Meditate to become a better leader
A growing number of CEOs and senior executives are meditating for reasons other than de-stressing—to sharpen concentration and build resilience
Life changed for Anuraag Agarwal, 43, head, business development, strategy, mergers & acquisitions at Future Group, in May 2007. As a banker working in the US at the time, he was introduced to the concept of meditation by a friend.
Agarwal, who remembers resisting the idea initially, has been meditating for 11 years now—twice a day, morning and evening. “The fact is that the clearer your thoughts and the more clarity you have, the better and more effective your decisions will be. When I was about a year and a half into meditation, I remember how I was sitting in my cubicle working on a presentation and I found my mind so clear that within 2 hours, from 2-4pm, I finished making the entire presentation—it would have taken me at least two days earlier. That was the moment I realized that meditation was helping me at work immensely,” he says.
In today’s hyper-competitive business world, a growing number of team leaders are embracing meditation, recognizing that its benefits go well beyond relaxation and stress relief. Research shows that meditation sharpens skills like concentration and emotional intelligence, and helps build resilience.
In an interview to Mint earlier this month, Akshay Kothari, 31, country manager and head of product, Linkedin, had talked about going from zero meditation to a 10-day silent meditation retreat, Vipassana. Meditation, he said, has given him a toolbox that he can leverage when he feels overwhelmed. He finds meditation and/or yoga tremendously powerful in helping him concentrate at work.
Sandeep Vohra, senior consultant, psychiatry, at Indraprastha Apollo Hospital in New Delhi, agrees. He says meditation is an excellent way of handling one’s life in any sphere. “It relaxes the brain and reduces the production of stress chemicals, and also helps in cognitive restructuring of the brain,” he says.
According to Delhi-based psychologist Harsheen Arora, stress doesn’t just reduce efficiency but eventually leads to burnout or illness. She believes it is important to set aside some “me time” to unwind and relax, and meditation is a great way to do that. “It relaxes the mind and the body; it also helps improve concentration, reduces forgetfulness, and significantly improves productivity and job satisfaction by bringing in positivity and mental clarity,” she adds.
Researchers from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, US, sifted through nearly 19,000 meditation studies. In a report published in the JAMA Internal Medicine journal in 2014, the researchers suggested that mindful meditation could help ease psychological stresses like anxiety, depression, and pain.
“The benefits of meditation are so many that now in fact I wonder how people live without meditation. Tell me, would you begin your day without a bath? You’ll stink, right? Similarly, without meditation your mind can get so cluttered that it too will stink,” says Agarwal.
How to meditate
“Meditation is so brilliant for dealing with workplace stress that I feel it should be implemented by corporates,” adds Vohra. There are many techniques but they are best learnt from a master/teacher, not a book. You need to learn from someone who knows how to do it, so that you get the technique right, suggests Agarwal.
Of course, meditation cannot be done piecemeal. A holistic approach is essential. “A workplace stress screening and emotional stress screening should be done, based on which the degree of stress should be analysed. The cause of stress should be identified and understood to provide a solution to the patient. If all this is implemented, keeping meditation at the centre of this approach, then it can deliver excellent results,” he adds.
Agrawal, who says he is supervising 30 projects, needs a clear mind to take decisions quickly. “Those 20x2 minutes every day actually help me save a lot of time and make me more productive. In fact, the days I know I am going to be busier, I do extra meditation because I know that I’ll need a crystal-clear mind,” he says.
Powerful women who meditate
Transcendental meditation for 20 minutes twice a day helped her “discover new dimensions of self”.
Twenty-thirty minutes of meditation is part of her morning ritual. To create the habit, she suggests starting with 5 minutes a day.
The CEO of electric vehicle start-up NIO told The New York Times that meditating every night was a calming experience.
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