Mindfulness in the Workplace

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Mindfulness and meditation practices have been in use around the world for thousands of years, from being a core foundation of Buddhism, to the central focus of many styles of yoga, it’s far from a new idea.

However, over the past few years, mindfulness practices have exploded into mainstream culture as a discipline of their own. This is likely in no small part due to Google’s famous mindfulness course called Search Inside Yourself, which has now been offered to their employees for nearly a decade. Mindfulness is everywhere, especially in the tech industry workplace.

What is Mindfulness?

A mindfulness practice can take many different forms, however, a common point of view between many different styles is that it is the practice of simply observing of the world around you and becoming more aware and conscious of the present moment.

Why Mindfulness?

A mindfulness practice has been shown to correlate with the development of positive healthy habits and physical health.

Tangibly, a mindfulness practice works to develop one’s focus and attention while opening up a path for self learning and discovery. Attention, concentration, and focus are skills that can be developed just like training for a marathon. Practicing these qualities during a mindfulness practice will often develop and build them outside of your practice in the rest of your life and activities as well.

Maybe less tangibly, a mindfulness practice trends the practitioner toward a stronger appreciation of the present while opening up a path for self learning and discovery. Many of us generally need to be reminded to spend time looking inward and to take care of our bodies and minds, and generally, just to take a step back and a deep breath. This often aids a practitioner in exploring the meaning, importance, and gravity of anything surrounding them, work life, personal life, and the natural world included.

Workplace Benefits

Even though the exact reason mindfulness has become commonplace in the tech industry might be hard to pinpoint, it isn’t surprising. Building one’s focus and attention develop skills necessary to thrive in a high paced environment that requires managing deadlines and using resources efficiently. In an industry where critical thinking and problem solving are often rewarded more than brute force, the benefit of developing these skills may be much easier for both a practitioner and employer to identify.

Managing performance in high stress environments has been another commonly referenced benefit of a mindfulness practice, as attested by Kobe Bryant. Correlations have been shown linking a mindfulness practice and decreased chronic levels of cortisol, a stress hormone. Chronic levels of cortisol decrease base level performance and also reduce effectiveness of increased cortisol during an acutely stressful incident. This physiological explanation, along with the idea that personal responses to situations cause stress within an individual shows that a mindfulness practice may help some practitioners cope with stressors in their day to day life.

How to Get Started!

Historically, mindfulness and meditation practices have often been associated with religious practices, however, many people have mindfulness and meditation practices that exist within a completely secular environment. If you’re interested in trying out a mindfulness practice of your own, there’s a couple things to keep in mind to ensure you set yourself up for success:

  • There is no success or failure, win or lose, right or wrong involved
  • You don’t need to be a “zen master” in order to have a mindfulness practice, you just need a desire to participate
  • An interest in personal exploration is helpful
  • You should be willing to engage in some new and potentially uncomfortable situations 
  • You aren’t doing it wrong (this one is here twice on purpose)

You don’t need to have a teacher to start a mindfulness practice, either. You can get started with a very simple technique. Get a group and practice together, or go solo:

  • Find a quiet, comfortable seat, on a chair or a cushion.
  • Set your posture, sit up tall, but not rigid. Think of lining up ears, shoulders, and hips.
  • Close the eyes and let the hands rest on knees or thighs.
  • Allow the breath to be natural.
  • Doing your best to sit in stillness, observe the natural inhale and exhale, counting breaths if you like. 
  • Start sitting for just 5 minutes at a time, you can set a timer, or just estimate.
  • Once you’ve completed your amount of time, give yourself a few breaths to open your eyes and return to your space.

During the exercise, strive to focus on the breath or the counting. When you lose count or realize your mind wandering, gently guide yourself back to your task and start over. It’s not better or worse if you get distracted more one day than another. It’s a practice, and if time and environment allows, try to give it a daily effort for a few weeks and then regroup. Time can also be extended as you like. This is just one simple exercise, many variations of simple mindfulness practices can be found with detailed descriptions online, pursue what you enjoy!