Mindfulness, Meditation, Wellness and Their Connection to Corporate America’s Bottom Line

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Having taught yoga in both small and large corporations, I can attest to the consistent positive response to classes by employees.  Over and over, participants tell me that the yoga and meditation have not only made them feel good physically, but have reduced their stress levels and improved their ability to focus and stay calm under pressure.  “We really need this,” is something I often hear at the end of group glass.

But don’t just take my word for it.  Check out this recent article in the Huffington Post Blog touting the benefits of yoga and meditation in the workplace, not just on the health and well-being of employees, but for the bottom line.  The World Health Organization estimates the cost of stress to American Business to be as high as $300 billion annually.  The direct costs are obvious — increased absenteeism and health care costs due to stress related conditions.  But then there are the indirect costs of lower creativity,  productivity and clear, calm decision making.

Given this effect on the bottom line, it behooves companies to assess their wellness initiatives and incorporate programs that support employees’ physical and mental well being.  The ancient sciences of yoga and meditation are an ideal wellness offering as they incorporate exercises to strengthen both the body and the mind.

It truly is a win-win.  Contact me to learn more about corporate yoga/meditation programs for groups as well as individuals.

Meditation finds an ommm in the office

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By WALLACE IMMEN From The Globe and Mail, November 27, 2012

Not long ago, a CEO who openly practiced meditation in the office might be considered weird, and a manager who urged employees to train their minds to be more self-aware on the job would be suspect.

But that’s changed. A slew of books published this year promote meditation for self-awareness as an aid to decision-making and leadership.

Managers are promoting mental-awareness techniques to help employees cut stress and improve communication. And executives are finding meditation helps them stay cool under fire.  Read the full article here.

14 Executives Who Swear By Meditation

In today’s economy, business leaders are under more pressure than ever to perform at the highest level.  No wonder more and more executives are tuning to meditation to focus their mind, tune into their vision and foresight, develop calm alertness to business challenges and recharge their batteries.  In fact, Business Insider recently compiled a list of leaders who say that meditation gives them a competitive advantage in the business world. Click here to find out who they are.  And to learn more about how meditation can help you become a more effective leader, click here

Sit. Breathe. Be a Better Leader.

Check out this article at Inc. Magazine to see what Ray Dalio, the founder of world’s largest hedge fund; executives at General Mills, BNY Mellon, Ebay and Facebook; hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons and the late Steve Jobs have in common.  You guessed it:  they all use meditation to to achieve peak performance. Given the mounting scientific evidence demonstrating the positive effects of meditation on the brain, more and more top tier executives are using meditation to increase focus, improve judgment and decision making and decrease stress, giving them a competitive advantage.  Click here to find out how you can get started.

If You’re Too Busy to Meditate, Read This

Check out Peter Bregman’s article in the Harvard Business Review in which he explains how meditation makes you more productive by increasing your capacity to resist distracting urges.  Bregman sites research that shows if you can resist your urges, you can make better, more thoughtful decisions, thereby improving your performance.  So, he explains, the next time an employee makes a mistake, rather than react with instinctive  anger, which would demoralize the employee, you can respond rationally and determine what caused the error and how to fix it. Similarly, through the discipline of meditation you can cultivate the ability to resist the urge to talk over someone in a meeting when listening would be more productive.  Daily meditation, he advises, will strengthen your will power, putting you more in control of your decisions– who can’t benefit from that?

For information about how to learn to meditate, click here.

Why Some Of The West’s Biggest Companies Are Embracing Yoga/Meditation

It may not surprise you that California-based Google has a mindfulness meditation program called Search Inside Yourself. Perhaps more surprising though  is that companies such as General Mills, Aetna and Target also offer workplace programs featuring yoga and meditation.   In fact, General Mills’ longstanding program was championed by non other than their Deputy General Counsel, Janice Marturano, while she was the company’s lead liaison to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the Securities and Exchange Commission.

Check out this recent article in the  Financial Times to read about the benefits companies are reaping from yoga and meditation programs, including how Aetna used yoga to reduce stress levels in employees and healthcare costs significantly and how Leadership Excellence Magazine ranked General Mills 1st in developing leaders in 2011.

Yoga at Work Reduces Stress, Back Pain

From  Yoga Journal Blogs, October 10, 2012

If you’ve ever considered asking your employer for permission to coordinate a lunchtime yoga class, here’s some information that might help you make your case. A study recently published in the journal Occupational Medicine found that yoga in the workplace reduced employee stress and eased back pain.

Study participants, who were employees of the British government, were asked to practice yoga for 50 minutes once a week for eight weeks. They were also allowed to practice up to twice a week for 20 minutes at home with a DVD. When compared with a group that did no yoga at all, the yoga practitioners reported lower levels of stress and sadness as well as less back pain. While this was a small study with 37 participants in each group, it adds to a growing body of research that confirms yoga’s many benefits.

“Integrating yoga into the workplace, at lunchtime or after work, may provide a time-effective, convenient and practical method for reducing the costly effects of stress and back pain,” the researchers wrote in the Sept. 25 issue of Occupational Medicine. That’s good news for employers who want to reduce the cost of health benefits for employers—and good news for stressed out workers, too.

Researchers said further study is necessary to see if yoga can reduce the number of sick days employers take.

Entrepreneurs’ Secret Anti-Stress Weapon

From Inc.

By Jessica Stillman

A new study shows even small amounts of meditation relieve stress and boost health. No wonder many business bigwigs turn to it.

Science and religion are often at odds, but at least occasionally there is convergence. Buddhist monks and devoted yogis have long contended that meditation reduces stress. A recent study agrees, even if the practice is stripped of any particular spiritual belief.

The randomized, controlled study was carried about by a team including a Duke university psychologist and an Aetna executive among others and was recently published in Journal of Occupational Health Psychology. The research assigned 239 employees to either weekly yoga practice, mindfulness meditation, or a control group. “After 12 weeks, participants in both programs had significantly lower stress, as well as reduced difficulties in sleeping, whereas the control participants did not,” reports The British Psychological Society’s Research Digest blog.

Read the full article here.

Penetrating Postures: The Science of Yoga

From Forbes, by Alice G. Walton, Contributor

Structures of brainImage via Wikipedia

This is the first of a two-part series on yoga: the second, “The Psychology of Yoga,” looks at the psychological changes that yoga has been shown to bring about.

Judging from the number of yoga mats I’ve seen toted around Manhattan in the last 15 years, I’m pretty sure I was the last person on the island to try it. My relationship with the practice started about six months ago, and I must admit, I fell for it – and hard. I was amazed at the changes it was effecting in my body, and even better, my mind. But the science nerd/Western medicine part of me wondered how, exactly, it was doing this. I could wager some guesses based on what I know about the body, but wanted to talk to some people who actually study this stuff for a living.

Stephen Cope is a therapist and director of the Institute for Extraordinary Living at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Massachusetts.  He heads a program at the Center entitled “Yoga and the Brain,” in which researchers are studying yoga’s effect on the brain with MRI and other clever techniques. Cope explains that yoga brings about measurable changes in the body’s sympathetic nervous system – the one charged with propelling us into action during the “fight or flight” response to stress. However, because our lives today include business emails at 10 o’clock at night and loud cell conversations at the next table, our stress response often lingers in the “on” position at times it shouldn’t. Yoga helps dampen the body’s stress response by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol, which not only fuels our split-second stress reactions, but it can wreak havoc on the body when one is chronically stressed. So reducing the body’s cortisol level is generally considered a good thing.

Yoga also boosts levels of the feel-good brain chemicals like GABA, serotonin, and dopamine, which are responsible for feelings of relaxation and contentedness, and the way the brain processes rewards. All three neurotransmitters are the targets of various mood medications like antidepressants (e.g., SSRIs) and anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) drugs. The fact that yoga is linked to improved levels of these coveted chemicals is nothing to sneeze at.

Yoga has another bonus, says Sarah Dolgonos, MD, who has taught at the Yoga Society of New York’sAnanda Ashram. She points out that in addition to suppressing the stress response, yoga actually stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which calms us down and restores balance after a major stressor is over. When the parasympathetic nervous system switches on, “blood is directed toward endocrine glands, digestive organs, and lymphatic circulation, while the heart rate and blood pressure are lowered,” says Dolgonos. With the parasympathetic nervous system in gear, “our bodies can better extract nutrients from the food we eat, and more effectively eliminate toxins because circulation is enhanced. With parasympathetic activation, the body enters into a state of restoration and healing.”

There is also consensus that yoga boosts immune function, says Dolgonos. This benefit is probably due to the reduction of cortisol, mentioned earlier: too much of the pesky hormone can dampen the effectiveness of the immune system “by immobilizing certain white blood cells.” Reducing circulating cortisol “removes a barrier to effective immune function,” so yoga could help prevent illness by boosting immunity.

So let’s zoom in on yoga’s effects on the body even more (bear with me, this is really interesting). Researchers have discovered that yoga improves health in part by reducing a major adversary of the body: inflammation. Chronic inflammation, even low grade, is responsible for a litany of health problems from heart disease to diabetes to depression.

Paula R. Pullen, PhD, Research Instructor at the Morehouse School of Medicine, studies yoga’s effects on inflammation by looking at what’s happening in the bodies of heart failure patients who enroll in yoga classes. She has shown that after being randomly assigned to yoga or to standard medical care, patients taking yoga have significantly improved levels of biomarkers like C-reactive protein (CRP) and interleukin-6 (IL-6). If your eyes just glazed over, these findings are quite remarkable because they illustrate that yoga can actually affect the tiniest molecules, the ones that are widely known to predict risk for serious disease. Pullen underlines that reducing the body’s level of inflammation is incredibly important from a preventative standpoint.  And yoga can help with this. “Yoga balances the body, the hormonal system, and the stress response. People tend to think of yoga as being all about flexibility – it’s not.  It’s about rebalancing and healing the body.”

Though it’s been around for thousands of years, Western science is just beginning to understand how yoga exerts its effects. It will certainly be interesting to follow the research as it continues to reveal just what yoga is doing in the body and brain. Stay tuned for Part II of the yoga series!