Five Figures to Consider
Juice cleanses, so last year! High intensity interval training, it hurts! The magic bullet? For those wanting to achieve more and stress less, it may be meditation. While just 9.9% of Americans meditate (up from 8% in 2002), over 80% of high-achieving business leaders and elite athletes interviewed by Tim Ferris, author of The Four-Hour Work Week, and Tools of Titans practice some form of daily meditation. Clearly they know something the rest of don’t. What is it?
Several studies have shown that just eight weeks of meditation practiced a minimum of four times a week 27 minutes a day can increase gray matter in the parts of the brain associated with learning and memory, attention and coordinated movement, and controlling emotions and compassion. These structural changes are large enough to be picked up by MRI scanners. Meditation calms down the part of the brain associated with anxiety and the “flight or fight” response and revs up the part of the brain associated with executive functioning. It allows the mind to be more reflective. Athletes who meditate include Le Bron James, Kobe Bryant and Derek Jeter. Among CEOs with regular meditation practices are Ray Dalio, Bridgewater Associates; Marc Benioff, Salesforce, and the late Steve Jobs, Apple, who was also one of the first CEOs to introduce an in-office corporate mindfulness program. Now companies like Google, Adobe and Goldman Sachs have introduced mindfulness programs. Aetna saved $2000 per employee in annual healthcare costs and gained about $3,000 in productivity per employee after it instituted a corporate mindfulness program.
Not only is meditation good for the mind and the bottom line, it is also good for the body. DHEA, known as the “longevity molecule,” is a hormone that is produced naturally by the adrenal gland. It helps the body fight infection, prevent inflammation and triggers testosterone and estrogen production. However, age and stress combine to suppress DHEA levels. An average 65-year-old man’s DHEA level is one-fifth the level it was when he was 20. Erectile dysfunction in men and low libido in women are often associated with corresponding low levels of DHEA. Luckily, DHEA levels actually increase in the body as a result of meditation. One study found that as compared to non-meditators, meditators had 40% more DHEA circulating in their systems.
There are several different types of meditation but with zero start-up costs, it is easy to find one that suits. Here are a couple:
Insight Meditation can be practiced seated or walking; the aim is to focus on physical sounds and sensations without judgments or thought. In practice this might take the form of a short walk to the store concentrating on the sound of cars, the feel of the breeze or the scratch of a sweater. If images of vehicle types, grocery lists or whatnot occur, they should be observed but not engaged. One thought should not lead to another and another. Practiced indoors, focus could be on feeling the rise and fall of the belly or the sound of family members or roommates in another room. Concentration is on awareness but not engagement of the physical.
In Samatha Meditation the practitioner is usually seated in whatever position they find comfortable. Eyes are gently closed or concentrated on an object. The breath is slow, deep and gentle. The mind is focussed on a single subject like the movement of the breath, a chant or candle flame. Whenever the mind wanders, gently bring it back to the intended focus. Practice for 20-40 minutes.
FIVE FIGURE THINKING
Meditation is no cure-all, but there’s a lot of evidence that shows it can make a big difference in a short amount of time for those who decide to make it a regular part of their daily routine. If a few daily minutes might make you as zen as Le Bron, why not?