Mindfulness is a secular form of meditation that draws its philosophy from ancient Buddhist meditation. In recent years, mindfulness meditation is becoming popular with the American mainstream, partly due to the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn and his Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. Thousands of research studies have recorded the extensive benefits of mindfulness, and community programs are adopting the model to serve students, prisoners, patients, veterans, and others.
Mindfulness meditation is defined as,
"A technique of meditation in which distracting thoughts and feelings are not ignored, but are rather acknowledged and observed non- judgmentally, as they arise to create a detachment from them and gain insight and awareness."
Mindfulness is known to boost the physiological balance of mind, body and spirit, and an increasing number of companies and top management are looking to incorporate it into the workplace. The following list explores some of the many benefits that employees can experience from mindfulness meditation.
1. Stimulates Brainpower
According to a 2009 study by Moore and Malinowski, mindfulness meditation affects attentional functioning and cognitive flexibility. The researchers compared a group of experienced mindfulness meditators with a control group that had no meditation experience. The meditation group performed significantly better on all measures of attention and had higher self-reported mindfulness.
2. Lowers Anxiety Levels
In a 2013 Massachusetts General Hospital Study, 93 individuals with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) were randomly assigned to two groups. One included an eight week group intervention with mindfulness- based stress reduction (MBSR). The other was a control group that involved stress management education (SME). At the end of the study, the group in the MBSR program presented a significantly greater reduction in anxiety.
3. Reduces Depression
The American Psychological Association recommends the Mindfulness- Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) for people suffering from depression. The eight- week group- based program incorporates yoga, body awareness exercises, and daily homework, such as eating and doing household chores with complete attention. William Kuyken, professor at the University of Oxford, conducted a study which found that MBCT helps prevent depression recurrence as effectively as maintenance antidepressants.
"People at risk for depression are dealing with a lot of negative thoughts, feelings and beliefs about themselves, and this can easily slide into a depressive relapse. MBCT helps them to recognize that's happening, engage with it in a different way and respond to it with equanimity and compassion."
4. Boosts the Immune System
Telomerase is an enzyme that prevents cell aging. This in turn reduces cell damage and leads to greater cell longevity and immunity. In 2010, researchers investigated the effects of a three- month meditation retreat on participants’ telomerase activity. Results showed a significant increase in enzyme activity , suggesting that meditation training can reduce the incidence of cell death and age- related diseases.
5. Provides Relief from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) Symptoms
Tony King, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, tested Mindfulness- Based Exposure Therapy on Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans. Compared to individuals without PTSD, the brains of war veterans show less activity in a region called the “default mode network,” which is associated with daydreaming. The veterans show more brain activity in areas that regulate fear and other emotions.
The subjects were separated into two groups. One group received the Mindfulness- Based Exposure Therapy, while the other received a standard control group therapy. After 16 weeks, veterans who had engaged in regular mindfulness training showed increased neural connections between the default mode network and the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, an area responsible for attention and the ability to consciously shift attention from one thing to another. The strength of these connections was directly associated with the degree of improvement in their PTSD symptoms.
6. Addresses Behavioral Issues
In 2016, the Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore replaced detention with meditation. When students exhibit aggression or other behavioral problems, they are sent to the Mindful Moment Room, where they stretch, practice yoga and do breathing exercises. The school has seen zero suspensions since the introduction of mindfulness meditation. Nearby Patterson High School adopted the technique and also observed a decrease in student suspensions as well as an increase in class attendance.
7. Provides Calm during Pregnancy
Statistics show that up to 33% of women experience clinical depression or an anxiety disorder at some point during pregnancy. Pregnancy anxiety can lead to complications such as premature birth and low birth weight in babies, as well as postpartum depression and preeclampsia in mothers.
A 2014 study examined pregnancy anxiety in forty- seven pregnant women in their first or second trimesters, who were experiencing high stress or anxiety. The women learned how to cope with pain, negative emotions, and difficult social situations in a six- week mindfulness course at UCLA's Mindfulness Research Center. When compared to a control group who read a pregnancy book, participants who took the mindfulness course felt significant decreases in their pregnancy anxiety.
Scientific studies are discovering the physical and mental health benefits of mindfulness. From celebrities to industry powerhouses, there is active investment in the ancient meditative form. Last year, the Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute, a mindfulness training program from Google, grew revenue by more than 50% from offering two-day workshops to Fortune 500 companies such as Ford and American Express. With regular practice, mindfulness meditation is not just a powerful tool for spiritual development and wellbeing; it offers meditators a complete and holistic life experience.