According to reports, contemporary mindfulness began when biologist Jon Kabat-Zinn had an idea spawning from a meditation retreat in the late 1970s. This idea grew into a meditation-based program targeting stress and chronic pain at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, where he was employed at the time. That program became the precursor to Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR), an eight-week session that includes mindfulness techniques of breathing and walking meditation, drawn largely from traditional Buddhist teachings.
Mindful Work, by David Gelles, a business reporter for The New York Times, catalogues the uprising of a trend of big companies instituting employee wellbeing programs that promote mindfulness — or the act of doing and becoming nothing. In his interview with Atlantic, Gelles explains why so many corporations are jumping on the meditation bandwagon.
“[…] I think the secularization, the fact that it’s a purely scientific practice almost, has made it much more accessible to big corporations in particular.”
With its increasing popularity, one must ask: is it worth the hype? There is ample evidence that suggests that its techniques can provide significant mind and body benefits. Duke University School of Medicine’s research has shown that an hour of yoga a week reduces stress levels in employees enough to cut health-care costs by an average of $2,000 a year. The studies have proven so convincing, that healthcare insurer Aetna sells yoga and other mindfulness techniques as part of its health plans — proof that mindfulness has gone mainstream.
Experts have stated that one of the main reasons the need for mindfulness has come from over-connectivity. The constant sensory stimulation of electronic devices buzzing and pinging and ringing may be causing an overdose of information. Mindfulness provides a good excuse to unplug and disconnect from tech and connect to what’s really important.
Says Gelles, “[…] We are so addicted to our technology that the promise of a technique that allows us to come back to the present moment and stop obsessing about whatever it we just read in our Twitter stream or what we’re about to post on our Facebook page has a unique and enduring allure that is totally understandable.”
For a few years now, tech giants like Google, have been providing internal courses for employees called “search inside yourself” — a term that may have seemed over-the-top hippie less than a decade ago. EBay has meditation rooms, and Twitter co-founder Evan Williams has introduced regular meditation sessions in his new venture, the Obvious Corporation, a startup incubator and investment vehicle. And the techniques are even on trend outside Silicon Valley; the mindfulness movement can now be found in every corner of the corporate world.
But the practice of mindfulness has mindlessly become big business. For an example, Lululemon, one of the largest retailers of yoga gear, that urges people to turn off their brains for 60 seconds by visualizing a dot, pulled in revenue upwards of $1.7bn in 2013.
The danger of the growing popularity of mindfulness in the corporate world is the competitiveness of the business culture. This dynamic may water down the benefits and taint the ideas behind the Eastern teachings. The fear is that the more Western capitalism employs the Eastern techniques of yoga and meditation, the less the latter has to do with the former.
Photo credit Beyond Career Success