Breathing And Succeeding In The Startup Life
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar and Maharshi Mahesh Yogi
Silicon Valley is like a snow cone on a hot day -- the flavorless chunks of big ice at the top represent the large corporations, HP, etc; while the sweet juice has collected in the bottom within a multitude of smaller ice crystals -- that's where the startups live and that's where most of the innovation takes place.
But the bottom of the cone is crowded, its very stressful as everyone competes to become one of the big companies. You are expected to work long hours; you can't cash in your options for years; and you live in a roller coaster world of manic passions that seem to be changing the world, and then deep depths of dark despair as everything appears to be falling apart.
It's a great life (some of the time). Yet it doesn't have to be so stressful and so difficult. There are well established practices that can help people deal with the tough life of surviving Silicon Valley, and to become more effective entrepreneurs.
I spoke with Michael Fischman, president of Art of Living - a 30 year old organization that teaches people a 20-minute daily exercise that greatly reduces their stress while improving their productivity.
Mr Fischman is a former ad executive at Ogilvy & Mather on Madison Avenue, and has devoted the past 20 years to helping millions of people learn better techniques in coping with life.
"At Art of Living we teach a breath technique called Sudarshan Kriya developed by our founder Sri Sri Ravi Shankar," said Mr Fischman. "We have 21 programs per month in the Bay Area but we are also in more than 151 countries."
The practitioners of Sudarshan Kriya believe that the breath links the mind with the body. For example, different breathing patterns are associated with specific emotions - short and quick breaths when you are angry; sad feelings are often marked by long and deep breaths (sighs); and so on. By focusing a daily practice on your breath you can quiet the mind and improve your experience of life.
"It's not meditation but it does facilitate mediation because it calms your mind," explains Mr Fischman. "It's difficult to meditate if your mind is constantly active, engaged in a distracting dialogue. With Sudarshan Kriya you calm your mind and reduce the unnecessary chatter and then the meditation comes naturally."
Dealing with the constant distractions of our digital lifestyle -- in addition to the distracting internal dialogue -- is a big challenge for me and for many others. I can imagine the benefits from a life that is more focused, more productive, and more peaceful.
The technique is simple and doesn't require people to give up anything, adopt special diets, or make any life style changes. But people generally do, says Mr Fischman, as they experience the benefits of the daily practice.
Art of Living has trained tends of thousands of people in the Bay Area, many of them are startup entrepreneurs.
"We have taught prominent Silicon Valley business leaders, startup founders, students, people in prison -- they come from all walks of life. We teach people how to focus on the present."
The geek/nerd life is infamous for obsessing one moment about the past, and then the future. The present seems absent, which is ironic given the fashion for "real-time" in web and IT services.
The present always seems to flash by while the past is dissected constantly, while thoughts about the future pile on anxiety after anxiety.
Nerds get caught up in minutiae, because there is a tremendous and fulfilling sense of control in understanding every single detail of a thing more than any other living creature. But we also tend to have a very active internal monologue (in some cases, dialog).
Whether it's games, alcohol, painted figurines, film continuity, or conversations where we're convinced someone doesn't like us because of something we said, nerds obsess.
We zealously deconstruct. We have that very active internal monologue. I think many of the things we undertake are, in part, attempts to drown out that monologue. We are hyper-self-aware. We have difficulty "chilling out."
We tend to suffer from depression and anxiety. Sometimes it can get really bad. If you've never had a panic attack, for example, I'll describe it thusly: Imagine being fucked in the heart.
The practice of Sudarshan Kriya offers a way out of this cycle.
"Daily practice makes people more centered, calm, and inspired. That makes it easier to lead others, it makes it easier to achieve your goals. You can have unshakable clarity in the midst of a crisis. That's a great tool to have," says Mr Fischman.
The practice of Sudarshan Kriya helps make people more confident, more capable.
"Venture capitalists invest in people that can handles the stresses of a business, that don't get stuck, that can inspire others."
So before you go into that VC pitch meeting maybe you should consider a 20-minute Sudarshan Kriya session -- it might help a lot.