Q: Laura, what would you say are some of the biggest myths or misconceptions about mindfulness?
That it’s a way of emptying your mind and thinking about nothing: I have heard this a lot but mindfulness really isn’t about trying to clear you head; it’s about noticing how busy your head is! The benefit is seeing how much we get in the way ourselves and gaining clarity about that. Mindfulness is a form of divergent thinking in a way, like creativity - both involve a heightened state of awareness which allows for insights to emerge naturally as the brain is relaxed.
You need to be “spiritual" to do it: Spirituality is a very loaded and mis-used term with connotations that can put people off. But mindfulness is just noticing what is there and not judging it. That is pretty simple, though not always easy. The tide is turning a bit with the spiritual connotation, as more and more successful business leaders reveal/share how good habits help them think and work.
That it is fluffy /hippy: People are sceptical. As more and more evidence emerges around the effectiveness of mindfulness in different contexts - business and health, for example - and in the way it can help in treating depression, with stress reduction and trauma as well as being a powerful enabler of organisational and societal growth and creativity, that will gradually change.
Q: Was there anything in particular you were looking for it to bring to your life?
Laura: I was drawn to mindful practices (specifically vinyasa yoga* and mindful meditation) several years ago. I was looking for ways to create more balance and stillness in my life. As a creative person with a busy professional and personal life, I wanted to find physical ways of getting grounded and ways to balance, as well as deeper practices to support me in the innovation work I do.
Q: What form does mindfulness take for you?
Laura: Mindfulness practice for me tends to take two different forms. The first is doing an active yoga or meditation practice, where I try and make space to do something deliberately - e.g. taking 10 mins to sit and meditate or doing an hour of yoga at home.
The other is mindfulness moments which are more fleeting moments where I get to apply it to every-day life as it happens. And this is where a lot of my biggest insights and aha moments happen, being in relationship with others and facing life's creative, professional and personal challenges.
Q: How did you get into mindfulness?
Laura: I didn’t really have a specific moment of getting into mindfulness per se, but I had been interested in it I think for a long time growing up, without really knowing that was the name for it!
I think I came across mindfulness as an actual “thing” quite early on in my life - I have a very creative family and through reading lots and exploring different ideas about self-development I came across it. I have experimented with different forms of mindfulness over the years and it always resonated and complemented my interests in innovation, art, creativity, human development and psychology.
I remember coming across the book “Wherever you go, there you are” by author Jon Kabbat-Zin in my teens and being struck by how simply he spoke about mindfulness and every-day experience; how we can be anywhere or doing anything (in a business meeting, washing up, etc.) and that mindfulness is always accessible and available to us. It makes the point that as much as we can try to escape ourselves we are always there. There’s no arguing with that!
Q: What developments do you notice around mindfulness in organisations?
Part of my work involves being abreast of emerging trends, and I have seen that marketing around mindfulness can be pretty confusing at times. I notice the trend of linking it to the wellness phenomenon and images of idealised lifestyles so it has become this aspirational thing for the Instagram generation. But mindfulness is a really ancient practice. Early yoga texts date back to 200-500 BC. Mindfulness is really one of the biggest innovations of human-kind.
In my work I have found it interesting to see some of most innovative companies investing in it as they see that mindfulness and innovation are powerful forces when combined. Silicon Valley companies, for example, have introduced it in a context of positive business. Whilst productivity is important, I think sometimes it’s missing the point to focus on how it will make us all more efficient, but it’s a start! Google embedding mindfulness programmes focusing on kindness and empathy in the business environment - that can only be a good thing.
Q: How has mindfulness impacted on your life – personal and professional?
I feel more engaged and able to ride the ups and downs, and more connected with others, through noticing how we are all struggling with similar stuff. I trust my own gut a lot more - mindfulness can really help with getting you clearer in that way. That feeds into small things and big decisions I need to make.
Mindfulness also helps with being more attuned to ideas. I am naturally someone who synthesises from lots of different sources and mindfulness helps me re-charge and then go out and find stimulus and inspiration and apply what I learn with intention.
On a daily basis, I trust the daily discipline of practising a little every day - doing a home practice of yoga and meditation has taught me the value of the basic discipline of doing something every day that cultivates presence. Sri K Pattabhi Jois** said “do your practice and all is coming” and I love that.
Q: How can mindfulness contribute to a positive work culture?
I think there’s massive opportunity for mindfulness to support a positive work culture and healthy fundraising environment.
Right now there’s a huge drive for creativity and innovation across the charity sector and the dominant focus is on pace so we are seeing a lot of emphasis on lean / agile thinking. But over time I expect that cultivating deeper presence will be as - if not more - important, so that we start to build greater resilience in the teams delivering innovation work. Mindfulness has a massive role to play in helping people with the mindset needed to become better leaders and take creative risks as we go through the growing pains of experimenting with new ways of thinking and business models.
If there can be a shift in supporting staff with deep empathy, less scepticism and better role models in the context of business that could be transformative.
*Vinyasa yoga - The word "vinyasa" means "to place in a certain way." It is used to describe the linking of breath with movement during a Vinyasa Yoga class
**Sri K Pattabhi Jois was an Indian yoga teacher who developed the Vinyasa style of yoga - Ashtanga Yoga.