Nurturing a culture of mindfulness, one breath at a time

August is National Wellness Month – the perfect time to tap into the wisdom and expertise of IMO’s Chief Medical Officer, Andrew S. Kanter, MD. Below, he shares advice and insights on his mindfulness practice, the sessions he leads at IMO, and how mindfulness aligns with the company’s culture and priorities.
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Mindfulness with Andy

When did you first become interested in mindfulness?

Andrew Kanter: I have been meditating on and off since high school, but it really was more recently that I began looking specifically at practicing mindfulness as a regular activity. I attended a course out in California that focused on mindfulness and leadership – particularly the benefits of mindfulness at work. To be honest, I started out hoping to get a truer view of reality and further my understanding of the universe and why I am in it, but soon realized you don’t need such lofty goals to get a benefit from mindfulness practices.

What is mindfulness practice and what are the benefits?

AK: Mindfulness is really about changing our relationship to our own thoughts. We tend to live inside our own heads, listening to our own internal dialog and reacting to what we perceive through the lens of prior experience and expectation. Unfortunately, the real world rarely conforms to our preconditioned expectations, and our experiences frequently end in negative judgments about how we behaved, thought, or felt. Mindfulness helps us to stay in the present moment, see things for how they really are, and be free to act without the baggage of our conditioning and limited perspective. This has lots of benefits mentally, physically, and in our relationships. Mindfulness practice has been shown to improve blood pressure and immunity, reduce stress, and lower the risk of cancer and depression. It can reduce insomnia, help relieve pain, and allow us to be more focused at work.

Tell us a bit about the mindfulness sessions you lead at IMO.

AK: The sessions at IMO are meant to be very approachable and not tied to any one philosophy. This is so anyone can participate – whether you are experienced with your own practice or just a first-timer. We started back in 2017 and have been holding regular sessions ever since.

We typically have two sessions per week, a 40-minute session over lunch one day and a shorter 15-20 minute session first thing in the morning on another. The benefits of mindfulness accrue over regular practice and typically require at least a couple of weeks of effort to start seeing benefits.

The longer session usually involves some didactic teaching followed by a guided body scan and then mindfulness meditation for 10-15 minutes. I usually teach using the breath, but there are different techniques. Sometimes we do mindful movement, like Qi Gong exercises or even walking meditation to start. We started using Zoom early on to include people who couldn’t make it into the office (and produced a recording). When the pandemic hit, we simply converted to Zoom only. It will be nice to have people together again, though. There definitely is a benefit to practicing in a group and getting support from others.

Where do you think mindfulness fits into IMO’s broader culture?

AK: I think mindfulness is a perfect component of IMO’s culture. IMO is about being intentional in our efforts, doing the best we can for the company and our customers, and investing in the health and development of our employees. Mindfulness does all of that and does it in a way that has almost no downside. IMO plays a critical role in our healthcare system by improving the way doctors and patients interact with each other and technology. Mindfulness helps our employees do exactly the same thing. I think we all want to be happy and healthy, and mindfulness can be an important component of a broader wellness program in the company.

Do you have any advice to those who wish to invest more in their health and wellbeing – whether though mindfulness or other paths? Any podcasts, apps, or other resources you’d recommend?

AK: There are a lot of resources available for people interested in this topic. I started with the Google Search Inside Yourself Leadership Institute (and book). A good introduction can be found at mindful.org. And there are quite a few mindfulness apps out there that I have used including Headspace (lead by another Andy with a nice English accent), Calm, Imagine Clarity, and Insight Timer. Netflix even has a series of Headspace episodes, and American Airlines has the Calm app included for inflight entertainment. 

At IMO, contributions to a culture of wellness and mindfulness don’t stop at the CMO’s office. Read more here from our CEO, Ann Barnes.
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