Meditation, in all its forms, is not just for the yogis out there.
It not only helps to reduce stress, anxiety and other negative emotions, but also improves concentration, memory, reasoning, decision-making, self-awareness and the ability to form and maintain strong relationships – all vital aspects of success and leadership in the workplace.
“Meditation works in two ways, by taking away and reducing damage that can occur from anger, stress, depression and anxiety, but also by promoting happiness, joy, compassion and other forms of positive emotions,” says psychologist and founder of The Happiness Institute, Dr Timothy Sharp.
“In addition, we know that it’s good for your cognitive functioning, so people that meditate regularly tend to be able to concentrate for longer periods.”
Recent research by Californian university UCLA has added to existing evidence that shows meditation over a number of years thickens the brain and strengthens the connections between brain cells. The university released a report in March last year which showed long-term meditators may be able to process information faster than those who do not meditate.
After performing MRI scans on 50 male and female meditators, the UCLA Laboratory of Neuro Imaging found that long-term meditators have larger amounts of gyrification – the “folding” of the cortex, which potentially improves neural processing. A direct correlation was also found between the amount of gyrification and the number of meditation years, possibly providing further proof of the brain’s neuroplasticity – the brain’s ability to change or adapt to environmental changes.
Additionally, mindfulness meditation can draw us out of our “default mode”, according to Dr Richard Chambers, a psychologist and mindfulness consultant.
Chambers says meditation can be thought of as “attention training”, noting that while there are many different types of meditation (such as transcendental meditation, mindfulness meditation or yoga meditation), they are all about learning to focus the mind on something in particular.
“When we’re not paying attention to anything, we default into what’s now called ‘default mode’, or what’s sometimes referred to as automatic pilot. It generally involves being caught up in worries about the future, dwelling in the past or reacting to the present, and experiencing everything through labels and judgements and mental chatter,” he says.
“Meditation [enables people] to pay attention and concentrate better, improves memory, performance and the ability to think clearly, and it improves body awareness, self-awareness generally and compassion and empathy.”
Meditation in corporate life
Meditation is becoming increasingly mainstream as executives and other professionals quickly embrace the practice to enhance their performance at work and reduce stress.
In April this year News Corporation chairman and CEO Rupert Murdoch announced on Twitter his attempts to learn transcendental meditation, a specific meditation technique derived from the ancient Vedic tradition of India, involving the repetition of a mantra, said to reduce stress, improve cardiovascular health and enhance creativity.
“Trying to learn transcendental meditation. Everyone recommends, not that easy to get started, but said to improve everything!” Murdoch tweeted.
“Meditation is becoming quite widely used,” says Chambers, who also works with Monash University on its mindfulness programs.
“First it was healthcare and now the corporate sphere is of course jumping on board. There are huge rates of burnout in law firms and accounting firms, and this is being recognised so there are lots of resources being poured into health and wellbeing programs … There is a lot of evidence and support for it now.”
How to get started
Recognising that some people may feel a little trepidation when it comes to trying meditation for the first time, Sharp recommends applying relaxation strategies to begin with.
“You don’t have to retire to a cave in the Himalayas or go to a 10-day retreat [to get started],” he says.
“Start off with a fairly simple, very practical relaxation strategy. It’s an easy starting point and something that almost everyone can grasp pretty quickly and it can be applied in all different areas of our lives.”
And the type of meditation practised will depend on the individual and what they hope to gain.
“It’s very much an individual thing and it depends on a whole range of factors. Primarily, one of the first things I do with a client is to ascertain what their goals are,” explains Sharp. “For some people, meditation is about relaxation and anxiety/stress reduction. For other people it’s about being more mindful of certain aspects of their life. For other people, it might be about being more present in certain interactions.”
For busy, working women and mothers, Chambers says meditating for just five minutes, twice a day, is an effective, realistic and manageable way to get started. Starting small and building it gradually, as your confidence increases, will help you get into a routine which Chambers says is key to successful meditation.
“Routine is really helpful and so is getting it done early in the day,” he says.
For those unsure how to meditate or need some guidance, Chambers suggests enrolling in a meditation course which are widely available and normally run over a few weeks.
When you’ll see results
Meditation can often seem like something that requires a lot of patience and time – something a lot of us don’t have – but luckily it doesn’t take long for the benefits of meditation to materialise.
“Interestingly, it happens very quickly,” says Chambers.
“As little as five minutes of meditation twice a day starts to produce noticeable effects. Within a week of meditating five minutes, twice a day, people will subjectively notice increased ability to pay attention and increasingly notice when they get caught up in mental habits that cause stress for them.”
Still need convincing? 10 reasons you should start meditating:
- Decision-making and processing
- Relationships with staff and colleagues
- Compassion and empathy