Meditation in Business

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This is a guest post by Michael Smith from www.healthalliance.co.uk (contact 01908 412794 or 07919386149). We will be running some workshops for clients with Michael in the future. Recent studies have shown that work related stress is widespread in the UK and accounts for over 13 million lost working days every year. Almost 1 in 7 people claim they find their work extremely stressful and 80% of all G.P. visits are stress related. The definition of stress is a physical, mental, or emotional response to events that causes bodily or mental tension. Therefore, stress is a mentally originating phenomenon, which will also have an effect upon the physical body and can manifest in many forms such as: Tension, frustration, anger, weakened immunity, ill health, and poor concentration. According to 2010/2011 HSE statistics, 34.7% of all work related illness is stress related and 1 in 6 people claim their work is either very or extremely stressful. Prolonged exposure to stress will inevitably have an adverse effect upon the immune system. A fully functional immune system may only be minimally affected by stress. However, major stress events such as; a death in the family, change of job, redundancy, or moving house, can severely compromise immunity, and an already weakened immune system can be further damaged by even small causes of stress. Therefore, some form of intervention is required that will empower employees to manage stress effectively. There are many stress management programs in place, but the most effective is when the individual takes personal responsibility and meditation can provide the necessary tools to manage stress successfully. Meditation is an ancient practice dating back many thousands of years. It is a method by which we look internally, rather than externally, for the causes of our well-being and happiness. Most of our lives are spent dwelling in the past or anticipating the future and rarely do we focus our full attention in the present. We search outside for the things that we think will bring us happiness and contentment, but inevitably if we are unhappy within ourselves, then nothing external will provide us with any long lasting satisfaction. We must therefore look for methods that will develop our sense of inner peace and calm. This in turn allows a more rational behavioral response that leads to intelligent decision-making and simultaneously, allows us to enjoy life to the full. By recognising the habitual patterns that give rise to negative emotions it is possible to tame the mind over a time thereby changing our usual ‘roller-coaster’ emotional responses to stressful situations. Scientific research has shown that a daily meditation practice can increase blood flow to the brain and this increases muscle relaxation and decreases the output of stress hormones such as cortisol. The psychological effects of meditation reinforce how mind and body affects each other, and many scientists have begun to study the medicinal effects of meditation, specifically in reducing stress-related ailments. The new scientific field of Psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) has given credibility to the relationship between stress and its physiological effects on the body. Scientists in this growing field have discovered that stress modulates the activities of the nervous, endocrine, and immune systems. Meditation directly opposes the “fight-or-flight” mechanism that is directly related to stress and meditation techniques are now being implemented by the medical profession to enable patients to reduce stress and promote self-control and positive well-being. Implementing a meditation practice in business can show employees how to meditate using simple techniques that can be used by anyone. Many think of meditation as a formal practice involving sitting in a lotus position, or removing themselves from society and living in a cave, but this is not necessarily the case. Meditation is simply mindfulness or being aware. The mind is always active and never switches off and even in sleep we dream. The mind is filled with millions of thoughts every day, most of which do not seem to be under our direct control and very often lead to actions that we regret. For example, if when we awoke we were to say to the mind, ‘today I shall be calm, collected and patient. I will not get angry or frustrated, and I will be in a positive state of mind.’ Usually within a very short period we encounter difficulties or conflict and this motivation disappears leaving us tense and frustrated. The mind does not bend easily to our will and like the body, requires exercise to become pliable. Patterns of behaviour develop habits that are firmly implanted into our sub consciousness. As soon as we encounter a familiar situation, our habitual responses start almost automatically. Take for example, smoking. Most smokers will not even be aware that they reach for a cigarette; it becomes a mindless action reinforced by repetition. Once a smoker decides to quit as a conscious mental act, then new habits form and the addiction can be overcome. Much like all habits, repetition reinforces the habituation making it difficult to break. This applies to all forms of thinking; even people who become stressed by work develop the “stressful” habit. There have been many occasions when people who are depressed claim that they are strangely content in their familiar depressed state. Becoming angry or frustrated can develop into a ‘normal’ response for many people. As the episodes of anger and frustration become more frequent, so the habit becomes stronger until it is almost the normal response. We therefore need to develop positive responses instead of negative ones. Our senses provide an amazing amount of information to our conscious and subconscious mind, and we interpret this sensory input according to our own perspective. This results in emotional responses that will trigger our actions. If our emotional response is negative then ultimately our action will not have a positive outcome. What comes in must go out. A negative action will inevitably result in a negative outcome. Similarly a positive action will lead to a positive outcome. Athletes excel in this approach and often meditate and use visualisation techniques before competing in events. The good news is that negative habits are not fixed forever in our minds and through the practice of meditation they can change. Much as the body can lose weight, or develop muscles through exercise, so the mind can change through specific practice. Meditation slows down the thought processes and allows spaces between the thoughts themselves; this in turn allows us to “act” rather than “react.” A calm and spacious mind can think beyond habituation and make considered responses to situations, this in turn reduces frustration and stress and allows for a more relaxed state of mind. The meditation techniques are not difficult to learn and can have very beneficial effects, reducing stress, improving concentration, and focus and reducing blood pressure, which in turn reduces the risk of heart disease. Some studies have even shown that regular meditation reduces blood cholesterol levels. The benefits of meditation include:
  • Greater Orderliness of Brain Functioning
  • Improved Ability to Focus
  • Increased Creativity
  • Deeper Level of Relaxation
  • Improved Perception and Memory
  • Development of Intelligence
  • Natural Change in Breathing
  • Decrease in Stress Hormone
  • Lower Blood Pressure
  • Reversal of Aging Process
  • Reduced Need for Medical Care
  • Reduction in Cholesterol
  • Increased Self-Actualization
  • Increased Strength of Self-Concept
  • Decreased Cigarette, Alcohol, and Drug Dependency
  • Increased Productivity
  • Improved Relations at Work
  • Increased Relaxation and Decreased Stress
  • Improved Health and More Positive Health Habits
The International Journal of Neuroscience stated that, “Those practicing meditation for more than five years were physiologically 12 years younger than their chronological age, measured by reduction of blood pressure, better near-point vision, and auditory discrimination. Short-term meditators were physiologically five years younger than their chronological age.” Introducing a daily meditation practice is very effective and can be taught to everyone regardless of any belief system or religion. It is smart thinking.

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