Brogrammers Find Meditation

“Does anyone have a hack for a calm state of mind?”

The tech community of New York recently asked this question to its members in an event sponsored by I Meditate New York. I was sitting in a conference chair surrounded by about 20 techies, mostly men dressed in sports jackets and collared shirts at a trendy Breather space on 28th Street. This was clearly not the typical “om” crowd I was so used to, most comfortable in yoga pants and the half lotus position.

The event’s three leaders — Aniket Gune, Madhu Gurumurthy and Emil Vasilev — hosted a remarkably fun and organized 90-minute session that included stretching and breathing, small and large group discussion, a short meditation and networking without any of that feel-good dharma chat.

As promised, in the hour and a half, they covered “the connection between state of mind and ideas, problem solving, experimentation and execution.” Additionally, they tossed around topics for future sessions, including meditation focused on career-specific issues

like “user experience.”

During the brainstorming about work-life balance and meditation, I told my partner he resembled Steve Jobs. The polite grey-haired gentleman beamed like an Apple icon. Meditation kept him leveled out, he explained. He saw this as practical, a way to tap into his creative and analytic sides without getting burnt out. If meditation helped a perfectionist like Jobs, it had to be alright, he said.

In fact, alpha-dog Jobs — and his dedication to Zen — seemed to influence why many of these hard-working participants had considered meditation.

“A right-brained techie may not respond to images of flexible yogis or even the word ‘mindfulness,’” a young man with neat dark hair and beard told me. His companion, a clean-cut guy in his 30s, agreed, adding that the “brogrammer” culture may be more responsive to evidence-based concepts. To an urban yogini who had grown weary of flower language, these programmers spoke a refreshing clean language that was straightforward and free from abstract lingo like love and ego. No one even bragged about their organic vegan tacos or latest yoga retreats in Thailand.

Throughout the evening, Gune, Gurumurthy and Vasilev maintained a friendly conversational tone that sometimes even bordered on silly. But they also could be serious.

Several participants had experienced stress-related health issues in their fast-paced professions. One admitted to a panic attack at work that was so severe he called 911 because he thought he was dying. Vasilev, who hails from Bulgaria, said in his former investment banking job, he replaced sleep with coffee and had gained 15 pounds.

“There is this stress of having to be right all the time,” said Vasilov, who is now head of operations and finance at Ride Inc.

The confessions allowed other members to share their own stories of dread within a field they thrived in and loved.

“There’s been this fetishization of productivity in the last five or six years,” said Gurumurthy, a VP at MediaMath and a native of Chennai, India. “What is the hack to get stuff done in less time? People wear this ability as a badge. Whatever I do, I should be able to do it a thousand times more quickly. All of this requires careful thought plus creativity. Meditation is a natural fit. It’s not just an intellectual process. It’s also being able to listen and empathize to help the team.”

As teachers from the Art of Living, the three goal-oriented meditators impressed me with their ability to problem solve within their own cohort (and without the help of a sexy Instagram campaign). “When your life transforms from something so profound and simple, it is instinctual to pass it on,” explained Vasilev, 27, who described his daily practice of the sudarshan kriya, cyclical controlled breathing, as a vitamin and a resistance against career stress. It sounds like a good prescription for any determined New Yorker. Who isn’t one?

Stay tuned here for their next session by clicking here.

--Ann Votaw

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