Smsh: I feel like there’s been a lot of hype around mindfulness lately. Can you tell us why it’s spreading over Shanghai so quickly?
Brandon: There’s a couple of reasons. I’d say over the last five years there’s been a tremendous amount of scientific research behind mindfulness. Like, if you want to watch your breath, if you want to watch your mind it’s fine. Just doing nothing is actually really good for you. So, I think the biggest reason [it’s spread] is this international awareness and the fact that people need scientifically proven ways to combat stress and anxiety and increase focus — mindfulness offers that. There are many ways but it’s one of them. It’s gaining a lot traction especially in the online world with applications, just in the United States alone it’s a billion dollar industry and growing more every single day. Growing and changing.
Smsh: So, if research into mindfulness is the cause of its gaining popularity, is there any particular study you think people should check out?
Brandon: Studies from Harvard showed a cortical thickening in the prefrontal cortex (from FMRI scans); which basically means you are increasing your emotional intelligence, your ability to focus, your ability for emotional regulation [with meditation]. In the back of the brain the amygdala is shrinking in size, that’s the flight or fight portion of the brain and the source of anxiety, worry, doubt, all of those animalistic emotions that seem to hijack us from time to time. Organizations that we feel we can trust are showing this stuff actually works; even Google [Ed's Note: that Search Inside Yourself thing we keep talking about].
To be clear, this isn't a replacement for treatment of serious psychological disorders like psychosis or bipolar disorder.
Smsh: What exactly do you do as a mindfulness trainer and how’d you come to start Shanghai Mindfulness?
Brandon: When I got here, friends just started asking me to teach them meditation, then that moved to mindfulness meditation. I’ve been doing this for a long time and I asked myself, what is a way that is scalable? Not an application route, because that’s already so saturated; but instead I’ve gone to corporate training, as a 'mindfulness trainer.' 90% of my business is corporate mindfulness training in our organization, Potential Project. We work with Fortune 500 companies, Ford, DiDi, Accenture, and Goldman Sachs delivering mindfulness training in a secular and professional way that’s applicable to the workplace. We also teach them how to bring it home as well.
10% of what I do is Shanghai Mindfulness (which is a community). If you know no one in Shanghai, you get out of your rocket ship and you start asking around — where can I find meditation teachers? You can either ask the person next to you or go online and search for mindfulness in Shanghai, we started the community to make Mindfulness in Shanghai easier to find.
Smsh: Shanghai Mindfulness pairs a weekly podcast with teaching. You mentioned before the market is oversaturated with Mindfulness Apps. Do you think an app can be as effective as a teacher?
Brandon: I started with apps myself and one of the great things is the barrier to entry is quite low, but to take it to the next level we have to be able to let go of the app. After a while when you get into meditation you have to make a difficult choice, you could do a new meditation every week or you could stick to the same one for 6 months, a year, or interchange two or three. With the apps, what they’re doing is they need long term customer loyalty and to do that they need variety, so they’ll have a new meditation every single week, one on visualization, one on positive thinking, this that or the other. What I foresee in the future are apps that help people develop the habit of meditation, I think that’s more important than having a new flavor every week. I think apps are fantastic, but with every piece of technology comes the good and the bad.
Smsh: So what's something readers can try right now, to be a little more mindful?
Brandon: Here's a quick Mindfulness Training exercise, designed by the Potential Project. It's call the ABCD of Mindfulness Training:
A. Eyes shut or slightly open. Breathe through the nose. Relaxed neck, shoulders, and arms. Straight relaxed back. Grounded balance. B. Let your breath be your focus anchor. Focus on your nose or belly. Observe your breath naturally. C. Count the breath from 1 to 10 and then back down from 10 to 1. Repeat this cycle. D. Know, gently dealing with distractions is a large part of mindfulness training.
As distractions arise, relax, release, and return back to the breath.
Class photo provided by Brandon Mehrgut
If you are interested in learning more or signing up for a mindful habit class with Brandon, you can add him on wechat: bmehrg or check out the Shanghai Mindfulness site. Class packages range from 200rmb for 2 classes a month to 800rmb for 2 classes, weekly instructional audios, and 2 one-on-one coaching sessions.
You can also learn more about his day job and see if a workshop would be a good fit for your company at Potential Project's site.
Peace. Love. Mindfulness.