Open Eye Meditations At Work So You Don’t Look Weird
> Meditating allows us to blow off some steam and stress
“Hey, you’ve got some shit on your face.”
You quickly grab a mirror and do a self-check.
Ugh, a stray piece of ultra-fine string cheese managed to evade your napkin wipe and was just dangling there. Since lunch. Through two meetings.
About the only thing worse than that is having toilet paper stuck to the bottom of your shoe coming out of the bathroom - another devastating office blunder.
This is the kind of attention we all want to avoid in the workplace.
Getting any kind of weird stares or curious looks from co-workers isn’t anything any of us want.
And, it’s this concern of how others see us that keeps us from doing certain things in life. It’s like unspoken peer pressure.
It goes all the way back to our youth when kids would point and laugh at another kid or as teens, they’d snicker and giggle at another student. It carries through to adulthood too - in the office.
So, the thought of meditating in an awkward sitting position, chanting Om, wearing finger cymbals is definitely not in the cards for work stress relief.
But, you desperately want some stress relief and you know that meditating is a really good way to lower stress.
Even though it’s “the thing to do” now and you see it in the media, it hasn’t quite reached your part of the world at the office.
Put it this way, it’s nowhere close to being as mainstream as “Casual Fridays” dress code.
You want to get the benefits of meditation but since it’s not really a thing in your office, you don’t want to be the first and only one doing it.
Here’s the good news. You can get all the benefits of meditation without looking like a weirdo.
Let’s review a few things about meditation and then, we’ll share some of our ideas on how to meditate at the office without looking like your meditating.
The Mental Safe Haven Of Meditation
Meditation has been with us for a really long time. We’re talking going all the way to ancient times and maybe, even when humans were cave dwellers.
It may not have been mediation in the traditional sense, but certainly back then, humans always took a mental break to calm down a bit.
Our brains are pre-programmed to seek safety and remain alert for potential dangers. It’s the origins of the “fight or flight” response.
The difference is that back then, our cave-dwelling ancestors weren’t in a perpetual state of fight or flight. After they defended themselves from the sabre-toothed tiger, they were able to de-stress and calm down back in the safe haven of their cave.
Today, we have modern day equivalents to those sabre-toothed tigers in the form of heavy workloads, unbearable bosses, family issues, piles of debt, etc.
The difference is that they don’t go away. The stressor is always around, thus constantly triggering our fight or flight response, leading to stress overload.
Meditation is the safe haven cave where we can mentally go back to for relief and calmness. It’s always available, inside our minds. But, getting to the cave and staying inside of it to rest and recover, is hard to do and takes practice.
Benefits Of Meditation & Mindfulness
Today, “mindfulness meditation” is spreading widely in mainstream media and culture. It’s no longer an activity associated with new age hippies and wacky pseudoscience practitioners. It’s a normal thing now.
Part of the reason why it’s become so widely accepted now is that we now have real scientific research like this one that shows how meditation can mend our minds.
Studies have shown how meditation actually strengthened key parts of our brains responsible for learning and memory while simultaneously shrinking the parts known to trigger stress and anxiety.
And the amount of studies and research is growing significantly each year with similar results being seen for other mental issues and physical ailments.
Overall, meditation boosts the good stuff and suppresses the bad - that’s quite incredible for something that doesn’t require drugs, surgeries, professional counseling, etc.
Here’s just a short list of the most common benefits:
- Lowers blood pressure
- Reduces stress levels
- Slows down heart rate
- Sharpens mental clarity and focus
- Strengthens immune system
- Decreases depression
- Boosts joy and happiness
- Opens up more compassion and empathy
- Stabilizes emotions
- Improves memory
- Blossoms creativity
- Elevates thinking
That last one is a biggie.
What mindfulness is really about is being more aware of your own thoughts and not getting carried away by them.
It’s like as if you’re on top of a mountain peak, way above the clouds. All of the clouds below you represent all of your various thoughts.
You can see all the clouds form, gather and dissolve from that higher vantage point you have from the summit. You’re not trying to control the clouds. You can see them but you’re not reacting to them.
You’re simply watching them do their thing and letting them come and go all while you’re just relaxing at the summit, hanging out and observing everything around you.
That’s the essence of mindfulness meditation.
Open Eye Meditations At Work
Our eyesight is the primary way we process information. Vision is a major way we gather what’s happening all around us. And with today’s technology saturated environment, we get bombarded with endless bits of info from every corner of our life.
Closing our eyes and shutting down this info channel is a quick way to eliminate a huge chunk of distractions. This is why nearly all meditations are done with our eyes closed. It’s one of the very first steps in meditating.
However, for some of us that work in cubicle farms or open office spaces, we’re not so comfortable with just sitting at our desk with our eyes closed or scampering off to an empty conference room to do the same.
As popular as meditation is, it’s still not as mainstream as Monday morning bagels or birthday cake celebrations at work.
Yes, some of the large dot-com companies and more progressive corporations openly support and promote meditating at the office. They have dedicated meditation rooms and host meditating sessions for employees etc.
However, for the 99% of us in the rest of the working world, meditating at work isn’t exactly a normal everyday thing to do.
It probably won’t be frowned upon but it may attract some odd stares here and there and that’s what we want to avoid.
Is it a self-esteem issue? Yeah, probably a little bit - we just don’t wanna look weird, okay?
We know how beneficial meditation is. We just want the same benefits without looking like we’re napping at work.
So, in light of all this, we’ve put together other alternative types of meditation that don’t require you to close your eyes and meditate.
They provide the same fundamental benefits of getting your mind to think and experience things that are happening “in the now” instead of thinking about shit from the past or worrying about stuff in the future.
1) Breathing Finger Taps
This is essentially the same thing as a normal breathing meditation but instead of closing your eyes, you keep them open and use your fingers as a physical guide and reference to track your inhales and exhales.
To make this incognito, use this tip:
Find a pdf file or some other document that doesn’t really pertain to you. This is a key aspect because if it’s not really important or related to any of your projects, you can easily ignore it while doing your breathing meditation.
Open the file and have it up on your monitor, then follow these steps:
Step #1: Sit comfortably, place hands on lap and gaze into the screen
Step #2: Take 3 slow deep breaths to settle down
Step #3: Press both pinkies into your lap as you inhale and count up to 5-8 seconds
Step #4: Hold your breath for a moment
Step #5: Exhale as you count down then release your pinkies
Step #6: Repeat across each pair of matching fingers all the way to thumbs
Step #7: Work your way backward from thumbs back to the pinkies
Breathing finger taps work really well for those that have trouble with keeping their mind on track. The extra task of physical actions is another added element that can help to keep your mind’s focus on breathing.
2) Four Corner Breathing Meditation
Using the same open file or document, we can use our monitor as a way to pace our breathing meditation.
This process uses our eyes more than the finger taps, but it’s fundamentally the same thing.
Step #1: Look at the bottom left corner of the screen; focus on the point where the edges meet
Step #2: Inhale to a 5 second count and then hold for a moment
Step #3: Exhale slowly and count down from 5 while your focus moves up to the top left corner
Step #4: Inhale to a 5 second count and hold at the top left corner
Step #5: Exhale slowly and count down from 5 while your focus moves to the top right corner
Step #6: Inhale to a 5 second count and hold at the top right corner
Step #7: Exhale slowly and count down from 5 while your focus moves to the bottom right corner
Step #8: Inhale to a 5 second count and hold at the lower right corner
Step #9: Exhale slowly and count down from 5 while your focus moves to the bottom left corner
Step #10: Repeat the process
Here’s a visual of the process:
You can also mix it up a bit by criss-crossing from one corner to the other and increasing the breath counts.
3) Progressive Keyboard Meditation
In this open eye meditation, we’ll be using the numerical keys along the top of your keyboard for visual reference points to our breathing.
Adding a visual tracking component to meditations is a really helpful way to hold our mind’s attention. It’s one more small mental task on top of the breathing and counting. In a way, the extra little task actually keeps our mind occupied and focused better.
As you count up your inhales, you can visually track each number key. Likewise, as you exhale, your eyes can follow along each number key on the count down.
Step #1: Inhale for 5 seconds and track each number key from 1 to 5
Step #2: Lock your focus on the 5 key as you hold your breath and count for 3 seconds
Step #3: Exhale to a 5 second countdown and tracking each number key from 5 to 1
Step #4: Repeat the process for each number key to 9 or 0 (as the 10 second count)
Here’ a visual diagram of how this works:
You can mix up the starting and ending points to suit your breathing range. Or, maybe try even numbers in one session and odd numbers the next.
Be sure to hold your breath for 2-3 seconds after inhaling.
For most people, the maximum inhale count is about 9 seconds, sometimes 10 seconds if you’re breathing very slowly.
4) Visual Breathing Meditation Timer
If you need something more visually active to support your breathing meditations, you can use this animated breathing timer to guide you through a short one and a half minute session.
It’s something we created for those moments when we’re sitting at our desk and want a silent, visually guided breathing meditation.
VIDEO: Silent Breathing Meditation Timer 1 Round
YOUTUBE: Cubicle Therapy
There is a longer 3 round and 5 round session available. So, try each of them and then pick the one that will work best for that moment.
There are several other videos on YouTube that also provide animated graphics for breathing meditation. Explore and try them all out. Bookmark and save the ones that you like best and you’ll have it right at your fingertips when you need it most.
5) Audio-Only Guided Meditation
You’ll need to use your headphones/earphones for this one.
If you can’t be seen watching a YouTube video at your desk, you can always just start the video, minimize the window and keep the audio playing in the background.
Here’s how to go about it.
Put on your headphones, press play and then open up random wordy document in a 2 page view to serve as a “cover” for your gaze into the monitor. You could also open up a really long email or a crazy-ass complicated diagram.
Then, just listen and follow along. Keep your eyes open, even if there’s commentary to close them.
Let’s try it now on this 3 minute session.
VIDEO: 3-minute Mindful Breathing Meditation (Relieve Stress)
YOUTUBE: Stop, Breathe & Think
The other alternate option is to use a meditation app of your phone.
The two most popular meditation apps out there are Headspace and Calm. Both of these are great meditation apps that offer a limited amount of free guided meditations.
Try both and keep the one that connects with you the best. If neither work for you, there are about a dozen other free meditation apps that are also highly rated. Check them out.
6) Walking Meditation
We sit on our asses so much at work, often times for way too long. Being sedentary for hours isn’t good for our health.
So, it’s good to get up from your chair and step away from your desk every so often throughout the workday.
We’re big proponents of taking stress relief walking breaks during the day. At minimum, it’s good to get at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise in during the day - ideally in two 15 minute sessions, one in the morning and one in the afternoon.
On these stress relief walks, you can incorporate some informal meditation while you get your exercise in. Nobody will even know you’re meditating. 😉
The way this works is to clear your mind of work and pay attention to your immediate surroundings during your walk.
This can be the sounds of birds chirping nearby, warmth of the sun, cool breezes, colors of the buildings, trees in the distance, etc. It’s all about noticing all the stuff you normally don’t pay any attention to.
Allow your mind to latch onto what’s happening all around you while you’re walking. Things that are happening at that moment. It’s all about being “in the moment” during the walk.
When you stop actively thinking about work during your walking break, you allow your brain to subconsciously work things out in the background. This opens up the possibility of having those a-ha shower moments.
7) Eating/Drinking Meditation
Fundamentally, this is similar to the walking meditation. This is also an informal meditation. Rather than wolfing down your lunch quickly, slow down a bunch.
This process is all about having your mind focus the specific sensations and flavors of whatever you’re eating and drinking. This is what will bring your mind into the present moment of eating and drinking and not wander off thinking about other things.
Take each bite and sip more methodically.
Feel the texture of the food in your mouth as you chew on it and move it around with your tongue. Is it soft or firm? Is it warm or cold? Is it smooth and silky or is it coarse and crunchy? Can you feel the stringy chicken meat or the leafy parts of the salad?
Try to identify each individual flavor with each bite. Try isolating each of the unique spices and flavors that make up the food. Is it sweet or savory? Can you spot taste the individual veggies? Can you mentally separate the flavor of the sauce and the meat?
When you slow down and eat with the intention of really feeling the textures and mentally pinpointing the various flavors of the food, you’re giving your mind an ideal situation to only think about what’s happening right now - the joy of eating and drinking.
8) Coloring Meditation
If you’ve ever seen a kid coloring, they are completely in their own world and oblivious to anything that’s happening around them. Unbeknownst to them, they’re actually in a state of informal meditation.
They are 100% in the present moment of making their latest masterpiece worthy of the main center spot on the refrigerator door.
They’re not thinking about what made them cry earlier in the day, last week or ever. They’re also not thinking about what’s happening later on, tomorrow or anytime in the future. They are living and coloring in the present moment.
Kids really do live “in the now” and certain activities like coloring really highlight this.
As adults, we can still experience this same feeling of losing ourselves in another world and letting the madness of life evaporate for a few moments.
There are some great adult coloring books you can find online or at your local bookstore. But, if you have some colored pencils or fine point color markers at your desk or in the office supply closet, grab them.
Then, download this free coloring book of mandalas (circular geometric patterns), browse through the designs, print out a few and then when things are getting crazy at work, grab your markers and start color-detailing your stresses away.
Save your favorites and post them on your cabinet or pin them to your cubicle wall. Leonardo Da Vinci would be proud.
Keep Your Eyes Open For Opportunities
Sometimes, we get so buried at work that it feels like we’re sinking in quicksand. It’s easy to neglect ourselves when work is just hammering us down.
It’s during these stressful days that we need to take a mental step back and take a breather - a real moment to decompress for just a little bit.
You can find these little moments throughout the workday. It’s these moments that are perfect for short informal meditations. They’ll open the pressure valve on our brains and let the stress escape.
Use these open eye meditations to allow your mind to rest, relax and recover in your “mental cave” away from all the craziness.
You’re no weirdo and you won’t be with these meditations.
But, eventually, as you get more confident about meditating at work, you’ll start caring a lot less about what people think about you or how you look and more about keeping yourself happy and healthy.
When you’re getting closer to that stage, you can take the next step of doing closed eye breathing meditations at work to really start making big gains in stress relief.