Aetna CEO Mark Bertolini practices yoga, pranayama and mindfulness everyday and has made it his mission to make it available to Aetna employees. In our interview with Mark, he discusses how yoga helped him heal from a skiing accident and shares statistics on the positive effects of mindfulness programs in the workplace.
Can you share how you found yoga and what your "cocktail" is?
I had a skiing accident in 2004 that resulted in a spinal cord injury and constant pain from neuropathy. I did not want to be on controlled substances for pain, so I tried a number of alternative medicines - cranialsacral therapy, acupuncture, mindfulness and yoga. This combination, which I call my cocktail, has worked to the point where I don’t take any pain medication and can be fully present in the moment.
Mindfulness in the workplace - why is this important?
It can help employees be more productive and make better decisions for the organization, which helps improve the bottom line of a business. Research from the mindfulness program we now offer to all Aetna employees shows that participants are regaining 69 minutes per week of productivity. This increase in productivity equates to an 11:1 return on investment.
Mindfulness and yoga-based programs can also help reduce stress, which is a universal issue that can damage people’s health. Our research found that employees reporting the highest stress level had nearly $2,000 higher medical costs for the preceding year than those reporting the lowest stress levels. These programs were successfully proven to reduce stress, which can help reduce associated health care costs.
If the results are quantifiable - as indicated - what are the next steps? Are programs being rolled-out at Aetna and beyond and what does this actually look like - yoga at lunchtime? Meditation in the morning?
In 2010, we studied the use of two mind-body stress reduction workplace programs with a select group of Aetna employees. The programs - Mindfulness at Work™ (mindfulness meditation) and Viniyoga Stress Reduction (therapeutic Viniyoga) – were developed and studied in a collaborative effort with Aetna, Duke Integrative Medicine, eMindful and the American Viniyoga Institute.
Our results showed that these programs helped reduce stress levels significantly, so we now make these programs available to all Aetna employees. More than 6,000 Aetna employees – about 20 percent of our employee population – have participated in one of these programs.
After seeing these results within our own company, we also began offering these programs to our customers. We are confident that the customers that implement the programs will help their employees deal with stress more effectively, help them achieve better overall health and lower their costs associated with stress.
Finally, we are incorporating mindfulness-based approaches into other wellness programs, such as programs that teach mindful eating to help reduce obesity.
Do you practice yoga every day and what style do you prefer?
Every morning I get up and I do my asana, pranayama, meditation, and Vedic chanting before work. It’s helped me be more centered, more present. I’ve been practicing Viniyoga for almost seven years.
Follow Mark on Twitter for an inside look at his healthy life.