Blackberry pinging on the bedside table, 4am conference calls with the US, emails that need answering the minute they hit the inbox … as 24-7 continues to become the new 9-5, more executives are turning to meditation to combat the stress of an always-on business world.
Peter Meek is one of them. The managing director for yoghurt manufacturer Chobani in Australia took up the practice three years ago at the urging of his wife, who waxed lyrical about the relaxation and clarity of thought it could provide.
Meditation can increase awareness of the moment, promote relaxation, reduce stress and enhance personal and spiritual growth.
So Meek began dragging himself along to Saturday sessions, but found it hard to switch off and clear his head initially.
“Then in week five, I had almost an epiphany,” he says. “I felt calm, relaxed, focused.”
Fast forward three years and meditation has become part of his daily routine; something he slots in for 15 minutes at 5am, after he's checked for emails from the US and before he begins his 12-hour working day.
“It conditions me, clears my mind, orientates me with what I have to get done,” Meek says.
At the weekends he indulges in the extended version; an hour-long private session with a teacher.
“It's like servicing my body and my attitude,” Meek says.
“I can start the week refreshed, recharged, relaxed … Saturday morning used to be about golf and cycling but the mental energy meditation gives is more important than an extra session of exercise.”
Workspace Meditation founder and former Buddhist nun Arian Young says Meek is part of a groundswell of heavy-hitters seeking solace in the practice.
“They're looking for instant relief from stress and relentless pressure, increasing depression and low energy,” Young says.
“Every minute has to be accountable and they can't be seen to not have it all together.
“Meditation helps them to manage stress and increase their productivity and resilience. It teaches them to be relaxed and alert.”
Learning to slow down does not come cheap. Young charges $150 for an hour-long private class, with most executive types booking in blocks of four to eight sessions.
Some clients are keen to keep their involvement under wraps, Young says, because of perceptions meditation is the province of “cool, hippy dudes hanging around South-East Asia”.
Amanda Sinclair, a professor of management diversity and change at Melbourne Business School, says joss sticks and peace signs are in short supply in her programs, many of which incorporate meditation.
It's not something that must be done at home on a cushion, Sinclair says, but rather should be inserted into the busyness of the day.
“Feedback from clients is that it's very good at helping people get perspective on things … it helps people take charge of their work lives more and to be more reflective about what matters.”
While under-the-pump executives might wonder where they'd find the time, Sinclair believes regularity is more important than length.
“People get very deterred by the thought of having to add another 20 minutes a day in their schedule,” she says.
“I encourage people to find some time every day – five or two minutes is better than nothing.”
The managing director of printing house New Litho, Seth Watts, has this down to a fine art in a working week where 11-hour days are the norm.
Mini-breaks supplement the 10-to-20-minute sessions he aims to squeeze in each weekday and are especially effective before client meetings.
“Three to four minutes of breathing exercises – I re-centre myself and get the garbage out of my head,” Watts says.
“I can focus and re-centre and get into the space where I need to be. It helps you to access a well of productivity which you can't see when you're moving at a million miles an hour.”
Do business and meditation mix? Have you experienced any benefits?