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May 24, 2019

7 Mindfulness Exercises You Can do at Work

Written by Jennifer Van Allen



1typingatofficeMounting scientific research has proven that mindfulness can be as powerful as some medication in preventing and managing many health issues from high blood pressure to anxiety.  Mindfulness and meditation have been proven to improve sleep, brain function, and even athletic performance.

What’s more,  mindfulness can help you get your work done with more ease and less wear and tear.

“People who practice mindfulness are more effective, less stressed, and have strong relationships at work,” says mindfulness and well-being expert Cheryl Jones, founder of The Mindful Path. “When you go through the day with more focus, you are likely to make less errors, get your work done faster, and have greater clarity to solve problems. It also helps to create a more compassionate workplace.“

What is mindfulness?

Contrary to popular belief, mindfulness is not about clearing out your thoughts, says Jones. Rather, mindfulness involves being in a state of awareness of the breath and to thoughts, feelings, and physical sensations that you’re experiencing in the present moment.. 

“So often the mind is thinking about the future or the past, and we miss what’s happening in the here and now," Jones says. "The present moment is the only time that any of us can learn, change, grow, communicate, and get a task done.”

In order to cultivate mindfulness, you have to treat it like any other muscle: To make it stronger, you have to practice flexing it.

“Just like running gets the body in shape, mindfulness meditation gets our brain in shape,” says Jones. Try meditating for 10-minutes each day.

7 ways to be more mindful at work

To build your mindful muscles, you don’t have to take leave of your life for a meditation retreat. Here are 7 exercises Jones recommends to incorporate mindfulness into your workday.

  1. Raise your awareness. First, notice how you’re going through the workday, Jones advises. Start with one part of your day.  On your commute, are you drinking coffee, texting at red lights, and while trying to find a radio station? Are you trying to respond to an email while you walk down the hallway? How does it feel to move through your day that way? Do you feel clenched and tense, then drained by 5pm? If you’re like most people, you go through the day feeling like your hair is on fire, Jones says. “Most people are in a chronic state of fight or flight, which is toxic to the body and mentally exhausting,” she adds.  Becoming aware of the physical sensations, thoughts, and emotions that go along with distraction and stress will help you identify that and let it be a cue on the road ahead, says Jones. "If you are willing to pause and notice what you are doing and how it feels, you’ll become better able to make choices that create well-being. We create well-being one moment, one breath, one choice at a time."
  2. Three breaths, two feet. Before you enter a meeting, pick up the phone, send an email, or interject in a meeting, pause and follow three breaths in and out , and feel your two feet on the ground.   “This helps you get yourself out of fight or flight,” says Jones. It creates a tiny space to reconnect with your intention. That paves the way for you to act in your own best interest, rather than reacting to the heat of the moment in a way you might later regret. It might help to post a reminder in a place where you’ll regularly see it: “inhale, exhale, inhale, exhale, two feet on the ground.”
  3. Take a minute. No matter how busy you are, you have 60 seconds during your workday to turn away from your computer. You can either set a timer for one minute or just count out seven breaths—which takes about a minute. Schedule regular mindful minutes on your calendar.  Or use some other task that you already regularly do—say a walk to the water fountain, or while you’re waiting for your computer to fire up for the day—as a cue to take seven breaths.
  4. Come back to your senses. Any time, anywhere, do a body scan. Bring awareness to different parts of your body. Start at the feet. Then bring your awareness up through the legs, back, torso, arms, shoulders, and head. Are your shoulders hunched up to your ears? Is your jaw locked?  Maybe your hips and back are stiff, because you have been sitting in front of a computer for four hours without a break. This may prompt you to get up and walk down the hallway, which will release tension. You may realize that you’ve been inadvertently holding your breath. “The body is always sending us messages about what it needs,” says Jones. “When we notice sensations within the body, we can take care of ourselves better.”  When you take care of your biological needs, you free your brain and heart to function more effectively.
  5. Put on your listening cap. In your next office interaction, make an effort to tune in to what the other person is saying without drifting off into thought or plotting your response.  “Notice in conversations when you start to get impatient or nervous, and stop listening because you’re planning what you’re going to say next,” says Jones. “Trust that if you’re breathing, calm, and present, you’re going to say something intelligent and don’t need to worry.”  If you catch yourself drifting, don’t beat yourself up. The goal is to catch yourself doing it so that you can tune back in.  This will help you communicate more effectively, forge stronger bonds with your coworkers, and that will help you get through the workday with more ease, says Jones.
  6. Mindfully munch. How often do you end up shoveling lunch in while responding to emails, catching up on texting, and trying to cram three other things into your “midday break?” Even if you can’t break away from your computer, you can take a moment midday to turn away from your screen, and savor your lunch or snack. Notice the color, smell, taste, and texture of what you’re eating.  Pay attention to the sensation of chewing the food and swallowing. “Savor the experience,” says Jones. “You’ll enjoy it more. And your digestive tract will thank you.”
  7. Flex your focusing muscle. Culture tells us to become masters at multitasking— but our brains are not designed to do multiple things at once. And when we try, we suffer the consequences, from spelling errors on important documents, to collisions with coworkers because we’re trying to just get this one text sent while we walk.   “We’ve been so trained to multitask, that our focusing muscles are very weak,” says Jones.  But being so easily distracted, and being in a chronic state of divided attention creates a stress of its own. Identify a task to tackle with single-minded focus. Turn off the notifications on your computer and phone; close all the windows on your computer except for the one you’re working on. “Notice how that feels and what happens,” says Jones. “Does your productivity increase? “ If you hear, see or think of a distraction, notice the urge for diversion, then take a breath and return to the task.  Start small—you may only be able to do this for five minutes at a time, or by tackling a small task—say making a photocopy without scanning social media while you wait. Gradually build up to bigger tasks and longer periods of focus.

Cheryl Jones is a mindfulness and well-being expert, speaker and author of the book, Mindful Exercise. Learn more about Cheryl at themindfulpath.com.

Last modified on August 23, 2019
Jennifer Van Allen

Jennifer Van Allen

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