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Financial Times

Take a screen break – in the lotus position

By Alicia Clegg

Published: June 10 2007

It is Friday afternoon, the weekend is within sight, and a group of 25 managers and staff at the London headquarters of the professional services group PwC are preparing to put aside the cares of office life. Many companies observe the ritual of the end of week get-together, but this gathering is different. For a start, the setting is a quiet room, not a crowded City pub, and the group has met not to swap office gossip but to meditate.

Meditation has been practised for thousands of years, but western business people are increasingly turning to the technique to combat stress.

PwC’s involvement began 18 months ago when a female employee offered to organise a group for interested colleagues. The sessions proved so popular that the company’s health matters manager, Victoria Broadhurst, has begun asking employees in other PwC branches if they would like to try meditation too. “We are looking at how we might make meditation available either by getting people to come in, as in London, or perhaps by offering [instruction] through a podcast.”…

…Statistics on the growth of meditation are hard to come by, partly because many workplace groups operate informally. Another factor, says daily meditator David Gordon, chief executive and director of the Milwaukee Art Museum in the US, is that business people who meditate are often wary of talking about their habit for fear of being labelled eccentric. “There’s a huge sensitivity, particularly in Britain, about doing anything that might be satirised.”

But attitudes are changing. One development that has sparked wider interest in meditation is the consumer boom in holistic therapies.

Another influence that encourages people to see meditation as a skill that is potentially useful, rather than as an esoteric hobby, is knowing someone who meditates, particularly when that person is a respected colleague.

Mr Gordon, a former chief executive of the Economist newspaper, first became interested in meditation while working with the publication’s one-time chairman, Sir John Harvey-Jones, a known practitioner.

Three years ago, Mr Gordon began meditating under the guidance of Jillian Lavender, the publishing director of a company with which he was associated as non-executive chairman.

Today, Ms Lavender is a full-time teacher of Vedic meditation – a technique that focuses on resting the body and the mind – and has a client base that includes hedge fund managers and investment bankers. “City professionals are very receptive to meditation, because they see it as a technique that helps them to perform at their very best.”…

…The biggest challenge for many would-be practitioners of meditation, particularly those who juggle work with family-life, is finding time to meditate in a day that is already over full.

Jane-Emma Peerless, a project director for the weekly newspaper Financial News, began meditating to combat tiredness but struggled, initially, to sustain a regular routine.

She cracked the problem by splicing one session into her tube journey home and by meditating, in the morning, before getting out of bed. The payback, she says, is that she feels rested and clearer-headed. “The quality of my thinking and decision-making is better and I get less stressed.”

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2007

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