OPENING THE MIND AHEAD OF A CREATIVE DAY

Alison Corner looks at why yoga and mindfulness have a key role to play at Northumbrian Water’s NWG Innovation Festival.

In his book 'Catching The Big Fish: Meditation, Consciousness and Creativity', David Lynch likens ideas to fish: “If you want to catch a little fish, you can stay in the shallow water. But if you want to catch a big fish, you’ve got to go deeper.”

By 'deeper', Lynch is referring to our sub-consciousness, the deeper part of our mind, and he explores how to harness our minds to boost creativity.

Practising mindfulness and yoga can clear the mind of much of the clutter that overpowers our brains. 

Mindfulness has been around for many years, particularly within eastern cultures. However, in recent years the practice of mindfulness has taken hold in the west as people seek greater clarity and wellbeing.

Why is mindfulness becoming so valued in modern businesses, full of cutting edge technology? The answer is simple; our brains are simply too busy. They are full of thoughts, and it appears that we are constantly at the mercy of uncontrollable mind chatter.  In computer terms, our processing units are overworked and underproductive.  The practice of mindfulness gives us the ability to focus our attention on the here and now. It slows down mind chatter - even potentially to a point where we can cease it altogether.

Yoga has its roots in ancient India, and it's purpose is settling the mind into silence. Often misunderstood, yoga goes far beyond the physical postures you might be thinking about: the postures are simply how we can release tension from the body. They give us a way to connect with the breath and the mind. Once the mind is still, our ability to focus and concentrate increases dramatically, and our energy can be directed towards doing things that add meaning and value, rather than processing all the chattering and distractions of a 'monkey mind'.

Yoga is credited with bringing a sense of balance to the body and mind, enabling us to harness clarity so we can channel our energy into more creative and innovative thinking. 

This is why our NWG Innovation Festival includes a “wellness tent”, where participants and guests can start the day with yoga and mindfulness sessions.

A world first, the NWG Innovation Festival is a week-long event which brings together leading thinkers and practitioners to generate ideas about how to tackle our most important social and environmental challenges. The pop-up Innovation Festival will appear at Newcastle Racecourse from 10 -14 July, and will feature design sprints by day and a festival programme by night, and promote STEM to local schools. 

So why mindfulness and yoga? By starting the day in a mindful state, we can focus  our minds for the day ahead, giving ourselves an opportunity to unleash our creativity. Likening this again to a computer, just turning off all those background applications that serve no purpose but use up valuable resources.

Archimedes' 'Eureka' moment is a case in point. He'd strived to find the answer to a problem, and the more frantically he searched his mind, the less clarity he found. It was only when he paused to relax and take a bath that his mind settled and profound insight came to him. 

We’re not asking participants, who will have come from as far as Hong Kong and America, to take a bath in the middle of Newcastle Racecourse! We're simply offering to help to expand their creativity by stopping the mind-chatter that overloads our brains.  We all experience thought-overload; we are just trying to think of too many things at once. Our conscious minds are only capable of one thought at a time; everything else is a distraction, hampering clarity, productivity and, indeed, innovation.

The brain is like any muscle in the body - it builds strength when exercised correctly.  Initially, mindfulness and yoga can feel like lifting a heavy weight at the gym; it can be a struggle to stay focused. However, over time it gets easier, and as we build clarity and the state of being mindful becomes more of a part of our everyday lives.

Mindfulness and yoga are very simple and yet powerful methods of enabling ourselves to connect with our innate ability to gain clarity and hear our intuition, which in turn helps us to problem solve and find more innovative solutions. 

At NWG we are fortunate to have two qualified teachers in the HR team; James Muir, Transformation Development Manager, will be leading mindfulness sessions and Sarah Salter, our HR Director, will run morning yoga sessions during the festival. 

So, with mindfulness and yoga as our secret weapons, and with support from our main sponsors IBM, Microsoft, CGI Group, Ordnance Survey, BT and Reece Innovation, we’re ready to tackle the challenges of flooding, leakage, the 2030 workforce, mobile working, STEM engagement and creating green communities. 

For more information on the NWG Innovation Festival, visit innovationfestival.org. Alison Corner is Employee Engagement Programme Manager at Northumbrian Water Group.