Start with 5 Minutes of Meditation a Day to Change the Way You Work

How about 5 minutes a day of deep rest?
10 minutes of peace? 15 minutes of renewal? 20 minutes of rejuvenation?
Yes, you can.
Meditation can change the way you work – and change the way you feel about 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 Zinn give a talk and lead participants in a mindfulness meditation.
Many in the business world still see meditation as 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 cubicles, 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 of the Benefits Keep Mounting

There is a growing body of research that demonstrates the multiple benefits of mindfulness practices. One of the most compelling studies showed that in just eight weeks of mindfulness meditation  the regions of the brain in the prefrontal cortex (PFC), critical to 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 significant 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.

Getting 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. It takes time and practice to find comfortable, doable ways to practice.  Remember, one of the important things (besides meditating) that you are doing is creating new neural habits as you establish a routine.
To help you to explore some simple ways to begin, here are some tips and resources to consider.

  • Establish a time and place.  This is 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 common, but not mandatory.  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.
  • 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 without getting hooked on a specific thought or feeling. You’re just witnessing your own process.

The information above is a simple form of practice. There are many resources that can support you in developing your practice. Some people like to take classes and even local colleges are now offering courses. As more corporations jump on the mindfulness bandwagon, your workplace may even consider bringing programs on site.  Here are some more resources you may consider:

Books – SO many books, here’s two old favorites

Mindfulness for Beginners. From the “pioneer” of mindful, Jon-Kabat Zinn. An easy to read discussion of the basic ideas of mindfulness practice
8 Minute Meditation Expanded: Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life. Victor Davich. A basic beginners guide.

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.
How to Do It.   Mindful Magazine has dozens of articles on getting started with a practice that works for you. A few basics and a reminder – you do not have to sit on a cushion on the floor. Posture matters, but you can be seated in a chair.


Guided Meditations from Mindfulness Pioneer Jon Kabat-Zinn 
Guided Meditation from Calm Space.  15 minutes.
Mindful Meditation with Thich Nhat HanhA short and beautiful little video  Love that bell!

Other Resources

Sounds True Sounds True offers options in many formats from different sources and wisdom teachers. A wonderful resource.

The CALM App is the #1 app for meditation and sleep

Insight Mediation Timer App on iTunes. Use the timer for your meditation practice announces by beautiful Tibetan singing bowls.

Health Journeys’ Guided Imagery with a Purpose   Excellent guided imagery meditations to support better sleep, stress reduction, weight loss, help with grieving, easing effects of surgery, PTSD relief,  depression, cancer recovery, phobias, headaches and much more. A soothing tone and carefully selected imagery and language , 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. 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 “We are made for the highest activity, which is, in fact, rest.”

Louise Altman, Intentional Communication Consultants
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Graphic: Minoru Nitta via flickr

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