Taking an Office Break to Meditate

Currently, while most of the evidence is anecdotal, there is evidence that companies and employees are taking a closer look at our work-life culture from a more human angle. The May 2007 issue of the Harvard Business Review featured an article on the significance of the ìinner work life.î A three-year study revealed that an employeeís emotions might very well play a part in his or her business performance. The article suggests that a good workday experience can positively affect motivation. Perhaps a short meditation at work can be the elixir so many are seeking for a midday jolt of positive energy.

Unable to control those around us, we can only monitor our own behavior and emotions. When we are peacefully working from a space of clarity, our intentions will better guide us toward a more productive workday and better communication with colleagues and clients. Meditating at work can be the fuel to help us in that journey. In essence, we subconsciously lay the groundwork for a peaceful workdayóor one filled with angst. When we choose a state of intentional peace through meditation it can be the catalyst for greater calm and creativity in the workplace.

Yet when at work, itís not likely that youíll be able to sit in a full lotus (legs crossed) at your desk, or have incense burning while playing a guided meditation on your iPod. Those who work from home have that luxury, but for the rest of us the question is, How can we meditate at work? I would argue the better question is, How can we not?

Creating a space

Step 1: Consider what works for you. Some companies are slowly beginning to nurture a corporate culture that supports meditative exercises. You might find ìquiet roomsî or conference rooms specifically designed for such an activity. More employers are offering meditation or yoga classes. In contrast, you might be more interested in the simplicity of an outdoor meditation. Pick up a guided walking-meditation tape or find a bench on which to plant yourself alone for a few minutes.

Step 2: Choose your timing wisely and be consistent. Set a certain time in your day for practice. Just three to five minutes of meditation can change your attitude and stress level. Like saving money for a rainy day, you can accumulate and deepen your inner strength to deal with chaos that might come your way at work. To remind yourself, set your phone alarm to go off at the same time every day. Put a picture or Post-It on your computer, or use a calendar to mark the days of practice. Set a goal for yourself and a personal reward for complying. Also consider taking part of your lunch break once a week for meditation.

Step 3: Choose your practice. Meditation doesnít have to be steeped in religion. Its roots are indeed spiritual, but conceptually itís also a product of simple nature. We breathe and with the breath we sustain our bodies. We breathe and we calm the mind and the impulse to react. Whichever exercise you choose, it will inevitably involve the breath. If you respond well to visual stimulation, you might choose a beautiful picture as your focus for meditation, or a mandala (Sanskrit for circle or completion), which is a symbol with a special meaning. If you resonate to sound and music, bring headphones to work and choose a short meditation, chanting CD or just relaxing music. Make that choice a priority in your workweek.

Seven ways to meditate

1. Once you are seated comfortably wherever you choose to meditate, follow your breath in and out, a technique known as mindful breathing or Pranayama. Notice the air going into your nostrils and out of your mouth. Your stomach should rise as you inhale; draw your navel in as you exhale.

2. If your mind wanders, try choosing an affirmation to repeat for a period of time. It can be a simple phrase or mantra. Take a long, deep breath and on the out breath repeat the word or phrase. Repeat for a few minutes.

3. If you can close your eyes for a few minutes, meditate on the sounds in your office or outside: Be a witness without judging what you hear.

4. Bring a book of short prayers or meditations to work. Read one passage every day. Meditate on that passage and how it relates to your work.

5. You can purchase or download screen savers that are designed to induce meditation. A few times a day, literally stick with the visual for a several minutes while keeping your breath steady. Also, check out Web sites that offer short visual and audio meditations. Often you can download them onto an iPod.

6. A big favorite: artistic desk toys. A mini Zen sandbox or garden can boost creativity while calming your mind. Try those magnet kits that sit on your desk, or just the simplicity of doodling with crayons. You can also find meditation kits at bookstores, including such items as a flameless candle, chimes and chanting tapes.

7. Do a stream-of-consciousness exercise. Call up a blank screen and write whatever comes into your mind. Just get it out. You can then delete the entire page.

A three-minute desk meditation

1. Set your phone alarm for three minutes and close your eyes gently.

2. Sit comfortably, with your back upright against your chair. Your feet should be planted on the floor, not crossed. Rest your hands lightly on your knees with palms facing up.

3. Gently close your eyes and breathe deeply, inhaling through your nose, deep into your lungs, for a count of three. Hold the breath for three counts, then release through your mouth to a count of three, then exhale for three more counts.

4. Continue the exercise, inhaling for three, holding for three, exhaling for three, and holding the out breath for three seconds.

5. When the alarm goes off, hold the space and take in three deep breaths through your nose and out through your mouth. Open your eyes.


Emmy award-winning broadcast journalist Judy Martin, is a reporter and public speaker who communicates on worklife culture, and gives an objective voice to social concerns, business news and the delicate balance of living and working with purpose, in an era of great uncertainty and chaos. Judy is a national radio contributor whose work has been heard on NPR News, The World, BBC Radio 3, The World Vision Report and The Marketplace Morning Report, where she spent nearly four years in the New Yor...

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