In or out of the workplace, meditation and mindfulness help you make the most of all that grey matter.
Some of the top employers in the world, including Google, Nike, Apple and Goldman Sachs, offer mindfulness training among a range of benefits to attract and retain the best talent. If you could choose between an employer who shows care for your success or a company whose only concern seems to be their bottom line, which would you choose?
Allowing the practice of Mindfulness breaks during the working day is effectively offering your teams a convenient opportunity to step away from their work in the middle of a shift. So, why would so many employers jump at the chance to implement a program that would reduce the time and focus their staff devoted to job-related tasks? It might seem counterintuitive at first, but incorporating mindfulness and meditation at work has the potential to transform people and make them much more resilient and capable of handling myriad stresses, both at home and in a demanding workplace.
Meditation makes the brain more flexible and you more resilient
Neuroplasticity, or Cortical Remapping, is your brain’s ability to transform and adapt to changes, big and small, in your life and surroundings. Until about 1960, scientists thought only the brains of children could make any significant transformations, but we now know it’s possible to change it whatever your age. So, no excuse for hanging onto those old habits!
A study in Neuroimage Journal, published in 2008, saw marked growth among participants in both their left and right Hippocampi — in terms of density, neural thickness and size in general — after just eight weeks of regular meditation. Your Hippocampus is crucial to learning and memory, among other things. World-renowned psychiatrist, Dr Larry Squire, wrote a pioneering article on the subject. Whether you’re studying for exams, juggling several projects at once, or just trying to remember where you left your keys, this little seahorse-shaped part of your brain is incredibly important.
The benefits are not limited to the Hippocampi; meditation works its magic all over the brain. In increasing general neuroplasticity, it also helps to grow and strengthen the pons, the part of your brainstem just above your spinal cord. The pons (Latin for “bridge”) plays a role in a range of functions, including breath, taste, hearing, bladder control — even your sleeping pattern. So, if you hear yourself or employees complaining about not getting a good night’s sleep, maybe it’s time to introduce some meditation!
A consistent mindfulness regime can keep employees focussed and better able to react to changes at work
But, it can do so much more than that. Sufferers of depression, an affliction that’s becoming ever more prevalent around the world, can experience shrinking and reduced functionality in several regions of the brain. Meditation, with its capacity to spur brain growth, could potentially aid in recovery from mental health trauma.
Regular meditation practice can help cope with depression and anxiety
Besides helping people recover from mental trauma, meditation and mindfulness help the brain actively fight off and massively reduce depression and anxiety. The Cleveland Clinic developed an online stress management program and tried it out with a busy call centre. They saw, on average, stress levels reduced by 31% and vitality increased by 28%, making employees much more productive throughout their shifts.
In another study, Spanish and German researchers took fMRI scans of 13 participants before and after their first 40 days of meditation. Anxiety and depression levels were way down, but the researchers also noticed a significant increase in “internal consistency” for all participants in their Temporoparietal Junctions (TPJs). The TPJ plays a big part in regulating emotions, which has several benefits in the workplace.
“You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” – Jon Kabat-Zinn
The Temporoparietal Junction is the part of the brain where the Temporal and Parietal Lobes meet. It also forms the structure for your emotional intelligence quotient, or EQ, your ability to relate to — and make distinctions between — yourself and others.
Researchers at the University of Illinois did CT scans on 152 Vietnam war veterans while they engaged in “emotionally intelligent” activities — things that had them interact with other people. The results showed that the veterans’ TPJs were essential in helping them navigate these situations. So, what can meditation do for your EQ and your TPJ?
Ask a monk.
When you read “Meditation” in the title of this article, there’s a good chance the first image that popped into your mind was a monk, or a group of monks, sat cross-legged with their eyes closed, readying themselves to transcend the physical realm. Maybe that last part is a bit much — I can’t guarantee meditation practice at work will help you reach nirvana — but monks are well-known masters of meditation, and it does let them transcend some typical human flaws.
Dr Andrew Newberg, from the University of Pennsylvania, studied brain images of Tibetan monks as they meditated. As displayed in other studies, their Frontal Lobes (the “control panel” for communication and personality) lit up. Surprisingly, their Parietal Lobes, responsible for one’s sense of self and feelings of loneliness and social isolation, nearly shut off. Newberg writes, “When people lose their sense of self in meditation, feeling a sense of oneness, this results in a blurring of the boundary between self and others”. He also found similar results with praying nuns and chanting Sikhs.
Meditation helps us feel a deeper connection to everyone, casting away many of the mental and emotional impacts of loneliness. This could be critical for the wellbeing of remote workers
Meditation is your best friend. But that doesn’t mean it has to be your only one. An increased sense of connection to other people can do wonders for the workplace, where employees often have to collaborate and rely on others to do their best work. Proper meditation can help you tame even the greatest of egos and help improve both personal and working relationships.
The science is in. In 2018, the Harvard Gazette reported that the number of clinical studies on mindfulness and meditation had gone from a single lonely paper in the late nineties, to 11 in the mid-aughts, to more than 200 as of 2015. It’s yet to be published but I can only imagine the growth in this number now in 2020? If anyone knows it, please let me know. Researchers, along with some of the world’s leading employers, are seeing the benefits. Whether troubles are internal or external, at work or home, the science is proven and growing in strength, so why not give it a try and see the wonders it can do for you, your teams, and overall wellbeing in the workplace? The best thing about it? It’s free and it’s natural!
Contact me today if you would like to learn how to introduce meditation and a range of mindfulness practices to your workforce through my bespoke offering ‘Your People Are Your Power’.
- Becoming a Better You: University Edition 5 October 2021
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- How to deal with academic stress to become a better you 29 July 2021
- YPAYP’s Wellbeing Initiatives 22 July 2021
- Best Places to Work 15 July 2021