Mindful about mindfulness
Western cultures have been very slow to adopt the concept of mindfulness, particularly in the corporate world or in sport. Though, it now seems to be the done thing, with over 40% of U.S. companies offering training in mindfulness techniques to their employees (Kotler & Wheal, 2017). It makes sense to do so. A workforce who have a ‘go with the flow’ attitude tend to be the happiest and most productive, and less rigid in their thinking, even for those in stressful or competitive environments. We know that mindfulness may change the brain. Neuroscience studies shows that it can increase the density of white matter in the part of the brain that is responsible for self-regulation, while also decreasing it in the section of the brain that lets you fly off the handle (Holzel, et al 2009).
What is mindfulness?
Very simply, mindfulness is learning to be present in the moment, while accepting things, thoughts or events that may happen. People often mistake that for being passive, which it is not. It’s a very deliberate process, and is often used as a way to deal with our emotional responses and behaviour, which is a skill that everyone should have.
Why aren’t we becoming more mindful?
It’s absolutely wonderful that companies are now embracing the need to assist their staff mentally. Let’s not pretend they’re doing it for the good of our health. They’ve just accepted that it’s good for business. The trouble is, while many seem to have accepted the concept, they don’t really apply it in the right way. How often have you received emails informing you of upcoming courses in things like mindfulness only to also be told you can attend, if your supervisor agrees to let you go, or if you do it in your own time? Or that you may have to rush back to finish something? How is that conducive to learning any new skill? Apparently, the app Headspace has reached over 15million downloads but yet, we’ve never been so stressed. We’re obviously not doing it right.
Be mindful of mindfulness
It's not easy, nor does it work for everyone. This is where you need to be so careful if you are going to engage with a practitioner. There are risks. Imagine somebody with OCD thinking about thinking and you can soon see the damage it could potentially cause. A practitioner should know how to spot these traits. People think that it’s easy, but it’s not. It’s a constant challenge. Your brain doesn’t like to be told to slow down or to focus on something as dull as your breathing or movement. So, it constantly tries to wander off and you need to train yourself to bring it back, without giving out to yourself for allowing your head to go walkies. It can be very tiring, and without appropriate supports or time, it won’t work and can even be detrimental.
Mindfulness has ballooned into a billion-dollar industry, which means not all practitioners are as scrupulous or qualified as they should be and not all practices are ethical. Even though we have some research to back up that it works, we have to remember we’ve only been studying it for a few years, despite the fact that meditation has been around for centuries. In that vacuum, misinformation and malpractice will occur. If it seems too good to be true, it probably is.