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Tue, Jul 19, 2005 - Page 11 News List

Tech workers turn alternative

OUTSOURCED STRESS Globetrotting Indian tech workers are increasingly turning to meditation, aromatherapy and other techniques to help ease the stress of work

AFP , BANGALORE, INDIA

Indian software professional Akshaya Kumar Jain, front, meditates and performs breathing exercises at the Art of Living Foundation, an international non-profit and charitable organization, in Bangalore, India, on July 9. High levels of stress are forcing software code writers to take refuge in meditation, counseling centers and specialised spas, which are mushrooming in high-tech Bangalore city.

PHOTO: AFP

Indian software engineer Mehul Patel, working with cellphone maker Kyocera, arrived back in Bangalore after hectic business trips to the US and Europe in a "state of daze."

So, like thousands of other stressed-out code writers and call-center workers in India's southern technological hub, he took up meditation.

"Different time zones and food habits take a toll on your body and mind. Stress at the workplace worsens it," says 31-year-old Patel, who now makes it a daily habit to meditate for half an hour.

"The effect is immediate. Half an hour of meditation is equivalent to three to four hours of sleep," says Patel, whose firm has a dedicated yoga room.

For those who prefer a more active form of stress-busting, there's an ever-mushrooming choice of yoga centers, specialized spas, gyms, jacuzzis, spas and swimming pools.

Major software companies like Infosys Technologies and Wipro Ltd. have long recognized the problem of stress and have built in-house recreational centers where employees can unwind after long and demanding hours of constant pressure.

Now private companies too are jumping in to help those buckling under stress to create a "balance between work and life."

The Art of Living Foundation, an international nonprofit and charitable organization with a presence in 142 countries, says more than 400 code writers enroll every month to learn meditation.

The organization's volunteers impart training based on India's ancient art of yoga which combines meditation, breathing and physical exercises during the 1,000-rupee (US$22) week-long courses at 20 centers spread across Bangalore.

"On average we spend about nine to 10 hours at work daily and face different pressures," says Anandh Venkatraman, a senior software employee with technology consulting firm Sapient.

"There are times when I thought I would not pull through. The business itself is aggressive and deadlines are hard. There is pressure both from junior and senior employees. Meditation helps me to maintain my calm," he tells reporters.

Bangalore is home to more than 1,500 global and domestic firms currently riding the outsourcing boom.

More than 300,000 software professionals are employed in the city, many of them having to work at night due to a 12-hour time difference with the US, which accounts for 68 percent of its total software exports of 17.2 billion dollars.

Most of the outsourcing firms have late hour shifts which employees say adds to stress.

Other code writers say peer and family pressures are also major factors.

"The moment you see your colleagues going abroad, stress starts working on you," says Tithi Pathik, a consultant with Indian software major Infosys.

"For me, being a woman, I have to take care of the family and compete with my male colleagues equally, if not better. That to many is a situation which is stressed," the 28-year-old says.

Widespread appeal

Software employees are not alone in aiding the growth of relaxation centers.

Top-notch technology chief executive officers and venture capitalists are also opening their wallets to beat stress and keep themselves at their competitive best.

In downtown Bangalore, Bhanu Moorthy, chief of Prithvi Natural Healing and Yoga, charges upwards of 1,250 rupees for an hour of his "holistic therapy."

Moorthy says he combines acupressure, acupuncture, the aroma of flower, herbs and roots, counselling, hydrotherapy which uses the turbulence of water to tone the body, mud and traditional herbal therapy and yoga to cure stress.

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