What do you do to unwind after a long, hard day at work? Some of us like to veg out on the couch, drink a glass of wine, or — in the case of some of the world's top business leaders — practice meditation. Specifically, transcendental meditation.
Transcendental meditation is a technique that involves closing your eyes, 20 minutes twice a day, so that you can "experience a field of calm deep within."
Bob Roth, a teacher of the technique and author of the book "Strength in Stillness: The Power of Transcendental Meditation," joined us to discuss its popularity in the finance industry and some of the health benefits that you can receive from it. Below is an edited transcript.
David Brancaccio: So the guy who founded the biggest hedge fund in the world, Ray Dalio at Bridgewater Associates, does transcendental meditation. He's proud of it. He is not alone here in the financial services capital of the world?
Bob Roth: No, and actually, Ray's been doing it for almost 50 years, and he says it gives him energy, it gives him focus, it gives him clarity, it gives him creativity. It wakes up the creative centers in the brain. And he also says it allows him to be like a ninja — great term — where everything is coming at him very fast. But inside, it's coming at him slow motion, and he can really discern, he can really make the correct decisions. It's really important to him. As a matter of fact, he's made it available to 700 of his employees at Bridgewater.
Brancaccio: And he's not alone on Wall Street?
Roth: No, hedge funds, banks, financial services, institutions, as well as media companies and everyone else. Anywhere stress is a problem and the need to be focused and creative and innovative and a good problem solver — why not? It's a simple tool and it's accessible to anyone.
Brancaccio: So not just the finance and private equity crowd, I see you were doing something with Jerry Seinfeld — the comedian — the other day?
Roth: Again, we live in an epidemic of stress, we live in an epidemic where things are going faster and faster and faster. It requires creativity. Again, focus. Clarity of mind. And stress can overcome that. Stress can cloud thinking. And Jerry Seinfeld is a comedian — has to be on his toes and is alert every moment of the day. So he's also been meditating for over 40 years, and he says it's hard enough to get to the top. And people in business will know that it's much tougher to stay at the top, so he says his 20-minute practice twice a day of TM is a game changer for him.
Brancaccio: Bob, the book emphasizes that the approach here isn't hard. How can it not be difficult? All you have to do to make me think of something is to tell me not to think of something.
Roth: There are types of meditation that we hear about. You have to clear your mind of thoughts. You have to believe in stuff. You have to focus and concentrate. Fortunately, that's not transcendental meditation. I like to use the example of an ocean. Waves on the surface, turbulent waves on the surface, the depth of the ocean naturally silent. Our mind is the same, and we'd all like to have some inner calm or inner equilibrium. But where do you find it? Well, there's the level of the mind deep within; it is already calm. That's the hypothesis. And in transcendental meditation you learn a technique. You get what's called a mantra, which is a word or a sound from a teacher. Nothing mystical here, just a tool. And then you learn how to use it to access that calm, that settledness, that equilibrium. The results are immediate. The research shows — and there is a lot of published research to show this —they're long term, they're cumulative.
Brancaccio: Published research — you mean scientific, peer-reviewed?
Roth: Peer reviewed in the American Medical Association Journal, American Heart Association Journal. For example, the National Institutes of Health have given tens of millions of dollars to show that transcendental meditation is as effective, if not more effective, for reducing high blood pressure and other ailment sides of heart disease than even anti -hypertensive medication — with no side effects.
Brancaccio: I know,but you must run into people who are suspicious of this. I remember in the book, when you first started out, you didn't even want to tell your family members what you were up to outside.
Roth: That was back in 1969. Yeah, times, have changed and I think times have changed with the regard meditation has. No. 1, the problem with stress is greater than it's ever been before. And we also know from medical science it's more damaging than we ever thought. Second, we go to the medicine chest. "Oh, I'm stressed. What am I going to take?" "Well, fine, you can take Ambien if you can't sleep, and your child can't study so you give him Ritalin. All these medications, they have side effects. Or else we self-medicate. Alcohol. Too much coffee. The problem of stress is getting worse. We know we're on a trajectory that's not getting better. And why not take a few minutes out of the day and just access that calm, that equilibrium that lies within.
I'll tell you one quick story. So a Wall Street guy came into the office sent by his meditating wife, I'm sure, and he came with his 14-year-old kid. And the guy said, "I really want to learn, it's done great stuff for my wife. I'm under a lot of pressure. I'm not sleeping well, but 20 minutes twice a day — who's got the time? I don't got the time." And I think the son was set up by the wife, because the son said, "Dad, there's 1,440 minutes in a day. You don't have 40 minutes for self care?" When he said self care, I knew it was the wife. "You don't have 40 minutes to take care of yourself?"
So this is done first thing in the morning. You get up 20 minutes earlier, it's better than sleep. It's a deeper rest than sleep. And you do it sometime at the end of the day to get rid of stress and you sleep better at night and you enjoy your family more during the day.
Brancaccio: Let me just ask one last quick business model question. If you pay to learn how to do transcendental meditation, are you signing up like a gym membership and you're stuck for life?
Roth: Transcendental meditation is actually taught through the Center for Leadership Performance and/or TM.org. It's a nonprofit organization. You do pay an initial course fee, like you would to do any educational program, and then that's it for life. And part of the course fee when you pay to learn goes to teach veterans to learn for free. So you're really contributing to people who really need the meditation and may not have access to it.