How stressed high-flyers are teaching themselves to chill out

A former globe-trotting DJ and a clinical psychologist might sound an unlikely pairing to launch a mindfulness 'pop-up' for executives.

But gone are the days of meditation and mindfulness being purely the domain of religious followers or hippies.

Now, as any cursory scroll of Instagram will prove, it's hip to find stillness. The art of meditation, however,  has also become something of a corporate coaching tool with a growing number of businesses passing on the skills to professionals.

Last month roughly 50 cashed-up corporates will fill a slick warehouse in Melbourne's Fitzroy to take part in Recharge's mindfulness pop-up, which claims to be Melbourne's first.

"It's about making meditation really accessible for people … it's just getting rid of all the hippy crap, and backing it up with neuroscience," says Recharge co-founder Dr Richard Chambers.

"We want people to come from work in their suits and get some mindfulness, to pop off the shoes and loosen the tie a little bit."

We want people to come from work in their suits and get some mindfulness.

Dr Richard Chambers

Mind games

Dr Chambers says professionals are facing a multitude of pressures, including the encroachment of digital technologies.

"It adds a lot to our lives but it encourages things like distractibility," says Dr Chambers.

He notes that many traditional hobbies that may have once taught us mindfulness have faded into the background: "These days recreation is often fast-paced activity or jumping on your iPad, which is creating un-mindfulness."

When you're meditating, you're not just trying to chill out – you're actually strengthening your brain, says Dr Chambers.


Downloading tranquility

He's been a long-time proponent of meditation, and helped formulate the Smiling Mind app. He says the app, developed in Melbourne, has been downloaded more than 1.4 million times.

It's one of a number of apps, including Headspace, bringing meditation into the modern age.

Other products such as Spire, launched by a San Francisco start-up, are also finding their way to the market. Spire markets itself as the world's first wearable device to track breathing patterns.

In New York, meditation studio MNDFL occasionally runs MNDFL Drink, where participants learn to mindfully sip on cocktails in between meditations.

Margaritas aside, do meditation and mindfulness really make much of a difference to the average exec? And in a day crammed with meetings and other commitments, where does a person find the time?

Time out to tune in

Martin Hosking, CEO of Redbubble, a $140 million-a-year global marketplace for artists, sees it as a crucial part of his schedule.

"My basic rule is never miss a day even if the meditation is very short," he says.

Hosking took up meditation in 2004 because of nagging health problems and a feeling of imbalance in his life. Redbubble's Melbourne offices now include a meditation room for staff.

"My general sense is that it is becoming more mainstream," says Hosking.

"From a business sense I think meditation helps you to have better judgement and particularly to move from being highly reactive to being thoughtful about the longer term and steady in making decisions for the longer term. I have phrased this as 'panic less, think more'."

Quantum of solace

Sydney's Centred Meditation , in the heart of the financial district, is attracting hundreds of people a week to its contemporary drop-in studio.

Kevin Janks, who co-founded the business with wife Nikki about 18 months ago, was formerly a consultant in the security industry.

"I was experiencing a lot of stress from all the pressure of work, and it was having pretty detrimental effects on my health and wellbeing," he says.

Heart, mind and body benefits

Janks was suffering chronic nightmares, recurring bouts of glandular fever and feelings of anxiety. His father also sat him down and warned him that his frantic lifestyle would lead to an early heart attack.

"He wasn't so wrong. In my mid-20s I was already experiencing blood pressure at the higher end of normal. I was 100 per cent headed in that direction."

Janks originally shied away from meditation, but says that when he eventually began, the effects were "pretty profound quite quickly".

"I was sleeping better, had more energy in the morning, and was making better decisions."

After quitting his consultant's job, he and his wife travelled around India, Nepal and Sri Lanka for seven months, delving deeper into meditation. They had no intention initially of opening a meditation centre, but somewhere along the way, the idea was born.

Zen in the city

Aside from a drop-in centre, the business also run a program tailored at corporates that includes meditation classes and tips on communication, leadership and productivity.

Janks says executives are often expected to remain calm under pressure.

"But if there's a disconnection between how you're projecting yourself on the outside and what you feel on the inside then, well, it's unsustainable," he says.

"Pressure is not going away, and more and more people are starting to realise they want suitable ways to cope with that pressure so it doesn't eventuate as stress."