Yoga in the morning. Afternoon walks with the team. Regular guided movement during meetings. These are a few of the ways that companies are incorporating mindfulness and considering their employees as “whole” beings. But what’s driving the change – and is it just a trend, or a practice that can ultimately lead to improved bottom line results?
We spoke with Ron Apgar, director of wellbeing at the Strata Integrated Wellness Spa at the Garden of the Gods Resort and Club, about why companies are prioritizing their employees’ mindfulness.
Where are we as an industry? Do most organizations recognize the role mindfulness plays in their team’s success?
Companies increasingly want to take a decisive role in how they engage wellness, and mindfulness, more specifically – and the market will eventually reward those that do. It starts with awareness, then behaviors slowly start to change, and finally, there are habits formed, as people engage and maximize how they live the one life they have. I think organizations are starting to understand that we can’t separate our individual selves from how we engage our work environments – and the reverse is true, too. What’s occurring in our work environment affects our individual lives. The interplay can create a high level of stress.
What does mindfulness look like to you?
With mindfulness, we’re talking about increasing our self awareness, being present in the moment, experiencing gratitude, giving thanks, being attentive, and truly relaxing, in an effort to keep our lives centered. Too often, we’re not engaging in the present moment. We’re letting our negative emotions and beliefs restrict how we’re living right now.
Where do you start, though?
By really understanding the value. We hear about it quite a bit, but it’s much more than a buzzword. It’s about aiming to be more in the moment of one’s life during one’s day, and not getting swept up in stressors and conflicts. If those stressors and conflicts build up (whether they stem from work or at home or within ourselves) we begin to just tolerate our work, or even hate our work.
For those of us not practicing mindfulness, what are some of the other potential effects?
We’re integrated people – physically, mentally, and emotionally. How often do you feel fragmented and disjointed? I talk to people who feel like there are so many pieces to their lives and that they’re lacking a wholeness. They’re thinking in this split way. So how do we take care of this? Mindfulness is our natural state, but we’ve been driven out of it, mainly because of the expectations placed upon us. Our body rhythms are often disrupted by stress, to the point that we’re not even aware of it.
Stress – to a point at least – is part of everyone’s work life, at least now and then, right?
Some stress is healthy and good, but it’s how we understand it and channel it into an appropriate response that allows us to perform and meet the expectations of life, while not losing ourselves. We all know what bad stress feels like: we begin to feel overwhelmed. We don’t have enough time. We can’t seem to have a full expression of “me.” Positive stress, on the other hand, can be the awareness that there’s an impulse within me that I need to engage – there’s something I need to do – and we’re willing to jump in, because we’re going to learn and expand ourselves.
What are a few simple ways for a company to incorporate mindfulness?
I know some organizations that have rooms that are simply quiet spaces for their employees to come down for 30 minutes. Maybe meditate or stretch. Others encourage walks outside – just having the opportunity to take in the fresh air and open sky is huge, and can change a team’s mindset and make you think a little differently. It’s basic. These simple activities nourish our mental state and consider the person as a whole. Deep breathing is another one that’s easy to start, and you can really do it anywhere.
What makes deep breathing special?
It’s so, so important. Stress and other dynamics that we’ve engaged with as humans have resulted in us becoming shallow breathers, but deep breathing can actually physically affect our mood, heart rate, and to some extent, blood pressure in the moment. It brings relief. Just 10 or 15 minutes can make a world of difference.
So aside from the exercises – the walking, the yoga, the deep breathing, and so on – what else can we do to stimulate mindfulness?
Create. We’ve been socialized out of creativity. It’s almost as if we look at creativity as something you have or you don’t have. We’ve been socialized into thinking that we’re not creative unless we somehow achieve an external measure of qualifying – “that’s excellent” or “you’re so creative.” But the reality is that we all have the impulse to create. It’s healthy for us to discover that impulse to create – and that feeling translates into many areas of our lives. Healthy individuals often discover that impulse to create, and it comes out in different ways.
What’s the most common mistake you see from companies eager to integrate mindfulness into their culture?
Wellness isn’t about conforming people to a single idea of how to live life. Mindfulness, and wellness as a whole, should be looked at as a natural place of discovery. We’re all unique. The goal should be to help them balance their inner peace and contentment while still managing the requirements of work.