Starting the day with a quiet, calm period of meditation — as advocated by many wellness professionals — can seem out of reach for most of us. Whether it's because you hit the ground running the second you wake up, or you have family or pets to care for, or if you simply can't meditate that early without falling back asleep — a busy morning is the reality of most working professionals. But that doesn't mean you should rule out meditation altogether.
Enter: meditating during work. You're already there for eight or more hours a day; slotting 10 or 15 minutes of quiet time that improves your focus, and can also help you make better decisions makes the business case for the practice in itself. Read on for seven tips fitting it into your work life.
How does meditation work (in the brain)?
While meditation has benefited practitioners for years without a formal study as to why, in the last few decades researchers have proved there’s more to the practice than anecdotal accounts of improved focus, memory, and mood regulation.
Research by Gaëlle Desbordes, a neuroscientist and instructor in radiology at Harvard Medical School around mindfulness meditation and the brain has proven that the amygdala, the brain’s integrative center for emotions, emotional behavior, and motivation changes after meditation. Using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans, Desbordes found that the research subjects’ brain activation patterns from the beginning to the end of the study changed after a two-month course of meditation.
In a separate study by scientist Sara Lazar, subjects’ brains thickened after an eight-week meditation course. Increased pre-frontal cortex thickness is associated with brain functions such as awareness, concentration and decision-making. Those studies aside, researchers haven’t reached a definitive conclusion as to how exactly meditation works in the brain, let alone agreed on the definition of meditation or mindfulness. But with holistic wellness becoming mainstream, each subsequent study will move us closer to finding out more.
7 simple ways to fit meditation in at work.
1. Use your car as a sacred space.
For car commuters, you have a built-in private space. One way to fit in meditation during your workday is to take five or ten (or more!) minutes before or after your commute to tune into yourself. If you’re a fan of guided meditations, you have the added bonus of using your car speakers to listen to the practice.
With busier parking lots, where you might be hesitant for coworkers to see you sitting still for a chunk of time (or afraid they’ll come knock on your window to check-in), find a place you can park nearby, maybe in the corner of a box store parking lot or other wide-open space to give yourself some privacy.
For those of us who don’t leave a buffer between our commute and when we need to walk through the doors of work, consider meditating in your car during your lunch break; or, before you go home for the day. With the latter, you have a chance to disengage from work thoughts before starting your evening.
2. Block off 10-15 minutes of time in your calendar.
The best way to make something happen is to regularly schedule time for it. When you’re building the meditation habit — and building consistency — it helps to meditate at the same time every day. So, add it to your calendar (if you have the autonomy to do so); this way, you won’t schedule calls or meetings during your quiet time. Start small. Most people can block 10-15 minutes off in their calendar without harming productivity.
3. Find a quiet place.
When I moved to New York and left car commuting behind, I struggled to find a private place to meditate. The offices I worked in didn’t have excess conference rooms or phone booths to escape to, and I worked in an open office where it would look strange if I started meditating at my desk in full view of more than 50 people.
In the warmer months, I found a pocket park with a bench I used for my meditation practice. But when the weather changed, I had to get creative. Enter: the stairwell. Most offices have at least two stairwells, which often are unused the higher you climb. I would take the elevator to the top floor, then walk down a flight and park my butt on the floor and meditate (with a plastic bag as a seat).
4. Shut the door.
If you’re lucky enough to have an office with a door, use it! Close it during your scheduled (and calendared) meditation time. If you're in an open environment but have access to small conference rooms or phone booths, take advantage. Pro tip: Try scheduling early in the morning to avoid time conflicts or interruptions.
5. Use guided meditation to start.
There are so many apps and podcasts out there with free (or paid) guided on-demand sessions. My personal favorite is Insight Meditation Timer; it's free and has thousands of meditations to choose from. You can sort by length, focus, teacher and more.
6. Wear headphones or earplugs.
While some mindfulness techniques advocate allowing in your surrounding sounds, that works best in a more relaxed environment, or outdoors. At the office, you're probably on the alert to hearing your name or listening to your team's discussions. Save yourself the distraction (remember, it's only 10-15 minutes!) and slap on some noise-canceling headphones or pop in some earplugs.
7. Make it a community event.
Habits often stick better when there's external accountability. Try starting a meditation group at work, if your office culture is open to it. Make it a regular thing and see what happens. Not only will you have more than just yourself to answer to about actually doing the thing, you might also make a few new work friends, too.
Different meditation styles.
While meditation often evokes the image of someone sitting cross-legged on the floor with their eyes closed, that's just one method among the many available.
An aspect of many Buddhist traditions, walking meditation can involve slow steps around a labyrinth, indoors or out, or in a quiet space, like a yoga studio or spare room. One teacher I met likes to take a slow, deliberate wander on the bike path near her home in Maryland where she allows each step to take her full attention.
Mindful movement — beyond walking — is another way to tap into your inner quiet. Try curated dance experiences like contact improv or 5rhythms, or, you can always find a space and music that lets you access your inner calm in your own way.
Candle flame meditation.
Not all meditation requires your eyes to be closed; in fact, in some traditions, you're supposed to keep your eyes open and unfocused; eyelids shut is a position reserved only for sleeping. An easy way to get started with this method is to light a candle and use the flame as a rough point of focus. If you're not able to light a candle, you can try visualizing one in your mind.
Nina Semczuk is the Head of SEO Content for Fairygodboss. A meditator since age 12, she's tried various styles and modalities throughout the years. In her spare time, she teaches yoga and meditation around New York, NY.