One of the ways meditation can most help in our daily life is when we take small, regular, refreshing breaks from what we have been doing to sit, check in, and deeply listen to ourselves and the world around us.
For most of us, if we plow ahead without breaks while doing work that is mental in nature – for example, on a computer – we will eventually lose steam. If we are at the whim of the unpleasant body sensations that are part of an agitated, jittery, anti-mindful, must-be-productive “tripping ahead” energy, eventually, our body will get tight, our brain glucose will become exhausted, we will fog over, and our productivity will drop. Sometimes people override that breakdown and artificially restore energy levels with caffeine or sugar, but that is a recipe for a harsh, drained “burnout” crash at the end of the day.
When we actually stop to take regular breaks, our attention will be more energized and fresh for hours on end, even when in the midst of mentally demanding and complicated tasks. When we are willing to slow down, take a break, sit still, and face and feel agitation without having it compulsively drive us, our tension often dissipates. We then find ourselves feeling more centered, engaged, focused, calm, recharged, refreshed, present, and intentional when the break has ended and we return to activity. We also end our days with more of a feeling of vitality and ease.
Most meditation and mindfulness techniques work great for taking breaks. It can also be useful to do anything non-mental that involves the body or simple presence, like walking around the building/block, or other quick physical tasks like doing some stretches, tidying our work space, folding laundry, preparing food, or doing some dishes. What we want to avoid is screen time, and not do email, social networking, a phone game, or websurfing on our breaks.
A productive work break can last anywhere from a few second to ten minutes. Some people may be familiar with the usefulness of the “Pomodoro Technique“, where every twenty-five minutes a person takes a three to five minute break from mental endeavors. It can also be useful to take a break any time we are stuck on a project – confused, blocked, unable to think clearly. And taking mindful breaks can be helpful for “bookending” – dropping in, calming, and clearing before and after something challenging like a difficult phone call.
Taking a mindful, aware break can sometimes interrupt unconscious trances and help us to see the forest for the trees, by having questions arise like, “What have I been actually doing? Am I doing what I intended or need to be doing right now? Is this the best use of my time right now?”
No matter how busy we are or think we are, we not only improve our mental freshness but our productivity too by inserting little mindful breaks into our workflow.