Relax, and Let Your Worries Go
A good way of tackling stress is meditation. Cristín Bell finds out
how to breathe deep and calm down
by Cristín Bell
Monday October 29, 2001
If your energy level is high all day, every day, then you are one of the lucky ones. For most of us however, our energy dips throughout the day, and so does our performance. A growing number of office workers have found a way to eliminate stress and increase productivity. It may sound unorthodox and even a bit peculiar, but nine-to-fivers are trying a new solution: meditation.
Most of us wake up to an alarm clock before our bodies – and minds – are ready to get out of bed. We sit in front of a computer screen all day. Nod off during meetings, feel sluggish after lunch and arrive home just in time for fatigue to set in. With the days getting shorter and the cold weather on its way, meditation could be the perfect antidote to keep winter blues at bay and energy levels up.
Companies are losing enormous amounts of money through stress-related illnesses: migraines, depression, insomnia, high blood pressure, and drug and alcohol abuse. Managers are finding that healthier and more stress-free employees contribute greatly to the success of a company.
Clem Leneghan, an executive at the television production company Bazal, meditates to decrease stress and increase concentration in an industry where he can barely hear himself think. "When I practice meditation regularly, it makes my work life and personal life more satisfying and rewarding." Heightened noise levels and an influx of distractions came when his offices were converted to open plan. Despite working in such a chaotic environment, where e-mails hit you every couple of minutes and everything gets half done, Leneghan says he remains calm and focused during the day, thanks to meditation.
He practises two types of Buddhist meditation. One focuses on the breath and the other focuses on the self and then the people around you. Leneghan would like to meditate every morning, but currently practises about four times a week, alternating between the two techniques. After attending a retreat in Oxfordshire nearly two years ago, "the best week of my life," he says, it is now an integral part of his personal and professional life.
Dr Sam Kaddoura, a consultant cardiologist at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, London, believes that certain techniques, such as meditation, can relax the body. "When somebody is physically relaxed, the blood pressure lowers and the heart rate slows down." He emphasises, however, that because it is difficult to define stress, scientific evidence does not necessarily prove that alternative therapies work. Further studies are needed.
Occupational physician Dr Alison Martin, however, has been recommending meditation for the past 10 years, and believes research that links meditation and reduced blood pressure. "It's one of a number of things that works." But it is its effects on the mind that is making meditation one of the most popular ways to reduce stress.
Meditation is an ancient tradition that has been around for thousands of years. Today, a variety of methods are taught and practised around the world, including transcendental meditation (TM), a technique that uses a mantra. It is not religious. It is not a way of life. It is, and this is the best part, absolutely effortless, but must be taught by a qualified instructor. Jonathan Hinde is a teacher of TM. His interest started as a student at Oxford University, and he has been meditating twice a day for the past 27 years.
"TM gives the mind the opportunity to settle down," he says. "The key feature of the practice is that it is entirely effortless. You cannot force the mind to be quiet, and, in fact, the more you try the less it works." TM does not hinder a busy schedule and it can even be done on the train – no lotus position required. We reach solutions more easily when the mind is settled, he says.
"As the mind settles down, the body also achieves a profound state of physical rest, and it's this deep physical rest which allows you to recharge your batteries." Hinde compares the mind to the ocean. "The ocean has a surface level, where there's all the activity. As you get deeper into the ocean the activity becomes less and less and less. And on the ocean bed it's silent, it's still, not moving." Through TM, the mind reaches that ocean bed.
People use a minimal percentage of their mind's capacity. When the mind is relaxed, more blood flows to the brain and brainwaves become more coherent. Anxiety, depression, stress and insomnia, each of which greatly affects our work performance, are all reduced.
In the early 90s, President Joaquim Chissano of Mozambique introduced TM to his family, military, government officers and cabinet of ministers. It became part of the curriculum for military and police recruits, requiring them to meditate twice a day for 20 minutes. A transformation of the country took place. Crime rates fell, the economy grew. And it all started in Chissano's office.
René Elliott, founder of the organic supermarket Planet Organic, has been practising TM for 10 years. "I'm always moving. To sit for 20 minutes without moving and to be with myself is a powerful thing." Elliott adds that TM prepares her for everything that comes her way during her working day. She says that there are noticeable effects on her work life. "It supports me. It's powerful."
Group meditation has been proven to have incredible results on both the individuals involved and the environment. Elliott meditates with her husband twice a day, which enhances the experience. Would offices around Britain consider integrating team meetings with group meditation?
A common problem with meditation among workers is the fear that they will become timid, choosing to spend more time chanting and less time clinching the deal. Instead, it has been shown to enhance assertiveness, allowing the mind to become clearer and able to solve all the day's problems.
Sounds too good to be true? Millions of people around the world are releasing their minds' potential. They can't all be wrong. Levitating, however, is an altogether different matter.
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