It seems as though everyone is talking about meditation these days. Even the Seattle Seahawks implemented mindfulness meditation into their training regime and they won last year’s Super Bowl. The interesting thing is that, rather than just relying on self-reported experiences with the ancient practice, researchers are using science to see just how meditating can affect a person’s brain composition, bodily functions and sense of well-being. The results of the studies have been staggering.
Change in the Brain
Engaging in meditation and mindfulness training can literally change your brain by affecting the neuroplasticity of the gray matter. How amazing is that? Several studies have been conducted over the years, but a recent one by a group of Harvard neuroscientists is getting a lot of traction right now. In a press release the authors explained that, after just eight weeks of practice, participants experienced a sense of “peacefulness and physical relaxation.” The 16 people included in the study underwent MRI scans before and after they completed the training. The results showed that, compared to the control group, those who practiced mindfulness gained gray matter concentration in the left hippocampus, the posterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-pariental junction and the cerebellum. These are all areas associated with learning, memory, emotion regulation, gaining perspective and our sense of self! The people in the study also reported that they felt they acted with greater awareness and were less judgmental of the actions of others.
There are an overwhelming number of studies showing how meditation can be used to reduce stress. In fact, many respected medical schools and hospitals are now implementing programs for use with their patients. For example, since 1979, more than 20,000 people have made use of the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s eight week Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) program. The official website states that it has been proven effective in the treatment and/or management of anxiety, asthma, grief, gastrointestinal distress, headaches, cancer, heart disease, chronic illness/pain, depression, eating disturbances, fatigue, fibromyalgia, high blood pressure, panic attacks, post-traumatic stress, skin disorders, sleep problems as well as work, family and financial stress.
In the Workplace
Is it possible to feel happy and calm in your workplace? Of course, there are some of us who actually love our jobs but many find the politics, interpersonal relationships and workload stressful (if not toxic). As an individual, you can take control of your own peace of mind by meditating on a daily basis but you can also drop a note into the suggestion box about bringing a meditation program into the workplace. Studies show that it may help build confidence in leaders, improve morale among co-workers and make tasks seem less daunting. If it’s too disruptive or costly to have someone come in to the office to train everyone, a great affordable and flexible option is online training.
Whichever approach you take, practicing meditation can be entirely worth the effort. Once you learn it, it’s free and can be done anywhere at any time. At the very least, it can be one more weapon against stress in your toolbelt.