You may have seen articles on how companies such as Facebook and Google are embracing meditation and mindfulness training for their staff, but wondered how this might benefit your business.
There are those in the corporate world who dismiss the apparent popularity of what they might view as “McMindfulness” - so bulk packaging of a mindfulness “product” - but if done well, with an experienced teacher, mindfulness can effect large changes on a personal level, offering benefits at work and home.
Some of the key points are:
We’ve all had one of those frantic days, where just spending time with someone in the office who you know has a calm outlook, is enough to make you feel more calm and more at ease about the work issues you have to deal with. In the same way that it only takes one frantic person in a workplace to spread panic and unsettle people, the more calm and mindful you can encourage your staff to be, the more this will spread.
Mindfulness Improves Focus
As more offices are open plan, this is a huge help. Mindfulness can help us “tune out” of what’s going on around us, and focus single-mindedly on the one task in front of us. It is effectively the opposite of multi-tasking; encouraging everyone to do one thing well, rather than attempt to do several things at once, and badly.
Mindfulness Makes You A Better Listener
We’ve probably all had those meetings at work. You know, where you get called in to discuss something, and the person you’re meeting with then spends time also taking calls, checking their emails, etc. You don’t then feel that anything gets resolved, or that you’ve been truly listened to. A more mindful approach makes those in the workplace feel valued and respected, and can result in more productive meetings/conferences.
Relationships with customers
The same goes for meetings with customers/clients; if your mind is jumping to the next thing you have to do, they won’t feel they’re getting your full attention – mainly because they’re not! You may also miss things like changes in their tone or manner, which might otherwise alert you to potential issues. Meditation and mindfulness increase our ability to focus, thereby making us better listeners, and more able to respond appropriately.
Contact us for more information on corporate teaching; for more details, see the corporate page of the website, and the contact page - let us help your company take the first step to doing business more mindfully!
Whether young or old, we still all feel under stress when we have to take an exam.
As we approach the end of the school and university year, it doesn’t matter whether you’re taking your first set of formal exams, or have done this many times before, it is still all too easy for that sense of butterflies in the stomach to start when you turn over the test paper!
So, here are some quick and mindful tips from Modern Meditation to help you through exam stress.
“In, out, pause”. You can either sit and meditate for a while, eyes closed, doing this, or just take some time in the moments before you enter the exam room to calm yourself with this. Use it to take a short break from your revision too!
As you breathe in, just silently say the word “in” - as you breathe out, say to yourself “out”, and then silently say “pause” and just hold for a moment before you take your next breath.
Try and do this gently, without looking to control your breath, safe and certain in the knowledge that the next breath will come naturally. Your breath should slow and relax, along with the rest of your body.
Let me tell you the story of George and the bike.
The traditional story is of George and the dragon, I know, but bear with me......
Often, its hard to persuade people that mindfulness is a real concept, that we can use practically in everyday life, it isn't just the time we spend in meditation. Those who come to my classes know I have a practical mindset, and like to encourage mindfulness to be something we use in everyday life.
A great example cropped up recently........
One of my work colleagues left the office, with a couple of us, at the end of the day. He found his quite expensive bike, in the public bike rack, with a great big lock on it, and a mobile telephone number to call.
His worry, as was ours, was that he was going to be faced with someone asking him for money to unlock his bike, so we waited whilst he called the number.
We could hear him chatting, and then giving us a "thumbs up" to be on our way. Going into the office the next day, we wondered what had happened.
Turns out that George, who had left his mobile number, is also a keen cyclist. Our work colleague had padlocked his bike in the morning to....nothing! George, locking his bike nearby, had noticed this, and since he had a spare lock, had put it on someone else's bike to stop it being stolen.
George could easily not have noticed this in his rush to get to work, or decided not to do anything helpful. He chose to be mindfully aware of his surroundings, and in doing so, to help others.
So, wherever you are George, you have an office of people who think you are a "top bloke", and a mindfulness based meditation teacher, who is using you as a great example of mindfulness in action!
Mindfulness based meditation is a way of connecting with yourself.
We lead busy lives, and don’t always focus on what we are doing; for example, have you ever found yourself eating a chocolate bar, then realising you’ve got to the end of it without even really noticing?
Often, we are “not present”; we fail to notice good things in our lives, we fail to listen to our bodies, or we overwhelm ourselves with feelings of stress, anxiety, worry and self-criticism.
Meditation won’t take away life’s pressures, but it can help you to respond in a calmer manner, helping heart, head and body.
It helps us to gain clarity, insight and understanding. Practising mindfulness allows us to be fully present in our life and work, and helps to improve our quality of life.
Sometimes, we talk about the “A B C” of mindfulness:
The benefits of mindfulness include helping you to:
"Having had a chat with some new students today, we've looked a little at some of the health benefits of meditation.
As well as helping with lowering your blood pressure, lowering your resting heart rate, and generating a sense of wellbeing and calmness, meditation has a surprisingly positive effect on immunity levels, which is great news for us all in the winter months!
Again, this is backed by science, from a study run by Richard Davidson at the University of Wisconsin with the biotech company, Promega. In the study, Promega staff were randomly assigned to one of two groups. The "experimental" group had training in mindfulness meditation from Jon Kabat-Zinn, (Kabat-Zinn, a popular author of books on stress reduction, developed the mindfulness-based stress reduction program at the University of Massachusetts Medical Centre). This group attended a weekly class and one seven-hour retreat during the study; they also were assigned home practice for an hour a day, six days a week.
Members of the "control" group didn't have meditation training until after the study was completed. For each group (as well as asking participants to assess how they felt), the research team measured electrical activity in the frontal part of the brain. This is because previous research showed that, in people who are generally positive and optimistic - and during times of positive emotion - the left side of this frontal area becomes more active than the right side does.
The findings confirmed that the meditation group showed an increase in activity in the left-side part of the frontal region; suggesting the meditation itself produced more activity in this region of the brain.
The research also tested whether the "meditation" group had better immune function than the "control" group did. All participants received a flu jab at the end of the eight-week meditation group. Then, at four and eight weeks after vaccine administration, both groups had antibody tests to measure the level of antibodies they had produced against the flu vaccine. While both groups (as expected) had developed increased antibodies, the "meditation" group had a significantly larger increase than the "control" group, at both four and eight weeks after receiving the vaccine.
We still have so much to learn about meditation, and whether it has a physical effect on the body, or whether we are "thinking ourselves well", which then enables our bodies to reach those higher immune response levels.
However, regardless of how the result is actually achieved, there's little doubt from this study that there's a really good reason to turn to meditation in the winter months!
Research is increasing into the science behind the effects of mindfulness meditation on health and wellbeing.
Whilst the amount of available research papers are huge, The Mental Health Foundation’s 2010 study concluded that evidence from research into mindfulness and wellbeing suggested (amongst other things) that more mindful people were less likely to suffer anxiety and depression, were better at communicating, had higher emotional intelligence (EQ), and felt more in control of their behaviour.
The report also supported the view that meditation practices generally were shown to increase blood flow, reduce high blood pressure/protect against the risk of it developing, reduce the risk of developing/dying from heart disease, and that it had many varied physical benefits.
For more details on this, see the full report at: http://livingmindfully.co.uk/downloads/Mindfulness_Report.pdf
One of the earliest and most well known studies on the physiological changes as a result of meditation took place in 1972 (Herbert Benson’s study – where he coined the phrase “the relaxation response”). Those who took part meditated for 20-30 minutes, and were observed for the same period before and after.
Regardless of their previous experience, within 5-10 minutes of starting meditation, their bodies started to show changes comparable with experienced meditators, including slowed metabolism, and rapid reductions in oxygen consumption, rate and volume of breathing, and heart rate.
All returned to pre-meditation levels within a few minutes after ceasing meditation. The signs observed were very different from those seen in other states of relaxation, such as sleep or hyponosis.
For more details on this, see the paper:
The physiology of meditation: Wallace, Robert K; Benson, Herbert
Scientific American, Vol 226(2), Feb 1972, 84-90
Further research is being published all the time – take a look, and make up your own mind on the science behind meditation!
What definition of meditation you obtain will usually depend on who you ask!
However, since so many people have so many questions and preconceptions of what meditation is and is not, here’s the Modern Meditation simple guide on how we approach mindfulness based meditation & teaching.
What meditation is:
Meditation can be described as a state of direct experience, a natural state. It is also often described as a state of relaxed awareness, so being aware of what’s actually taking place, being alert to the “here & now” and being in the moment.
It is a skill of being present, of being more accepting of yourself and others, with the simple basic idea of “being and not doing”. As we all have ever busier lives, this is a skill which we often need to re-learn from our childhood.
It can be helpful for goal setting (such as wanting to relax more, relieve stress, stop smoking), but does not have to be done with that as an end result.
It can be secular, or form part of a religious practice which encourages meditation, such as Buddhism. The sense of internal observation and connection means that, for some, it can be a spiritual experience, which is why it underpins some religions.
Meditation is an ongoing process, where your skills, understanding and experience of it develops as you do this over time, hence it being described as a practice.
What meditation is not:
Meditation is not about being a hippie, being “away with the fairies” emptying your head of thoughts or “zoning out” (at least not for those of us with regular everyday lives, who can’t abandon them to live in seclusion and practice meditation for hours on end daily!)
Meditation is not the same as sleeping, although some guided meditation can be done with the aim of relaxation and assisting restful sleep thereafter.
There is also, amongst some, a popular misconception that meditation involves sitting and chanting; it does with some religious practice, but this is not something which is integral to the practice of everyday meditation in any way. You can sit however you wish to – not necessarily cross legged – on a chair is fine!
Meditation is not time consuming; often people will think or say that they do not have the time for a sustained meditation practice, but are not familiar with the benefits of practice, and how much can be gained by just setting aside a few minutes a day, or by doing very short meditation and mindfulness exercises which may then help them in their daily life.
Meditation is not always an easy or relaxing process; it can tap into underlying emotions, or mean that you start to focus on issues or difficulties in your life which you may have previously avoided. It is important to understand that this is natural, and part of practice. There are days when the experience will be easy and relaxing, and other days when it may not be, but will be just as rewarding nonetheless.
For many people, starting to meditate can be challenging, but here, we explain how to get started:
(1) Find a comfortable space and sit. If you are sitting in a chair, just ensure your spine is straight, and the soles of your feet touch the floor completely. If sitting on a cushion, or at the edge of a yoga block with your legs crossed, try and have a little height behind you, so your hips are slightly higher, and your legs are crossed at a slight downward angle; this can be more comfortable than sitting "flat" to the floor and cross legged.
(2) Set aside a time when you know you can sit without interruption, even if this is only for 5 minutes a day to start with.
(3) Pick a meditation that suits you, and how you are feeling. If you want to start with some easy and short guided meditations, then some excellent free meditations that take you through everything, with simple steps and relaxing voices can be found on the UCLA website (the University of California and Los Angeles has a dedicated meditation centre, so are experts at this). Guided meditation can be really great when you're starting out, as for many, just sitting quietly with their own thoughts is a little too challenging - a soothing voice can be a great support.
(4) Understand that some days will be tougher than others, that some days you might only be able to sit for a short time, and that some days you may not be able to calm your mind and focus at all; if so, resolve to try again the next day.
(5) Use local groups and workshops to get advice and support, such as the “Introduction to Meditation and Mindfulness” workshops which I run (see "Events" on this website for more details).
(6) Once you've started.....keep going! View this as your first step on a long, exciting and rewarding journey. Keep reminding yourself why you started meditation, and what you want to achieve.
I have lots of people who ask me about this - most of them querying whether I would be playing them whale music or a celtic harp "muzak" piece during meditation, and how irritating they would find this if I did!
The short answer is no - so if you love whale music, you're going to be disappointed if you come to one of my teaching sessions!
Now for the serious article about adding music to your meditation - as ever with Modern Meditation, we keep it simple and practical. Listen to what you love. Meditation, like music, is very subjective. Different styles will suit different people; the intention and focus whilst you listen is more important than what you are listening to (though more relaxing music can help, some enjoy listening to really complex music, as there is much more to capture their attention, and stop their mind from wandering).
The aim of meditation to music is to approach your listening in a very different way than you might usually.
Relax, focus on the music, and if your mind wanders, bring it back.
Meditation with music involves active listening, so not as background music or relaxation, but truly engaging with the music, keeping your mind on it, and picking up richness of sound, complexity of instruments or layering of parts that we may often miss.
If you're new to meditation, you may not want to meditate with music to start with, as it can be more of a distraction than a welcome addition, but once you feel ready to give it a try, here are some tips:
Breathe deeply and slowly, close your eyes, and really listen, mindfully, with your full attention on the music, and nothing else.
If you love classical music, you might like to try:
"Clair De Lune" - Debussy
or perhaps Nocturne #10 in A Flat, Opus 32/2 - Chopin.
If you'd like to try more modern tracks:
"Slip into something more comfortable" by Kinobe (instrumental version) - I often use this as background to a guided meditation, as the noise of the waves and the music transports you to the beach - enjoy!
For a more complex modern meditation piece, try "La Femme D'Argent" by Air - although I recommended this to someone recently who strongly disliked it, hence my saying this is all very subjective - you can't please everyone!
For a very traditional sounding Indian piece, there are lots of beautiful pieces of music designed with meditation & contemplation in mind. A favourite of mine is the Raga "Glory of the dusk" (you can search for this on You Tube), which is specifically for contemplation and meditation at the end of the day - a lovely piece to sit with in winter, perhaps with a candle burning too, so that you can simply watch the flame, breathe, and focus on the music.
Whatever you choose, enjoy your meditation to music.
For many, the idea of sitting and meditating can be quite daunting. There are those for whom sitting still, even for a short time, is a real challenge.
Unlike the very serene seated lady you can see above, you don't have to sit cross-legged, or "assume the position" to meditate!
If starting out, you may find it most comfortable to sit in a chair. Keep your back straight, and aim to have a chair where the soles of both your feet touch the floor. If this isn't possible, put a cushion or footstool under your feet, so they are supported, and the soles of your feet are flat, as they would be if you placed them on the floor.
If sitting on the floor, aim to sit with your legs crossed naturally (this may not be with a foot resting on each thigh unless you do yoga regularly!) Sit on a large and comfortable cushion, and aim to have your hips higher than your knees, so that you are angled slightly downwards.
However you sit, you can either have your hands with palms up, elbows resting comfortably on your thighs, and hands on your knees, or have your hands with fingers interlocking, gently resting in your lap.
The aim is to be comfortable and relaxed, so that any sensations in your body don't take over your efforts to focus and calm your mind when meditating.
Also, check out the internet. There are a huge range of meditation cushions available (including a beautiful round cushion, known as a "zafu"), there are specialist meditation stools which support your weight, but are curved underneath, so that they rock into a comfortable position for you, with your legs under the stool.....or just use a chair or a large regular cushion! You will find if interested in attending classes or workshops with me, that I may ask you to bring along a cushion that you'd like to sit on, so that you have chosen something which suits you.
Alternatively, if doing a "body scan" meditation, which takes you through your body, or a guided meditation which asks you to visualise being somewhere else, this is often much more practical to do when lying down. Lie on a yoga mat or padded mat of some kind, with your back neutral, your arms by your sides, and your hands resting on the floor, palms up. Your feet should be slightly "turned out" to the sides of the room - all of this gives your body the best chance of not falling asleep whilst meditating!
Meditation doesn't need lots of expensive equipment, that's part of the appeal. Just make yourself comfortable, and be open to the experience.