Employers take to meditation as a perk in relaxing staff

One of my all-time favorite quotes was spoken by Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.: "Your mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions." That sounds inspiring, but the reality in this day and age is that rarely, if ever, do we have the luxury of uninterrupted time to just sit and contemplate new ideas. Rather, most of us exist in a constant state of information overload. Stimuli rush at us constantly from all directions: emails, phone calls, texts, meetings, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and even the thoughts swirling around in our own brains.

Much has already been written on fancy ways to combat this challenge, but I’d like to focus on one simple idea to help leaders eliminate the clutter in their minds in order to give their undivided attention to more important and/or strategic matters. It’s called meditation. Yes, you left-brained corporate denizens, I said meditation. Please don’t roll your eyes or make patchouli oil jokes; rather, please keep reading as a fellow left-brainer explains.

You don’t need to sit under a tree meditating along the banks of the Ganges River in India, twist yourself into a pretzel, or rush out to buy the latest Lululemon gear in order to meditate. Yes, meditation is associated with yoga, but yoga is simply about quieting the over-activity of the mind. New age associations of yoga are largely Western creations, not innate or mandatory aspects of yoga and meditation.

As a former Wall Streeter and current executive coach, I know that if I can free my mind of the dozens of other things going through it and give my sole focus to only one complex problem or issue while sitting in my Herman Miller chair beneath florescent office lights, then that is a huge yogic victory with lots of benefits. Some of my most creative ideas and solutions to previously confounding work-related challenges have occurred to me when I hit the pause button on the craziness to relax even just for a few minutes in a meditative state.

Also see: Meditation at work can improve focus, lower stress

But far more successful business people than I find this approach to be highly effective. For example, founder of Newport Beach, CA-based Pacific Investment Management Company, Bill Gross, told Forbes that some of his best ideas come from standing on his head doing yoga. “After about 15 minutes of yoga, all of a sudden some significant light bulbs seem to turn on,” he said. PIMCO is one of the largest money managers in the world, so I’d contend that Mr. Gross has had a few good ideas.

Some companies have taken these benefits so seriously that they have dedicated space within the office. For example, Katrina Markoff, owner/founder of Vosges Haut-Chocolat in Chicago, IL says, “we have created a corporate culture which strives to find a balance of mind, body and spirit within the workplace.” The yoga/meditation room at the company’s corporate headquarters is a refuge where employees can escape to re-energize or to simply be alone in creative thought.

No pun intended, but clearly this must be a recipe for success, as Markoff has earned numerous awards, including being named Bon Appétit Food Artisan of the Year in 2004, the top innovator in chocolate by Food and Wine Magazine in 2008, and one of the 10 Best Chocolatiers in the World by National Geographic in 2012.

Really just a variation on relaxation, meditation is not just some quirky, hippy philosophy; it is actually grounded in physiology. The autonomic nervous system of the human body is divided into the sympathetic system, which is often identified with the fight-or-flight response, and the parasympathetic, which triggers rest and relaxation. The sense of relaxed control achieved through yoga or meditation turns off the fight-or-flight system, allowing the relaxation response to kick in.Your body registers this with a slower heartbeat, decreased respiration and blood pressure, and return of normal blood flow to that vital organ of thought, your brain. 

And guess, what? That blood flow and reinvigoration goes to the right and left sides of your brain.

Shani Magosky is an executive coach and owner of Vitesse Consulting.

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