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Why Yoga Is Reinventing The Workplace

Work is “supposed to” be drudge and humdrum, just the daily grind where we go to make money to pay the bills and put food on the table, a naturally stressful environment that is supposed to wear us down.  Bosses should be pushing us if they want productivity, demanding excellence and reprimanding failure.  This is how many of us view our jobs, as a stressful necessary evil we have to do.  

Yet many workplaces are becoming more than that.  Companies from that little tech shop down the street all the way up to Google, Starbucks, and Whole Foods are making the workplace something else using yoga and its qualities of meditation and mindfulness.  

All over the United States, a new paradigm is emerging in business, one which makes room for employees to benefit from the pragmatism that is yoga.  More and more companies are starting to incorporate yoga into the workplace by offering free yoga classes and even building entire yoga rooms. If you want to talk your boss into incorporating yoga into your workplace, here are some compelling reasons you can present.

Yoga Increases Awareness

It’s no secret that, in addition to strengthening our literal muscles, yoga also works out the figurative ones involved in concentration and self-awareness.  Part of doing the poses is monitoring your body to ensure correct posture, observing your breathing to regulate it and optimize oxygen intake, and concentrating on maintaining your balance.  

All of this brainwork is synthesized with lots of controlled breathing, which itself nourishes the brain, so yoga ultimately gives your brain fuel while giving it a workout!  This focused awareness translates into mindfulness, which is the name given to a specific type of attention to the present moment and present thoughts.  

Studies have indicated that mindfulness has a positive effect on our productivity, and that’s merely the beginning.  Eventually, mindful awareness causes us to observe our thoughts as well, and yoga practices augment our ability to be compassionate and nonjudgmental about our observations.

Yoga Reduces Stress

Those of us who practice yoga know that one of yoga’s effects is the reduction of muscle tension coupled with quieting the mind. The fact that this has been verified by studying people’s brainwaves, blood, and mental state is starting to convince more people to practice yoga.  

Stress is a killer--it releases a hormone called cortisol, which is no big deal in very small doses, but built up over time causes premature wear and tear on the body.  This translates into other ailments, such as heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure. 

The corporate workforce has long been inundated with the message that in order to get productivity from its workers, it should push them.  However, in a study released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this “workplace wisdom” was proven more unwise than ever, by showing that allowing workers to reduce stress during work using mindfulness practices actually makes them more productive, as opposed to less.  Yoga sits squarely in the center as a linchpin for all the other practices.

Yoga Helps Fight Illness

The same study indicates that employers’ healthcare costs decrease as a result of including yoga in the workplace.  Employees are keeping fit, plus taking care of their emotions by reducing stress, and this translates into fewer sick days and fewer doctor visits.  

In one study, it even showed an improved response to flu vaccines as compared to a control group who did not do mindfulness meditation and yoga.  Addressing stress in the workplace during the workday helps keep employees healthier, which is a great benefit to take home to the family!  Mindfulness also gives us more awareness of our bodies and how they tolerate exercise or respond to certain foods, so we’re also aware of illness sooner, nipping it at the bud.

Yoga Improves Moods

Another benefit that goes home with the workers is that the reduced stress and relaxation works wonders both in and out of the workplace.  Employees whose companies have yoga programs, such as HBO and the Chicago Bulls, often talk about how much more pleasant and less stressful the workplace is.

The work environment is made more pleasant by the inclusion of yoga, whether it is scheduled classes or simply the ability to run off to the designated room and do a few poses before an important deal.  This is accomplished through the building of emotional intelligence from all the observations we’re doing of ourselves during mindfulness.  

Emotional intelligence not only informs us about our own emotions, it helps us interpret the emotional behavior of others, improving relationships and improving responses to stress from home. Yoga helps us build emotional intelligence by teaching us to pay attention in the first place.

What Yoga Does for Companies

People who aren’t stressed out or burnt out by their jobs stay at them longer, meaning vital roles within the company are filled without interruption.  

Many of the companies discussed so far are not low-stress jobs - HBO, Industrial Light & Magic, Starbucks, Whole Foods, and Aetna are very busy jobs, where high productivity is the norm, not a goal to be achieved.  Employees and even CEOs from all of these companies are more than happy to admit that yoga has been a large part of keeping their jobs from being overwhelming to their health and stress level, and now the CDC putting a scientific seal of approval on the effects of mindful practice in the workplace proves that a stressful job doesn’t have to kill us.  

One of the most respected and in-demand mindfulness programs actually comes from Google, called Search Inside Yourself, and was developed by an employee to handle his hectic day job.  You know, at the largest Internet search engine in the world.

In response to this, yoga will probably be included as a benefit offered by the best employers, as well as something they will seek to accommodate in some way.  As more studies like the CDC’s are produced, and more companies employ this strategy, we will start to see more space and time dedicated to giving employees a place to unwind during the day.  

More business owners are starting to embrace the idea that facilitating the health of their employees is a great investment for the company as a whole.  Yoga is the most efficient practice for promoting mindful awareness as well as physical fitness, and many employers are re-inventing their offices to accommodate its practice.  The benefits to everyone involved ripple out from a productive workplace to a happy home, a more energetic life, and hopefully, a more compassionate society.

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