Yoga instructor Nabilla Sharil shares how mindfulness can help you perform better at work and how you can start practising the art of mindfulness
There are certain valuable lessons that will inherently come to those who step onto their yoga mat consistently. And though, you do not need to take off to an ashram for a month to be experiencing these lessons, what is more important is learning to apply them into your daily lives.
Let’s face it, not every one wants to spend weeks away from their home, family and job just so they could experience some glimpses of what it means to be enlightened or at peace with oneself. Even if they do, getting approval to be away for extended period of time within the corporate world can prove to be a complicated process.
Many corporate executives and white-collar workers today approach yoga as a way to manage mounting stress from the demands at work and at home. But what many do not realize is that 60-90 minutes they spend stretching, breathing and to a certain extent ‘healing’ their bodies can lead to better performance in the office.
Can Yoga Really Help You Perform Better at Work?
It starts with the M word or Mindfulness.
A big part of a yoga practice is to cultivate the habit of being present in the moment and engaging as many of your five senses to the current moment.
Mindfulness in a nutshell is just that. Drawing your awareness to the ‘now’, so that your focus is sharpened and your senses heightened. Mindfulness on the yoga mat is critical. Try holding a balancing pose, standing on one leg like Warrior III and allow your mind to wander to that email you forgot to send earlier and watch yourself stumble and hobble around while the rest of the class holds this pose steadily. When your mind is busy chattering, your attention is not focused. When you lack focus, your breath is not steady. Without a steady breath, not one pose can be done with ease on the yoga mat.
The Benefits of Increased Mindfulness
There are many benefits touted by professional corporate trainers worldwide on increasing mindfulness, amongst others are decreased level of stress, lower blood pressure, improved memory and less anxiety .
Have you ever tried to make a difficult decision while under extreme pressure? Combined with a lack of sleep and prolonged stress, you are more likely to make a poor call that could potentially be detrimental to your career or your organization.
Instead, start with these simple tips to begin to cultivate mindfulness in your working life. Even if you have never stepped on to a yoga mat in your life before, it should not stop you from trying this out the following day.
1. Before getting ready for work
As soon as you rise from bed, before reaching out for your smartphone to check for any emergency emails from last night or before waking your children for school, find a quiet space that you can sit quietly for a few minutes.
Sit comfortably, it doesn’t matter if you are on a chair, or cross-legged on a floor. More importantly you should be able to sit without experiencing any discomfort. Close your eyes. And breathe. By this I don’t mean falling right back to sleep! Rather, bring your attention and awareness to the rise and fall of your breath. Allow any thoughts to come through and slide out gently, without resistance.
It is in these moments that we experience a deeper intelligence within ourselves and more often than not, the solution to a problem that has been bothering you for days will present itself. After a few minutes, open your eyes and silently repeat a positive self-affirmation before starting your day. It could be something as simple as “I am confident, intelligent and beautiful. I accept myself as I am today. All is well in my world”. This works as a ‘mental warm-up’, readying yourself for the rest of the day.
2. While driving to work
Make the conscious decision to tune into radio stations that have positive messages. Too often we do not realize by tuning into those gossip talk shows, it could actually subtly affect our emotions throughout the day. Even better, turn off the radio and experience the silence while you drive to work. At red lights or in slow-moving rush hour traffic, instead of allowing your mind to wander, draw the attention back to your breath. Take a few mindful breaths and appreciate your surroundings at any given time. No, not at how terrible the traffic looks like but at how clear and blue the sky is that day or how beautiful the rising sun is against the horizon.
3. In the office
Open-plan offices are common these days as organizations begin to move from cubicles and hierarchical structure to a flatter, “open-door” management policies. Although this has many benefits, it does also come with a few downsides such as the distraction from noisy coworkers practically hammering away on their keyboards, the sound of phones going off or a manager openly telling off your team mate for handing in his work 2 hours after the deadline.
At times when the distraction gets too much, do yourself a favor, instead of tuning out and logging onto Facebook, get off your seat and take a walk. It could just be a short walk to the pantry to grab a drink and while you are there, take 3-5 deep mindful breaths.
As best as possible, avoid from engaging in office gossip if there are people around you (we all know how tempting that could be!). If the distraction is still bearable, Dr Danny Penman author of “Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world” recommends tuning into the distraction itself. Gently tune into the distraction and observe your body’s response to it. Does your shoulder or stomach start to tense up because of the stress response to the noise? If it does, take deep breaths allowing the steady breathing to gently work through the knots that you are experiencing.
Cultivating mindfulness certainly takes practice and persistence. It is however not rocket science. Rather because of its simplicity and vast benefits, the mindfulness concept has taken over the leadership and management training arena by storm in the recent years with large global corporations like Google introducing internal training modules on mindfulness for its employees .
If the idea of practicing mindfulness seems completely awkward or totally alien to you, perhaps a low risk way of experiencing mindfulness is to turn up at your local yoga studio for a 60-minute crash course on the mat.
 Grossman et.al (2004) Mindfulness-based stress reduction and health benefits. A meta analysis. Journal of Psychosomatic Research 57. Pp. 35-43
 “O.K, Google, take a deep breath” – The New York Times
Try out the breathing exercises and share your experience with us in the comments below or on our Facebook page!