A mindfulness boost:
Happiness + Productivity
Stress is common in this COVID-19 pandemic but manageable. Even the fortunate individuals who never contract the virus or experience financial setbacks can experience the pervasive stress surrounding them. Recognizing stress can help an individual manage it. Its impact on wellness, emotions, and productivity can be reduced.
A highly stressed state can interfere with the rational thinking done within our brain’s prefrontal cortex. Fortunately, calm and productivity may be just a few breaths away. Changes in the rhythm of breathing can signal relaxation by stimulating the vagus nerve. That nerve, running from brainstem to abdomen, governs “rest and digest” activities that restore calm. When no longer captive to emotion, we can focus our awareness on what is present and within reach. That focus is mindfulness.
Mindful moments are a natural state. One glance at a clock reveals the current time. A shiny object on the sidewalk catches our attention: it’s a dime. We savor the first sip of coffee. Each of those moments is a real-time experience. Through mindfulness practice we can recognize stress and return focus to all that is present and in real-time. That is where our accomplishments occur.
Our mind can direct attention to many places. At any moment, we can reflect, brood, plan, dream, or remember. At times, those mental states are valuable. Other times, they become painful distractions. Mindfulness gives us control over when and how long we remain in those mental states. Awareness favors appropriate response over automatic reaction.
Mindfulness practice does not make perfect. Mindfulness practice brings greater and more frequent awareness of thoughts that otherwise would sweep our attention into the future. It also can limit our rumination of past issues and errors. We return to calm and productivity. Here. Now.
Even brief mindfulness practice can yield greater awareness, empowerment, and enjoyment. If we only bring out the silk cushion and saffron robes on special occasions, a meditation practice can be done many ways, just about anywhere. It might only take a minute or two.
Meditation practice often begins with a deep breath, then returns to regular unforced breathing and closing the eyes. For as briefly as a minute the practice focuses on awareness of breathing in, breathing out, or any sensation such as the weight of your feet on the floor or sounds in the room around you.
As you breathe, your mind may bring all sorts of messages that redirect your attention. A mental movie may take you into past regrets or future fears. No points are deducted for those detours. You may even fall asleep, especially if you haven’t been sitting up. Even after that, guilt feelings would themselves be a detour. Instead, the prescribed action is to gently return focus to breathing in, breathing out. That’s the practice.
A calm and quiet place is ideal for walking meditation. If no wooded path or babbling brook is nearby, an early morning walk on suburban sidewalks should be adequate.
As you walk at an unhurried pace, turn your attention toward sensations of standing and the subtle movements of keeping your balance. Over the next several minutes, ideas and images will occur. Be aware of the type of thought – whether a daydream, a worry, or a memory. As you label whatever caused your attention to wander, let it go and return focus to every small sensation of walking and keeping balance.
As I am so often warned, “Watch out for that tree!”
This meditation practice, done comfortably lying back, brings deliberate focus to each part of the body. A common starting place as at the toes of either foot or both feet at once.
Relax your muscles but bring your attention from one part of your body to the next. Be aware of any sensations, emotions or thoughts associated with each part of your body. When distractions occur or focus is lost, simply return to the place from where attention wandered, and continue from there.
Resources for beginning
THE FREE MINDFULNESS PROJECT
The mindfulness exercises at this website are free to download. About 30 of them are guided meditations of three to ten minutes. Self-guided audio tracks of 5, 10, and 20 minutes are also provided.
FOUNDATION FOR A MINDFUL SOCIETY
Sponsored by the publishers of Mindful magazine, this website features a blog with free guided meditations. Paid online courses and magazine subscriptions are also offered.
Among the more than 4,000 mental health and self-improvement articles, several dozen at this site explore the health benefits of meditation and stress management.
This eight-week online course, Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction uses an extensive online library of videos, readings, and practice sheets. People who complete all eight weeks may claim a certificate by submitting their practice sheets along with a one-page description of their learnings. The course, online media, and certificate are all free.
UNITED KINGDOM NATIONAL HEALTH SERVICE (NHS)
The NHS website includes detailed descriptions of mindfulness, its value, and ways its practice can be done.
More than 2,000 new meditation apps have been published in recent years. This is a small sampling of those that feature guided meditations. They are available through iOS and Android app stores. Along with free content, most offer upgrades to premium content.
The app’s free seven-day course explains the basics of mindfulness meditation and previews the high-quality teaching videos and guided meditations. An array of similar lessons and courses are available by subscription.
More than 60,000 guided meditations and music tracks may be accessed free through this app. Premium features, including complete mindfulness courses are available by annual subscription.
THE MINDFULNESS APP
Leading off with a five-day introductory course, this app provides guided and silent meditations, ranging from three to 30 minutes. A premium subscription opens access to additional courses and hundreds of guided meditations.
The hundreds of meditations in this app are organized into categories, each with sessions that are five to 15 minutes long. The Mindful Foundations category includes 42 sessions. Another 41 sessions focus on the Workplace. All of the content is free, with no upgrades or subscription to purchase.
STOP, BREATHE & THINK
This app provides options for setting the length of a meditation session and choosing between a male or female voice. Many of the free sessions feature introductory concepts like breathing techniques, body scanning, and self-forgiveness. Progress can be tracked by logging common emotions experienced before and after meditation and viewing those notes over time.
Longer versions of the free meditations, plus dozens of additional meditations, yoga, and acupressure teachings are available through annual subscription.
The Mindful Awareness Research Center at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) developed this app, which features meditations in English and Spanish. Some meditations are introductory, and others could benefit people who suffer from challenging health conditions.
 Business.com — Stress and Productivity: What the numbers mean
 HBR.org — Harvard Business Review
 NHS.uk — United Kingdom National Health Service (NHS)
 SmilingMind.com.au — Smiling Mind (Australia)