Staving off Burnout with Heartfulness

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Life’s ups and downs are inevitable. So how should one lead a life with the promises it holds and the turbulence it generates?

Following your heart has always been the answer of wisdom, and how we accomplish this seems to be the major question. However, in this process of striving for balance, if we do not take care of our inner state of poise, it is very likely that we may end up burning out.

Burnout is a syndrome characterized by feelings of emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, or cynicism and a feeling of lack of personal accomplishment, among other signs. This is often associated with workplace errors, high employee turnover, and absenteeism.


Jayaram Thimmapuram, M.D.

One of the reasons for burnout could be the stress of the demands of our life. We find ourselves with too many balls to juggle at the same time, and the fast pace of modern life only adds to the problem. What does this do to us? What does it take away? For many, burnout seems to take away the time with oneself.

One’s sense of balance and inner poise is often affected. When someone loses that inner connection, it becomes almost inevitable to succumb to the pressures of life. This vital connection is the key to one’s own serenity!

Is there a way out? Is there a solution? Thankfully, there are various ways of tackling burnout and stress.

In my opinion, the heart is the key—our own inner treasure. Through utilizing the resources of the heart, one is better equipped to handle the ups and downs of life in a more serene way.

We often look for solutions to our problems outside of ourselves. If the solution—or the source of solution—is inside, one has to look for it within and explore.

Unlocking our inner qualities of the heart such as kindness, empathy, care, and tolerance is a sure way to energize oneself and equip oneself to face the emotional demands of our professional lives.

A healthcare professional, for example, who can respond to situations in a calm and clear way can ease many anxieties and stresses of patients and families. This state of calmness and clarity can be cultivated by meditation.

Heartfulness meditation, which I find very helpful, involves gently focusing and resting the mind on the source of light within the heart. Instead of resisting the thoughts that arise, we simply ignore them.

With practice, the wandering tendency of the mind lessens, and our ability to pay attention increases. This results in a state of effortless ability to concentrate.

During our daily lives, our thoughts, feelings, emotions, activities, and circumstances create impressions, which are sometimes chaotic. This results in a state of inner clutter. In turn, this inner state plays a role in our interactions—either with family members, friends or co-workers.

In this state of inner chaos, it is difficult to interact in a pleasant way. One unique tool that heartfulness offers is an evening session of “unwinding.” This process clears up our inner state and makes it calmer and purer, thus facilitating an ideal environment to nurture joy and harmony in the family.

The Heartfulness Meditation program is taught in more than 110 countries around the world and is supported by the Heartfulness Institute, a nonprofit educational, wellness, and training organization. It is a unique practice that provides a path to balance, well-being, and inner peace.

The Heartfulness Institute is affiliated with the United Nations and has the same goal to promote peace and balance in individuals by teaching how to meditate. All sessions and services are offered free of charge.

With this background, we completed a research study at WellSpan York Hospital with residents, faculty physicians, and nurses to evaluate the effect of Heartfulness Meditation on burnout and telomere length.

Telomeres are an essential part of human cells that affect how our cells age. Telomeres are the caps at the end of each strand of DNA that protect our chromosomes, like the plastic tips at the end of shoelaces. Telomeres are shortened as we age, but telomeres can also be shortened by other factors, such as stress.

We offered heartfulness meditation practice to our study participants for a period of 12 weeks. The results showed statistically significant improvement in all dimensions of burnout along with most attributes of emotional wellness.

Also, in the younger subset of meditators, even their telomere length increased with statistical significance. There were no changes noted in those who did not participate in meditation activities.

In our hospital we now offer heartfulness meditation sessions weekly, to enhance wellness of employees.

I must admit, at first I questioned practices of meditation, but when I felt the changes myself, my opinion changed into a personal conviction. As the saying goes, “Proof of the pudding lies in eating.”

Meditation is a wonderful tool to open up the inner treasure of the wisdom of the heart and refine our intellect for us to lead a life with its challenges in a state of inner equanimity.

The guidance of one’s heart and utilization of a refined intellect can act as two wings of a bird to help us soar higher and higher. BW

Jayaram Thimmapuram, M.D., is an academic hospitalist at WellSpan York Hospital.

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