If you take a look online, you’ll find that there are very many sites offering corporate meditation sessions. There’s also a plethora of articles about the benefits of meditation in the workplace. And a whole lot more. Yet nowhere online is there a guide that lays out a blueprint for a successful workplace meditation session. I’m about to change that.
Let me introduce myself. I’m Paul Harrison, the creator of this very website, TheDailyMeditation.com. I’m a meditation coach with twenty years experience, and I teach both private and corporate meditation lessons. Meditation is my life, and I am intensely passionate about it. That is why I wanted to write this guide, the first of its kind, to reveal to you the exact whys and hows of workplace meditation sessions. My aim is to create a guide that helps companies, employees, and my fellow meditation teachers to enjoy the perfect meditation session. So, let’s begin.
What Should Happen In Corporate Meditation Sessions – A Blueprint
For the purpose of this guide we are going to skip right ahead to the actual meditation session. We’ll skip over the emails and the general process of introducing meditation at work, and we’ll jump right to the beginning of the meditation session.
The following is the framework I follow for my own corporate sessions, and it hits on all the most important aspects of a successful session.
If you yourself are the human resources rep at your company, or any other individual working with a meditation teacher on behalf of your company, check that the session you have scheduled will hit on the following points.
1: An Introduction To Meditation For Employees Who Possibly Couldn’t Care Less
I’ve led many corporate meditation sessions and the one absolute guarantee is that in a large group there will be at least one employee who doesn’t give a damn about mindfulness and meditation before the session. And that’s possibly the single most important reason why all corporate meditation sessions should begin with an excellent introduction.
It’s the meditation instructor’s job to make sure that they deliver an intro that helps everyone in the group to understand why meditation is valuable for them. No, not for the company. Them. People are more engaged when they are intrinsically motivated. And that means making them care about the meditation session for themselves, not because they feel they have to do it as part of their job.
Sadly, a lot of instructors miss this vital step. They have the mentality that “These employees are at work so they have to listen to me”. That might be enough to make an employee act like they care, but not enough to make them genuinely care. And that’s vital because the number one measure of success for these sessions is that they help employees to create and maintain a meditation practice of their own after this sessions. And that won’t happen unless you motivate them.
So how do we motivate employees so they truly engage in the meditation session? Well, according to WebMD, the keys to motivating someone are:
- To give them autonomy by letting them know they have a choice
- To make them feel competent in that thing
- To make it relatable such that the individual sees the bigger picture about why the task matters.
For these reasons, the meditation instructor should:
- Let employees know that they have the choice of meditating or not
- Make meditation approachable so employees believe they can succeed in it.
- Help employees to understand how meditation can be helpful in their lives.
That final part is particularly important, so let’s discuss. . .
2: Why Employees Should Meditate
So again, for this section I’m going to skip over a lot of the stuff that’s been said before. There are already a million and one articles about the benefits of meditation and it’s well documented that meditation reduces sick days and improves productivity, thereby helping your company’s bottom line.
Of course, the problem with that is that employees don’t give a damn, and rightly so, because it doesn’t directly apply to them and it’s not stated in a way that communicates with them. I actually know meditation teachers who give corporate lessons in which they attempt to motivate employees by discussing how meditation can increase the company’s profit… Oh dear.
If you want employees to give a rat’s about this mindfulness stuff, you need to explain to them, in plain English, why meditation helps them. So how do you do that? Well, you probably should do a quick overview of the scientifically established benefits first. But for real oomph, tell them a couple of stories.
Stories are the number one way we humans communicate, and nothing is more inspiring and motivating than a well told story. That’s why, in my own corporate meditation sessions, I like to tell a few stories of previous employees I’ve worked with and how meditation helped them overcome challenges in their lives. And to make it relatable, I tell stories that are incredibly… ummm… relatable! Like these two.
1. Sam’s story. Sam is an accountant in New York City who was considering quitting. He was utterly fed up with work because after years of doing the same thing he had lost purpose. He told me he felt like an “automaton” mindlessly crunching numbers. And he wanted to feel purposeful once again. Sam had no prior experience of meditation but together we worked on compassion and gratitude based meditations that helped him reconnect with himself and with his reasons for doing what he did. After one month of practice he rediscovered his purpose and, even though he was in the same job, it felt meaningful to him because he had rediscovered his intrinsic motivation (of course, this also saved the company a highly valuable employee who might otherwise have left).
2. Beth’s story: Beth is a lawyer in Toronto who has been dealing with anxiety most of her adult life. Her anxiety was becoming particularly bad on court days and she was finding it difficult to speak with confidence. A nasty side effect was that she had developed imposter syndrome because she felt inferior for not being as confident as other lawyers. Again, Beth had no prior experience of meditation. But together we worked on a combination of mindful breathing, Radical Acceptance, and Body Scan. The mindful breathing and Body Scan helped reduce the symptoms of her anxiety, and the Radical Acceptance helped her to not be affected by thoughts related to her imposter syndrome. Ultimately, this put her back in control of her career rather than being at the mercy of her mind.
Stories like these are incredibly relatable. Like Sam and Beth, most employees have experienced moments of being under confident, anxious, losing purpose, and imposter syndrome. And because of that relatability, stories like these are highly motivating. You’ll also note that in those stories I mentioned that neither Sam nor Beth had meditated before but were successful anyway, hence giving employees a feeling of competence in meditation, a practice some will have never tried before. Speaking of which. . .
3: Go Over The Very, Very Basics
Most meditation instructors are accustomed to teaching people who have some basic experience of meditation. Indeed, almost every student I have ever had in my private meditation sessions has tried meditation before, usually just doing guided meditations on Youtube or on an app, but either way, they already have a basic understanding of meditation. And for this reason, many meditation teachers skip over the basics. This works for most private sessions, but corporate meditation sessions are radically different. In any given workplace meditation group, many of the employees will be meditating for the very first time. And that means covering the very basics. It means answering basic questions like, well, “What is meditation?” And it means giving the most fundamental tips, such as telling them to nasal breathe and to sit with good posture.
When leading a corporate meditation group, assume attendees know nothing, because for at least one of them this will be their very first attempt at mindfulness.
This might also make you assume that mindful breathing is always the best technique to do. But this is not always the case. So let’s discuss. . .
4: Suitable Meditations For The Workplace
There are many different meditation techniques, and although most share similar benefits, such as relaxation, some also have unique effects, such as Loving Kindness meditation, which can improve compassion at work and enhance team building. That’s why any meditation teacher worth their salt should be qualified in many different techniques.
Now a secret. A lot of corporate meditation service providers are inadequately qualified. I don’t want to name names. But I do want to warn you. So a prime example. One of the top employee meditation companies works like so. They charge people with minimum experience to take their teacher training programs. These programs are as short as three months. After that, said company allows these “certified” students to lead their corporate meditation sessions. This company’s website specifically says that their teachers are certified to teach “mindful breathing and Loving Kindness, two forms of meditation. . .”
Two forms of meditation. That’s like a piano teacher saying they can teach you two tunes. And yet this company is a big player in this field. Mind blowing.
Any decent meditation teacher should know a large number of techniques.
So what are the best types of meditation for the workplace? Here’s a brief list with details (note that I teach all these methods and you can find introductory guides to all of them on this site).
Body Scan: Method in which we scan our awareness around the body. For reducing stress and anxiety
Loving Kindness: Compassion based method for reducing conflicts and enhancing teamwork
Karuna: Similar to the above
Mindful Breathing: Observing the breath. For general calmness
Zazen: Zen meditation with the eyes open. Excellent for increasing focus and productivity
Somatic: Focusing the mind inside the body. Excellent for therapy. Best done in one-to-one sessions.
Mindful stretching: A really simple exercise for general relaxation and present-moment mindfulness.
Soham: A quieter form of mantra meditation, quiet enough to do at work. Good for relaxation and focus.
Mental Contrasting Meditation: One of our signature meditations here at The Daily Meditation, which we use for goal setting and motivation.
Trait Mindfulness: The name for the general quality of being aware and living in the present moment. Taught through a variety of mindfulness exercises, each of which should be quick enough and easy enough to do at work (such as the Five Finger Breathing method). You can learn more about this in my guide to mindfulness at work.
Trataka: Method in which we meditate with the eyes open holding our gaze on one object. Highly effective for concentration and productivity.
Kinhin (Zen Walking): A grounding technique excellent for clearing the mind and centring, and a nice way to meditate during lunch break.
All of these meditations are suitable for the workplace. Of course, you won’t want to introduce all of them in a single session. Here at The Daily Meditation we teach a variety of methods across our longer corporate meditation programs. For individual, one-off sessions it is best for the HR rep and the meditation instructor to choose a specific goal to focus on for the session and then to choose whichever meditation is best suited for that goal.
5: Leading A Corporate Meditation Session
Now let’s discuss actually leading a corporate meditation session. The single most important thing here is to be sensitive to the fact that the group will contain people of different ages, different levels of experience with meditation, different cultural backgrounds, and perhaps some physical or mental challenges. All of this means that the meditation instructor should lead the meditation in a way that absolutely anyone and everyone will be comfortable with. So how do we do that? Well, I have previously written a guide to leading a meditation, but here I will share some details specific to the workplace.
Firstly, language is everything. We need to be sensitive to all people in the group and that means using strictly secular language. For instance, it’s best not to say that a meditation is Buddhist even if that is a fact, because this might alienate certain members of the group. Generally, staying away from anything religious or spiritual is the safest bet. Stick strictly to science.
Also make the meditation simple to follow, again remembering that this will be the very first time that some members of the group have meditated. This also means recognizing that some attendees might find it a challenge to focus for extended periods of time. For this reason we specifically want to say things like, “It is normal for the mind to wander” and “If you experience thoughts or emotions, that is natural and normal”. Making it as accessible as possible will help all members of the group to feel included.
Finally, always remember that inside the actual meditation part of the session, the teacher is performing. And just like an actor, the teacher should be expressive in their delivery, speaking in a way that genuinely help employees to relax and focus. Tone of voice is every bit as important as words.
6: The Closing Discussion
Now that the actual meditation session is finished, we want to end on a motivational and uplifting note. Specifically, we have to acknowledge that the point of this session has not been to just meditate one time. Rather, the point is to make it possible and appealing for all members of the group to continue to follow their own meditation practice after the session. While one single meditation might be relaxing, getting employees to stick to their own daily meditation practice is life changing.
That’s why, for my corporate meditation sessions I like to spend ten minutes explaining to the group how they can create and maintain their own meditation practice at home and work. I’ll reiterate the benefits of doing so, and then I’ll cover key points such as:
- Making it a habit
- Which techniques to use at home
- A quick overview of the most common questions that I’ve been asked by novice meditators, and the answers.
Finally, the Q&A. This is when members of the group get to ask any questions they have. I like to begin this section by saying, “Are there any questions you have, or anything you need to know, that will help you to create and maintain your own meditation practice after this session?” You want to encourage those questions so that you succeed in the most important mission: To get employees to meditate. That’s when true success happens, not during this session, but afterwards, when those employees go home and spend 15 minutes meditating each and every day.
Throughout this guide I have attempted to produce a blueprint for successful corporate meditation sessions. Whether you are a meditation teacher yourself or the wellness rep at your company, by following the steps in this guide you can help to ensure a successful workplace meditation class. But always remember, the true measure of success is not what happens in this one individual session. The measure of success is when employees take the knowledge and practices given through the session and use it to create and maintain their own meditation practice.
Want to see all of this in action? Book one of my corporate meditation classes.
Giving Is Caring
Paul Harrison BSc is a qualified meditation teacher who believes in genuine, authentic meditation. He has more than 15 years experience in teaching meditation and mindfulness both to individuals and to corporations and is the author of four books on meditation. He has been featured in Psychology Today, Breathe Magazine, Healthline, Psych Central and Lion’s Roar.
Paul studied meditation in beautiful Oxford, UK, and Hamilton Ontario Canada, and earned his degree at Staffordshire University.
Paul’s biggest inspirations include Thich Nhat Hanh, Jon Kabat Zinn, and Jack Kornfield.
“My goal is to provide the most authentic meditation sessions so you can harness the power of your own mind for personal transformation” – Paul Harrison