Improvement in productivity
More and more companies believe that mindfulness is the way forward: yoga mats are everywhere in Silicon Valley companies. Financial powerhouse Goldman Sachs offers meditation sessions in its office building in downtown Manhattan. And even Midwestern mainstay General Mills, producer of such classic household brands as Betty Crocker and Pillsbury, has meditation rooms in every one of their office buildings.
So what is mindfulness?
Jon Kabat-Zinn, probably the best known teacher of mindfulness worldwide, calls it “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and non-judgmentally.”
Basically, it means being present. Being fully in the present moment, aware of your thoughts, physical sensations and surroundings. Contrast this with what most of us tend to do: being somewhere and not really taking in the moment at all, but focusing on the next issue, the next meeting, the next item on the task list.
In an interview on CBS’s 60 Minutes program, Kabat-Zinn describes it this way: “When your alarm goes off and you jump out of bed, what is the nature of the mind in that moment? Are you already like, ‘oh my God’ your calendar pops into your mind and you’re driven already, or can you take a moment and just lie in bed and just feel your body breathing. And remember, ‘oh yeah, brand new day and I’m still alive.’ So, I get out of bed with awareness, brush my teeth with awareness. When you’re in the shower next time, check and see if you’re in the shower.” Because you may not be for, according to Kabat-Zinn: “You may be in your first meeting at work. You may have 50 people in the shower with you.”
After finishing a PhD in molecular biology and setting up a stress reduction clinic at the University of Massachusetts in 1979, Kabat-Zinn developed an eight-week program called the Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction, or MBSR, bringing together “mindfulness meditation and yoga.” Nowadays, more than 720 clinics in the US teach it and the corporate world is plainly interested in it.
One of the first companies to try Kabat-Zinn’s meditative approach was Promega, a US biotech company, with surprising results. Those in the company that learned MBSR meditation techniques “were less stressed, felt less anxiety and had more energy at work” reports David Gelles, author of Mindful Work: how meditation is changing business from the inside out. The meditation was even said to have boosted their immune systems, when those that had practiced mindfulness techniques were found to have “significantly more flu antibodies in their blood.”
US-based health insurer Aetna discovered that its employees who took a Mindfulness at Work course paid $US2,000 less in health care costs annually.
No wonder mindfulness advocates see it as a panacea to all sorts of ills. Harvard psychologist Ellen Langer thinks there are “many other advantages to mindfulness. It’s easier to pay attention. You remember more of what you’ve done. You’re more creative.”