Mindfulness is all about focusing your attention on the present moment – and leading companies like Coca-Cola and Google are adopting mindfulness training to help their staff lower stress levels and raise productivity.

Universities like Harvard and Monash are training their students in mindfulness techniques, as evidence builds to prove it can increase memory, focus and calm.

Top athletes are also being encouraged to adopt mindfulness; Michael Jordan’s NBA basketball coach, Phil Jackson, teaches mindfulness to his teams, as does Melbourne Demons coach Paul Roos.


THE EFFECTS OF MINDFULNESS PRACTICE

Most modern understanding about the practice of mindfulness comes from early Buddhist and Hindu texts, adapted into the mainstream of medicine and society by Jon Kabat-Zinn, Ph.D., a researcher at the University of Massachusetts Medical School in the 1970s.

So what exactly is mindfulness in our everyday lives?

“Mindfulness is being more engaged and present in each moment of your life”, clinical psychologist Dr Richard Chambers explains.

“Think about when you are doing things you love ― engaged in your favourite hobby, hanging out with your best friend, trying something new. These are all experiences of mindfulness.

“But while it is relatively easy to experience this while we are doing things we love, most of us find it hard to be so present and engaged when we are under the pump at work or sitting in peak hour traffic. In these situations, it can be easy to get caught up in reactions, judgements, stress and anxiety.

“In these moments, mindfulness becomes a practice, which brings our attention back to the present moment. We literally ‘come to our senses’,” he says.

It’s no wonder that in today’s world of multi-tasking and constant distraction, the resurgence of these ancient meditation techniques is having surprising effects.

“Mindfulness rewires the brain for better wellbeing and performance,” says Dr Chambers.

Dr Chambers trains mindfulness techniques to his own patients, runs the Mindfulness at Monash wellbeing and performance enhancement program at Monash University, and his research in the area has been widely published.

 



Dr Richard Chambers
Dr Richard Chambers runs the Mindfulness at Monash wellbeing and performance enhancement program at Monash University and is also one of the developers of the free smartphone app Smiling Mind, which has a range of meditation exercises between one to 45 minutes long.

SMILING MIND APP

Dr Chambers is also one of the developers of the free smartphone app Smiling Mind, which contains a range of meditation exercises. The app, which is aimed at all ages, helps people “get out of their thoughts and into their body and senses,” which can lead to more satisfying or happier feelings.

Many Australian schools are using the app after lunchtime play to promote students’ focus in class, he says, and people who have difficulty sleeping have also used the app successfully.

“We have use-it-or-lose-it brains that change neuroplasticity depending on what we experience,” he explains.

Research shows that mindfulness creates new neural connections in the prefrontal area of the brain responsible for attention regulation, decision-making, managing emotions, memory, self-awareness and inhibiting impulses. This means that we can re-train our brains with qualities like curiosity, attentiveness and compassion.

Meanwhile, Dr Chambers says, the brain’s fear centre in the lower part of the brain, starts to shrink.

While research showing brain changes usually involves people doing at least twenty minutes of mindfulness meditation daily for eight weeks, Dr Chambers says he notices changes in behaviour and wellbeing even in people who do just five to ten minutes a day.

 



Olivia Shurdova
Conscious Wellbeing founder and meditation teacher Olivia Shurdova.



BENEFITS OF MINDFULNESS

Meditation teacher Olivia Shurdova trains companies, groups and individuals in mindfulness techniques.

“People are realising that there’s only so much we can juggle before we become burdened with the cumulative effects of our daily tasks. With increased stress we go into autopilot and it becomes harder to stay fully engaged and inspired with what is happening. Mindfulness teaches us to become present and aware of ourselves and our surrounds in a non-judgemental way, creating a fresh view on life. That includes your work life as well,” she says.

Olivia says that mindfulness is a skill that can be learned over time, by anyone. “You don’t need to be spiritual, or a really naturally calm person.”

She says that companies usually introduce mindfulness to reduce stress and make staff more productive – and then find there are many other unexpected benefits.

“Mindfulness teaches us to be less self-focused and naturally creates more empathy and consideration for others,” Olivia says. “It makes for much happier workplaces.”

She cites a study done at Yale University, which found that mindfulness meditation reduces activity in the brain’s “default mode network” – which causes the mind to wander and worry about past and future events.



Mindfulness
Research shows that mindfulness-meditation practice creates new neural connections in the part of the brain responsible for attention regulation, decision-making, managing emotions, memory, self-awareness and inhibiting impulses. This means that we can change our brains to improve our creativity, curiosity, attentiveness and empathy.


 

THE RESULTS

Olivia recently visited Coca-Cola’s Sydney offices to conduct a mindfulness workshop with the legal team, teaching simple meditation practices using both visual cues and words.

“I left the workshop feeling armed to take on my working day with more relaxation, focus and concentration,” said Coca-Cola’s Legal Counsel, Sarah Susak. “I am experiencing a noticeable improvement in my ability not to have stressful reactions and be calm in my approach to multiple tasks and requests.”

Ruth Chope, who also attended the workshop, said she learned a lot about the importance of integrating meditation and mindfulness practice into her working day.

“When you think you don’t have time to meditate, it’s probably when you need it the most,” she said. “Just taking 10 minutes to focus on the present moment can free up your mind to find creative solutions that may not have come when you’re caught up managing.”



Mindfulness
You can learn how to apply mindfulness to your everyday activities. “Doing a course can be helpful, or trying out one of the many apps,” meditation teacher Olivia Shurdova says.


MINDFULNESS ― GETTING STARTED

So how can you get started on mindfulness?

“Doing a course can be helpful, or trying out one of the many apps,” Olivia says.

Start by realising the ways that you are not mindful, she suggests. “Think about how and why you are flying on autopilot and ask yourself, am I aware of what’s going on right now?”

It can be as simple as taking a minute to enjoy your morning coffee, she says.

“Ignore your phone, just close your eyes, smell the coffee, enjoy the flavour of the coffee in your mouth, and be aware of its warmth as you swallow the liquid.

“Many people will have a coffee and think about work for the rest of the day or other things that may have happened earlier – within a second, it feels like the coffee’s gone and they haven't enjoyed even one of those sips.”

“You just have to start giving meditation a go,” Ruth adds. “No one is perfect and no session will be perfect, but it doesn’t matter, you get benefits from just trying.”




Mindful Apps

1. Smiling Mind

Developed by a team of Australian psychologists and trialled in schools in Victoria, this free app offers modern meditation in age specific programs, starting as young as 7 years through to adult.

iOS

Android


2. Headspace Meditation App

Kick start your daily mindfulness practice with meditation expert, Andy Puddicombe. The techniques taught by Andy have been refined over thousands of years. His app, with soothing voice over and clever little animations, makes it straightforward to learn, when you want, wherever you are, in just 10 minutes a day.

iOS

Android

 


3. Buddhify

Mindfulness ideas for every part of your day, with over 80 guided meditations custom-made for wherever you are and whatever you’re doing – traveling, at work, at home, going to sleep and much more.

iOS

Android

 


4. Calm

Guided sessions range from just 2 minutes to 30 minutes. They include beautiful wilderness scenes to give your senses some all-important calm. This app is also available on desktop, which makes it perfect for taking just a few moments out of your day, at work.

iOS

Android

 


5. Walking Meditations

Walking meditation is a great way to fit mindfulness into your daily routine. This app is easy, calming and informal. The meditations gently guide you to experience your body and your surroundings as you walk, letting go of your mind's preoccupation. By letting go of thoughts you can experience the present moment more fully.

iOS

Android