We recently read an article in the Guardian which suggested that mindfulness courses and meditation at work are making us into “placid worker drones”, insinuating that mindfulness is the same as an antidepressant or ‘soma’ from Huxley’s Brave New World, the imaginary ideal pleasure drug.
Mindfulness and meditation does not disable our ability to challenge the status quo, or question why we aren’t getting extra holiday or longer lunch breaks. Meditation heightens our sensitivity to it and provides you with the clarity to combat these issues in an effective and emotionally balanced way, that when stressed might not come very naturally. It enables you to live in the moment and manage your negative emotions such as anxiety and anger, whilst allowing you to tackle your problems in a constructive way.
There is an increasing body of research on the scientific evidence regarding the benefits of meditation. A lot of meditations focus on settling, clearing or “sending light” to the front part of our brains. Interestingly this is where our prefrontal cortex is, which is the main region of our brain that is concerned with our cognitive “clever thinking”. Essentially, it helps us question, categorise, analyse and hypothesise (most things we do in the workplace) but in turn, overexerting it causes high stress levels and an inability to switch off.
Our brain emits different size brain waves depending on what we’re thinking, there are five main brain waves:
Delta waves are emitted when we are in a deep (REM) sleep. Delta brain waves are slowed down to a frequency that varies between 0-4 cycles per second. It’s the wave that you use when the phone rings and you already know who’s calling….
Beta waves are emitted when we are alert and focused. The Beta wave has a frequency of 14-28 cycles per second. Beta is the state in which you are active and alert, such as in conversation with others.
Alpha waves are emitted when we are relaxed and sensing- often seen as a primitive state of simply absorbing our surroundings. In a Alpha state, your brain waves move at a frequency between 7-14 cycles per second. The frequency of Alpha is a mental state of deep relaxation and meditation. Alpha is the bridge between Beta and Theta. Wave Alpha governs daydreams, fantasy, and denotes a state of consciousness detached and relaxed.
Theta waves are emitted when in a state of very deep relaxation; it is used in hypnosis and during REM Sleep. The brain waves are slowed down at a frequency of 4-7 cycles per second. Theta brain waves can be considered the subconscious; they govern the part of our mind that lies between the conscious and the unconscious and retain memories and feelings. Also direct your beliefs and your behaviour. Theta waves are always creative, characterised by feelings of inspiration and very spiritual.
It is believed that this mental state allows you to act below the level of the conscious mind.
Gamma waves appear to be emitted when you’re in higher brain activity, in which are included the perception and consciousness. While you’re in range, your brainwaves range from 0 to 4 cycles per second.
Given the fast-paced lives we lead, our diets and regular consumption of alcohol, it’s nearly impossible to function at our very best, and many of us spend too much of our state in gamma and beta which leads to a cascading effect of stress, anxiety and ultimately not being able to switch off. The goal of meditation in scientific terms is to activate the emission of alpha waves. This ultimately brings us calm, balance, and the ability to give proportional emotional energy to each situation rather than being passively consumed by our thoughts and feelings.
The potential positive effects of meditation on different aspects of our work life from decision making to confidence and awareness has naturally led massive companies promoting meditation and mindfulness in their offices.
Steve Jobs/Apple – Although a questionable character, he was considered a pioneer of “mind technology” when he introduced zen mindfulness meditation to the corporate structure at Apple. Workers have access to a meditation room with regular daily breaks and onsite classes to reduce stress, gain clarity and enhance creativity.
Google – “Search inside yourself” one of their original software developers initiated a program that began in 2007, which offers on-site meditation space and courses, believing that it can help improve not only employee mental health and well being but also the company’s bottom line too.
HBO – boasts a gym, yoga classes and weekly meditations.
Eric Harrison has written one of our favourite meditation books, as mentioned yesterday. He uses an entirely secular, rational and science based language to explain meditation. When he opened the Perth Meditation Centre in 1987, he had the backing of three years of study in biology and cognitive science which has allowed him to provide hundreds of courses to major corporations, government departments, hospitals, schools and universities.
He promotes the concept of being able to rapidly relax the body, and calm the mind, wherever you happen to be and in any activity – using “the five minute meditator”. He see’s mindfulness as being the skill of deliverate attention, in the service of clearer thought and action.
“Meditation and the cultivating of attention remains the core of my life. I can’t imagine a day without them. I’m constantly working on those mental skills. Mindfulness feels like the source of all beauty, intelligence and sanity in my life. I only wish I could persuade my students to take it more seriously.”
If you’d like to read more about brain enhancing techniques, read our blog post on Shirin Yoku aka. Forest Bathing!