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Train Your Mind, Improve Your Game: Meditation for the 21st-Century Leader

What Scientists Have to Say about Meditation

According to the American Academy of Family Physicians, two-thirds of all doctor’s-office visits are for stress-related ailments, and OSHA estimates that stress costs American industry more than $300 billion per year. While it’s actually healthy for us to experience occasional stress (this means we’re alive and engaged in our world), when stress becomes chronic and your body is constantly awash with stress hormones, you’re more likely to succumb to a number of conditions, such as high blood pressure, headaches, diabetes, skin conditions, asthma, arthritis, and anxiety. To deal with stress, you may turn to maladaptive coping strategies. For example, you may feel so revved up that you overwork or otherwise keep constantly busy because you can’t find the off switch. Or you may excessively turn to substances such as alcohol or drugs to calm yourself down. Or you may tire yourself out so much that you resort to stimulants such coffee or sugar to pick yourself back up again. Relying on these things in excess further taxes your body and can lead to breakdown, whether through adrenal exhaustion, loss of drive and enthusiasm, depression, heart attack, or cancer.

This may sound like a downer, but don’t despair! Numerous studies have shown that meditation, particularly through its promotion of the relaxation response, can help alleviate stress-related ailments and prevent them in the first place. One study that aspiring MBA students might appreciate tracked a group of students at Dalian University of Technology in China who were randomly assigned to 40-person experimental or control groups. The experimental group received five days of meditation training while the control group underwent five days of relaxation training. The meditators showed greater improvement than the mere relaxers in an attention test designed to measure the subjects’ abilities to resolve conflict among stimuli. Study participants also had to take a stressful math test (does that sound familiar?). Both groups initially showed an elevated release of the stress hormone cortisol following the math task, but after practicing meditation, the meditators released less cortisol, indicating a greater improvement in stress regulation. The meditators also recorded lower levels of anxiety, depression, anger, and fatigue; and greater vigor than the relaxers. Consider doing yourself a favor and learning to meditate so you can glide through your GMAT and MBA coursework.

The research suggests that meditating can also

  • Reduce chronic pain
  • Reduce cholesterol levels
  • Reduce cardiac events
  • Boost the immune response
  • Improve sleep
  • Increase energy
  • Reduce the time (and therefore the cost) to treat psoriasis.

You may find one of the studies performed regarding the immune response of interest because it involved ordinary working people at a biotech company called Promega. Twenty-five employees met for three hours once a week for eight weeks following the University of Massachusetts Medical School’s Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) curriculum. They were also asked to practice one hour a day, six days a week, at home. In addition to studying meditation’s effect on the brain, the research team also tested whether the meditators had better immune function than the control group. All study participants got a flu shot at the end of the eight-week course. Four and eight weeks after vaccination, the meditators had a significantly larger increase in antibodies than the control group.