Health and Science

Enter the age of yoga and meditation meetings

People take part in a free weekly yoga class on the lawn of Parliament Hill in Ottawa, Canada, on July 22, 2015. The classes are organized by a retailer that sells yoga clothing.
Chris Wattie | Reuters

Business mogul Russell Simmons, best known for founding record label Def Jam, was recently put in a difficult situation. An actor declined being cast in a movie that he was making. Instead of calling the actor and yelling at him, he called upon the skills he learned through meditation, and found a replacement without bursting out.

"Its about being thoughtful, not angry," he explained. "You invest in the process, not in the result. Meditation is what is important to you from a nutritional to a spiritual standpoint. When you meditate, you get in touch with that, and you make better choices."

Simmons is part of a growing trend of magnates and corporations that are incorporating yoga and meditation into their businesses lives. The National Health Interview Survey found that in 2012 (the latest year the study was completed), 8 percent of Americans meditated while 9.5 percent participated in yoga. The Financial Times reported that General Mills had been weekly offering yoga and meditation "mindfulness" classes to its employees, while Wired said Google offered meditation for its employees.

It's not just teaching employees to be calmer. Some companies have started bringing yoga into their client meetings, with the hopes of relaxing people enough to seal a deal. Pandora recently held one of these events at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas, in March. (Tacos were offered after the stretches.)

"When you are practicing yoga, you are putting your body in these different positions," said Mindfresh co-founder Jen Kluczkowski. "You are experiencing or trying to cultivate balance in your body. You start noticing your physical balance improving and simultaneously, your mental balance is improving. This also improves your mental flexibility and growth."

Kluczkowski's company, which officially launched in April 2015, specializes in "yoga meets business" situations—which coincidentally was the original name of the company. However, too many people feared the difficult nature of yoga, so it rebranded itself as Mindfresh to reflect the ease and tranquility of a basic meditation and yoga regiment.

Mindfresh counts L'Oreal, Facebook, Yahoo, hedge fund Citadel and law firm Herrick, Feinstein LLP as customers. It offers private classes for employees and hosts retreat sessions, weekly classes and yoga classes for its clients and advertisers.

"There's a big trend in entertainment clients in a healthy way," she said.

Kluczkowski said she got the idea for Mindfresh from her job as senior sales manager at Pandora. She said she was often stressed out, and used yoga as a release.

"I became better at my job and everyone on my team noticed I was more passionate," she said.

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Yoga therapist and founder of the United States Yoga Federation Rajashree Choudhury said that yoga helps people use their mind in different ways and relax within the work structure.

"The corporate world is so stressful, especially creating issues like physical problems, stress, psychosomatic and emotional anger, and frustration," she said. "It can be difficult for women because all of the time you have to prove yourself. It is really helpful when we expose more people to yoga, because yoga incorporates helping people in the corporate structure."

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Choudhury, who helped her husband found the famous Bikram Yoga hot studios, said she has been tapped to lead several yoga retreats for banks in India, and often works as an "on-call" yoga instructor for several hospitals. The National Institutes of Health recognizes that studies have shown yoga can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and your heart rate and relieve anxiety.

"Yoga can be a different and great way to prevent health-care costs," she said. "I think companies will come around more to the idea."

Simmons believes so much in the power of meditation that he launched a free app in late June called Mediation Made Simple, which helps people relax while on the go. He said it was just an extension of what he had been doing with his book "Success Through Stillness" and his initiatives to teach the practice in schools. Simmons said just meditating for five or six minutes a day has changed his outlook on life.

"If everybody meditates, it makes the world a better place," he said.