"Wow! That was great!"
Even under the glare of fluorescent conference room lighting, the 50-year-old manager's eyes were wide with surprise. "I totally felt my body settle... and then I felt the guy next to me calming!" In under 2 minutes, a complete newbie had discovered the innate capacity to shift mind and body.
Exercises like these make a powerful point: Not every mindfulness practice takes hours in a dark meditation room. In fact, both research and experience are proving that outside these short, "on the go" practices can be very sweetly effective all on their own.
Having used short-pause practices to manage chronic pain for years, I know firsthand what yoga practitioners have known for hundreds of years: that a few mindful breaths can harmonize the physical and shift the mental. Now, at last, the mindfulness community is looking at quick "on the go" mind-body practices as something more than ongoing support after formal training. There is a new training format on the horizon, and it doesn't come in 8 weeks of hourly training and 20 minutes a day of seated practice.
The December 15th Harvard Business Review featured a Google manager that resets her system with a quick 6-second pause before entering a meeting. Chade Ming Tang, the founder of Google's Search Inside Yourself program, says "getting the training's earliest benefits doesn't even require 50 hours ... you can begin to benefit with your first mindful breath, in the first six seconds." Finally, acknowledgement that even a short mindful pause has huge benefit.
The question is, how much foundational training is required before such a sprint practice is possible, and exactly what kind of training is most effective when it comes to alternate forms of practice. Recent discoveries linking body sensing and emotional resiliency suggest that developing physical attunement may be key. Perhaps the next wave of mindfulness practices will come from study of Yoga or Chi Gong.
The jury may be out on the details, but the market is surely clambering for options. The recent research summary from the 2016 Mindful Business Conference team points to the importance of "small, practical, day to day application" of skills and an "easily translatable and transferable set of tools." While traditional contemplative training has leaned towards the development of attention and awareness over prolonged time and duration, corporate clients are seeking effective options beyond the usual 50 hour format. A condensed practical immersion in the basics followed by an informal program of regular, short pauses is an attractive solution, and the research is accumulating to prove that such an approach is a valid one.
The existing body of research by the Heartmath Institute provides solid evidence that you can train your heart, mind and body to harmonize into a state of optimal function within a matter of breaths. Now, Kristen Neff, M.D. is accumulating research on a 3-step micro-practice response of self compassion, to counter habitual self criticism. Stanford Social Psychologist Kelly McGonigal, Ph.D. is also a micro-practice fan. Her new book The Upside of Stress includes research on the stress mindset and a concise 3-step "mindset reset" practice to re-pattern the physiological stress response. Whether the basics come from a classroom intervention or are experienced over a 4-day intensive, both women are accumulating data that show micro-practices carry their own discrete level of effectiveness. Interestingly, both also leverage the power of felt sense and tactile cues.
Maybe it's not really all that complicated. We know that every habit starts with a psychological pattern called a "habit loop." The mindfulness micro-practice can be used to train the mind and body for a new behavior loop associated with pausing into presence. Different than the "meat and potatoes" neural training of a formal mindfulness training program, how do these new practices fit within existing training models?
The Awake@Intel program, for example, is a formal, 10-week program with over 3 years' worth of data showing efficacy across the organization. The program currently uses various micro-practices as way to integrate essential skills of attention and awareness into the everyday world of product engineering and manufacture.
But in looking to grow her grass roots program to meet demand, both internal and external to the company, Awake@Intel Program Director Lindsay VanDriel is keen to customize delivery, and says the micro-practice makes sense. "Not everyone has availability, access or interest in an extensive formal training program." She's partnered with consulting professionals from the Iosis Collective to provide guidance in tailoring the program to ensure content integrity with alternate forms of delivery. "Micro-practices provide a great point of entry and open the door for deeper exploration down the road."
For those looking to cultivate a mindful work environment, a workshop intensive on micro-practices can serves as great first exposure to the concepts and skills of working mindfully. For those with previous exposure to mind-body training, a toolkit of techniques may be all they need. Maybe not everyone is a candidate for formal meditation training, but everyone can benefit from pausing for intentional connection to mindful presence.
The power pause is a trainable skill, and one with merit all on its own. Want to play the micro-practice game? Use the guidelines below to develop a personal mindfulness "power pause." And then practice... often. Tie your micro-practice time to something you do regularly or frequently throughout the day, such as brushing your teeth or riding the office elevator. Savor the sweetness of a short, mindful pause and then repeat, repeat, repeat.
Keys to Success: Leveraging the Micro-practice
1) Keep it Simple: Make the practice easy to recall in a moment of need.
3 steps or less is best, a handy acronym even better. Elijah Goldstiens S.T.O.P practice is a great example.
2) Shift Focus: Use specific tactile cures to shift out of Default Neural Mode
The use of breath and "felt sense" help in recalling a state of mind-body presence.
For example, placing an open hand in the center of the chest and breathing deeply, low and slow in the belly, is a satisfying centering gesture.
3) Engage with Intention: Remind yourself that you're building a new habit
Phrases such as "I am mindfully present, calm and focused" and "I am pausing to harmonize my heart, mind and body" are affirming of mindful intention.