Meditation and yoga might conjure an image of far-Eastern monks, sitting cross-legged and chanting on a remote mountaintop. Perhaps these practices even seem like self-involved and indulgent wastes of time, something for hippies, not professionals or busy executives. These are common misconceptions, but the truth is a lot more interesting.
The exciting truth is that yoga and meditation are scientifically proven to lower levels of the stress hormone cortisol, increase brain functioning and even creativity. Mindfulness meditation exercises may even slow Alzheimer’s, reduce tobacco cravings, and, according to recent analysis by Johns Hopkins University, help treat depression and anxiety.
It should come as no surprise, then, that some of the world’s top business leaders are making use of these practices in order to function at their peak. Some, like Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini, and SalesForce CEO Marc Benioff, have gone out of their way to spread the mind and body wellness benefits of mindfulness practices to their thousands of employees.
Here are 6 business leaders who make meditation part of their to-do list, after the jump.
1. Jeff Weiner, LinkedIn
Jeff Weiner, the charismatic CEO of the enormously popular and fast-growing social network LinkedIn, has called compassion the first rule of management. Where did he learn that? From the Dalai Lama.
In this article, he discusses the ideas of compassion as applied to management, which he first considered after reading "The Art of Happiness” (the teachings of the Dalai Lama). Focusing the mind through meditation can aid us in being more compassionate, thoughtful and objective leaders, something that Weiner strives for. This is so important to him that he makes sure to schedule blocks of time for “nothing” on his calendar, and declares those breaks as “absolutely necessary” for him to do his job.
2. Mark Bertolini, Aetna
When Aetna's Chairman and Chief Executive, Mark Bertolini, was injured near to death in a ski accident, he turned to yoga and other alternative treatments to heal what traditional painkillers and other medications could not. Faced with the prospect of a lifetime spent popping pills that would impair his thinking and energy levels, he discovered that yoga and acupuncture had a wonderful healing effect on his nerve damage, allowing him to make an amazing recovery.
When he saw the effect of these alternative therapies on his own pain, he brought them into his office with a specially-designed yoga and meditation program designed to increase mindfulness and reduce workplace stress. According to Bertolini, the company realized an 11-to-1 return on the program's investments in increased employee productivity. He believes in it so much that he says it’s his mission to "bring the mindfulness benefits that [he] brought to 34,000 employees to everyone in America."
3. Jeff Bezos, Amazon
Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon.com, now personally worth over $30 billion, believes wholeheartedly in patience, focus and determination to reach one’s goals. The creative and eternally optimistic CEO of one of America’s top 5 most admired and reputable companies is also surprisingly mindful, and his sound bytes are often ideas that would sound right at home at a yoga retreat. Like many top CEOs, Bezos takes a few days per year to make space for himself and his thoughts. These “empty” days are the times when the greatest ideas (like, say, the Kindle) tend to burst forth.
4. Marc Benioff, SalesForce
Founder and CEO of the CRM giant SalesForce has been on record for decades as being fan of the Dalai Lama, yoga and meditation, though he isn’t a Buddhist and that the practice are not religious for him. He told SF gate back in 2005, "I am very interested in keeping a clear head. So I enjoy meditation, which I've been doing for over a decade -- probably to help relieve the stress I was going through when I was working at Oracle. I also started a yoga practice at the same time. We do have a yoga class at Salesforce.com for our employees twice a week.
5. Russell Simmons, Def Jam
Def Jam Records co-founder and business magnate Russell Simmons, raised in Queens, New York and currently worth over $300M, is a vocal proponent of the benefits of a non-religious yoga and meditation practice. Simmons is a fan of Jivamukti Yoga a modern school which encourages vegetarianism and environmental activism as part of a whole lifestyle practice. Simmons has said that in order to break through any fear in life, “just meditate. You can overcome anything.”
6. Steve Jobs, Apple
The iconic Apple CEO was so passionate about his journey of mindfulness that guests at his memorial service in 2011 were each given "Autobiography of a Yogi" by Paramahansa Yogananda. Over 50 years old, the classic yoga text discusses self-realization and the practice of Kriya Yoga meditation. Jobs made several trips to India and studied yoga throughout his life, seeking to fine tune his famed powers of intuition and focus, two qualities that give birth to true innovation. According to his biographer, Walter Isaacson, Jobs was a “very spiritual person,” not unlike a “guru.”
Make time for mindfulness
These 6 icons of modern business are just a few of the many top leaders who have made yoga, meditation and mindfulness practices part of their daily lives. So, the next time an employee rolls their eyes at the idea of meditation, send them this list! Just a few minutes a day, practiced consistently and purposefully, can help them reap the benefit of improved health, mental focus, productivity and happiness.