Tuesday, 13 October 2020

A hollow ache

Try it a few times. If you feel your muscles move downwards with your breath, you know you've cracked it. So when she was diagnosed with lung cancer, we were all saddened and concerned. The days Jean went in for treatments were very difficult for her--she was so scared of the hospital, the needles, the chemotherapy, and of course the cancer itself. Not knowing what to do, but wanting to let her know we cared, I asked everyone in the studio to make something we could put into a box that might bring a smile to Jean's face or give her a moment's peace--a box of hope. The studio assistants and I filled the box with quotations, drawings, cartoons, life-affirming messages, jokes, and thoughts that might occupy her mind during the treatments. The number of things we packed into that box was amazing. Everyone wanted to help. We decorated it and Jean took the box with her on every visit. Later, she told us how much she loved the box and looked forward to opening it each time to discover what was inside. Her treatments were still frightening, but now they were also punctuated with many moments of inspiration, love, and kindness. Jean found strength, hope, humor, and joy hidden within the box and herself. But back then, it was a novel idea. The notion of the value in motivating employees to perform better was not part of the managerial equation at that point in time. Needless to say, once the reasons for the results of the Hawthorne Experiments were better understood by managers and academicians, this seminal research served as a springboard for a wide range of fresh theories and approaches to management. A new way of thinking gained impetus in the 1930s and 1940s, broadly labeled as the human relations management movement. Again, it is hard to believe that this thinking deserved the type of attention it got, or that it caused the kind of ripples about how to manage an organization that it did. But, in fact, this movement was a major transition for most organizations, especially in an era dominated by large assembly line-focused mega-firms from the then-dominant manufacturing sector. Later, in the 1960 article entitled The Human Side of Enterprise,3 Douglas McGregor added another important contribution to this process of values clarification about the practice of organizational management. In this article, McGregor coined the terms Theory X and Theory Y.

These terms have become well integrated into management nomenclature. McGregor's theories still strike a chord with managers today because many in a supervisory position can relate to the distinction between leadership styles that McGregor proposed, even though the theory was promulgated more than 45 years ago. The unique combination of physical relaxation and an alert yet quiet mind explains the term restful awareness and distinguishes this state from restful sleep. People who regularly experience restful awareness develop less hypertension, heart disease, anxiety, and depression. They find it easier to give up life-damaging habits such as cigarettes, excessive alcohol, and drugs. They also show improvements in their immune function and reduced susceptibility to infections. Research on people who meditate demonstrates wide-ranging health improvements and a reversal in many of the biomarkers of aging. Studies have shown that the longer people have been practicing meditation, the younger they score on tests of biological age. For example, long-term meditators show biological ages almost twelve years younger than their chronological age. Other studies have shown that certain hormonal changes usually associated with aging can be slowed or reversed through regular meditation. One of the most interesting ones found that the hormone DHEA is higher in people who meditate than those who do not. We know that levels of DHEA steadily fall as we age. During the down stage of labour your muscles will be pushing downwards powerfully with each surge and by using this breath you are ensuring that you are working with your uterus muscles rather than against them. You are helping to make everything more effective. You are not pushing, you are using your breath to help your muscles. It's your muscles that will be doing all the hard work. When it comes to practice, down breathing is not one that is going to help you drift off to sleep peacefully, which is why I always recommend doing your practice in a particular place, or should I say when doing a particular `activity'. Yes - on the toilet when going for a poo! It's the perfect time and place to practise your down breathing. I always suggest women stick a little sticky note on the back of their toilet door at home and simply write `down breathing' on it as a little reminder.

Then when you go to the toilet, let's say once a day, you're ensuring regular practice. Not only that, but you're beginning to condition yourself to associate the down breathing technique with relaxing and softening, and with something being expelled from the body. The second reason Living Skillfully is important is because many people feel a lack of meaning in the work we do all day. Today, most people I know go through life at top speed. Women in particular are insanely busy, whether working in the home or out of it. On any given day they perform a mind-boggling number of tasks, but they often feel as though they haven't accomplished very much. They're running so fast that their life has become a blur, but when they do stop for a second to look around, they're disappointed by what they see. They wonder just what it is that they're devoting so much of themselves to, and if it's worth it. They say they want to slow down, do things that feel more meaningful. And they want to do things well--not at breakneck speed, and not slapdash because there's no time or energy to do them any better. In this fast-paced world, we seem less able to focus and see the things that really matter. Many Americans spend the bulk of their waking hours getting ready for, going to, sitting at, coming home from, and winding down from work. What McGregor did, in essence, was help to clarify a dichotomy that exists in a representative sample of individuals who hold leadership positions, about the characteristic approaches that different managers are likely to take in relating to their direct reports. Theory X assumes a management approach characterized by those who believe that: The average human: You recognize this type of management approach, no doubt. We have all seen it at some time or another. In its most extreme form, Theory X managers are extremely overbearing and suspicious, convinced that staff must be watched constantly; Their interactions with staff include direct or veiled threats of job loss, career stagnation, or other such negative motivational methods that imply an underlying psychological intimidation. If employee behavior is worthy of being reinforced by the Theory X manager, the reward is often more impersonal and financially based.

After all, how else are you going to get the message across to employees that they are doing a good job, except to pay them more or promote them? It is interesting to note that, from our experience, when Theory X managers are dominant in an organization, they create a workplace culture that inadvertently reinforces this lazy worker-overbearing manager dichotomy. This has led some people to suggest that supplementing the diet with this hormone can reverse aging. We believe it is better to raise your DHEA levels through meditation than supplementation. There is good evidence that you can reverse your biological age by taking time to quiet your mind and experience the restful response. It should be obvious that the restful awareness response (meditation) is a very important way to reverse the aging process. Although you may wonder when you'll ever find the time to meditate, we strongly encourage you to make meditation an important part of your life. It will actually create more time for you, because you will be much more efficient when your mind is calm and centered. We recommend twenty minutes of restful awareness (sitting meditation with your eyes closed) twice a day. The best times to meditate are shortly after awakening in the morning, and again in the later afternoon or early evening. The morning meditation starts your day with a fresh, calm mental attitude. The late afternoon or evening session helps freshen your mind after a day's activity. Yes, it's a poo, rather than a baby, but that sensation of mounting pressure does feel pretty similar to that at the beginning of the down stage of labour. You might even find the down breathing helps you go for a poo - more breathing, less straining! Either way, the more you practise, the more it will be second nature to you on the big day. You might also find it helpful when watching positive birth videos on YouTube to listen in extra carefully towards the end, just before the baby is born. Try and tune in to see if you can hear the woman in the video using her breath in the down stage of labour. This might give you a good idea of how down breathing is used in practice. Finally, it's common to worry about how you will know when you have entered this down stage, but you really will just know. You will feel your body begin to push downwards and it's an unmistakable sensation.

Lots of women I've taught have said that at this point they naturally switched to down breathing because it felt more comfortable to do - it wasn't a conscious decision. Visualisations When we're not busy performing our jobs, we're thinking of work or trying to recover from it. Yet even for those of us who love our chosen work, we want the efforts of our hands and our minds to yield something more meaningful than making ends meet or accumulating money. Despite our exhaustion and jam-packed schedules, we want to put more of ourselves into our lives and into the world. We know there must be a way, but modern life often erodes the connection between us and our labors. We are distanced from our innate creativity and don't want the idea of getting creative to be just another to-do entry on our endless list. The simple truth is that each one of us has the power to make the world a better place. We each leave our mark on the world every moment of every day through the choices we make and the actions we take. Living Skillfully is important because we need more opportunities for play! We need more fun, more imagining, more well-being. We need more of the sensation of being lost in a moment of joy. Employees feel demeaned, so they respond by giving the overbearing manager what he or she expects: halfhearted effort, sneakiness, and an I don't give a damn attitude. In milder forms, a Theory X approach can involve simply a micromanagement-oriented style, one that assumes that things will not get done (or will not get done correctly) unless the manager takes an active oversight role about the work being performed. People are not to be trusted to get the work done right. After all, Theory X managers believe that employees care less about the company's immediate and long-term fortune than management does. It is a supervisory style that is born out of a disinclination to accept the premise that employees can manifest initiative, good judgment, and solution-focused persistence if left to their own devices. Consequently, Theory X managers have great difficulty delegating work to others. The most negative aspects of managing with a Theory X style concern the impacts on morale and efficiency. When people are hired to perform a job, they bring the background and skills to do their assigned tasks, albeit with some orientation and training.

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