Thursday 19 April 2018

3 breathing exercises to create calm in just a few minutes

Feeling stressed or even a little anxious? Try these exercises - I promise they won't take long and you really will feel more balanced and have greater clarity to get on with your day.

Feeling overwhelmed and stressed during the day can really become counter productive. You get stressed because you have so much to do and very little time between work, meetings, family commitments etc that sometimes you can feel like you are spinning. And stress from my experience can escalate quickly!

When I talk about stress, I refer to the story of the boiling frog, where in essence it is usually too late before we realise just how overwhelmed, anxious or stressed we are. This also becomes incredibly mentally, physically and emotionally exhausting - and to most people you end up just putting up with it until something breaks. This is where Arianna Huffington had her wake-up call and wrote about it in the book 'Thrive'. Moral of the story - don't wait until you are 'boiled' like the frog or collapse like Arianna.

So what can you do to help yourself remain calm and centred during the day? I know this sounds so strange but you can breathe your way better. So often we forget that we have been given this gift of breath that we don't seem to use very well in our modern lives. It wasn't until I started teaching yoga that I realised just how amazing out bodies are and how we are just not using our breath correctly and when we get stressed it impacts our breath and overall health.

SO LETS GET BACK TO BASIC'S - You can breathe your way to a more balanced mindset in just a few moments  - Try these 3 exercises:

All exercises begin with you taking a long deep inhale through the nose and then exhale through your nose. You can be sitting at your desk, break room, in the park or if you are lucky your office might have a yoga/meditation room. All exercises can also be done lying down.

1) Deep belly breathing - As you inhale through your nose, draw your breath right down to the bottom of your belly and then exhale through your nose. You will know you are doing it correctly when you see your belly expand. To make this easier place your hands just below your belly button.  Complete 12-15 rounds of this breathing technique.

2) Alterate nostril breathing - learning how to do this breathing exercise changed my life! There are lots of different ways to do this exercise but I am going to give you really simple version.

Close your eyes, place your finger on your right nostril to close it and inhale through only the left nostril and exhaling through the left nostril. Then do the opposite, place your finger on the left nostril and focus on inhaling through the right nostril and exhaling through the right nostril. Repeat this 12 times each nostril or for about 5 minutes and feel your mind become more balanced almost instantly. This technique balances the left and the right sides of the brain - so it really is worth the investment!

3) Lengthen your exhale - One way to help manage your breathing and reduce stress is to lengthen your exhale. Start by inhaling for 3 counts and exhaling for 3 counts and then gradually increase the exhale to 4 counts, then 5 counts and then 6 counts. Try not to push yourself with this one, if you can only increase your exhale to 4 counts you are still getting the full benefits of this exercise. Repeat 12 times.

Sunday 5 November 2017

Thinking about co-authoring a book? Here are my top tips

In 2016 we decided to co-author a book and in March 2017 our first book 'Finding Your Inner Resilience' was published. It took us about 18 months to write our book from concept to finished product and there are a few tips we learnt along the way to help others co-author a book.

We (Theodora and Kate) are work colleagues and sisters-in-law. We have a background in Human Resources, Change Management and Organisation Development and have worked together at a couple of organisations.  Both of us have always wanted to write a book individually and we both have a lot of experience in writing, but it wasn't until we experienced a joint challenge when we started to discuss the idea of writing a book together. 

In our book one of the core principles we talk about is the importance of 'teamwork' as teamwork divides the task and multiples success and we are evidence that teaming up helps you to succeed - we are now both published authors!  

Since the release of our book we often get asked "Was it easy to co-author the book?" and "How did we go about co-authoring the book together?".  So here are our top 5 tips if you are thinking about co-authoring a book: 

1) Work with someone you know well and trust, you need to be open and transparent. Writing is a very personal experience and you need to be able to share your stories and your thinking with each other.  We know it sounds obvious but you need to work well together as you are business partners in your writing venture.

2) Set expectations on writing timeframes. This is very practical but essential to a good working relationship. It is important to hold each other accountable.

3) Communicate, communicate, communicate. You need to keep the communication channel open between the two of you. If you are struggling, unmotivated etc, communicate this to your co-author. Also, don't be afraid to make suggestions/improvements to the book as we found that we would build on each other's suggestions until we came up with an idea that we both liked. 

Communication is essential to critically reviewing, questioning and making suggestions on each other's writing. We would write different chapters and then swap work for review.

4) Take time off to focus on writing together. We both took 3-6 months off our corporate careers to focus on writing. I know this might not sound ideal to a lot of people as you still need an income however it really got us into a writing rhythm where we would take turns writing and reviewing each others work. 

5) Set values or principles for your working relationship. We focused on being equals, this was important as we both have different strengths that we were bringing to the book. We also focused on honesty, respect and trust. This helped as we didn't always agree and these values would help us come to a solution that we were both happy with. 

Good luck in your writing journey!    

By Theodora Zourkas and Kate Zourkas, authors of Finding Your Inner Resilience.

Follow us on Facebook @zourkasgroup and Instagram @zourkas_group 

Thursday 26 January 2017

Seeking Resilience From Within. A Mindful Approach To Managing Life's Challenges

Awareness, presence, balance and stillness are all words we associate with mindfulness. However, life is full of challenges and stressful situations, so how does mindfulness stack up when you need it the most? 

I have used mindfulness to get me through some pretty challenging and stressful situations and I can talk from my experience when I say that it has helped me physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually get through some of the toughest times in my life. Being mindful has helped me be resilient and as the world is increasingly uncertain and divided, it is even more important to go inside ourselves and build our own inner resilience. 

Mindfulness is a tool that I use to help me build resilience, it helps me handle stress and change and helps me to flow through challenging situations rather than getting caught up in them. I have trained myself through mindfulness to focus on myself, my inner world and to channel my energy towards what I want to achieve through challenges.  

Stress and change form part of modern lives, they are not going away, and if anything they are intensifying and taking a toll on our overall wellbeing. As individuals how we manage this stress is becoming increasingly more important and we need to find ways to be more resilient to challenges and daily stressors. I have found that this is where mindfulness steps in. Like happiness resilience is an inside job, we need to seek resilience from within ourselves. The truth is that no one else can be resilient for us, we need to build it ourselves and sometimes it can be really hard to persevere through adversity. But there are support tools like mindfulness available, personally, mindfulness has helped me shine through darkness. 

Mindfulness can support you by:

- Helping you focus on the present moment 
- Increases your level of awareness and consciousness
- Provides focus and clarity through adversity
- Supports mental perseverance
- Helps you to balance and calm the mind 
- Supports the healing process. Challenges and stress take a toll on us and can emotionally and mentally knock us down. Going through a healing process can help you deal with the damage from the stress you have gone through and heal the situation so that you can move on. 
- Mindfulness supports in managing your emotions. When you go through stress it is likely you will experience a range of emotions. Mindfulness will help keep things in perspective and bring you back into a balanced state. You will still get emotional but you will be more in control. 

Here are 3 ways you can be mindful during challenges and build your resilience:

1.    Focus on the present and what is in front of you. Don't get too caught up in the whole situation. Ask yourself what do I need to do today and just focus on what is in front of you. You can become easily overwhelmed and stressed if you focus on the whole situation, break it down and just focus on what you need to achieve in the present moment.  

2.    Be grateful. Keep a positive mindset and focus on what you are grateful for.  This will help keep things in perspective and help you persevere. Coming from a place of gratitude also removes your ego from the situation as you are responding from your authentic self. Our ego's can sometimes make situations harder than they need to be and hinder us from progressing through adversity.   

3.    Start your own daily mindful activity to increase your own awareness. Those who have been through stress will agree that stress is exhausting, so start a daily mindful routine to help restore your energy. Invest in your own mental wellbeing through mindful activities, examples include; yoga, meditation, nature walks, art/drawing, listening to music or journaling. Mindfulness never takes time, it gives time. If there is one tip I can leave you with it is learning how to use your breath. Take 5 minutes a day to focus on deep breathing or when you are in a stressful situation take a few moments to just breathe, it will calm you down.   

It is a fact that stress is harmful to our health and our lives are full of stress. Therefore building resilience will help you manage stress and challenging situations better. But it does take some investment from you, resilience is an inside job.      

We can all practice mindfulness and for some of us (like me), it might take a lot of practice but it is a great support tool to use when you are going through challenging times. And after a while, it will become part of your natural response to stress and you will be more resilient to life's challenges. 

Monday 5 September 2016

Embrace Mindfulness At Work. Is Your Organisation Ready?

Do you think your business could survive without the health and wellbeing of your people? 

I am a strong believer that healthy people are productive people. I can talk about this personally and I know a lot of people agree, that without your health you are very limited. I know what it is like to work in a busy senior role being pulled in all directions, not only does this wear you down, it drains your energy and leads to exhaustion. Add family and personal commitments to this equation and it is clear to see that we are stretching ourselves too much. Life is stressful, so how do we manage this at both the individual and commercial level? And how do you ensure that 'stress' does't damage your business. 

In today’s society, health and wellbeing includes; physical, emotional and mental wellbeing. We are all working harder than ever and stress is common in the workplace. The focus on increased productivity, higher performance, longer working hours and expectations around personal availability, means we are placing ourselves and our businesses at risk if we are not managing wellbeing in its entirety.   

Could mindfulness at work be the answer? If so, how do you embrace it in your business? 

Increased mindfulness can help in the fight against stress at work. Mindfulness has helped me manage stress better, it has increased my awareness, made me more productive, more resilient, have greater clarity and focus and decision making ability. It has also empowered me to look after myself and my needs which assists my own stress management. Basically it has given me the tools to support my own wellbeing. Yes, I still get stressed, I still get angry and I still get upset, but I manage it better and I get over it faster so I move on rather than staying stressed.  

The potential of mindfulness at work is vast, it means that you can have a team of individuals who can manage themselves and be resilient to stress. Mindfulness is a practice of the ‘self’ and therefore, having employees helping themselves, will in turn help your business be healthy and sustainable.   

Below are a few practical ways that you can introduce mindfulness into your business or team: 

  1. Bring mindfulness to the forefront in your health and wellbeing strategy. Create a mindfulness program in your business, this could be; regular meditation and yoga classes or create a quiet space at work. In my corporate classes, I attract 20-30 people for yoga classes and 10-20 people per meditation classes. 
  2. Set up an information session on mindfulness so that your people can be educated on the benefits of mindfulness and meditation. Earlier this year I was working with another yoga teacher and ran a ‘mindfulness and meditation’ information session within financial services, over 80 people attended (out of an office of 800), so people are genuinely interested. 
  3. Introduce mindfulness through wellbeing forums, blogs or company newsletters to keep the communication channel to employees open on this topic. Start a online wellbeing portal so employees can access information or see class schedules.     
  4. Run pilot classes (yoga and meditation) in your business to see the appetite for mindfulness practices. You will get different people attending meditation to yoga, so if you offer both you are meeting the wellbeing of a range of people. The great thing about running meditation classes is they are short (30 minutes), people don’t need to get changed and the feedback from people is that it makes them more productive in the afternoons.  
  5. Utilise internal programs to promote wellbeing such as; graduate programs, leadership development programs, induction and team building workshops. These are all good places to educate your team on mindful tools and techniques that they can use everyday to minimise stress and enhance their wellbeing. 

How to get results from mindfulness programs at work? 

  • Make your program inclusive, make it open and invite everyone. However also make it optional and not compulsory, not everyone is interested, but as an business you can make it available to your people. People are curious about mindfulness and the impact that it will have on their wellbeing. 

  • Set up a structured communications and marketing plan to run the information sessions and class schedule. Include emails, flyers, promote through corporate newsletters and regular communication channels. 

  • Run your programs in 4-6 week blocks. I like to run meditation and yoga classes in 4-6 week cycles, which also allows for you to monitor your program and keep improving your program and adjust according to other business priorities / activities.  

  • Facilitate mindfulness through your Workplace Health and Safety Team, communications team and if you have yoga teachers working in your business leverage their skills to support the organisations wellbeing. Utilise internal capability as much as possible. 

  • Make mindfulness programs a benefit to your people. Make it part of your employer brand and how you assist your people in looking after themselves as well as giving them the support to deliver superior performance. 

You are managing humans at work and humans needs to look after their wellbeing. The intensity of work is causing health concerns physically, emotionally, mentally and psychologically and is a big risk to individuals and businesses going forward. It’s a good time to ask yourself, are you equipped to manage the wellbeing of your people? 

For further information or to speak to me about mindfulness at work contact 

Wednesday 10 August 2016

Change Your Focus, Change Your Life

'One of the biggest lessons I have learnt in my life is to focus on myself and worry less about what others think. It's what I think of myself that matters the most!' Kate Zourkas

Modern lives can be overwhelming and we can lose focus easily. Since becoming a yoga teacher I feel that my focus has changed for the better and I have written 6 ways in which you can change your own focus and as a result change your life.   

These are simple techniques that you can do every day. It is through being aware and taking accountability for your focus, where you will see the most benefit.  In life, we all have choices and it is incredibly empowering when you make the decision to take ownership of your choices and decisions, it is easier to abdicate responsibility and blame others but when you take charge of your life, you will change your life.

Focus on the positive.

This is an ‘oldie but a goodie’ and will change your life. There is so much going on in our lives now and in the world that you do need to make an effort to be positive. You do have a choice as the moment you choose to focus on the positive rather than the negative your life will change.  What goes on in your head matters, what you choose to think about you attract, so with this law in mind I know I choose to think positively. I have found that positive affirmations and setting intentions really help with creating a positive mindset.    

Focus on yourself, not others.

Growing up, I always looked outside myself and compared myself to others. I wanted a new car because someone else had one or I wanted a promotion because my friend just got one, however this never seemed to make me happy. I made the decision to focus on myself and what I want out of life and my life changed to reflect my focus areas. In fact, I became the leader of my life, rather than the follower.

Do not focus on others as a benchmark to your life, they have their own lessons to learn. Set your own goals, know your strengths and trust that you are where you are meant to be in life. Don't compare to others, use yourself as your own benchmark. Life will get a lot simpler when you focus on yourself as there are fewer distractions. When you stop focusing on everyone else, you create space to focus on you and your needs. It doesn't matter what anyone else think. Work out what you want out of life and go for it!

Be mindful and aware of your own life.

Be more present in your own life. Stress and worry is common in society, so knowing how to manage it so that you don’t engage in stress will have a positive impact on your life. Stress takes up too much space in your life and practicing mindfulness through meditation, quiet time or journaling will be positive changes into your life. Being more mindful will help you manage your mind better, you will be able to flow through situations better without getting caught up in the stress of it.  If you want to learn more about mindfulness view my blog on 'Mindfulness and Meditation, My Personal Return on Investment.

Invest in yourself.

I started to look at myself as an investment. This can be done so many ways, look at anything you do for yourself and your development as an investment. It can be a financial investment, time investment, a reward, a celebration, a break. When you start seeing yourself as an investment, you see yourself differently. How you treat yourself matters the most, treat yourself like YOU are the biggest investment in your life. What will you start doing differently?  

Make your health and wellbeing is priority.

Your health and wellbeing is paramount in life. Everyone is different, so understand yourself and what you need to ensure you are managing your own wellness.  Nourish yourself and fuel your body and mind with nourishing food and thoughts. Look at your diet, water intake, nutrients and see if you need to make changes. Change your focus to your own health and wellbeing and change your life.  

Feed your soul!

Meditate and listen to your inner guidance. Are you doing what your love? What do you want to be known for? Get to know your inner world and connect with your true identity. Focus on what you want to create in life, meditate on it. Write it down and network with likeminded people. It will change your life. When you neglect what you want in life it will cause friction either inner friction when you know you are just not being true to yourself or friction with others because you are frustrated. Feed your soul, make the changes you need to make and see how your life will change.   

It is up to you to make a change if you want improvements in any area of your life; you have the power within you to create the life you want. What will your changes be?

Friday 29 July 2016

Mindfulness for HR Professionals

The best HR professionals I know have an aurora of calm around them and a super power like ability to glide through even the most stressful or complex situations. So what do they do differently?  

In a word, they are mindful. 

I personally went into HR as I wanted to help people. In 2012, I became a yoga teacher.  Since then I have been able to add a lot more skills to my professional HR career. I have found that increased self awareness, removing my ego from professional situations and being more present in my role has led to better performance and better business relationships.   

As a HR professional, I know how hard it is to be mindful and present all the time. Most of the time it feels like you are caught between a rock and a hard place. The increase in work intensity and rising pressures of modern life have made me think about the importance of mindfulness in HR and how now more than ever, we need to bring mindfulness in our lives and corporate lives as much as possible. I have found the mindfulness is a super power for HR professionals and can easily by adopted by anyone at any level in their HR journey.  

So what's in it for you? 

Mindfulness has helped me further develop core HR skills; I have more self-confidence, better time management, better judgement and decision making skills, a more balanced and fair view of situations, I am more resilient, I am more productive, I have better business relationships and I have the ability to block out outside noise so that I can purely focus on my role and what I need to achieve.

I talk about mindfulness, yoga and meditation everyday, for me it has become a way of life. The best way I can explain the benefits is to list the benefits that I have  experienced first hand. These include:  
  • More self-confidence, you value yourself more and are clearer on your strengths 
  • Better focus and clarity
  • Better productivity 
  • Better decision making skills 
  • More resilience, you are able to persevere without getting too attached or drained from the situation you are managing 
  • Ability to observe, pause than react. I have learnt to observe and listen more and react less.  
  • Better judgement and non-judgement (while judgement is a critical skill for HR, I have found that sometimes it's HR's role not to judge)
  • Know when to get involved and when not to get involved 
  • Understand yourself better and know what makes you happy. You make better choices that meet your needs
  • Ability to be yourself and bring your whole self to work.  The lines have blurred between personal and professional, so it is really engaging to be able to bring your authentic self to work, this helps in building self-respect
  • You stress less. I feel I need to repeat this one. You stress less as you are more present and worry less about the past or the future. 

What are three things you can do to be more mindful?

I have to admit that there are moments when I do get stressed in HR and I am a yoga teacher. Being aware of stress and the impact it has on me really helps me in my HR roles and I thank my focus on mindfulness for keeping me sane some days. Here are some tips to get you started: 

Self Kindness - Put yourself first. 

You are important too! As HR professionals you do put others first and it can be easily drain your energy when dealing with others. So you do need to put yourself first and ensure you are spending enough time reenergising yourself. The key point to remember is that you can't pour from an empty cup, so putting your needs first will help you deliver better to others. Saying 'no' (without feeling guilty) and setting clear boundaries are two ways to put yourself first, high performers do this really well so follow their lead and put your needs first.  

Recognise your hard work. 

HR doesn't get a lot of positive recognition, like IT you will normally only receive feedback if something goes wrong. Therefore take the initiative to self-promote and self-recognise all the work that you do and the value that you add. Take time daily to step back and be mindful of the work you are doing for others and recognise your efforts. Right now think about 3 things you have done really well recently and give yourself the recognition you deserve.  In addition, make sure you make the effort to recognise your hard working colleagues and celebrate when you can. Remember - What goes around comes around!  

Set up a mindfulness practice. 

This maybe an obvious one, but to be more mindful it helps to have your own mindfulness practice. This means to have some quiet time everyday where you can reflect and take your attention inwards. Being mindful helps anchor you in the present so that you are more calm and balanced and ultimately stress less. Take a yoga class, write in a journal, meditate or simply close your eyes and focus on your breathing for 10 minutes a day, see the difference it makes to balancing and calming your mind. Set the intention to be more mindful and before you know it you will be cultivating an attitude of mindfulness everyday. 

Your wellbeing and mental health is so important, don’t forget that. In HR we are so busy looking after everyone else's needs that we often neglect our own. I urge you to put yourself first and ensure that your wellbeing is a priority.  

If you want to be a more mindful HR professional, check out my other blogs on ‘The Habits of Highly Mindful People at Work’ or ‘5 Ways to Start Meditating’.

Wednesday 22 June 2016

Restoring Balance in your Life

A few people have asked me recently how to create better balance in their lives. These people are professionals, managers and leaders in very successful organisations and they work very hard. They travel for work and spend long hours in an office environment, and are becoming increasingly overwhelmed by stress and work. My background is in the corporate environment so I know the stressed and exhaustion very well and when people mention the word stress in relation to their jobs I get a nervous tick. 

So how do you create better balance in your life when your life seems to be so heavily tipped out of balance?  It is so easy to advise people to stress less (after all how many times have you heard the phrase “don’t stress it’s only work”), but in reality it can be very difficult when you are consumed by you role. Sometimes you are just in it so deep you can’t think logically which creates bigger stresses.  There are also multiple factors to consider when looking at stress and your job, considering most people work because they need the money to live and have career ambitions. 

So if you are feeling a little overwhelmed by your job I have written 10 ways to assist in overcoming stress and restoring some balance back in your life.

1)      Try to keep a positive attitude. By keeping things in perspective and being present in your role. Take each day and each situation as it arises. Even when you don’t feel like it pretend, it will pay massive dividends.

2)      Recognise yourself if you feel undervalued. Focus on the value you create in your role. This is really empowering. I was working for an organisation  where I felt I wasn’t being recognised and I decided to flip it so I started to recognise everyone I worked with no matter how small their action, the result was that in a matter of days I was receiving more recognition than I had in years! I created this through my actions and you can too.  

3)      Set clear boundaries. Set boundaries between work and personal time. Decide that you will not work past a certain time, or answer emails or calls in the evening. Setting boundaries helps regain power and will assist in restoring balance in your life.   

4)      Explore flexible work options - what does your company offer you? Flexibility at work has become the norm, so take advantage of options to help you deliver better.  

5)      Rest. Taking time off is so valuable to have holidays/getaways especially if you work a lot. Your body needs the down time to restore and you always return balanced from a holiday. Don’t wait until it is too late, plan ahead and schedule your holidays. A regular meditation practice is always a great way to have a mind break and bring yourself back into balance. People who meditate at work are more productive and stress less.  

6)      Make a plan. Be practical about your situation. Sometimes you can get so caught up in the emotion and exhaustion of work. Set a plan, write down tasks, deadlines and clarify your accountabilities, you may even be able to delegate some of your work.    

7)      Make sure you keep moving don’t just freeze where you are.  If you are going through a tough situation, keep moving forward, don't set up camp and stay there.  

8)      Ensure that there is a balanced value exchange. Some organisations will work you to the bone, so ensure that you are receiving the right amount of value back. Whether that is through financial rewards, flexibility, career opportunities or training ensure you are getting value back for the work you are putting in.

9)      Utilise your support network and vent to them if you need to debrief and vocalise the stress out of your body. It is called getting it off your chest for a reason as it will help you release some of the inner stress and restore more balance.  

10)   Communicate your stresses to those at work that can do something about it. Your manager has a duty of care of you and your wellbeing. If you are overwhelmed by workload; raise it as an issue. I have ended up in hospital in a life threatening situation because I  was overworked in the corporate environment. As much as we like to think we are irreplaceable we’re not. You are replaceable at work, your heath on the other hand is not.   

My rule of thumb is that when works starts to cause more harm than good then it is a good sign to move on to something else. I know that sometimes this might not be part of your plan but after all please keep in mind that you do have a choice. You can restore the balance in your life, acknowledging that you are out of balance is the first step, keep going it can be achieved.