It’s likely you have heard the term “mindfulness” already, it’s being talked about everywhere from classrooms to law firms, prisons to spa retreats… I first heard the term "mindfulness" at a coaching conference about 9 years ago, and was intrigued to find out more. Hearing about people using meditation in a business setting with individuals and teams was quite an eye opener for me. Although it hit the right note for me, I couldn't for one minute imagine a Senior Manager meditating during a development session. However, I wanted to find out more; what if business' did embrace and engage in this activity?
Whilst continuing my work in developing people in the workplace, I read about mindfulness, attended transpersonal coaching workshops, seminars on mindful practice and then about 18 months ago signed up to complete an MBSR (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction) course at the Letchworth Healthy Living Centre. This was hugely developmental for me. I initially went along to learn "tools and techniques" to apply the knowledge I was reading about with others in a coaching environment. After about 10 minutes I realised that wasn't what I would be focusing on. For probably the first time in my life I realised I would be spending, two hours a week at the group, and one hour a day focusing on my own experience in the present moment. This immediately hit me as a luxury (being a mum of two young girls and running my own business), however also fairly self indulgent and I must admit there was an element of my brain that was thinking, but I have so much on my to do list how can I realistically give this time to mindful meditation.
The daily practices involved me focusing my mind, through body awareness, breathing and movement meditations. My mind was in training, and the training went in a total contradiction to all the training I had received over the last 20 years. I wasn't acquiring knowledge, hard data or statistics (although these are available to support the impact of mindfulness practice), I was learning about me, how my mind and body are connected, resetting my alertness, focus and attention back to what is actually happening here and now.
So what is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, a Western Buddhist practitioner, defines Mindfulness as; “Paying focused attention, on purpose, without judgement, to the experience of the present moment.”
It is the training of the mind to become aware of our thoughts, emotions, feelings and behavior. When we become aware we can then make conscious, non-judgemental changes to our behavior, choices and lifestyle. We can interrupt stress cycles before they increase out of control. The training does take time and focus. It takes you aware from the busyness of your daily life to focus on “the self”. This activity, over time will allow you to change your brain. We know from neuroscience that the brain changes during adult life (neuroplasticity) and mindfulness allows you to undo old neural patterns and learn new ones. With the progress made in MRI scanning in recent years, the evidence is already there; mindfulness changes the brain*.
Here are some tips on how to start putting practicing mindfulness each day:
1) Breathe. Find a quiet place, sit on a comfortable chair or cushion, sit as upright as you can, close your eyes and simply breathe in and out. Feel the air touching your nostrils on the in breath, and your lips as you exhale. Focus your mind on your breath. Thoughts will come into your mind, notice them, then come back to your breath. Don’t judge your thoughts, just let them flow, then come back to your breath. Continue this for 4-5 minutes and then open your eyes. Notice how you feel afterwards.
2) Be aware of your senses. Take a meal break on your own. Really focus on the taste of what you are eating. What does the food smell like, what does it feel like? How does it taste to you? Eat slowly and consciously. What did you notice about this meal?
3) Listen. When you meet with others during the day make a conscious effort to listen.. Be silent and let the other person talk. Stop thinking about what you are doing, thinking and about to say. Simply listen. Shift your energy to fully attend to what the other person is saying.
5) Walk. Take a short break during your day to walk. If you can walk outside, reconnect with the air and nature, or walk inside. Pay attention to each step, the speed of your walk, focus your mind just on the steps you are taking. If you like, and if you can, walk in bare feet to connect fully with the ground.
6) Clear intentions. Focus before you start a meeting, take a phone call or before you start your day to be clear on what it is you want to achieve. What would a good outcome look like and feel like to you.
7) Be kind to yourself. Notice if you are being critical to yourself, beating yourself up for something not going to plan or for a mistake. Would you say this to someone else? Respect yourself, learn and reflect from situations and focus on the present. That was in the past you cannot change the past, you can only experience the present.
These are just a few simple practices you can bring into your daily routine. You may want to choose one a day or one a week. You could keep a diary of what you have noticed about your experience of being mindful. Each practice does not take a lot of time, but will have greatest impact if practiced regularly.
So to come back to my earlier question about mindfulness in a business setting. The impact and the success of people learning mindfulness practice’s at work is already evident. This is not new to many workplaces. "Google offers meditation."It helps clarity of vision," the company says. "In the workplace it gives our employees the time and headspace to unwind in the midst of their busy days. If people feel refreshed, and can take part in something like this with a group of like-minded people, then who knows what innovation this might lead to?" A wide range of studies have stated business benefits of mindfulness. So business’ would be experiencing all kinds of positive outcomes, such as:
- Greater idea generation and innovation
- Improved communications
- Improved retention and engagement
- Improved cognitive function - (i.e. better concentration, memory and learning ability)
- Improved productivity
- Enhanced employer/employee and client relationships
- Enhanced employee job satisfaction
There is a plethora of evidence, talks, articles and papers on mindfulness in the workplace here http://www.mindfulnet.org.
My personal practice continues, and my learning about my “self”. I feel that the practices help me enormously as a coach, and the feedback I’m receiving informs me that my clients are benefitting from the practices too. I hope you enjoy the experience of the practices. Time will tell where this mind training takes me, my clients and my work but it certainly feels good right now.
*Britta K. Hölzel, James Carmody, Mark Vangel, Christina Congleton, Sita M. Yerramsetti, Tim Gard, Sara W. Lazar. Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging, 2011; 191 (1): 36 DOI: 10.1016/j.pscychresns.2010.08.006