A few months ago, we were approached by the Assets Standards Authority (ASA) division of Transport for New South Wales to deliver an 8 week 30 minute mindfulness workshop to its staff before work on Friday mornings.
The staff members ranged from Executive Assistants to different levels of management. Understanding that office workers are strapped for time, the format of the workshops was designed to be simple, concise, clear and insightful, interactive as well as practical (meditation). What better way to start a day and weekend than to sit and meditate for 30 minutes in a space right before work?!
I remember on our very first session, the participants were curious about how mindfulness meditation could help them in their daily and working lives. I proceeded to ask them whether they came to the session because they wanted to help manage stress in their lives. A resounding “yes!” came from them. I briefly spoke about The Cumulative Stress Theory (James Clear) and said that the meditations that they will learn in the coming weeks will teach them a technique that research has shown to help improve stress levels. However, it was only one component of a holistic approach to manage stress and that with more practice, they will get better and better if they practiced consistently. We kicked off our first session with a mindfulness of breath meditation.
In the proceeding weeks, I started off each session by asking participants whether they had practiced meditating on their own. Common responses were, “I can’t find the time”, “I can’t concentrate and keep engaging with intrusive thoughts”, “I keep falling asleep”. These responses are natural when learning how to meditate as it is a new mental exercise for them. It’s like learning how to ride a bike for the very first time or trying to get physically fit, it is always tough at first and it gets better with time, patience and practice. Finding the time to fit meditation in is one that I like to work with, as I often say that if you cannot do 20 minutes to half an hour, try 5 minutes as this is definitely better than no minutes. I found that through providing positive feedback and encouragement, it was the key to getting them started on this journey.
I tried to make the workshops relevant and relatable to the participants so each week, a different topic was discussed and these included; communication, mindful eating, mindful walking, negative thinking, loving kindness, and gratitude. The meditation techniques moved from mindfulness of breath, body scanning, loving kindness, and symmetrical body scanning. I made sure that each technique was repeated at least once in the case that if a participant missed one session, they had a chance to learn it if they came back the following session.
At the end of the 8 week program, I was delighted to hear that most of the participants improved on their skills and started to incorporate mindfulness into their daily lives. This was a positive experience seeing the progression of the journey of the participants.
In this day and age, we are constantly bombarded with stimuli and demands that it is no wonder why the impact of stress is starting to influence the productivity of many organisations. People are taking more sick days, stress leave, and some employees are even having break downs at work because the work and life imbalance can be quite overwhelming.
I can vouch for that as I myself have witness this in the work place. Mindfulness is not a magic pill that when you start meditating, all your problems will go away. Rather, mindfulness is a lifestyle and it encompasses a holistic approach to life in which meditation is but a component that will help you get started.
Photo credit : Kirrilee Phillips