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Elizabeth Scott, M.S.

Mindfulness Meditation and Yoga at Work

By October 17, 2011

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Meditation is a powerful stress reliever, and the research just keeps proving it!

Mindfulness meditation has been studied more and more because of the benefits it brings; many studies examine the benefits of a specific program developed at the University of Massachusetts, that follow a specific and proven protocol. Traditional mindfulness-based stress reduction programs (MBSR programs) generally last 8 weeks and have been found to produce a host of benefits, from peace of mind and increased life satisfaction, to various physical health benefits. However, compliance with these programs is not 100%--many people drop out of them, or do not participate fully, because of the significant time commitment involved: 2.5 hour weekly classes, 30-60 minutes of daily homework, and an all-day session including a variety of meditation techniques. (I have completed such a program and can attest to the effectiveness of the practice, as well as the challenges of the time commitment.) MBSR classes provide a powerful tool for stress relief, but they do require commitment.

This is why I was excited to see a pilot study from Ohio State University that proves there may be an easier way to achieve some of these benefits. This study shows that significant benefits can also be found through a modified abbreviated version of this program--one that can be conducted through workplace settings and combined with the type of yoga that can be practiced in workplace attire. This program includes six weekly hour-long group sessions combined with 20 minutes of daily meditation and yoga, practiced at participants' desks.

After six weeks, program participants reported that they were more aware of external stressors, they felt less stressed by life events, and they fell asleep more easily than did a control group that did not experience the intervention. In fact, participants found more than a 10% reduction in feelings of stress--a pretty significant return on investment for a practice that is quite do-able for most office workers.

"Because chronic stress is associated with chronic disease, I am focusing on how to reduce stress before it has a chance to contribute to disease," said Maryanna Klatt, lead author of the study and an assistant professor of clinical allied medicine at Ohio State. "My interest is to see whether or not we can get people to reduce their health care utilization because they're less stressed. I want to deliver something low cost at the work site, something practical that can be sustained, that can help reduce health care costs," Klatt said in a press release.

The classes were a combination of meditation practice and group discussion, where breathing, relaxation and gentle yoga movement were used to help participants get into a meditative state. They also discussed work-related stress, and practiced contemplating specific topics in each session that explored their response to specific stressors they'd experienced in the course of their previous week.

These courses involved 22 adult participants, who were compared with 20 adults in a control group, to provide a basis for measuring change. Future studies are planned to expand on knowledge in this area.

"It doesn't matter what the stress is, but how you change the way you perceive the stress," Klatt noted. "I like to describe mindfulness as changing the way you see what's already there. It's a tool that teaches people to become aware of their options. If they can't change the external events in their life, they can instead change the way they view the stress, which can make a difference in how they experience their day-to-day life."

This research provides an important bit of information that can help stressed office workers everywhere: you can make a significant change in your experience of stress in only a few weeks, with consistent practice that is realistic for even very busy people! If you are able to enroll in an MBSR course, I highly recommend one; however, if you have very limited time and resources and would like to see stress relief benefits with less investment, practicing mindfulness, breathing, desk yoga, and becoming more aware of stressors can still bring benefits. Hopefully, abbreviated programs like this one will become more widely available in the near future. (I just may put one together myself!) In the meantime, the following resources can help.

Meditation Resources:

Photo from iStockPhoto.com

Source: Klatt, M., Buckworth, J., Malarkey, W. Health Education and Behavior, August 2009.

Comments
October 18, 2011 at 2:07 am
(1) Robin Cash says:

Meditation can reduce stress, help us relax and one of the key elements for self-healing. Spending 15 minutes in quieting the mind and focusing on the present moment, makes us more relaxed and effective decision makers.

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