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As yoga continues to grow in popularity within mainstream culture, many companies and organizations now offer yoga classes for their employees.
Recently, I had the opportunity to experience this phenomenon for myself. Once a week, my fellow coworkers and I are able to take a yoga class at the school where I work, thanks to an agreement with Open Door, a local health clinic.
I’ve been practicing yoga for about three years now, and am no stranger to its healing and restorative powers. But I was curious—how would practicing yoga at work be different from practicing at home, or at my favorite studio? And is this something that every company should be doing?
The class was held in the school gymnasium. I unrolled my yoga mat across the glossy, painted floor, along with the other students. There were about ten of us: kindergarten and pre-kindergarten teachers, teaching assistants, the principal and assistant principal. I was one of the few who had practiced yoga before, and many were stepping onto their yoga mats for the very first time.
We began by lying on our backs, listening to our breathing. This is the way I always begin my personal practice, but this time it felt different. And strange. The ground beneath my yoga mat wasn’t the smooth wood of my bedroom floor, or the familiar carpet of my local yoga studio. Hundreds of four- and five-year-olds had run across this floor, and I could almost feel the vibration of their little feet thundering all around me. Though the instructor had put on ambient music, the voices of the children in the afterschool program walking through the hallway reverberated against the gym’s walls.
My body was so tense that my muscles were hard as stone, and thoughts raced through my mind at a whirlwind pace. As a pre-k teaching assistant, my job can be very stressful, and putting the needs of eighteen small children before my own, six hours a day, five days a week is really draining. I needed this time on my mat, and I needed it desperately.
The instructor led us through a series of gentle twists and stretches designed to help us release the tension and stress of our day. Then, she guided us into poses such as warrior II and tree pose, that left us feeling refreshed and recharged. Before long, my muscles had softened, and my mind quieted down.
While we were hanging from our spines in deep forward bends, the back door that leads into the playground swung open, and a girl from the afterschool program entered the gymnasium. I recognized her as one of my students. She strolled past us, and waved at me. I smiled, upside-down.
As I watched her go, I realized something: practicing yoga helps me unwind from the stress of my job not only so I can relax, but so that I can do my job better. If we look at our jobs not as a chore, but an opportunity to serve others, then our yoga practice enables us to better serve our clients, customers, or, in my case, students.
It’s my hope that, as yoga continues to become more mainstream, more companies and organizations will offer yoga classes, as the benefits of practicing yoga in the workplace expand far beyond the employees on their mats.