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Advice / Succeeding at Work / Work-Life Balance

Close Your Eyes: How Meditation Can Help Your Career

How many times, when you’re knee-deep in chaos and stress at work, have you dropped your head into the palms of your hands, sighed loudly, and started visualizing your next vacation on the beach?

Think about those moments—how did you feel when you took your mind someplace else, exhaled, then breathed back in, filling your arteries with air and life? Pretty good, right?

That’s the basis of meditation. An Eastern practice that once seemed like something more common among the hippy crowd, meditation is making its way into the mainstream workplace, and its results are doing everybody good. The practice is becoming more and more prevalent among high-stress jobs, with everyone from hedge fund founders, Facebook employees, and Russell Simmons following suit. While many companies offer their employees gym memberships and healthy snacks, others are now providing space and time for people to take a break from their day and meditate. Google has even set up specific meditation rooms for its executives.

So what’s the big deal? Well, for one, it’s a chance to clear your mind of stresses and to alleviate tension in your brain and body. As your body relaxes and focuses on things outside of the complications of work life, you’re able to pay attention to what really matters.

Meditation also gives our brains a chance to take apart the mass amount of information that is constantly bombarding us and digest it properly. “The practice teaches us to slow down instead of trying to be faster, better, or quicker,” explains meditation teacher Michael Carroll. The goal is not to “rush past our experience, [and] instead of try to have it.''

It also teaches control. If you’re hit with a situation that seems unbearable, meditation can help you to separate yourself from your emotions and see clearly what you can and can’t change. You’re more apt to make reasonable, logical decisions instead of freaking out and doing something rash.

Last year, researchers at Harvard Medical School and the Bender Institute of Neuroimaging in Germany put meditation to the test on those who had never practiced it. The participants experienced both mental and emotional enhancements—their memory and learning process became more refined, they gained a deeper realization of what was truly important and what wasn't, and they were able to keep their emotions in check. (For me, that would be reason enough!)

So, even if your office environment isn’t getting you down or drawing on your last nerve, it might be time to consider meditation. Ready to give it a whirl? Here are five easy steps to get started.

1. Get Comfy

While some who are truly steeped in the practice of meditation are able to do so anywhere (even while standing in line to get lunch!), as a beginner, it’s easier to be in a quiet spot where you’re not riddled with outside distractions. Go to your car and take your time out, pick a bench in your favorite part of a nearby park, or walk around the block. Worst case scenario, if you can't get away, you can close your eyes and unwind at your desk.

2. Tune Out

It may seem tricky at first, but disconnect yourself from your phone, computer, and everything else that could possibly disrupt you.

3. Focus on Breathing

Close your eyes and, in a similar fashion to yoga, really engage yourself in the actions of inhaling and exhaling. Feel the in and out of each breath and the physical impact it has, reaching deep into your diaphragm and filling yourself up with oxygen.

4. Clear Your Mind

Yes, it’s easier said than done, but that’s the end goal of meditation: to see past the disarray of life, focus on the moment, and realize that you’ll get to everything else later. It can also be helpful to put in your headphones and listen to a guided meditation, although finding the right audio for you may take a bit. Try a few to see what works—there are plenty of free meditation MP3 downloads out there. I like “The Meditation Podcast,” available via iTunes.

5. Do it Daily

You’ll see bigger benefits with a regular practice, so try to build a bit of meditation into your daily schedule. There are no rules to how long—even five minutes can help set your day in a positive motion. Gauge it to your schedule, adhere it to your life, and make it yours.

Less stress, a clearer head, and at least five minutes a day totally to yourself? Yep, I’ll take it.

Photo courtesy of lululemon athletica.