Corporations’ Newest Productivity Hack: Meditation

Since I started meditating two years ago, my practice has been shamefully sporadic. When I do manage to stop what I’m doing and sit down, device-free, I find following my breath to be a relief from—and a contrast to—what happens at work. But as David Gelles observes in his new book, that contrast is dissolving, perhaps for the better.

In Mindful Work, Gelles, a business reporter for The New York Times, catalogs the nascent trend of establishing employee well-being programs that promote mindfulness, an activity that is perhaps best described as doing nothing. More precisely, mindfulness means drawing one’s attention to the sensations of the present moment, and noting, without frustration or judgment, any mental wanderings that get in the way. It can be done anywhere—at your desk, on the subway platform—and at any time. Decades of research suggest that setting aside time for mindfulness can improve concentration and reduce stress.

Gelles first reported on the rise of corporate mindfulness programs in 2012 for The Financial Times, when he described a rare but promising initiative at General Mills. In the years since, similar programs have popped up at Ford, Google, Target, Adobe—and even Goldman Sachs and Davos. This adoption has been rapid, perhaps due to its potential to help the bottom line: Aetna estimates that since instituting its mindfulness program, it has saved about $2,000 per employee in healthcare costs, and gained about $3,000 per employee in productivity. Mindful employees, the thinking goes, are healthier and more focused.

Here Comes the Starbucks of Yoga

“Yoga juggernaut” seems like an oxymoron, and a laughable one at that. Until you consider Denver-based CorePower Yoga, the brainchild of serial entrepreneur Trevor Tice.

In the late 1990s, Tice was busy building Tech Partners International, an IT outsourcing company. Tice had grown up in Telluride, Colorado, enjoying skiing, hiking, mountain biking–“all the things you do in the mountains,” he says–until a rock-climbing accident shattered both his ankles.

Knowing he’d never be able to rock climb or mountain bike in the same way again, Tice turned to yoga. He was traveling all over the world with his IT company, and whenever he’d land in a new city he’d ask the hotel concierge to direct him to the hot yoga place in town. What he discovered surprised and disappointed him: “I was very underwhelmed by the facilities, the delivery, the consistency,” he says. “It was lacking anything a good customer experience would have.”

In response, Tice founded a chain of yoga studios in 2002 that has since expanded nationwide. His CorePower Yoga focuses relentlessly on consistency and customer experience. The studios, with full locker rooms and climate control, have more in common with high-end health clubs than with independent studios; they teach only CorePower Yoga, which Tice designed himself, inspired by power yoga, ashtanga yoga, and Bikram yoga. Classes are 60 minutes, not 90 as at most studios; there are mirrors and music.

The business model is more like that of a health club as well, focusing on members who pay $135 to $170 a month to take unlimited classes at any studio, and relying less on drop-in classes, which generally cost about $20. In 2012, CorePower Yoga had $45.2 million in revenue; Tice says revenues are now on a $100 million run rate.

Tice says he funded the first 20 studios, each of which costs from $500,000 to $750,000 to open, with proceeds from the sale of his last company. In June 2013, CorePower Yoga turned to private equity firm Catterton Partners, receiving an investment Tice describes as “well north of $100 million.”

Managing the sort of growth Tice envisions can be a daunting challenge, however, so CorePower used some of its private equity money to bolster its management team, allowing Tice to remove himself from the company’s day-to-day operations. Amy Shecter, formerly president of Elie Tahari, became the company’s CEO in May; Heather Holland, who had been general counsel for Le Pain Quotidien, came on board in September 2013; and Tess Roering, formerly vice president of marketing for Athleta, joined in September.

CorePower Yoga has its critics, which Tice says sometimes include studio owners in the neighborhoods where CorePower Yoga has opened up shop. “The local yoga studios have felt extremely threatened when CorePower Yoga has entered a market,” he says. “In hindsight, their concerns were unwarranted.” He says most of the independent yoga studios actually have benefited from the arrival of CorePower Yoga. “I know most of the studio owners in the geographies where CorePower Yoga is,” he says. “I always get the call that they’re worried, and four years later I talk to them again and they’re doing great.”

“We are seeing an onslaught of new franchises,” says Tkach, mentioning not just CorePower but additional companies such as Pure Yoga, Yogafit, and Exhale. But so far, he thinks there’s ample opportunity for all of them. “There are so many different styles of yoga,” he says. “You tend to find your tribe, so to speak.”

For all of these companies, there is also the danger that yoga is just a fleeting trend–and that by the time CorePower has built out its 500 studios, its one-time fans will have moved on to other pursuits, like Tae Bo or trampolines. Tice isn’t having it. “People have been concerned for years that yoga is a fad,” he says. “I don’t believe it is. It’s such a powerful practice. People who have experienced it will agree.” The bigger challenge, he says, is much simpler: “Now we have to execute efficiently and properly.”

Here’s How Zen Meditation Changed Steve Jobs’ Life And Sparked A Design Revolution

When Steve Jobs showed up at the San Francisco airport at the age of 19, his parents didn’t recognize him.

Jobs, a Reed College dropout, had just spent a few months in India.

He had gone to meet the region’s contemplative traditions — Hinduism, Buddhism — and the Indian sun had darkened his skin a few shades.

The trip changed him in less obvious ways, too.

Although you couldn’t predict it then, his travels would end up changing the business world.

Back in the Bay Area, Jobs continued to cultivate his meditation practice. He was in the right place at the right time; 1970s San Francisco was where Zen Buddhism first began to flourish on American soil. He met Shunryu Suzuki, author of the groundbreaking “Zen Mind, Beginners Mind,” and sought the teaching of one of Suzuki’s students, Kobun Otogawa.

Jobs met with Otogawa almost every day, Walter Isaacson reported in his biography of Jobs. Every few months, they’d go on a meditation retreat together.

Zen Buddhism, and the practice of meditation it encouraged, were shaping Jobs’ understanding of his own mental processes.

“If you just sit and observe, you will see how restless your mind is,” Jobs told Isaacson. “If you try to calm it, it only makes things worse, but over time it does calm, and when it does, there’s room to hear more subtle things — that’s when your intuition starts to blossom and you start to see things more clearly and be in the present more. Your mind just slows down, and you see a tremendous expanse in the moment. You see so much more than you could see before. It’s a discipline; you have to practice it.”

Jobs felt such resonance with Zen that he considered moving to Japan to deepen his practice. But Otogawa told him he had work to do in California.

Evidently, Otogawa was a pretty insightful guy.

When you look back at Jobs’ career, it’s easy to spot the influence of Zen. For 1300 years, Zen has instilled in its practitioners a commitment to courage, resoluteness, and austerity — as well as rigorous simplicity.

Or, to put it into Apple argot, insane simplicity.

Zen is everywhere in the company’s design.

Take, for instance, the evolution of the signature mouse:

It’s the industrial design equivalent of the enso, or hand-drawn circle, the most fundamental form of Zen visual art.

But Zen didn’t just inform the aesthetic that Jobs had an intense commitment to, it shaped the way he understood his customers. He famously said that his task wasn’t to give people what they said they wanted; it was to give them what they didn’t know they needed.

“Instead of relying on market research, [Jobs] honed his version of empathy — an intimate intuition about the desires of his customers,” Isaacson said.

What’s the quickest way to train your empathy muscles? As centuries of practitioners and an increasingly tall stack of studies suggest, it’s meditation.

When you take that into account, it’s easy to see that for Jobs, growing his business and cultivating his awareness weren’t opposing endeavors.

When he died, the New York Times ran a stirring quote about what he did for society: “You touched an ugly world of technology and made it beautiful.”

We can thank that time in India and on the meditation cushion for that beautiful, rigorous simplicity — one that sparked a design revolution.


Startups fighting over the word ‘zen’

Zen is having a moment, in the tech world at least. For starters, there is Zenefits, the benefits startup; Zenfolio for photo hosting; and ZenPayroll for, well, payroll.

So many startups now include the word “zen” in their name that Zendesk, the cloud customer support company, felt forced to do something decidedly un-zen about it. The 7-year-old San Francisco company has filed nearly three dozen proceedings with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office to block other tech companies from using the word “zen.”

There may not be enough zen to go around.

The tech world is known for its bizarre naming trends — as affordable URLs and untrademarked names have dwindled in supply, dropped vowels (Tumblr), odd suffixes (Storify) and bizarre compound words (Pinterest) have proliferated.

Zen, meanwhile, manages to communicate a lot with just three letters.

“It’s just a beautiful, small word,” said David Placek, founder of the naming company Lexicon Branding. “It has great structure, it’s easy to pronounce and it easily communicates a great metaphor, especially when you’re talking about companies that do things like payroll or accounting.”

Joshua Reeves, the CEO of ZenPayroll, said that the company was looking for a name that communicated the company’s goals of making payroll a simple, “peaceful” process for small businesses, rather than the headache it more often is.

In his new book “Startupland,” Zendesk CEO Mikkel Svane describes how the company’s founders settled on its name.
“Our philosophy was to be elegant and bring peace of mind to customer support in an enlightened way,” he wrote.

“Zen was enlightenment — Zendesk.”

That, and the domain name would cost them only $1,000.

Zen, of course, refers to a school of Buddhism formalized in China during the sixth century.

But ever since ’60s hippie culture popularized the term in the U.S., it has widely been used to refer to more than just a religious practice. Longtime NBA coach and executive Phil Jackson is often referred to by his nickname, the “Zen Master.”

Hard to pin down

“There are so many associations now. It’s hard to really pin down exactly what zen means today,” said James Robson, a Buddhism scholar at Harvard University. “Each generation kind of fills the word with its own meaning.”

“The tech company appropriation of zen is just the most recent iteration of a phenomena that has been going on for a very long time.”

Nancy Friedman, a branding consultant who chronicles zen company names on Pinterest, pointed out that business jargon is filled with religious language, like the word “brand evangelist.”

Tech lingo is particularly laden with “zen” references. Take the term “zenmail,” a once-buzzy word for e-mails that include only a subject line. Or Zen Coding, a widely used Web programming plug-in.

“Zen has been used in tech for a long time,” said Friedman. “It seems like people in the West feel OK appropriating Eastern religion without the fear of seeming sacrilegious.”

There are presently 724 live trademarks containing the word “zen” registered with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office.

For Zendesk, ideas associated with zen are now deeply ingrained in the company’s culture and branding. The company mascot is a laughing Buddha, dubbed “The Mentor,” who wears a telephone headset. In its old Market Street headquarters, Asian-inspired green lotus leaves hung over employees’ desks.

The company says it has reason to be protective of its name.

“We first established the Zendesk brand in 2007, and it’s been tremendously valuable for us,” the company said in a statement to The Chronicle. “We have obviously noticed the proliferation of Zen names in business technology and services and it does concern us because of the likelihood that it will create confusion among customers and prospective customers.”

Trademark protections

It is not unusual for brands to aggressively protect trademarks — recently the fast-food chain Chick-fil-A tried to stop a Vermont kale enthusiast from registering the phrase “Eat More Kale,” claiming it was too similar to its trademarked “Eat Mor Chikin” slogan.

Zendesk claims that it only seeks to obstruct other companies from adding zen to their name when it could “create a genuine likelihood of confusion with our well-known brand.”

During the past few years, it has filed proceedings against ZenPayroll, ZenCash, Zenware, Zenbillings, Zendo and Zendeals, among others.

Mark Lemley, a trademark expert at Stanford Law School, said that as a business-to-business company, Zendesk could have a hard time proving its customers might genuinely accidentally purchase ZenPayroll’s software for payroll instead of its own customer service software.

“It will have a hard time opposing marks that share only the word zen in common (like, say, Zenefits),” he said.
In some cases, the companies Zendesk has sought to block have just given up, like the startup Zenbillings, which renamed itself Simplero because it lacked funding to pay trademark attorneys to plead its case.

Zendesk recently sought to obstruct one trademark and cancel another owned by ZenCash, an invoice management startup. ZenCash is even one of Zendesk’s customers.

“We don’t do anything competitive with them,” said CEO Brandon Cotter. “Zendesk is bullying all of the zen companies. Which is a little ironic.”

Then again, zen may not be so great of a company name, after all.

“I’m not so sure it’s really good to use in a name anymore,” said Placek, the naming expert. “There is so much zen clutter.”

6 Ways Practicing Yoga Can Make You Better At Your Job

It doesn’t seem like twisting your body into odd shapes and trying to stay quiet for an hour would be that beneficial to your career, but you may be surprised. There has to be a reason 20.4 million Americans (or 8.7 percent of adults) are doing yoga and so many Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Nike and HBO offer it to employees. It can’t just be for the excuse to wear stretchy pants.

It turns out there are some major career benefits that happen as a result of practicing yoga. Here are some of the big ones:

1. It helps improve your relationships with co-workers. Yoga helps clear your mind, which allows you to be more understanding of your co-workers’ intentions. And then you are better able to choose your actions to align with those intentions.

2. You can accept change better. A big part of yoga is changing the position of your body. These transitions can be very challenging at first and require a lot of deep breathing (and some wobbling), but eventually you will stick it. This will help when there is shifting at work or new procedures being rolled out. You will be able to find that inner stability faster because of yoga.

3. It makes you more ambitious. When you first started yoga and your teacher suggested doing an inversion (a position in which the head is below the heart such as a headstand, a handstand, a forearm stand or a shoulder stand), you went running for the door. But after a couple of months, you could do them or at least you wanted to try to do them. You quickly realized you were capable of more than you ever thought you were. This will overflow into your career as well. The possibilities are endless!

4. You will learn to block out distractions. Yoga is great because it is all about learning to center yourself and block out all those distractions during your practice. Then you take that power of meditation into everyday life, like when your co-worker is coughing incessantly and that darn construction outside your window seems to never end. According to a study from the University of Washington, meditation increases your ability to work through interruptions. “Having such skill might therefore give users the choice to stay with the current task longer, rather than responding to each interruption immediately,” the authors wrote in their study.

5. It reduces stress. Yoga helps you become less of a stress mess in a few ways. It really helps you focus on the value of your work, rather than obsessing about the outcome. This will carry over into work and help you realize you can’t always control the outcome, so why stress? The other benefit is more physiological. Because yoga (unlike most other workouts) ends with a meditation period, you enter a state of relaxation that can literally keep you that way through the rest of the day, meaning nothing will stress you!

6. It improves memory. Doing yoga will give you a sharper memory which is super helpful for work and life in general. According to a study called “The Effects of Mindfulness Meditation Training on Multitasking in a High-Stress Information Environment”, the practice of meditation correlates with memory improvement. Better memory leads to decreased distraction which will therefore help with productivity.

Yoga As An Especially Apt Metaphor For The Life Of An Entrepreneur

My mom used to say that when you really need to learn something, a teacher arrives. Sounds rabbinical, and probably is.

I thought about that one evening a few months ago in the gym while I waited for our Pilates teacher to arrive. She was very late so I passed the time watching a yoga instructor work with a middle aged man. I was amazed, the guy was so flexible he seemed to be rotating his body on one hand.

Later, I asked the instructor, Cecy Lainez, about learning yoga and her calm voice made my hassled day seem to fall away and it was good. I’d considered yoga and tried some classes a few years ago with my friend Andrea Nierenberg. I hated it, mostly because it was boring.

Cecy seemed to do it differently. Not boring. So I just flat out asked her if she’d teach a special regular class for me and my friend Angela. Now I’m really into it. Not all that good at it yet, but into it. It’s fun.

I’ve discovered that whatever is going on in my head will manifest on the yoga mat, which is a little weird.

And, surprisingly, it occurs to me every day that working out on a yoga mat is very much like being an entrepreneur. Yoga means “to join or yoke together,” and it brings the body and mind together in one harmonious experience. In my case, I’d add “eventually”.

Sometimes nothing seems to work

That’s the first thing yoga and running your own business have in common. We all know what that’s like in marketing. You zoom along and everything works, clients are happy, and slam, suddenly a brick wall. We just hit one the other day. A big client hired a hot new sales and marketing director who brought in his old agency. It happens – the most common way to lose a client and you don’t even get a chance to defend yourself. Ah, well, as Jerome Kern put it “Pick yourself up, dust yourself off and start all over again.”

In the meantime, that is exactly what I am doing as I try to learn the darned warrior pose in yoga. Pick myself up … literally!

The second thing that occurs to me is that it takes a lot of discipline to keep working at the tricky elements: in yoga, it’s mastering poses, in running your business, it’s all the day to day administrivia, such as reviewing the financials, figuring out year-to-date, employee annual reviews. I do it….but it is a lot like stretching into warrior pose.

Recently, I began having a challenge with tree pose, of all things. I had nailed it and now, nothing worked. But, up in Alberta earlier this week, I asked a real yoga person why she thought that would happen. She said something so smart: “When your life is out of balance, you can’t do a tree pose or any other physical balancing.” My life is out of balance because of a dear friend’s health crisis.

Yoga also teaches us an important lesson: stick-to-it-iveness with patience

If a client hands you a really tough assignment (at the moment, in our case, it’s a total Marketing Plan for next year), maybe yoga practice will help you have greater patience over time to get it done in stages.

Patience is hard for me….especially when I have to hold a pose as Cecy counts to 5 very slowly. It seems like it takes her 5 minutes to get there. But as I get used to it, the discipline helps me get through work tasks too, writing copy for a client’s insurance blog, answering client’s questions, reviewing ads and doing my tweeting in between.

I used to think I had Attention Deficit Disorder as I jumped around so much from one job to another. Now, after getting back to yoga, I believe that focus and mindfulness help you be more relaxed and productive. At the end of the day, I think about the facts that I:

  1. Meditated for only 10 minutes….for myself.
  2. Did a Tree Pose or a Morning Salutation in my office.
  3. Practiced “mindfulness” and focus on a project.
  4. Figured out if my life was in balance by testing my physical balance.
  5. Feel less stresses and appear less aggravated by minor annoyances during the day (like when the Internet goes down).

I read recently that Yoga Classes are pretty common in offices these days. I work with a number of talented but curmudgeonly people who’ll be tough to convert but I’m willing to try. Are you?

Source: Forbes

Washington Plan to Tax Yoga Leads to Political Posturing

Music thumped through Freedom Plaza one recent Monday as more than 100 spandex-clad figures held warrior poses under the unforgiving noontime sun.

“How do you tax energy, energy that’s moving through—left foot forward, step” the event’s MC exhorted, mixing political commentary and yoga directions. “Not taxing human beings for getting healthy—hands down low, push-up, up-dog, breathe in!”

Yoga devotees revel in combining Zen-like calm and tough-minded determination. That’s bad news for the Washington, D.C., council.

Washington’s government, whose John A. Wilson Building is a stone’s throw from the popular protest spot, is trying to expand its sales tax to include services such as yoga instruction and gym memberships. In response, yoga aficionados have united with gym owners, CrossFit trainers, cycling instructors and acupuncturists to unleash a no-holds-barred lobbying barrage.

“I think there’s a sense of easygoingness in the community,” said Ian Mishalove, a co-owner of Flow Yoga Center who attended the demonstration. “But it doesn’t mean that the community is filled with a bunch of pushovers.”

The 5.75% levy, variously known as the “Yoga Tax,” the “Gym Tax” or, as fitness activists prefer, the “Wellness Tax,” is one component of a larger budget package likely up for a vote before the 13-member council on Tuesday.

Proponents say the sales tax, a more stable source of revenue for the city than income taxes, needs to be broadened to cover a range of services, from carwashes to tanning salons, to better capture where residents spend their money. The package would also cut the city’s income tax, which they contend would more than offset the added cost of taxing yoga classes.

But taxing yoga services may be a difficult position to achieve. At least seven other state legislatures have proposed measures that would apply sales taxes to service industries. Most have died, or, in the case of Maine, passed the legislature only to be repealed by a voter initiative.

Some are mindful of the costs. “I just finished grad school, so I’m pinching pennies,” said Daniel Mason, a fitness enthusiast participating in the yoga protest. “That’s why I’m here, because I don’t want my healthy lifestyle taxed.” The D.C. tax would bump an average gym membership to about $74 a month from $70.

Ed Lazere, executive director of the D.C. Fiscal Policy Institute, which favors the proposed package, said small tax levies don’t change consumers’ behavior.

“If I went out on the street today and said, ‘Let’s tax books,’ people would be up in arms,” he said. “They would be sending emails saying, ‘You can’t tax books! Do you want to discourage reading?’ And I’d have to remind them that we already do tax books.”

For years, yoga studios from across the city have coordinated several joint events a year, the largest of which, D.C. Yoga Week, culminates in an outdoor yoga class on the National Mall.

One of the uniting forces behind the campaign is Lane Hudson, a communications consultant, Ashtanga-style yoga practitioner and liberal blogger who broke the 2006 congressional page scandal.

“They pay me a small consulting fee, which doesn’t cover nearly what I would charge for a normal hour of my work,” he said, “so it’s almost entirely pro bono.”

Mr. Hudson convened a meeting of 20 D.C. fitness leaders on June 4, exhorting them to cook up a slogan and a strategy. The group settled on the “wellness tax,” styling themselves the “Don’t Tax Wellness Coalition.”

A Google group was quickly created, a Twitter hashtag settled upon and the group was ready to mobilize. Over the next two weeks, each member posted indignant Facebook statuses, fired off tweets and deployed their respective customer mailing lists to spread the word.

On the morning of June 12, about 35 members of the now-solidifying coalition showed up at the Wilson building. They moved as one mass, clogging the hallways and crowding into tiny legislative offices, Mr. Hudson recalled.

Not knowing how else to handle the mass of people, staffers asked each individual present to speak, inviting a series of impassioned speeches and pleas.

“These are people who work out a lot,” said Brendan Williams-Kief, chief of staff for council member David Catania, who opposes the tax. “They’ve got a lot of endorphins running through their systems, they’re pretty peppy.”

David Gordon White, a professor of comparative religion at the University of California, Santa Barbara, says ancient yoga, which dates back 4,000 years, finds its roots in warfare.

“Yoga” in the original Sanskrit means “celestial war chariot,” the conveyor that carried slain soldiers on the battlefield up to heaven. Poets who sang the praises of these warriors adapted the term for their own purposes, using it to describe the process of carrying creative energy to distant places.

“So that yoking of your mind,” Mr. White said, “becomes the foundation of meditation,” a term meant to describe focused determination, not tranquility. The people who lead the modern yoga industry are similarly aggressive competitors. “They have lawyers, publicists, they have entourages,” he said.

Phil Mendelson, the chairman of the council and the main architect of the city budget, has already delayed the vote twice. He said that wasn’t related to the yoga controversy, as some have speculated. Instead, the city’s chief financial officer was refusing to certify the budget as balanced. The effect has been to prolong the saga, giving the coalition more time to organize.

“A lot of the opponents have made a big deal about the fact that we’re taxing fitness,” said Mr. Mendelson. “In isolation, that argument might sound persuasive, but with regard to sales tax we don’t pick winners and losers.” He said the tax is too small to “measurably affect business activity.”

He explains the robust lobbying effort on health-club customer databases. “It’s very easy for them to organize people and start a campaign that way,” he said. “Often times with more controversial issues, there isn’t a ready-made database.”

If the tax makes it through the council, the yoga crowd says it has an alternative in mind to win back their tax-exempt status. Chief among these plans is to classify yoga as a religious activity, which by definition can’t be taxed.

Source: Wall Street Journal

To Make a Killing on Wall Street, Start Meditating

When stock and bond markets took a dive in late January, hedge-fund manager David Ford kept his cool.

Ford watched emerging markets melt down and read warnings that the U.S. economy could crater too. As prices dropped, he overcame the impulse to flee with the rest of the herd and, instead, bought more corporate bonds, Bloomberg Pursuits will report in its Summer 2014 issue.

After two decades as a trader, Ford credits his serenity to experience — and to the 20 minutes he spends in his pajamas each morning repeating a meaningless mantra bestowed on him by a teacher of Transcendental Meditation two years ago.

“I react to volatile markets much more calmly now,” Ford, 48, says. “I have more patience.”

He also has more money. Latigo Partners LP, his event-driven credit fund, climbed 24 percent last year. He almost beat the surging stock market with a bond fund. Ford is part of a growing number of Wall Street traders, including A-list hedge-fund managers Ray Dalio, Paul Tudor Jones and Michael Novogratz, who are fine-tuning their brains — and upping their games — with meditation. Billionaire investor Daniel Loeb, who once likened a chief executive officer to a drug addict during one of his frequent public rants, in February praised meditation while sharing a stage with the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C.

The idea that Type-A traders are seeking profit with the same tool that Buddhist monks use to achieve enlightenment might seem like sacrilege. Yet most people misunderstand meditation, says Jay Michaelson, author of “Evolving Dharma: Meditation, Buddhism, and the Next Generation of Enlightenment.”

Samurai Practice

“Meditation used to have this reputation as a hippie thing for people who speak in a particularly soft tone of voice,” Michaelson says. Not so. “Samurai practiced meditation to become more effective killers,” he says. So too did kamikaze pilots. “It’s value neutral,” Michaelson says.

Workers at Goldman Sachs Group Inc. (GS) are folding into the lotus position in droves, says Elizabeth Sudler, an instructor the firm retains. Classes where students breathe and monitor their wandering minds have waiting lists several hundred long, Goldman spokesman David Wells says. One trader there gets a twinge in his gut when he senses a move in the markets, Sudler says. Meditating gives him an edge, he told her, by tuning into that sensation more reliably. Others report downshifting more easily after work and sleeping better at night.

“Goldman employees are under a lot of pressure to produce,” Sudler says. “No one wants to be left behind.”

Anxiety, Psoriasis

Meditation is going mainstream in part because science is substantiating what heretofore had been taken on faith. Up until 1983, only three peer-reviewed studies on meditation had ever been published, Michaelson says. By last year, there were more than 1,300 studies showing an almost absurd number of benefits, from alleviating anxiety, depression and insomnia to reducing heart disease and speeding recovery from psoriasis.

A 2005 study published by Harvard Medical School neuroscientist Sara Lazar showed that meditating enhances the prefrontal cortex, likely creating more connections between neurons and enlarging blood vessels. Among other functions, the prefrontal cortex processes sensory information, handles rational decisions and regulates the amygdala, the structure that feeds our fight-or-flight instinct. A tame amygdala may be why David Ford bought bonds amid the panic — a prescient move as markets rebounded.

‘Brain Hacking’

Michaelson calls meditation “brain hacking,” because it exploits the elastic nature of our gray matter, altering its makeup, as Lazar and other scientists have proved. As such, it may be the ultimate disruptive technology, he says. That kind of talk gets the attention of traders, says Jeff Walker, former head of JPMorgan Chase & Co.’s private-equity unit and a longtime meditator.

“These guys are saying, ‘There’s an edge here that I need,’” Walker says.

Humans have been meditating in some form for millennia. Hindu texts from 1500 BC describe the practice, which hit the big time when a Hindu prince named Siddhartha Gautama became disenchanted with the empty opulence of the day and took up residence beneath a fig tree to contemplate the causes of human suffering. (Hint: Desire is a key culprit.) Through the teachings of Siddhartha — who sat down a prince and, after 49 days, arose the Buddha — mindful meditation radiated out into the world.

Inhaling, Exhaling

There are many forms of meditation. Vipassana, for example, starts with concentrating on one thing, such as the breath. If a dog barks, you might register it before quickly refocusing on inhaling and exhaling. Mental intrusions are treated the same way: Thoughts such as “book NetJets” or “offload bitcoins” quickly pass like leaves floating on a stream.

Jon Kabat-Zinn, founding executive director of the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, defines mindfulness as “paying attention in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.” The aim is to become more aware of the present and avoid getting hijacked by the past or the future. Central to Buddhism are the unsettling notions that everything we know is impermanent and that all we have is the here and now.

Transcendental Meditation uses a mantra — the repetition of a single sound — to settle the mind into its least-excited state. The TM folks, through the years, have consistently asserted their superiority over other disciplines.

Wellness Benefits

The website of the nonprofit Maharishi Foundation USA, for example, has variously claimed that “only TM has been found in hundreds of studies to produce immediate and long-term wellness benefits of mind and body” and that “no other program for personal development has received this level of attention and respect from the scientific community.”

Transcendental Meditation was developed by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (née Mahesh Prasad Varma). Born near Jabalpur, India, around 1918, the Maharishi, or Great Seer, started teaching his method in 1955 and became a guru to the Beatles, who famously traveled to Rishikesh, India, in 1968 to study with him.

Despite Transcendental Meditation’s claims of superiority, John Denninger, director of research at the Benson-Henry Institute for Mind Body Medicine at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, isn’t so sure.

“I’m not convinced that any difference in outcome is big enough to say you need to do one type of meditation over another,” Denninger says. “Getting people to do it in the first place is what matters.”

Perceptive Monks

Some of the most-striking research has come from the University of California at Davis. Clifford Saron, a neuroscientist there who speaks with the slow, gentle tone of a holy man, went to the foothills of the Himalayas in the 1990s to study Buddhist monks. Their serene focus inspired him to organize the Shamatha Project. With his friend and former monk B. Alan Wallace, Saron selected 60 people and tested their attention and cognition. Thirty of them then attended a meditation retreat in Colorado. (The other 30 went later.)

After three months, Saron re-examined the initial group and discovered any number of striking changes. For one, the meditators were literally more perceptive: They could discern smaller differences between long and short lines flashed on a screen.

“How much does an infant learn when it is alert and relaxed?” Saron asks rhetorically. “That works for us, as well.”

Lower Cortisol

Some of Saron’s subjects also exhibited lowered levels of cortisol, the hormone produced by the adrenal gland to help us deal with stressful situations, such as getting chased by a water buffalo — or watching a stock holding get crushed after an unfavorable earnings report. (Cortisol is also associated with increased belly fat and diminished cognitive performance; in other words, it makes us fat and stupid.)

Perhaps most surprising: Levels of telomerase, an enzyme that protects genetic material during cell division and delays cell death, were higher in the retreat group. By boosting telomerase, meditation could possibly extend life.

Skeptics, including some who’ve logged countless hours of silent sitting, say that the promise of meditation sometimes exceeds what’s practical. Tony Schwartz, author of “Be Excellent at Anything: The Four Keys to Transforming the Way We Work and Live,” says he’s meditated for hundreds of hours, starting 25 years ago.

Lotus Position

“But the more time I spent meditating, the less value I derived from it,” he wrote in a January column in the New York Times. Nor has he seen evidence that the practice makes people happier or leads to better behavior. “Don’t expect more than it can deliver,” he wrote.

Meditation’s arrival on Wall Street closes a circle of sorts. Whereas Siddhartha Gautama took to the lotus position out of frustration with his riches, traders are hitting the mat to obtain them. Dalio, for example, runs the largest hedge-fund firm in the world and is worth $14 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. He’s also the most vocal proponent of meditation in finance and claims the practice has been the single biggest factor in his success.

Dalio, 64, discovered Transcendental Meditation through the Beatles. He’s been at it for 42 years, sitting for 20 minutes, twice on most days, he says. He’s so convinced of its benefits that he pays half the cost of Transcendental Meditation instruction for the employees at his Westport, Connecticut–based Bridgewater Associates LP.

‘Like a Ninja’

A competitive edge, not enlightenment, seems to be driving Dalio. “I feel like a ninja in a fight,” Dalio said of his professional equanimity, during a February panel discussion in New York on the benefits of meditation. “When it comes at you, it seems like slow motion.”

Tudor Jones is another hedge-fund billionaire on a quest for inner peace and profit. A PBS documentary from 1987 shows him trading in the most agitated, un-Buddhalike manner imaginable. Twenty-five years later, he and his wife, Sonia, an Ashtanga yoga enthusiast, gave $12 million to create the Contemplative Sciences Center at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, Jones’s alma mater.

David Mick teaches an undergraduate business school course there called “Cultivating Wisdom and Well-Being for Personal and Professional Growth.” He recommends meditation and takes each semester’s students on a field trip to Yogaville, a nearby ashram. “You can’t be a wiser person if you can’t discipline your mind,” says Mick, who meditates every morning.

‘Powerful Drug’

Willoughby Britton, a neuroscientist at Brown University, warns that neophytes should proceed with caution. Spending hours contemplating impermanence can foster anxiety and sadness. She has seen people experience psychotic episodes on meditation retreats, convincing themselves, for example, that the teacher is evil and must be killed. “This is a powerful drug; it’s not a hot bath,” Britton says, adding that the risks are worth the rewards.

Unlike some other Western practitioners, Joan Halifax, a roshi, or revered teacher, at the Upaya Zen Center in Santa Fe, New Mexico, says she’s concerned the lords of finance are using meditation for unjust ends, ignoring the moral principles embodied in Buddhism.

“You can train people with meditation to be sharpshooters,” she says. “Are they trying to get smarter so they can exploit more people? Or are they interested in creating a more just financial system?”

Dalio, for one, has agreed to give most of his fortune to charity under the Giving Pledge program started by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates, a move that would probably have impressed the Buddha himself, who lived by daana, or a spirit of generosity.

Before you give that fortune away, though, you have to earn it. Some of the brightest minds in finance are betting that meditation will help them do just that.

Source: Bloomberg

Yoga by Audio Launches New Kickstarter Project

Started by two founders who have struggled to fit yoga into their busy work and family schedules, Audible Yoga seeks to answer a common problem: how to do yoga more often.

Audible Yoga’s goal is to help yogis who want to unplug from televisions and computer screens to practice yoga. It allows students to follow a teacher’s voice and practice wherever and whenever they can. It also helps those who do not have access to regular yoga teachers or cannot get to scheduled classes. Essentially, anyone who struggles to fit yoga into their schedule will benefit from yoga by Audio through Audible Yoga.

Starting February 16, 2014 Audible Yoga is a Kickstarter project ( This project seeks funding to record yoga classes and build the website to support teachers and students. The founders of Audible Yoga are putting their own skills and experience into the project. They believe that Kickstarter is the best way to reach those interested in contributing class recordings and doing yoga by audio. It’s also the best way to test the concept. The Audible Yoga Kickstarter Project hopes to raise just $10,000 in just 33 days and is offering pledge rewards that include:

  • 1-, 2-, and 5- year subscriptions for yogis (in singles and multiples for gifting)
  • A yoga teacher special for early loading of MP3 files and a training party
  • A startup entrepreneur special for those who want to get the inside scoop as well as a website design, logo, and copy for their website

According to a joint study by Yoga Journal and Sports Marketing Surveys in 2012 (Yoga in America 2012), almost 40% of the more than 20 million Americans who practice yoga consider themselves to be experienced at yoga. Nearly half of all yoga participants want to practice at home rather than in a classroom setting. Audible Yoga’s own survey found the desire to practice yoga outside the classroom setting was over 67% with 23% of those responding saying they would be willing to try yoga by audio (without video).

“Audible Yoga makes it possible to take classes that you’re comfortable with no matter where you are – on vacation, at business meetings, etc. It gives you the opportunity to try out different classes and different styles of yoga without having to travel to the teacher. Even if your favorite teacher is in a different part of the country, you have access to their classes. With Audible Yoga, you’ll be able to do yoga anywhere and have that trusted guidance of a teacher,” said Ashley Wilson, a photographer and yogi.

Google seeks out wisdom of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh

Why on earth are many of the world’s most powerful technology companies, including Google, showing a special interest in an 87-year-old Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk?

The answer is that all of them are interested in understanding how the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, or Thay as he is known to his hundreds of thousands of followers around the world, can help their organisations to become more compassionate and effective.

In a sign that the practice of mindfulness is entering the mainstream, Thay has been invited later this month to run a full day’s training session at Google’s main campus in California.

Thay, who has sold over 2m books in America alone, is also meeting more than 20 CEOs of other major US-based technology companies in Silicon Valley, to offer his wisdom on the art of living in the present moment.

He plans to discuss with them how they can develop a deep understanding of the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of all life and offer practical tools to better integrate mindfulness in their daily work, in the products they design, and in the vision they have for how technology can change the world. The event will end with the practice of walking meditation.

The work of Thay has been acknowledged by several global leaders over the past 50 years. Current World Bank president Jim Yong Kim has said his practice is one “in which one can be deeply passionate and compassionate toward those who are suffering,” while Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel peace prize in 1967 for his work in seeking to end the Vietnam war.

King said that conferring the award “would re-awaken men to the teaching of beauty and love found in peace. It would help to revive hopes for a new order of justice and harmony.”

Despite his advancing years, Thay, who was ordained 71 years ago, is currently in the middle of a punishing three month tour of North America, immediately after a similar period running retreats across Asia.

His network of monks and nuns represents the world’s fastest growing monastic order and his week-long retreats in upstate Toronto, New York, Mississippi and California, each with a capacity of more than 1,000 people, have sold out in a matter of days.

Thay, who warns that civilisation is at risk of collapse from the environmental and social damage caused by the voraciousness of our economic system, offers an alternative vision that focuses on true happiness, which he believes we have sacrificed on the altar of materialism.

His teaching is based on transforming our suffering by letting go of the scars of the past as well as worries about the future, via meditation and mindful living.

Pointing to our addiction to consumption as a clear sign we are trying to paper over our suffering, Thay suggests we should go in the opposite direction, to the very heart of our pain, in order to transcend it.

He believes that for business to play a role in slowing the runaway train of capitalism, corporate leaders need to recognise they have made a fundamental error in their narrow-minded belief that profit on its own equates to success.

For that to happen, the corporate world needs to undergo a fundamental shift in consciousness by recognising the importance of integrating spiritual principles into its daily life.

In an interview with the Guardian at the end of his retreat last week in the Catskill Mountains on the art of suffering, Thay said: “You have to consider your idea of happiness. You think it is possible only if you win, if you are on the top.

“But it is not necessarily like that, because even if you are successful in making more money, you still suffer. You compete because you’re not happy and meditation can help you to suffer less.

“Many of us think you can only be happy when you leave other people behind; you are number one. You do not need to be number one to be happy.

“There must be a spiritual dimension in your life and in your business, otherwise you cannot deal with the suffering caused by your work or your daily life.”

Recalling his meetings with King, which were pivotal in the the decison of the civil rights leader to come out against the Vietnam war, Thay said President Obama missed out a key ingredient when he last week celebrated the 50th anniversary of the landmark ‘I have a dream’ speech.

“When President Obama said let freedom ring, he is talking about the kind of freedom coming from outside; political and social freedom, but even if you have a lot of freedom to organise, to say things, to write, you can still suffer a lot as you don’t have the freedom inside – from your anger and fear,” says Thay.

Central to King’s vision was the development of the Beloved Community and Thay has concentrated his energy on building more than a thousand ‘sanghas’ of lay practitioners around the world.

But is it possible for business leaders to create transformation through the building of a community ethos within their companies?

Thay believes that bringing mindfulness and meditation into corporations will help them to turn away from their destructive ways and recognise the inter-dependence of all life.

“Meditation practice can help business to suffer less,” he says. “That
is good already because if your employees are happy, your business can improve.

“If your business is causing environmental problems, then because you have practiced meditation you may have an idea of how to conduct your business in such a way that you will harm nature less.

“Meditation can calm your suffering and give you more insight and more right view on yourself and on the world and if you have a collective wisdom, then naturally you will want to handle and conduct your business in such a way that will make the world suffer less.”

Bringing mindfulness into the workplace can also help prevent employees from becoming overwhelmed by their work, according to Thay, but business leaders need to lead by example.

While many senior executives are starting to speak out about the importance of sustainability, Thay says few connect this to the internal culture of the organisations they run.

“If he [business leader] spends all the time taking care of the corporation, he does not have time for himself or his family, but it is important to recognise that the business will profit if he is more calm, more loving, more compassionate and understanding,” he says.

Partly to blame is the increasing speed and reach of computers, which makes it increasingly hard to find time to reflect and be inspired.

Thay talks of the importance of developing the art of aimlessness, rather than the non-stop creation of more projects.

“People believe that happiness is in the future and the point of aimlessness is to stop running and find happiness in the here and the now,” he says.

“True happiness cannot be without peace. If you continue to run, how can you have peace and you run in your dreams also. That is our civilisation.

“We have to reverse this trend. We have to go back to ourselves, to our beloved ones, to nature, because electronic devices help us to run away from ourselves. We lose ourselves in the internet, business, projects and we have no time to be with ourselves. We do not have the time to take care of our beloved ones and do not allow Mother Earth to heal us. We are running away from self, family and nature.”

While most business leaders find it difficult to talk openly about the pressures they face, there are high profile examples of executives who share Thay’s concerns.

Erin Callan, the former chief financial officer of Lehman Brothers, who resigned months before the bank’s bankruptcy, put her head above the parapet earlier this year to write about how work had completely consumed her.

“When I left my job, it devastated me,” she wrote in the New York Times. “I couldn’t just rally and move on. I did not know how to value who I was versus what I did.

“When I wasn’t catching up on work, I spent my weekends recharging my batteries for the coming week. Work always came first, before my family, friends and marriage — which ended just a few years later.”

While Thay worries about the destructive force of technology, he recognises its dualistic nature and therefore its power also to do good.

This is why he will call on the technology CEOs he meets to concentrate on developing apps and other devices that can help bring people back into balance.

“We need to have an awakening and when I talk to Google and the other companies, I will tell them to use their intelligence and goodwill to help us create the kind of instruments to come back to ourselves, heal ourselves,” he says. “We do not have to reject or throw away all these devices but can make good use of them.”

He talks of developing apps that can help people to calm their anger when it arises and refers to a watch he designed, on which every hour is marked by the word ‘now,’ rather than a number.

Google has asked the Buddhist monk to talk on the subject of intention, innovation and insight, which he says can all benefit from the practice of mindfulness.

Thay was invited to visit Google in 2011 and since then mindfulness practices have blossomed at the technology giant, including a growing number of people taking part in its formal mindfulness training programme, ‘Search Inside Yourself.’ Meditation rooms have also been created within many of the company’s offices.

He says: “Staff at Google want to know how to transform their suffering just like all other living beings.

“Many of them are very young and intelligent so they can understand the teaching and practice well and can spread this and they have the means to do that.

“It will help for them to know that everyone has the wish to do good because all of us have Buddha nature. When you look at the path which is not noble, you can see the other path. So looking into suffering you see the way of happiness; that is the teaching of the four noble truths and you do not need to be Buddhist to understand that.

“Our society needs a collective awakening in order to save ourselves from the crisis we are in. So the practice is that awakening should take place in every step, every breath. And if you have awakening you know you have a path of happiness. You stop suffering and then you can help other people to do the same.”