You may think the working day is not the time for mindfulness. But cognitive behavioural therapist Sarah Stubbs, the mindfulness expert for Retune London (retunelondon.com), whose clients include Tesco and Spotify, says it can actually help you be more productive.
What do Google, Goldman Sachs and Transport For London have in common? They’re all businesses that swear by mindfulness to enrich the working lives of their employees. You too can bring a bit of mindfulness into your 9-5.
So what exactly does it entail? It’s about paying attention to the present moment in a non-judgemental way. You’re not trying to analyse or change anything, you’re trying to bring about greater self-awareness and get familiar with the patterns of your thoughts and emotions. And when you’re more aware, it gives you the freedom to choose how to respond to a situation rather than having a knee-jerk reaction.
Mindfulness also helps us choose where we want our attention to be, anchoring our focus and concentration. You might be in a meeting and notice your mind wandering: “When I get home I really need to hang the washing out/call my sister/dig out that bank statement”. If you can notice that your mind is on divert and bring it back to the present, this helps improve focus and concentration.
With this in mind, here is Sarah’s pick of the best mindfulness exercises, whatever your job.
BEST FOR OFFICE WORKERS
The breathing space meditation
What’s involved? Choose any physical sense, whether it’s your breath or the office noises, to help anchor your mind to the present. Notice every time your mind wanders. That moment of awareness when you bring your mind back to your breath or the sounds of the office, helps train your mind to be more focused. Noticing the weight moving down through your body, the contact you’re making with the chair, the floor – what does that feel like? What are the sensory qualities involved? And then pay attention to your breath – where is it in the body? In fact, you can do anything mindfully to harness concentration, even washing up. Think about what the keyboard feels like, notice the clicking sound of the keys.
Where can I do it? At your desk if you feel comfortable – you could put on headphones to help you focus – otherwise you could find a quiet corner of the canteen or a bench outside the office where you can sit and close your eyes.
How long will it take? Just 3-5 minutes.
BEST FOR ACTIVE JOBS
What’s involved? If you move around a lot in your job – perhaps you’re a nurse who has to go from ward to ward, or a teacher walking from one site to another – mindful walking is brilliant. So when you’re walking, bring your attention to how the ground feels beneath your feet and who and what is around you, rather than planning what you’re about to do or thinking about what you’ve just done.
Where can I do it? Whenever you’re on the move. If you’re office-based, try mindful walking during your lunch break – feel the breeze on your skin, notice the sounds of the traffic and people around you.
How long will it take? It’s flexible – this can be fitted in to however long your walk is!
MINDFULNESS FOR FULL-TIME PARENTS
What’s involved? When you’re rushing around with kids in tow, it’s easy to get caught up in thoughts about clearing up their mess rather than enjoying the moment. So learn from your child – children are naturally more mindful and present, so we might go out into the garden and think: “I really must do some weeding” whereas a child is likely to be fascinated by the soil/the crawling ants/the smell of the grass. As parents, we can learn a lot from kids.
BEST FOR COMMUTING
Meditation of sounds
What’s involved? If you’re on a train, pay attention to the movement of the carriage, the temperature – as long as you’re using something physical and sensory to ground you, that’s being mindful. It might be that you think your surroundings smell horrible and they’re loud, and this makes you feel irritated, but that’s still being mindful because you’re aware of your present moment. That’s often the misconception, that mindfulness has to be in an idyllic, relaxed setting. It doesn’t. Mindfulness is about accepting things the way they are.
BEST FOR HOME WORKERS
The body scan
What’s involved? If you’re part of the growing tribe of over four million UK home workers, this exercise is brilliant for setting a boundary between your home and work life. Find a quiet place to lie down on a mat. Move your attention through your body from the top of your head down to your toes. Notice when your mind starts to wander as it inevitably will, then bring your attention back to your body.
Where can I do it? Try doing this at the start or end of your working day to set a division between “home you” and “work you”.
How long will it take? Anywhere between 5-60 minutes – it’s up to you.
IT WORKED FOR ME
Juliet Bailey, 36, organises the Don’t Wake the Fish festival in Cornwall.
“I heard about Retune London workshops through a work colleague and decided to try them to help reduce my stress levels. I thought mindfulness was something you did at home to relax, but since the workshops and learning to use the techniques at work, I’ve noticed my mood and concentration has dramatically improved on the days I remember to do it. I feel more able to focus on my tasks for the day, which tends to have a knock-on effect on how creative I feel. I also try and use the techniques when I’m at busy events, meditating on the sounds, which helps lessen the stress or pressure I might be feeling.”
* Waiting for the kettle to boil in the office kitchen? Try some mindful stretching. Notice where there’s tension and do some stretches – pay attention to the physical sensation rather than thinking about that email you need to send.
* Write yourself a motivational letter. Tthe business of work can get in the way of us living in line with our values. So reviewing how we spend time and reminding ourselves of our intentions is a great exercise. Write yourself a letter – get colleagues to do their own too – seal in an envelope, swap with a colleague and send to each other in a month’s time.
* Try setting an email reminder to prompt you to practise a mindfulness meditation every day – otherwise it’s easy to get caught up in the frantic pace of office life.
Finally, if your mind keeps wandering…
The thing is, it’s challenging to pay attention to the present moment because it’s not really how our minds work. Think about the last time you spent ten minutes just being, not planning where you’re going to take the kids at the weekend or what you’re going to have for dinner tonight. Just being in the present moment is rare so it’s OK to find it difficult. Persevere.