How might we make mindfulness the new ‘bio-break’?

painting of mindful gaze
photo creative commons: marion joy flickr.com:photos:24517884@N04

There is a decades-long surge in interest in mindfulness practices. For the last three generations since 1970, mentions of the word mindfulness in books have increased by 56 times (1). From the arts to business and sports to healthcare, mindful practices have been studied, documented, and promoted. Taking even just a few minutes of quiet reflection time each day has been cited to reduce stress, increase immune response, and even change brain structures to help mitigate the “reptilian” responses our physiology uses to react to a changing world. (2)

Frequency of words appearing in books scanned by Google Ngram Viewer

With interest and validation for these practices on the rise, why not add mindfulness to our agenda of daily “bio breaks?” Is mindfulness as essential as clean water, nourishing food, and trips to the bathroom to get us through our days? A growing body of evidence seems to suggest that it is. (3) (4) How might we make mindfulness into the new ‘bio-break’?

We may schedule our lunch breaks, take time for stretching between meetings, or end meetings early to make trips to the bathroom. What if we also reserve a scheduled time for mindful practice? The body uses sensation, pressure, and pain to remind us of the most obvious biological needs. Thirst and hunger might be the most persistent. Our joints and muscles let us know if we remain in one position for too long. And I am sure I am not the only one who has been stranded in a meeting vibrating in my seat because of the need to use the bathroom. 

But the feedback we get from our bodies that tells us to “take a breather” for our nervous systems is often more subtle. Chronic and unspecific “symptoms” arise when we don’t take the right kind of breaks from work or any other engaging activity. (5) It’s because of this subtlety that scheduling a mindful bio break could be the way to go. For some, even ten minutes a day in reacting with mindfulness can change the way we react to everything else. (6) 

Since March of 2020, MIT@2:50 has been meeting every day at 2:50 pm EST for ten minutes. All we do is simply sit quietly together. Started in reaction to acute stress at MIT, participants have just kept showing up both from the institute and from around the world. A few of them are now even starting a second instance of the daily meeting, launching in Finland at 2:50 pm EET every day. Participants have reported a host of benefits from the daily drop-in, as well as shared their strategies for treating it like a bio-break.

Strategies for mindfulness bio breaks

Some participants join right at 2:50 pm using a phone alarm or calendar entry to remind them of the start time. Others have reserved the thirty minutes from the bottom of the hour to the top, using the last ten quiet minutes to reflect and recharge. Happening squarely in the middle of the afternoon, and not “off-hours”, @2:50 makes its own proclamation of self-importance. By prioritizing reflection time with the same status as watercooler, lunch counter, or toilet time, participants get buy-in from their families, their colleagues, or their supervisors. Participants have said they just let their 3:00 pm meeting hosts know that they might be a minute or two late, and no one appears to have been the worse off for it. On the contrary, after repeating this practice regularly many have reported that it changes the whole rest of their days for the better. 

Taking a regular mindful break has proven benefits that may also strengthen our resolve to allow time for our other biological needs and to take rest and recharge. We may begin to better recognize subtle biological signs of stress or fatigue. This could improve life for the individual, the team, the family, or for an organization as a whole. Author after author continues to expand on the benefits of even ten minutes of mindfulness each day. From building focus and resolve to activating the newly discovered elasticity in our brains, a few minutes of reflection seems to do the trick. (7) The results are in. This works.

So, the next time you find yourself running to the kitchen to make a lunch before your next meeting in nine minutes, or hovering at your workspace because the thoughts or words just aren’t flowing, maybe reserve a regular ten minutes on the calendar to make space for a breather. (8)

  1. Google Books Ngram Viewer for mindfulness, meditation, yoga
  2. The Biology of Mindfulness and Mindlessness — A Neuroscientist’s Perspective 
  3. The Mindfulness Manifesto (book)
  4. Take a break! Benefits of sleep and short breaks
  5. Science Says You Have to Stop Taking Breaks Wrong
  6. Spending 10 Minutes a Day on Mindfulness Subtly Changes the Way You React to Everything
  7. What Does Mindfulness Meditation Do to Your Brain?
  8. Study Shows Correlation Between Employee Engagement And The Long-Lost Lunch Break