Naushad Thariani teaches capitalists how to breathe. The self-help guru works with the Art of Living Foundation’s corporate program, APEX, which helps white-collar workers “achieve personal excellence.” He’s taken his centering training to organizations around the world—including the World Bank and Google—and is now working with Pakistani corporations in Lahore and Karachi. We spoke with him recently about this and more. Excerpts:
The popularity of your program seems to suggest that the modern worker is pretty stressed out.
The world’s workforce is built on the basis of demand, capacity, and performance. When the demand for your work is not within your capacity, a burnout is just waiting to happen; when the demand is less than your capacity, there is frustration. In both situations, what actually suffers from the resulting stress is your performance. [The workforce suffers from] too much uncertainty and insecurity—and greed. None of these will make you successful, or at least not in the right way.
How does your training program work?
The program works to get you to your best, which also helps the company you are working for. It’s a bit of a challenge because many times we’re just wasting energy picking on each other, trying to surpass each other. The program helps remove stress by increasing the individual’s capacity and energizing them. Energy levels are much higher in the morning and then start to drop around midday. We address this by correcting your breathing, to get you to use more than 30 to 40 percent of your lung capacity. With these breathing exercises, you’re going to be able to work more without getting as tired. And while you are increasing your energy levels, the same breathing techniques also relax your mind and body.
In your experience, what’s the biggest problem with the corporate world?
People think of their jobs as a means to put food on the table and money in the bank, but that is really not working anymore. You have to figure out a few things if you want to bring some change, some growth in the place where you are working. What is lacking in the corporate world today is spiritual knowledge. Because of this, there is a lack of understanding about what their life is really about. What is your contribution toward society, toward friends and family? Life becomes simpler once you know the answers to these questions. We need to educate ourselves about the art of living first and look at how we can do whatever we have to do with the least amount of stress, with enjoyment and fun. The corporate world needs to stop worrying about the future and realize what actually matters.
How stressed out is the Pakistani workforce?
The Pakistani workforce is in particular trouble. The situation is bad, but that is because we have waited this long to take some responsibility. We are caught up in a vicious cycle of complaining and then feeling sorry for ourselves. We have to take steps to make a change in our homes, offices, and eventually society—and the best way to start is by breathing.
Can people reduce stress by simply breathing better?
We don’t have enough time to do things in our life because our mind is never only in one place. It is very difficult to be all there in one moment. Sometimes you get an office memo and you’ll read the first two lines but the remaining seven or eight just don’t register. Had you read it properly the first time, it couldn’t have taken more than two minutes. But because you’ve had to reread it, it ends up taking twice that time. This is what we’re trying to correct.
Any everyday tips for people to improve their mental wellbeing?
Meditate for at least 20 minutes a day. Rest your mind by tempering your breathing, just like you rest your body when you sleep. Diet is also very important, particularly in a country like Pakistan. The food is delicious and very hard to resist. Sleeping well is so important and yet so neglected. And educating yourself is critical: you will always be stressed out if you don’t know where you have to go, how to get there, and why you’re going there. Knowledge is a great booster of energy.