conference roundup: coaching and mentoring at work annual conference, 2 july, london

By Michele Grant

Shakya Kumar has been meditating more or less every day since 1989, but he is surprised, albeit pleasantly, at the extent to which mindfulness has taken off in the corporate world.

“Mindfulness really does seem to be in the air,” he told participants in his workshop Brief Mindfulness for Rapid Stress Reduction at the Coaching at Work conference on 2 July.

“I was a bit puzzled when I saw mindfulness taking off in the corporate sector,” he said. “How will they find the time?” A ripple of rueful mirth passed through the room.

Kumar has developed a method that allows people to access mindfulness in 30 seconds and to integrate it into purposeful activity. “I was going to call the programme ‘Mindfulness in 30 Seconds’, but I thought people wouldn’t believe me,” he said before going on to demonstrate just that.

The many benefits of mindfulness have been well researched and there is an increasing body of work in the field of neuroscience attesting to them.

Kumar explained that mindfulness increases resilience in the face of the challenges life throws at you, with stress down by up to 30 per cent and anxiety levels reduced by up to 70 per cent.

But all in 30 seconds? It was time to give it a try. The premise of the live demonstration was to experience something we were personally finding mildly stressful and to tap into the experience – first in ‘avoidance-mode’ and then in ‘approach-mode’.

Kumar began by inviting us to notice various bodily sensations. He then asked us to bring to mind the mildly stressful situation, posing questions that typically feed an avoidance response, for example “What are you afraid might happen?”

We then wrote down five words to describe our thinking about the situation and some more to describe the emotion. We paired up and shared.

Next he took us through a second 30-second exercise, this time with approach-mode questions. For example: “What’s the best you have
ever done in this situation?”

We jotted down more words to describe our thinking and our feelings and shared them with our partner. The differences for most people were significant. One participant said: “It was like chalk and cheese – a huge difference really. I was more action-orientated the second time. It became about a solution rather than a problem.”

“I noticed a depersonalisation of the issue,” said another. “It’s interesting how much energy it takes to manage anxiety,” remarked a third.

“This isn’t about solving the problem”, Kumar explained, “it’s about your attitude to thinking about it.”

Of course, we may be able to manage our own attitude to an issue, but what about the people around us who create stress for others? Actually, we can guide others into approach-mode too, by asking similar questions, he told us.

What this session clearly showed was that one 30-second mindfulness exercise (okay, two exercises) really can integrate mindfulness into purposeful activity. By pausing and tapping into what’s going on in the mind and the body we can shift from the stressful effects of avoidance, draw on the wisdom of past positive experience, move towards a positive reframing and make better choices. That’s something the corporate world can make time for.

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