MIND MATTERS

Published in Dermascope Magazine, April 2015

We are in the midst of one of the biggest movements the wellness industry has ever seen. In the beginning of 2014, TIME magazine published an article titled “The Mindful Revolution,” and 2014 has been dubbed the “year of mindful living.” The word mindfulness has been so pervasive in the media and social networks that you would think the biggest buzzword of the year was a newly-discovered concept. Mindfulness is rooted in Eastern philosophy, specifically Buddhism. While Buddhist principles and ideologies have been around for centuries and the word was introduced into the English language over a century ago by British scholar Thomas W. Rhy Davids, there is a new scientific edge to mindfulness that has spurred its popularity in both theory and practice in this day and age.

Mindfulness is the discipline of being fully engaged in the present moment, without distractions from the past or anxiety about the future. This state of mind can be achieved through the practice of meditation, which serves as a form of brain exercise to achieve a mindful state. Undoubtedly, the cultural shift in how we think and talk about mindfulness and meditation has been brought about by today’s supercharged world of gadgets, tech-dependence, and hyper-connectedness. Technology has dramatically increased the convenience of ordering food while sitting in traffic, working with someone half-way around the world, booking appointments while waiting at a doctor’s office, and so on. But with constant multitasking, we are in many different places at once, and not fully present where we should be. Enter mindfulness. A simple and compelling solution for a distracted populace. From the yoga studio to Silicon Valley to your smartphone, mindfulness is the mega-trend that is on everyone’s lips (or minds). You can be mindful about working, eating, parenting, exercising – you name it. Because it is universal in nature, mindfulness is making its way to just about every sector of society. This highlights its importance: At the 2013 Global Spa and Wellness Summit, the Dalai Lama noted that “We spend so much energy on physical health and hygiene – but we need to spend more on mental hygiene and the ‘hygiene’ of emotion.”

Trends in Neuroscience
It is undeniable that people are embracing mindfulness and meditation now more than ever. How did this movement grow from a new-age fad to being embraced, and even championed, by Silicon Valley CEOs, celebrities, and political figures? Neuroscience. Today, there are well-documented health benefits associated with mindfulness and meditation in both illness and wellness. As modern neuroscience unravels the mysteries behind the brains’ ability to rewire and adapt, a phenomenon known as neuroplasticity, we are better able to see the concrete benefits that meditation and mindfulness has on our mental well-being. By using techniques like brain imaging, electrical brainwave readings, and physiological measures, neuroscience has shown that practicing mindfulness can affect the brain’s structure and function. For example, meditation activates areas of the brain associated with decision-making, planning, and social emotion processing (such as empathy, love, and self-awareness). This implies that mindful meditation can regulate attention and emotion – two processes shrinking in the digital age. And it does not take a lifetime. Recent research suggests that practicing regular meditation can cause beneficial structural changes in the brain in as little as eight weeks.
There is enough evidence on regular meditators to convince the medical community that there is another powerful way to combat stress and anxiety besides pharmaceutical intervention. Therapies like mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) are effective and low-cost ways to lower stress levels, reduce anxiety and depression, and promote emotional well-being, all without the risk of side effects! Mindfulness has been shown to help smokers kick the habit and allow people with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) to take control of their thoughts and actions. The study of mindfulness is still in its infancy and there is much to learn, but future studies could shed light on its potential to enhance longevity, decrease age-related conditions, and maximize performance in both mind and body.
Due to the wealth of neuroscientific and psychological data generated over the past decade, mindfulness is gaining traction with those who once raised an eyebrow to “alternative therapies.” In the United Kingdom, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence has approved mindfulness as a treatment for depression and is embracing its holistic nature. In the United States, the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) is the Federal Government’s leading agency for scientific research on complementary and alternative medicine, including mind-body research. Outside of the scientific community, mindfulness is even more pervasive. Splashed onto magazine and newspaper covers, followed by Hollywood celebrities, and endorsed by thought-leaders – mindfulness is definitely having its moment right now (ironically). Global conferences like “Wisdom 2.0” and Arianna Huffington’s “Third Metric,” as well as Oprah’s “21-Day Meditation Experience” (an online collaborative initiative with Deepak Chopra), just goes to show how much this field has grown.

Trends in the Wellness Industry
According to the Global Wellness Institute, “wellness” is a $3.4 trillion mega-industry as of 2013. The concept of wellness is more than just the absence of disease and illness – it is a conscious, evolving process of achieving a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being. Methods used to achieve mental wellness (such as cognitive training, mindfulness, and biofeedback) are steadily growing into a sizable portion of the global wellness industry. According to a study by SharpBrains, the market for brain health software alone grew from $600 million in annual revenues in 2009 to more than $1 billion by the end of 2012. Researchers forecast this market to reach $6 billion by 2020. Applications such as Headspace are bridging the worlds of Eastern philosophies with modern technology. Brain-training has even reached the travel industry. Back in 2008, Westin® Hotels & Resorts launched a wellness initiative called “BrainBody Fitness,” a program connecting mental and physical fitness, whereby guests were given brain challenges and games along with physical stretching. In 2012, the Intercontinental Hotels Group’s Trend Report predicted that the future hotel would allow guests to de-stress in special sleeping laboratories or stimulate their minds through in-room brain spa menus. Recently, British Airways began testing blankets with woven-in neurosensors and fiber optics that measure a passenger’s brainwaves to predict stress and improve in-flight experience. Clearly, technology has extended its reach on us, even while we sleep!

Trends in the Treatment Room
While we do not see brain-spas on every corner, we do see a need for the over-worked and stressed client to find a haven – in the form of silence, aromatherapy, music, or even reading a book. With the wellness tourism economy estimated at $494 billion in 2013, you can be sure there will be changes to spa menus worldwide. We have known for decades that spa and wellness activities can reduce stress and relax our bodies and now, we are beginning to understand exactly how certain techniques do so. With the explosion of mindfulness across various industries, you can expect more treatment menus to incorporate this concept and take clients to whole new levels of zen.

Have you noticed that it is becoming harder for clients (and maybe even the professional) to relax during a treatment or massage? Even while focusing on relaxing, the effort to focus means telling oneself: Do not worry about that noise and stop thinking about things like what happened at work, what the treatment will feel like, and if it will be worth it. And if you think clients cannot tell that their aesthetician’s head is somewhere else when they are physically in contact with the client – think again. Incredibly, the power of touch transmits something as esoteric as being present very well. Mindfulness has always been a part of giving a treatment in some way. Today, there are ways to create a profoundly relaxing experience by blending the principles of mindfulness with the techniques of massage. In 2013, the “mindfulness massage” was highlighted as a top trend in SpaFinder® Wellness’ annual forecast of global spa and wellness trends. Fusing mindfulness-based approaches like breath work and guided visualization with traditional bodywork, the mindfulness massage aims to help the client reach a level of deep relaxation quickly and easily. This, of course, also allows the therapist to remain emotionally present, not thinking about the next session or their busy schedule. In essence, this technique is a powerful and calming treatment, resulting in a rewarding experience for both parties. 

The beautiful thing about wellness is that it is both integrative and interdisciplinary, much like neuroscience. Methods can be taken from one area of discipline and applied to another. For example, you can have a client take a couple of deep breaths or you can introduce yogic breathing techniques for a more profound experience. Ujjayi (pronounced oo-ja-ee) is an ancient yogic breathing technique that helps calm the mind and body, with a balancing influence on the entire cardiorespiratory system. To perform Ujjayi breath, the client should
begin by breathing slightly deeper than normal. With the mouth closed, the client should exhale through the nose while constricting the throat muscles. This is especially helpful for talkative clients who are anxious and need extra help calming down. Active breathing takes some practice, but can be reinforced outside the treatment room, particularly during yoga practice.

Walking a client through a few minutes of visualization will focus their mind on your touch and their body, replacing stressful thoughts and allowing them to focus on healing rather than pain. If visualization can help a public speaker or professional athlete, it can certainly benefit the skin care or massage therapist to get in the zone before and during a treatment.

The Stress Epidemic
Mindfulness massage is a trend that is picking up steam and it is easy to see why. Today’s workplace culture is practically fueled by stress, sleep deprivation, and burnout. About 600,000 Chinese people die every year from working too hard, according to the China Youth Daily, and work-related stress is costing the British economy a whopping £6.5 billion a year. Clearly, the global population is suffering from a stress epidemic and stress-reduction therapies are needed now more than ever. Cutting-edge neuroscience research has shed light on the power of mindfulness therapies, but spas are still focusing almost exclusively on the body and physical wellness. Emphasizing the mind-body connection will increase opportunities for practitioners, reinforce the client-therapist relationship, and ultimately provide tools that help clients feel, think, and act better.

References:
1. Harrington, A., Dunne, J. (2013). Mindfulness Meditation: Frames and Choices.
2. Gard, T., Holzel, B.K., et al., (2014). The potential effects of meditation on age-related cognitive decline: a systematic review. Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, 1307(1): 89-103.
3. Tang, Y., & Posner, M.I. (2012). Theory and method in mindfulness neuroscience, Social cognitive and affective neuroscience, 112.
4. Rycroft-Malone, J., et al., (2014). Accessibility and implementation in UK services of an effective depression relapse prevention programme-mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT): ASPIRE study protocol, Implementation Science, 9(1): 62.
5. Baime, M., (2011). This is your brain on mindfulness, Shambhala Sun, 44-48.
6. SharpBrains: The Digital Brain Health Market 2012-2020. 
7. Intercontinental Hotels Groups Trend Report 2012.
8. 2013 Global Spa & Wellness Trends Report.