Steve Jobs, Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff, LinkedIn CEO Jeff Weiner and Ray Dalio, who runs the world’s biggest hedge fund firm, are all known to have practiced mediation – and attributed no small portion of their success to it too.
Meditation is no longer something practiced by Zen masters and the fringes of society – today CEOs, senior executives and business leaders are embracing the art of breathing, to hone their problem solving skills, sharpen their minds, ease stress and even stave off disease.
Numerous research papers have pointed to the wide-ranging physiological benefits of meditation with one of the latest studies from Harvard University, which shows that meditation literally re-builds the brain’s grey matter in just weeks.
Another interesting study, carried out at Yale University, found that mindfulness meditation decreases activity in the default mode network, or the brain network responsible for mind wandering.
In the business arena meditation gives leaders the edge – sharpening attention, which can help in quick decision-making. When the mind is quiet and rested it’s easier to make those hard, on the spot decisions.
Insomnia, or the ability to shut the mind down in the evening, can be an issue for corporate high-flyers. Countless studies have proven that meditation helps ease insomnia; they even now link meditation with the power to make up for lost sleep – so you can literally get more hours into the day.
It can also help alleviate many of the most common executive health ailments such as high blood pressure, rising cholesterol levels, cardiovascular issues, low immunity and inflammation.
Many corporate leaders are now implementing meditation into their company wellness programs along with yoga practice. They see the increase to the bottom line by getting staff to slow down and center themselves.
Some of the main benefits of regular meditation include:
- Sleep: A plethora of research has been done linking meditation with better sleep – a UCLA study recently backing that up. With many high-flyers working across different time zones, mediation can also be a great tool to overcome jetlag.
- Focus, clarity and problem solving: One of the core benefits of meditation is that it improves attention and concentration with a landmark study proving that a group who meditated nightly could complete more, staying on task longer, whilst switching between tasks less frequently. Another US study linked meditation with better working memory and improved test scores in undergraduate students. Research also suggests we come up with our greatest insights and breakthroughs when we are in a more meditative and relaxed state of mind, because meditation encourages divergent thinking (the greatest number of solutions to a problem).
- Stress reduction: Brain-imaging research suggests that meditation can help strengthen the ability to regulate emotions. By sitting still and focusing on breath, cortisol, or stress levels, decrease. This calms the body and can also decrease cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure because of decreased inflammation and the change to the immune system.
- Emotional intelligence: Emotional intelligence, or EI, helps you understand your colleagues’ motivations and forward thinking workplaces are tapping into a high EI – over say, just a high intelligence quotient.
- Creativity and energy: Meditation offers increased vitality and energy as well as a sense of being feeling powerful and dynamic.
I usually recommend spending at least 20 minutes meditating every morning – if possible increase that to 20 minutes in the morning and another 20 minutes in the evening.
It’s not something that has to be done in a special place – I often meditate on the plane or in the flight lounge. You can quickly get into a deep state of meditation and that’s why it’s such an effective way of staying grounded.
Starting off can be a little tricky as the mind likes to wander and it’s hard to focus – five minutes can feel like five hours.
I generally recommend starting with a few apps to help keep focused. One good one is the Sudarshan
Kriya app – part of the Art of Living foundation, which operates in 160 countries around the world. This focuses on a simple breathing process, which takes your body through different stages of meditation. It’s a good introduction to meditation and they also offer a tailored executive program.
Another good beginners app is Sattva Meditation Timer & Tracker. For those who are on the competitive side, the app offers a few personal challenges like the 7-day Guided Meditation Challenge and The Stress Buster Challenge; it also includes features like tracking total daily and weekly time spent meditating.
Then again, it’s also fine to just grab a few minutes wherever you are, just sitting still and listening to your breath – it might be the best business decision you make all day. BFM