How to Bring Mindfulness into the Workplace
What is Mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn is the man credited with bringing Mindfulness to the Western world and he defined the concept as ‘the awareness that emerges through paying attention on purpose, and non-judgementally to the unfolding of experience moment by moment’. If you’re still none the wiser, don’t worry you’re not alone. When writing that definition, it was philosophers and meditative practitioners that Kabat-Zinn has in mind, not the average office worker staring aimlessly out the window. Never fear though, we can unpack the definition and break it down into three phases which together form the Mind Cognitive Process.
First, ‘the awareness emerges by paying attention on purpose’. This refers to being aware of our own thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations (no, not those ones, calm down), acknowledging them and then accepting them. However, this only occurs when we attempt to clear our mind by focusing on one single thing – most commonly, our breathing. This can be hard to do, given we typically have between 60, 000 and 80, 000 thoughts a day. Try it now. What happened? You tried to clear your mind and focus but then random thought flooded your mind. It could be anything from ‘what should I have for lunch today?’ to ‘I bet it’ll rain when on my way home’. Now, you are aware of every thought, feeling and bodily sensation. However, rather than criticising yourself for having these thoughts, you must now acknowledge them and accept them ‘non-judgementally’. This is the second phase.
Lastly, we must refocus our attention on ‘the unfolding experience moment by moment’. Having acknowledged and accepted your thoughts and feelings, you can now set them aside and focus on the present. This is vital as it’s something we rarely have the opportunity to do as our daily lives are often filled with plans for the future or implications from the past. However, putting all this aside and focusing on the here and now is a key element of Mindfulness. It allows you to pause, collect yourself and reset. There you go, those are the three phases of Mindfulness. It can take some time to master but ultimately, practice makes perfect.
What are the Benefits of Mindfulness?
At this point, you might be thinking ‘ok, I understand Mindfulness but what’s the point?’. It’s a fair question and an attitude that is all too common when it comes to eastern philosophies and practices such as meditation and yoga. However, Mindfulness has a great number of benefits and they all stem from the same concept. The practice allows you to acknowledge and accept difficult emotions and thoughts, such as stress or anger, but reset and ignore them which, in turn, allows you to re-assess and make a rational decision on the best course of action. This is because whilst stress shuts down the frontal lobe and inhibits rational thought, Mindfulness lets you switch it back on. This process enables a number of noteworthy benefits:
Helps you deal with stress and anxiety.
Manage the physical effects of stress and anxiety.
Treats heart disease
Lowers blood pressure
Relieves chronic pain (e.g. migraines),
Generally beneficial for mental health as a whole.
All of the above, allow you to be a happier and more amiable person which can then Improve your relationships with colleagues and managers alike.
It can also boost your productivity – after all, a happy employee is a productive employee.
Furthermore, if you had any doubts about the validity and effectiveness of Mindfulness then it’s worth noting that the practice is endorsed by a number of medical professionals. For example, the NHS has stated that practitioners have seen improvements in mental and physical wellbeing and reduced risk of depression, whilst Mindfulness also positively improves patterns relating to stress, anxiety, depression and irritability. A further endorsement is given by the leading scientists and researcher who are conducting research into the positive effects Mindfulness can have on a variety of serious medical conditions, such as anxiety, depression, fibromylalgia, and even cancer.
How can I practice Mindfulness at Work?
There are so many creative ways to practice Mindfulness but there not all appropriate for the workplace. You’re unlikely to break out your yoga mat and start doing ‘downward dog’ by the water cooler. Never fear though, we at People Vision have three discreet and efficient techniques that you can use in almost any environment.
First up is the oldest in the book: breathing. There are two primary breathing techniques that each have their own uses. There’s ‘deep breathing’ that is perfect for quickly resetting in between meetings or when you just need to catch your breath. It goes as follows:
Sit up right, maintain good posture and relax your shoulders.
Reach for the ceiling with the crown of your head but without leaving your seat.
Inhale, expanding the base of your lungs.
Hold for a few seconds, exhale and repeat as necessary.
The next breathing technique is ‘rhythmic breathing’ and this is better suited to coping with situations where emotions, such as stress and anger, are running high. It taps into the parasympathetic nervous system which aims to sooth both the body and the mind. Simply, breathe as normal but pay close attention to the consistency and unchanging rhythm of the inhalation and exhalation. Allow this to calm you and gather your thoughts.
The next two are somewhat more abstract. First, ‘savouring’ (we did say it was abstract). This process involves taking notice of and appreciating the beauty of the world, be it events, nature or people. Focus on one thing that you find beauty in and pay attention to the feeling it creates. Hold and prolong that feeling and remember it for later. This technique allows you to quickly elevate your mood and alleviate stress or anxiety. Our final method can do much the same and is referred to as ‘gratitude’. Human are designed to feel good when we do good and make others feel good. Therefore, by simply being kind, complimenting and helping others we can make ourselves feel better. Put simply, help others to help yourself.
These are just a few ideas that we at People Vision have put together and find helpful in our daily lives but there are some many ways to practice Mindfulness and we encourage you to find what works best for you.