So every Monday a bunch of us convene in our meeting room, me with Tibetan bells in hand, ready to guide a lunchtime mindfulness session. Why? Well I’ve been practising mindfulness for 4 years now and have found the benefits transformative. Such is my passion, I’m now training to teach mindfulness to children and am starting a course this year to teach Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction programs to adults.
So keen am I to spread the benefits far and wide I’ve enrolled my work colleagues into practising with me every week steadfast in my belief that they can benefit just as I have.
Mindfulness and its rise in popularity in the West.
We have all witnessed the rise in popularity of mindfulness in the media over the past decade – A-list celebrities extol its virtues, apps give us bite size practices designed to fit in with our busy lives and copious publications line the shelves of local book stores promoting its benefits. As a result, many of us in the West have adopted mindfulness as the ‘go-to’ stress reliever in our time-poor, social media packed, screen overloaded lives.
Of course, such practices have been in existence in Eastern cultures for centuries. We have merely developed, packaged and secularised them to work more with our Western requirements.
“In its simplest form, mindfulness means awareness. Practising mindfulness is a way of paying attention, in the present moment, without judgement.”
What does mindfulness mean?
So what is it? In its simplest form, mindfulness means awareness. Practising mindfulness is a way of paying attention, in the present moment, without judgement. A simple practice may be a one minute meditation, learning to focus the attention on our breathing and when the mind wanders, bringing it back to the breath and simply just becoming aware of mind and body sensations in that moment.
If you asked yourself: Do you struggle to recollect your daily commute? Did you eat your lunch without tasting it? Are you finding you can’t remember the conversations you’ve had in a meeting?
If so, you’re spending time in your day on autopilot.
Mindfulness breaks the autopilot in us
Mindfulness practices can break the autopilot by bringing your mind back to the present moment. Then, this allows you to take a step back and put yourself back in control. Rather than reacting to events it gives you the ability to consider alternative perspectives and in turn choose appropriate responses.
What are the benefits of mindfulness in the workplace?
Introducing mindfulness into the workplace has been seen as an effective way to manage stress and increase resilience in coping with the challenges of the work environment. It is said to improve clarity and focus, in turn improving decision making skills, and to open up the mind to new things, giving up preconceived mind sets, enhancing creative and innovative thinking.
Mindfulness and creativity
So working in a creative environment, this piqued my interest to explore further. All the above benefits are great to us all but what’s the evidence that mindfulness can help more specifically with creativity?
Reading an article published in the Harvard Business review, it notes Danny Penman, in his book, Mindfulness for Creativity, argues that mindfulness practices including mindful meditation, enhance three essential skills necessary for creative problem solving. Mindfulness switches on divergent thinking which means opening your mind to new ideas. Meditating before brainstorming and creative sessions allows you to fully focus and produce higher quality ideas.
Secondly, mindfulness practice improves attention and makes it easier to sort through the usefulness of ideas. In a noisy, cluttered mind it is easy to miss the signals. When a moment of insight appears, you want to be sure you have the clarity of thought to see it.
And finally, mindfulness nurtures resilience in the face of setbacks, which is important as failure and setbacks are the norm for any innovation process. At this stage, it’s important to stay focused, positive and motivated without allowing defeat to set in. Meditating during this phase promotes attention and convergent thinking – using less imagination and more cognitive control for analytical evaluation. This helps you to fine tune an idea into something both novel and useful.
Mindfulness and you
Ultimately the only way to see if it works for you is to have a go. Starting a regular meditation practice can help you to calm your emotions, focus your attention and allow your creativity to flow. Have a go at a short 3 minute breathing space and see what happens.
- Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed (the loo if necessary!)
- Sit in an upright position of awareness, feet grounded on the floor and straightening up from your spine, as if a string is pulling up from your crown.
- Gently close your eyes.
- Focus in on how you currently feel – your body sensations, your feelings and your thoughts – sit with those for a moment, just allowing them to be, not trying to resist or feel negative emotion to any thoughts that arise.
- Shift your attention to your belly and experience the rise and fall of your belly as you inhale and exhale. Stay with this focus for a minute (just guess this, you don’t have to time and think too hard about timings – go with what feels right for you).
- You will notice at some point in the practice your mind will wander, this is a natural part of the practice and the trick is to recognise this as a moment of awareness and bring the focus back to the exercise. I like to call this the “bicep curl for the brain” as this is how we retrain our brain to come back to present moment awareness.
- Now expand your attention to the whole body, try to imagine breathing in and out to the whole body as if the air is filling your whole body. Stay with this experience for another minute.
- When you are ready, bring your awareness back to the room and your environment, open your eyes and take a stretch.
For more insight into the research, checkout out the mindful.org website.
You can even try reading these great articles on How to Apply Mindfulness to the Creative Process or Can 10 Minutes of Meditation Make You More Creative?