In our hyperconnected world it’s getting harder and harder to just switch off. Whether it be switching off your phone, stopping email notifications at work or even just saying no to people, we are in a constant battle to be in the moment and content with who and where are. Luckily for us Melbourne people, Dr Richard Chambers and Ray Good are bringing to Melbourne it’s first ever mindfulness pop-up studio. Located in a sleek, light-filled warehouse space in Fitzroy, recharge is a mindfulness pop-up studio that encourages people to take their eyes off their screens, leave their stress at the door, pull up a cushion and learn how to recharge. We chatted to Dr Richard Chambers ahead of the workshop to discuss how we can find our inner zen and why it’s so important.
1. In today’s world where are we constantly connected, how important do you think it is to practice mindfulness?
Modern life is definitely getting busier. We work long hours, often juggling family duties and other responsibilities too. And technology means that we are constantly connected. The ability to check emails in bed and spend our commute on Facebook can add to our lives, but more often the research shows it detracts. We are becoming increasingly distracted, reactive and stressed. And we are becoming increasingly disconnected from real relationships and from our senses.
Mindfulness offers a way to reconnect with our senses. We can do this through the formal practice of meditation or the informal practices of simply engaging more fully with the sensory experience of what we are doing (e.g. chores, walking, communicating or working). Putting down our phones and reconnecting with the senses means the mind starts to calm down and we feel less stressed. As we get more in touch with our bodies, we feel greater wellbeing and also can take better care of our physical and emotional needs.
I think the massive popularity of mindfulness comes down to three main things. First of all, it is a powerful practice drawn from ancient wisdom traditions. Second, there is a massive amount of evidence now including brain science which helps people understand what happens when they practice it. But perhaps most of all, we need it to counteract some of the pressures of modern life and the negative effects of technology .
2. You were involved in the Smiling Mind app, can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Yes, I helped create the original content and steer the early direction of the app. It is a free app with 1.4 million downloads. It has a range of different guided meditations ranging from 1 minute up to 45 minutes. It is a great resource – just having guided meditations in your pocket anytime you need them. Of course, many people struggle to be disciplined enough to meditate regularly, and this is where structured courses like recharge become really helpful.
3. Can you tell us some of the changes within your own life since practicing mindfulness and meditation?
I am definitely more focused. In fact, my friends are often surprised at how much I get done! I am also less stressed and generally much happier. I think what I like most is how much more present and engaged I am in my life – just more fully in each moment.
And when you spend long enough (17 years, in my case) watching thoughts and feelings coming and going without getting caught up in them, you start to realise that everything comes and goes, but there is something that doesn’t. Call it awareness or consciousness, it is what is looking through your eyes and listening through your ears right now. The classical teachings on mindfulness say that when we learn to rest our attention all the time on that, it doesn’t matter so much what comes and goes in our awareness. This is the source of true mental health, and is the main reason I meditate now.
4. What do you say to someone that finds it hard to sit still, let alone meditate? Can you give us some tips on everyday practices that we can easily do to practice mindfulness?
You are not alone! Research has found that the average person spends at least half of their lives distracted, not paying attention to what they are doing. My experience and that of my students tells me it is actually much more than this!
The first step is just to notice the mind wandering. If we sit and meditate even for a minute, we will notice this intimately. Many people think that the point of meditations to stop the mind wandering. This is a misunderstanding. The mind wanders – that’s it’s nature. If we start by recognising this, it takes the struggle out. We can then practise noticing when the mind has wandered and simply redirecting it back to the present moment. If we are meditating, we might come back to the breath or the tactile sensations in the body. And when we do this repeatedly, we get better at noticing the mind has wandered. We come back quicker and spend more time in the present.
So the key is not to try to stop the mind wandering (or see that as a problem) but just to get better at recognising when it has – and coming back. No judgement, no further thinking, just come back.
In fact, we can do this in every moment. Right now, just notice where your attention is and bring it back to your body, or what you can see/hear/smell etc. If we do this over and over, it becomes a habit. In fact, parts of the brain like the prefrontal cortex (involved in paying attention – and also memory, self-awareness and managing emotions) literally get stronger like a muscle.
5. Finally can you tell us what we can expect in signing up to your 4 week mindfulness and meditation course?
At recharge, we teach meditation and mindfulness in a simple, practical way. We base it in neuroscience and research, but also draw on our extensive experience as meditators and meditation teachers. That’s why we say that recharge is meditation for modern living.
We will help our participants establish a regular meditation practice, starting with just 10 minutes a day. We will also teach them how to apply mindfulness to reduce stress, improve productivity and work performance, and have better relationships. There will be a range of meditations and exercises, and opportunities to share experiences and ask questions. We will even have tea thanks to Pukka Tea so people can stay afterward and met one another.
We are running it in a beautiful warehouse space in Fitzroy, because why not learn something so simple yet profound in a great environment?!
recharge are running a 4 Week Meditation and Mindfulness Course every Thursday night (7pm – 8.30pm) from November 17th through December 8th. Find out more here.
Where: recharge, Australian Style Institute, Level 1, 60 – 66 Hanover Street, Fitzroy.