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Embracing Mindfulness for Men’s Health Month

Big Think Edge | June 19, 2018

Practicing mindfulness in the workplace is taking businesses and organizations around the world by storm. While some practice mindfulness techniques, others are more involved in the discipline of mindfulness meditation.

In observance of Men’s Health Month, we will delve into the benefits of engaging in mindfulness techniques or meditation for men in the long run, and why males should embrace mindfulness in their personal and professional daily lives.

What is Mindfulness?

According to Big Think expert and medical researcher Jon Kabat-Zinn, mindfulness is nothing new to East Asian cultures. Kabat-Zinn, founder of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, says that mindfulness is about being aware of yourself and others in the moment:

“Mindfulness is ‘not really about sitting in the full lotus… pretending you’re a statue in the British Museum. Simply put, mindfulness is moment-to-moment awareness.’”

Many people may not realize that they already practice mindfulness techniques. At police academies and military boot camps, individuals in training learn to become aware of and control their breathing to be able to focus on and shoot a practice target. The same goes for photographers who need a steady hand to capture shots in low light. Athletes are taught to clear their minds to get into “the zone.”

The Health-Related Benefits of Mindfulness Meditation for Men

Research shows that mindfulness meditation can have a positive effect on chronic pain, anxiety, high blood pressure, the development of Alzheimer’s disease, and a variety of other illnesses or conditions. New research taking place at Harvard studies how meditation affects depression.

However, practicing mindfulness meditation strictly for the health benefits may not be the right reason to do it. In another Big Think article, Zen Buddhist monk Dainin Katagiri warns against practicing meditation while focusing on it as a tool you can use to achieve a goal (better health) because it defeats the purpose of the activity. Doing so misunderstands its purpose and results in little to no benefit.

Essentially, the health benefits of meditation are merely side effects of adopting a mindful way of being rather than the goal. And, if we try to obtain those benefits without fully grasping mindfulness, we are liable to fail.

Practicing mindfulness helps everyone, men included, to benefit from a new way of thinking about how and why we act. For example, men who practice mindfulness and meditation demonstrate increases in self-compassion and being less judgmental and reactive. If we apply only “means-to-an-end” thinking to mindfulness, we are likely to lose out entirely.

The Professional Advantages of Practicing Mindfulness

Executives as well as legal and technology professionals at some of the top companies in the world — including Aetna, Goldman Sachs, Bank of America, Google, and Salesforce — practice mindfulness. Studies have shown that it increases focus, memory, and may even improve cognition.

Big Think expert and neurotheology pioneer Andrew Newberg supports the notion that meditation can improve brain function. Newberg, director of research at the Jefferson Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine and a physician at Jefferson University Hospital, uses fMRI and other neuroscientific tools to study religious experiences in the brain. He says that meditation affects the human brain in both religious and secular contexts, as well as the work context, by improving concentration and focus:

"If you're at your desk and you feel like the world is just flying around you and you need to take a moment… you can literally just sit there at your desk, put everything down. You can close your eyes and hopefully you can close your door or block out your ears and just concentrate on your breath."

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