Meditation is now mainstream. From Just Meditate in Bethesda, MD to Unplug Meditation in Los Angeles, drop-in studios are popping up everywhere to give people the time and space to drop everything and breathe.
The most popular Meditation app, Insight Timer, is home to more than 2 million meditators (including me), and logs more than 50,000 hours of meditation every day.
These service providers are part of the $1.1 billion industry of mindfulness and meditation training, which makes up 7.4 percent of the $15.1 billion alternative care market in the U.S.
Fidelity Investments reports that 22% of employers offered mindfulness training programs in 2016. For 2017, that number is expected to double.
If you are still skeptical, Harvard scientists found that meditation conclusively and positively changes your brain structure.
Harvard Business Review reports that brain activity is redirected from the limbic system to the prefrontal cortex--basically from the reactionary part of the brain to the rational part of the brain. This change causes us to "change the way we react to everything," and enables us to rely more on our executive functioning rather than impulses.
Specific Benefits of Workplace Mindfulness
Once the Eastern practice became popular as a method of self-help, it quickly became a tool within businesses to increase productivity and well-being of employees. "With business meditation, we have a practice that is extrapolated from Buddhism and secularized so that all of the theological underpinnings are swept away," says Catherine Albanese, author of A Republic of Mind and Spirit: A Cultural History of American Metaphysical Religion.
Mindfulness meditation is a staple of employee development in several Fortune 500 organizations including General Mills, Goldman Sachs, Google, Apple, and Nike. What do these companies know that other's haven't learned yet?
David Gelles shares these conclusions about insurance giant Aetna in his book, Mindful Work:
- A highly stressed employee costs the company an extra $2,000 per year in healthcare, when compared to their less-stressed peers.
- Health care costs at Aetna -- which total more than $90 million a year -- are going down now that they offer mindfulness programs.
- In 2012, as mindfulness programs ramped up, health care costs fell a total of 7 percent. (That equals $6.3 million going straight to the bottom line, partly attributed to mindfulness training.)
- Aetna calculated that productivity gains alone were about $3,000 per employee, equaling an eleven-to-one return on investment.
This study is just one example of how the benefits of mindfulness training programs, which utilize mindfulness meditation, can be quantifiable. Consistently, mindfulness has been shown to serve as a method of relieving employee stress and encouraging increased productivity.
Tips to Increase Mindfulness
"Mindfulness--the relaxed, non-clinging, non-aversive awareness of present experience--is a skill that, like any other skill, requires developing," says meditation guru Sylvia Boorstein.
Here are some basic tips to practice mindfulness:
- Avoid Multitasking.
Studies have shown that multitasking significantly compromises our focus and concentration.
"Concentration is a cornerstone of mindfulness practice. Your mindfulness will only be as robust as the capacity of your mind to be calm and stable. Without calmness, the mirror of mindfulness will have an agitated and choppy surface and will not be able to reflect things with any accuracy," says Jon Kabat-Zinn, Author of Wherever You Go, There You Are and founding Executive director of the Center for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts Medical School.
When you feel your brain start to drift off to another task, try consciously sweeping away all other thoughts and refocusing on the task at hand.
One of the most effective strategies I've implemented is to disable all notifications from all devices and social media platforms. This is a great place to start to eliminate non-essential distractions that can quickly lead you down a path away from your task at hand. By disabling notifications, you reclaim the power of responding when others contact you.
- Practice "Reperceiving."
Researchers from the University of Rochester have found that mindfulness can be considered an enhanced attention to and awareness of current experience or present reality.
Specifically, "a core characteristic of mindfulness has been described as open or receptive awareness and attention." This state of mind can result in "reperceiving," a notion where an individual reframes how he or she evaluates experiences to view them as an external witness from an objective stance.
Mindfulness researchers suggest that with reperceiving, "Rather than being immersed in the drama of our personal narrative or life story, we are able to stand back and simply witness it."
Each day, take a few moments to step back and witness your life for what it is, focusing on the big picture rather than the minute details of every-day life. This is one of six strategies I recently provided to turn challenges into teachable moments.
Meditation is no longer some esoteric practice that requires you to completely disconnect from your life, and travel to a retreat in a remote part of the world. It's as accessible as your phone, or even your local neighborhood.
Wishing you a peaceful journey - even if it's only for an hour.