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Meditation Training: A Little Goes a Long, Long Way

New research shows that even super short courses in mindfulness can seriously reduce stress.

Adding mindfulness and meditation to your day as a business owner may be massively trendy at the minute. But let's be honest, it also seems kind of hard.

The prototypical meditator is a monk sitting for endless hours or the dedicated practitioner spending silent weeks away on retreats. (Meanwhile, one recent study even found most men would rather give themselves electrical shocks rather than sit quietly with their own thoughts--eek!)

If you're anything like the typical entrepreneur you'd be hard pressed to find the time and energy for something like that, no matter how intrigued you were about meditation and its many benefits (which include lower stress and higher profits--really!--as well as greater focus and happiness). A recent study has good news if you fall into this category of folks who are interested in giving mindfulness a go but leery about the commitment level involved. Apparently, getting started can be much easier than you probably suspected.

Minutes, not weeks

To test how much meditation training you need to make a serious dent in your stress levels, J. David Creswell and his team from Carnegie Mellon University, looked at the payoff of three short 25-minute mindfulness training sessions in which participants were taught to focus on their breath, focus their attention and be more in the moment. While most previous research has looked at the impact of multi-week meditation courses, the results of this study show that even mere minutes of training are impressively effective.

Those who were asked to complete the short training were then tasked with giving a speech and taking math tests in front of a panel of grumpy evaluators. Despite the obvious stresses of these tests, the subjects reported feeling less stressed than a control group, even though their level of the stress hormone cortisol spiked higher during the presentation.

With time and practice, the researchers feel, practising the skills taught in the training might reduce the physical stress response as well as perceived stress as the meditators get more comfortable with the mindfulness techniques. "When you initially learn mindfulness meditation practices, you have to cognitively work at it--especially during a stressful task--and, these active cognitive efforts may result in the task feeling less stressful, but they may also have physiological costs with higher cortisol production," Creswell explained.

Creswell and his colleagues aren't the only experts exploring the idea that small doses of mindfulness can have a big impact. Plenty of other recent psychological research has suggested that short bursts of mindfulness are effective, which means that busy business people don't have to take days or even weeks out of their lives to get started with meditation.

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Last updated: Jul 17, 2014

JESSICA STILLMAN

Jessica Stillman is a freelance writer based in Cyprus with interests in unconventional career paths, generational differences, and the future of work. She has blogged for CBS MoneyWatch, GigaOM, and Brazen Careerist.




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