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We Be Chillin'

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A new kind of start-up ministers to high-tech's stressed-out masses

By Traci Hukill

A GROUP OF BUSINESSPEOPLE are seated under a conference room's fluorescent lights on a spring evening, talking quietly. The men wear slacks, polo shirts and the venerable black-sock-dress-shoe combo. The women are fastened into suits and have helmet hair.

The members of a second group are scattered around the room's perimeter, also chatting among themselves. They have, in general, more hair than those in the first group, looser cotton clothing and more elaborate jewelry. Scarves and a drum are in evidence.

Quick! Who are these people? (a) Cupertinians and Los Gatans; (b) Silicon Valleyites and Santa Cruzans; or (c) San Joseans and Marinites? Winner gets a hemp brownie!

The correct answer is "(b) Silicon Valleyites and Santa Cruzans." The members of Group 2 are not just any flowing-scarf-wearing, hippie-drum-circling Santa Cruzans. These are Human Renewal Specialists with Relaxation Resources, a Surf City-based start-up dedicated to "de-stressing and re-freshing" the frantic worker bees on this side of the hill. They are yoga instructors, acupressurists, massage therapists and psychotherapists taking on the tense nerves thrumming behind the economic engine that is Silicon Valley--a mighty task by any standard. One by one they make short, humorous presentations to the assembled crowd, many of whom are here on reconnaissance for human resource departments looking to keep employees relaxed enough to stay productive.

"Some people think it's not OK to touch themselves in public," deadpans acupressurist Jim Gallas as he demonstrates massage of the inside forearm and pressure points that relieve ocular strain. Also a chi kung (philosophy of movement) specialist, Gallas walks the crowd through a body-shaking exercise designed to get energy zipping through tired limbs.

Yoga instructor Paula Saraga explains the benefits of "sitting up while sitting down," also called good posture, and drummer Michael Glusman leads an exercise in which the group claps and stomps a rhythm, attempting to remain focused in spite of Glusman's wandering improvisations.

"And there may be a metaphor in there somewhere," notes the tall, self-effacing Glusman.

Then Madelyn Keller, CEO of Relaxation Resources, leads the pack through the "great-grandmother of relaxation techniques," the guided imagery session. People close their eyes and drift away for a few minutes--then Keller draws them back to the present, asking, "So, does everyone feel more awake and alert?"

People cast doubtful looks at each other and a couple of hesitant hands go up. Everyone feels fantastically relaxed--but alert? Well, it's been a long day.

Keller reminds her listeners that the seventh habit of Stephen Covey's Seven Habits of Highly Successful People is renewal. "We're looking to bring the vacation to you," she says.

Keller could be a point woman for the salubrious and pulchrifying effects of yoga. At 50, she has the bright smile and sexy physique of a fit and happy 38-year-old. She says it's the yoga--that and meditation, which she started 30 years ago. "I've seen the progression from weird and faddish to chic and faddish to now fairly mainstream," she says of her primary beauty aid. It's a progression that pleases her.

After starting Twin Lakes College of the Healing Arts in Santa Cruz with some friends, Keller started working on diverting the "esoteric arts" like massage, yoga and acupressure into the mainstream. In time she began to realize the most effective way to do that would be to introduce them at the workplace.

"The real hub of society is the workplace now," she says. "Work has taken over as the social gathering place and the educational gathering place, and so it just seemed like the natural next step to bring teaching about relaxation into the workplace."

The company is savvy enough to market itself as a bottom-line enhancer. Ultimately, Keller says, teaching employees to dissolve built-up tension is good for the employer. Accordingly, Relaxation Resources offers tailored corporate packages for conferences and special events, plus occasional demonstrations like this one.

"Basically, the idea is when people are working hard, they need a little sorbet for the mind to clear the mental palate and refresh themselves so they can go back to working on innovation."

Or on plotting how to orchestrate a little more relaxation into their lives.


For more information, see www.relaxationresources.com.

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From the June 17-23, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.




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