In this series, international barrister and meditation teacher Gillian Higgins* examines simple ways in which mindfulness can help us to bring a sense of calm into the workplace.
An increasing number of business leaders are training their staff in how to practice and reap the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace. Faced with ever increasing deadlines, long working hours and a constantly changing working environment, there is a growing need for us to be able to step out of 'stress mode' and engage with each other and our work, more mindfully in the workplace.
Mindfulness can be defined as the bringing of moment-to-moment awareness to aspects of our everyday life with curiosity, openness and a sense of non-judgment. It's about being in the present moment - being aware of what we are doing, while we are doing it. With practice, mindfulness can help us to respond to situations with choice rather than react automatically, which can often be unhelpful. It can help to improve our focus, concentration, and general sense of wellbeing.
So how can we practice mindfulness in the workplace? At a recent Corporate Mindfulness Morning in West Sussex, I explained that there are proven ways in which we can drop into our present moment experience - e.g. by practicing mindfulness meditation or by introducing short mindful pauses into our everyday lives. Introducing mindfulness in these ways can help us to activate our natural capacity to be well - to engage what's known as the 'parasympathetic nervous system', the 'rest and digest' system, which in turn can help us to experience a feeling of relaxation. It is the antidote to the 'fight, flight or freeze' mode in which we operate at various times during the day when we feel stressed or anxious. While stress is key for our survival and can motivate us to complete a task, give a speech or overcome an obstacle, ongoing or chronic negative stress can be highly detrimental to both our bodies and our minds.
In this month's series of posts, I will be exploring ways in which the practice of mindfulness can be used practically in the workplace. So let's start with the commute.
Many of us now commute to the workplace via public transport. On your commute this week, simply notice how many people around you are connected to a device - whether it's to check email, watch a film, read the newspaper or a book.
Choose to give yourself a short break from 'attachment to distraction' by seeing whether for at least ten minutes you can turn off your phone, iPad, radio and simply be. Close your eyes or lower your gaze if you are able to do so. Let go of any thoughts that arise and return to your breath, using it as your anchor to your present experience. Direct your breath to different parts of your body and notice any sensations that arise. Perhaps start with your feet and slowly move to the top of your head - taking in the whole body breathing. Check in with how you feel.
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