Health and wellness in meetings are all the rage. Now, planners are beginning to embrace inner peace in their events as well, channeling meditation and other forms of mental wellness to create so-called "mindful meetings."
At its 2016 "Convening Leaders" annual meeting, for instance, the Professional Convention Management Association (PCMA) introduced a "Being Your Best" program that included education sessions on health and fitness and a "Wellness Stop" featuring 15-minute coaching sessions on topics such as yoga and meditation.
Last fall, IMEX America likewise launched "Be Well at IMEX America," a wellness initiative that included yoga and meditation classes as well as a special meditation room where attendees could take a mental retreat from the trade show floor. "As meeting planners, it's our job to make sure that our attendees are able to perform at their best so they get the most out of our events," IMEX Group CEO Carina Bauer told Successful Meetings prior to the event. "When we decided to create Be Well at IMEX America, we did so on the basis that you're going to perform better if you're well."
Bauer wasn't just hypothesizing. Although at first blush mindfulness may seem like a hokey hipster trend, numerous studies have demonstrated its benefits. The American Psychological Association (APA), for example, reports that the mindfulness achieved through disciplines such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, and qigong can enhance memory, improve cognition, decrease depression, reduce stress, increase focus, strengthen relationships, boost productivity, and even modulate fear -- all of which can help attendees get more out of meetings.
This month, researchers at Case Western Reserve University doubled down on the APA's claims. Based on their own analysis of 4,000 scientific papers on various aspects of mindfulness, they concluded that mindfulness training in the workplace can help people improve their work performance, make better decisions, and advance their careers.
"Historically, companies have been reticent to offer mindfulness training because it was seen as something fluffy, esoteric, and spiritual. But that's changing," says Christopher Lyddy, co-lead author of the research and an organizational behavior doctoral candidate at Case Western Reserve's Weatherhead School of Management. "When you are mindful, you can have a greater consciousness in the present. That's vital for any executive or manager, who at any given moment may be barraged with various problems that call for decisions under stress."
To help groups leverage the benefits of mindfulness, meeting venues increasingly are offering themed packages and programming that incorporate it. In London, for example, the Chelsea Football Club's stadium, Stamford Bridge, recently introduced a new mindfulness experience for groups meeting in its "Great Hall" ballroom, where the venue is offering 45-minute meditation sessions developed with Chelsea Football Club's meditation and yoga expert, Vinay Menon. At Miraval Arizona Resort & Spa in Tucson, AZ, meeting planners likewise can incorporate into their event a "Mindful Stress Mastery" class that teaches attendees how to better regulate the body and guide the mind toward positive instead of negative thoughts.
Like its above-mentioned peers, Chaminade Resort & Spa in Santa Cruz, CA, has seen an influx of interest in mindfulness, according to Director of Sales and Marketing Jeff Livingston, who notes that tech companies in nearby Silicon Valley increasingly are incorporating mindfulness into their workplace culture. In response, it decided to make mindfulness a major theme when it embarked recently on a $7.9 million room renovation, scheduled for completion this month.
"There's a lot of mindfulness in the workplace at companies like Google and LinkedIn that we do business with," Livingston observes. "So when we decided to do this renovation, our owners thought, 'Why don't we do a few rooms that tie into this whole concept?'"
As they completely redesign all 156 guest rooms, Chaminade has outfitted eight of them with special meditation alcoves for guests who have daily meditation rituals. Each alcove features traditional Zafu and Zabuton meditation cushions, sliding glass doors with outdoor views of giant eucalyptus trees, and flameless candles to facilitate relaxation and reflection.
"It's an area where you can close your eyes, dim the lights, and take a big, deep breath," Livingston says.
Because there are only a handful of them, the meditation rooms are ideal for senior leaders and VIPs. For the rest of the group, Chaminade on March 1 unveiled its "Mindful Meetings" package, which includes a guided meditation at the start and end of each day's meeting, led by Chaminade's resident meditation expert and yogilates/pilates therapist; yoga stretching breaks; guided afternoon hikes on Chaminade's three miles of scenic nature trails; hot or iced Jasmine and Chamomille teas during breaks; mindful menu selections customized for the group by Executive Chef Kristin Ponza; and a 10 percent discount for attendees on selected massage treatments at the Spa at Chaminade.
To the uninitiated, mindful meetings may seem like a gimmick, but when groups leverage it at destinations like Chaminade, the return is obvious, insists Livingston. "Groups are used to being 'go, go, go.' But when they stop and decide to be more calm, collected, and in the moment, they find they actually get more work done," he says. "And that's what they're here to do: to work toward being better people and a better company after the meeting."