There are already a lot of evidence-based articles to support the benefits of meditation and mindfulness. In this post I would like to share some practical ideas for how you can incorporate meditations and mindfulness at your place of work, without having to look weird, or needing a “meditation room” at your place of work. Although having a dedicated meditation room at your place of work would of course be a great asset and high level endorsement of wellness!
But I don’t have Time to Meditate at Work!
You may think that you don’t have time to meditate at work! Sure, most of us don’t have dedicated chunks of time during the day to do formal meditation. No problem! Lets break down a workday, and see how you can get the benefits from meditation during your workday. Some simple techniques can help you stay fresh throughout the day, and help through that afternoon slump.
Most of our jobs involves a lot of sedentary sitting at a computer. But you still get up to go to meetings, or get some water, get your lunch, pick up your mail, go to the restroom, etc. Each of those transitions are opportunities for a quick mini-meditation! It does not need to be a certain number of minutes or a designated time to be of benefit.
Don’t take my word for it. Try it out and verify with your own experience right now.
Close your eyes if you are sitting, and take 10 deep conscious breaths, not hurrying it, or slowing it down on purpose, just 10 relaxed breaths. After you have opened your eyes, tell me you don’t feel just a little bit better! In all likelihood these 10 breaths took you about a minute of your time. Now imagine doing this multiple times a day, maybe once an hour, and you start to see how this feeling of relaxation and recharging and refreshed clarity might benefit your day at work.
Breaking Down a Work Day
So, let’s take a workday and break it down to see where you can squeeze in some mini-meditations.
Going to Work
First going to work. You get into your car, or you get into the subway, or perhaps you are walking or biking to work. All of these transitions give you an opportunity to meditate if even only for a few breaths. In the case of your car, be mindful of getting in the car and sitting down. Why not close your eyes and take 3-10 breaths before cranking the engine? Try it, and you will find yourself more intentional and conscious behind the wheel, which will also keep you safer on the road.
Now say you’re driving, you could once in a while take a break from listening to the radio (maybe during a commercial) and again breathe consciously for 5 breaths at a time (there is more distraction while driving, so 10 breaths will be harder to keep track of at the same time you’re trying to be focused on driving.) Another one of my favorites is at a stoplight. Why not use the stop lights as small opportunities to meditate? Especially since they may seem like time wasters and may even be frustrating. Make that your queue to meditate, and become aware of how tempting it is to not want to be present in the moment, because you want to be at your destination. These are all ways we can become aware of how easy it is to avoid the present moment, because there is always something better in the future to look forward to. The problem with that is that we then end up “missing our appointment with the present” as Thich Nhat Hanh has so wisely observed.
Walking to your office
So those are some ideas of what you can do to incorporate meditation on the way to work. Same thing when you leave your car to walk into the building. Use the walk to your office to practice walking meditation. That doesn’t mean you have to walk super slow; just be conscious while walking. Hear the birds, or jackhammer, or cab honking, or fans above your head as you walk underneath. And notice your feet walking over the concrete, notice your breath as you walk in various situations. Is it hurried as you walk over the boardwalk? Does it slow down as you walk on a quiet hallway?
Each breath is unique, and each breath will inform and teach you about how present, relaxed, or tense you are in that moment. Is your breath coming from your chest or your abdomen? The lower and more relaxed your belly and breathing, the more beneficial for your oxygen distribution and your well-being. If your breathing is tense, don’t worry, just keep practicing. With consistent practice, it will over time get relaxed more often, and you’ll start enjoying the present moment more and more. This will happen even in parts of your life that you previously thought were “boring” or “tedious”.
So now you’re at the office, how do you open the door? Is it conscious, or on auto-pilot? How do you greet your workplace by way of opening the door and entering into what is a Big part of your life? This stepping into your office may be a good time to internally think about some of the reasons why you are grateful to have this particular job (even if it is not what you want to do the rest of your life). Being grateful as you get in the office will help you feel good about why you are there at that time, and is likely going to make your day more satisfying.
Sitting Down into Your Office Chair
So now you sit down to get started on working. That moment of sitting down, just like in the case of getting into the car or subway, is another opportunity to take a few breaths. Check your posture, that it is upright and not tense. Same with your arms, if they’re tense from holding the mouse, it will manifest itself as tightness in your shoulders and neck.
Now the trick is to maintain that upright posture throughout the day. And of course it is very easy to get totally absorbed in your tasks and end up slumping towards your screen or sitting way too long at a time. So here are a couple of ideas you can try to avoid that slump, which then turns to fatigue as the day wears on, if not checked.
What has worked well for me while working in various job environments and continues to do so, is setting timers. I’ll link to a couple of options here. You can use a Youtube meditation timer, such as this 8 hour video, with a mindfulness bell or bells going off, every so many minutes.
You can also install a mindfulness timer app on your computer or smartphone, to help remind you to get up and move around or meditate for a minute or two. I’ve also tried kitchen timers, however, the mindfulness bells sound way nicer!
I’ve gathered all kinds of mindfulness bells and timers here on one page:
Once you have picked a mindfulness sound that works well for you, I would suggest trying different settings and see which one is most optimal for you. For example, you could try a bell once every 30 minutes, or perhaps in a very demanding day, at least try once an hour. If you can’t take a 5 minute walk, at least close your eyes in front of your computer, and just allow yourself to breathe for 10 or 20 breaths. Check your posture while doing that to make sure it is upright and awake. You can count to 5 (each in and out breath counting as one, next in breath and out breath, count as 2, and so on until your count is at 5 or 10, then return back to one). This also has the added benefit of giving your eyes a break from staring at a monitor.
Getting Up and Walking is Crucial for Your Health
Because extensive sedentary sitting is now known to not be healthy, if possible, also try getting up for a brief 5 minute walks through the hallways or staircases of your office or office building if possible. (An outside walk is of course even better. Try to fit that into your day routine as well if possible)
Staircases are ideal, because they are very conducive to meditation. They are quiet, sparse in decorations, and peaceful. Give that a try! They also have the added health benefits of being a good workout for your body. If you have only a couple flights of stairs in your building, then just go up and down several times depending on how much time you have. A consistent slower pace might be more conducive for meditation and mindful walking. The nice thing about that, is that if you do this every hour or 45 minutes, that when you get back to your desk, your blood is flowing again, your brain is oxygenated, and you can then fully do another chunk of focused work again and be very productive!
You can again do the same type of quick mini-break whenever you walk to the restrooms, the water cooler, or fridge, and before a meeting. By all means experiment, try things out, the idea is just to incorporate or weave small little mini-meditations throughout your day.
The restroom for example in my case is not just a place to “get your business over with”. It can also be a rest-room, where you can take a minute or two to meditate! For guys like me, even when standing, you can still take an extra 5-10 breaths before finishing up. That’s standing meditation. Same when washing hands, and drying. I notice with many people, the whole procedure is hurried. Especially when there are lots of thoughts and busyness in the mind, it will express itself in the way you wash, and dry your hands.
In my case, I often drink about a glass of water an hour, so that meant about one restroom break every hour or two.
If I was a director or manager, I would try and incorporate a one minute meditation right before starting a meeting. Allow everyone to enjoy some calm and a few moments of silence, and create a collaborative meeting environment where team members can feel included, whether they are extroverted or introverted. Create a conducive meeting environment where it is less about showing off and more about drawing out and giving room to each team member’s talent. Where attention is gathered, instead of scattered.
During lunch take notice of what you’re eating, really enjoy your food. And be mindful of how much you eat and how it affects the rest of your afternoon. If you eat mindfully, and slower, your belly will be able to signal that it is satisfied better, thus decreasing the risk of eating to much. Eating too much, or too much sugar may cause an afternoon slump.
See if you can repeat the above process of taking breaks in the afternoon. As you get better at it, notice how it may be harder to do the meditation/walking breaks in the afternoon. That is because our will power decreases as the day wears on, we of course get more tired. So that is a good reason to focus even more on these little breaks. It will much improve how you feel in the afternoon. Remember that by breathing fully and mindfully, it helps our brain keep oxygenated, which will help us feel more awake and fresh and available for each moment.
Be Kind to Yourself
Lastly, be kind to yourself, don’t beat yourself up if you are doing this hundreds of times, and you don’t see whatever results you are expecting, or you forget to do it, etc. I stumble with this practice all the time too. Just let it go, and try again at the next opportunity and tomorrow. Just start with one moment during your workday. Start with one thing that is easiest for you, and continue to incorporate more and more moments, or mini-meditations throughout your workday. This mindfulness practice is a way of life, an ongoing process of becoming more aware and awake, not a goal to reach or something to cross of the list of things to “do”. This is not about doing, it’s about learning to be here and now, and show up and fully appreciate your one and only precious life. In the process, you will increase your appreciation for everything else as well.
Enjoy the stumbles and discoveries of being forgetful and messing up. It is a wonderful gift just to be able to take a deep spacious breath and feel alive. And let me know if you tried any of this and what your experience was in the comments below!
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