Meditation Can Lead to Innovation: A Guru's Advice

01/11/2016 09:51 am ET Updated Jan 11, 2017

In Sanskrit (ancient Indian language), the word for health is "Swasthya" which is made of two root words -- "Swa" or the Self and "Stha" meaning centered. So swasthya can be roughly translated as "Centered in one's own Self." Any deviation from this state of centeredness can therefore be considered as a disease.

According to the Center for Disease Control, workplace wellness refers to any workplace health promotion activity or organizational policy designed to support healthy behaviour at the workplace and to improve health outcomes. It consists of a variety of activities such as health fairs, allowing work from home option, medical screenings, wellness newsletters, access to healthy meals/snacks at work, weight management programs and on-site fitness programs and/or facilities.

Perhaps, it would be very easy to prove that by offering workplace wellness activities and programs companies can save money in the long run by improving overall workforce health, productivity and also enhancing employee morale. However, there are two key challenges that are often cited for any workplace wellness program:

  • Lack of a "pull" from staff for wellness activities that are offered on site (beyond the initial rush following new year resolutions)
  • Lack of support for holistic health modalities, commonly referred as complimentary and alternate medicine (CAM) e.g. yoga, meditation, tai-chi, Ayurveda, etc.

These challenges might not resonate with companies based in the Silicon Valley where potentially there maybe a higher awareness of healthy lifestyles and greater exposure to world cultures. However, in many work locations these challenges could be real and will need determined efforts, both from staff and leadership, to co-create innovative solutions to achieve the goals of the workplace wellness mandate.

One such approach was pioneered almost a decade ago that addressed both these challenges. We created an employee driven initiative called AWARE (At Work As Responsible Employees) that focused on enabling a "grassroots" discussion at work about the practice of yoga breathing and meditation based relaxation technologies. The initiative was driven by passionate colleagues who believed in the benefits of these modalities with support from the organizational leadership. Many colleagues, who were trained in teaching yoga and meditation, stepped forward to offer their time and led lunch time "info" sessions to other colleagues who were interested in learning more about these practices. These info sessions focused on providing a practical experience of "easy to learn and easy to practice" yoga, breathing and meditation techniques that reduce stress and improve personal health and wellbeing. We have reached out to over 2000 colleagues so far!

In recent years, many CEO's have now started publicly sharing how integrating these practices can create a business advantage. Global initiatives like the International Day of Yoga sponsored by the UN and conferences like Wisdom 2.0 also add to the credibility and provide a stamp of approval for the benefits of yoga and meditation at the corporate work place.

Relation between work place wellness and innovation

The regular practice of yoga breathing and meditation practice can help to develop greater emotional and social intelligence that is essential for effective leadership, improving relationships and team work. But could it also help in improving the culture of innovation?

My curiosity was finally quenched after a discussion with guru Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, my meditation teacher. He shared how regular practice of meditation can improve creativity that fosters cutting-edge innovation. Sri Sri explained that there are three aspects to creativity and innovation viz.

  • Need access to new information
  • Needs an intention to make a difference and the associated passion (energy) to diligently do the needful
  • Heightened intuition skills for effective decision making/experimentation/pivoting

Only when we have access to "new" information that a new idea is triggered. If our mind is too worried, dull and not energized, then a creative or innovative thought will not be triggered easily. It is therefore essential to train ourselves to have an open and receptive mind that would "collect" proper (i.e. new and relevant) information. Our mind further needs to be sharp and alert to grasp new concepts and trigger new ideas without judging them on our bias or untested beliefs. Furthermore, we need a keen interest in the associated subject complemented by high levels of energy and enthusiasm to develop new ideas that are generated. We also need to develop "intuition," a "can do" attitude and the required "inner resilience" to stay positive and learn from mistakes and failures and keep working towards our goal. These are all mental aspects that can be easily enhanced through the regular practice of meditation. Silence is the mother of creativity. Silence enhances our perception, understanding and helps deeper assimilation of new ideas.

From my own experience, regular practice of Sudarshan Kriya yoga has helped me improve creativity and enhance my leadership and innovation skills. Give it a try -- May the Force guide you to make that as your New Year resolution!

This post is part of an editorial series produced by The Huffington Post as part of our monthlong "Work Well" initiative, which focuses on thriving in the workplace. The goal of the series -- which will feature blogs, reported features, videos, and more -- is to present creative solutions you can use to take care of yourself as you take care of business. The effort is also part of The Huffington Post's "What's Working" solutions-oriented journalism initiative. To see all the content in the "Work Well" series, visit here.