Mindfulness at Work

  • Mindfulness in the City

    By Amy Wood

    Frenetic and fast-paced, the city can present the greatest challenges to our mindfulness practice. Urban environments are hives of activity, and the smells, sights and sounds of the city can provide an overload of sensory stimulation that impacts us on a physical and psychological level.

    “Life in the city can be both exhilarating and exhausting,” says Tessa Watt, leading mindfulness teacher and author of Mindful London. “It's easy to find ourselves in a state of constant rush and agitation, swept up by the crowds and the hectic pace of work and play. So it's all the more important to take time out to nourish ourselves – to simplify things, stop rushing around and make time for ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’ ”. Finding ways to carve moments of silence and space into city living is crucial, and the conscious practice of mindfulness is a simple way to do so. Here are some of our tips on how to find calm in the chaos of the city.

    Into the wild

    Nothing is more grounding and nurturing than time spent in nature. Rooted in the here and the now, the natural world is alive and ever-present - an idea that's central to the practice of mindfulness. Nature's restorative benefits are backed by research and accessible to us all at any given moment. Studies have shown that nature can not only improve cognitive function, but can also immunise our brains against the effects of urban stress. Despite its reputation as a concrete jungle, London has over 3000 green spaces and eight million trees within its radius, so we are never far from flora and fauna. Lunch breaks and walks to work are ideal opportunities to reconnect with nature and restore equilibrium with our mindfulness practice. We can cultivate mindfulness by tuning our awareness to the sensory experiences of nature around us: the sound of bird song, the breeze on our skin, the warmth of the sunlight on our face.

    Calmer commutes

    Many of us feel the uncomfortable nature of commuting on overcrowded buses and trains. It can leave us energetically drained and mentally disconnected before the day has even begun. There's a compulsion to switch off and autopilot our way through the experience, but that only leads to a sense of disconnect from the present moment. We can find a new perspective on our commute by incorporating simple mindfulness practices into the journey. Giving our attention to the subtle movements of the train or bus and letting these sensations fill our awareness can bring us back to the here and the now. By focusing on the breath, we can create internal space where we may be lacking it externally. When the mind wanders, as it has a natural inclination to do, we can gently bring the attention back to the breath.

    Silent sanctuaries

    Spaces and places that promote calm are hard to come by in the city, but they do exist. Churches, museums, libraries and bookshops all provide a welcome respite from the city's soundtrack of sirens and traffic. No belief system is required to enjoy a church's space. We can simply appreciate it for what it is - a tranquil environment untouched by technology. Moments spent in these types of spaces are important to our mindfulness practice as the emphasis is on the experience of ‘being’ rather than ‘doing’. We can embrace them for the opportunity they bring to slow down and breathe.

    City challenges

    From the roar of the rush-hour, to the tedium of queuing, everyday irritations are an inescapable part of city living. But what if we could use these sensory experiences as prompts to be mindful? As challenging as that may seem, these experiences present the possibility to grow and strengthen our practice. The next time you find yourself waiting in line, embrace it as a reminder to stay present. If feelings of irritation arise, acknowledge them with non-judgement, notice how they are impacting you and let them fall away.

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    MEDITATION:

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    RETREATS:

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    8-Week Interpersonal Mindfulness Course

  • The Joy of Mindful Learning

    Drawing

    Can you remember how you learnt to write your name or how to walk? Probably not! When we’re children, we learn many skills with ease. However as adults, learning new things becomes a little trickier, partly because our brains are not developing at the same lightning speed as they used to, but also because we’ve got more fears and thoughts in the way.

    To begin learning a new skill, and to stick with the learning process until we become confident and proficient, requires a certain set of qualities, such as patience, presence, determination and self-compassion. These are all qualities which flourish when we practice mindfulness!

    Being a Patient Student

    We tend to become inspired to learn a new skill – such as creative writing, knitting or a new language – when we see the products of people who have already learnt those skills. For example, we might read an amazing book and think to ourselves, ‘Wow, I’d love to be able to write like that!’ So from the very start, our aims are high.

    Being ambitious is not a problem in itself; however it can sometimes make us impatient. We want to be a good writer/fluent in Spanish/an expert in crochet right now. But when we’re solely focussed on outcomes, we miss the opportunity to find joy in the learning.

    Learning takes time, and requires many small steps. We’re bound to make mistakes and produce things that we’re not happy with. Our ‘failures’ may make us feel that we are no good at what we’re doing. But if we can practice mindful learning, we can start to enjoy the process itself, and can maybe even let go of needing our results to be of a certain quality in order for us to feel happy. We can do this by becoming more centred in the present moment.

    Learning Starts Here

    By pausing and taking a few conscious breaths, we discover that this moment right here is where all future things begin. The past is gone, and the future hasn’t happened yet – all we have is this moment. So what small steps can we take right now that will help us progress towards our goals?

    If we take the creative writing example, what we could do right now might be to read an article on how to begin writing, we could sign up for a workshop or a course, or we could simply start writing and explore what comes to us. Whatever it is that we do, we can try and be present in doing this first simple step. We can do our best to be content with where we are at this moment in our learning journey, and trust that our combination of intention and action will eventually take us to where we want go. If we find our minds wandering onto ideas or fantasies about how we want the future to be, we can simply pause again, take a few more breaths, and settle back into where we are right now.

    Staying Determined

    Speak to any expert in any field and they will (if they’re honest!) tell you that they faced many hurdles on their journey to where they are now. For every bestselling novel, there will be thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of words of text which were thrown away out of frustration or rejected by publishers. For every invention there will be many unusable prototypes which came before. For every beautiful cardigan, there will be many tangles of wool! Success is built on past failures. So how can mindfulness help us deal with these set-backs, and help keep us on track with our learning?

    First of all, practicing mindfulness can help us take ourselves out of the equation a little. When we are mindful, we can more easily reframe our experiences, so that rather than constantly being in emotional reaction to life, we can detach a little and see things more clearly. Rather than seeing our failures as being indicative of our personal worth, we can create some space to see that our failures are simply steps towards becoming good at what we’re doing.

    Of course we will inevitably feel disheartened, frustrated, or doubtful of ourselves at times. These are experiences that we share with the whole human race. Yet, we can always return to this moment and start again.

    A Nurturing Attitude

    Anyone who can remember being criticised by a parent, teacher or peers will know how important encouragement is, and how painful it can be when we don’t receive it. Overly critical people can really put a dent in our self-confidence, and can affect our belief in ourselves for many years. Generally we tend to be encouraging to others in their creative or academic pursuits, yet how often do we afford ourselves the same amount of support?

    Self-compassion is really important when we’re learning a new skill, not only so that we can be kind to ourselves when we make mistakes, but also so that we can see when we have achieved something. Self-compassion is all about nurturing and caring for ourselves. By developing a nurturing mindset, we’re more likely to progress, and enjoy the process of learning.

    Next time you achieve something, why not congratulate yourself as you would a good friend who had achieved the same thing? Maybe you could even treat yourself in some way, to acknowledge that what you’ve done has value.

    Have you ever wanted to learn creative writing? Our Mindful Creativity: Writing workshop is the perfect starting point, where you’ll be guided through getting in touch with your present experience and expressing that through words. Even if you’re an experienced writer, this workshop can help you move through creative blocks caused by over-thinking and self-criticism. Book your place here.

  • Simple Mini-Meditations for the Workday

    Home workspace of a modern woman. Images on the screen are the property of Lumina Images and can be licensed at Stocksy.com.

    A recent survey conducted by Bupa showed that 28% of British workers don’t take a minute for themselves during the workday. And two thirds of employees are unable to take a proper lunch break, even for 20 minutes. So it’s little wonder that so many of us feel that we just don’t have the time to fit meditation into our day.

    However, taking even just a few moments to slow down and calm our minds throughout the day can have a positive effect. After all, just one minute of mindfulness is better than none! So why not try these super simple mini-meditations to start off with.

    A Few Deep Breaths Before Jumping Out of Bed

    The alarm buzzes, jolting us from our sleep, and suddenly we’re facing another work day. If we like our job, then this isn’t such a bad thing. Yet if we dread going into work, these first few moments in the morning can be pretty tough. Taking a moment to calm our minds during this time could make a huge difference to how we feel for the rest of the day.

    Before we jump out of bed and get busy with our morning routine, why not take just a few deep breaths first? As we breathe in deeply, we can notice how the oxygen fills our lungs and energises the body. As we breathe out, we can try to let go of any tension we’re holding in our neck, shoulders or back. Of course, consciously breathing for 10 or 20 minutes is proven to benefit us in many ways, but if we feel stretched for time, just three deep breaths can be enough to take us out of our default mood of dread or depression and into a more relaxed state of mind.

    Have a Mindful Tea Break

    Leaving our desks and spending a few minutes in the kitchen to make a hot drink can provide a nice break. If we add mindfulness, however, this time can feel even more enriching.

    Try turning the process of making tea or coffee into a mindfulness meditation by slowing down every action, even if it’s only slightly. When we reach for our mug, instead of grabbing it from the cupboard, treat it as if it’s something precious. Notice how it feels in your hand – is it cool, or warm from the dishwasher or sink? Notice how the tea bag feels when you pick it up and place it in the mug, or how the coffee granules look as you dip a teaspoon into them. Watch how the boiling water pours into the mug, and how the coffee dissolves, or how the tea bag starts to turn the water a rich brown colour.

    Noticing each individual step of the process can help us appreciate the present moment more. Instead of seeing this time as meaningless, as just a necessary thing to do in order to create a drink, we can use this time to remember that every moment can feel special, even the seemingly mundane ones, if we just take time to slow down and notice.

    Take a Mindful Eating Moment in Your Lunch Break

    Bupa’s survey showed that about a third of workers eat their lunch at their desks, and a quarter admitted to answering emails or using their work phones during lunch. This trend is having a detrimental effect, both to work productivity and to our physical and emotional health. Over half of the people surveyed said that skipping lunch puts them in a bad mood. However, while the length of our lunch breaks may be out of our control, we do have control over how we spend the time we do have.

    We probably don’t have time to eat all of our lunch mindfully. Yet why not try eating at least the first two or three bites in a more mindful way? Before we start eating, we can take just a moment to look at our food, feel it in our hands, and appreciate the fact that we have something to eat. As we move our food up to our mouths, we can notice how it smells before taking a bite. When the food is in our mouths, we can focus our attention on how it tastes, and how the texture of it feels on our tongue, gums and teeth. Doing this, even just two or three times, can help our lunch feel more satisfying, and may also help us feel a little more in control of our time and our experience in the moment, rather than feeling that we are in a never-ending rush.

    Mindful Listening in Meetings

    In meetings, we’ll often find that our minds completely wander onto other topics, such as what we’ll cook for dinner, or ruminating about problems we’ll face when we return home in the evening. Yet this provides us with an excellent opportunity to practice mindfulness! After all, mindfulness isn’t about clearing our minds of thoughts; it’s about noticing what’s going on in our minds.

    We don’t always need to be in a peaceful setting with our eyes closed in order to meditate. In essence, meditation is all about noticing when our mind is wandering away from what we want to focus on, whether that’s our breath, the food we’re eating, or a meeting. So when we realise that we are no longer listening, we can practice bringing our attention back to whoever is speaking. This way, we can easily bring meditation into our workday, whilst at the same time being more productive and present in our work roles.

    Have you experimented with bringing more mindfulness into your workday? How did it change your experience? We’d love to hear your tips and stories in the comments below!

  • The Mindful Way Through An Interview Or Presentation

    When we are facing an interview or a presentation, often what happens is that our minds start to ruminate about what might go wrong. You might have the thought: “I could blush, maybe even stutter, and what if I give terrible answers?!” Often these thoughts lead to yet more anxious thoughts and all those thoughts then lead to the bodily symptoms of anxiety, i.e. sweaty hands, increased heartbeat, faster breathing. Those bodily sensations then might trigger even more thoughts, which lead to more anxious feelings, which lead to more anxious thoughts …! So no wonder our anxiety builds and we end up blushing, stuttering and giving terrible answers!

    In mindfulness we don't try to change those thoughts or try to get rid of the anxious feelings. Instead we train our minds, so that when those thoughts occur we can come back to the present moment – to the here and now. The fact is there's no point in creating an apocalyptic presentation or interview scenario in our heads before the actual event. Why? Because all this ruminative thinking will only make us more anxious!

    But how do we train our minds? By practising mindfulness on a daily basis. By doing so, we strengthen our ability to catch our minds when they drift off into ruminative thinking and gently escort them back to the present. Over time, we become so skilled at this, that it only takes a few seconds to notice when we've drifted – we have become the master of our mind.

    Mindfulness also teaches us to turn towards uncomfortable bodily feelings (i.e. anxiety). After all, anxiety is a natural feeling – especially when we face an interview or a presentation! But humans have the tendency to want to push things away that feel uncomfortable. However, it does not help to do this. As mentioned, anxiety is a natural part of human life. Thus if all we want for 'it' is to go away, then we will actually not really get to know it. The interesting thing is that once we start observing our symptoms of anxiety, we will notice that our anxiety is simply that – anxiety: increased heartbeat, sweaty hands, etc. What makes anxiety so bad is all the ruminating thoughts around it, which lead to the vicious cycle of more and more anxious thoughts and feelings.

    Let's imagine you have a presentation or interview tomorrow. Someone who practices mindfulness will notice thoughts popping up, such as “I could blush, maybe even stutter and what if I give terrible answers?!” They might also observe bodily feelings of anxiety arising. However, they will soon catch their anxious thoughts and bring their attention back to the present moment, where there actually is no real threat. They will also turn curiously towards and observe their bodily feelings of anxiety, i.e. Exactly how fast is my heartbeat? Where in my body can I feel it? Only in the region of my heart or does it even spread out into my fingers? If we approach our anxiety in a mindful way, it will loosen its grip over us with time and practice.

    Now imagine that if you don't spend all your time on what could go wrong and on trying to make your feelings of anxiety go away, you'll have loads of time to actually prepare yourself for the upcoming event! But don't forget: even the most experienced mindfulness practitioner will at times get anxious thoughts arising during an interview or a presentation. But he/she has the mindfulness skills to come back to the here and now – the presentation he's/she's holding or the interview he/she is giving – and that will make the likelihood of stammering, blushing and giving terrible answers a lot smaller!