Yoga can also help to reverse some of the side effects of the modern workplace. “Staring at a computer all day, I think we naturally tend to hunch over, rounding [our] spine, instead of sitting up straight,” said Nanci Dodson, D.C./Maryland area manager of CorePower Yoga, a company with yoga studios nationwide. She said yoga practitioners become more aware of their posture, making a conscious effort to sit up straight throughout the workday. Seeing the potential benefits of yoga for office workers, many companies are hiring yoga studios to lead classes at the office, free of charge for employees. Angela Proudfoot, human resources director at the Municipal Securities Rulemaking Board in Alexandria, Va., established a corporate yoga program there. The hour and 15 minute classes meet weekly at her office after working hours. Proudfoot herself first tried yoga four years ago, after determining that physical therapy was not improving a serious foot injury she sustained while skydiving. It will never heal entirely, but she said practicing yoga has drastically improved her balance, flexibility and mobility. She is even able to skydive and run long distances again. Aqeel Yaseen also found the benefits of yoga to be life-changing. When he first tried it, he was suffering from depression and weighed more than 300 pounds. Over the course of five years, yoga “helped me change my habits, and I lost close to 200 pounds,” he said.
Bringing Yoga to Employees Following this transformative experience, Yaseen got his yoga teacher certification and now teaches 18 classes each week. He teaches studio classes at Yoga District, and corporate classes at several area law firms and the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics. “More and more companies are showing a dedication to their employees’ health and wellness, which is incredible,” said Catherine Zack, wellness director and senior manager at Flow Yoga Center in D.C.’s Logan Circle neighborhood.
Students at Flow Yoga Center in Logan Circle warm up with Downward Facing Dog. Lunchtime classes attract a number of executives on break.
Corporate yoga programs are also in place at the International Monetary Fund, the Kennedy Center, the Department of Justice and many more offices, Pierno said. The Department of Youth Rehabilitation Services recently started a corporate yoga program through Yoga Heights. “The director came the first day and took class with everybody,” Pierno said. “He really led by example. He took off his shoes, rolled out his mat and participated with everybody.”
Building Bonds and Focus The example of that director is reflective of how yoga can lower barriers between executives and staff. “Sometimes a manager and someone reporting to them are practicing right next to each other, and it changes the dynamic of their relationship,” Yaseen said. Proudfoot agreed that the classes at her office feel like a “team-building exercise.” She added, “The people who come to that class on a regular basis really get to know each other on a completely different level.” She also said that her colleagues reported better concentration and productivity at work. Studies conducted at the universities of Illinois, California and Pennsylvania all found cognitive functioning improved after just one yoga class, helping to boost focus and memory. “A lot of times, we spend our time dwelling on something,” Zack said. “What yoga and meditation really helps us do is to stay focused inside the moment.” Proudfoot can relate. “I would go into stressful situations, and I would just breathe and remember some of the mantras that my
teachers would recite at the end of classes,” she said. “That for me was a complete 180.” A meditative state doesn’t come easily to everyone, though. Yaseen said every corporate class he has taught contains its fair share of skeptics. Yoga classes typically end with a 10-minute “savasana” (corpse pose) in which students lie on their backs with eyes closed in a state of deep relaxation. “It's very difficult for them to let go for 10 minutes,” Yaseen said, “because they think maybe they're wasting their time.”
Getting Yoga on the Schedule Time is of essence in the corporate world, and many executives complain that they don’t have enough to spare for daily yoga practice. However, given the benefits, it could be worthwhile to fit yoga in, even if it’s in small increments. Zack said lunchtime classes bring out the executives at Flow Yoga Center. She added that the studio is working actively to expand its corporate programs even further. As an alternative to office classes, some companies offer corporate yoga memberships. These partnerships provide employees with discounted rates on classes at a yoga studio. At CorePower, a number of executives use their corporate memberships to attend classes before and after work, Dodson said. When going to a studio class isn’t feasible, home practice is always an option. Yoga videos for every level of practice are easy to find online. “Just start by taking five minutes every morning,” Pierno advised. “You'll notice the changes, and you'll notice an increase in energy. And before you know it, you'll want to practice longer.” www.diverseCEO.com | FALL 20114 | DIVERSE CEO 13