If there was a single deed that marks each one of our lives, Jon Kabat-Zinn would be remembered as the first person who brought meditation to traditional medicine. Kabat-Zinn describes meditation as “tuning your instrument before taking it out on the road.” However, this blog post, the first in a series, is not about meditation — it’s about a technique that meditation uses to obtain a balanced emotional and mental state: mindfulness. Before we proceed, a quick question: When was the last time you paid attention on purpose, in the present moment, and without judgment?
This is precisely how Kabat-Zinn and numerous other scientific studies define mindfulness. The studies have associated meditation (practice) and mindfulness (technique) with physical changes to some areas of the brain, resulting in a number of benefits — including easing psychological stresses like anxiety, depression and pain. The greatest thing about mindfulness is the fact that you can be mindful anytime, anywhere — during a lengthy morning commute (as we consider returning to the office), as you read a bedtime story to your child, or whenever you take a break from your work. Here at Glasswall, we seek to remind our employees of the importance of pausing throughout their workday. And with this article, we aim to give your regular workday break a considerable upgrade: mindfulness.
So, what are some of the ways in which you can be more present during your daily breaks?
- Get curious
Remember how as a child you used to be genuinely interested in everything? As we get older, life becomes busier and this all-encompassing curiosity is often lost. Yet, curiosity is a great way to have a more mindful work break. When you are making your morning coffee, get curious about how the cups warms as you pour the coffee, about the type of coffee you are using, if you are talking to a friend or colleague during your coffee break, then ask them a couple of meaningful questions to deepen the conversation you’re having with them. You will be surprised at how different your morning coffee and chat feels after.
- Ground yourself
Are you struggling to resolve a challenging issue, is your mind buzzing with tasks and to-do lists? Use your break to ground yourself in your surroundings. This can be as simple as noticing the heaviness or lightness of the clothes you are wearing or the nature of the sounds you are hearing. You can also ground yourself in your own body. Observe if your back feels sore or whether your eyes are burning and if they are you might want to stretch or rest your eyes for a moment.
The brain can often carry us either far into the future with all the planning or way back to the past with all the rumination. When you find your mind wandering during your break (or at any other time), try not to get involved with the thought or the emotion. Rather, notice them as they arise and gently label them as a “thought” or an “emotion” that is either “neutral”, “pleasant” or “unpleasant”. Then, redirect your attention to the fullness of the now.
Breath has an incredible power to it — it is the only function of the autonomic nervous system that we can directly control. That would not mean much in itself if breath was not tightly linked to the mental and emotional state that we are in. And even better — studies have found that by changing our breath, we can change our emotions as well. To calm your mental and emotional storm in an easy way, opt for a “square breath” — inhale for 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds, hold 4 seconds, and repeat.