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4 Ways to Incorporate Mindfulness Into Meetings

Mindful meditation. Mindful eating. Mindful walking. Mindfulness is everywhere for a reason.

More people are starting to be mindful the way they feel when they slow down, pay attention and absorb life instead of whizzing through it.

A 2018 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention study found that the popularity of meditation increased more than threefold from 2012 to 2017.

Yoga, another mindful practice, leapt from 9.5 percent to 14.3 percent. But, as is often the case, the meetings industry is lagging. A recent Fast Company article estimated that half the time spent in meetings is wasted due to mindless chatter and a lack of focus. Here are four ways to change that.

1. Location, Location, Location

When Mind & Life Institute was searching for a location for its International Symposium for Contemplative Research, it chose Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass outside of Phoenix.

Heather Cochrane, director of philanthropy at Mind & Life, says the property offered a unique combination of access to nature—it’s situated on the Gila River Indian Community reservation, surrounded by mountains and desert, and has a history-filled river winding through the property—and it’s not too far from the airport.

Outdoor meeting spaces are quiet, peaceful spots to meditate, practice group yoga or simply walk in peace. For instance, the 7,000-sq.-ft. Beehive Patio features a crackling adobe wood fireplace that Director of Event Management Andrew Riggs says works well for everything from executive dinners to sunrise qigong (a combination of moving, breathing and meditation) sessions. When booking a space, Cochrane suggests asking the property if any other groups will be there at the same time. “Two years ago, there was a prom at our hotel,” she recalls. When scouting locations for the 2018 symposium, which had about 800 attendees, “we wanted a place where we knew we could have all or most of the venue.”

2. Lighting Matters

It’s great that you want to offer 6 a.m. yoga to help your group start the day focused and refreshed. But if it takes place in a basement room with no windows and harsh fluorescent lighting, it might not have the impact you’d like.

InterContinental Los Angeles Century City at Beverly Hills has a Mindful Meetings space with a mix of ambient, natural and LED lighting to spark creativity.

“Light is used strategically to foster a calming, relaxing environment that encourages a sense of well-being and allows meeting-goers to recharge throughout the day,” says Morgan Mardesich, director of group sales. The hotel’s grand ballroom, for example, features customizable LED lighting, allowing the room to take on any look and feel, including a peaceful blue for yoga or meditation, or an energizing purple for group brainstorming sessions.

3. Start With a Centering Activity 

Attendees usually arrive at your meetings in a state of anticipation and exhaustion, says leadership and mindfulness adviser Holly Duckworth, CAE, CMP, LSP, author of “Everyday Mindfulness: From Chaos to Calm in a Crazy World.

One highly effective way to help counter that nervous energy and fatigue: Host a brief mindfulness activity before the event kicks off.

“Have your main-stage presenter offer a centering activity that invites participants to bring their attention and focus into the present moment,” she suggests. “One way to do this is to have the audience stand, focus on their feet on the earth and let the earth support them as they breathe in and out. On the exhale, suggest they breathe out the stress of getting to the meeting, pushing it energetically down through their body and into the ground.”

Groups meeting at The Ritz-Carlton, Naples in Florida have brought in local practitioners to lead quick meditation or breathing sessions before convening. "Mindfulness is a state of being, and it manifests when we can be totally present and, in turn, be productive and actively participating,” says Spa Director Michelle Kelthy.

4. Infuse Your Meeting With Water

Many guided meditations are accompanied by the healing, restorative sounds of rainfall or babbling brooks.

“Water is known for purification and transformation,” says Jillian Pransky, author of “Deep Listening: A Healing Practice to Calm Your Body, Clear Your Mind and Open Your Heart” and a restorative yoga teacher. “It helps us to be more malleable and adaptable, making it a smart element to blend into mindful meetings when possible.”

At Tampa Marriott Waterside Hotel & Marina, located on the scenic Riverwalk of Tampa Bay and with a recent multimillion-dollar renovation under its belt, you can sign up your group for a stand-up paddleboarding experience called Board Meetings on the Bay.

The waterway tour includes a two-hour SUP experience (including an introductory primer and safety instruction), a stop at a floating breakout pavilion on the private marina, and light refreshments pre- or post-meeting. You’ll also receive a board meeting survival kit with sunscreen, sunglasses and a T-shirt.

As for the 2.5-mile-long re-created Gila River flowing through Sheraton Grand at Wild Horse Pass near Phoenix? Not only is it full of lovely places to stop and meditate, it’s also a hot spot for teambuilding activities. Groups can explore the water via kayaks, hydrobikes and pedal boats, Riggs says. Some groups opt to set up water relay races, and one group organized a competition in which teams created boats out of cardboard boxes.

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