MEDITATION AND MINDFULNESS
There are a wealth of different types of meditation exercises you can choose from – our classes help you to find what suits you, and will take you through exercises to help with various conditions. Some of these meditations might be focusing on your breath, on an object, or a “guided” meditation, where your teacher will be talking throughout, encouraging you to focus on particular thoughts and issues.
Almost all of our sessions incorporate meditation and mindfulness elements, bringing us to our next topic.
WHAT IS MINDFULNESS?
Given the huge amount of books published on the subject, we could offer a long explanation of this!
The short explanation is best given by the founder of modern mindfulness, Jon Kabat-Zinn, who states:
“Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non judgmentally”.
So, true “mindfulness” meditation is simply sitting with how you feel, right here, right now – not dwelling on the past, or looking ahead and thinking “what if”. It encourages us to live more freely, to move away from negative or destructive thought patterns, and to be more aware of what is happening in our lives, moment by moment.
As well as more mindful styles of meditation, our sessions also encourage people to think more about practical mindfulness, and how taking a more mindful approach to everyday life can transform things for the better, for ourselves and others.
Mindfulness for business
Having looked in my earlier blog post at how mindfulness might benefit your wider business, you might then be thinking, “How might this benefit me personally at work?”
The key points are:
Mindfulness Leaves Us Better Equipped To Deal With Stress
Since work can often be a huge trigger for stress, mindfulness and meditation are a really positive and effective way to help deal with this. Whilst this won’t be a “magic bullet” to remove all stress from your life, being able to manage stress more effectively, and react to perceived sources of stress more appropriately, are two of the key benefits. This should leave you more able to try and face a day’s work with calmness and presence, even if you don’t feel that your day is a particularly calm one!
Mindfulness Leaves Us Better Able To Deal With Criticism
Not an easy one, since none us are ever thrilled to receive criticism about our work. However, if we can deal with this mindfully and reflectively, and to know when this might well be warranted, or indeed when it is not, this again helps in tackling work in a more effective way.
Mindfulness Makes You A Better Leader
We all know that in some organisations, you don’t have to be a manager to be a “leader”. However, whether you have a formal job title, or whether you are someone in the company who inspires others to do better, a “leader” will be someone who has focus, who listens, and who encourages their colleagues not to panic in the face of adversity. We have these qualities in all of us, and they can be further developed with mindfulness and meditation.
The most basic way to describe meditation is that we aim to help you enter into a state of relaxed awareness - not sleep, but if you get so relaxed that you nod off a little, we won't judge you!
THE “RELAXATION RESPONSE” - HOW MEDITATION HELPS US
This phrase was coined by Dr. Herbert Benson, professor, author, cardiologist, and founder of Harvard’s Mind/Body Medical Institute. The response is defined as your own ability to encourage your body to release chemicals and brain signals that make your muscles and organs slow down and increase blood flow to the brain.
In his book The Relaxation Response, Dr. Benson describes the scientific benefits of relaxation, explaining that regular practice of the Relaxation Response can be an effective treatment for a wide range of stress-related disorders.
Dr Benson has been given credit for helping to demystify meditation and bring it into the mainstream, as a result of simply referring to the “Relaxation Response”. His medical studies in the 1960’s and 1970’s helped to show that meditation promotes better health, especially in people with hypertension – and that you didn’t need to have any significant meditation experience to gain this benefit. His studies brought into popular awareness the realisation that people who meditate regularly can enjoy lower stress levels, increased wellbeing, and were able to lower their resting heart rate and blood pressure levels, simply through meditation.
The Relaxation Response is the opposite reaction to the “fight or flight” response, so it counters the effects on our bodies of stress. Our bodies go into “fight or flight” when we believe we are under excessive pressure; our sympathetic nervous system creates changes in our bodies, such as increased blood pressure, heart rate and breathing rate, and so on – all the things that happen when our body thinks we are trying to fight off or flee from a stressful or apparently “dangerous” situation.
The “fight or flight” response can cause muscle tension, headaches, stomach upsets, a feeling of a racing heartbeat, and shallow, quickened breath. It also makes our bodies release stress hormones, which can be harmful if secreted often, and can contribute to medical conditions such as heart disease, adrenal fatigue, and so on.
The Relaxation Response aims to bring our bodies back to their pre-stress levels, helping us to enter a state of deep relaxation, which triggers our bodies to help us heal. Research has shown that relaxation exercises such as meditation can help any health problem that is made worse by chronic stress, such as fibromyalgia, gastrointestinal problems, insomnia, high blood pressure (hypertension) anxiety disorders, and so on.
So, come and join us at Modern Meditation for the "Relaxation Response"!
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.