The (Literal) Steps to Mindfulness

One reason to practice mindfulness is to simplify: Modern life is dynamic and often provides so much sensory input and distraction that it can be helpful to find some quiet and focus. Seated meditation is one obvious way to do this: Find a place to sit, close your eyes and focus on something basic and body-centered, such as the breath. At some point, though, we need to get up. How do you maintain presence in the more demanding environment of social interactions, work deadlines and the sometimes craziness of family life?

Walking Mindfully
Of all the practices we teach during the Search Inside Yourself program, mindful walking is one that seems to stick the most. Many people who take the course tell me they’ve enjoyed making mindful walking a regular part of their lives. I like to think of mindful walking as a bridge practice that balances between meditation and our day-to-day lives.

In the SIY course, we often teach a classic method of walking meditation, which involves choosing a clear space to walk 10 or 15 steps, then walking slowly with awareness, focusing on the sensation of feet contacting the ground (“contact, contact, contact…”). […]

How to Thrive Under Pressure

Ever wonder why some people thrive under pressure while others crumble? A lot it comes down to how we prepare mentally.

A study published in February 2016 in Nature examined why people tense up and stumble while performing complex tasks in front of observers. The researchers found that if the part of the brain that notices other people judging is triggered, another region that controls fine sensorimotor skills shuts down. This explains missed free throws, flunked driver’s tests, stumbling at job interviews, dropped chalk during presentations, etc.

During these high-pressure situations, it’s tempting to say to ourselves, “Don’t mess this up,” or “Don’t blow it.” This type of internal dialogue actually increases the chance of failure. Research shows that telling yourself not to do something raises the likelihood of making it happen. This phenomenon was demonstrated by Daniel Wegner’s research on “ironic mental process” theory. He asked participants to try not to think of a white bear and found that the harder they tried, the more they thought about a white bear. (Try it.)

Wegner’s work revealed that attempting not to think of a topic often backfires. Moreover, he found the effect even stronger […]

The Power of Letting Go

Meditation is often referred to as “the art of letting go” because, as you meditate, you aim to recognize any feelings and thoughts that arise and let them pass, rather than hold on to them. SIYLI’s founder Chade-Meng Tan views this skill as one of the essential foundations of any mindfulness practice; he writes in his book Search Inside Yourself: “The central importance of letting go leads to a very important question: Is it possible to let go and still appreciate and fully experience the ups and downs of life?”

Here at SIYLI, we argue that it is possible to experience life fully because mindfulness, by definition, requires acknowledging emotions in the present moment. Our emotional highs and lows are recognized and felt, but the key is to not judge these emotions, which can be achieved by letting go of two things: grasping and aversion. “Grasping” is when we allow our minds to cling to something and not let go (think of how we tend to ruminate), while “aversion” is when we won’t allow our mind to accept something (which is also sometimes called avoidance). The two are polar opposites that work […]

How Meditation Increases Productivity and Performance

How does your calendar look? Is it overbooked with meetings and deadlines? Do you feel like you have more work than you have time to complete it all? If so, perhaps you’re looking for a way to make better use of your time. With better focus, you could waste less time and improve the actual quality of your work.

Science shows that meditation can improve your attention span and deliver better cognitive performance. In 2012, Italian neuroscientist Giuseppe Pagnoni used an MRI machine to compare brain patterns in people with established meditation practices (five years or more) to people who didn’t meditate. He found that the meditators were better able to control their ventral posteromedial cortex, the part of the brain that tends to wander and ruminate.


Pagnoni then tested the ability of both groups to process rapid visual information in the form of numbers flashed on a screen. Participants were asked to signal when they saw specific patterns within the numbers, which appeared at a rate of more than 100 per minute. The task required great focus, and the meditators outperformed the non-meditating group, spotting more number sequences and with fewer mistakes. His […]

Mindfulness: The Power of Small Acts

Once, when I first started teaching mindfulness, a participant in my class, an engineer from India whom I’ll call Sandip, told me about something he was doing that was changing his life. From the class, he had learned the power of becoming more aware of his thoughts and sensations and focusing his attention on his breath, and we had brainstormed about different ways to find time to practice. It seemed like a small thing, but what he tried was this: Every evening when he drove home, he parked his car outside his house and sat there, following his breath. “For how long?” I asked. “About 45 seconds,” he said. And then, when he went inside he had left behind his worries about work and could really be there for his kids, he said. And they knew it.

Forty-five seconds. I like to think about Sandip and how such a small change over time could have a very big impact on his relationship with his children.

It can work the other way, too. I hear from people who drive to work in the morning and sit for a few minutes before getting out of the […]

Trying to Build a Meditation Practice? Start with 15 Seconds.

“We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

We often hear from people who are frustrated because they want to develop a mindfulness meditation practice but find it hard to transition from not meditating at all to meditating regularly. Or some people simply can’t find room in their schedules. Taking the time to sit down and be present for 20 to 60 minutes isn’t easy—nor is creating new habits. Our advice is to start small.

Really small. If you’re new to meditation, start with just 15 seconds a day for the first week. Find a time—whether it’s immediately after getting out of bed but before starting the day, during a midday break or before bedtime—that’s going to work for you consistently. It shouldn’t be too hard to carve out 15 seconds, but if your ultimate goal is to develop a deeper practice, then consider a schedule that will allow for protracted stretches down the road.

That first week, set the stopwatch on your smartphone for 15 seconds every day around the same time, and give all of those seconds 100 percent of your attention. (If you need […]

Meditate to Cut Your Losses

Sometimes it’s tough to quit. We’ve all stayed too long in relationships, projects, jobs or investments that weren’t working out as we hoped. Economists call it the “sunk cost fallacy.” A sunk cost is an expense that’s already been incurred and cannot be recovered. Because of an investment already made (whether it be in time, energy or money), we often find it difficult to let go of a losing proposition.

This phenomenon is common, actually. Sunk costs are why managers are reluctant to let go of unproductive employees. Sunk costs are why we continue to watch a bad movie after realizing it’s awful during the first hour. Sunk costs are why so many people stay in romantic relationships long after they’ve ceased being rewarding. And sunk costs are why corporations continue to throw money into R&D or marketing when a product isn’t viable.

From a rational standpoint, it shouldn’t matter how much we’ve already invested our hearts, time or money into something. If we’re unhappy with the results, it’s time to cut bait. It doesn’t make sense to continue throwing valuable resources at something that’s not working. Right? But that’s not human nature: It’s […]

Change Agents: A New Way to Introduce Mindfulness at Work

Science has shown that, for individuals, the simple practice of bringing attention to the present moment can reduce stress and anxiety, boost working memory, improve focus, decrease emotional reactivity, alleviate depression and lessen pain. If mindfulness helps us to better focus better, ruminate less and communicate more effectively, could it also help an entire group to work more constructively and overcome the dysfunctions that often beleaguer teams? Could it even change the way organizations adapt and transform?

Considering that teams and organizations are a sum of human minds, it stands to reason that the answer is yes. Personal agendas disappear under collective mindfulness; collaboration and innovation thrive. A calmer mind makes a better leader, and calmer minds make more productive teams.

This is why more and more schools are adopting mindfulness programs. From kindergartens to high schools and from England to Massachusetts, educators are finding that mindfulness improves students’ grades and decreases disciplinary problems. Likewise, MBA programs are beginning to add mindfulness to their standard curriculums: NYU’s Stern School of Business, for example, launched a mindfulness program to equip students “with tools to positively impact others while taking a more fulfilling […]

How to Meditate in a Chair

For many people, one the greatest obstacles to meditation stems from the belief that a cross-legged lotus-like posture is the mandatory position for meditation. We’re here to assure you that flexible yogini skills are completely unnecessary. At SIYLI, we appreciate a good chair just as much as a floor or floor cushion. And even if you can wrap your legs around your torso, knowing how to meditate in a chair is useful for planes, offices and other places where floor room is unavailable or being inconspicuous is appropriate.

What kind of chair? Nothing fancy. It’s ideal if it doesn’t have wheels and isn’t so soft and cushy that you might fall asleep, but most any chair or bench will do, as long as your feet can be flat on the ground and you can sit up straight. If a plush recliner or hotel bed is all that’s available, perch on the edge of it so that your back is erect and your feet are on the floor solidly.

If you’ve got a full collection of chairs from which to choose, find something with a straight back and thin cushion. In order to get your […]

The Heart of Connection and Trust

As counterintuitive as it may seem, great leadership relies upon vulnerability. We usually think of vulnerability as a weakness, but emotional vulnerability is, as best-selling author and professor of social work Brené Brown writes, “the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.” Does that make vulnerability sound more appealing? To be vulnerable takes courage and honesty, two qualities usually found in great leaders.

But vulnerability doesn’t come easily for most of us, especially in the work environment. To be vulnerable is to be willing to feel uncomfortable emotions that we’d probably prefer to avoid. It also requires listening carefully and tapping into how others feel. And then—here’s the hardest part—we need to feel what they feel.

We know what you’re thinking: “Wait a minute. That’s empathy!” And you’re right. Vulnerability is closely tied to empathy. Without vulnerability we can’t access our own experiences that allow us to be empathic, and we also can’t share important personal moments so that others can relate to us.

Today, thanks to technology, we have enormous global reach (and, hence, greater responsibility) than ever before. In a matter of seconds, someone on the other side of the world can read an […]