Tara Healey’s interest in mindfulness began early. She started reading books on the subject in high school and eventually developed a daily meditation routine. Every year, she spends several days at a silent meditation retreat in the woods.
Healey’s personal interest has also become a growing business for her employer, Harvard Pilgrim Health Care, where she is the program director of mindfulness-based learning. She began training employees at the Wellesley-based insurer about a decade ago, and more recently, Healey has been bringing her message to many of the employers that are Harvard Pilgrim’s customers.
Healey’s department, which includes 10 instructors, has trained 10,000 people at 150 different organizations over the past several years. In 2011, Harvard Pilgrim led 25 mindfulness sessions for 15 clients; last year, that soared to 230 sessions for 60 clients.
Many employers have turned to mindfulness in recent years as a way of helping employees cope with the distractions of everyday life and become more focused at work.
“You’re really engaging in your work environment in a way that is more awake and alert and aware, and that can’t do anything but help you,” Healey said. Studies have borne this out. “I think that is why companies are investing and why they’re interested,” she added.
Healey begins her talks by clearing up some misconceptions. Mindfulness is about paying attention, she says. It is an active practice. It is not a passive relaxation technique, and it is not meant to stop all thoughts.
Healey guides her classes through quiet meditation. Sitting and breathing in meditation, she said, is a tool that can help cultivate mindfulness. With regular practice, this can lead to more productivity and better impulse control, qualities that can be helpful in the workplace.
The meditation doesn’t have to happen in the workplace to help people at work. Healey recommends finding just a few minutes a day, such as in the morning or evening, to sit quietly. Even three minutes of meditation three times a week can help, she said. The key is to stick with it, like a fitness routine.
“People tell me their stories. It’s helping and supporting them to be kinder and be more compassionate,” Healey said. “At least once a week somebody will say to me, ‘this is so practical.’”
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