“Nothing to do, nowhere to go, no one to be.”
“I have no expectation of any result.”
“My value does not depend on my output.”
These phrases, some of many spoken during guided meditations in workplaces, seem counterintuitive to getting work done. Yet corporate meditation sessions are seeing sustained demand following an explosion during the pandemic, and they’re now being held in offices amid the return to in-person work.
Those who attend aren’t sitting cross-legged or lying down on the floor — the sessions actually often happen in conference rooms where they sit in chairs around a table or towards a wall with eyes closed. Feeling stable and grounded and in a private safe space where one can relax is key.
Shawn Bradford started her company Breath & Work out of Phoenix, Arizona, seven years ago leading corporate yoga and meditation sessions, and now primarily teaches other yoga teachers how to lead corporate meditation sessions for businesses. “It used to be where I was more like pushing it, like let’s try meditation, and now I get a lot of requests,” Bradford said.
One of the first things she addresses when teaching is the obvious disconnect between being productive and practicing stillness. “It seems like these are two separate worlds, meditation and the corporate world.” But awareness is growing around the benefits of “taking a pause from the work that always seems never ending to quite literally do nothing,” she said.
While some do one-time events, companies are increasingly holding them more regularly, ranging from multiple days a week to once or twice a month, and doing them both in-person and virtually. “Really to cultivate the skill, it’s a practice,” she said.
Interest in corporate meditation sessions skyrocketed during the pandemic as a shift to virtual work made it more accessible and as companies looked for ways to support their staff.
“Everybody was struggling so much during lockdown with all kinds of feelings of isolation and needing to be with themselves when they weren’t used to being with themselves,” said Hannah Knapp, cofounder of San Francisco-based meditation center WITHIN meditation, which companies bring in to help lead their corporate meditation sessions. As the pandemic wound down interest eased, but it’s back up again, she said.
“It was like ‘we did that to get through the pandemic, we don’t want to go back to that,’” Knapp said. But employers are now realizing “Oh, this isn’t just helpful in a complete crisis situation. It’s helpful as a regular practice to help you build your ability to respond no matter what’s going on in your life,” she said.
A variety of guided meditations exist for different purposes depending on which a company chooses, she said. For relaxation, they’ll often do body-scan focused meditations where listeners are guided to pay attention to different sensations throughout their body. To enhance focus, they’ll go through mantras, or repeat a phrase to help break from the other work but in a way that hones their attention.
“What your mind wants to do is jump all over the place. So the purpose of mantra is just to hold your attention in one place, over time, so that whenever your mind starts to wander you bring it back to that same phrase,” Knapp said. Sessions focused on breathwork techniques can help with both relaxation and focus. That focus is a technique people can then apply to their work following sessions, having cleared their minds and worked on overcoming feelings of stress and overwhelm.
Corporate meditation sessions can also serve as a good team building exercise by creating a space for a group to do something positive, and comes as employers try to facilitate better engagement and connections among staff returning. “They get to all come together and do this really healthy, beneficial activity together,” Bradford said.
Francesca Ferri, finance manager at creative agency Art Partner, regularly attends the hour-long meditations her company holds in a conference room at its New York City office each month. The company started them about six months ago and attendance now ranges from about six to 12 people.
While Ferri has experience with meditation herself, she treasures being able to make space to slow the pace during the workday and at her workplace. “An hour multiplies in terms of value. It’s not a regular 60 minutes of a day. It’s much more, so it’s very powerful,” she said.
Of course other obligations and scheduling challenges can make it hard for everyone to attend the sessions. And, “there are people, depending on the role, that can disconnect better than others,” she said.