Nike’s mantra, “Just Do It,” may be closely in tune with America’s capitalistic, driven work ethic, but local advocates of mindfulness might argue that Faith Hill’s “Breathe” is a better song to sing in the workplace.
“This culture rewards people for working overtime and longer hours, but you don’t get as much accomplished without taking an occasional break, eating healthy and remembering to take a few deep breaths,” said Dr. Lynn Rossy, a health psychologist with the University of Missouri. “You have to keep your energy steady throughout the day to remain productive.”
Rossy leads mindfulness-based programs, which include instruction in yoga and meditation, through Healthy for Life, the T.E. Atkins University of Missouri Wellness Program in Columbia. The Wellness Program was launched with a substantial donation from Curator Emeritus Tom Atkins in 2004 and serves University of Missouri faculty and staff throughout the state at a minimal cost.
Mindfulness may seem new age, but many of the practices are centuries old.
Mindfulness is about being fully present in the moment, without judgment.
“The reason it is so useful is that it trains people to be aware of their habitual reactions to stress and to learn more skillful responses to the difficulties they experience on the job and in their personal lives,” Rossy said. “These skills are really important for people working under high stress with lots of deadlines.”
Mental health issues can negatively affect productivity in the workplace, said Michael Kaplan, a local, licensed clinical social worker.
Dr. Lynn Rossy leads medititation in her mindfullness class.
“If someone can train themselves to focus more effectively, it might help productivity at work, regardless of what else is going on in their life,” he said. Kaplan offers individual counseling sessions, plus an 8-week class on skillful living.
Diane Oerly, a technology consultant and grant writer with the University of Missouri, completed Rossy’s course in the spring of 2008. Working in a dynamic, deadline-driven environment, Oerly finds many sources of stress in her workplace, but after taking the mindfulness-based stress reduction program, she said she has more patience, a better sense of balance in her perspective and better handles disappointment.
Oerly attended the class two hours each week for eight weeks, taking part in formal practices of sitting meditation, yoga and body awareness. In order to establish those formal practices as habit, informal practices in the form of take-home assignments ask the students to apply what they are learning to real life.
“We train people to be, bring their attention to their thoughts, feelings and body sensations in each moment,” said Rossy about the course, “so we learn to be less distracted. We live in a high-paced world with a lot of distraction, so you have to train the brain to be more focused. ”
In the workplace, those powers of focus are most oftentimes tested by two main stressors: lack of time and difficulties in relationships, Rossy said.
A group of women practice yoga during the retreat.
Oerly said the course taught her that stress is mostly how you react to it.
“You have to realize how you are reacting and manage your reaction,” she said.
Rossy teaches understanding (empathy) and better communication with co-workers and supervisors, who are not always in agreement, are particularly important for the workplace.
“When our relationships improve at work, we are more productive and satisfied with our jobs,” she said.
Phyllis Hawk, assistant to the secretary for the MU board of curators, also completed Rossy’s class. She says the experience was “more than she expected.”
“I can now call on something outside of myself for peace,” she said. Hawk has a mindfulness bell set on her computer at work to remind her to take a break from what she is doing and breathe. “It’s a great way to focus at work,” she said.
Both Hawk and Oerly recommend the experience to others.
“Working in an area of research, it’s been interesting to physically and spiritually see the documented effects of yoga,” Oerly said. “It’s amazing what stretching and breathing can do for your health and outlook.” Oerly has continued the stretching practice she began with Rossy, now joining colleagues for lunchtime stretch breaks.
“Research indicates that participants in the mindfulness-based stress reduction program have demonstrated many positive benefits, such as enhanced immune functioning,” Rossy said. They report improvements in cognitive and psychological functioning and decreases in perceived stress. Cultivating a mindfulness practice ideally results in fewer errors, a greater sense of presence, the ability to see a situation from multiple perspectives before reacting and greater satisfaction from work.
Oerly commends MU for its wellness program.
“It’s all about telling people who work for you that they have value,” she said.
“In a rush to get things done, we don’t always tell people their health is important.”
University of Missouri employees can contact Rossy at
[email protected] to enroll in classes or visit http://www.umsystem.edu/wellness.
Kaplan is organizing a group interested in learning mindfulness and other techniques to help people deal with focus and concentration problems. For more information, call Kaplan at (573) 474-1292.