How to take a yogic approach to work for workplace wellness
Many of us seem to believe that being drained, stressed and overextended is simply part and parcel of working life. Certainly work can be demanding and deadlines have to be met, but where do we draw the line when our mental health is on the line? Applying a yogic approach to create a more harmonious working environment that focuses on cultivating wellness can make all the difference in improving workplace mental health and avoiding burnout before it takes hold.
What is burnout?
Job burnout is defined as a specific type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion due to stressful workplace conditions.
We often hear of burnout occurring due to a heavy workload, however workplace wellbeing can be impacted by a number of factors. A high job demand, low job demand, lack of role clarity, job insecurity, organisational change and a slew of other workplace pressures unsurprisingly take their toll, impacting on mental health and wellbeing.
Managing workplace stress requires more than a bandage approach of taking a holiday. Although breaks are important, unresolved stressors can balloon into burnout and lead to major health concerns. The key is knowing when you are burning the candle at both ends and actively dealing with this to find better balance before it escalates.
Workplace wellbeing matters
Over the course of a lifetime, it is estimated you spend up to 90,000 hours at work. So if your work is causing you stress and unhappiness, those hours are going to feel a whole lot longer and most likely will negatively spill into other areas of your life.
The principle of satya can be helpful if you’re having trouble putting aside your ego to have an honest conversation about needing help with your work.
More and more organisations are recognising the importance of workplace wellness and that, simply put, it’s good for business. Having relaxed, healthy and confident staff has been linked to better productivity and performance, improved organisational culture and reduced costs due to absenteeism. In fact, global research found that when the health and wellness of employees is efficiently managed, employee engagement increases from 7 per cent to 55 per cent. The same research also discovered self-reported creativity and innovation increases from 20 per cent to 72 per cent.
Although some of us might be fortunate to work in an organisation that has a wellbeing program or an emphasis on work-life balance, this isn’t the case for everyone. It’s up to the individual to find ways to strike this balance and to know when it’s getting too much. However, many of us can get so caught up in our working lives that we disregard how overwhelmed we might be. Regardless of what your office environment is like, the lessons within yoga’s thousands of years of philosophy can be drawn upon to help you become more present in your work life so you can better manage stressors, navigate difficult situations or egos and create a more harmonious office environment.
A yogic approach to work
Meaning non-violence, ahimsa acts as an important reminder to do no harm not only to others, but to ourselves, too. At work this might mean not giving in to workplace gossip or choosing not to respond in kind to those sending passive-aggressive emails. The alternative? Choose to practise kindness and patience. This doesn’t mean becoming a pushover, but rather taking a compassionate approach to finding a solution. It also means letting go of perfectionism and accepting mistakes at work, both made by you and by others. Ahimsa is a reminder to be kind and practise some positive reinforcement towards yourself and others.
Satya is about practising honesty, transparency and respect. When applying satya in the workplace, you can foster trust between teams and employees and build respectful relationships. However, depending on the work environment, satya can sometimes be difficult to practise. When it comes to having challenging conversations at work, some people shy away from the thought of telling the truth. This is because certain truths might be risky or misinterpreted, particularly when various egos are at play in the workplace. This can be a tough situation to navigate. However, leading by example and providing honest feedback to others in a way that is constructive, motivating and inspiring can help create a supportive and nurturing work environment, and encourage others to follow suit. In addition, the principle of satya can be helpful if you’re having trouble putting aside your ego to have an honest conversation about needing help with your work.
Dharana refers to the idea of concentrating or focusing on a single object. When we are overloaded and overextended, it’s common for many of us to look at our massive to-do lists and prioritise. This is a form of dharana in action! Ask yourself, what task is the most urgent? Depending on your job, can you work from home or book out a meeting room to focus on the task at hand without distractions? By focusing on a single task you can gain clarity and avoid stress by dealing with what’s most urgent. Strengthening your listening skills at work can also help further develop dharana. During meetings or even in general conversation, it’s amazing how much we can zone in and out, think of all the other things we have to do or formulate snappy responses rather than actually listening to what’s being said. Draw on dharana to focus on what’s in front of you and tackle the presenting issue.
“Namaste” recognises that the divinity or the essence within all of us is inherently the same. But what does this mean in a work context? When we’re dealing with difficult office personalities and conflict in the workplace, this phrase can help us remember our commonality. Jane from accounts might be difficult today, but maybe she is fighting another battle you don’t know about. While you don’t need to go around the office saying “Namaste” to everyone, remembering the essence of this word can help you empathise more with colleagues and value those who you may not have before. It can assist you to not sweat the small stuff in the office.
Creating a more harmonious workplace
Now that you have some yogic approaches to managing workplace stressors under your belt, you can combine these with some of the following tips to feel more balanced, healthy and productive in the office.
When we’re stressed or busy at work, many of us have the tendency to either skip meals or grab whatever is easiest and most accessible. This can mean eating sugary snacks or junk food. To avoid the temptation, try to bring a healthy lunch from home or stock a drawer at work with some healthy snacks. Nuts, veggie sticks (think carrots, cucumber and celery) and fresh fruit are great options that will leave you feeling alert and focused, as opposed to the sluggish after-effects of a sugar hit. While you’re enjoying a healthy snack, why not use this as a chance to give your eyes a break from the computer? Get up, walk to the break room or do some stretches (like those on the next page). Use these few minutes as a chance to focus on your food and every nourishing bite before returning to your work. Five minutes can make a big difference.
Take a stand
It’s unsurprising that spending the entire day sitting at work can have negative health effects. Extended periods of sitting have been linked to an increased risk of chronic health problems such as heart disease, diabetes and some cancers. Taking a break from sitting hunched over a computer and choosing to stand for intervals instead can help relieve shoulder and back pain. Take advantage of a standing desk if your workplace offers this or get creative in other ways. There are lots of hacks for making a DIY stand-up desk — even a crude structure of old boxes, books and reams of paper can do wonders for your back and neck. You can also minimise sitting time by instigating stand-up or walking meetings.
Take a break
Studies find employees who regularly take their lunch break have better productivity and performance. Even though you might be so busy that you feel you have to work through your lunch break, the reality is you’ll be able to accomplish more by clearing your head. Make the most of your lunch break and head outdoors for a walk or even do a yoga class. Remember to take short breaks during the day to grab a cup of tea, stretch your legs, practise some rhythmic breathing and give your eyes a break. There are lots of great apps such as Stand Up!, which allows you to customise your work schedule and set regular reminders to take a break and get your body moving throughout the day.
Flexible working arrangements
Nowadays many workplaces offer a range of flexible working arrangements, from the ability to work from home to rostered days off or summer hours. If you are fortunate enough to have flexibility in your work, make the most of it. A work-from-home day, which cuts out a long commute, could be a day that you integrate a longer yoga practice before work. Your work day from home might also allow you to focus on a single task, like that report that’s due tomorrow, without the stress from distractions in the office.
Spearhead a workplace wellness program
If you’re feeling overwhelmed at work, chances are your colleagues are too. Many feel self-conscious about going on lunch breaks, asking for help or adopting practices that impact on their wellbeing if they are the only ones doing it. This is your chance to lead by example and create a culture of wellness! Think about kick-starting a workplace wellness program and get others on board. Start by suggesting an office yoga class or some of the above initiatives to help make wellness a priority in your workplace.
Office yoga sequence
A great way to get this yoga sequence off the ground is by setting a calendar note every hour or so to do some simple stretches. If you feel slightly embarrassed about doing this out in the open, discreetly pop into a meeting room or, even better, get others involved. It’s a great motivator and you’ll be surprised at how many of your colleagues also want to focus on their wellbeing and give their eyes a break and their body a stretch. All you need is a few minutes and your office chair!
Chair downward-facing dog
Stand behind your chair and raise your arms up to the ceiling. On your exhale, bend from the waist so your hips are over the backrest of your chair and stretch your arms towards the seat and beyond, if possible. For an alternative downward-facing dog stretch, stand in front of your chair and bring your hands onto the seat. Step your feet back, lift the hips and adjust the chair to the appropriate distance so your heels are as close to the floor as possible.
Sit on the side of your chair with your feet hip-distance apart. Bring both hands onto the chair, gripping the sides of the backrest. Extend the spine and on an inhalation, twist your body, rotating your chest so it is parallel with the back of the chair. Use your grip on the chair to go deeper into the twist. Repeat on the opposite side.
Half forward bend
Stand behind your chair with your feet hip-distance apart. Raise your arms up and bend from the hips, placing your hands on the back of your chair. Your body should be at 90 degrees with your spine straight, arms extended and feet directly beneath the hips.
Seated hip stretch
Sit on your chair, lift and bend your right leg and place your foot just above the left knee. Gently press down on the right leg to deepen the stretch. Then, enter a gentle forward bend and allow your fingertips to touch the floor. Feel the stretch through the right thigh and walk the fingers forward, if possible, to stretch out the spine.
Sit on the side of your chair with your feet together. Keep the right leg in position and slide the left leg behind you. Position the left foot on a slight angle, with the toes pointing outwards. Centre the hips and raise the arms towards the ceiling into warrior one pose.
Sit on the side of your chair with your feet together. Bring the hands into prayer position at the heart centre before twisting and wedging the right elbow outside the left knee. Your elbows should be in a straight line. Release the pose and repeat on the opposite side.
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