“To be mindful is to be more aware, in the moment, of our experience; to be more present and more open. Though we might fear this state of mind would hinder our ability to get things done, the opposite is true… [Mindfulness can] enhance the creativity, refinement and production of our work. Also, people who are mindful are often the ones who laugh more often and more easily.” – Sharon Salzberg, Real Happiness at Work
Being present and open to moment-by-moment experience means we’re not fretting about the future nor stuck in the past. It asks us to release narratives we may have mistaken as reason, or brilliant, or as a terrible idea. It opens up space to respond rather than react to a difficult person. Those things are more conducive to work. And they are also conducive to having more fun. We all laugh more when we’re neither anxious about something that has yet to be, rehashing something that is no longer, nor stewing about someone we find exasperating.
Behind the scenes at 8 Limbs we do a number of things to bring mindfulness into the office. Every meeting we begin with a group sitting practice, giving ourselves space to arrive and time for energy to settle. When we get stuck on how to best respond, or feel a reaction coming up, we often note sensations are arising in our physical bodies – beyond supporting us to operate in real-time, this helps us better clue into our mind-body wisdom rather than just our thought trains. Of course we also turn to yoga precepts to help us maintain perspective and why we’re really in the office to begin with.
What can be pulled off in a yoga studio, though, doesn’t always land so well in other work environments. Sitting in extended silence or naming moment-to-moment body sensations could easily feel plain awkward in a lot of professional settings. And not everyone’s place of work has a built-in shared philosophy, like the yoga sutras, to provide clear and mindful guidance when things get sticky. Salzberg also shares a solution for this – what she calls “stealthy” mindfulness. Stealthy mindfulness refers to mindful acts one can do in the presence of others, with no one needing to know. That is, simple practices any of us can try regardless of where we work, in order to get things done, do good work, and perhaps laugh more.
The following are eight ideas for sneaking mindfulness into work. Are there other ways you bring stealthy acts of grounding or calming into your office? I’d love to hear about them at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Feel Your Breath – Given we breathe no matter where we are or whatever the time of day, our breath can be a great place to start. Tune into the sensations and micro-sensations of a breath cycle or two to land back into real-time.
Find Your Feet – Sensing the supportive pressure of the floor beneath your feet (or chair under your sitz bones) is another invisible way to quickly return to present moment experience.
Be Intentional – If you’re heading into a meeting or phone conversation perhaps set an intention ahead of time. Mindful intentions might look like taking a breath each time before you speak, listening more than speaking, asking a question before either signing off on or vetoing an idea, or simply staying in touch with sensations of your feet grounding into the floor beneath you.
Sidetrack Your Coworkers – When your mind is getting muddled, buy yourself some time by asking a colleague, to clarify what they’ve just said, or to expand on their idea.
Sip Slowly – Whether you are a water, tea or coffee drinker allow yourself to feel your hands making contact with your cup or mug, noting the temperature and texture, taking in the smell of your beverage of choice, and feeling the sensations of the liquid on your tongue and inner mouth.
Extend a Hand – Studies show that warm touch helps inhibit our fight/flight/freeze mechanisms while engaging our natural caregiving system, even when the touch comes from ourselves. So if you find yourself emotionally triggered consider holding one hand in another, or gently squeezing opposite elbows, or perhaps just stroking your thumb across a hand.
Walk it Out – Whether walking around the block or just to the copy machine, use opportunities of getting from one place to another as a walking meditation. Bring awareness to the nuanced sensations of feet lifting and setting back down, what it feels like as your body weight shifts, and perhaps sensing into the gentle swinging of arms.
Hijack Your Brain – In states of total overwhelm (i.e., when one’s mind is seemingly spinning out of control) it can help to hijack your brain so to speak. Find a sign or a document with written words and read the words or letters backwards. This action is usually just awkward enough to make your mind work differently, slicing through the spinning and landing back to present moment experience.
Posted by: Ashley Dahl, 8 Limbs Executive Director