Are wellbeing initiatives “one size fits all”?

December 13, 2018

In recent years, meditation and mindfulness have become buzz words in many organisations. They now form part of many Employee Wellbeing Programmes or packages and have been credited with reducing stress and improving the health of employees. But do you know what they really mean? Are they the “one size fits all” wellbeing initiative organisations are looking for?

What do Meditation and Mindfulness really mean?

Well, put simply, no one really knows. The problem is that clearly defining these terms is extremely difficult and as such there are a broad array of definitions out there from both scientific and media articles. However, the general agreement seems to be that mindfulness is a mental state in which you are fully present and aware of where you are and what you are doing. Note the lack of reference to it being a ‘practice’ or involving certain types of postures or breathing techniques[1]. Whereas meditation is a collection of techniques or practices that encourage or develop a state of awareness and attention.

Is there a  difference between ‘Meditation’ and ‘Mindfulness’?

The term meditation is usually used as a broad umbrella term that encompasses many techniques and practices. Mindfulness is only one form – hence the term Mindfulness Meditation. Other forms of meditation include; visualisation, praying and deep breathing. Therefore, if mindfulness isn’t for you then there are plenty of other forms of meditation to try.

Common myths

1.    It’s all about being positive: Many people promote mindfulness to combat negativity and increase positivity. However, inevitably there will be times where you might not be happy. If you are truly being mindful, you need to be present and recognise negative emotions as well. Doing this can help you be aware of what triggers negative emotions and could enable you to handle negative emotions more effectively in future.

2.    It’s easy: Understanding that meditation is a skill will help you understand why it is so difficult at first. There seems to be this idea that anyone can take up meditation at any point. Whilst this is true, it suggests this is because it is easy. In reality, when you begin meditating it will probably feel quite difficult to quieten your mind and focus. It may even lead you to feeling more stressed in those moments. However, as with any skill, the more practice and time spent the easier it becomes.

3.    It’s a cure: Meditation has been shown to improve some physical and mental illnesses and symptoms, however, it is not a replacement for modern medicine and medical professionals. It is merely an aid to help manage and cope with some illnesses such as anxiety. Although meditation has been linked with many things including increasing wellbeing, not all of the research out there has scientific evidence. It is important to understand the limitations of meditation; what it is and what it is not.

4.    You need quiet space: Not all forms of mindfulness require quiet time or space. At PSI, we use the idea of listening mindfully or empathetically. You can practice this whenever you are communicating. Are you really listening to what they are saying? Are you noticing the thoughts coming into your mind whilst communicating? Are you able to acknowledge those but ground yourself back in the present moment? If so, you are being mindful.

Although looking at the research which underpins both mindfulness and meditation may feel like going into a minefield, there is no doubt that each of these techniques can have a positive impact on an individual’s wellbeing. Both meditation in its broader sense and mindfulness more specifically are great ways to renew and build our Self-Awareness and Awareness of Others. Therefore, take the time to see what works for you. Experiment and practice – as there is no one way to be mindful or meditate.

[1] Van Dam, N. T. et al. (2018) ‘Mind the Hype: A Critical Evaluation and Prescriptive Agenda for Research on Mindfulness and Meditation’, Perspectives on Psychological Science, 13(1), pp. 36–61. doi: 10.1177/1745691617709589.