The United States is known for our long workdays and competitive work ethic. Compared to other developed nations, we have far fewer paid vacation and sick days and work longer weeks. However, more and more companies are encouraging and supporting employees to relieve stress and anxiety and live healthier lives. The methods vary and include a variety of creative support, including evaluating their own with a health risk assessment. One strategy, is to focus on meditation at work.
Meditation is one of the easiest, most portable, and effective interventions to protect mental and emotional health. You likely already have protective factors in place, but unlike yoga classes or medication, this one is free.
According to a MediKeeper study, employees experience stress over a variety of factors, including financial worries and job security. Unsurprisingly, many personal life issues contributed to stress, like difficulty sleeping, concern over family life, and concern about an injury or illness. Although stress can feel like it’s particular to one area of concern, the physical and emotional responses to stress do not discriminate. This can make any stressor feel all encompassing, but the good news is that meditation can help with all stress, regardless of the cause.
Once you’ve gotten the hang of your meditation practice, you’ll likely want to shout the benefits from the rooftop. You’ll see how much lighter you feel, and you’ll notice the physical and emotional benefits every day. If you go too long without a mindfulness or meditation practice, you’ll likely notice that you’re due for one, and there are a few key ways to ensure you don’t have to sacrifice meditation just because you’re at work.
The Most Common Workplace Meditation: Mindfulness Practice
Many think of meditation as the act of sitting quietly, cross-legged, with eyes closed and hands on knees. The goal, we’ve all heard, is to completely clear one’s mind. For many people, especially those new to meditation, this can seem like an impossible task. It’s an even more impossible task if there are kids outside waiting on you or your colleagues are just outside the door. The best introductory meditation is also one of the most effective: mindfulness meditation.
According to Mindful.org, the following are basic steps:
- Set aside some time. This can be any amount of time you can sacrifice. Perhaps you get to the office five minutes early and start with a meditation, or go sit outside during your lunch break.
- Observe the present moment as it is. Don’t immediately set out to change anything. Spend a few moments just noticing what is for you in the moment. Without asking too many specific questions, try to notice your physical and emotional space. How are you feeling physically? Notice how your knees are feeling, or if your chest feels tight. Some people find it helpful to scan their bodies and check in. Notice if you’re short of breath or feeling scared.
- Let your judgements roll by. The most important part of this is that it’s not the time to judge what we notice. Rather than noticing your knees hurt and then thinking “I have got to remember to get those checked! I’m so irresponsible,” simply let that judgement roll on by. Some like to imagine it floating by on a cloud or the words disappearing in our minds. Regardless, this is not the time to judge yourself or your thoughts and feelings.
- Return to observing the present moment as it is. When you notice yourself starting to think and judge, return back to feeling and observing. Just bring yourself right back. There’s no “failing” or doing a bad job; just bring yourself right back. Every moment spent in mindfulness is beneficial.
- Be kind to your wandering mind. No one will get it right 100% of the time. Many yogis call it the “monkey mind.” Our minds are conditioned to think, and in this case you’re asking them to stop. It takes practice, and there is no perfect.
Mindfulness practice is so easy to incorporate into your workday. If you’re short on space, you can even take five minutes for some mindfulness in the bathroom stall! Studies show that mindfulness greatly improves the working brain, and produces such benefits as improved conflict resolution, rational thinking versus fight or flight response, and improved emotional intelligence. According to the Work From Om blog, big corporations like AOL and McKinsey & Co have have experienced increased sales and workflow after implementing wellness plans that included mindfulness meditation.
In addition to benefits for the employer, any meditation practice benefits the employee. It is a work out for the brain. At the gym, we isolate certain muscle groups where we want to tone and strengthen them. The same is true for the mind: in order to train it to serve us better, we need to train it to drown out the noise.
Mindfulness can also be helpful in calming our home lives. Have you ever found yourself eating dinner, checking your email, and feeding someone else at the same time…then noticed you’re doing none of them very well? When it’s possible, try doing one of those things at a time and being present and focused on the one task. Cooking, walking, and showering are great times for built-in mindfulness.
Using Guided Meditation at Work
Another great way to start your meditation practice is to use guided meditations. Unlike our colleagues a generation before us, we have guided meditation at our fingertips or in our ear buds. There are countless apps and YouTube videos with meditations lasting from 30 seconds to 30 minutes. The New York Times has compiled some short ones, and tips for getting the most out of your time. The calming voice of a stranger guiding you through imagery, a full body scan, or deep meditation takes the pressure off and makes it easier to incorporate meditation into your day.
Again, quietly sitting with no distraction and no thoughts is the meditation holy grail, but for many of us it’s a far off goal, or even one we have no desire to reach. You have enough to think about in your busy work day. Let someone else guide you to a place that will improve your energy and emotional regulation both in and out of the office.
Encourage Workplace Meditation Among Others
Have you ever arrived at work having had a great morning, ready to tackle whatever comes across your desk? Maybe you had a leisurely breakfast with loved ones or a nice walk. Although that’s a great way to set yourself up for a great workday, the toxic stress of others can wipe that morning smile right off your face. Unfortunately, we can only control our own stress levels, ability to sleep well, or sense of peace.
Telling others about your meditation practice will encourage them to give it a try and see that a variety of people can be successful. If you’re feeling very proactive, you could even suggest a meditation space in your office, like the World Bank has. Perhaps the lunchroom can double as a meditation room outside of lunch hours, or an empty office could be contributed to a quiet, chilled out space for employees to use however they need. A meditation space could serve multiple purposes as a breastfeeding room, a reading room, or a stretching space.
The others in your office also want to feel healthier and happier. By taking up meditation at work, you could set off a chain reaction that would benefit the whole office!