International Yoga Day: Is Yoga the Key to Staff Wellbeing?

Posted in Employee Benefits and Wellbeing, Health and Wellbeing, Physical Wellbeing, company culture, Stress in the Workplace, Health and Wellbing Programmes, Positive workplace environment, Retaining Employees, Improving quality of life, Employee Health and Wellbeing Programmes, Employee Health and Wellbeing, Health and Wellbeing at Work

by Iain Thomson on May 24, 2017 3:00:00 PM

Encouraging employee exercise

Tranquillity and peace aren’t always two words you’d associate with a busy working office – but that’s about to change. 21 June is International Yoga Day, where people around the world celebrate the impact yoga has had on their lives, and the impact it can have on the world.

Yes, that means the Downward-Facing Dog and the Monkey Pose could soon be common ways for staff to unwind and help with their wellbeing. With events taking place around the world, including a massive one at London’s Alexandra Palace, it looks set to be a consistent annual tradition.

So, to get you prepared, we’re taking a look at the wellbeing benefits of persuading your employees to roll out the yoga mats. Get ready to do some stretching!

Yoga’s Impact on Wellbeing

International Yoga Day was first introduced in 2015, after being proposed to the United Nations by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a speech to the general assembly. Modi said: “Yoga is an invaluable gift of India’s ancient tradition. It embodies unity of mind and body; thought and action; restraint and fulfilment; harmony between man and nature; a holistic approach to health and well-being.”

Yoga is far from just a fad that involves flexible people in brightly coloured leggings. It’s been around for centuries, with some people suggesting even as far back as 5,000 years ago. Based on ancient Indian philosophies of physical, mental and spiritual practices, it’s a very popular form of exercise across the world – for example, more than 36 million people in America regularly practice yoga.

But how does it help wellbeing, we hear you ask? A study from Boston University found that if a person attends Iyengar yoga classes, which focus on deep breathing and precise postures, twice a week, it can help treat depression symptoms. Amazingly, after three months of classes, most of the people surveyed had lowered their scores on a depression-screening questionnaire by at least 50%, showing just how powerful yoga can be for helping people relax, unwind, and feel more positive.

Lauren Chakkalackal, Senior Research Officer for the Mental Health Foundation talked about how yoga has helped her mentally:

“The practice of yoga helps me to work through my own daily mental and physical experiences. Because yoga brings awareness to our inner bodily sensations, it reflects what’s happening in our mind. Stress in life is inevitable but too much stress can be harmful to our body and mind. Yoga works at relaxing the body.”

Yoga has also been found to help people who have trouble sleeping and suffer from schizophrenia – not bad for ‘a few poses’!

With 488,000 cases of work-related stress, depression or anxiety reported in the UK last year, causing 37% of all work-related ill health cases, yoga could be a helpful way to relieve stress and reduce absences. A study from The University of Adelaide also backs up Lauren’s point that yoga is effective in combating stress, as people who took part in one-hour sessions over 10 weeks found an improvement in their stress, anxiety and quality of life.

The physical health benefits are there to see too, with Bikram Yoga, which is carried out in a heated room and has been shown to be effective in increasing flexibility, helping with back pain and more. Other variations, such as Dru Yoga, where you work in groups or pairs, have shown to give people an extra spring in their step, with 86% enjoying increased energy levels. With all of these mental and physical health benefits, it can definitely help your employees’ health and wellbeing.

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Encouraging staff to take up yoga

After centuries of developing practices and philosophies, it means there are plenty of yoga variations for your staff to try – some definitely more spiritual than others.

For example, Beer Yoga is going worldwide after gaining popularity in Berlin. According to some of the original pioneers, such as BierYoga, the hop-fuelled workout sees “the joy of drinking beer and the mindfulness of yoga complement each other, and make for an energising experience.” We recommend you watch out for balancing the bottles on your head though, as it can get dangerous!

If alcohol is a no-no during the working day (maybe save Beer Yoga sessions for after work?), then what about goats? Yes, you heard right – there’s goat yoga, which has risen in popularity in America, and is coming to Europe after being tested out in Amsterdam. The idea is simple really – it’s just your typical yoga session, but while you pose on all fours, there may be a pygmy goat on your back jumping on and off.

Alternatively, Harry Potter Yoga is also a thing. You receive a magic wand upon entry, the tree pose is renamed the Whomping Willow, and you chant spells instead of spiritual chants.

If you feel your staff would benefit from yoga that has less gimmicks, then maybe a more traditional approach might be the way to go. But with modern life being so busy, what can you do to incentivise staff to change schedules?

The Benefits of Yoga

You can help your staff by running classes in your workplace on lunchtimes – or after the working day if the interest is there. Another option is to take the more direct approach, and have a mandatory session to give employees a flavour of the benefits of yoga. As well as the health benefits, there is a social side to sessions if enough workers take part.

Believe it or not, researchers from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology found interaction with colleagues and socialising in the workplace is productive, so yoga could be a great way for staff to get to know each other better. Pairing up workers in Dru Yoga could be a great place to start.

Offering staff discounts as part of an employee benefits package is nothing new, with discounts such as gym memberships being a popular option. So why not include discounts to yoga classes, seeing as they feature in gyms and leisure centres regularly? Another option would be to reward employees for their hard work with free sessions if they’ve expressed an interest in them – the more personalised you can make rewards, the better.

If for any reason, staff can’t take part in yoga sessions, that doesn’t mean they can enjoy some of the benefits too! Using yoga breathing techniques such as the ‘4-7-8’ exercise can be used as a calming method, or help staff who feel sleep-deprived get some much needed rest.

Ultimately, it comes down to the interest of your staff. If you offer the opportunities for yoga, with freebies or rewards for their hard work, then they might be more likely to try it. Whether they carry on is another question, but the physical and mental health benefits are hard to deny. So get them rolling out the mats and giving it a go on International Yoga Day – it might be the start of a healthy new habit!

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