You love yoga. And you love your job (or, okay, you have a job because you need to pay the bills and keep a roof over your head and occasionally do things like buy groceries - and that's okay too). But work can get stressful and demand a lot. How can yoga offer a way for you to not just survive your job, but thrive?
1. Yoga can ease the damage from sitting all day.
Do you know that feeling when you race out of work, bulldoze your way through traffic, and make it to the studio just in time for a 5:30 yoga class? You quickly unroll your mat, come into Child’s Pose, and…your hip flexors are so tight you can barely sink back onto your heels.
It’s hardly a surprise that the average American corporate workspace is set up to be a physiological nightmare. Most desk jobs require employees to be seated in a chair in front of a computer for about eight hours a day. There’s little incentive to get up and stretch or move around. And the longer you work in that desk chair, the more likely you are to slump, to tighten your tendons and joints, to slow down the circulation of your blood, and to develop a whole host of health issues related to a sedentary lifestyle.
One yoga class a week isn’t going to counteract all of those concerns, of course. But a dedicated yoga practice can ease a lot of the damage. Yoga can correct your desk-chair slump by increasing your core stability, restore range of motion in the joints that don’t get a lot of movement throughout the day (hello, hip flexors), and improve circulation of the blood – all things that suffer when you’ve been hunched over your computer for eight hours a day. Just remember to move around periodically throughout the day and try to incorporate at least two hours of cardio into your regimen every week. Goodbye, desk-chair woes!
2. Yoga improves stress management so that you can become the office angel.
Yoga’s emphasis on deepening and lengthening the breath helps to initiate the body’s relaxation response: it lowers levels of adrenaline, cortisol, and catecholamines (all responses to stress), as well as lowering blood pressure and resting pulse.
That equanimity is important for so many reasons. Mental and emotional stress can derail your productivity at work. In fact, American corporate employees report that 90 percent of their doctor’s visits are due to stress. That’s not surprising: straining your nervous system day after day with tension and anxiety can both cause and exacerbate physical conditions like colds, allergies, and migraines (not to mention heart disease and cancer).
But yoga doesn’t just relieve stress. It teaches us how to take charge of our emotional wellbeing with powerful physical postures and breath techniques that wring out our mental angst. Yoga teaches us that the next time we’re on a stressful phone call, trying to defuse a tense interaction, or simply trying to soothe a frustrated client, all of the breath techniques that we’ve learned in yoga can apply off the mat, too: by helping us to calm our nervous systems and sail peacefully through a tough situation. (Plus, a peaceful employee is a happy and focused employee – and one who’s likely to spread that positive energy around the office, earning some serious brownie points.)
3. Yoga nourishes your ability to be mindful - and a team player.
In a climate-controlled office that seems far away from the wider world, it’s easy to get tunnel vision. Nothing feels more important than finishing that paperwork piling up on your desk, making those last five calls, or wrapping up that presentation – only to do it all over again the next day. I get it! Working hard can feel good (and so can that bonus you see just over the horizon). But how often do we get so wrapped up in job stress and promotion woes that we forget how to deeply appreciate the present moment?
Yoga teaches mindfulness (or, in Sanskrit, sati) in order to become aware of what’s going on inside of our bodies and outside, in the present moment. Mindfulness helps us to engage our minds, uncover tension and pain in our bodies, and breathe – all in pursuit of moving past the things that threaten to quench our vitality and power.
The big picture? Through mindfulness, yoga trains us to tune into our energy and the energy of others, encouraging patience and compassion every step of the way. And that kind of awareness translates into benefits across the board in the workplace: greater empathy during team projects, greater patience when working with clients, and greater compassion for coworkers and supervisors alike.
4. Yoga teaches resilience.
Remember sweating through minute forty of your last yoga class? I do. We were on the last rotation of a mandala-style class centered around all of the poses I find difficult: Half Moon, Side Crow, headstands. I honestly thought about rolling up my mat and walking out.
But instead, I tried to remember all of the lessons I’ve learned from yoga in the past: Remember your breath. Don’t sacrifice it for a pose. When you think you’re going to fall, lift yourself higher and let the universe steady you. And by focusing on my mind and my breath – even when physical difficulty rose up – I stayed on my mat. I didn’t do a single headstand and I slipped out of every Side Crow. But thirty-five minutes later, I settled peacefully into Savasana with the rest of class.
A Side Crow may only last ten seconds in class, but those ten seconds can feel like forever. Yet when we remember our breath and our larger purpose for coming to the mat, we can not only endure those ten seconds – we can see them as opportunities to be powerful. And the next time your boss hands you what feels like an impossible assignment, perhaps you can remember your breath, remember your power, and conquer any difficulty that rises in your path.
5. Yoga can encourage you to “lean in”.
We’ve all heard about Sheryl Sandberg (the COO of Facebook) and her belief that women in the workforce need to “lean in”, right? Sandberg writes that women face a number of difficulties in the workforce that discourage them from contributing in staff meetings or seeking out bonuses and promotions they’ve earned, all while encouraging them to apologize before offering up their ideas (or never offer them up at all).
It might sound abstract at that level, but think about your last painful staff meeting. Maybe it was rescheduled for 8am and you didn’t have time to make coffee. Your head was fuzzy, you were feeling anything but engaged in the present, and you were just anxious for it to be over. The last thought on your mind was contributing to the discussion and (gasp!) prolonging it.
A ten-minute flow in your own home, before you head to the office, can change all of that. When freshly-oxygenated blood circulates through your body and brain, you nurture richer thoughts and revitalize your creative process. And when you clear your mind of all the clutter so that you can focus on the task at hand, you can really dig into the project, or presentation, or staff meeting at hand. You’re more likely to lean in, and much more likely to bring something unique and useful to the table.
And if you ask me, the employee that practices yoga’s lessons off the mat – the one who is patient, flexible, resilient, courageous, clear-thinking, and compassionate? That’s the employee who’s going to see success, both in and out of the workplace.
Have you noticed any benefits from your yoga practice at the workplace? Tell us in the comments below!
Anna Squires studies political science, journalism, and creative writing at Colorado College. There is nothing she enjoys more in a yoga class than laughing so hard she falls out of a pose, especially since then she doesn’t have to hold it anymore. She hails from Atlanta, GA.