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.”
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.
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:
Mindfulness for Beginners. From the “pioneer” of mindful, Jon-Kabat Zinn. An easy to read discussion of the basic ideas of mindfulness practice plus a CD with five guided mediations.
8 Minute Meditation Expanded: Quiet Your Mind. Change Your Life. Victor Davich. A basic beginners guide, newly revised.
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
How to Do It. From Mindful Magazine. 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 Hanh – A short and beautiful little video Love that bell!
Sounds True – Sounds True offers options in many formats from different sources and wisdom teachers. A wonderful resource.
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 “Man was made for the highest activity, which is, in fact his rest.”
Graphic: Minoru Nitta via flickr