by Mel Hales
Mindfulness is a concept that has been around in the Eastern world for centuries but is a relatively new idea in our Western society.
The idea of integrating mindfulness into the workplace may be hard to stomach for some; sceptics may ask whether it’s for new-age hippies who have no attachment to the ‘real world’?
The idea of a meditation practice is also still linked to religion, which many people are uncomfortable with.
And when budgets are stretched and workloads are heavy, the idea of sitting still for 10 or 15 minutes achieving seemingly nothing seems almost ludicrous. But scientists have come out in hoards, talking about the tangible benefits. It’s been used to treat extreme cases of mental illness and many top entrepreneurs and CEOs in Silicon Valley swear by a daily meditation. So what are we missing?
More of us than ever are suffering with mental health problems, often feeling constantly exhausted, highly stressed and stuck in a rat race that we don’t want to be a part of, repeating the same daily routine in a robotic fashion.
We travel through cities mindlessly, battling the crowds to reach a workplace where we repeat the same activities with little enthusiasm, and live for the moment on Friday when we can re-claim our lives for two days before collapsing into a Sunday night slump, dreading the pressure we have to return to on Monday mornings.
This may paint a pretty grim picture but unfortunately it’s a stark reality of how many of us live our lives. Experts are calling it the disease of our modern world – the barrage of technology, the pressure of our jobs and our device-led culture means we barely get a chance to switch off. In short we are suffering from information overload.
So how does this affect us in the workplace? Our capacity to focus on one thing has dramatically reduced over the years and employees now experience greater stress levels along with poorer mental health. This translates to more sick days and a generally unsatisfied workforce.
So how can mindfulness help?
Scientists have uncovered that mindfulness-based cognitive exercises can actually stimulate long-term changes in the brain’s function and structure. In an article The Science of Mindfulness, Dr Daniel J. Siegel claims that: “Mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) studies reveal that patients feel an internal sense of stability and clarity… Our mind not only finds resilience, but our body’s ability to fight infection is improved… MBSR improves immune function even in those with HIV.”
So, it seems, the benefits of mindfulness are not just confined to the mind but may also have a profound effect on the body.
The idea of a mindfulness practice is to train the brain and cultivate wellbeing, which enables us to increase productivity, creativity and focus – key factors in maintaining a happy, healthy workforce.
There are many ways to discover the benefits of mindfulness, from inviting an expert in for a workshop to creating a ‘meditation space’ within the office. When there is this much science to support the practice, it should be easy to convince even the most resilient of sceptics.