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How Relaxation Can Improve Concentration

RelaxIt’s not surprising that National Relaxation Day (Aug. 15) is observed in the thick of summer because, for many, ideal relaxation involves lounging on a tropical beach and just feeling away from it all. For me, however, snowboarding is a great way to relax. When I’m carving down a beautiful snow-covered mountain, I’m able to allow my concerns to drift off into the background. From these two examples, it’s plain to see that perceptions of what constitutes relaxation vary.

Relaxation does not inherently require us to be inactive or unplugged from our normal routine. Perhaps you make room in your weekly schedule to take a morning run, practice yoga or spend some time in your garden. These activities may be great when we can engage in them, but how can we find other ways to help us relax the rest of the time, which is most often spent at work? One way to find some space and peace, no matter where we are, is through the practice of mindfulness.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, the founder of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts, defines mindfulness as “awareness that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” You may have heard about mindfulness meditation, or you may even know someone who uses mindfulness techniques to help manage stress, sleep issues or chronic pain. In addition to these benefits, mindfulness practices can also offer a way to extend relaxation by helping people develop skills in concentration.

Our minds are often like balloons in the wind, blown in all directions by thoughts and judgments about the past or worries about the future. We can sometimes even push ourselves to the point of mental and physical exhaustion when struggling to compete with these hook-like thoughts constantly pulling for our attention. With practice, however, we can learn to place more of our focus on the present moment, watching, listening, feeling what is in front of us. We can recall how it feels to be fully absorbed and free of distractions when completely immersed in something that is pleasing or enjoyable to us. As our concentration becomes stronger and more stable, we can also experience similar levels of relaxation in our minds and bodies, regardless of our chosen activity or task.

Mindfulness practices are not just limited to formal sitting meditation as some might assume. Try this simple walking mindfulness exercise today:

  1. Take a short walk and feel the bottom of your feet as your steps connect to the ground.
  2. Notice five things around you that can be seen.
  3. Listen to four sounds you can identify.
  4. Touch three different objects, feeling the shapes and textures.
  5. Identify two different smells.
  6. Lastly, stop and take one deep, relaxed breath.

For those who don’t already have a mindfulness practice built into their daily schedule, regular participation in meditation activities might seem to be a waste of valuable time. Fight that assumption! Countless studies have found strong correlations between mindfulness and increased productivity in the workplace (and, by extension, even increased profits). Bear in mind that mindfulness is a practice. There are some immediate results (lowered heart rate, for example), but the major benefits take time and a commitment to simply ‘showing up.’

Skeptics should definitely give it a try even if there are only a few minutes available to practice; otherwise, how else can the mind discover what it’s been missing?

David Perrin, Senior Advisor, Member Service,  Association of International Certified Professional Accountants

Relaxing on the beach courtesy of Shutterstock

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