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5 Ways to Make Your Workspace Your Sanctuary

Get in the zone with micromeditations, minirituals, meaning, community and flow.

Key points

  • To reduce stress and achieve flow, create quiet spaces for micro-meditations and mini-rituals.
  • If your energy is low, find spaces to walk or exercise; if you're stressed or anxious, micro-meditate.
  • For a sense of community, create spaces to gather in different sized groups and engage in shared activities.
Source: GaudiLab/Shutterstock

Of the seven domains of integrative health, spirituality may seem the most incongruous one to bring into the workplace. But when I say spirituality, I don’t mean religious experience or practice.

Is it possible to make your workspaces your sanctuary, shielding you, at least in part, from all the horrors of the world?

If designed right, I believe they can.

The elements of work that can help you be your most productive and fulfilled are also key elements of spirituality: finding meaning; being “in the zone”, or in a state of flow; a sense of community and that you are working for the greater good; respect and gratitude for others and everything around you. Micro-meditation breaks and mini-rituals are part of spirituality too.

Barbara Abrams/Used with Permission/Photo Subject Joyce Thom
Meditation in nature - Bali
Source: Barbara Abrams/Used with Permission/Photo Subject Joyce Thom

You can create moments in the day to feel this way, and you can find spaces to help you get there. To accomplish your best work, you need both. Too often we are rushing from meeting to meeting, are inundated with e-mails or phone calls and decisions to be made, multi-tasking with no hope of focus.

What can help move you from a place of anxiety and pressure to one of calm and meaningful productivity?

Micro-meditations and mini-rituals can help, like the Japanese tea ceremony. You can create a version of the tea ceremony yourself, any time you need to recharge in the middle of a stressful day. Simply take a moment to watch the tea as it pours into the cup; focus on its rich orangey, brown, or greenish color and on the steam curling up into the air. Inhale and breathe in the scent before you take the first sip. Then roll it around on your tongue, savoring the flavors before swallowing it down.

Engaging in such micro-meditations at the start or throughout the day helps move your brain from a stress mode into a relaxation mode, triggers the brain’s feel-good dopamine reward pathways and anti-pain endorphin pathways, re-energizes you for the rest of the day and helps you perform at peak. Think of the basketball player who bounces the ball exactly three times before a free throw. Researchers found that performing non-religious rituals before a math test reduced anxiety and performance-related stress, and improved students’ test scores.

In the flow
Source: fizkes/Shutterstock

I learned my breakfast ritual with my father, who, as we sat eating outdoors on our terrace, would look up at me occasionally and say, “Listen to the sounds of peace”. All I heard was a dog barking, the birds chirping, the wind in the trees. It was the mid-1950s, only 10 years after the end of World War II, when he had been interned in a concentration camp in Russia. When he told me to listen, I didn’t know, and I’m sure he didn’t either, that we were practicing mindfulness meditation. But I listened and remembered, and still do this to this day.

What if you don’t have a quiet natural place to step into? Find a city park or micro-green space on your route to work. Or carve out your own little sacred garden space. I grow herbs in pots on my patio. Watering them and getting a whiff of their fragrances brings me peace. Or place a tiny potted herb plant or two on your desk or find serenity in photographs of nature scenes.

Mirelle Phillips, who had been in the video game industry, turned her skills to creating immersive virtual spaces in hospitals after she had experienced neurotrauma and craved nature spaces when she was sick. Her Studio Elsewhere “Recharge Rooms” are now in 60 hospitals across the U.S., with over a million users, who experience significant reductions in anxiety, stress, and burnout and improved sleep quality after only 10 minutes of daily use.

Such natural surroundings also help foster a feeling of being a part of something larger than oneself – another element of spirituality.

The new Apple Inc. headquarters in Cupertino, California is more like a nature refuge than a business park. The 175-plot is populated with 9,000 drought-resistant trees and indigenous plants, along with miles of walking paths and trails. It was the vision of the late Steve Jobs, who did his best thinking while walking in nature, famously embraced Buddhism, and spoke about how that philosophy helped him focus.

Workplaces need such spaces – whether meditation rooms, green spaces, or gardens. Providing these spaces to all employees levels the playing field for those who may not have the luxury of time and space for mindfulness. Green Mountain Power, which supports the electrical grid for the state of Vermont, for example, converted a basement storeroom into a meditation/relaxation space. The darkened, quiet room at the bottom of a flight of stairs is outfitted with a soft couch and armchairs, which beckon tired employees seeking a place of comfort, respite, and quiet contemplation, especially in the event of a Nor’easter blizzard when they may work long hours responding to outages.

Even parking lots can be transformed into green spaces for thoughtful meditation. These are logical transition spaces which, if thoughtfully and purposefully designed, can help you move from one domain of your life – home and family, into the one of work, while mindfully slowing you down and de-stressing you from the rush of the morning’s commute. The University of Arizona College of Architecture, Planning and Landscape Architecture’s Underwood Sonoran Desert Garden, filled with trees and landscapes recalling Arizona’s many ecosystems, provides a shaded space where students and faculty can sit quietly for a moment, away from the heat of the adjacent parking lot, before heading in to work or learn.

If your workplace doesn’t offer such spaces, you can create your own. If your desk is by a window, take a few minutes to gaze outside, focusing on each portion of the scene in turn – the glint of sunlight reflecting off the leaves, the branches gently swaying in the breeze, or people walking by.

All this can help you get “in the zone”, or in a state of flow: a sense of effortless accomplishment of a task, accompanied by enjoyment. While flow is not effortless – it requires focused attention – the kind that the stress response can bring about, it feels effortless because the brain networks that monitor how we are feeling internally are tuned down, so we aren’t aware of the effort. The relaxation response and the brain’s dopamine reward pathways are also turned on, contributing to the feeling of enjoyment during flow.

To nudge yourself into a state flow, think about where you are on that continuum from boredom to extreme stress and anxiety at any given moment. If you are bored, go for a walk to energize by boosting your stress response just a little. If you are stressed out or anxious, do the opposite – try some mindful meditation or relaxation techniques to reduce that stress response, and move yourself back to that optimal zone.

A variety of inviting spaces of all types and sizes where employees can gather in smaller or larger groups foster another aspect of spirituality important for productive work: community, and the sense of connectedness and common purpose that community provides.

In his book, Man’s Search of Meaning, Viktor Frankl describes how having a sense of purpose was the essential element that helped him and others survive the concentration camps of Germany in World War II.

When COVID hit, many searched for ways to find meaning. While many people found it in new jobs, others found it in the work they were already doing. One of my daughter’s design students, for example, had been designing a chair, when she broke down in tears. Who cares about something as frivolous as a chair, she said, when so many people are dying. But when my daughter pointed out that the chair she was designing served a larger purpose of helping people make their workspace a healthy and comfortable one, the student brightened – she had suddenly found meaning in what she was doing and gained fresh energy to do her work.

So spaces – green spaces, quiet spaces, spaces to exercise or contemplate, and what you do in them, go hand in hand – to calm or energize you, bring you flow or focus, help you find meaning and community – all elements of spirituality that can help make your workspace, wherever you work, your sanctuary and safe haven from worldly cares.


Sternberg, E.M. (2023) Well at Work: Creating Wellbeing in Any Workspace. New York, NY: Little, Brown Spark.

Brooks, A. W., Schroeder, J., Risen, J. L., Gino, F., Galinsky, A. D., Norton, M. I., & Schweitzer, M. E. (2016). Don’t stop believing: Rituals improve performance by decreasing anxiety. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 137, 71-85.

Frankl, V. E. (1946). Man's Search for Meaning: Gift Edition. Gift edition. Beacon.

Peifer, C., & Tan, J. (2021). The psychophysiology of flow experience. In Advances in flow research (pp. 191-230). Springer, Cham.

Sheldrake, P. (2013). Spirituality: A brief history. John Wiley & Sons.

Sternberg, E.M. (2009) Healing Spaces: The Science of Place and Well-being. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

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