Meditation in Education

Meditation Improves Focus and Grades in College Students, Research Shows | Elevated Existence

As reported in the journal, Mindfulness, a study of university students in California found those who practiced meditation scored better on tests, and those who meditated before classes focused better and concentrated longer, the UK Telegraph reported.

With just six minutes of meditation before a test, students showed better results, according to Jared Ramsburg, a University of Illinois doctoral student who co-lead the study. In one experiment, the meditation even predicted which students passed and which students failed the quiz.

The research found meditation training worked better on freshman students, who may have more difficulty concentrating. “This data from this study suggest that meditation may help students who might have trouble paying attention or focusing,” said George Mason University, Virgina, professor Robert Youmans, who co-lead the study with Ramsburg. “Sadly, freshmen classes probably contain more of these types of students than senior courses because student populations who have difficulty self-regulating are also more likely to leave the university.”

Researchers also believe taking long walks in the morning to plan out the day could have the same positive effects as meditation. “Basically, becoming just a little bit more mindful about yourself and your place in the world might have a very important, practical benefit – in this case, doing better in college,” Ramsburg said.

via Meditation Improves Focus & Grades in College Students, Research Shows | Elevated Existence.


Yes, even you can meditate –

By Mary MacVean

March 30, 2013

If meditation sounds intriguing, you can try it out — in as few as 10 minutes a day — without leaving your office.

“I’d say there’s quite a range [of styles],” says Mark Coleman, a longtime teacher. “Sitting. Stillness. Movement. Yoga, tai chi, chi gong. Ones that cultivate the heart, mind and awareness and clarity. Concentration meditations — mantras. Various New Age meditations that focus on energy. Once you choose, you have to give it some period of time to evaluate.”

There are many free or low-cost downloads available and classes at meditation centers, universities and such sites as Kaiser Permanente, which offers meditation programs for members and employees.

Rachel Donaldson, senior behavioral health educator at Kaiser, says all sorts of people are attracted to the class, including those who get headaches, feel anxious or have insomnia. “We try to make it comfortable for people,” she says, by explaining it’s not a religion, telling people they don’t need to sit cross-legged and enabling them to “stick their toe in the water” with an easy entry such as mindful eating.

James Gimian, publisher of the new Mindful magazine, likens the status of meditation to that of yoga a couple of decades ago, moving from the margins of life to gaining an estimated 20 million U.S. practitioners.

Andy Puddicome, a former Buddhist monk and founder of the meditation nonprofit Headspace, says he wants people to integrate mindfulness into ordinary activities. “That’s ultimately where we need to bring it, in the midst of everyday life. It’s a great opportunity to learn to be mindful when you are chopping the vegetables or gardening. Eating, clearing up, making a cup of tea.”

In her memoir, “Blood, Bones and Butter,” the New York chef Gabrielle Hamilton describes a life busy beyond imagining. But when she prepares food, she says, her mind becomes “free to sort everything out. I have never once finished an eight-hour prep shift without something from my life — mundane or profound — sorted out.”

UCLA’s Diana Winston tries walking meditation on the way from the parking lot to her office in Westwood. “When I am harried or rushed, it’s trying to maintain an awareness and have compassion for myself when I screw up.”

via Yes, even you can meditate –

Meditation classes calming young minds | Illawarra Mercury

There seems to be a misconception that kids have it easy.

While they might not be worried about work or money, there are plenty of other things that can stress them out – relationships with their friends, bullying, school work and family issues are high up on the list of things children worry about.

Which is where meditation comes in.

It can help kids find a calm place when they feel anxious and help them to become peaceful after spending an afternoon running around the playground.

Lyn-Maree Fredericks started taking her two daughters to a children’s meditation class 18 months ago, after they started asking questions about her own meditation practices.

Although her eldest daughter no longer attends the classes, she still meditates regularly at home to overcome stress around school, while her nine-year-old daughter Jessie still loves meditating with her friends every Tuesday afternoon.

“Jessie is in tune with the relaxation side of it. I find the conversations I have with her leaving here are usually very clear, like she can go in concerned with what’s happened at school but come out quite bubbly and relaxed,” Fredericks says.

“She seems to find clarity with life. It means she is clearer in the things she wants to do.”

Jessie says she uses meditation to deal with things she worries about at school and to help calm her mind before she falls asleep.

“I like it because it’s fun and very relaxing to do. I like doing the guided meditation the most. Sometimes it’s hard to do just on your own.”

“I do it at night because it helps me get to sleep and with school and calming down with tests that might be coming up.”

Ursula Laughton runs a children’s meditation class and says most kids tell her it assists them when they are feeling anxious about something at school.

“There’s always pressures, even from age five they’ve already started school, and there’s expectations and responsibilities that they have to experience and deal with everyday, so taking this time out, they get the opportunity to be themselves, reflect on what they need and get to know themselves more,” she says.

“I’ve had comments about children being able to go to school more at ease, relating with their peers with more confidence.”

The difference between teaching a child and an adult how to meditate is the level of intellectual engagement they have with the process.

A typical meditation class begins with the children expressing something they are grateful for, followed by some stretches and breathing exercises to calm them down. Laughton then guides her students through some relaxation exercises before taking them into their imagination using visualisation, which lasts between five and 10 minutes depending how old the children are.

via Meditation classes calming young minds | Illawarra Mercury.


Why a Little Bit of Stress Is Good For You | Greatist

There are times when I think I’d be much happier if I could spend the rest of my life lounging on the sands of the Mediterranean, having someone fan me with palm fronds while feeding me superfood grapes. In other words, life would be better without any stress. Or would it?

According to new research from the University of California, Berkeley, a little stress may not be so bad for us after all. While chronic stress may be harmful, acute (short-term) stress may actually boost our cognitive function. The findings are supported by other research suggesting a little bit o’ stress may have beneficial effects for our brains and bodies. The key, of course, is knowing when we’re too harried for our own good.

What’s the Deal?

Before we get into the science, let’s be clear that most of the research in this area involves rats, not humans, so it’s not entirely clear that the findings apply to people. For a while now, researchers have suspected that the effect of stress on the (rat) brain is like an upside-down U: Up to a certain point, stress boosts cognitive function; after that, it starts to take a negative toll [1] [2].

In this latest study, researchers wanted to see if short-term stress really would turn regular old rats into geniuses. So they subjected rats to acute stress by confining them in their cages for a few hours. The stress caused the rats’ corticosterone (a stress hormone) levels to shoot up for a few hours, and also caused the growth of new cells in the hippocampus, an area of the brain associated with memory function.

Two days after the stressful event, the researchers tested rats’ memories, and found nothing had changed. But two weeks later, the rats’ memories had significantly improved. Then the researchers got super-techy and figured out that the cells produced after the stressful event were the same cells involved in learning during the second round of memory tests. In other words, the acute stress had made the rats smarter. The scientists concluded that acute stress has a beneficial effect on cognitive function.

Is It Legit?

Possibly. Again, we’re talking about rats here. And while the researchers behind the latest study believe the findings apply to humans as well, there’s currently no way to monitor neural stem cells in the human brain, according to study co-author Daniela Kaufer.

There’s some evidence that acute stress is not only beneficial for rats’ brains, but also for their immune system. Stress hormones released in response to acute stress may warn the immune system about upcoming threats such as an infection [3]. On the other hand, studies of humans suggest that if the immune system is chronically exposed to stress hormones, we may become more susceptible to diseases [4].

Together these findings imply that acute stress ­— think a job interview or even a ride on a scary rollercoaster — might actually be necessary for our physical and mental health. It’s chronic stress — like being stuck in a bad job or relationship — that causes our health to decline, contributing to issues as serious as heart disease and obesity.

Still, it’s worth noting that some forms of acute stress may actually cause serious damage, as in the case of post-traumatic stress disorder. The UC Berkeley researchers say it’s still unclear why some types of acute stress have positive effects, and others can be so damaging. It might just be a question of individual experience, so it’s worth figuring out where our own optimal stress level lies.

Do you think a certain level of stress can be beneficial? Share your thoughts in the comments below or tweet the author directly at @ShanaDLebowitz.

via Why a Little Bit of Stress Is Good For You | Greatist.


Meditation, mindfulness can help improve test scores | GlobalPost

Mindfulness training has been found to help test scores according to a new study.

Researchers at the University of California, Santa Barbara found that teaching mindfulness through meditation helped improve the GRE scores of students.

“Despite the wide recognition that mind wandering is a pervasive and often disruptive influence in our lives, almost no research has established effective strategies for reducing mind wandering,” said co-author Michael Mrazek.

“We set out to find ways to reduce mind wandering and thereby improve performance within educational contexts.”

The study recruited 48 college students and assigned half to a meditation class and the other to a nutrition class.

More from GlobalPost: Meditation can speed up the brain, researchers say

The classes convened four times per week for 45 minutes each.

The sessions lasted for two weeks.

The mindfulness classes focused on breathing and paying attention to their senses in order to not let their thoughts wander.

Tests were given before and after for reading comprehension and memory.

The students who took the mindfulness class showed significant improvements in their scores compared to those in the nutrition class.

via Meditation, mindfulness can help improve test scores | GlobalPost.


Meditation Could Help Students Get Better Grades, Study Finds

Want to do well on that upcoming test? Consider a little meditation, a new study in the journal Mindfulness suggests.

Researchers from George Mason University and the University of Illinois conducted their study on college students in a psychology class. Some of the students were shown how to meditate before listening to a lecture, while others didn’t meditate before the lecture. Then, after the lecture, they all took a quiz — and those who meditated did better on the quiz than those who didn’t.

Specifically, one of the experiments conducted in the study showed that meditation had such a strong impact on the quiz scores, it was even able to predict students’ passing or failing the quiz.Interestingly, researchers found that the meditation’s effect was even more pronounced in freshmen classes.”Personally, I have found meditation to be helpful for mental clarity, focus and self-discipline,” study researcher Jared Rambsurg, who is a doctoral student at the University of Illinois, said in a statement. ”

I think that if mindfulness can improve mental clarity, focus and self-discipline, then it might be useful in a variety of settings and for a variety of goals.”This is certainly not the first time mindfulness has been shown in a study to help with academics. A study published last month in the journal Psychological Science showed that mindfulness helped students’ memory and reading comprehension before taking the verbal reasoning portion of the GRE.”

Our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with wide reaching consequences,” the researchers of that study, from the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote.

via Meditation Could Help Students Get Better Grades, Study Finds.


Mindfulness Meditation Benefits: 20 Reasons Why It’s Good For Your Mental And Physical Health

Oh mindfulness meditation, how do we love thee? Let us count the ways.

Even though the academic research on mindfulness meditation isn’t as robust as, say, nutrition or exercise, there is a reason why it’s been around for literally thousands of years. And we’re starting to get a better understanding of why it seems to be beneficial for so many aspects of life, from disease and pain management, to sleep, to control of emotions.

For starters, let’s define what mindfulness is: A Perspectives on Psychological Science study described it as “the nonjudgmental awareness of experiences in the present moment.”

With that in mind, here are 20 reasons why you might want to consider incorporating mindfulness meditation into your daily life. And for our full coverage on the topic, click over to our Mindfulness Meditation page.

1. It lowers stress — literally. Research published just last month in the journal Health Psychology shows that mindfulness is not only associated with feeling less stressed, it’s also linked with decreased levels of the stress hormone cortisol.

2. It lets us get to know our true selves. Mindfulness can help us see beyond those rose-colored glasses when we need to really objectively analyze ourselves. A study in the journal Psychological Science shows that mindfulness can help us conquer common “blind spots,” which can amplify or diminish our own flaws beyond reality.

3. It can make your grades better. Researchers from the University of California, Santa Barbara, found that college students who were trained in mindfulness performed better on the verbal reasoning section of the GRE, and also experienced improvements in their working memory. “Our results suggest that cultivating mindfulness is an effective and efficient technique for improving cognitive function, with widereaching consequences,” the researchers wrote in the Psychological Science study.

4. It could help our troops. The U.S. Marine Corps is in the process of seeing how mindfulness meditation training can improve troops’ performance and ability to handle — and recover from — stress.

5. It could help people with arthritis better handle stress. A 2011 study in the journal Annals of Rheumatic Disease shows that even though mindfulness training may not help to lessen pain for people with rheumatoid arthritis, it could help to lower their stress and fatigue.

6. It changes the brain in a protective way. University of Oregon researchers found that integrative body-mind training — which is a meditation technique — can actually result in brain changes that may be protective against mental illness. The meditation practice was linked with increased signaling connections in the brain, something called axonal density, as well as increased protective tissue (myelin) around the axons in the anterior cingulate brain region.

7. It works as the brain’s “volume knob.” Ever wondered why mindfulness meditation can make you feel more focused and zen? It’s because it helps the brain to have better control over processing pain and emotions, specifically through the control of cortical alpha rhythms (which play a role in what senses our minds are attentive to), according to a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience.

8. It makes music sound better. Mindfulness meditation improves our focused engagement in music, helping us to truly enjoy and experience what we’re listening to, according to a study in the journal Psychology of Music.

9. It helps us even when we’re not actively practicing it. You don’t have to actually be meditating for it to still benefit your brain’s emotional processing. That’s the finding of a study in the journal Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, which shows that the amygdala brain region’s response to emotional stimuli is changed by meditation, and this effect occurs even when a person isn’t actively meditating.

10. It has four elements that help us in different ways. The health benefits of mindfulness can be boiled down to four elements, according to a Perspectives on Psychological Science study: body awareness, self-awareness, regulation of emotion and regulation of attention.

11. It could help your doctor be better at his/her job. Doctors, listen up: Mindfulness meditation could help you better care for your patients. Research from the University of Rochester Medical Center shows that doctors who are trained in mindfulness meditation are less judgmental, more self-aware and better listeners when it comes to interacting with patients.

12. It makes you a better person. Sure, we love all the things meditation does for us. But it could also benefit people we interact with, by making us more compassionate, according to a study in the journal Psychological Science. Researchers from Northeastern and Harvard universities found that meditation is linked with more virtuous, “do-good” behavior.

13. It could make going through cancer just a little less stressful. Research from the Jefferson-Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine shows that mindfulness coupled with art therapy can successfully decrease stress symptoms among women with breast cancer. And not only that, but imaging tests show that it is actually linked with brain changes related to stress, emotions and reward.

14. It could help the elderly feel less lonely. Loneliness among seniors can be dangerous, in that it’s known to raise risks for a number of health conditions. But researchers from the University of California, Los Angeles, found that mindfulness meditation helped to decrease these feelings of loneliness among the elderly, and boost their health by reducing the expression of genes linked with inflammation.

15. It could make your health care bill a little lower. Not only will your health benefit from mindfulness meditation training, but your wallet might, too. Research in the American Journal of Health Promotion shows that practicing Transcendental Meditation is linked with lower yearly doctor costs, compared with people who don’t practice the meditation technique.

16. It comes in handy during cold season. Aside from practicing good hygiene, mindfulness meditation and exercise could lessen the nasty effects of colds. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Health found that people who engage in the practices miss fewer days of work from acute respiratory infections, and also experience a shortened duration and severity of symptoms.

17. It lowers depression risk among pregnant women. As many as one in five pregnant women will experience depression, but those who are at especially high risk for depression may benefit from some mindfulness yoga. “Research on the impact of mindfulness yoga on pregnant women is limited but encouraging,” study researcher Dr. Maria Muzik, M.D., an assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Michigan, said in a statement. “This study builds the foundation for further research on how yoga may lead to an empowered and positive feeling toward pregnancy.”

18. It also lowers depression risk among teens. Teaching teens how to practice mindfulness through school programs could help them experience less stress, anxiety and depression, according to a study from the University of Leuven.

19. It supports your weight-loss goals. Trying to shed a few pounds to get to a healthier weight? Mindfulness could be your best friend, according to a survey of psychologists conducted by Consumer Reports and the American Psychological Association. Mindfulness training was considered an “excellent” or “good” strategy for weight loss by seven out of 10 psychologists in the survey.

20. It helps you sleep better. We saved the best for last! A University of Utah study found that mindfulness training can not only help us better control our emotions and moods, but it can also help us sleep better at night. “People who reported higher levels of mindfulness described better control over their emotions and behaviors during the day. In addition, higher mindfulness was associated with lower activation at bedtime, which could have benefits for sleep quality and future ability to manage stress,” study researcher Holly Rau said in a statement.

Can’t get enough reasons to love meditation? Fine, fine — here are seven more:

See Slideshow:

Mindfulness Meditation Benefits: 20 Reasons Why It’s Good For Your Mental And Physical Health.


Meditation technique enhances children’s mental health

Mindfulness, a form of meditation, has been shown to help with a wide range of mental health conditions and improve well-being in adults. However, few trials have evaluated its effectiveness in children.

Professor Willem Kuyken from the Mood Disorders Centre at the University of Exeter is presenting new research findings from a feasibility trial which show how the mindfulness technique is also effective in improving well-being in young people. Speaking at the Mindfulness in Schools Project Annual Conference in London, Professor Kuyken will describe the results of the study which assessed how effective the intervention was at enhancing the mental health and well-being of young people aged 12-16 years.

Students from 12 secondary schools either participated in the mindfulness in schools program or took part in the usual school curriculum. Mindfulness has been described as the practice of becoming aware of what is happening in the present moment and of learning to relate more skilfully to thoughts, emotions, body sensations and impulses as they arise. The young people who participated in the mindfulness program reported fewer depressive symptoms, lower stress and greater well-being than those in the control group. The findings provide promising evidence of the effectiveness of the mindfulness in schools program.

Previous studies have shown that mindfulness can have a positive impact on physical health conditions, on social and emotional skills, and on learning and cognition. Changes in the brain are the basis for these positive effects. Neuroscience and brain imaging shows that mindfulness meditation alters the structure and function of the brain to improve the quality of both thought and feeling.

Although there is more work to do to fully determine the effects of mindfulness in young people, these results suggest that students participating in the scheme are likely to benefit from improved emotional wellbeing and mental health. Such interventions can fit within the school curriculum, are inexpensive to introduce, can have rapid impact and above all are enjoyable for both pupils and staff.

The philosophy behind mindfulness is rooted in more than 2000 years of history. In the 1970s the disparate approaches were brought together and incorporated into a programme by Jon Kabat-Zinn called Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction. Since then mindfulness-based programmes have helped thousands of people with chronic health problems and have been used to relieve distress and enhance well-being. Ongoing research in Exeter is examining mindfulness approaches for people with recurrent depression and vascular disorders.

via Meditation technique enhances children’s mental health.


B.R.E.A.T.H.E: The Neuroscience of Breathing Techniques TED talk

This is an extra long TED talk by Neuroscientist Alan Watkins talking about how to “Be Brilliant Every Single Day”.

In the second half he talks about how breathing techniques work physiologically.  He mentions that there are 12 different ways that the breath can be adjusted, but only talked about the most important three:

  1. Rhythmically
  2. Smoothly
  3. Location of the focus during the breath (in the center of the chest)

To remember this, Dr Watkins uses the acronym B.R.E.A.T.H.E:

  • Breathe
  • Regularly
  • Through the
  • Heart
  • Everyday

He also shows a graph which describes two variances of experience, one being the Sympathetic (flight/fight) neurological pattern and the Parasympathetic (rest/digest) pattern.  His explanation about how where we are on that trajectory is less important than the Negative (cortisol driven) emotional system vs. the Positive (DHEA driven) emotional system trajectory was quite fascinating.

He explains that we can use breathing techniques to bring us to the center of the Negative/Positive Emotional system, but that to be optimal we need to be able to regulate our emotional state and stay in the positive.  This makes sense to me as a meditation instructor because the breathing techniques are so often used in conjunction with deeper emotionally based meditation techniques such as METTA meditation, Tonglen and other methods of training ourselves to emote love and peace.

Download a free Meditation Track from Unwind your Mind here.

Why Mindfulness and Meditation Are Good for Business – Knowledge

You don’t need a personal guru or a trip to India to bring you inner peace. Perhaps you simply need to learn from Mirabai Bush, co-founder of the Center for Contemplative Mind in Society. Bush has worked with several businesses to teach people about the benefits of meditation and contemplative thinking. She has helped individuals improve their listening skills, their teamwork abilities and their anger management at corporations such as Google, Monsanto and Hearst. In addition, Bush has worked with non-profits, lawyers and educators, among others.

In this interview with Knowledge@Wharton, Bush spoke with Katherine Klein, vice-dean of Wharton’s Social Impact Initiative, to discuss how individuals can bring meditation and “mindfulness” into their everyday lives. (It’s not as difficult as you may think.)

An edited version of the conversation appears below. 

Katherine Klein: The broad topic we want to explore is how businesses, organizations, nonprofits and for-profits turn to contemplative practices, such as meditation. But first, let’s start with the challenge many people face with fitting meditation into their lives.

Mirabai Bush: Pretty much everybody thinks it’s difficult to fit meditation into their lives. But we say, “You’re not too busy to brush your teeth or to eat breakfast.” Once you experience “mindfulness,” which is an umbrella term for meditation and some other practices, you begin to realize its benefits, and then you can incorporate it into your life. Don’t think of it as a big deal, but rather as a short practice each day that really makes a big difference.

We’ve seen all the research on the various benefits — from stress reduction to health and cognitive benefits, including an increase in attention and creativity and so on. So once you begin to practice mindfulness, you begin to think of it as just part of your life. And there are some ways to make it easier to incorporate into your life. First of all, keep it really simple; brief practice is fine. Just focus on your breathing for a few minutes, and each time you’ll be reminded of how calming and quieting it is.

Klein: In addition to meditation, are there other beneficial practices that you think people might want to consider squeezing into their days?

Bush: On The Contemplative Mind website there is The Tree of Contemplative Practices. We designed that tree after talking to people from 80 different organizations that have incorporated some contemplative practices into their work. We simply asked them if they were doing any contemplative practices to calm and quiet the mind and increase awareness. People in businesses, nonprofits, law firms and educational organizations gave us a long list of different practices. I think in the workplace, the practice of “mindful walking” is a good thing [to do] when you’re walking from place to place. Instead of sitting at your desk and focusing on breathing, when walking from place to place — which you’re naturally doing — you can bring your awareness to the sensation of walking.

We once taught mindful walking to a group of environmental canvassers. They were walking from house to house, and in between their appeals to people, they were paying attention to their walking and letting go of all other thoughts. They reported back that they were much more effective because when they got to where they were going, they were fully present in that moment with whoever opened the door. So walking’s a great practice for mindfulness.

Recently we’ve been looking at the practice of looking. In museums or with books of artwork, people do … what is sometimes called “beholding” whatever is in front of them. Just looking at what’s there and letting go of all other thoughts, opinions and pre-judgments can be useful.

Klein: As you speak, I’m struck by the challenge to these practices presented by our cell phones and iPhones. Whenever there’s a moment of pause, we automatically pull out our cell phones.

Bush: Years ago, I lived in a monastery in India. I remember there were always lots of lines for everything. As young Westerners, we were always impatient. I remember one day we were complaining, and a teacher said to us, “Waiting is being.” I still think of that in those situations. We all check our email or Facebook or whatever while we’re waiting. But it’s possible, while waiting, to use that as a way to just calm, quiet and stabilize the mind. That calms and quiets all of our physical systems, as well. Even a few moments of that really helps us to feel better and be more present in the moment.

Klein: Can you tell us about the benefits you’re seeing in the workplace when people engage in mindfulness or contemplative practices? One clear benefit for individuals is that they feel less stressed and sleep better.

Bush: I’ll tell you about some experiences of mine. Let’s start with Google: Chade Meng-Tan wanted to host a mindfulness-based stress reduction class and expected Googlers to sign up. He posted information about the class and nobody signed up. He was very disappointed and wasn’t sure what to do next. Someone encouraged Meng to call me, so we came together and started by looking at who worked at Google. We recognized that Googlers are very young, very smart and very competitive. They come from the top of their class at the best universities and mostly sit in front of their screens. They’re generally really good at algorithms, but needed better self-awareness and better awareness of others. Although they may be great in front of their screens, most of their work involves teamwork. They needed help relating to one another.

Furthermore, Google’s employees are about one-third Chinese, one-third Indian and one-third everybody else, so there were cultural misunderstandings. We recognized that they needed better ways to relate to others and build awareness of others. We could see that the employees would recognize this as well. So we engaged Daniel Goleman, who wrote Emotional Intelligence, and we used the same practices that were being offered in mindfulness-based stress reduction classes, but we emphasized interactive practices. We re-framed the classes to focus on mindfulness and emotional intelligence. Within the first four hours of posting, 140 people signed up. We taught them how to improve their communications with others, we taught them mindful e-mailing and we taught them about dealing with negative emotions. In general, we helped them with communicating and working together in teams. [For more details about the Google program, Search Inside Yourself, see Knowledge@Wharton’s interview with Chade Meng-Tan.]

Klein: I’m intrigued by the idea of dealing with negative emotions. This is obviously a challenge for people. Give me an example of how to cope with this.

Bush: At Google, we started by asking people to remember a time when they were angry and allowed that anger to arise in them. We taught them to be mindful of the sensations in the body as negative emotions arose, and then pause and recognize that they can have various responses to that anger. They can choose to not let the anger drive them, but rather, have awareness of the anger and assess what the options are for response.

Then we asked them, in the beginning, to pause and take a few deep breaths before noticing the sensations in their body. Just that little exercise really helps people to not react immediately to anger and unpleasant emotions. They report that it’s really helpful for their relationships with others.

Klein: So interesting. We’ve heard about Google but I wonder if you have examples from other companies or organizations that you have worked with.

Bush: We did a short, one-day program with the electric company National Grid. They were bringing together all of their diversity officers in the Northeastern [U.S.], and they wanted to do something that would help them appreciate diversity even more among themselves. The program involved people bringing food from their family traditions. We did some mindfulness practices to help people become calmer, quieter and more stable when they arrived.

We did a practice called “just like me.” This was one of the first times that I did this practice with a business group, and these were very mainstream, corporate people. We had them stand in two lines facing a partner across from them. The person who was guiding the practice started by saying various phrases and then [asked participants] to repeat them silently [to themselves while] looking into the eyes of the other person. You can see that the person across from you is a human being with thoughts and emotions, just like you. The guide goes on to say, “This person has been sad in his life, just like me. This person has done things he regrets, just like me.” And then it goes through a range of things. “This person wants to be loved, just like me.”

I took part as well. The person across from me was a regional manager from Buffalo, N.Y. He was wearing a suit and tie. He was a white, working class, Buffalo guy. When the practice was over, it was so touching. I just thought, “Oh my God, I’m going to have to stay with this person forever. I’m in love with him. I’m never going to be able to leave him.” It was really powerful.

Now we do this practice with lots of different kinds of groups. I did it last week with a group of university professors. It’s very powerful. It’s all about compassion, which is so helpful when you’re working with difficult people. Once you do this practice, then you can do it silently to yourself before you go into a meeting, or as you’re listening to someone whom you’re having a hard time with. You can think, “This person wants to be happy just like me.”

We also worked with Monsanto in the late 1990s, when they had a new CEO and they were making their shift toward agriculture. Bob Shapiro was their new director. He was a really creative thinker, and he had just inherited this 100-year-old chemical company. He wanted to see what they ought to be doing for the future. (I’m reserving judgment on their decision.) He was interested in the creativity of his top executives. He invited us for a retreat with the top 18 executives, and we did a four-day, three-night silent retreat off-site.

Klein: Wow.

Bush: Yes. It was really intense. I can only imagine a few corporate groups committing to that. But Bob was a real risk-taker, and it was very powerful. After that, for several years, we did off-site retreats and on-site day-long programs. They put meditation rooms in many of their buildings.

In terms of feedback, the vice president of organizational management development said this: “The most noticeable change in the largest group, which included scientists and some of the foundation team, was a shift from cynicism to hope. When people talk about what happened to them or how it’s changed them, they talk about how they went from being negative, pessimistic and cynical to being hopeful, being more centered.”

There’s another quote from a project coordinator. He said, “Mindfulness helps clear all the chatter that goes on constantly in your head, and you begin to find out what’s real for you in your life. What makes this program so great is that it can effect long-term evolution in individuals, and therefore, in the organization. It’s provided more purpose and meaning to what I’m doing at work.”

Klein: That’s great. But when I think about meditation, most of it focuses on the individual. When you encounter organizational issues, should you focus on helping the individuals or should you focus on teamwork techniques?

Bush: Well, yes — either or both. For example, when we worked with employees at Marie Claire, they were stressed. These are young women in New York in a very competitive world, working against deadlines all the time. They were all stressed. Our program focused on individual mindfulness meditation to achieve a calmer state. While this was very individually focused, they did it as a group. They came together once a week for two hours and were led in practice by someone. Even though we didn’t emphasize the group dynamic, people appreciated each other more. They felt a deeper bond because they were going through something together. Being there and going through this process with other people and knowing that they’re doing the same thing and they’re feeling vulnerable helped build an appreciation of other people.

But then there are also ways to work with teams. At Google, we paired people off for listening exercises, and they would mindfully speak and listen to each other. People were instructed to let go of other thoughts and emotions as they would listen to the speaker. Then we’d sit in a circle and discuss the experience of listening and speaking in pairs. People revealed that they usually didn’t listen in that way, and they hadn’t realized how much judgment was going on when they were listening. This can give you an appreciation for how these practices can affect a group process.

Klein: I want to go back to your discussion of Monsanto. You mentioned the positive benefits of mindfulness and contemplative practice. But I wonder if this leads people to make different decisions as a company.

Bush: Yes. That’s the big question, of course. Monsanto is a great case study for that. We worked with Monsanto for four years and during that time they became really involved in genetically modified foods. The environmental movement was revving up in response to this, and we were, at the same time, working with the Green Group, which was a group of CEOs of national environmental organizations. We were working with two groups that were radically opposed to one another. Our job was simply to teach these groups practices related to questioning, mindfulness and inquiry. This helped people look at the connection or lack of connection between personal and corporate values.

Inside Monsanto they were studying population predictions for the next century, and they really felt that they were going to contribute to increasing yields and feeding the world for the 21st century. It was hard for them to entertain that what they were doing wasn’t a good thing. But after a while, they were getting so much resistance that Bob Shapiro decided to invite the president of the Rockefeller Foundation to their board meeting. At this point, the Rockefeller Foundation was leading some of the research and the resistance to the development of genetically modified foods.

They had a long discussion at their board meeting, which led to some changes within Monsanto. It obviously didn’t lead to the end of their commitment to genetically modified foods. But at the time, it led them to let go of some of what Rockefeller considered their worst practices. [The president of the Rockefeller Foundation] convinced them that if they didn’t let go of this one terrible product, which I think was labeled “terminator technology,” everything else that they were doing would be “tarred with the same brush.” He convinced them that it was to their own advantage to let go of what he considered the worst product. Ultimately, Monsanto became more open to listening to opposing arguments and different perspectives. I saw a movement toward that while I was working with them. So yes, I saw changes.

Unfortunately for us, Bob stepped down as CEO, and somebody else came in. The new CEO did away with anything that had to do personally with the former CEO. He got rid of our program. But all these years later, I still see people who say that the program really changed them and that they took those benefits with them wherever they went in the corporate world.

After that, we did a rethink about our work in the corporate world, and we focused on a number of smaller programs. It wasn’t until Google came along that I really felt like there was an opportunity to do a company-wide program that really could have a big effect, which I think it is doing.

Klein: I have one final question. Early in the interview, I jotted down some words that you mentioned. You said something about “non-judgmental presence.” On the one hand, I think the notion of non-judgmental presence is important, and it’s linked to listening and compassion. But at the same time, you’re working with people who need to make judgments and decisions. I was struck by that duality of non-judgment and judgment. Can you expand on this?

Bush: I think it is the hardest thing to grasp. This is very philosophical. The present moment is here. It’s here in front of us. It is what it is. The important thing in mindfulness is to see the present moment as it is and not to bring pre-judgment to it.

To explain my point, let me give an example relating to some work we’ve done with lawyers. A group of judges asked us to do a special workshop on mindfulness and emphasizing non-judgmental awareness. They wanted to do this because they said that when people arrived in front of the bench, they would find that their minds leapt to judgment based on people’s appearance, and they knew they shouldn’t be doing that.

This example relates to business because it’s about seeing the situation as it is. It’s about making decisions without … pre-conceived notions. It doesn’t mean that we don’t make judgments, choices and decisions. It’s about making better choices by seeing what’s actually there in front of us.

Another important issue relates to distraction, which is increasing all the time with our advances in electronic information. Mindfulness really increases our attention and takes us beyond distraction. Distraction keeps us from being productive, and I think it leads us to not look deeply at situations, to stay at the superficial level. Mindfulness will help us stay focused on what really matters and help us make better decisions for the future.

Why Mindfulness and Meditation Are Good for Business – Knowledge@Wharton.