Zen Bartending: How to Find Calm in High Energy Shifts
Behind the bar, it’s never just another day at the office. There are infinite possibilities of who will come through the bar doors, what kinds of energy they will bring to your environment, and how busy you will be that evening. You’ll try to remain focused, amiable, on top of orders and out of the weeds. To do this and do it well, bartenders need an unusually high level of energy. Then, once the shift is over, it can take hours to come down from that sustained physical and mental energy high.
Meditation is a powerful practice that can transform the energies you put into work and help to restore yourself to your natural balance of calm and being at ease, not the stressed-out, harried feelings you may be more familiar with.
Dana Carpenter, who has been practicing meditation since 1974 and teaching it since 2000, first cut her working teeth in restaurant management. “The service industry demands a high energy level and dealing with the public,” she says. “Even if you’re ‘together,’ at the start of your shift, by the end of the night you might be energetically drained and off-center.” Carpenter suggests a meditative practice that can be done on a regular basis to help keep one centered—with a clean energy field, a clear mind, and feelings of harmony and balance. “Meditation can help bartenders enjoy their time at work and protect their physical health and well-being in the off hours.”
She explains that being in a high-energy, demanding environment—like that of bartending—and surrounded by other people for extended periods of time can “coat you” with the energies of those you encounter, making it harder to keep your own center balanced. “It’s like being bombarded,” she says. “You can easily become worn down. The body needs time to decompress, recuperate, and restore its natural balance. Meditation also helps you to create a shield.”
Career bartender Gaz Regan has been bartending for 49 years and meditating for the last ten. “It clears my mind,” he says. “I meditate first thing in the morning to set my intentions for the day. If I’m pulling a shift, I might set my intentions to be of good service to my guests. This makes me more confident and calm before I start.”
Of course, there’s a meditative quality to being behind the bar, too. “When you’re absolutely jam-packed,” says Regan, “you can enter what I call the ‘zen of bartending.’ You enter this zone and stop thinking about what you’re doing, as if the drinks are building themselves. It’s a fabulous state of mind and very much akin to meditation.” Regan wasn’t sure if that zone is easier to access once you’ve been meditating regularly, but it wouldn’t be a stretch to think so.
For bartenders and others in the service industry looking to try meditation, Carpenter had a lot of pointers. She suggested doing something physical, like Qi Gong, Tai Chi, yoga, or even running. “Physical meditation can bring body-level energy back to neutral. A body-oriented practice might be easier to start with than a quiet meditation.” Regan practices yoga as well as doing sitting meditations, and says the key is practice. “With yoga, you immediately feel the results. Meditation takes a bit longer, so my advice is to keep practicing.” For beginners, he suggests the book "8 Minute Meditation," which runs for less than $12 on Amazon.
You can also begin with a piece of music you find beautiful. Regan meditates daily, often with the same piece of music, “Mountain Hare Krishna,” by Krishna Das. “I find music is the easiest way to get in the zone,” he says. “The track I use is fifteen minutes long and very, very repetitive.” Carpenter agrees that peaceful music you love will calm you.
As you prepare to listen, make sure there is minimal other sensory input. Darken the room, turn off your phone, and begin to breathe. Breathing techniques are often taught in meditation classes; focusing on the breath brings you fully into the present moment. As you inhale, think about gathering stress and tension. Then, on an exaggerated exhale, send all of that tension out with the breath. Continue to lengthen your breathing with longer inhales and exhales. “As you exhale all of the air out of your lungs,” says Carpenter, “pause before you inhale. There is a little space of stillness between the inhale and exhale that will calm the body.”
Another easy meditative practice to try is grounding, or “earthing,” which is meant to reconnect you to the earth. “Spend some time outside barefoot, before or after work. All of your accumulated nervous energy can shift out of you,” says Carpenter. Being in nature for as little as ten minutes a day can be a powerful excess energy neutralizer.
“I think meditation is beneficial for everyone, and in particular bartenders who are often facing stressful situations,” says Regan. “It gives you a great deal of good to have a clear mind before starting a shift.” Because meditation is very quiet, internal, and a movement towards deep peace, you will notice what a switch that is from what is happening at work. If bartenders develop a daily meditation practice, Carpenter suggests, they will likely find it easier to move back into a state of equilibrium and to carry that peace with them into word. “Rather than high intensity,” she says, “your norm can become calm and balance."