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Dubbed the ‘Now’ Age, alternative lifestyles, through greater awareness, new platforms, apps, stores, and brands have gained momentum leading to a rise in agnostic spirituality in the mainstream. Mindfulness is an example of an alternative philosophy being increasingly practiced in the West, having been adapted from Ancient Eastern Traditions. As with many lifestyle paths, there is an individual element and a collective element. Individuals practice Mindfulness as a part of their daily lives, but some companies are also practicing Mindfulness by encouraging it on an individual level. Research suggests that practicing Mindfulness is beneficial to the practitioner, so are the companies feeling the same benefits as the individual?
What is Mindfulness?
Mindfulness, the ancient Buddhist meditation practice, has become a hot topic in Psychology recently. This 2,500 year old practice can be briefly defined as a focus on the present; individuals have a tendency to ruminate about the past and/or rush towards the ‘ungraspable’ future which never materialises. Not being fully present can lessen ability to consciously participate in the present moment and distort perceptions of reality.
Practitioners notice the physical sensations in their body during meditation and the swirling thoughts in their brain. Using non-judgmental awareness of the present, the aim is to observe these sensations without reacting to them. Meditators gradually recognise the fleeting nature of sensations, including pain, anger and frustration. Over time, practitioners learn to quiet the mind and can result in individuals who are less agitated, more focused and easier to work with.
Who Practices Mindfulness?
Aside from the discussions in Psychology circles, Mindfulness has become a buzzword and it is expanding out into the Business world of Industrial Psychology. Large companies, such as General Mills in the USA, have adopted mindfulness practices, and openly encourages employees to practice it by equipping their buildings with meditation rooms, as well as yoga facilities, all designed to reduce stress, and train the mind to be more focussed, clear, creative, and connected. Google offers a course to its employees called “search inside yourself” which was so popular the company created entry-level versions such as “neural self-hacking” and “managing your energy”.
Mindfulness is a growing movement, even being practiced in some schools through the ‘Mindfulness in Schools Project’, which is managed in collaboration between psychologists at Oxford, Cambridge, Exeter and Bangor universities.The benefits of practicing mindfulness seem to be clear, and many large and successful businesses are adopting the practice.
Does all this mindfulness do any good?
There is evidence that suggests that some of its techniques can provide psychological and physiological benefits. Practicing mindfulness can improve self-regulatory efficacy via “neuro-plastic changes in the anterior cingulate cortex, insula, temporo-parietal junction, fronto-limbic network, and default mode network structures” (Shonin et al. 2015). To put it simply, mindfulness can cause neuro-plastic changes in neural pathways, which is generally (but tentatively as much of the research is dependent on self-report measures rather than clinical diagnostic interviews) agreed by psychologists to be a good thing as it can cause:
Greater self-awareness and emotional self-regulatory capacity
Modification of immune pathways
Greater levels of relaxation
Greater control over stress
Growth in spiritual awareness
Cynics might argue that a walk in the countryside has similar benefits. But it’s not unreasonable to suppose that, in a world of constant stress and distraction, sitting still and relaxing might do some good.
As Schumpeter of the Economist observes, “the biggest problem with mindfulness is that it is becoming part of the self-help movement—and hence part of the disease that it is supposed to cure. Gurus talk about “the competitive advantage of meditation”. Pupils come to see it as a way to get ahead in life. Western capitalism seems to be doing rather more to change eastern religion than eastern religion is doing to change Western capitalism.”
But if it does help relax and focus the mind, and therefore improve the performance of individuals and corporations, then is that such a bad thing?
The QRi Team x
Shonin, E. et al. (2015) Mindfulness in psychology – a breath of fresh air? The Psychologist 28 (1): 28-31
The Mind Business, The Financial Times Magazine