By Gabriela Fernandez
Find a place to be undisturbed. Do not worry about the background noise. Take a moment to get comfortable, on a chair, on the floor, wherever suits you best. Be aware of the space around you. Listen to the sounds that surround you. What do you hear? What do you smell? Do not judge them. Take a breath, into the nose and out through the mouth. Just focus on the present moment. These methods are all mindfulness practices, something that basically boils down to paying attention.
As stated by the Centre for Mindfulness at the University of Massachusetts, such exercises can be formal or informal. The formal practice includes a commitment of time, from 1 – 45 minutes on a daily basis. It makes people focus on one thing, which can be your breathing or the sensation on your whole body. Yoga classes or sitting meditation are some examples of formal ways of practicing it. These formal practices can also be adapted to informal ones. They consist of bringing your attention to one thing as often as you can throughout your day, showering, for example. Notice the temperature of the water, the sounds of the water as it sprays out of the nozzle, and as it hits your skin as it goes down the plughole. Smell the fragrance of the soap and shampoo and feel them against your body. Your attention tends to wander now and then but, as this happens, the idea is to bring your attention back to the exercise.
“When it comes to this globalised culture of being always in a rush, the main struggle of this current post-industrial, occidental and consumerist society is the discipline to insert mindfulness in the daily habits”
This type of meditation is aimed to bring your attention in a receptive way to the present moment. This exercise is nothing other than the capacity to know what is actually happening with us and around us. It seems easy, but for anxious people it is not, since they are always imagining a reality that might never come true. “Anxiety disorder is one of the main problems in our current society. Instead of being aware and conscious of the present moment, people are suffering or aiming at the future,” says Vitória Bosak, a psychologist who works for a project that introduces mindfulness to poor communities in Brazil, focusing on their concentration improvement at school.
Why businesses are interested
The concept of this type of full-awareness exercise is originally from Buddhist meditations. Jorge Koho Mello, a Zen Buddhist monk since 2008 and a graduated psychotherapist from Brazil, affirms that there is no difference between mindfulness with his routine in the monastic environment. He says that the only contrast between the two experiences is that mindfulness has been proved by science to work on reducing stress and has also been used as a side treatment in psychotherapies. Koho used to work as a family therapist and that is when he had his first contact with this concentration exercise, as a way of treating patients with high stress levels. “When it comes to this globalised culture of being always in a rush, the main struggle of this current post-industrial, occidental and consumerist society is the discipline to insert this kind of practice in their daily habits. The way we live obliges us not to live in the present moment. To take all the benefits that mindfulness can offer, it is necessary to practice it regularly,” he says.
“The benefits of such practices are clear. It is easy to notice that people are interacting better with each other and are also feeling more empathetic towards their co-workers”
The way companies work – based on immediacy, high performance and competitiveness – can often contaminate the whole working group with stress. For this reason, some businesses have started to think about their employees’ mental health by introducing meditation for a better performance in the workplace. Jamie Lawrence is the managing editor for the publisher HRZone in Bristol and has felt the advantages of these concentration activities since it was introduced there two years ago. Some full-awareness workshops and talks were introduced to the group and, since then, they have been practicing it. “The benefits of such practices are clear. It is easy to notice that people are interacting better with each other and are also feeling more empathetic towards their co-workers,” says Jamie.
Jackie Hawken,64, from Bristol, runs meditation workshops at companies and says employers are increasingly aware of the importance of mental health in the workplace. “Now there are owners looking for companies that can look after their staff and some people do it as a tick box, whereas some other companies use mindfulness because they look for the most efficient way to deal with any issue in their staff,” says Jackie.
Mindfulness as an antidote
The University of Massachusetts has pioneered studies into mindfulness since 1979. Researchers have shown it to be effective and useful to people from all walks of life. One of the first studies was based on randomised trials to test the potential efficiency of the practice. Patients with psoriasis, an autoimmune disease with red and scaly skin patches caused by stress, were instructed to listen to meditation tapes while undergoing treatment. The study proved that patients who meditated were more likely to see their psoriasis decrease. It proved that this exercise does affect the healing process.
In 2014 the National Health Service found that one in three people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year. Also, one in three adults aged 16-74 with conditions such as anxiety or depression were accessing mental health treatment. Overall, one in six adults interviewed met the criteria for a common mental disorder and the research also showed that women are 10 per cent more likely to have severe symptoms than men.
According to a survey carried out by WMN with more than 30 office workers, it was discovered that 60 per cent of these employees between 24-52 years agree that working under pressure is the main cause of a stressful work environment. Also 50 per cent of the interviewees think that they work with a boss who devalues their work.
“Something funny is that my wife thinks I’m a nicer person since I’ve started these practices. For sure life is smoother and easier”
Tim Anfield, a 35-year-old from Cardiff, has been practicing mindfulness for more than a decade. “I found it quite interesting when I tried it. It was good. But I didn’t carry on straight away,” he says. He had his first experience of it at university, when an opportunity to go to a workshop came up. He now considers it an essential part of his routine. “At the co-working space there are some silenced booths with shuttable doors so I actually go there and practice mindfulness in there,” says Tim. He says it has a big impact on working life. His days seem more balanced, stress levels have decreased and he feels himself more empathetic with the people around him. Tim noticed the benefits not only in the working environment but also at home: “Something funny is that my wife thinks I’m a nicer person since I’ve started these practices. For sure life is smoother and easier.”
In an era in which treatments related to common mental disorders, such as anxiety, cost to the global economy £8.5 billion each year, as reported by the World Health Organization, Tim’s case is an example that mindfulness can be learned as a way to relieve or heal this kind of stress inside or outside the workplace. As a core psychological process, the capacity to sustain the focus on the present moment can alter how people respond to unavoidable difficulties in life.