Sunday, May 3, 2015


This post is for everyone—even for those who don’t go to paid work everyday. We all work in some way or another. The five tips that follow, which are based on the practice of applied mindfulness and personal wellness, will make any person’s day easier—as well as more productive and more pleasant. 

Now, what is mindfulness? Well, there are many definitions or descriptions. Here’s one of them. The American Mindfulness Research Association defines mindfulness as the ‘state, process and practice of remembering to observe moment-to-moment experience with openness and without automatic patterns of previously conditioned thoughts, emotions or behaviors.’

There are several important words in that description of mindfulness, among them ‘remembering,’ ‘observe,’ ‘automatic,’ and ‘conditioned,’ but first let’s look at the word ‘mindfulness’ itself. In the context under present consideration the word ‘mindfulness’ is said to have been coined in the 1880s by the noted British scholar of the Pāli language Thomas William Rhys Davids, and is a loose translation of the Pāli  word sati  (literally, ‘memory’) the root meaning of which is ‘to remember’. 

So, mindfulness means:

(i) remembering to stay present in the present moment from one moment to the next, 
(ii) remembering to observe what is present (both internally and externally) from one moment to the next, 
(iii) remembering what is present, and 
(iv) remembering in the present moment what has already happened. 

In other words, mindfulness is remembering to be fully 'here,' and to stay fully 'here,' now---at all times. 

Now, the words ‘observe,’ ‘automatic,’ and ‘conditioned.’

To ‘observe’ you must be attentive and you must be aware. ‘Unadorned observation,’ the phrase is. You observe what is happening without judgment, interpretation or analysis, as if you were a totally disinterested stranger. If you persist in your practice of mindfulness your conditioned and automatic thinking, thought-forms and thought-patterns will break down, and your emotional reactions and behaviors will change as well. Instead of reacting emotionally and disproportionately to events, you will respond dispassionately and proportionately.

Here are 5 tips for making your day at work easier, more productive, and more pleasant.

1.    Practise mindfulness meditation for 25 minutes each morning.

In a study published in 2014 in the journal Psychoneuroendocrinology it was found that participants who practised mindfulness meditation for 25 minutes a day felt less stressed in a test-like situation compared with those who did not. There are many other studies that have reported similar results. 

This previous post of mine sets out a simple form of mindfulness sitting meditation.

2.    Take 5 minute breaks throughout the day.

Each hour or so throughout your working day, or any day for that matter, take time out for 5 minutes. In those 5 minutes just sit still, get quite, and do nothing. Relax and still the body, then the mind will become still. Let the mind ‘stay in neutral,’ so to speak. 

When thoughts or feelings arise in your mind---and they will---just observe them, and let them go, mindfully. Don't hold on to them, and don't identify with them. They are not 'you,' the person that you are. When you begin to emotionalize, stop. Inhale deeply. Exhale slowly but fully. That is a very effective way of emptying out from your mind negativism of all kinds.

I find it helps to close the eyes and focus on your breathing. Allow your pulse rate to slow to the rhythm of your breaths. It will happen over time.

      3.    Get up from your chair and stretch your body.

This is one I need to remember---there’s that word ‘remember’ again---to do. I stay in my chair typing away for an hour or more until my back and neck ache and I have a terrible headache. Someone told me to set a digital timer to ring after 10 minutes. That was to remind me to stop typing, get up out of my chair, stretch my body, and take a short walk around my office. 

Use a digital timer if you have to. Perhaps the most common cause of musculoskeletal pain at work is not remembering to vary on a regular basis our patterns of sitting and other activity (eg typing).

Health experts tell us that the human body was not designed to sit for hours. Some experts—and I have heard from this from the Mayo Clinic---even advocate standing, as opposed to sitting, at your desk. Try it. The difference may well astound you. 

At the risk of stating the obvious, in order to stand and work at your desk you will need to make some adjustments to the height of your existing desk or procure a standing desk.

4.    Drink plenty of water throughout the day.

Our bodies depend on water to survive. Every cell, tissue, and organ in the body needs water to work correctly. When our body becomes depleted of water our ability to withstand stress decreases as does our powers of concentration, attention and awareness all of which are essential to mindful living. We become tired, forgetful and anxious. All that is fact. In short, water is needed for good health---physical, mental and emotional.

We lose water even when we breathe (and not just when we urinate or sweat). Many headaches are due to lack of water, and water is the best option for staying hydrated. Avoid too much caffeine and carbonated drinks. Whenever you do have a cup of coffee, follow it by a glass of water to help flush out the caffeine substance. Now, now much water do we need? The proverbial 8 glasses a day? Well, the amount of water needed varies from person to person. For some people, fewer than 8 glasses of water is enough. Others need more than 8 glasses each day. Start with 8 glasses a day, and go from there.

5.    Practise progressive relaxation at least once each day.

This is something I do at lunchtime as it generally takes more than 5 minutes to do properly. 

The American physician Dr Edmund Jacobson formulated the progressive relaxation technique in the early 1920s to help people relax the entire body by releasing muscular tension that accumulates as a person experiences a stressful situation. 

The technique involves three things---tense, feel the tension, then relax. The idea is you tense a particular muscle group, then feel the tension by keeping the muscle tensed for approximately 5 seconds, and then relax the muscle group (saying ‘Relax’ as you do) and keep it relaxed for approximately 10 seconds. You do this systematically and mindfully throughout the entire body, from head to foot. When you have finished the relaxation procedure, remain seated for a few moments allowing yourself to become alert. Here is a link to the various steps involved in this technique, and here is a book written by Jacobson that is well worth reading. Practise progressive relaxation. It really does work.

Finally, remember to let go of your responsibilities when you leave work.

One more thing. Remember---there's that word again---to be mindful when you are not at work as well. 


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