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Feb 13, 2014 | Insights

Yoga for the Workplace

Yoga and Mind Body Health

A holistic yoga practice is not just an exercise or a stretching routine: it is a mindset.

The deeper teachings of yoga help you to expand your awareness of both your body and your mind. This mindset of expanded mind/body awareness allows you to live life with more joy and less stress.

Yoga in the workplace is beneficial because:

  1. In our busy lives, having a convenient time and place for yoga class makes this form of stress reduction more accessible;
  2. Bringing your yoga mindset into other daily activities is what strengthens your stress hardiness levels. Workplace yoga helps you to transition from yoga class to your daily routine while maintaining a yoga mindset of mind/body health; and
  3. When an employer provides wellness programs, it sends a message to the employees that they are valued as individuals.

Consider facing tomorrow’s to-do list or next week’s rapidly-approaching deadline without freezing up from the stress, and what a difference that could make to your work/life balance.

Burnout Prevention

Imagine that you have a cup of water. You are thirsty, and also the people around you are thirsty. And your immediate reaction is to pour all of your water into their cups in order to take care of them. They all gulp down this limited amount of water, and then everyone is still thirsty—including you. And your reaction is to squeeze and squeeze your cup trying desperately to get more water out of it.

This is a metaphor for burnout.

Imagine that you are thirsty, and the people around you are thirsty. This time, assess the situation to come up with a response that does long-term good for everyone—including yourself. Search and find a source of water. From that source, you can pour water into your own cup until your cup fills and overflows like a fountain. Once your own cup becomes a fountain, everyone around you is able to fill their own cups from the overflow.

Yoga is one of a number of self-care modalities that are capable of replenishing a person’s inner resources. If your inner resources are overflowing like a fountain, then everyone around you benefits. If you allow your inner resources to run dry, it won’t do anyone any good to squeeze yourself until you are an empty husk.

Unfortunately, it is commonplace for people to become so focused on giving that they don’t realize they have run dry. Eventually some symptom of burnout forces them to address that they have been running on empty.

Even though it may not be easy to carve out the time, make a commitment to your own health and happiness. It is not selfishness to take care of your own health. If your energy levels flow like a fountain, it will be a support for everyone in your life.

Creating Wellness Programs in Nonprofit Environments

In nonprofit environments, it is common for there to be an over-emphasis on supporting others (clients) without any emphasis on self support. Such a focus creates burnout.

Fortunately, many workers and managers in nonprofit offices are interested in the concepts of wellness. They might not actually be doing any wellness techniques for themselves, but their mental openness to the concepts makes a nonprofit environment a good place to start up new wellness programs.

There are obstacles to having a wellness program in any business location. I have found that nonprofits work with those obstacles more effectively than for-profit companies. This means that if you want to be a pioneer of wellness in your nonprofit office, you are likely to find more support than if you were in a for-profit environment. You can be the one to start a wellness activity or program.

At for-profit locations, lunch break yoga programs have lasted for less than a year because attendance drops off. Many times the yoga students at for-profit locations have told me that they are too stressed to go to stress reduction classes. The main impediment to long-lasting wellness classes at these for-profits has been that the students have felt too much pressure from managers and fellow staff to work through their lunch breaks. There wasn’t enough support for them to maintain a long term commitment to self care.

So far, the lunch break yoga program at the NonProfit Center has been in place for more than 3 years. During classes at the NonProfit Center, I’ve seen coworkers supporting each other in making a commitment to attend yoga class. Sometimes they come together, sometimes one person works so that the others can attend class. Yoga students have reported that they can create more opportunities to bring self care into their work days, such as stretching breaks, or reminding each other to breathe deeply. Sometimes they can even get other co-workers to join in. So the yoga classes have positively impacted coworkers who have never even taken a class.

The most difficult aspect of starting a new wellness program can be approaching others about setting up wellness structures in the workplace. Reorganizing space and time for wellness can ruffle feathers simply because change is difficult. Thinking of yourself as a pioneer or an advocate can help you feel braver as you ask coworkers to rise to the challenge of including wellness in the office.

When you go to yoga class, your coworker might have to cover the phone or meetings may need to be rescheduled. In these cases, it is important to avoid creating resentment. Fairness, cooperation and creating an atmosphere of co-support will boost your nonprofit’s ability to achieve all of its goals, especially goals of having effective staff.

Remind everyone (and yourself!) that offices that are run by energized staff serve clients better than offices that are run by burnt-out staff.