Dana St. James negotiates multimillion-dollar contracts for Marlboro-based 3Com, but still finds time to practice Transcendental Meditation twice a day.
“It allows me to be calm in the face of situations where being calm is helpful,” said St. James, a 3Com legal director who heads the newly formed New England Association of Professionals Practicing the Transcendental Meditation Program.
Local professionals like St. James created the association to promote Transcendental Meditation among white-collar workers.
“We’ve enjoyed the benefits of TM, so we think it’s time to give something back and share Transcendental Meditation with others,” St. James said.
– Is TM a religion?
The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi invented TM in 1957, basing it on traditional Indian meditation techniques. The system took off a few years later when the Beatles and other 1960s celebrities embraced it.
Twice a day, TM adherents sit in quiet spots and close their eyes, silently chanting a special sound called a “mantra” until they drop into deeply relaxed states.
Practitioners say 20 minutes of meditation each morning and evening helps them relieve stress, feel more energetic and think more clearly.
But association members say that far from just making hippie-types feel better, TM can help stressed-out professionals thrive in the business world.
“It’s been enormous to me in terms of innovation and problem solving,” said Bob Brown, a former group president of direct-marketing giant Harte-Hanks Inc.
Brown, who started meditating while studying at Harvard Business School in the 1970s, now serves as executive director of TM’s Center for Leadership Performance.
With offices in Boston and three other cities, the center provides TM programs for corporations interested in helping workers beat stress.
For about $25,000, TM experts will go to a firm’s site for a week and teach workers to meditate.
Katie Grose, who runs the center’s Boston office, said TM makes for better employees by helping “the CEO of the brain” – the prefrontal cortex.
“The prefrontal cortex is where executive tools – planning, judgment, decision making, moral reasoning and sense of self – come from,” she said. “But the prefrontal cortex can be damaged by stress, so TM is very, very important.”
Research published last year in the Archives of Internal Medicine found heart-disease patients who practiced TM had better insulin levels and blood pressure.
However, some critics knock TM as cult-like, while others complain about the classes’ costs.
Cambridge’s Annals of Improbable Research also gave TM expert John Hagelin its 1994 “Ig Nobel Peace Prize,” a parody of the Nobel Peace Prize. The group mocked a Hegelin study claiming TM students lowered Washington, D.C.’s crime rate by meditating.
Still, St. James – who’s practiced TM at work, on the way to a Red Sox [team stats] game and even aboard a nuclear sub – believes meditation helps his job performance.
“People tell me I’m laid back and kind of a calm person, and I think a lot of that is because of TM,” he said.
But the 52-year-old admits that if colleagues pop in when he’s got his eyes closed, “I don’t know if they know I’m meditating or not. They might just think I’m sleeping on the job.”