Even 5 Minutes of Meditation Can Change the Way You Work
How about 5 minutes a day of rest in 2014? 10 minutes of peace? 15 minutes of renewal? 20 minutes of rejuvenation? You can have it all.
Meditation can change the way you work – and change your life in the process.
Knowledge about the benefits of meditation isn’t new. Pioneers like Jon Kabat-Zinn began to mainstream meditation into Western culture when he founded the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in 1980. Kabat-Zinn was breaking new ground when fresh from MIT, with a degree in molecular biology, he began meditating and created the clinic, “The idea of bringing Buddhist meditation without the Buddhism into the mainstream of medicine was tantamount to the Visigoths being at the gates about to tear down the citadel of Western civilization.”
Since that time, meditation has been slowly working its way into the lives and institutions of Western societies. Research on the medical benefits of meditation has mounted. But meditation, in any form, in the workplace is still in a nascent state. Google broke new ground in 2007 when it invited Jon Kabat-Zinn to give a talk and lead participants in a mindfulness meditation.
The corporate mindset still views meditation as “foreign,” a form of indulgence. It’s still misunderstood as having religious or “spiritual” connotations. And too many workers still can’t find 5 minutes in their 1440 minute day to “just sit.” There is a lot of resistance to just letting go and not doing – even for 5 minutes.
But behind closed doors, in walled off cubicles, in parked cars, home offices and even public bathrooms, those at work are putting their computers on sleep, relaxing their bodies and quieting their minds with their own brand of meditation.
The Evidence is Mounting Every Day
I’m not going to try to convince you with too much more evidence about the benefits of meditation. In a past post, The Neurobiology of Mindfulness, I covered recent research from neuroscience that is transforming our understanding about the impact of mindfulness meditation on the brain. The big news is that in just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation, positive changes can be detected in neural activity.
A study at Massachusetts General Hospital showed that after eight weeks of mindfulness meditation the regions of the brain located in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), important for learning, memory, executive decision-making and perspective-taking, were thickened. Also, certain regions of the brain like the amygdala, which involves the threat and fear circuitry, were thinned.
These studies are critical because the area of the brain most vulnerable to stress of any kind is the PFC. According to Dr. Rajita Sinha, a professor of psychiatry and neurobiology at Yale, “The PFC is important for top-down regulation of emotions, cognition, desires and impulse control. As nerve tissue in this region disappears due to constant battering from repeated stressful events, our ability to counter-act may wane.”
These stark findings should remind us that our bodies are not space capsules hurtling through life taking on constant flak without a cost. Our hearts and our brains need care and nurturing to operate optimally. As Jon Kabat-Zinn reminds us, “In most Asian languages, the word for mind and heart are the same. So if you’re not hearing mindfulness in some deep way as heartfulness, you are not really understanding it. Compassion and kindness towards oneself are intrinsically woven into it. You could think of mindfulness as wise and affectionate attention.”
How Do I Get Started?
Anyway you get started is good. Meditation is a deeply personal experience that needs to work for you. Experimentation is often the initial way people begin this process. Finding something right for you is important.
Don’t get caught up in having to follow a method or technique. As I have written before, it took me some time to find comfortable, doable ways to practice. Remember, one of the important things (besides meditating) that you are doing in the doing of meditation is creating new neural habits as you establish a routine.
To help you to explore some ways to begin, here are some tips and resources to consider.
- Establishing a time and place – This is very important. You want to maximize your success by finding a time frame and location conducive to your practice. While Jon Kabat-Zinn recommends starting with 15 minutes (long enough he says “to get really bored and antsy and learn to make room for unpleasant moments”) I suggest that even if you only begin with 5 minutes, it’s a good thing. You can always build to 15 as you progress and build those new neural habits. You don’t need an ashram or to be surrounded by candles. You just need quiet. Once you grow in your practice, you’ll be able to drop into five minutes of stillness in many different settings.
- What do I do with my body? Relax it – this is the key. It will take some time to learn to let go and the place to do much of this work is in your body. You begin with several deep slow breaths, ideally those that come from your belly. Closing your eyes is preferable. Uncross your legs with the soles of your feet touching ground (unless you are in a cross-legged posture). Rest your hands on your lap or at your sides. You don’t need to have your hands in any kind of “mudra” like position.
- What do I do with my thoughts? Nothing – that’s the point. With mindfulness meditation, you are simply noticing what you experience and not trying to feel anything differently. Too many people bail out because they don’t think they felt anything different or special. Mindfulness meditation is not about getting anywhere else except where you are. Thoughts will arise. “This is boring,” “Why am I doing this?” “This is a waste,” etc. Feelings will come and go – frustration, impatience, even annoyance. Your “task” in the moment of sitting is simply to allow, non-judgmentally, all the ways you distract yourself from being in the present moment.
How to do Mindfulness Meditation: A very simple step by step explanation of the process. Remember, you can vary a practice to suit your needs, these steps are guidelines.
Another version on Mindfulness Meditation: A brief overview from a Buddhist practitioner’s experience
UCLA Mindful Awareness Center Online Meditation Course - A great resource. An affordable six week introductory online course designed to move at your own pace. The center (MARC) also offers information, downloads and in-person classes for those in the Los Angeles area
Transcendental Meditation (TM) – This form of meditation, popularized by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, is a system that’s been in global use for decades. Simple and effective
10 Minute Mindfulness Meditation Video with Deepak Chopra – Brief intro on meditation from Deepak. Around 2.00 minutes you’ll find yourself in a lovely peaceful space with some soothing music and guided instruction.
Why Meditate? 10 minute video with the Dalai Lama on simple breathing and the value of meditation in dealing with difficult emotions. I’ve learned a great deal from the Dalai Lama and have found his books enriching as well.
Mindful Movements and Meditation with Vietnamese Monk Thich Nhat Hanh – A short and beautiful little video on the values of mindfulness meditation and the ways we move and see in the world. Love that bell!
Sounds True – Sounds True offers options in many formats from different sources and wisdom teachers. A wonderful resource
Health Journeys’ Guided Imagery with a Purpose – Founder Belleruth Naperstak has an exceptional track record using guided imagery to support better sleep, stress reduction, weight loss, help with grieving, easing effects of surgery, PTSD relief, irritable bowel syndrome, depression, phobias, giving birth, headaches and much more. Belleruth’s soothing tone and carefully selected words have been researched and tested with great outcomes. Available in different formats including iPad and iPhone apps.
This is just a taste of what is now available to help get you started and support you in developing a meditation practice. But the most important thing you need is your will and commitment to begin. Yes, we now know that meditators live longer, focus better and are more resilient. It is a skill that anyone can develop. But most important, meditators know that peace is possible, even in the midst of chaos and bad news. We hold it within us.
20th century writer, Trappist monk and mystic Thomas Merton reminded us “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact his rest.”
Thanks for reading and taking the time to comment, subscribe, share, like and tweet this article. It’s appreciated.
Louise Altman, Partner, Intentional Communication Consultants