Insider Intelligence: Does Your Brain Need a Tune-Up?

Tips on keeping your mind and body sharp and ready for productivity

While a healthy diet is essential, it is not the only course of action you should consider to bolster your brain function. In light of all of the stimuli and distractions we have bombarding our psyches, there seems to be a renewed interest in the topic of mindfulness as it relates to effectiveness at work.

Mindfulness involves focusing one’s attention on the present moment and on the matters at hand — attuning to the nuances of what you are reading, hearing, speaking and feeling. People are turning to mind/body practices like yoga and meditation in addition to nutrition to optimize their ability to achieve and maintain focus and to increase productivity. Physical disciplines like deep restorative breathing, meditation and yoga may not be a part of your daily routine but maybe they should be.

A Shakespearean actor and presentation coach who lived and worked in Cambridge Mass., once shared with me that meditation vastly helped improved his performances. Not only did it improve his capability to memorize his own lines but also the lines of the other players in his scenes. He told me that he initially turned to meditation to calm himself before a stage appearance. He said that his commute in breakneck traffic on his way to a show didn’t exactly help his anxiety level any.

As we compared notes for a minute on the woes of commutes in cities with perpetual traffic — me in Atlanta at the time, he in Boston — he shared with me that he learned that he could effectively “meditate the traffic away” during his drive. Now this is something that got my attention. Well, of course what he meant was, when faced with the frustrations and delays of traffic, he would work on de-stressing by rechanneling his thoughts.

That’s something we all could use when faced with corrosive culprits like overflowing email inboxes, unexpected issues and last minute demands preying on our peace of mind.

His methods harken to those most meaningful to him, and thus easy to motivate himself to do. His favorite, given his talent, involved reciting beloved sonnets. What also worked for him was yoga chanting. Most of us are acquainted with the popular yoga chant “Om”. Sound hokey? Bearing in mind the positive neurological effects of calming music and chanting include improved immune response and brain function, you may want to reconsider.

The sound “Om or AUM” produced repetitively (sort of like humming it through your nose) serves up a few immediate healthy physiological benefits. First, it helps you to focus on the breath (deep and relaxed vs. short and shallow), secondly as the mind becomes absorbed by the sound and vibration, it quiets itself and the release of endorphins provides a nice sense of calm.

We cannot control frustrating scenarios like traffic or the pressures of deadlines and pressing commitments, but we can control our response to it. Other suggestions include quietly repeating a favorite poem, prayer, inspirational phrase or lovely song. You’ll find that, just as my Shakespearean friend did, choosing something personal and meaningful will motivate you to maintain your practice.


Yes, You Should Exercise

If you have ever done anything athletic, you have probably already discovered that getting moving increases the release of endorphins in your brain — the chemicals that produce that feel-good sensation, the “runner’s high.” Thus, besides being a good physical tune up for your body, exercise tends to provide a therapeutic mental diversion from stressful thoughts as well. Benefits include lowered anxiety and depression and improved sleep.

Without intervention, sluggishness and a lack of concentration can continue to adversely affect your performance at work and ultimately, your erode your self-confidence. Feeling out of shape is not doing much good for your self-confidence either. Get moving just a few minutes a day and you will begin to accumulate those paybacks.


Breathe Your Way to Cerebral Bliss

Yoga has become popular as a method to achieve both mind and body benefits at the same time. It involves both exercise and meditation. If you have been meaning to try yoga but hesitate, imagining a room full of old ladies in weird poses wearing spandex, think again. That’s not exactly the case anymore.