It worked for me: AFL Club President Peggy O’Neal on mindfulness

Trying to balance your professional and home life can be stressful especially when you’re one of Australia’s most powerful and influential women. At age 63, lawyer and AFL Club President Peggy O’Neal found she was juggling too many things, so turned to mindfulness meditation and amazing things began to happen.

In 2013, O’Neal made history by becoming the country’s first female AFL president. She was voted in as President of Richmond after almost a decade as Director of the club.

In addition to holding several other board positions, O’Neal was a practising lawyer, a regular contributor to professional journals and a frequent presenter at local and international industry events.

It was around this time that she discovered mindfulness. “I thought I needed to get help in handling the different roles. Not just because of the stress. All the roles need you to be alert and focused,” she says. Then adds, “I had read a bit about mindfulness and it seemed to have a lot of health benefits.”

O’Neal had heard that one of her colleagues, Craig Delphine, who used to practise law full time, was running a mindfulness based stress reduction program, known as MBSR. So she asked him for some one-on-one training.

After six weeks of training, for a of couple hours per week, she learned how to practice mindfulness on her own. “I started finding myself being more relaxed when I did it,” she adds. “It’s a way of stopping your mind, because I would think too far ahead. I would worry about what I had to do next rather than what I was doing at the time.”

One of her tricks is to focus on the simple activities in life. “Newspaper comes in cellophane and I used to rip that apart. So now every morning I take the time to slowly unwrap the paper. I use that to slow things down. You realise how much faster everything happens when you slow your mind down,” she says.

“I didn’t know about mindfulness early on in my career. But once you calm your mind down you can get it all done.”


When was the last time you did absolutely nothing for 10 whole minutes?

She also incorporates breathing exercises to centre her thoughts. “When I’m feeling tired or have more work to do I go for a mindful walk and feel refreshed,” she adds.

Mindfulness is also having a positive effect on her sleeping patterns. “I don’t wake up at night and if my mind’s getting out of control I do an extra [meditation] session.”

It has also helped her to become a better listener and to reduce nerves before a big interview or presentation. “As president of a football club I speak all the time. . . the sort of nervousness that can overwhelm you. I don’t experience that so much any more,” she adds.

O’Neal is now a strong advocate of mindfulness in the workplace and recently spoke at a mindfulness workshop at the Richmond club. “Any professional sport can bring stress. Every loss is in the paper,” she says. “Mindfulness is a way of helping people cope with the stress of their jobs. You learn how to handle people, how to control your temper, it brings a type of calmness. It’s part of the toolkit in helping you cope.”

5 things you didn’t know about mindfulness

1. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction is one type of meditation and is adapted from traditional meditation.
In 1979 Medical Professor John Kabat-Zinn adapted the Buddhist form of mindfulness to develop the MBSR program. This took mindfulness beyond its spiritual origins and into a scientific context. The MBSR program was originally offered by hospital and health organisations to help people cope with pain and illness.

2. There is more than one way to practice mindfulness meditation.
Some of the most popular teachings include MBSR, Zen, Transcendental Meditation, Kundalini Yoga and Primordial Sound Meditation. It doesn’t matter which one you prefer, as long as it works for you and you allow time to practise every day!

3. Meditation can help reduce pain.
One study in the US, involving 15 participants who had their brains scanned while in pain, found that there was a 40 per cent reduction in pain intensity during meditation compared to non-meditation.

4. Meditation can actually change the brain’s gray matter.
In a study led by Harvard researchers at Massachusetts General Hospital, scientists discovered that mindfulness meditation improves memory, sense of self, empathy and the ability to cope with stress. The researchers found that gray matter changed over time, with results appearing in as little as eight weeks.

5. Eating can be transformed into a mindful practice.
Take the time to notice every bite and start to appreciate the flavours and textures of your food. It will bring greater awareness and intention into your eating habits and help curb cravings faster!


Take five minutes out of your day and try a mindfulness meditation exercise

Have you tried incorporating mindfulness or meditation in your daily routine? Join the conversation!