Imagine a law firm where attorneys have Zen bells on their desks that ring periodically throughout the day to remind them to pause for a moment and focus their attention on a painting hanging on their wall.
The special painting of a scene in nature is designed to calm them down.
Sounds like a novel concept, right?
That was life for lawyers at the law firm Parsinen Kaplan Rosberg + Gotlieb earlier this year. The downtown Minneapolis firm worked with noted Southwest artist Joan Solomon and The Bruley Center, a functional-medicine, preventive health care and wellness clinic in Linden Hills, on a 10-week experiment designed to see how meditative art therapy would affect their stress levels.
The results were striking. Of the 18 attorneys who participated in the study, 66 percent reported decreased stress levels. During this period, the firm also saw a 9 percent increase in collected revenue, and lawyers, legal staff, and clients said they felt they were better able to connect with one another on a personal level, according to study results compiled by the Rob and Mary Bruley of the Bruley Center.
The male participants were more likely to see improvements in their stress responses. The women involved in the study, meanwhile, were far more likely to accurately report their subjective levels of stress.
Laura Krishnan, an attorney who specializes in estate planning at the firm, said the goal of the project was to try to get lawyers and legal staff to change up their typical patterns.
“The goal of the relationship was to take us out of our comfort zone and kind of help us relate better to others,” she said. “I do think people stopped, took a step back from what they were doing and tried to relax — which, to try to get a bunch of attorneys to do is a pretty remarkable thing. [They have] such ‘Type A’ personalities.”
The genesis of the idea came when Mary Kay Ziniewicz, the firm’s marketing director, met Solomon over tea at the suggestion of Krishnan. Solomon then recruited the Bruleys to participate.
This is how the experiment worked: About 60 paintings and 40 prints by Solomon were hung throughout the law firm’s offices. The participating attorneys engaged in an “Art Calm” relaxation/meditation technique about four times a day — sometimes for only 10 seconds at a time — after their Zen bells rang.
At the beginning and the end of the 10-week experiment, the lawyers filled out a subjective stress-scale questionnaire. The Bruleys also took blood pressure tests and measured the participants’ pupils’ reaction to light. When people are stressed out and their adrenals (glands above the kidneys that regulate the body’s stress response) are in overdrive, they tend to be more sensitive to light.
“If the stress doesn’t go away, these hormones are not so good for you over the long term. … Over time, people start crashing — they lose their resiliency, their immunity. They can’t bounce back,” Dr. Robert Bruley said.
So how can meditating on artwork — even for just a few seconds — help people calm down?
Mary Bruley said it draws on the same impulse people have when they visit museums.
“It’s a pause in time for internal reflection on what the art means to you. It’s almost like a forced meditation, albeit only 10 [seconds]. You’re focusing outside of your soul, which is so important for relaxation,” she said.
Solomon, whose artwork has been used in nursing homes and hospitals to create a soothing environment, said the layers in her paintings force people to stop and really examine the pieces. New things tend to appear after looking at her artwork a second time.
“There’s an intention to this artwork — the layers keep you there,” she said.
Krishnan said she found the art meditation project, which was conducted during the spring and summer, to be very rewarding. She has been able to make stronger connections with her clients and colleagues and find a way to be more efficient and focused.
“The biggest thing I got out of it, aside from giving me a conversation piece to allow me to relate with my clients and with the other attorneys … would be that, before this happened, I wasn’t very comfortable talking about art,” she said. “This allowed me to broaden my knowledge. … It did trigger me to take a step back, to take a few deep breaths. … It does help calm me down.”
(Note: This article has been revised to correct information about 9 percent increase in collected revenue).
The participants in the meditative art project
• Artist Joan Solomon — www.joansolomon.com
• Rob and Mary Bruley of The Bruley Center,
2626 W. 43rd St. — www.bruleycenter.com
• Law firm Parsinen Kaplan Rosberg + Gotlieb — www.parlaw.com