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She Moves Us - Interview with Alexandra Welsch, Senior Team Head Sport PUMA France
Apple founder Steve Jobs, a confessing buddhist, once said that meditating helped him to become more intuitive and sense his customers’ needs earlier than his competitors. “If you are just sitting there watching your thoughts, you realize how active your mind is. With time, however, it calms down and room to hear more subtle things opens up. This is when your intuition comes alive and you can see things more clearly.”
Exactly for these reasons, Google has implemented meditation facilities, such as mindful lunches, where employees eat together in silence, and garden labyrinths for mindful walking practices.
Being an innovative company, PUMA has integrated trainings on meditation and mindfulness practice into the development offering for its employees since 2012. ‘Zen For Leadership’ is one of these courses, which runs for three days in the former Benedictine monastery Benediktushof near Würzburg in Bavaria. The daily routine consists mainly of extensive stretches of sitting in silence (called Zazen in Zen language) and meditative walking (called Kinhin), body balance exercises, lectures and individual sessions with the Zen teachers.
“It was a lot of silence in that course, which allows you to totally focus on yourself. And then a lot of things start to happen inside you,” says Mathias Mehburger, Teamhead in Motorsport, who took the course last summer.
When meditating, the mind relaxes from its restlessness and permanent thinking process. By focussing, for example, on your own breathing, you will turn your attention inwards. During the meditation, however, your mind will wander away, thinking about the email that needs to be written or that dress that needs to picked up from the dry cleaners. By constantly bringing your attention back to your breathing, your mind will calm down and fewer thoughts will ramble through your head. Also emotions will arise when sitting in silence. The Zen meditator will then observe these emotions, look at them, acknowledge them but not judge or react to them.
“Since I have been training mindfulness by concentrating on my breath, I have been able to gain distance in difficult situations and not to react immediately based on my feelings,” says Mathias. “When someone says something annoying to me, I usually pause for a second and observe my thoughts. And then I will react.”
Mathias’ experience is underpinned by science. Research has shown that when we are able to control our attention, it has a direct influence on our emotions. Colleagues and teammates of Mathias could not agree more. “The feedback I have been getting is that I am emanating calmness as if there were no problems.”
Being mindful makes you less dependent on negative mood swings. “You are able to deal better with mistakes and pressure, you become more self-confident and you know better what you want and what you don’t”, Mathias explains. Meditating for 20 minutes three times a week is the key to integrate this into your daily life.
The ‘Zen for Leadership’ course at Benediktushof is usually run by Zen teachers Paul J. Kohtes and Brigitte van Baren. Paul, founder of the PR agency Kohtes-Klewes, coaches CEOs of large corporations, while Brigitte is a lawyer and an executive coach as well. “It helped that the trainers were not some spiritual freaks, but had integrated Zen into their successful professional and worldly careers,” Mathias adds. “It was intriguing to see that meditation techniques can contribute to your professional success and that it is not a contradicting mindset.”
The practice of Zen as a technique of mindfulness meditation aims at improving the self-management competence of employees and managers. Neuro-scientific studies have shown that a regular meditation practice stimulates our brain's function and activates the immune system. Performance and concentration increase. At the same time, meditation and mindfulness practice reduce personally-experienced stress and enhance empathy towards the people around us. All in all, the effects of a regular meditation practice are: clear thinking and acting, more energy and creativity, stronger concentration ability, more patience and empathy as well as positive thinking.
Since 2012, PUMA has offered trainings on Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction (MBSR). In 2013, “Zen for Leadership” was added to the training catalogue.
For more information on ‘Zen for Leadership’, check here.