Mike Del Ponte is passionate about meditation—so passionate that in 2012, when he founded Soma, a San Francisco-based sustainable water filter company, he tried to host meditation sessions at the office on a daily basis. In late 2015—when the frequency became too much to manage—he hired a professional meditation teacher to lead 30-minute sessions every Monday for his 10-person company.
The results, he says, have been incredible.
“The most noticeable benefit is that everyone starts the week with a clear mind and the quality of work afterwards is really high," he says. “It can be easy to start your week by sitting at your desk, checking email and then going down the rabbit hole of low quality tasks. After you meditate, you feel very clear headed. We recommend our staff work on their most important projects from 10 a.m. to lunch to capitalize on that feeling."
The Growth of Meditation Outside the Tech Bubble
The concept of in-office meditation sessions has long been a trend in the tech world, even parodied by television shows. But over the past few years, companies outside the tech bubble—from those focused on consumer-packaged goods to law offices, dentist offices and banks—are offering meditation to employees. It's become so big that it has birthed a cottage industry of businesses that handle the back-end work of finding and placing wellness-focused instructors. A few include Journey Meditation (where Del Ponte found Soma's teacher), Refresh Body and Exubrancy.
“We are seeing manufacturing firms request meditation teachers," says Logan N. Sugarman, co-founder of Refresh Body. “We are hearing from companies across the board."
—Mike Del Ponte, founder, Soma
He first started seeing an uptick in late 2014/early 2015, right around the time when meditation apps like Headspace and Calm started to capture the public's attention, but says the number of calls he's gotten for corporate meditation specifically (over yoga and massage) has skyrocketed of late.
"A lot of it has to do with studies done on the benefits of meditation," he says. "Employers are understanding that those benefits can translate to the workplace. Historically, you've seen companies toss money at gym memberships; now they are shifting their focus to on-site meditation and seeing great benefits."
Liz Wilkes is seeing the same thing. The founder of Exubrancy, Wilkes is witnessing an increased interest in the space from industries that never used to outwardly embrace the concept of sitting quietly and focusing on one's breath.
“I've been really excited to bring meditation programs to finance companies, law companies, you name it," she says. “I started seeing the real shift back in 2015. I think it has to do with the changing perceptions of meditation—be it apps that make it more accessible to a wider population and seeing companies like Google embrace the concept."
Some businesses hopping on the meditation train include Veterans United Home Loans in Columbia, Missouri, which started offering regular meditation last fall to its 1,650 local employees. In October, The Golden Nugget Las Vegas began providing weekly meditation sessions for managers. In early 2016, management at Brower, Miller & Cole, a PR firm in Newport Beach, California, launched a daily, five-minute meditation practice. The team at New York law firm Chaffin Luhana LLP started meditating in late 2015 and now do it twice daily for 20 minutes each time.
How Meditation Can Help
The benefits of meditation—increased focus, reduced reactivity, a more peaceful demeanor—have been carefully documented in a slew of studies from places like Harvard—all of which translate to the office, says Del Ponte.
“Meditation helps you sleep better and, for companies, it reduces the number of sick days," he says. “Regardless of the type of company, it can reduce health care costs, which means it can help your bottom line.
“Five years ago it was popular to hire yoga instructors or masseuses to come in as an employee perk. Back then it seemed like the only people who meditated were monks in caves. Now, anyone can sit in a chair, plug headphones into their iPhones and meditate."
Several companies are starting mediation programs without the guidance of an outside teacher. Hernan Savastano, Zillow's vice president of user experience, did just that back in September when he sent out an email to the company to gauge interest in 20-minute meditation sessions around lunchtime every day. By the next morning, 120 of his colleagues had shown interest. These days, he and three other employees lead the sessions from 12:30 p.m. to 1 p.m.
“I'll ask them to focus on areas where we hold tension and then exhale the tension from those areas. We will do that for about five minutes," he says. “Then we will sit in silence for the next 15 minutes. We start the session by serving herbal teas to get people in the right frame of mind."
Interested in starting meditation at your company? Savastano recommends keeping it simple by having everyone sit in a circle and collectively breathe. Have some music playing in the background or even put on a meditation app and have the group listen to that. (American Express OPEN Forum recently launched their own meditation podcasts for business leaders.)
If you'd rather not facilitate, Wilkes recommends having a conference room booked for 30 minutes a day so people can do their own meditation practice in there. “They can listen to their own app or just sit in silence," she says.
Kim Nicol, a Bay Area meditation teacher, recommends putting your phone down, looking up and taking three deep breaths. “Look at the horizon, feel your feet on the ground," she says. “Feel your breath move through your body. There, you are meditating."