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Meditation at Work (Part 1) : Three steps you can take at work - BEFORE you commit to meditating

In recent years, meditation has been grabbing peoples’ attention as an effective way to stabilize your mental and physical state and to increase your focus.

Working for a translation agency as we do, juggling time differences and quick product turnaround times, it's hard not to be keyed into work 24/7. However, lately, I've begun to pick up on the importance of finding time to switch "off."

Here’s a snapshot of my everyday life, for example. Every morning, I’ll wake up around 5:00 a.m and try to get my scheduled work out of the way as quickly as possible, then work until evening in Japan standard time. Then 6:00 p.m. rolls around, and I start thinking about hanging up my hat for the day... when, like clockwork, messages from my contacts in the U.S. and Europe begin pouring in. It's an exercise in futility to think either your mind or body can keep up with all of those time differences, so it's important to slow yourself down at some point. That's when I struck upon the solution: carve out some time during your workday (and that's the important part—to keep your brain from turning to mush!) and dedicate it to freeing your mind with exercise and meditation.

So, without further ado, I'd like to share some hints here and there on how to achieve mental stability and focus so that you can put your inner taskmaster to work. If you're interested, read on!

These days, meditation is one of the mainstream ways people use to be healthy. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of people in the U.S. who meditate has jumped from only 4% in 2012 to 14% in 2017. A big reason for this is that meditation has proven medically effective on mental disorders such as stress, anxiety, depression, chronic pain, and insomnia.

All right, we know it’s healthy. But does that mean it’s for everyone? And does that mean it’s easy to master? Not even remotely.

So, before you commit to becoming a meditation guru (and it's okay if you don't!), here are a few practical techniques with similar benefits you can try before you decide to take the plunge.

1. Listening to music

Meditation is one method we can use to control the behavior of our brain’s Default Mode Network (DMN), which makes it particularly effective at conquering mood disorders. The DMN is closely linked with mental disorders such as depression and anxiety, and even listening to music is said to carry similar benefits to meditation.

2. Exercise

Exercise is a great way to promote healthy brain activity, just like meditation. For an even better example, look at yoga—its breathing exercises and emphasis on being in tune with your mind and body are both elements that play into meditation. Research also shows that the deep-breathing exercises and meditation associated with yoga lead to an increase in brain-wave activity and an increase in grey matter in the frontal lobe of the cortex. Promoting activity in the frontal lobe of the cortex—part of the DMN—also improves your brain's processing power.

The benefits aren’t limited to yoga, of course. During any kind of exercise at all, your brain receives signals to release chemicals called endorphins—these tell your brain to dial back the pain receptors and encourages feelings of euphoria.

There are all sorts of tricks to squeezing in exercise throughout the day if you’re having trouble finding a dedicated time to do it. For example, try jogging to lunch or do ten squats during your next bathroom break.

3. Spend time in a green environment

Taking a stroll through the great outdoors is a proven way to free your mind. This pseudo-meditation methodology has gained so much traction that even doctors in Japan have started prescribing nature walks as part of their patients' treatment. Ambling through green leaves and taking in the sights and sounds of nature around you has been shown to decrease your levels of cortisone, a hormone that controls blood pressure and stress while boosting your immunity and releasing endorphins.

This fully immerses you in your surroundings through a meditation-like state known as the flow. To illustrate what the flow is, imagine you’re an author, engrossed in wrapping up a particularly good book. Some psychologists even present the flow as a relaxed, euphoric state where a person’s performance is at its absolute peak. I'll talk more that in a later post.

What all three of these methods share is that they allow you to step back from your normal routine while giving your mind and body a little burst of happiness. So, when the mood strikes you, try taking a jog through the great outdoors or space out in a lush café full of potted plants.

When I finally carved out some time for these practices, I felt liberated. Like I’d become one with the universe. And let's face facts, translators are not the most overworked people in the world. I know some of you might be screaming at your screens, "You have no idea how busy I am!" But my answer is simple. Everyone is busy. Once I came to that conclusion, I decided to distance myself from the old me who would only stress to people how busy I was. Instead, if someone asked me how work was going, I’d simply say, “I’m busy, but it’s nothing I can’t handle.”

That is why it's important to make the conscious effort to take some time for yourself, even if it's five minutes a day. You'll be glad you did.

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