Our wellbeing expert, yoga teacher Niamh Deans, explains the effect of stress in the workplace and how corporate yoga may help this common problem.
52% of employees are less productive at work because of stress. Workplace related stress is commonplace in our society. I experienced this first hand working for almost twenty years in the corporate sector. I was struggling with juggling the demands of a busy home with three young children and working life. I found yoga as a means of managing this stress and started on the path that is now my yoga life.
Yoga Poses to Do at Your Desk
When I say I found yoga, I mean I was actively seeking out something to help me. I was overwhelmed much of the time feeling like I was on a high-speed train with no time for me to replenish. I did not realise fully when I came to yoga just how many ways in which it would help me. It brought me into my body. This might seem like an odd thing to say but I now see that I was functioning outside of my body much of the time with deadlines, busy-ness and a busy home and social life I was exclusively existing in the world around me.
When I came to yoga and learned to notice my breath and connect inside I realised how externalised my whole life was. I began on a process that taught me how to find time inside, how to be calm and observe my thought-waves and my breath. I began to observe the effects that my busy life was having on my nervous system and how I was living in a state of chronic stress which was in turn affecting my health. I am certainly not alone in this.
An international report by the World Health Organisation reveals in fact that depression is the most disabling illness for the corporate sector followed by cardiovascular disease. These are serious and scary stats. In a report dating back to 1999, the WHO listed stress costs in the EU mounting to 20 billion for employers and sick days at 50 - 60% of all sick days. These figures are staggering. The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that US employers lose $70 billion a year due to absenteeism, lost productivity and disability caused by mental distress – stress. A combination of sitting hunched over for hours every day, bad posture, irregular eating patterns, deadlines, long hours, multi-tasking, sedentary lives are all combining to deliver an under-performing and distressed work-force.
Companies are setting in place Work Wellness programs to both attract and retain quality employees but also because it saves them money so it makes clear financial sense. An internal assessment by Johnson & Johnson showed a return on their wellness programs of $2.71 for every dollar spent. A cumulative $250 million on healthcare costs for the company over the past decade. These wellness initiatives are not just gym memberships either. Alleviating stress in the workplace means finding a way to create a body-mind connection (read my previous column about Stress and the Nervous System here)
Yoga offers this bridge from body to mind while encompassing all of the physical aspects also that arise from sitting all day long. Yoga acts on the nervous system, initiating the parasympathetic nervous system which directly acts on the effects of stress in the system. On a physical level, sitting at a desk for hours tightens and shortens the hip flexors and makes the hamstrings and gluteal muscles lax. The body tightens and these restrictions in the body manifest commonly as back problems and a host of other physical ailments. Yoga brings flexibility, mobility and stress release through movement. Asana (postural) practice redresses the ailments of sitting all day long that manifest in the body. Yoga also brings an awareness of our posture and finding neutral alignment for the spine, the healthiest space for the body to move from and occupy. Finding a neutral pelvis is key to this. Quite often our resting space for our body can be tilted or off-kilter causing one side to overcompensate and leading to imbalances in the body which lead to injury and pain.
Above all of this, yoga has brought me awareness; awareness of my physical body but also of my thoughts and that I am not my thoughts, but an observer of my thoughts. This cracks the stress right there! How simple and yet so difficult to slow down enough to meet with these kind of life observations. Step off the spinning wheel and on to the mat, you might be surprised by what will meet you there.