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Tech companies find their inner Zen

Sharon Gaudin | Dec. 19, 2013
Companies like Intel and Google are helping workers meditate to innovate.

Breathing exercises and meditation are replacing energy drinks and vats of coffee as employees are pushed to innovate more and faster, and get ahead of their competitors. It's increasingly less cool to be a great multitasker or to continually check email and texts while in a meeting or working on a project.

A calm mind, is the new in thing.

Corporate perks like free gourmet food, car wash services and shuttles to take employees to work have been expanded to include meditation pods and tranquility gardens.

For instance, Zappos.com, the popular online shoe and clothing store, offers its employees free on-site yoga, meditation and destress-and-stretch classes.

Microblogging service Twitter offers employees, for a fee, a weekly 30-minute guided meditation class followed by a 60-minute yoga class. A small group of Twitter employees have set up a daily, self-guided meditation session on their own.

"I think the demographic at technology companies is actually more receptive to this. Folks who work in technology companies are more persuaded by something that's evidence- or science-based," said Richard Davidson, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin, who has used MRI machines to study the changes meditation makes to the brain.

Davidson also noted that meditation and mindfulness aren't just good for employees. They're also good for the companies offering the courses.

" Stress plays such an enormously important role in exacerbating certain kinds of illnesses, [training in meditation and mindfulness] might help the business by reducing absenteeism and improving workers' health," he said. "There's no scientific proof that it could decrease healthcare utilization, but there's data showing it can decrease inflammatory markers, stress hormones and improve immune function -- all of which contribute to better health."

There's a growing push for companies to offer mindfulness classes to not only improve productivity and creativity but to try to keep employees from burning out under the stress of balancing their work and home lives.

The annual Wisdom 2.0 Conference, which will be held in San Francisco in February, focuses on helping people combine technology with a mindful life. The list of speakers for the conference includes representatives from such tech companies as Zappos, Instagram, Google, Twitter and Facebook.

Bill Duane is Google's senior manager for Well Being and Sustainable High Performance Development Programs.

The idea of using meditation as a way to create a better life and to build more innovative technology is spreading.

Bill Duane, who has gone from being an engineering manager at Google to the company's senior manager for Well Being and Sustainable High Performance Development Programs, is a testament to that.

Google offers a meditation garden, individual meditation pods and quiet areas around its Mountain View, Calif., campus to help employees calm their minds and sharpen their focus.

 

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