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A Head Start

Need some help thinking more clearly under pressure? "Hot-wire" your brain with meditation.

Before and after each workday, Kevin Cashman spends half an hour rewiring his brain. "I practice Transcendental Meditation every morning and evening," says the 51-year-old CEO of LeaderSource, a 20-person leadership consulting company in Minneapolis. Meditation, which he has practiced regularly for 30 years, brings him clarity and focus to start the business day, and refreshes him for his personal life. "For me, it's invaluable," he says.

Many studies of meditation's wide-ranging effects on health factors ranging from blood pressure to anxiety agree with this assessment. It's been shown that people who meditate emit brain waves different from those emitted by sleepers, suggesting they're achieving a different, and possibly equally beneficial, kind of relaxation. Recent research from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, hints that meditation physically changes neurological connections between parts of the brain, effectively rewiring it. Related studies looking at meditation's ability to boost the immune system suggest its effects are long-lasting.

Entrepreneurs, in particular, might consider meditation because of its ability to aid people in fast-paced environments and pressured situations. "It helps us be more responsive rather than reactive," says Dr. Jane Hart, medical director of the Greater Cleveland YMCA Institute for Total Health. "Res- ponsiveness is when we can stop for a minute and be with a situation and think more clearly about how to address it," says Hart.

The two main approaches to meditation include contemplative meditation and mindfulness. Contemplative meditation involves repeating words or mantras, or focusing on your breathing. Mindfulness calls for unfocusing and aims to achieve a nonjudgmental awareness. Yoga, nature walks and even quietly listening to classical music can be considered forms of meditation as well.

Experts generally agree that the best way to learn meditation is from an experienced teacher. You can learn about the various forms of meditation from schools and courses in nearly every city or town. There are also many instructional books and videos. Approach the study of meditation flexibly, with an eye to finding a form of meditation that works for you, instead of deciding upfront to engage in any one flavor. "Be careful about [any] teacher that's going to say this is the only way," Hart advises.

The biggest, unavoidable cost to entrepreneurs will be the requirement to spend sizable blocks of time meditating, more or less daily. "This is only effective if you do it regularly," stresses Hart. She adds that meditation can't substitute for sleep, nutrition or medical care. "If you suffer from anxiety or stress, then you need to see a therapist or a primary care physician." To view basic instructional videos and learn more about meditation, click on "YMCA Institute for Total Health" at www.ymcacleveland.org.

"[Meditation] gives you the basic potential to cope, learn, be creative and be focused," he says. It isn't everything, though. "It doesn't make you more knowledgeable about business," cautions Cashman. Although meditation practitioners may feel better able to learn when refreshed and focused, gaining that knowledge requires study and experience, not contemplation.


Mark Henricks writes on business and technology for leading publications and is the author of Not Just a Living.

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This article was originally published in the July 2003 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: A Head Start.

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