You’ve been hearing a lot about mindfulness over recent years. You know that it, supposedly, can help to reduce your stress and make you feel more content. You’re still not exactly sure how it works or what it really means. But your curiosity is peaked!
For all the lawyers, accountants, consultants and other professionals out there who would like to understand what all the buzz is about (but don’t necessarily want to dive off the deep end just yet), here are some ideas ranging from ultra-light to the max. Try it out and decide for yourself.
But before we jump in, here’s a quick overview of the concept, for those of you afraid to ask!
- What is mindfulness? An awareness of yourself and others, in the here and now. Mindfulness techniques make use of our five senses to bring awareness to the present moment. Examples include following your breath or focusing on a specific body part or physical sensation. Mindfulness also addresses how to skillfully manage feelings and emotions with insight. Once we are freed up from the ordinarily barrage of preoccupations (worries, to do lists…), we are able to return to the present moment.
- How does the concept apply to my work as a lawyer, accountant, consultant or other professional? Presence of mind is paramount to one’s ability to connect with others, be creative and concentrate. Whether it helps to develop relationships with clients, partners or staff, keep calm in stressful times or solve problems with lateral thinking, there is only upside to inviting mindfulness into your life as a professional.
You are prepared for a taster. But you don’t want to get ahead of yourself, until you know exactly what it is that you’re getting into here.
Ideas to try out include quick mindful stretches, timed with your breath eg raise your arms up while consciously breathing in and lower them down while consciously breathing out. This can literally be done in between meetings or while waiting for your tea kettle to boil (sorry coffee drinkers, your Keurig would be just a bit too fast for this one!). To onlookers, it will simply look like an ordinary stretch.
Another ultra-light option is to go for a short walk, directing your attention to the sensation of your feet touching and lifting from the ground. Try walking mindfully from your car to the office and briefly stepping outside whenever you need a break (smokers do it, why not meditators?!). This routine can be a way to give yourself a chance to recharge throughout the day or to ground yourself when you are having a strong emotional response to an event or an individual.
- Recommended resources at the ultra-light level:
- Real Happiness Meditation Challenge – In small bite size audio clips, Sharon Salzberg’s guided sessions make mindfulness meditation accessible to all. Annually, she offers a free 28-day challenge for the public to follow along.
- Tricycle – Daily email newsletter on mindfulness and related topics.
- You are here by Thich Nhat Hanh – Extraordinarily accessible, easy reading, with profound insights about mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh’s approach works at every level.
Based on what you’ve seen or experienced first-hand, you’re feeling comfortable and seeking more. But you’re not quite ready to commit to any changes in your life. Now what?
Try a short sitting meditation. Find a comfortable position, from which you are able to maintain a good posture (not all of us are super comfortable cross legged… just pull up a chair with back support and from which your feet can rest flat on the ground). Keep your eyes open with a soft low gaze ahead, or close your eyes. Follow your breath, keeping your attention focused on one aspect of the breathing cycle eg the rise and fall of the lower abdomen or the air entering and leaving the nostrils. The mind will continue with its usual race. Make a quick mental note of any important thoughts or emotions to take care of later (and for the strongest ones, possibly investigate why they are coming up fur you now). Then, return to the breath. Be prepared to repeat this exercise over and over and over again, as often as every few seconds.
Mindfulness meditation is about being present, not about thinking. But, if you just try to ignore your thoughts and emotions, instead of going away, they tend to get louder.
You may also notice that you experience a physical release, in the form of the eyes tearing or ears popping. This is normal for some and never occurs for others. Either way, don’t be concerned. Just continue with your practice.
And take the time to notice what has changed for you at the end of every session eg longer breaths, unclenching of muscles, a new awareness of your surroundings, an altered mental or emotional state…
- Recommended resources at the light level:
- Mindfulness meditation with Jon Kabat-Zinn at Google (video) – Guided meditation and introduction to mindfulness.
- True North Insight – Mindfulness retreats across Quebec and Ontario.
- 10% happier – A mobile app that offers guided meditations with well respected mindfulness teachers, including Joseph Goldstein.
- Octopus Garden – Yoga centre in Toronto offering meditation drop-in classes, lectures and retreats.
To the max mindfulness
It’s over. You know mindfulness helps you and you’re a total convert. So, how can you develop a program for yourself that will build and sustain the benefits that you have already started to enjoy?
It’s time to try out various techniques, frequencies, durations, formats and locations, in order to assess what works for you.
Some people respond better to yoga. Others prefer a combination approach eg yoga with sitting meditation. Still others resonate with the body scan (lying down, eyes closed, you breath into the various parts of your body to bring awareness to any tension or other sensations you may not have otherwise noticed). Some people prefer to meditate in the morning. Others prefer shorter sessions throughout the day. Some prefer to be alone and others prefer to be in a group. Find out what works for you.
At this stage in your process, you may wish to consider finding a course or a teacher, to provide some foundation and a community to ground your practice. As you continue on this path, you will learn more about your inner workings, ultimately leading to a calmer and more connected existence. But along the way, it is expected that you will run into some obstacles and many questions. A support system will be most helpful to get you through those moments.
- Recommended resources at the max level:
- Full catastrophe living – Written by Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of the MBSR approach), this book is the premise for many mindfulness programs across North America.
- Meditation for health – Mindfulness workshops in Toronto, sponsored by OHIP (referral is required from a medical doctor).
- The eight limbs of yoga by Starbacker and Kimple – A framework for applying yoga principles in everyday life.
- Madhyamaka, Introduction to the Middle Way: For those who are curious to learn more about the roots of mindfulness as a concept.
You don’t have to be a yogi to practice mindfulness at work. You just have to be a human being prepared to stop walking through life on autopilot.
In the interest of transparency, please note that the viewpoint I have expressed in this article is based on the extensive training that I received in the MBSR method (Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction), a program developed by Jon Kabat-Zinn.