No one knows if ancient yogis thought much about improving the workplace by teaching classes in breathing, bending, arching, stretching, and lunging. It seems unlikely they ever dreamed that the practice of yoga would one day have a thing to do with the bottom line.
But they would, no doubt, be tickled pink to learn that the holistic Indian tradition would one day be considered an effective method for promoting better business decisions by lowering stress. Though it appears that there's no real threat that corporate America is about to become blissed-out, there are signs that classes in yoga are swiftly gaining in popularity. In office parks and corporate work-out rooms from San Diego to Providence, rank and file employees and barefoot executives are slipping into comfortable clothes to learn techniques for developing better strength and balance, and to create "unions between the mind and the body." That's the definition of the Sanskrit word yoga.
At Texas Instruments headquarters in Dallas, spokesman Matt McKinney estimates that about 100 employees and members of their families attend a yoga workshop after hours every week -- adding up to about 5,000 visits a year -- at the company's "Texins Activity Center." The program began in the early 1990s, and is steadily growing. "In the last two years, it's really taken off," McKinney says. "Our employees find that yoga is the one thing that allows them to release stress."
When your body is at rest and your soul is at peace, you make better decisions, says Angela Calafiore, founder of Serendipity Yoga in Encinitas, California. She specializes in bringing yoga to corporate settings, meetings, and trade shows, and emphasizes that it isn't at all necessary to be able to convert your body into a pretzel to practice yoga. Yoga is for workout warriors, and for couch potatoes. It's for people of all ages and levels of health and coordination. It can be done in groups, or alone. And it is offered by all kinds of organizations -- manufacturing and technology firms, banks, child and family services, advertising companies, schools, law offices, fire houses, she says.
The idea is that deep breathing and stretching exercises release muscle tension and allow people to be "present" in their bodies. "Yoga helps you stay calm, and you become more approachable," Calafiore says. "When you can rest in your body, your mind becomes more flexible. You aren't as reactionary."
If, for example, you are a manager who has to discipline an employee and you take a few minutes for yoga breathing and stretching exercises beforehand, "you will be calm, centered, focused, and grounded," she says. "Yoga helps cut down on in-house conflicts. It's an easy way to give your self a boost and to be more alert. It's a way for everyone -- from clerks to executives -- to become more flexible and compassionate."
Like most yoga instructors, Calafiore ends her sessions with the simple word namaste. It is a concept not immediately associated with the workplace, but one that she insists can be learned. It means: the divine in me bows to the divine in you.
Workforce, December 2001, p. 19 -- Subscribe Now!