Ok. I know. I've written about meditation twice recently. But those blogs were spurred by reading the really good Dan Harris book, 10% Happier. I couldn't help myself. Blame Dan. But today's rumination comes from a Sunday New York Times Article this week on how the CEO of Aetna insurance has introduced Yoga and meditation to his employees and customers. The results are wild.
Mark Bertolini had a near fatal skiing accident, and in his long battle to recover discovered both yoga and meditation. The practices had a profound impact on him. And so, when he became CEO, he had the idea of introducing them to the entire company, as something he would recommend and encourage, but not require.
To convince the company's head physician to go along with this, he offered to ask employees who wanted to volunteer for a little research to join one of three groups: the yoga group, the meditation group, and a control group. In a very short time, the yoga and meditation people were reporting lower stress and showing it in their heart functions and cortisol levels. The company spread the gospel, and more people signed up for these stretching and breathing exercises. The overall health of the organization improved right away, and was manifested in a big drop in medical costs. People felt better and reported greater focus and productivity. Aetna's stock has also tripled during this time, by the way. Check out the detailed stats in the Times piece. "It's magical," Bertolini reported. What's not to love?
Of course, there are critics. The author of a recent Harvard Business Review article, David Brendel, argues that we shouldn't over use techniques like meditation in the workplace to reduce stress because stress can be useful to prompt critical thinking, and so isn't just something to avoid. And to an extent, I agree. But my view would be that a little stress can go a long way. If practices like yoga, meditation, jogging, or weight lifting can take the edge off the stress, the anxiety, and the wholly unnecessary blight of worry in people's lives, something is gained and nothing worthwhile is lost.
A little stress is fine. Stress is where opportunity and challenge meet. It's the baseline experience of pressure. And that's not always a bad thing. But too much is counterproductive. And too much is the exact dose that stress usually comes in. Any practice that can reduce it down to healthy levels, while refreshing the spirit and sharpening personal focus is to be commended.
Of course, mediation is not meant to replace rational thought. They have to be used in tandem. As Brendel says:
Mindful meditation should always be used in the service of enhancing, not displacing, people’s rational and analytical thought processes about their careers and personal lives.
So, to prepare yourself for whatever rational and analytical thought you might need, in any new challenge, you might first find yourself a comfortable spot and do like innovative CEOs often do. Breathe. And chill. If only for a few minutes. And let me know how it goes. Om interested.