Feeling unfocused? Try doing nothing. Or rather, try sitting in a quiet room thinking about nothing for at least 20 minutes, twice a day. It sounds simple, even boring, but transcendental meditation isn't just for mantra-chanting yogis or herbal-tea-drinking hippies. Maxed-out professionals are turning to daily meditation to lower blood pressure, prolong concentration, and crank up creative juices.
"It helps me slow down," says Erica Kalick, founder and president of Erica's Rugelach & Baking Co., a 10-employee gourmet pastry manufacturer in Brooklyn, N.Y. Kalick took up meditation to help her cope after a personal tragedy. "We run around all day, usually thinking about ourselves," she says. "But if, for example, I'm pissed off at an employee, I can slow down and think about it from the other person's perspective."
Unlike other kinds of meditation that focus on breathing, the goal of transcendental meditation is to clear the mind completely. "It's like having a quieter and quieter thought," explains Gary Kaplan, director of Clinical Neurophysiology at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset, N.Y. When performed correctly, Kaplan says, meditation allows the brain to "settle down," while the meditator experiences a heightened level of alertness. According to studies conducted at Harvard and the University of Massachusetts, long-term benefits include lower blood pressure and reduced risk for heart disease and stroke. But other positive results, such as reduced stress, lower heart rate, and increased alpha brain waves for greater concentration, may be noticeable after a few weeks.
Encouraging workers to meditate, then, can potentially increase productivity and may also reduce health care costs. Eric Schwartz, CEO of Cambridge Investment Research, a 115-employee, $65 million financial services firm based in Fairfield, Iowa, has been meditating for more than 30 years. He relocated from Washington, D.C., in part because Fairfield's Maharishi University is a mecca for transcendental meditators. Schwartz, who footed the bill for meditation courses for his top three managers, believes his brokers are open to new ways of doing business and see problems as opportunities to improve.
"Most businesses succeed or fail based on their people," he says. "We've succeeded because we've kept an open mind." Schwartz, who is the only person in his family without high blood pressure, can defuse potential crises. Once, an employee who had been with the company for about two years dreaded having to report that a trading error lost the company $33,000. "He came into my office thinking, 'Eric's going to go crazy," Schwartz recalls. "But I just looked at him and said, 'What are we going to do to make sure this doesn't happen again?' I was in a clear space."
Other businesses are also hoping meditation can help keep employees healthy and harmonious. At the University of Massachusetts Center for Mindfulness, Lawrence Horwitz, director of outreach and corporate program development, has noticed a swell of participation in the center's Power of Mindfulness in the Workplace program, which offers on-site courses, workshops, and retreats. Eric Biskamp runs WorkLife Seminars, a Dallas-based corporate meditation coaching service. "It's now accepted by some insurance companies and taught at pain management clinics," says Biskamp, who has coached Nortel, Raytheon, and Texas Instruments execs. "The perception of meditation is changing."