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The art chilling

Everyone has it but nobody wants it. ‘Stress and the City’ is a never-ending real-life soap opera with a star cast predominantly of high-flyers from the corporate world. Susan George peeks behind the scenes and attempts to unearth some innovative strategies adopted by executives to combat the ‘S’ factor

Cart-wheeling from one meeting to the next, hop-scotching around the world, tackling a stack of deadlines arranged like an eerie game of dominoes and plunging headfirst into impossibly long 'to do' lists…Mahesh Shirodkar handles all this and more as chief operating officer, SOTC Kuoni Outbound Division. At the end of a jam-packed day, however, it's a 'no, thank you' to foot massages and fancy restaurants. Instead, a game of gully cricket with the kids from his apartment building, some home-made Goan fish curry and a glass of red wine creates the impeccable unwinding formula.

A slew of self-help books, Qi Gong Chinese healing, 'transform stress into empowerment' coaching sessions, aroma therapy, art of living exhibits – there's no getting around the fact that while our world spins at a frenetic pace, de-stressing has itself become a business. In the midst of the corporate clutter, however, bigwig executives have carved out personal stress-busting options that scorn stodgy routine.

The conventional image we have of the CEO unplugged is that of him sipping Scotch at an absurdly expensive night club, passively lounging in a spa, or sunbathing at a five-star resort. When feBusiness Traveller got up close and personal with some leading executives around the country, we discovered that their notions of de-stressing are, well, let's just say a tad different.

Resorts crammed with every conceivable modern amenity are out, instead beach houses are in. Sweating it out in the gym won hands down, puncturing the CEO-with-a-generous-middle image. The faceless coffee pub and the nondescript highway 'dhaba' had more takers than the restaurant peppered with fawning waiters and glistening cutlery. And surprisingly, the resounding response of top-level executives across the country was a rock-hard "no" to night clubs. Running one of the most swanky hotels, in the pub hub Bangalore, Eric Swanson, general manager, The Leela Palace Kempinski, likes his own space.

"In the evening I prefer to relax in my two-bedroom suite with a cigarette and martini, a room service dinner, some reading/studying and then to bed by no later than 10 pm," contends Swanson. "Burn out" was simply not a phrase that figured in the dictionaries of the corporate kingpins we spoke to.

Out of the box

Perceptions of the button-down, stuffy unwinding tactics of executives were shattered to smithereens. After-hour pursuits revealed an eclectic medley of hobbies. We're not just talking the likes of adman, Prahlad Kakkar, who in addition to running his own production house, Genesis, runs two restaurants in Mumbai, manufactures cigars in the Philippines and owns two scuba diving schools in Lakshwadeep. Most of us subscribe to the view that those with a "creative" disposition throw themselves into quirky pastimes. This time around, it's the strait-laced executive who left us with raised eyebrows. Swanson, for instance, is intent on taking off on a flight of fancy - quite literally. "I'm toying with the idea of helicopter lessons and have been accepted into the Rotary Wing Academy," he says. An exhaustive seven-day week workout routine is an intrinsic part of his stress-busting agenda - and on his day off he treats himself to about four hours in the gymnasium. V V Giri, general manager, The Park, Chennai, shares this enthusiasm for fitness. With 50 laps of swimming a day, and yoga three times a week, not to mention a healthy dose of couch cricket, Giri says, “The biggest de-stresser for me is sports". That apart, politics is a passion for the grandson of India's former president - keeping abreast of the rough-and-tumble political drama, Giri definitely intends entering the fray in a short while. While Swanson and Giri are entrenched in the hospitality business, neither believes in the unwinding-at-night-clubs formula. Working 24x7 routines in the IT-capital, Bangalore, Sankalp Saxena, managing director and senior vice president, i2 Technologies - India, is the maverick executive who drums up his energy quotient to include a concoction of diversions. A voracious reader and collector of wines, his interests extend to horse riding and flying. "I am currently exploring getting enrolled in equestrian lessons in the morning. Bangalore, fortunately, has several riding academies and I am hoping to make time to pick up this new hobby," says Saxena, who is also contemplating taking flying lessons at the Jakkur Flying Club.

Tearing hurry, to bits

‘Family First’ - the phrase captures the top slot on the priority list of businesspersons who keep the corporate machinery grinding. Theme parks, nature trails, long drives - surprisingly, primary school notions of fun pervade the lives of these executives. For Giri, home is an apartment within the 'dare to be different' boutique hotel. However, he insists on maintaining a distinct divide between the two. "I don't carry a piece of paper back home with me," says Giri, whose idea of a good time revolves around family vacations, road trips, and letting his children "bully" him. "We like to keep it simple. Just looking for turtles on the beach with my children is my idea of a fun time," he says. The sentiment is echoed by others as well. Sujata Pai, director, Natalia, the premium women's wear brand and retail wing of SM Apparels, contends that straddling the business and domestic worlds can add to the worry creases on one's forehead. "Playing the dual role of homemaker and professional, and to be able to attain perfect balance between the two constantly, is quite stressful by itself," admits Pai. Her tried-and-true remedies? "Hanging out with my children, a bit of fitness routines and at home chilling out in the jacuzzi with some nice magazines do the trick most of the time," she says. The 'hakunana matata' philosophy works in Saxena's life as well - "Personally, I enjoy gardening with the children. We've planted papaya, mango, chikoo trees in our garden as well as some vegetables in a small patch. On weekends it is nice to be able to get away from the city to find some good nature trails to go trekking," she says.

Prahlad Kakkar probably has the most sure-fire formula for dealing with work-related stress and it is very simple - enjoy your work. He says, "Essentially, I have never really worked a single day in my life. Combining a whole lot of fun and passion into my work makes it much more interesting.”

Ripujit Chaudhuri, chief manager - credit risk management group, ICICI Bank Ltd, shares a love for music with his wife. "My wife is totally dedicated to the field of Indian semi-classical music. Conversations with her on music, and listening to her own voice while she does her riyaaz is soothing." Talking to his son in the middle of a frenzied day makes a world of difference to Alok Bhardwaj, director and general manager, consumer imaging and information division, Canon India Pvt Ltd. "I make a call a day from the office to my son, as I feel talking to children is a stress reliever. At night, I usually play a game of chess with him. The concentration that the game requires keeps your mind off the hook," he says.

Shoestring options

Since they're at the helm of churning out big bucks for their business, spending money is not much of a problem for the top brass of industry. Manicures, massages and everything in-between is not always discounted and often comes at a premium. Chennai, for instance, recently saw the launch of 15,000 square feet of indulgence for men - the spa AIWO (meaning 'Love Yourself' in Chinese) is a WiFi-enabled haven for businessmen who don't mind dipping into their coffers for a Rs 50,000 a year membership fee. Metros are bursting at the seams with spas and wellness centres that can burn a Rs 15,000-per-session hole in one's Gucci wallet. While Rajesh Bohra, managing director, Kitchenworld, unwinds at beach resorts, he steers clear of the glitzy. "When I do the long drives routine with family, it is usually the Ideal Beach Resort (Chennai) that we head to. That place is a must visit - with absolutely no TV sets and just nature for company." Nickel-and-dime entertainment still holds a distinctive charm for him, with coffee pubs and the movies being favourite pastimes. For Deepak Gulati, CEO (Eastern Region), Bharti Cellular Ltd, dabbling in the kitchen and discovering offbeat eat-outs is a passion. "I love cooking. One of my favourite pastimes is going through food guides and experimenting with different types and styles of cooking. I am not at all hung up on five-star restaurants or expensive eating out options. I love the speciality restaurants or even a dhaba if it is tastefully done up. Small, nondescript places serving exotic food also appeal to me," confirms Gulati. A literary bent of mind characterises Umesh Asaikar, president, Nicolas Piramal India Ltd. An ardent PG Wodehouse addict, he has devoured all the books in the series, and says that reading humour is a great way to unwind. Asaikar has completely shattered the myth that corporate types concerned with RoI, can't possibly have a creative bone in them: he has recently taken to writing, and has a penchant for Marathi travelogues. Computer games are another top pick for him. "I must say, I enjoy playing games on the computer, especially the stupid old Pacman," says Asaikar. Another person with a yen for sports is A M Naik, managing director and CEO, Larsen & Toubro Limited. "I have very few indulgences but despite my hectic schedule, I make it a point to play badminton at Khar Gymkhana on Sundays." Managing operations in over 50 countries, the Godrej group chairman, Adi B Godrej told feBusiness Traveller recently in an interview that he opts for adventures that border on the bohemian. Recalling a trip with friends to Tibet and Mansarovar, Godrej said, "Walking around Mount Kailash, roughing it out in the mountainous terrain was quite an experience."

Rajeev Karwal, managing director, Electrolux Kelvinator Ltd, also believes in the power of the outsides to heal the stress lines. "During a holiday, I just try and relax with my family and close friends. Just unwind. I play a lot with my children," he says.

While their workdays are not about sitting tight on leather swivel chairs all day, many head honchos contend that their lives are stress-free: planning makes perfect and ‘manic Monday’ is just another phrase from an '80s pop album. Negotiating the just-right combination of work and play, these executives have given a whole new spin on stomping stress while relentlessly railing against convention.

Stress Busters!!
The not-so-run-of-the-mill ways of beating stress: PAWS for a moment: Working like a dog? Well, turns out that canine comfort might be the best therapy for you. The PAW or Pooch At Work theory is simple: it recommends that every office should have a dog. Reduced stress, lower blood pressure and the release of human feel-good hormones are just some of the reasons given. Research in America, has shown that stroking a dog can help reduce stress and lower blood pressure, while many psychologists contend that just the presence of a canine is sufficient. Golden Retrievers, Greyhounds and Dalmatians make the top three list for corporate canines. Well, okay, if a dogged no will be your boss's response to that one, think fish tank instead. What's the Good Word? The word's out - gossip is good for you. An overwhelming 90 per cent of workers queried in a recent British survey said they had gossiped about workmates, with their favourite topics being health, money and relationships. Formerly considered non-productive and worthless, gossip's now won a good rap, with psychologists endorsing tea-break conversation like never before. Get Outta Here It's the perfect alibi - a boss-recommended holiday is ideal for those who've had just about enough of the corporate grind. "Presenteeism" (or spending more time in the workplace than the boss wants) is now becoming a workplace menace, with those investing unholy hours at their computers becoming less productive. Many psychologists believe that the 'long hours equates with productivity' concept is dinosaur-esque and that flexy hours should become the norm.

Managing stress in ZeNLP
According to ZeNLP every individual can encounter three kinds of stress: physical, mental and spiritual. Pareto's law states that 80 per cent of the stress is generated from 20 per cent activities. Among these activities, our research reveals interesting results. Smoking, consumption of alcohol, lack of adequate sleep, consumption of allopathic medicines, lack of physical exercise, addiction to narcotic substances, a high fat diet and lack of spiritual mornings are found to generate maximum levels of stress. Physical stress can be managed through regular clapping. Clap 30-40 times uninterruptedly till the rhythm of the claps resounds in your ears and puts you into a light trance. Mental stress can be managed through ZeNLP meditation. Take a new one rupee coin and place it on your agnya chakra (the spot on the forehead, slightly above the points where the eyebrows meet). As long as the one rupee coin remains on your chakra, your unconscious mind begins to focus on the coin, thus reducing your mental stress. ZeNLP meditation with the coin can be practised in your everyday routine. Lack of religious faith, scepticism about rituals, lack of courage to pray, atheist beliefs, rational thinking and a scientific analytical mind could all be responsible for spiritual stress. Spiritual stress can be managed through auto-suggestion. One has to incessantly chant a mantra or a spiritual sound which unravels hidden energies of the soul and awakens its consciousness. These three simple techniques are selected from a more exhaustive and elaborate menu used to combat stress. To know more about these innovative techniques get in touch with – Murli Menon, president, phenoMenon Consultants Inc., Ahmedabad

Stop Thinking, Start Living
Once associated strictly with religion, meditation has made its way from caves to cubicles. Calming the tumultuous mind, today it is widely accepted as an alternative way to tackle stress-related woes. The aim: the stillness of the mind. Once this is achieved, people become unperturbed in difficult work situations or in personal life.

Broadly, there are three types of meditations followed:

Concentration meditation requires the practitioner to focus his thoughts on an object without letting the mind wander.

Transcendental meditation is about conquering the mind by allowing it to wander its own way. In this technique, the practitioner allows the mind to think while he is in the meditation posture. However, the moment he realises that his mind has taken him somewhere, he is instructed to mentally chant a word - mostly a mantra. While the mind may still wander, the practitioner's duty is to chant the mantra mentally as many times as possible.

Contemplative meditation takes the practitioner to the source of the thought. This way, whenever a thought erupts, the practitioner traces its root. This aims to reduce the number of thoughts and their intensity.

Breathing techniques are said to be common for all these meditation techniques. The regulation of breath helps the mind become still, as studies show that there is a direct relation between breath and thoughts.

Seven Steps To Swat Stress
It can't be easy running one of Bangalore's most luxurious hotel and maintaining a 'grin and bear it' disposition with a stream of whining guests. Eric Swanson, general manager, The Leela Palace Kempinski, picks out an example. "I had a guest who insisted on being placed in a suite when one was not available. Our conversation lasted for over 30 minutes. In any other circumstance outside of the hotel, I would have been inclined to tell this person where to go!"

Swanson on how he side-steps stress:

“The best way to beat stress can be summed up in seven ways.

1. Exercise like your life depended on it.

2. Laugh when all else fails and find humour in everything.

3. Take time to meditate in the morning.

4. Have a vice which makes you imperfect.

5. Work hard - for yourself, not for anyone else.

6. Some people will like you, some will not. Do not give a s**t.

7. Take a long look in the mirror at least once a week."

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