A 15-Minute Reset: Project Breathe

breathe1-300As Group Program Manager for Adobe’s Creative Cloud Ecosystem, Scott Unterberg’s workday involves a typical blend of meetings, emails, phone calls, and sitting in front of a computer, typing and clicking away. But in the middle of many afternoons he manages to do something unusual: He pauses whatever he’s doing and heads to the meditation room.

Scott has been practicing meditation for over two decades and, after being encouraged by his Tibetan Buddhist teacher to instruct others, he founded Project Breathe, a meditation program for Adobe employees. “The point of the program is just to provide 15 minutes a day as a kind of ‘time out’ for people to recharge their batteries and center themselves,” Scott said.

While the program was launched in 2008, he had been informally leading meditation sessions for his colleagues for many years before that. His colleagues noticed that most of his vacation time was used for trips to India and meditation retreats. Intrigued, they persuaded Scott to teach them how to meditate while at work. Sitting in abandoned bank vaults in the building that houses Adobe in San Francisco, Scott and his colleagues gathered for 15 minutes every Thursday at 3PM. This weekly group of meditators eventually grew so large that they were kicked out of the vaults due to exceeding building code safety laws. But that ousting didn’t deter Scott for long, he appealed directly to a few of Adobe’s senior executives, who were willing to give him a budget and a chance.

Today, Project Breathe is “a grassroots, employee-driven program,” says Unterberg, “that’s spreading like wildfire.” Participants can be found in Adobe offices around the globe, and according to Scott they rave about the benefits they experience from the practice, finding that it almost universally decreases stress while increasing concentration, creativity, productivity, and one’s overall happiness. In fact, Scott initially proved these benefits of meditation to demonstrate Project Breathe’s ROI.

“There are a lot of folks who had high blood pressure, for instance, and the nursing staff was blown away to see that individuals’ blood pressure dropped significantly—more so, in fact, than it had for those same individuals when they were only taking medicine,” he said. “Many of our meditators also reported enhanced creativity, having discovered a newfound sense of space opening up in their minds while sitting quietly every day. And all of our metrics, along with the anecdotes, basically gave us permission to go ahead and expand the program for other offices—starting in Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, San Jose, and some other offices in the U.S. But now we also have interest in Canada, Switzerland, and India. It just keeps spreading by word of mouth.”

Project Breathe seems destined to transcend the boundaries of Adobe. Interest in Adobe’s program has been expressed by employees and executives from other companies such as Autodesk, Salesforce, SAP, Microsoft, and Yahoo, with some dubbing Scott “the Mindfulness Advisor to the tech industry.” Even if they don’t adopt the Project Breathe name, Scott feels certain many of these corporate giants are on their way to developing their own versions of employee meditation programs soon.

“I’ve had executives tell me that they’d really like to start some of their meetings with 5 minutes of meditation before they get started,” he says with a smile, “which I think would be fantastic.”