Monday, July 17, 2000

Executives learn meditation

By John Eckberg
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Trucking executive Jack Ryan heard it all before: that meditation would relieve stress, that martial arts training might bring workplace insights, that deep breathing would encourage deep thinking. But this 73-year-old executive vice president of TL Express, a trucking company with $25 million in annual revenues, 90 tractor-trailers and contracts with 200 over-the-road operators, did not buy it — not totally anyhow.

        Mr. Ryan was skeptical when his daughter, Judith Ryan, told him that he should attack his high blood pressure by approaching local instructor Mok Lau to learn tai chi, an ancient discipline of breathing and physical exercise.

        “I'd read the books. I had the quiet room in my house. I thought, "I've done all this,'” Mr. Ryan said. “But I thought OK, I'll take the lessons and blah-blah-blah, so I picked up the telephone and I called.”

        After nine months of a twice-a-day regime devel oped and taught by instructor Lau, Mr. Ryan's blood pressure plummeted, his on-the-job focus sharpened and aggravating business problems seemed more like welcome challenges.

        Mr. Ryan, who manages a military division and handles accounts receivable for the Bedford Heights, Ohio, company from his at-home offices in Fairfield, is among a growing number of Tristate executives who have found professional benefits this ancient Chinese discipline.

        “Within the last 10 years, it is obvious. More and more business people, college professors and professional people are training,” said instructor Lau, a 73-year-old Hong Kong native who has taught tai chi and chi kung in Greater Cincinnati for 25 years.

        “All are aware of the importance of this type of exercise to relieve daily stress. Once people participate, they really see an immediate benefit.”

        Mr. Ryan found that rather than seeking relief from duties — he was planning to ease out of the day-to-day grind and find a general man ager replacement — he was now ready to embrace even more responsibilities.

        Senior managers are not the only ones to benefit from the discipline of Oriental martial arts training.

        Cecil Dye is a territory manager for CSI Waste Services Inc., a waste material and recycling services company, and has been studying and teaching tae kwon do, a martial arts and self-defense system involv ing hand and foot blows, for about six years.

        He trains at I.K. Kim Tae Kwon Do Center in Price Hill.

        “For me, it has developed leadership skills. It's not a cure-all but it's a perfect outlet for stress and in sales there is a lot of stress from rejection,” Mr. Dye said.

        “It teaches self-control and there are definite physical benefits that work at whatever level you are at.”

        Joseph Mirza, chairman of martial arts for the Amateur Athletic Union, the largest amateur sports organization in the nation based in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is astounded by martial arts popularity.

        “There has been tremendous growth over the past five years, especially in adult markets. It's the biggest trend since I've been involved in the past 15 years,” Mr. Mirza said. “What people are finding out is that it's a great way to burn calories and release stress.”

        Two years ago, Sharon Hopkins, 34, was drowning in stress from her job as a home-care cardiac nurse. She was on nine medications that a doctor prescribed for stress-related infirmities: from stomach ailments to heart problems and insomnia.

        She discovered kung fu at the Western Hills Kung Fu Center on Harrison Avenue in Westwood, and today the prescriptions are gone and so is the stress. “Now I can have the worse day going and come out of my workout and feel wonderful,” she said.

        “I handle situations better. I don't get upset as quickly and have learned to control my reactions to situations.”

        When Mr. Ryan looks back upon his last year, he finds that what seemed to be unbearable work tension has been replaced by a Zen focus. Now, when a subordinate requests help to make a collection on a past-due account or if a shipment is sent awry, Mr. Ryan does not obsess on the mistake.

        Instead, he pauses, mediates and then looks at the problem from a new angle or perspective.

        “The advantage to a businessman, especially a person under stress, is that tai chi can be performed anywhere, anytime,” Mr. Ryan said.

        “All you need is nine feet of space. You get up from the desk, take a couple of deep meditating breaths and once you learn the tai chi, you can relax within moments.”

        He said that when he began the regime in September, his blood pressure was 170/100 and at times it was even higher. Now it is 124/77. ""To me, that is unbelievable,” he said.

        “My doctor says it's because I'm out from under a lot of the stress but I still have stress and besides, it wouldn't drop that much. I just handle it better.”

        He said his physical endurance has improved dramatically. He had two hip replacements six years ago and walked with a cane until he began the tai chi discipline. “Because of the strength I've built up ... you'd never know I had artificial hips,” he said.

        “In a word, it's focus,” Mr. Ryan said. “The tai chi discipline allows me to focus. You are able to concentrate on a particular moment.”

        While some executives seek a discipline that combines body and mind for professional reasons, others see it as a way to cement family ties, said Chuck Geiger, director of the martial arts program and instructor at Kid's First Sports Center, Symmes Township.

        Initially, classes at the center were for children until Mr. Geiger invited some adults to participate instead of simply viewing the workouts. The center had to immediately add classes. “It turned into a great activity and great business venture,” Mr. Geiger said.

        “I have had professionals in many industries tell me that learning (martial arts) has trained their minds.”

        Mr. Geiger said people are tugged and shoved in a dozen directions at work. “This teaches them to focus on the job at hand and when it's done, go onto the next,” he said.

        “They are able to relax and focus on the job and go on to the next task. They are able to be more effective.”

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