Tag Archives: longevity

Chillin’–A Personal Well-being Primer

Hey Activists….saving the world starts with me dropping one pebble at a time into one pond at a time.

Chillin’ objective: provide a people-friendly, WIIFM-intensive, non-threatening introduction to scientifically validated, self-care disciplines. It’s not weird old hippie stuff, not excruciatingly painful yoga, not mantra-chanting incense-burning meditation, not falling into a self-induced trance from candle-gazing. All of that is too strange for most to even think about trying. But most people don’t realize the damage done by physical and emotional pressures they may not even be aware of. Just as most don’t realize the incredible benefits of actively managing their mental-emotional and physical well-being, and don’t know how easy it can be.

What if there was a way to hit a reset button, neutralizing emotional and physical stressors that can turn your brain to jell-o and can even kill you, quickly or slow but sure?  Simple ways to “chill” your body and mind anytime anywhere without anyone knowing, using scientifically validated techniques that have been practiced for hundreds of years? Would you give it a shot?

I’m no guru, but I have managed to learn how to handle things pretty well most of the time.

Four Easy Essentials

“Mindfulness” is the airy-fairy mystical-sounding rage, but it’s nothing more than being fully aware of something and staying focused on that one thing. Hit File Delete for all the other noise.

It takes little time to practice and learn four essentials that work together: Focus, Breathing, Posture, Routine. Kids easily embrace Chillin’, but most adults have a lot of catching up to do and bad habits to unlearn. It’s OK to ease into it, you can learn the mechanics one at a time. Just don’t lose interest if magical results are not immediate.

(Essential One) Focus–Mental Discipline. An undisciplined mind can be a dictator–chaotic, unruly, a bb in a boxcar. Find a focusing aid, ONE thing to direct your thoughts at: the right music (a couple of examples follow) a physical object, or one thought in particular. My favorite easy Chill routine is the right music in the background while staring into a candle flame, focusing on just the flame, then adding a little mindful breathing. Five minutes can do wonders.

It helps for starters if you’re in the right environment with few distractions, but later you’ll be able to focus enough to block out the distractions around you anytime, anywhere. Just don’t chill so much you snooze in a board meeting.

(Essential Two) Breathing. You know how to breathe already but it’s a little different when you’re in Chill mode. First, focus on every breath—in through your nose, out through your mouth. Use your mental discipline to focus on speed and depth. Park your mind on nothing but breathing…it’s your first focal point! Slow, controlled deep, breaths. It will eventually become second nature.

Most people think their chests should puff way out when they’re deep breathing. Aim lower! With your hand on your diaphragm—middle of your chest just under your breast bone, above your tummy—slowly fill your lungs to maximum capacity. As you breathe in you should feel your stomach push out (no worries…it will go back down!). Deep breathing and singing from the diaphragm is used by accomplished singers because they get more power and control and are able to sing longer phrases. I’m not “accomplished” but I’ve been told by real pros that it works.

(Essential Three) Posture. Your spine is the superhighway for your nervous system and all of your energy flow. I can testify–the spine is critical.

Except for a (really) old football injury, the only back problem I’ve ever had was a few years ago, a nagging muscle issue. The chiropractor probed each vertebrae on both sides of my spine. He finally pressed on one wing and my right arm went totally dead. My back / muscle issue was rooted in the nerve flow regulated by one specific vertebrae wing. Easy fix.

You can get started right now. Lousy posture must be fashionable-quick check: how’s yours right now? Wherever / whenever you are sitting or standing, just straighten your spine! Add a little arms-up stretch and twist while you’re at it. If you’re like most you’re all hunched over and tensed up, and just that minimal movement will pop a few bones. It’s not just an old age thing.

A 10-minute daily yoga routine called The Five Tibetans is a simple stretching sequence that flexes and aligns the spine in the right order. Key words: stretch, flex, align, routine. Stay tuned.

(Essential Four) Routine, First Cousin to Discipline. An old football coach said “practice the way you want to play, because you play the way you practice.” Very zen for a jock in the 70’s but it holds true for sports, music, any hobby, relationships, anything.

Your first self-care session

Discipline / Focus, Breathing and Posture are all in play. This should quickly become a Routine for you. It won’t take long to learn or to realize immediate payback. You can do it any anytime anywhere, without anyone even knowing. If I have a particularly crazy group of students, I’ll do it. If my blood pressure is too high at the doctor’s I say “give me a couple minutes”. They come back, re-do my BP, it’s dropped 20 points. So here’s what you do….

Posture, alignment. Sit in a comfortable chair with your back straight, feet on the ground, thighs parallel to the ground. Rest your hands palm-down on your thighs. Option: cross-legged on the floor if you can. It worked for the Indians, full-blown lotus not required. It kills my ankles so, no. But your spine MUST be straight—that superhighway thing!

Control your breathing. Take slow and deep breaths, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Check your diaphragm, it should be moving.

Focus. Close your eyes, focus on every breath—the changing sound of the nose>mouth in>out cycle, how the air feels coming in and going out, your stomach’s movement. Block out thoughts about anything else. Blocking may be rough at first—our minds are power-hungry dictators.

Expand your focus as you get more adept at this kind of breathing, graduating to “whole-body relaxation”. Become fully aware of your body one part at a time. Consciously relax that part. Focus on nothing but that part and how it feels as you fully relax it. On to another part, repeat.

Option to closing your eyes: use a specific focusing object to rest your eyes on. Don’t over-analyze the object, just rest your gaze on it and stay there. Let the object melt away, let your eyes glaze over. (it’s called spacing out, like most men I can do this in a heartbeat). Candle flame works great, but it’s a little awkward to light a candle in a high school classroom.

 

BONUS environmental elements: especially when you’re starting out, if you can choose your location a quiet and secluded, solitary place is ideal. Mood lighting (low) helps too.

Extra-extra bonus: music or white noise helps focus and minimizes noise distractions. Baroque = good. Rap and metal = bad. Anything with lyrics is distracting. Stay tuned for Chillin’ Music.

Let’s Talk a Little Yoga (very little)…The Five Tibetans

How scary is yoga? You’ve heard all about your kundalini and seen the workout vids, right? For most, “kundalini” is some kind of exotic liqueur. I’m 63. I used to be in good shape, athletic, active. But fitness hasn’t been high on my priority list for over a decade. I’ve never followed an exercise regimen of any kind, not even regularly walking. I have never ever obsessed over what I eat, just within reason…a heart attack tends to bring you down to earth. I guess I’m lucky. Maybe stupid. My no-exercise excuse besides no time: I hadn’t found the right routine for me.

I’ve always refused to consider contorting myself to the point of wondering whether I can untie my limbs from the crazy positions those yogis get into. And the Five Tibetans is traditional yoga. But I can easily do this routine. It’s a ten-minute sequence, longer only if you really get into it. But it will work wonders, and it’s scientifically validated to boost physical and emotional well-being. Confession: I need more discipline here!

Read the tutorial and get started easing into things now–linked above.

 

Music Therapy

The science of music therapy is amazing, its broad benefits are impressive and well-validated. It’s so fascinating that it’s tough just to focus on the relaxation aspect, but here goes.

Neuroscientists Discover a Song That Reduces Anxiety By 65 Percent. Excerpts:

Researchers at Mindlab International in the U.K. wanted to know what kind of music induces the greatest state of relaxation. The study involved having participants try to solve difficult puzzles — which inherently triggered a certain degree of stress — while connected to sensors. At the same time, participants listened to a range of songs as researchers measured their brain activity, heart rate, blood pressure and rate of breathing.

They found one song, “Weightless”, resulted in a striking 65 percent reduction in participants’ overall anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in their usual physiological resting rates.

Interestingly, the song was specifically designed to induce this highly relaxed state. Created by Marconi Union, the musicians teamed up with sound therapists to carefully arrange harmonies, rhythms and bass lines, which in turn slow a listener’s heart rate and blood pressure, while also lowering stress hormones like cortisol.

DOUBLE-DIPPER APPLICATION. Some people need structure or it’s not a “real” song. But sound of any kind is magical. Watch and listen in a quiet and soothing environment, staying focused on the sounds and graphics. And while you’re at it, do your controlled breathing. They’re meant to work together. Weightless, 8min version 

That’s it for now. If you like what you see or have your own favorite routine, leave a response or drop a line craig.althof@gmail.com Please remember…the whole point is to make this as non-intimidating and accessible to regular people as possible. No voodoo, no dead language incantations, no over-the-top spirituality. Just some everyday Chill.

The New Wellbeing-a Trifecta WIN

I have been an employee engagement addict since my first experimentation in 1996 with Gallup’s Q-12 process. I am currently a “guru” in the UK’s Engage for Success movement, not noted as a resume feather but because e4s is an essential connector to experts and thinkers in this area that helps keep me up-to-date.

This past summer, a hospital CEO friend introduced me to Blue Zones (see below) and the new, proactive direction of health care management for providers. At the same time, e4s published a report that establishes an undeniable connection between well-being and engagement. Last, I discovered that my home state of Iowa has embarked on a Healthiest State Initiative,  which uses the Gallup-Healthways report noted below

It was exciting that my old friend Gallup is moving in parallel with my evolving personal interests! But what sealed the deal for me was that several key indicators of well-being are also among the critical drivers of high-engagement. Result of this Summer of Discovery… I am hopelessly caught up in this new collaborative initiative where well-being and engagement join forces.

I do hope you’ll check the links. Well-being is way more than just a slogan or an occasional CSR event that generates another t-shirt (I have a closet full). Well-being is a trifecta win and deserves to be front and center.

WIN for Me
Personally embracing well-being helps you live a longer, healthier, happier life. But the parameters of “well-being” have grown. It’s no longer just about bean sprouts and exercise. Well-being is also impacted by spiritual things: sense of community or belonging, being part of something greater than “me” or having a purpose or calling, living within a strong values base, personally and professionally.

I pay marginal attention to exercise and diet, I’m far from an exercise nut. Way far from. But those spiritual elements are dead-center in the middle of the world of engagement, therefore wildly important to me. And that “live long and prosper” thing is pretty tantalizing too.

WIN for Organizations
Healthier people are more productive and not just because they are at work rather than home sick. The cost of poor health for business is huge, and the social price tag is equally staggering. Even Harvard economics guru Michael Porter weighed in on this, in the context of shared value:  “There are numerous ways in which addressing societal concerns can yield productivity benefits to a firm. Consider, for example, what happens when a firm invests in a wellness program. Society benefits because employee and their families become healthier, and the firm minimizes employee absences and lost productivity.”

Springing from Porter’s shared value, Triple Pundit’s core philosophy is that the economy, environment and society are inseparably related, and an understanding of all three is critical to long term profitability.

Is it just me, or is promoting well-being a high-impact sustainability strategy?

WIN for Community
People and employers co-exist in the community. When citizens are generally physically and spiritually healthy, the community overall is a vibrant one. When a community’s citizens are spiritually and physically healthy, social issues—crime, drug use, abuse, truancy and dropout rates—all improve.

Citizens are also employees. A healthy citizenry and robust surrounding community means local organizations have a deep, well-stocked talent pool in their back yard. Recruiting and retention are both a breeze—people want to relocate to the community, and they want to stay. In other words, the entire region’s economic development status gets a major boost.

I have this urge to build one of those three-circled diagrams with the sweet spot in the middle. That sweet spot is the Trifecta WIN. The really important thing: the relationship is a reinforcing loop / virtuous circle. Each one of the three impacts the other two. So, how to kick things into motion?

Billion-dollar Questions
1. Which stakeholder stands to gain the most from well-being? Answer: ALL THREE.
2. Which of the three stakeholders is in the best position to have a major impact on well-being? Answer: while it starts with “me” the most influential institutional force in our adult lives that can trigger broad benefits is the employer.
So, what’s the holdup?

(a little more information…)

Blue Zones
In 2004, author / traveler Dan Buettner drew a really tough assignment from National Geographic: identify pockets around the world where people lived longer. He found several areas where people reached age 100 ten times more often than in the United States. Scientists then went to each location to study what could explain the difference in longevity and found that all these pockets had nine common lifestyle characteristics.

The real kicker for me is that these life-prolonging characteristics include both physical and spiritual elements. Purpose, values, connecting, social networks, family and sense of community all lead to a better, longer life. Still, most of the well-being community continues to lock in on the physical aspects only. Is it because that spiritual stuff is a little weirder therefore harder for people to embrace?

The Gallup-Healthways Report  (link to recent reports)
Healthways and Gallup conduct an annual analysis of well-being across the United States. In true Gallup bigger-is-better fashion, more than 178,000 interviews were conducted on physical and emotional health, healthy behaviors, work environment, social and community factors, financial security, and access to necessities such as food, shelter and healthcare. And it is ongoing: “Gallup conducts 500 telephone interviews a day with Americans to gather their perceptions of well-being, for a resulting sample that represents an estimated 95 percent of all U.S. households.”

From the introduction pages of the 2013 Gallup / Healthways report: “…individually, high well-being means a life well-lived—all the things that are important to each of us, what we think about, and how we experience our lives. In the aggregate, high well-being means healthier populations, more productive and profitable businesses, and more economically vibrant communities….Where a culture of well-being takes hold, positive health, cost, and productivity outcomes follow…. Simply stated, people with higher well-being cost less and perform better.”

“Well-being is about the interaction between physical health, finding your daily work and experiences fulfilling, having strong social relationships and access to the resources you need, feeling financially secure, and being a part of a true community.” (Tom Rath, Gallup / Healthways Report intro)

Greater Good II-Changing Landscape

Go Large” (Greater Good I) was my cut at defining the systemic relationship among organizations, culture and “me”. I wrote it before stumbling into a new world. There is a ton of new thinking and re-defining of performance excellence, CSR, sustainability, leadership, values, wellness, health care, work-life balance, spirituality, the meaning of life….whew. I can’t go after all those yet, not here!

Before going public with it, I shared an early draft with a friend. He mentioned two game changers, both of which were brand new to me: Blue Zones and Healthways. Interesting: “arguably no state is more invested in well-being than Iowa, with the Healthiest State Initiative (HSI).” Right in my own back yard and I didn’t know it!

Blue Zones – Origin
In 2004, Dan Buettner teamed up with National Geographic to identify pockets around the world where people lived longer. They found several areas where people reached age 100 ten times more often than in the United States. Scientists then went to each location to study what could explain the difference in longevity. All Blue Zones had nine common lifestyle characteristics.

Now, through The Blue Zone Project by Healthways, “a global well-being company”, Blue Zone community initiatives are popping up across the US. The Blue Zones Project “…is a community well-being improvement initiative designed to make healthy choices easier through permanent changes to environment, policy, and social networks.”

The real kicker to me is that the Blue Zones life prolonging characteristics include both physical and spiritual health factors. Purpose, values, connecting, social networks, sense of community lead to a better, longer life. Still, it looks like most of the Blue Zones / wellness work is locked in on the physical aspects. Is it because that other stuff is a little weirder therefore harder to embrace?

Healthways and Gallup conduct an annual analysis of well-being across the United States. In true Gallup “go large” fashion, more than 178,000 interviews are conducted on physical and emotional health, healthy behaviors, work environment, social and community factors, financial security, and access to necessities such as food, shelter and healthcare. And it is ongoing: “Gallup conducts 500 telephone interviews a day with Americans to gather their perceptions of well-being, for a resulting sample that represents an estimated 95 percent of all U.S. households.”

From the introduction pages of the 2013 Gallup / Healthways report The State of American Well-being:
“…individually, high well-being means a life well-lived—all the things that are important to each of us, what we think about, and how we experience our lives. In the aggregate, high well-being means healthier populations, more productive and profitable businesses, and more economically vibrant communities….Where a culture of well-being takes hold, positive health, cost, and productivity outcomes follow.”

“Well-being is about the interaction between physical health, finding your daily work and experiences fulfilling, having strong social relationships and access to the resources you need, feeling financially secure, and being a part of a true community.” (Tom Rath, Report intro)

The CSR -> CSV Connection
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) grew up into something much larger when nobody was looking. This “greater good” is not such a weird concept after all. It’s what CSR has evolved into, on steroids.

A great site for sustainability in general helped re-acquaint me with CSR, especially How the 4 stages of employee engagement ensure a bright future about the work of Coro Strandberg who says: “The ultimate vision…a blurring of the boundaries between employees working for the company and employees working for the community — where shared purpose becomes ‘one purpose.'”

Even Michael Porter and his Harvard crew are riding the crest of this New Wave. Regarding Creating Shared Value (CSV), from the website Harvard Business School Institute for Strategy and Competitiveness: “There are numerous ways in which addressing societal concerns can yield productivity benefits to a firm. Consider, for example, what happens when a firm invests in a wellness program. Society benefits because employee and their families become healthier, and the firm minimizes employee absences and lost productivity.” In other words (1) Social deficits and environmental impact create economic costs for companies; and (2) Community weaknesses affect company productivity.

Conclusion–the new bottom line is a trifecta: people, planet….and profit.

“Companies have overlooked opportunities to meet fundamental societal needs and misunderstood how societal harms and weaknesses affect value chains. Our field of vision has simply been too narrow.” (Michael Porter)
And when Porter talks about reinventing capitalism, you know something serious is going down!

Honorable mention: Indian Awakenings Rishikesh is in the foothills of the Indian Himalayas, on the sacred river Ganges. The Beatles went there in 1968 and hung out with a guru until they found enlightenment and inspiration for the White Album. But more importantly, Rishikesh has been a Hindu holy place for thousands of years. Now, westerners go to find their way. Or to seek inspiration if they are determined to write one of the classic albums of the era.

MORE REFERENCES (Sorry for the redundancies!)
I nearly didn’t include a full description of The Greater Good here. But it is what truly drives my personal passion for this project and it’s an underlying theme even though it isn’t directly explored in the workshops. My fear in including the Greater Good here was in giving the impression that Supercharger is some long-haired call to arms to change the world. It is a nuts and bolts approach to improving the bottom line and the material design and presentation is bottom line-driven. It just so happens that along the way the impacts reach far beyond the bottom line.
Then, new learning pushed the potential Greater Good impact even further. In finalizing the section, I came across the “new direction” of CSR, sustainability and CSV. See the last page for alphabet-soup decoding. And, thanks (once again!) to Steve who threw open a whole new door by explaining that health care is soon to be accountable for wellness—preventing health issues.

One Pond emphasizes balancing “people” and “process” focus. The same applies here: is there enough emphasis given to the soft side of wellness (values, purpose, spirituality) or is it all physical—diet, exercise, lifestyle? True, the heart is the motor and the body the vehicle. But the brain tells the heart to beat, and the spirit says how hard. How about “whole-person” wellness, connecting with your personal values and purpose, and understanding and reducing your stress levels? I love the Zen message …must have balance, grasshopper!
Steve has also turned me on to “Blue Zones” which, in turn, led me to Healthways. There is a movement welling up that will transform society and business that I must be part of!
What if influence of the organization and influence of the individual were exerted at maximum strength? Following the reference links is a deeper look at the dynamics and the macro benefits of purpose, values, and engagement. There are some great links at the end too!
Blue Zones
True Happiness Test 4 minutes to get your own True Happiness Grade and personalized recommendations.
USA Today Short Article with 9 points Blue Zone summary
Healthways Home
The State of American Well-being: full Gallup report to download.

“Arguably no state is more invested in well-being than Iowa, with the Healthiest State Initiative (HSI) More links for HIS:
http://www.iowahealthieststate.com/blue-zones
http://www.healthways.com/success/library.aspx?id=917
https://www.facebook.com/HealthiestIowa

The Only Sustainability Strategy That Matters

Based on a multitude of studies and hundreds of thousands of data points we know this much: people thrive in an environment that offers them a purpose to what they do, provides a sense of community and belonging, and a work relationships based on a strong sense of shared values. We’ve also learned a real magic trick–such a forward thinking company would realize incredibly enhanced improvements in every bottom line area that matters. It’s been proven over and over.

Maybe the real target for engagement isn’t in attaining marketplace supremacy, but in impacting the human condition. Proposed: focus on the human resource, which is the most basic input to the process, and pay absolute attention to the realization process (producing the company’s stuff). Repeatable economic success and therefore sustainability are outcomes…they just come along for the ride.

What if…..