Tips for bringing mindfulness to the workplace

Practitioners have been reaping the benefits of “mindfulness” for more than 2,500 years, but only now is the corporate world catching on to its merits. The practice of cultivating focused, nonjudgmental attention through meditation is now increasingly recognized as a way to encourage better communication within organizations—with trailblazing tech firms like SalesForce, Google and Asana adopting mindfulness practices in key areas of their operations.

At the recent Rakuten Tech Conference in Tokyo, Udana Bandara, Lead Scientist at Rakuten Institute of Technology – and recently the founder of the Rakuten employees’ Mindfulness Club – spoke about the virtues of adding meditation and mindfulness to your daily routine.

Udana Bandara, Lead Scientist at Rakuten Institute of Technology, discusses mindfulness at work.
“Meditation is like going to the gym for your brain,” explained Udana Bandara, Lead Scientist at Rakuten Institute of Technology – and founder of the Rakuten employees’ Mindfulness Club.

“Meditation is like going to the gym for your brain. It’s a way to strengthen your mind so that it is more effective in real-world scenarios,” he explained.

Bandara was first introduced to mindfulness meditation practices (Anapanasathi Bhavana) as a child in Sri Lanka, where it is a common part of life. As he grew up and began working, he gradually lost touch with it, until he began reading of various neuroscience studies that appeared to validate its effectiveness. “What people have known intuitively for centuries, now has been confirmed with empirical research, and the results are fascinating! It inspired me to take a 10-day silent Vipassana meditation retreat and kick-start my practice.” he said.

It appears that meditation doesn’t just change your mind, but the physical makeup of your brain as well. Long-term meditators have been found to have superior grey matter density, which results in better attention and sensor processing. And, lest you thought mindfulness was a young person’s game, even the elderly have seen tangible physiological benefits. Due to neuroplasticity, your brain is never too old to reorganize itself by generating new neural connections.

Of course, mindfulness isn’t just for individuals—organizations can integrate mindfulness practices directly into strategic planning.

“What is a company? It’s a place where, through interaction, you do things bigger than yourself,” explained Bandara. “If you can communicate mindfully with colleagues—listening deeply, avoiding reactive patterns or knee-jerk emotional responses—and the right infrastructure is in place to support such behavior, your company can become that much more efficient.”

Tips for improving mindfulness at work

Wondering how you can bring more mindfulness to work? Bandara shares four simple tips.

1. Just breathe

When you feel your mind start to wander, take a few deep breaths; it will calm you down. Also, take several minute-long breaks throughout the day to tune into your natural breathing patterns. This simple practice will help you to relax, regain focus and get back to the task at hand.

2. Left foot, right foot

Next time you’re having a stroll, try to pay extra attention to the physical sensation in your feet – an example of a technique called “body sensations” that allows you to focus on how your mind reacts to stimuli throughout your body.

3. Eat mindfully

Be conscious of what you eat: the taste, the speed at which you eat, the texture. Chew properly to feel it fully, a process that allows you to clear your mind and act with intention.

4. Make it routine

Five minutes of daily meditation in the morning can do wonders. Even two can! Just the simple practice of making mindfulness a routine can help bring you closer to mastering the mind.

“Ultimately, if we learn to better understand our own emotions, we can be more compassionate to ourselves and the people around us,” Bandara said. “That is what mindfulness is all about—being aware of the automatic, reactive responses we tend to have to stimuli around us and learning to process them in a more objective, nonjudgmental way.”

Read more posts from the Rakuten Technology Conference 2016 here.

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