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The Science Behind Meditation and Resilience

In yesterday's post, we talked about the importance of REST (Retreat, Eat [healthy], Sleep, and Treat) to build resilience and avoid burnout. An exceptional tool to help us rest, to guard against burnout and to improve mental clarity is meditation.

In recent years, there has been an explosion in the use of meditation by individuals and corporations. People are more receptive to the practice – mindfulness training has helped the US Marine Corps make better decisions in extremely stressful circumstances, and soldiers have used Transcendental Meditation to help recover from PTSD; the Bank of England offers mindfulness sessions, and Google has created the ‘Search Inside Yourself’ project using mindfulness meditation as well.

Meditation is a simple technique for recovery and superb bounceback from stress. At Companies in Motion, it is a core component in our Resilience practice.

Research proves that all types of meditation strengthen our immune system. A study from the universities of Tokyo and Okayama in 2015 shows that meditation has a positive effect on the amount of SIgA (Secretory Immunoglobin Antibody) found in mucus on the inner surface of the nose, mouth, trachea, lungs and gut. SIgA thickens the mucus, making it more difficult for cold, flu and digestive system viruses to penetrate into the cells and the bloodstream. A sample group of those who meditated developed a thicker mucus and higher levels of SIgA than those who didn’t, indicating a more robust immune system.

Meditative practice changes the type of brain waves that are most prevalent. We don’t want beta waves – they are chaotic. We do want alpha, theta, and delta waves, however, because they bring clarity, calm and deep relaxation. According to Herbert Benson, MD and many other researchers working to understand the physiological changes as a result of meditating, this is easily detectable in brain scans of both novice and experienced meditators. To learn more about the science and potential regarding different types of meditation, read Herbert Benson’s book The Relaxation Response, and Stephanie Shanti’s book Prisoners of Our Own Mind.

LIFE HACK: Try MUSE, a brain- sensing headband and app that helps you meditate with biofeedback.

In addition to meditation, we need time for reflection so that we can make conscious decisions going forwards. Former American football player and entrepreneur, Jarrod Barnes, spoke with us about this. He is very strategic about his relaxation and recovery. The time for reflection is something he schedules in, believing it is the greatest way to gain perspective. Jarrod says, ‘You need time to think about what you are doing, what you did this past day or week, how you utilised your time and how certain things made you feel, even how certain foods made you feel. But also how all of that impacted you mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Our society moves so fast and focuses so much on instant gratification and trying to do more and more and be bigger and better, that time for reflection as the norm has been lost.’ We encourage you to try it.

Here are a few relaxation techniques you can use during those windows you set aside for reflection:

Exercise: The relaxation response (as devised by Herbert Benson)

• Relax, especially the eye muscles and jaw.

• Select a word, e.g. ‘one’ or ‘flow’.

• Breathe in and, silently, in your mind, speak the word repeatedly on the out- breath.

Use this technique the moment you are becoming overstressed, or set a timer to take ten minutes aside at an allotted time. The idea is that you are able to gradually live in the relaxation response. It becomes a part of you.

Exercise: Alternative meditative breathing practice

Count each breath in and out up to ten.

• Breathe in and mentally count one.

• Breathe out and mentally count two.

• Breathe in and mentally count three, and so on up to ten.

• Then, begin again at one. (Continue this pattern for ten minutes.)

Exercise: Recovery breathing

Despite your best efforts, there may still be times when the techniques above are not enough and you experience high pressure . If you are feeling overwhelmed because things are going wrong or if your heart rate is racing and you feel exhausted or in overdrive, then you need to use recovery breathing immediately and regularly. Otherwise, you will not be able to make your best decisions. This technique is used by many physicians, including Harley Street psychiatrists, as part of programmes to help stressed businessmen and women, negotiators and CEOs who are suffering from burnout get back to work. After recovery from burnout, individuals come back far stronger and more resourceful than they were before, often reporting up to 10 per cent improvement in the quality of the outcomes they achieve as they continue their careers. The long out- breath enables heavy, toxic carbon dioxide to be expelled properly from the lungs and allows lighter oxygen to enter. The counting enables you to regain control.

• Put two fingers on your pulse point in your wrist or neck. Count the pulse for a minute. Record the number. Write it down.

• Find somewhere to recline or lie down. Rest your hands face down on your thighs.

• Breathe out all the way.

• Breathe in deeply.

• Pause for a moment.

• Breathe out while counting to ten (press your fingers one by one onto your thigh as you count).

• Expel all remaining air.

• Repeat ten times.

• Retake your pulse. You should experience a drop in pulse rate – through breathing practice you can change your physiology and instruct your body to regain a calm focus.

Please remember that real burnout is a serious, life threatening condition. It is advisable to see a doctor and receive medical support in addition to adopting a full programme of Physical Intelligence practice under supervision. Signals of burnout are: frequent panic attacks, regularly feeling overwhelmed, feeling isolated, anxious, joyless and just about coping, having your heart rate regularly racing out of control, crying, feeling extreme fatigue, and breaking out into sweats.

It can be a genuine challenge to make time for REST, to switch into REST and to enjoy it. Too often, our foot remains rigidly on the accelerator; it takes time and skill to touch the brake without derailing the vehicle. However, with the techniques in yesterday’s post and above, you now have plenty of resources to REST, that can be used both in the moment and as part of your ongoing strategic REST planning.

For more information about how Physical Intelligence can help you, your team or your organization, visit us at or order our book, on sale now.

About Companies in Motion

There are over 80 easy to use techniques and tips to build our Physical Intelligence. You can read about all of them in our new book, Physical Intelligence: Harness Your Body’s Untapped Intelligence to Achieve More, Stress Less and Live More Happily available from Simon and Schuster. (Order here.) (Multiple translations will be available later in 2019.)

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