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Wellness Week: Why We Meditate At Work featuring Soma

At Soma, we gather every Monday to meditate as a team. Here’s how it helps our company -- and how it could help you too.
So much attention is placed on physical health and wellness today, from the workout of the moment to the latest superfood. But we spend far less time worrying about our minds. The brain, after all, is our command center, and when it’s not operating at top capacity, the rest of the body can suffer.
Meditation might conjure up images of monks in a faraway retreat (or Don Draper in the final scene of Mad Men), but it’s a simple practice that anyone can do virtually anywhere. And the result can be added clarity, sharper focus, and less stress.

At Soma, we practice what we preach. Every Monday morning, we gather as a team in one of our conference rooms, for a brief, group meditation session. And over time, we’ve found it to be a very positive kickoff to the week for all of us, both personally and professionally.
Dana Trans, Soma’s senior manager of special projects and impact, answers a few questions about why we do what we do.

How does meditation at Soma work? 
Our Monday mornings include a team huddle. It’s a time for everyone to get together, identify areas to collaborate, find times to connect. From there, we go to our meditation. We enter our conference room and we’re guided through the meditation by a lady named Linda from Journey Meditation . We recently started using them. Before that, we used a Tibetan meditation bell. They really help explain meditation, how and why it’s important, what to focus on, how it can help you not only in your work life, but your personal life.

She gives us warm, damp towels to wipe our hands off. She asks if there are any new members participating, then dives into a lesson. One lesson that we learned about recently was talking about being present and where you are in that present moment. Being in tune with your sense and knowing your surroundings gives you that freedom and control of your life. You lose that sense of anxiety that may come from your day-to-day life. The example she shared was when her daughter was sick and she was rushing around, and rather than worrying about getting her daughter to X, she focused on her breath. That allowed her to get her anxiety down, her stress down.

We sit in chairs in our conference room. Some people pull in pillows to sit cross-legged on the floor. We close our eyes. We’re there for about 10 or 15 minutes. She cues us into the meditation, helps us focus on our breaths, and we sit in silence.

Oftentimes, there’s a misconception is that you’re supposed to clear your mind during meditation. But you’re actually supposed to focus on one thing -- and that’s usually your breath, because it’s always with you.
What does it mean to “focus” on your breath?
 The inhalations and the exhalations, feeling your body inhale, focus on the exhale. You’re focusing on the rhythm, just being conscious of that breath. If you close your eyes, if you inhale, focus on your ribs expanding, your chest expanding, the air flowing into your lungs. As you exhale, you feel the breath leaving you and going through your nose. Whether they’re long breaths or short breaths, just that in-and-out flow.

How did this regular meditation start?
 Our founder, Mike, and I and a couple other people are all avid yogis. I actually didn’t do regular meditation before, but I’ve found it’s a good way to start your workweek. It was a small group to start, maybe about five of us, so we started doing it every Monday.

Is it mandatory?
It’s not mandatory, but everyone participates in it. When new people come on the team, there’s a learning curve, and it’s great to have Linda with us because she helps explain it really well.

Was meditation new for most members of the team?
 Yeah, actually most people are not exposed to it. It’s new to most people who join the team.

Any skeptics? 
We have had a couple people who have a harder time doing it. One time, we had someone who put headphones in and used her own meditation app, because she wasn’t able to sit in silence. But we’ve never had nobody try.

So what are some of the benefits you’ve found?
A few things:
  1. Firstly, it’s concentration. Mediation teaches you to concentrate the mind, just for 10 minutes, on your breath. We try to jump into education right after meditation. To allow people to come out of meditation, sit at their computers, and just start cranking. It definitely helps mental strength and focus.
  2. Creativity is another one. The session just leaves you to be a little more open-minded and less anxious, so you can simply execute, first thing Monday morning.
  3. It also creates a sense of community. Monday morning, everyone just had their weekend, it’s a time for all of us to come together and catch up real fast before we put our heads down for the week. And also the positivity. The woman comes in with the life teachings and gives you a nugget to help your daily life. The team-building that spurs from that.
  4. I think it just creates the sense of efficiency across all areas of the company.
Why not meditate every day?  
Really early on, we actually did it every morning. And it became more of a chore, rather than a sense of community and positivity. People have different schedules. It just depends on your workflow. First thing on Monday morning sets the tone for the week. I personally do feel the effects of the mediation. My anxiety levels have definitely gone down. Startups are moving so fast and can be stressful, so this helps tone down the stress.

What would be your advice to other people who are curious about meditation?
 I would say two to five minutes is a good place to start. And that can be a simple sitting in your car, driving to work, turning off the music, and just focusing on your breath. Or sitting at your kitchen table, eating breakfast. Starting with your breath is a really great place to start. As you become more used to it, you can go from there.

And what about other businesses out there? Why should they consider meditating with their staffs?
 It creates calmness, and when you are calm, you can think and collaborate more openly and transparently. Taking the emotion out, you’re just opening up so much more space for collaboration across all functions. Teaching and educating your employees to be more mindful, how you react to certain situations, and once people start to learn that line, it helps across all communications. And to make a business run efficiently, you have to have great communication and collaboration, especially at a startup.

Should more companies make health and wellness a priority?
 I think people are definitely becoming more aware of it. It’s a slow transition, and it’s definitely becoming more important for employees. It’s something they’re definitely looking for. It’s trending upward, but not as quickly, especially at larger corporations. I think it’s so critical, too, for an employee to be clear-minded, have the opportunity to eat healthy, exercise regularly -- and creating a space for them to do that is important. Mike has done a great job doing that as he’s grown the company.