While we all may know that taking a deep breath and contemplating a response before acting is probably the best thing to do, it’s much easier said than done. Have you ever been able to pause for a moment and reflect when in a stressful situation? It’s not the easiest thing to accomplish.
A little practice sure does help. Allowing yourself to stop and consider things is much easier to do in a stressful situation if you have tried it out and “practiced” when the perceived urgency is not so great. Taking a deep breath and gathering your thoughts is a great way to calm yourself down and put things in perspective.
Mindfulness and mediation are now mainstream, with westerners taking yoga and meditation classes. And for good reason – meditation is shown to have benefits for health and performance, including improved immune function, reduced blood pressure, and enhanced cognitive function.
In an article published in Perspectives on Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science, the authors identify four key components of mindfulness that may account for its beneficial effects: attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, and sense of self.
These components are closely intertwined. Improvement in attention regulation, for example, may directly facilitate our awareness of our physiological state. Body awareness can help us to recognize the emotions we are experiencing. Understanding the relationships between these components, and the brain mechanisms that underlie them, will allow clinicians to better tailor mindfulness interventions for their patients, says the study’s lead author Hölzel.
Another recent study found that the daily practice of meditation can make the brain’s cerebral cortex thicker. Parts of the cortex are responsible for decision making, attention and memory. Sara Lazar, a research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital, found that men and women who meditated for just 40 minutes a day maintained a thicker cortex than people who did not. Unlike in previous studies focusing on Buddhist monks, these subjects were Boston-area workers practicing a Western-style of meditation called mindfulness or insight meditation. Her research suggests that meditation may slow the natural thinning of that section of the cortex that occurs with age.
The forms of meditation Lazar and other scientists are studying involve focusing on an image or sound or on one’s own breathing. Though deceptively simple, the practice seems to exercise the parts of the brain that help us pay attention and focus.
Meditation in the Workplace
Many people who meditate claim the practice restores their energy, allowing them to perform better at work on tasks that require attention and concentration.
Making employees sharper is only one benefit; studies say meditation also improves productivity, in large part by preventing stress-related illness and reducing absenteeism. Meditation also seems to help regulate emotions, which in turn helps people get along.
So, meditation can be an effective way to increase concentration and focus, prevent stress and stress-related illness, and regulate emotions. Sounds like good self-medication to me. Heal thyself, stressed out workers!
Speaking of healing, the word meditation comes from two Latin words: meditari, meaning “to think, to dwell upon, to exercise the mind,” and mederi, meaning “to heal.” In Sanskrit the word medha means “wisdom.”