Mindfulness is a term you might not have even heard until a few years ago, but the seemingly modern therapy has its origins in ancient mediation practices.
The days of associating mindfulness with rooms of cross-legged people with their eyes closed have also changed. Meditation can help to cultivate mindfulness, but it’s more about being fully present in the moment. Mindfulness is being conscious of where we are and what we are doing, without overreacting and being overwhelmed.
Many business leaders, such as Bill Gates, Richard Branson and other high profile high flyers are advocates for practicing mindfulness. Branson says “it’s one way that many entrepreneurs choose to combat the toll wrought by round-the-clock emails, long working hours and other aspects of our accelerate business culture.”
Google, Apple, LinkedIn and IBM are amongst the many world-leading companies that are also investing strongly in employee mindfulness programs. You can understand why, when research from the USA and Singapore has shown that in addition to improved personal wellbeing, mindful individuals are more likely to assist, support and collaborate with colleagues.
Tips for being mindful when you travel
Reducing stress, having greater resilience and achieving our full potential sounds like what we all want to accomplish when we travel for work – so how do we get there?
1. Reduce anxiety
If you struggle with anxious thoughts, mindfulness can prevent spiralling into them. Mid-flight turbulence is a moment that comes to mind, but there are other stressful situations when letting go can help.
Slow down, look around and take a few breaths. Observe your surrounds and how you feel, without judgement or conclusions. Once you’ve assessed the situation, accept it. You might not be able to change it, but you can change your reaction and your response.
It might take practice and perseverance, but when you accept the situation it’s easier to let it go. This avoids you acting on impulse and gives you the opportunity to respond in a meaningful way.
2. Take a breath
Breathing is a great place to start with mindfulness and you can do it sitting at a desk or in your airline seat.
Place your feet on the floor, or in a comfortable lower position. Lengthen through the spine and bring your awareness to your breath. Are you breathing from the top, middle or lower part of your lungs?
After a few calming deep breaths, focus on how long you exhale. Breathing out slowly can help you feel more balanced. Count if you like, whatever makes you comfortable.
3. Improve your sleep
Sleep problems are faced by many adults, especially when we travel. Practising mindfulness can improve your sleep, according to Rohan Gunatillake, mindfulness expert and founder of meditation app Buddhify.
“Over the course of a day we build up a lot of mental momentum and having such an active mind can make going to sleep really challenging,” he says. “By using various mindfulness techniques we can learn to move our attention away from the machinations of our thoughts and into the relative peacefulness of the body.
“We can also work directly with our thoughts so they lose their hold over us. The result is better sleep patterns, or at least a balance and acceptance when it comes to our sleeping patterns.”
4. Clear your head
What better way to be more in the moment than functioning with a clear head.
When you’re jet lagged and dashing from one meeting to the next, while trying to remember to look the other way at street crossings, here is a little exercise to help give you some headspace.
Stand or sit up straight. Close your eyes and then pay attention to the thoughts jumping around in your head and acknowledge them. Don’t try to suppress what’s on your mind.
Work out which thoughts are making you feel uneasy and which parts of your body become tense. Don’t try to change what you are thinking or feeling.
Anchor yourself in the present with each breath. If your mind wanders, acknowledge it and then go back to your breath. Try to let your breath move in and around any tense areas. Be aware of your whole body, and rather than trying to change the sensations, accept them.
Mindfulness practitioners will tell you this process can take considerable control or focus. But if you can reach this level of awareness, that’s when you’ll experience the real benefits.
5. Avoid burnout
When we are frantic at work and on the road, we have that underlying sense of urgency and distractedness. This can lead to hyper-reactivity, poor decision-making and most probably burnout.
“Mindful leaders consciously ‘unhook’ from their own reactive impulses to situations, allowing time to gather information and for others to contribute ideas,” says Dr James Donald from the University of Sydney business school.
It could easily be argued that new technologies are why we need to practice mindfulness. Thanks to 24-hour emails and mobile mini-computers always within reach, the lines between work and private lives have blurred.
Switch off. Slow down and focus on the present, is Richard Branson’s advice. Branson isn’t afraid to set his out-of-office autoresponder and he encourages his staff to do the same!