I am sitting in an antique chair in State Street Bank Chairman Marshall Carter's living room on a Sunday afternoon. My back is straight, my eyes are closed, and my hands are folded in my lap. My mind is focused on a single word, "relax," which I repeat to myself over and over.
Around me are a dozen CEOs of large Boston companies and their spouses, who are sitting on couches, chairs, and even on the floor. Their eyes are closed, their hands are folded, and they are breathing slowly and rhythmically. One person is standing: Dr. Alice Domar, an assistant to Dr. Herbert Benson, Harvard medical school's top mind/body specialist. She is leading us in a 10-minute exercise to elicit what Benson--who is also present--calls the "relaxation response."
RELAXATION BREAK. When the exercise is over, there is a consensus among the group: It works. Carter says that after two tours as a marine in Vietnam, he doesn't easily get stressed by mere banking, but the exercise definitely made him feel more relaxed.
David Perini, chairman of Perini Construction Co., one of New England's largest builders, has been meditating for years but didn't know it could be used as a tool for managers. He says that he will consider hiring Benson to work with his senior staff at an upcoming retreat. On the other hand, Nader Darehshori, chairman of publishing house Houghton Mifflin Co., remarks that he isn't quite prepared to have his entire staff close their doors for 20 minutes a day to meditate, but he's going to recommend Benson's program for some of his senior executives who work 14-hour days. "They could definitely use something like this," he says.
Benson says that chief executives don't always understand his message. "Many think it's part of their job to cause stress, not to relieve it," he observes. But his sales pitch goes over pretty well at this Sunday afternoon gathering: Three companies--and several CEOs' spouses--sign up with Benson.G.S.