The workplace can be a source of anxiety, stress, and burnout. While there is no way to totally eliminate stress from the workplace, more businesses are recognizing the importance of holistic, evidence-based practices to improve the health and wellness of employees. This is due in part to research showing the many benefits of lower-stress employees, including improved work performance. Companies such as Apple, Google, and Nike are some of the most notable in embracing this movement. Whether or not your company has jumped on this bandwagon, you can start to implement stress reduction practices of your own and meditate at work.
You likely spend a huge part of your life working. If that time is spent in a constant state of worry and stress, it is no wonder that chronic stress is a major health concern. As research shows, living in a state of chronic stress puts you at greater risk for developing many diseases and health problems, including heart disease, depression, anxiety, weight gain, digestive issues, and memory impairment. The culture of the United States rewards long work hours in order to meet the demands and pressures of the ever-changing business landscape. Whether you work for a large corporation or a small business, stress exists and may be your “new normal.” However, constantly feeling frazzled and stressed is far from normal. Your natural state is that of thriving, not merely surviving.
Meditation Can Change Your Brain
You can thrive in challenging environments with a little help. It’s easy to become bogged down by work, but imagine if the load could be lightened, creativity flowed more easily, and projects were completed more quickly. Meditation is a catalyst that can make this a reality by literally changing your brain.
For example, a study of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program found that after just eight weeks of participating in the program, which included meditation and other mindfulness practices, participants experienced positive changes in their brain structure, including increased gray matter concentration in the regions involved with memory, learning, emotional regulation, self-referential processing, and perspective-taking.
Mindfulness and meditation are meant to help bring attention to awareness without judgment, resulting in feelings of peace and calm and creating the foundation for healing and transformation. These results offer some hope that your life has the potential for great change, especially when you are attempting to manage stress in the workplace.
While the idea of pushing pause to meditate during the day may seem like an inefficient use of time, it can be some of the most valuable time you can take for yourself when you consider the benefits.
The Benefits of Meditation
When practiced daily, meditation has been shown to produce a wide range of benefits, both mental and physical, many of which are relevant to the workplace. Studies have found that meditation can help to:
- Improve focus and attention span
- Improve working memory and cognitive functioning
- Increase your compassion and responsiveness to other people
- Increase energy and productivity
- Decrease depression, anxiety, and stress
- Increase feelings of social connection and positivity
These benefits can be game-changers in the professional world, which is why some companies are open to integrating practices such as meditation into their business model.
The fact that you can meditate anywhere makes it pretty easy to do it at work. In fact, the workplace can be an ideal place to create new habits because it is consistent in your life. Try to set aside a time to meditate at work and put it in your calendar so that you will not book something else in that time slot.
When, Where, and How to Meditate
Find a dedicated time to meditate during work so it becomes a daily habit. During a lunch break may be a convenient time for you. Mid-morning or mid-afternoon can be good times to meditate and get an energy boost. How much time you meditate will depend on your personal schedule, but try for between 5–20 minutes.
Meditation requires only you and your commitment. Try to find a place free of distractions so that you can have a calm experience; you might have to be creative here. It could be your office, the bathroom, conference room, a closet, your car, outside—you get the idea.
There are many meditation techniques to choose from; test out a few to find one (or more) that you enjoy. Be open and flexible and try new things. Some styles focus on breathing, some will have you repeating a mantra, and others will have you focus on nothing at all. All forms of meditation offer benefits, and there is no right or wrong in the meditation you choose.
Here are samples of some easy meditations you can do at work. Pro tip: use a timer to help you keep track of time.
1. Body Awareness Meditation (5–10 minutes)
This meditation is relaxing and helps you to focus awareness on your body instead of the million other thoughts you have every day. It can be performed sitting or lying down.
- Close your eyes.
- Place one hand on your belly and the other on your chest, breathing in and out naturally. Observe the belly and the chest moving in response to the breath. Notice how you feel. Spend about two minutes here.
- Place your hands gently on your lap or beside you.
- Bringing your awareness to your feet, start to work your way up your legs, observing without judging.
- Continue up the back and to the shoulders. Notice any places of tension or discomfort. Take a deep breath and visualize any tension leaving the body. Do this as many times as needed.
- Go down each arm all the way, sensing the tips of your fingers.
- Continue going up the back of the neck and to the top of the head.
- Move your awareness to your face—sensing your eyes, nose, cheeks, and lips. Allow any tension to dissolve.
- Gently shift your awareness down your chest and into your stomach, becoming aware of your organs, especially the heart, most often felt energetically in the middle of your chest. Take any deep breaths as needed.
- Now start to become aware of the body as a whole for the remaining few minutes.
- Slowly open your eyes and notice any changes in how you feel.
2. So Hum Mantra Meditation (5–20 minutes)
This is a calming mantra meditation that is accompanied by the breath. It can be performed in a seated position in whatever time you have available.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep, cleansing breaths.
- Start to repeat the mantra So Hum to yourself silently, slowly synching the rhythm of your breath to the mantra.
- As you inhale, silently repeat the word So.
- As you exhale, silently repeat the word Hum.
- Continue breathing slowly and aligning your mantra to your breath, being careful not to rush your breath if you notice your mantra speeding up.
- Each time you notice your mind wander, simply draw your attention back to the mantra So Hum.
- When your time is up, gently release your repetition of the mantra, taking a moment to sit quietly before opening your eyes.
3. The 4-7-8 Breathing Meditation
Before tackling a project or having a difficult conversation, try performing this simple breathing meditation called 4-7-8 breathing.
- Close your eyes and take a few deep, cleansing breaths.
- Press the tip of your tongue to the roof of your mouth just above your top teeth, keeping your mouth slightly open.
- Exhale until you reach the bottom of the breath.
- Close your mouth and inhale through the nose for four counts.
- Hold your breath for seven counts.
- Exhale through the mouth for eight counts, keeping the tongue in place.
- Repeat four times. Eventually, you can work your way up to eight complete breaths.
*Note: This meditation can make some people a little dizzy, so stop if you need to and ease your way into it.
4. Mindful Eating Meditation
Next time you have lunch, rather than rushing through each bite, take time to savor your food. Notice the colors and aromas. Bring awareness to what it feels like to chew and swallow. You will naturally start to eat more slowly and notice the signals of your body telling you that you have had enough food, which helps to prevent overeating. In addition, eating when you are in a relaxed state, rather than in a state of stress and distraction, is better for your digestion and ability to assimilate the nutrients in your meal. Focus on being fully present as you eat and engage in conversation. This type of meditation will help you to reset and stay focused for the second half of your day.
5. Walking Meditation
Get outside for a refreshing walk. It’s a chance to go deep within yourself, start to let go of any stress, and replenish your energy. As you walk, bring awareness to your stride and your body’s motions. Notice how the earth feels underneath your feet, removing your shoes if you can to really feel it. Look around you and notice the trees, sky, and birds. Nature has the power to calm the mind and relax the body. Any time you can devote to walking outside is beneficial.
Meditation, no matter how short, will always be of great value. The benefits may start off as subtle at first, but the effect is cumulative, and soon you will notice a little spark of change. It will likely reduce stress in your life, increase your happiness, and trigger positive emotions. Try meditating every day for 21 days straight in order to begin to establish the habit. What do you have to lose? Give it a try, starting today.
*Editor's Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.