Editor's Note: This story is part of 5 Habits Changes You Can Actually Make In 2015. Check out the full list here.
Buddhist monks and Lululemon-clad yogis use it to find their centers, and now even Wall Streeters are using mindfulness techniques to hone their stock brokering skills.
Meditation is helping today’s top hedge-fund managers beat out the competition, allowing these traders to react to volatile markets more calmly and tune into their market intuitions much more reliably.
But you don’t have to be trying to make millions of dollars to take advantage of the countless benefits of meditation. Workers everywhere can use the ancient practice to enjoy all manner of perks like increased creativity, multitasking, and intelligence. And it’s easier to do than you might think.
"Most people assume that meditation is all about stopping thoughts, getting rid of emotions, somehow controlling the mind, but actually it’s much different than that," says meditation expert and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe at the TEDSalon London Fall 2012.
"It’s more about stepping back, seeing the thought clearly—witnessing it coming and going—without judgment, but with a relaxed, focused mind."
Boost Your IQ: Several studies suggest that long-term meditation can actually change the structure of your brain, leading to a boost in intelligence. Scientists from UCLA found that long-term meditation can lead to more wrinkles in our cerebral cortexes, and they believe this allows us to process information more quickly.
Improve Multitasking: What Buddhists call "monkey mind" we might deem information overload, and research suggests both can be quelled with meditation, leading to better multitasking. Scientists at the University of Washington concluded that meditation training helps people stay on tasks longer with fewer distractions, improves data retention, and reduces stress.
Mindfulness meditation specifically, the goal of which is to become more present with ourselves just as we are, has been shown to enhance one’s ability to remain focused and ignore distractions.
Increase working memory: Mindfulness meditation can also improve our working memories, which help us temporarily hold on to new information.
Researchers at Harvard Medical School hypothesized that people who meditate have more control over the brain wave thought to screen out everyday distractions. By adjusting our brain wave to tune out distractions, we are able to more rapidly remember and incorporate new information.
Foster creativity: Scientists at Leiden University in the Netherlands found that when subjects observed their internal and external sensations without attachment—this is known as open monitoring meditation—they improved their divergent thinking. The researchers concluded that when our attention is more evenly distributed, we are able to generate more diverse ideas and a more creative state of mind.
Did you know there are a number of U.S. airports that feature dedicated yoga studios or meditation rooms, and even more have non-denominational chapels at flyers’ disposal?
But you don’t need your own Zen garden to meditate, and there are plenty of spots in the places you frequent where you can find some peace of mind. They don’t even need to be designated for meditation. Just look around you—you'd be surprised how many make-shift spots there are.
When Huffington Post asked its readers where they go to meditate, some of the responses were surprising. Answers ranged from "in a tree" to "in the dentist's chair," proving that you can take your greatest meditation tool—your mind—just about anywhere.
There are many forms of meditation, but Executive Director of The OpenMind Training Institue Ron Alexander prescribes four steps to get started:
- Sit in a comfortable cross-legged position, or in a straight-backed chair with your feet on the floor, or lie down. If seated, close your eyes gently; if you lie down, keep your eyes slightly open.
- Set an alarm. Try meditating for between 12 and 20 minutes.
- Concentrate on your breath as it enters and leaves your nostrils, or on the rise and fall of your belly.
- When thoughts, feelings, or sensations arise, don't try too hard to push them away. Mentally acknowledge them, but then try to concentrate anew on your breathing.
And for those worried about missing out on inspired ideas, he suggests you keep a pad of paper and pen nearby so that you can jot an idea down quickly and return to meditating free of current concerns.