Meditation in the Workplace: Increase Your Productivity and Reduce Stress
Everyone knows even the best work environments can become hectic and stressful. While there are plenty of solutions for mitigating stress in the workplace, more and more people are discovering meditation as the best solution. Even top CEOs and world-renown business figures like Steve Jobs were into meditation in the workplace. Why? Because it simply works.
Meditation has been around for thousands of years, and it’s benefits are numerous. Even you aren’t the “Zen Buddhist” type or don’t really get into self-help, fitness, yoga, or healthy living, meditation can dramatically increase your productivity and peace of mind. It doesn’t have as high a barrier of entry as you would think, either. It’s actually quite easy to learn once you get the basics down, and yes, it’s something you can even practice while at work with a little bit of ingenuity.
Meditation Reduces Stress
Stress is one of the biggest problems in the workplace, and it just so happens that meditation is one of the single best remedies for stress. In fact, outside of removing yourself from toxic situations, meditation is probably the absolute essential activity you need to incorporate into your daily routine in order to reduce and relieve stress. It simply works.
What is the secret? Well, one major factor that’s involved is that stress is largely a feeling brought on by limited perspective and “fight and flight” response to outside stimuli. Meditation teaches you how to disconnect from the chaos around you in a healthy way, and see what’s unfolding around you at a distance. Early on in my own meditation teachings when I first started on the path of learning martial discipline, I was taught to picture myself as an eagle sitting high on a rocky outcropping, overlooking a chaotic scene down below. That chaos represented the trappings of every day life, and all the stress that comes with it. We get so caught up in these every day dramas that we begin to associate with our egos, living and dying by every mistake or accomplishment we make throughout the day.
I’m sure many of you have experienced this. On a normal day you might be a pretty level-headed person, but you’ve had those days where your co-worker spills their coffee on your desk or there’s a huge line of customers that need to be waited on, and you just lose it. You let situations get the best of you because you become hyper-sensitive. Every little thing becomes this mountain of stress and anxiety, because at this point, your ego has taken control. Meditation returns you to your center, allowing you to disassociate from your ego and return to a healthy, natural state of conscious perspective. In other words, it chills you out and turns off your “fight or flight” response, so you can better digest and look at situations around you.
This is literal gold for anyone who deals with a stressful work environment. The ability to disconnect from drama and remain in a cool, calm, collected state is a skill that many powerful, influential people have long cultivated, and they do so through meditation.
A Level Head Makes Smart Decisions
Productivity is tied to choice. Think about it. If you make good decisions, you’re going to be more efficient in the long run. Meditation has proven to be extremely effective in clearing the mind, which results in meticulous, level-headed thinking. If you’re able to make choices with a clear head, you’re much more likely to make the right ones. This is a technique leaders often use. The ability to make great decisions under duress is a big part of what makes someone a valuable leader in the workplace. Meditation helps enable you to achieve this state of balance and clear thought.
People who let stress get to them often fold under pressure. Then more problems arise and the situation snowballs, often resulting in chaos. This is how an ordinary situation can spiral into a mountain of needless anxiety, because the inability to handle stress both exacerbates problems and makes more of them. Things also seem worse than they really are because you aren’t thinking straight. Many common causes of workplace (and public) annoyance aren’t really issues at all. It’s like the stressed out parent who comes home to find that the dishes haven’t been washed, so they overreact and throw a tantrum as if someone just got shot or the house was on fire. An unbalanced, stress-filled mind can find problems anywhere.
Meditation allows you to see things clearly, process data at a comfortable rate that won’t overwhelm you, and reduce your body’s tendency to rely on biology instead of brains. In any situation, you want to be making decisions from a place of quiet balance, not harried overwrought emotion. Workplace productivity begins when stress and the problems associated with it are a non-factor.
Simple Workplace Meditation
The key to basic meditation is breathing. If you’re new to meditation you may have this impression that you have to stop thinking and clear your mind using chants or something. The reality is, our focus is intimately tied to our breath. One reason why many of us are off balance is that we simply don’t breath right. Crazy, I know. How can something so simple and essential, that everyone does, be performed wrong?
It has to do with a lot of factors, but overall, we are raised to breathe with our chests rather than our diaphragms. The result is, especially in stressful situations, less circulation, increased heart rate, irritability, brain fog, and even drowsiness. Stress can be caused by weak breathing, and stress can also in turn be the cause of it. It’s a two way street of nutrient-deprivation, in this case, oxygen.
So how does one breathe properly? For starters, breathing through your nose is a must. If you focus your attention on breathing, you will be able to tell how shallow your breathing is. If you are breathing healthily and deeply, your lungs will fill completely on each breath, from the bottom on up. Your core will rise, and then your chest will rise. If you are a shallow breather, your diaphragm will not raise very much, or at all. Concentrate on where your breath is going and correct it. You’re going to want to be breathing correctly in order to meditate.
On your free time at home, practice deep, conscious breathing. Take in your breaths slowly and evenly. There is no reason to be hasty when practicing breathing exercises. Acknowledge the depth of your breath and breathe deeply and fully in a set pace. After some practice, you will be able to put yourself in a state of proper breathing even if throughout the day you still resort to shallow breathing because it’s what you’re used to. There is no harm in this, if you know you can fall back on meditation whenever you want.
Now to practice at work. If you are at a job that requires you to be constantly attentive to customers, such as waiting tables, working with heavy machinery, or working as a cashier, then you will have to use your break periods for this. Otherwise, take a few minutes just breathe. Concentrate on your breath and don’t purposefully think about your work. If thoughts about it crop up, don’t attempt to shut them out. Let them rise and pass away, just focus on your deep, rhythmic breathing. If you feel the need to close your eyes and you can get away with it, do it. Anything that will help calm your body and encourage proper breathing.
After ten or so deep breaths, allow all of the air to leave your lungs and gently “hold” your breath for 4 seconds. Then inhale for 4 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, and repeat. Count the seconds off in your head as you do this. Once you have a good rhythm down, increase the “hold” periods to 8 seconds while keeping your inhales and exhales at 4. Perform this pattern for a couple minutes, remaining calm, breathing deeply through your nose, not being bothered by your thoughts.
Congratulations, you just meditated in the workplace! No jargon about “stilling the mind” or chanting in another language. This is real meditation at its core, and it works. If you find yourself stressed or uneasy, perform the 4-fold-breath meditation for a few minutes and reassess the situation. Oxygenate your body while stilling the mind of errant thoughts: it’s a powerful combination that really puts you in control of what’s going on around you. Not only that, but as you get better at meditation, you will begin to dissociate with your ego mind. This is basically a fancy way of saying that things which stressed you out before will no longer bother you. Events will play out and you will have a much clearer picture of what’s happening because your mind won’t be associating with and relating to the drama.
This is the “eagle on the mountaintop,” the cool, calm and watchful beast of power who is in complete control of himself, and can watch chaos below, dissecting it and analyzing it in the balanced mind, not attached to the situation or tied up in its drama. The result is concise decision-making, reduced bodily stress which means less fatigue, and a greater ability to read situations and relate to people. You can’t properly help others and be a good leader if you are caught up in the dramas and chaos of what’s going on around you.
One Step Deeper
Want to take your workplace meditations to the next level? One of the most effective ways techniques for focusing the mind is using your body as a way to quiet what’s going on inside your head. There are many ways of doing this with meditation and yoga, and I will outline one of them here. It’s super simple and can be done pretty much anywhere, just like the basic meditation above.
When you are performing the rhythmic breathing exercise that has already outlined, you can go one step deeper by pulling your diaphragm up into your rib cage when your lungs are empty. So at the end of every exhale, suck in your core as far as you can, and keep that position “locked” for however many seconds you are holding in your exhaled state (when you really get used to the 4-fold-breath and strengthen your lungs and mind, you can easily do 20 or 30 second lock periods).
You will find that this technique hones the mind, as thoughts still and the ego quiets in this state. Once you get the rhythm of it down, you will experience heightened clarity from the improved blood flow and bodily stimulation. You will also “work” the diaphragm and core muscles, further enabling you to take deeper, stronger breaths. This in turn oxygenates the body better, leaving you feeling more refreshed and less lethargic.
The ironic benefit of being ultra “calm” and mentally quiet, is the increase of energy that comes with it. After a good round of breathing exercises with diaphragm locking, you will feel almost like you’ve had a caffeine boost, but without the jitters and the subsequent crash. This is why pro athletes, movie stars, and CEOs are flocking to meditation: it’s so easy to achieve mind-body wellness, and where better to utilize this than in the workplace, where you often need it most?
Meditation takes a little bit to adapt and adjust to. Don’t expect instant results, and likewise, don’t expect that you will be perfectly comfortable with it the first few times you try. Allow yourself to grow into it. Practice it at your workstation when you can. If you are up and moving about around your workplace, you can still perform the breathing exercises. Even if you can’t be perfectly still, sitting in a nice chair, you can still meditate: half the battle is in the breath!
Learn to breathe evenly and deeply as you go about your daily work routine. Get in the habit of performing the 4-fold-breath. In time you will be able to perform the diaphragm locking for added effect, even while moving around. At this point you will have a much greater control over your body, you will be taking in much more oxygen, and you will likely have more energy than ever before. You will also find that as you tone your core, you will just feel healthier in general. Your digestion will improve, you’ll be burning more calories while you’re sitting at your desk, so your metabolism will be functioning better, and your whole body will get better stimulation. Strong lungs, strong core, strong mind: perfect recipe for stress-control.
Meditation like this is an absolute stress killer. Just try it for yourself and really give it a go. Try to incorporate fifteen minutes worth of meditation into every workday and after a week or two you will notice the changes happening in your body. Your mood will improve, you’ll be less irritable, you’ll have much less chance of getting a headache, you’ll have an improved appetite and you will be more focused and dynamic when it comes to thinking. There’s a reason why it is the core of so many ancient spiritual traditions and one of the fastest growing trends in professional self-help and entrepreneur circles. But don’t take their word for it, test it out. Your mind and body will be all the testimony you need!