to the next. The Asana part is to get your body healthy. Your gazing point should always be concentrated on one spot. When you combine all those things, you create this meditation in movement.
You should make sure you don’t do a posture that hurts yourself. I love this philosophical approach to this physical aspects.
Would you say that most folks would get introduced to Yoga through the Asana limb?
Yes, we have a hard time relating to the subtle thing, if you don’t have any relationship to that in your normal lives. Just sitting and doing nothing and focusing on the divine, many can not relate to that in their normal lives. While standing on a yoga mat, and learning to breathe, you get a more gradual introduction to the more spiritual aspects.
We’ve talked about the importance of the Asanas, and how they are a form of meditation themselves. Does this in a way lead the practitioner to seated meditation?
With regards to Asana Yoga:
“This limb of yoga practice reattaches us to our body. In reattaching ourselves to our bodies we reattach ourselves to the responsibility of living a life guided by the undeniable wisdom of our body.”
But Tom cautions against getting too stuck on the body, you should start a relationship with your body, if it has gotten lost. Meditation for Tom is a state that you cannot just switch on. There are many techniques, like mantras, that invite us to get into a state.
Is this limb and other limbs often divorced or uncoupled from the Yoga that has been brought in to the west?
Or do folks after doing Asana yoga naturally gravitate towards learning more about meditation and the other limbs?
When Tom was working in a consulting firm, he just practiced in the hotel rooms. So you have no excuse not to practice.
But some folks stop practicing because they forget. Yes, for me what kept me practicing day after day, is that I miss it if I don’t do it. There are of course also other motivations to keep practicing.
But the main part, is the way I feel when I practice. It feels good, that is one motivation that keeps you going. I can’t tell folks to practice though. It’s really up to the individual.
There’s also no finish line right, always a beginner, not like a certificate at the end? Which helps you get into the present?
Yes, it’s tricky. Some folks can get attached to the practice. But there are fewer and fewer people who finish the harder sequences. So there’s always a new Asana that you can learn, but there will always be a harder one after this next Asana cross road. You shouldn’t attach your happiness to a certain result or the fruits of your practice.
The path was the goal all along. You just have to love every moment, find your happiness on the path, love the present moment.
Advice for folks just starting out with Yoga?
Find a good teacher that’s helpful, someone give guidance at least at the beginning.
Just do it, don’t worry about the benefits, don’t worry in general of course too.
Try it consistently for a period of time, not just once a week. Or you won’t feel the benefits.
Muscle fever will go away if you do it a few days a week.
“Before you practice the theory is useless, after you have practiced, the theory is obvious.”
So don’t read books too much, just try it, experience it, and go from there..
How do you bring your Yoga into your daily life?
Tom finds Yoga practice a rehearsal for his life. Whatever happens, just keep breathing. That’s what he always does, whenever he has a tough situations, just come back to himself, and just breath for a few moments.
As simple as that sounds, it is super powerful. Whenever you’re in rush traffic, lecture in front of thousands of people. If you feel unease in yourself, just come back to breathing. And go from there.
There are three things in life, things that are your responsibility, think that are other people’s responsibility, and god or the universe’s responsibility.
If it’s raining, or sunshine, that’s god’s responsibility, so no use in getting upset. Then there are thing that are mine, as long as we care for our own responsibility, we can then be much more happier.
So in terms of Yoga, my responsibility is to show up that day and do the best I can do. If my body feels stiff that day, or some other thing gets in the way of my practice. I can deal with it, but look at my own responsibility.