Meditation has been around for thousands of years, but given the recent hype over the practice you could be forgiven for assuming it is a new trend. Barely a week goes by without a public figure commending the benefits of mindful meditation. From celebrities to business tycoons, the idea of meditation being only for hippies or new age enthusiasts couldn’t be further from the truth.
It isn’t just individuals who are embracing this ancient practice; mindfulness therapy is being implemented by many large firms to alleviate stress and enhance focus. AOL, Apple, General Mills, Huffington Post, Nike, and Procter & Gamble all have company mindfulness programmes, and Google places such importance on mindfulness that it even created a Head of Mindfulness Training role.
So what is it about mindfulness that is so beneficial? Why has it become something that is now part of the corporate lexicon, when just a few years ago the idea of having meditation rooms in some of the biggest firms in the world would have been preposterous?
Mindfulness allows you to find peace wherever you are. Image courtesy of Kashirin Nickolai
The rise in popularity of mindfulness in Britain coincides with a rise in the prevalence of depression and anxiety. Prescriptions for antidepressants are up from 33.8 million in 2007 to 50.2 million in 2012 and NHS statistics show record numbers of people are taking up this ancient Buddhist practice in order to alleviate symptoms.
Google Ngrams ‘Mindfulness’ search, showing mentions of the term in Google Books
For the first time ever, mindfulness has stepped away from the realm of mysticism and psychics and has now been accepted by science. A study was published this year by the Journal of the American Medical Association which found that just 30 minutes of meditation can provide as much relief from anxiety and depression as antidepressants. It is this scientific evidence that has been instrumental in projecting mindfulness into the very hub of the business world.
“If you are a company leader who says employees should be encouraged to exercise, nobody looks at you funny,” says Chade-Meng Tan, Google’s Head of Mindfulness. “The same thing is happening to meditation and mindfulness, because now that it’s become scientific, it has been demystified. It’s going to be seen as fitness for the mind.”
In addition to large corporations, many schools are progressively implementing mindfulness sessions to help children focus and behave better too, as the practice has been shown known to have an effect on unruly teenagers; a San Francisco school that adopted ‘quiet time’, where teens close their eyes and clear their minds, found that the number of suspensions dropped by 45%.
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness is intended to focus the mind on sights, sounds and physical sensations while seeking to diminish “brain chatter” and encourage clarity of thought. It is a state of heightened awareness of both the present and the self, the eradication of outward disturbances. Though it is initially descended from Buddhism, mindfulness doesn’t need to be spiritual.
Simply sitting in a comfortable position, closing your eyes and becoming aware of your breathing, and then observing the physical senses in your body and the stream of thoughts through your mind is mindfulness. Effective mindfulness increases with practice, and you should aim to these feelings without actually responding to them as much as possible. Over time, this practice allows the brain to become calmed, more peaceful and a state of awareness to be entered into.
It is precisely this fast-paced, digital-focused world we live in that is why so many people have embraced mindfulness. Insecurity over careers, financial burdens and being constantly contactable mean that we are working harder and for longer than ever, worrying more, sleeping and relaxing less. Most people don’t go for any longer than seven minutes without checking their phones, so in a sense we are in a state of permanent stimulation, which significantly affects our ability to focus, form memories and unwind.
Mindfulness is especially popular within corporations because it promotes self-awareness, which in turn helps individuals better recognise and work with their strengths and weaknesses. By aiding clarity in high-pressure situations, mindfulness will help individuals become far more productive and efficient than if they are distracted or stressed – obviously hugely important for businesses, but also hugely beneficial for the individual.
The past few years have seen the popularity of mindfulness escalate at an unprecedented rate, and with good reason; why not try it yourself and see if you can procure the personal and professional benefits that come with it?