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Bringing zen into the workplace


Work in Progress

James Adonis is one of Australia's best-known people-management thinkers

View more entries from Work in Progress

Would you feel comfortable meditating at work?

Would you feel comfortable meditating at work?

Time to declare a pet hate. Have you noticed that, lately, more and more people answer the “how are you?” question with something like “so busy”? And it’s usually said with genuine enthusiasm – and often boastfulness – as though the degree to which we’d be impressed is in direct proportion to the intensity of their busyness.

I’ve started replying to the “so busy” refrain with pity. “Oh really? I hope it gets better for you soon.” In a world that inordinately values the relentless doing of stuff, I’ve found the people most worthy of admiration are those that make a concerted effort to not be busy. To, you know, prioritise life.

That’s why it’s interesting that many organisations are embracing meditation in the workplace. In the one environment where busyness metrics reign supreme, it’s quite telling that employers are recognising the need for workers to simply pause and breathe.

It’s a practice being implemented in a variety of ways. Some leaders start team meetings with a five-minute guided meditation, during which an experienced facilitator talks the participants through the process. Others begin the day with a voluntary mindfulness session. And for those especially keen, some companies provide extended meditation programs at lunch breaks.

If you watched Air Ways on Channel Seven a couple of weeks ago, you might recall a poet named Oonagh Moodling who used her meditative talents to get onto a packed flight. Away from reality television she is, among other things, a facilitator of meditation techniques. I asked her why she’s such an advocate.

“The improved state of calm achieved through even a few minutes of genuine meditative practice increases one's ability to be productive under pressure,” she said. “Workers who meditate tend to find everything that must get done does get done ... only more calmly, less fearfully and more lovingly.”

It’s a view supported by research. A study at the University of Washington found that employees who meditated were able to focus on a task for a longer period of time and were less easily distracted than their colleagues. Even their memory improved. Their stress levels, too, changed for the better.

Apparently it’s not that hard to do. Dr Craig Hassed is a senior lecturer at Monash University and the founding president of the Australian Teachers of Meditation Association. He shared with me, using a charming selection of words, the ways in which people can incorporate meditation at work:

“It is good to punctuate our day with mindfulness practice. For example, have a five-minute full stop before and after the working day, and then lots of commas of 15-60 seconds during the day as you transition from one job or meeting to another.”

To help people get started, physician and writer Deepak Chopra has produced dozens of video clips. One of these, published earlier this year, provides a simple guide:

  • Sit quietly with your eyes closed and with no agenda
  • Try that for a few days for 10 to 15 minutes at a time
  • Then, start to concentrate more on your breath
  • As you progress, reflect on questions that are important to you
  • Alternatively, repeat a mantra, such as “om” or affirmative statements that begin with “I am … ”

I admit to Oonagh Moodling that there’s something about meditation that still makes me somewhat sceptical. Sitting at work with my eyes closed breathing consciously with colleagues? I just don’t think it’s my kind of thing – and I reckon many people feel the same. 

In regards to the sceptics, she says: “Although some people remain sceptical about the positive effects of meditation in the workplace, they are unlikely to be the ones practicing it, which immediately calls into question their opinion.”

Hmmm, good point.

Do you meditate at work? What have been your experiences? Leave a comment.

twitter Follow James Adonis on Twitter  @jamesadonis

27 comments so far

  • 'Sitting at work with my eyes closed breathing consciously with colleagues? I just don’t think it’s my kind of thing – and I reckon many people feel the same.' Count me as one. Group meditation would rank somewhere with group prayer - not in the workplace. Do it alone, then it's all good.

    Date and time
    November 02, 2012, 2:49PM
    • Thanks for bringing this topic up. There's a trend towards glorifying "busy" that is damaging to many people's health. I see many client's who's health is adversely affected by busy-ness, yet experience significant improvements when they begin a regular meditation practice. The important thing is frequency. 5 minutes every day is considerably more effective than an hour once a week. A short, simple guided meditation is all you need to get going (I regularly record quickie meditation MP3's for my students). As for the skeptics - try meditating for 5 minutes a day for 2 weeks. Then let's talk!

      Nikola Ellis
      Mosman, NSW
      Date and time
      November 02, 2012, 2:53PM
      • Daily meditation is a powerful tool used in business for those seeking clarity and balance - not surprising that many are not aware of the benefits and link it with religion.

        Date and time
        November 02, 2012, 4:09PM
        • Maybe 'So busy' is upbeat cause people are valuing having work to do in a less than booming economy

          Date and time
          November 02, 2012, 5:14PM
          • Maybe the economy would be doing better if we were making better decisions rather than rushing out quantity over quality?

            Date and time
            November 04, 2012, 5:26PM
        • My advice is to follow the wise teachings of Buddha Shakyamuni including starting each morning with 15 - 20 minutes meditation.

          It's a long journey but oh so worth it......

          Date and time
          November 02, 2012, 6:20PM
          • Maybe they're "so busy" because they just don't want to talk to you :P

            Date and time
            November 02, 2012, 6:39PM
            • If meditation decreases the impact of stress on mind and body then it should be part of the healthcare system. It would save the government millions.

              If it was introduced in prisons we would reduce the rate of reoffending - also saving the government millions. Research on Transcendental Meditation has shown benefits in both these areas - and I personally attest to its value.


              Date and time
              November 02, 2012, 7:18PM
              • I am an ex copper in Melbourne and work now in security in Qld. One of the boys but I meditate daily and it is the best way to find inner peace. It should be in prisons and schools. The world would be a better place. My partner and I present workshops on the Gold Coast and people are really starting to understand how it works and what you can achieve with it. Don't knock it until you have tried it!

                Kevin McNamara
                Gold Coast
                Date and time
                November 02, 2012, 8:33PM
                • Kaytee, here, here! I've been doing transcendental meditation (TM) for a few years and it's very easy and life-changing. I think why people are against meditation is that they associate it with calmness and peacefulness - slowing down. People who value brain coherence, efficiency and productivity should do it. TM's all about rejuvenation and it is all about letting thoughts come in rather than concentrating - which is why I like it and why it's easy. Mahirishi Mahesh Yogi, who introduced this 5000 year tradition to the west, Beatles etc. said that if he knew meditation had the connotation of restfulness etc in the west he would have given it a different name. It does both, as about 600 studies have shown.

                  Date and time
                  November 03, 2012, 5:32AM

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