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)
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)
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)
The daily event has brought together people from every continent for over 88,000 person/minutes of quiet reflection
MIT@2:50 was initiated on 12 March 2020 as a temporary reaction to growing anxiety surrounding the pandemic. The daily mindful reflection period was shared widely within MIT and across the globe to become a daily staple for participants and viewers ranging in age from their teens to their 70s and from all walks of life. Monday 16 Nov marks the 250th consecutive day that the group meets at 2:50 pm eastern time. Each day, participants and viewers begin to show up around 2:45. Returning participants greet each other and welcome new joiners. At 2:49 guests are invited to participate in a way that suits them best from a handful of suggested mindfulness practices. From 2:50 to 3:00 pm every day, everyone sits quietly together. Quiet music, nature scenes, and participant panels play on the screen for those who wish to watch. At the top of the hour, participants may leave to resume their days or sometimes remain talk for a while.
The @2:50 practice has become a regular part of the day for a core group that keeps the momentum going. A rotating population of participants and viewers come and go over time. To date, the group has held over 88,000 person/minutes of silent reflection. Participants claim, “Living alone, MIT’s @2:50 has eased the pandemic & given me a community to greet each day.” Or, “I come away feeling like a complete human being: accepted, seen, and appreciated–not for what I can do but for just being.” MIT@2:50 convenes every day https://at250.mit.edu and https://at250.org
For more information contact Arthur Grau agrau (at) mit (dot) edu or firstname.lastname@example.org
Image of a sample day with panelists on screen. Webinar viewers outnumber panelists but are not pictured on the screen.