A lot has been written in recent years about the power of mindfulness, but you're certainly not alone if you're still a little confused about exactly what it is and how it works.
The basic idea behind mindfulness is to practise being fully present in the moment, tuning in to your surroundings, thoughts, feelings, and the sensations within your body. It has its origins in Buddhist meditation traditions, and principles of self-compassion and non-judgemental observation are central to the approach.
Now, some people may find this a bit fluffy, but it's backed up by pretty solid scientific research, which shows that mindfulness has positive effects on both physical and mental wellbeing, as well as inter-personal relationships.
Specifically, mindfulness can be used to reduce feelings of overwhelm, depression, stress and anxiety, encourage greater self-compassion, improve sleep, and increase your ability to cope with difficult situations – ideal for handling the everyday pressures that come with running or working for a small business.
Unsurprisingly, a number of huge global companies have already caught on to the benefits of mindfulness meditation. Google, Apple, Nike and Golman Sachs are among the Fortune 500 organisations using the technique to help promote positive employee mental health.
In fact, according to New York Times business journalist David Gelles, author of Mindful Work, healthcare costs at US insurance company Aetna fell by seven per cent – $6.3 million – in 2012 as the company's mindfulness programme kicked in. After introducing mindfulness training for staff, Aetna calculated productivity gains of $3,000 per employee – an eleven-to-one return on their investment.
And the scientific studies back this up. A 2012 study published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology found that both workplace mindfulness programmes "may provide viable and effective interventions to target high stress levels, sleep quality, and autonomic balance in employees".
A similar study in 2011 found that employees trained in mindfulness meditation techniques "experienced a post-training reduction in stress, increased daily mindfulness, better memory for details of the task, and longer, uninterrupted periods of time-on-task".
As you can see, the business benefits of mindfulness go far beyond simply being a responsible employer and taking care of your staff's mental health. But where to begin?
Before you even think about formal training programmes, you can set about making simple changes to office culture, like discouraging multi-tasking, and suggesting that staff and colleagues pause throughout the day to notice what's going on around them.
Too often businesses slip into workplace cultures of busyness and frenzy where, instead of being mindful and focused, employees feel stressed and overwhelmed by the level of information they have to deal with in any given moment. Simply encouraging staff to take a regular moment of reflection can help to instill a more mindful way of working.
Next up, the obvious place to start is with a workplace mindfulness course. If you search online you'll find no shortage of companies offering these kinds of programmes, many of which offer an introductory taster session to give your staff an initial taste of how mindfulness could support them on the job.
Mindfulness meditation app Headspace also offers corporate subscriptions to business looking to create happier, healthier employees who are also more productive, resilient and creative. The app can be used anywhere – at home, at your desk, or on the commute – and provides "bite-sized meditations for busy schedules", as well as sessions looking at stress, sleep, and emergency SOS exercises to help get employees out of a workplace meltdown.
For staff who struggle with the idea of sitting still to meditate, mindfulness can also be incorporated into more active pursuits, like walking, yoga or running. Joyful Living offer office yoga classes, as well as workplace mindfulness courses, or check out Dynamic Running Therapy and Greenspace Workplace Coaching for mindfulness options that get staff away from their desks and make the most of the green spaces nearest to your office.
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