5 things you can learn about meditation from CEOs

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At the Town Hall on Meditation, left to right: Bloomberg TV's Stephanie Ruhle; Barry Sommers, CEO of the Consumer Bank for JPMorgan Chase; Horizon Media CEO Bill Koenigsberg; Tupperware Brands CEO Rick Goings; and David Lynch Foundation Executive Director Bob Roth. Photo: Austin Ayers/The David Lynch Foundation
Transcendental meditation (TM) has been the mindfulness method of choice for CEOs and celebrities for years. (Most recently, Katy Perry tried TM, as it’s known—and she liked it.)

And the somewhat unlikely reason that this big tent of meditation continues to grow is film director David Lynch, whose foundation teaches TM to leaders in fields ranging from business to nonprofits.

At the David Lynch Foundation’s Town Hall on Meditation last week at New York City’s TimesCenter Stage, the organization gathered possibly the most type-A, high-powered group of meditators you’ll find anywhere.

“In my 37 years in psychiatry, there’s nothing I’ve seen that’s more effective than TM.” —Norman Rosenthal, MD,

Fortune 500 folks and several medical world heavyweights spoke before a capacity crowd of 375 people about the practice—which involves sitting for 20 minutes, twice a day, repeating a mantra given to you by a TM teacher. True to their business backgrounds, most of the panelists described those 40 minutes a day as an investment that pays off big—personally and professionally.  But what does mindfulness look like when it enters the boardroom?

Here are five things we learned from these super successful meditators.

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1. Meditation can be more powerful than extra sleep.

CEOs: They’re just like us…and have had trouble fitting it in to their days as well. But Barry Sommers, CEO of the Consumer Bank for JPMorgan Chase, says if he has to choose meditation versus sleep, it’s meditation all the way. “One of the things I’ve really noticed is how well I sleep. The quality of my sleep has improved, and I don’t need as much. If you have to carve out time, I would say give up sleep,” Sommers says.

2. Learning to manage stress should be your priority.

“There are higher and higher stakes—by the age of 22 [in the startup world] if you haven’t founded your second company you can feel like a failure,” says Heather Hartnett, CEO of Human Ventures, a “startup studio” that comes up with ideas for businesses and finds entrepreneurs to develop them. “It’s more important than ever that young people have tools to manage stress.”

3. Don’t do it for the likes.

Setting up a quiet spot just so you can go ahead and Instagram a photo of it? You might want to rethink your priorities. “If you’re doing [meditation] for Instagram you’re not doing it for the right reasons,” Hartnett says. “You don’t have to talk about it to work.” Exception: When David Lynch asks you to to do it (of course).

4. It might replace your afternoon cup of coffee.

“TM gives you time. And what I mean by that is it gives you energy,” says Scott Miller, CEO of management consulting firm G100 Companies. “I find at the end of the day when I’m reviewing lists—and not doing much about them, just reading them again and again—if I meditate for 20 minutes I will have that feeling from the morning. That first cup of coffee, just getting to the office feeling. TM resets me.”

5. It’s not for everyone.

“TM failure” is a thing. And stressing out about not doing your twice-daily TM is as well. “Nothing is perfect. And it can have a negative effect if you nag people,” says Norman Rosenthal, MD, the psychiatrist and best-selling author of Transcendence who pioneered the use of light therapy to treat seasonal affective disorder (SAD), and is also a big proponent of TM as a treatment for stress and anxiety. “But in my 37 years in psychiatry, there’s nothing I’ve seen that’s more effective.”

For the ultimate in de-stressing, you can also incorporate these specific exercises, these yoga poses, or make some tweaks to your home (hello sanctuary!). 

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