Why meditation isn’t just fluff (or how science suggests you should start it today)
What is meditation?
We can all picture what meditation looks like. Serene figure, cross-legged, palms facing upwards, maybe a few ‘Om’s for good measure. In actual fact, the word ‘meditation’ is used to describe a wide variety of techniques to focus the mind inwards, rather than on external factors. Meditation has been part of human existence for centuries, having been practiced in the fifth and sixth centuries BCE in China, Nepal and India.
Meditation today usually involves taking some time to focus the brain on, for example, breathing in and out, to the exclusion of all other thoughts and worries.
Why is it good at work?
It may seem that if you’re busy in your life and at work in particular, meditation is the very last thing you should stick on the overly long to-do list. However, studies show that it can improve your performance at work (as well as your happiness levels!).
Meditation can be difficult and needs practice. Resisting the urge to follow every thought – that phone call you need to make, the email you wanted to answer – is excellent training. It means that when you need to focus at work, you’re more likely to manage it. It means fewer days with the impression of having been super-busy but having achieved virtually nothing.
Equally, practicing meditation regularly also improves your self-control so you can make better decisions at work, being less likely to react irrationally.
Meditation has also been proven to reduce stress, which increases productivity and happiness. Sara Lazar led a team at Harvard which found that meditation changes the brain in numerous ways, including by decreasing brain cell volume in the amygdala, which is responsible for stress, as well as fear and anxiety. And if you need more convincing, a UCLA study found that regular meditation makes the brain age more slowly,
How do I do it?
Start with five minutes a day (set a timer!), and aim to build it up. Sit comfortably with your eyes closed and focus on your breathing. The difficult bit is not letting your mind wander. Bring it back to your breath as soon as you notice other thoughts drifting into your consciousness. That’s it! The more you do it, the easier it will become.