BANKING ON SPIRITUALITY.©Hazel Courteney
A feature written for Style Magazine at the Sunday Times

Has anyone met a banker recently who recommended regular spiritual practices as being a potential panacea to your and the world’s problems?

Let alone two young, highly successful bankers and their partners who are so  passionate about meditation and yoga, they have funded their own high tech spiritual centre in Camden’s trendy Stables Market in London – with plans for several more around the  UK and eventually worldwide.

But surely this is not the time to be starting such a  venture?

‘There has never been a better time’ says Nicole  Hambro, the stunning American ex wife of banking heir Charles. Without  any doubt’ she says   ‘A global shift in consciousness is taking place. There is a growing realisation that we are all far more intuitive than we realise and that if you access this innate intuition your life can change for the better.  What we have done is created a space to allow this shift to take place. ‘

The space  she speaks of is a 5000 sq ft, state of the art centre decorated by  New York designer  Charlotte Barnes called Alchemy,  situated above a martial arts gym called Karma – how cool is that?.

Hambro and her partners,  American banker Richard Zimmerman, plus London based broker Simon Andriesz  and his economist wife Ewa are part of a growing breed who are amalgamating  ancient  teachings  with  emerging science  into modern life, with stunning results.

Private banker Zimmerman, based in New York says ‘The old paradigms are crumbling. Certain sectors of the financial markets are in chaos – there is little security or trust in governments anymore. This is why more and more people are coming to the realisation  that  if we  want to change the world,  we first have to change ourselves and our attitudes  –  from within. We are now seeing  major corporations bringing ‘consciousness’ into the workplace, which is becoming the fastest growing part of their business, showing impressive and measurable results in company performance and employee satisfaction’.

Andriesz, a broker by day and qualified yoga teacher at weekends  agrees ‘ Slowly but surely new  paradigms  are taking hold, especially in the money markets.  Its becoming more  about win win, rather than win – lose, collaboration rather than competition, abundance rather than scarcity.  ’

He has obviously never met my bank manager. Yet, since Andriesz and his wife took up yoga  his whole outlook on life has changed   ‘ We were taught yoga  by  Maya Fiennes, sister of law Ralph,  and as  I progressed and learned more about spirituality  I found that the small stuff no longer bothered me and I could handle stress more effectively.  Once you realise that everything you do has a knock on effect, it makes sense to help the other guy along rather than treat them as the competition.  This is why we wanted to start our own centre. ‘

So,  he doesn’t view The Life Centre, another mecca for yoga enthusiasts in Kensington owned  by ex bankers  Elizabeth Stanley and Christine Letter,  or Triyoga  in Notting Hill where the likes of Gwyneth Paltrow strut their stuff  –   as the competition?

‘Absolutely not’, he smiles fairly convincingly ‘ We are all going in similar directions. The more that people  can tune into their innate intuition the faster things will change for the better. Our aim is to hasten this process’.

The four friends feel as though they were destined to work together at this time.  Eighteen years previously , after being  introduced to the  teachings of spiritual  guru Ramana Maharshi  by society osteopath Michael Skipwith,  Hambro  had a dream that one day she would be involved in a spiritual centre.

After 9/11 she started a weekly meditation circle in her Knightsbridge home to help those who were seeking answers after such a cataclysmic event.   Word soon spread  as friends such as  Koo Stark  and Caprice Bourret  also introduced their friends to the circle.

Zimmerman had his own similar ‘inner journey’ and  entered the frame after being introduced to  mother of four Hambro at a mutual friends dinner  in 2007 and they shared their ideas of opening a centre.

‘And one day’ Nicole recalls’ Maya Fiennes showed up at my circle and  suggested I  meet Simon and Ewa.  Within minutes of  listening to their ideas, everything  I had envisaged  years ago  suddenly clicked into place.  Our motives were so in line, we wanted to help create a spiritual community in which like minded people could come together  and use spiritual practices such as deep meditation, yoga  and  dialogue to awaken their intuitive powers. ‘

Such was   their rapport  that  the four shook hands there and then to become partners.
‘ We  did not even have time to  write a business plan’  says Polish born graduate Ewa  ‘ And with Simon working dawn to dusk on his brokerage business I  utilized  my experience in economics to work  with Nicole to  bring our dreams into reality.’

To  formally seal their pact, they used Hambro’s family lawyers  who Hambro says are somewhat conservative

‘They tried to talk us  out of it, saying ‘You hardly know each other,  you don’t have any formal plans’, it was all about instilling us with fear, yet throughout  the meetings we retained a sense that what we were doing was absolutely right and  eventually one of the lawyers began meditating with us ! ‘

Ewa adds ‘ We  believe that the universe has an underlying intelligence and once you tune into and link with this intelligence – incredible positive co-incidences come into your life, just as they have in ours’

But surely co-incidences happen  all the time ?

‘Sure they do’ laughs Hambro sounding more like her close friend Deepak Chopra by the minute ‘ But what we and many others have found is that the co-incidences become more extraordinary, the more you align with this infinite intelligence. ‘

To illustrate her point Hambro adds ‘When we began negotiating to buy the lease for Alchemy, we knew that a ballet school  had also been negotiating with the developers agents for quite some time.

That week I had turned down an invitation to  dinner at an art gallery,  but after meditating that morning, I intuitively felt  I should attend. And as I walked in I bumped into a stranger – we introduced ourselves and it transpired that he was one of the owners of the building.  And by another ‘co-incidence’ our host had seated us together for dinner. I was able to share our vision and he helped us to make the deal happen.’

Zimmerman adds ‘ You would be amazed at how many business leaders now meditate and practice yoga, especially in New York, it’s how we keep a balance  with our crazy schedules.  And high profile people are delighted to meet others with similar spiritual interests. Like attracts like.  We all have no doubt that using regular spiritual practices can help in every aspect of  our lives’.

Model and entrepreneur Caprice Bourret agrees ‘ Regular meditation  has completely changed my life. Years ago, I thought  that spirituality was all about hippies, smoking pot or sitting in an ashram in India, but   now I understand it’s practical applications for everyone. For a start my lingerie and perfume business has grown from  £350,000 a year to over £2 million in the two years  since I began meditating. I used to be quite aggressive in business and  had a short fuse. Regular meditation has helped  to calm me down, and I now  deal with stressful issues more effectively. My team  work better as my calmness affects them. And if a deal doesn’t go ahead, I don’t fret – but think, never mind,  if that’s what’s meant to be, it’s fine. And once I surrender, quite often the deal eventually goes ahead. ‘
‘Its like, once you put a soufflé in the oven, you trust it will cook, you don’t have to keep opening the oven door every two minutes to check  it – which would ruin the soufflé. This is what worrying does to people. Today meditation is my ‘drug ‘ of choice’.

‘Numerous published medical trials have shown’ adds Hambro ‘ That regular meditation helps to lower blood pressure, increases mental sharpness,  reduces release of stress hormones and slows the ageing process. Science has also  verified what ancient spiritual texts taught centuries ago, that we all have  innate intuitive abilities  which we can learn to listen to and  trust,  that can help us make more right decisions  –  which is more than can be said  for Governments, the financial world or even certain religious dogmas. ’

‘From our experiences and with  so much turmoil in the world and money markets,  we believe there is  no  better time to invest in a new way of being – in fact we are banking on it. ’

Alchemy offers daily meditation circles, a comprehensive yoga programme, acupuncture, massage and reflexology. Located at 101, Stables Market, Chalk Farm Road. Camden. London NW1 8AH www.alchemythecentre.co.uk   Tel 0207 267 6188.