History of Yoga
The art of Yoga is an ancient exercise that incorporates a variety of poses that work on the body’s strength, flexibility and mental wellbeing. There are different types of Yoga. Yoga originated an estimated 3000 years ago. This Indian practice cultivated spiritual harmony and enlightenment. As Yoga started to spread to the western world, the numbers of people who practiced Yoga grew and grew and now it is estimated that over 300 million people practice Yoga around the world.
What is Yoga’s place in the Work-space & Work place statistics
The working environment, whether working from home or the office is becoming an ever-increasing life stress. Working long hours, growing workloads, pressure to perform at the very top of your ability every day and having home stresses all play their part in ‘STRESS’– no wonder we may suffer with burn out, fatigue, anxiety and depression, and losing the connection of what living and working is or
It is estimated that around 28million work days are lost each year due to ill health and non-fatal workplace injuries. There are over 600,00 employees suffering with anxiety, depression and work stress. 12.8 million of these days were attributable to ‘stress, anxiety and depression’.
The other category being musculoskeletal (MSK) injuries which is estimated to be attributable to 7 million work days lost each year. It is therefore evident that life or work stresses and MSK injuries are very much at the forefront of days lost at work. This however, doesn’t have to be the case. MSK injuries and mental health can be prevented and managed.
Research has shown that practicing Yoga has many health benefits. To really grasp an understanding, we must go into a bit of science!
When we are stressed a chemical called cortisol is released from the Adrenal gland. The release of this hormone allows for further effects to take place known as the ‘fight or flight response’.
The fight or flight response is down to the sympathetic nervous system which, results in certain bodily reactions. One of these reactions results in the constriction to the blood vessels (vasoconstriction) which decreases the amount of blood flow to the limbs and the digestive system. This is the body’s way of preparing for survival. Heart rate increases, blood pressure rises and the air tubes to your lungs expand (bronchioles) to get more oxygen in the lungs. The body is in a state of ‘fight the danger’ or ‘run away from it’. Does any of this ring true to you when you have been nervous or stressed? You can feel your heart pumping, deeper breaths and your mind very, very active and thoughts all over the place? This is your body’s reaction to a certain stress. But there are ways to control it and we will discuss that later!
The opposite to this is the parasympathetic nervous system which stimulates blood flow to the brain, limbs and digestive system. The two systems help regulate the body’s homeostasis (the body’s ability to remain at constant functional optimum). Upset this system or homeostasis and the body can be in a constant ‘state of stress’ leading to a chain of reactions (which we won’t go through here) which may contribute to many diseases.
What can cause the sympathetic nervous system (fight or flight system) to react? One of the answers is stress. Stresses in our daily lives are things such as travelling to work, commuting on a train, London underground rush hour, busy offices, work pressures, family disagreements, traffic, finances and even eating habits. Let’s go through one example; If you have had a stressful morning at home with the children, there was a busy train to London where you were getting hot and bothered, you have a tense work meeting that you may have been late for, and on top of all that your line manager is putting pressure on you, then your sympathetic nervous system will be rocketing.
It is also researched that a memory of a stressful, scary and difficult situation can also produce the same stresses on the body’s sympathetic nervous system.
What does stress do to our body? Further research
So we have ascertained that stressful situations cause the body to undergo a sequence of chemical/hormonal reactions. But what do these reactions cause in terms of illnesses and diseases?
Inflammation is a necessary reaction. These reactions allow the body to fight off certain pathogens, from the healing of an infection to the recovery of a musculoskeletal injury. This is known as an acute inflammatory response – a cut may go a little red or your ankle swells when you damage the ligaments. However, chronic inflammation causes an upset to the body’s regulatory immune system. An autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis is a chronic inflammatory response (the body is in a state of inflammation) and is one example of a chronic inflammatory condition. Though no one knows why this chronic inflammatory condition starts, Arthritis.org highlight how stress can increase the inflammatory response and contribute to the arthritic joint pain. Research has shown that stress is related to an increased level of pro-inflammatory chemical reactions (research article in appendices). Increasing the amount of inflammation within the body has shown to harm the body’s immune system and inhibits the body’s ability to fight off infections which, may lead us towards certain diseases later of in life. These life and work stresses may ultimately lead to a suppression and a decrease in the function of the body’s immune cells and response.
Therefore, to sum up the last few sections, stress can ultimately, if not controlled, affect the body in many ways which ultimately can have many consequences or your employees’ productivity at work. Stressful meetings, stressful personalities and an overall unhealthy stressful work environment can have a detrimental effect on the employees’ health and on the business, itself.
Effects of high levels of cortisol (released due to stress):
- Associated with accelerated ageing
- Inhibited cognition (brain power)
- Decrease in memory
- Decrease in learning capability
- Increase in anxiety, depression and fears
Yoga at work… Works!
Below we have listed the main benefits of Yoga. It is also worth noting why Yoga at work has added benefits.
Let’s take an average work day of a typical family; there’s an early start of around 6-6:30am. If children are in the equation, then one or may be both parents need to help get them ready for school, and may even have to join the school rush-hour traffic, then navigate rush hour trains if they work in a city.
With a normal working day of 9am-5pm, meetings, conference calls, missing lunch, not drinking enough water and sitting at the desk all day without a break and to rejoin the rush-hour chaos to travel home, feed the children, prepare your own meal, put the children to bed, look at the time and its 8pm and you are absolutely shattered.
As soon as you sit down you do not have the energy to think about Yoga, mindfulness, stretching, reading etc. etc. Instead a glass of wine is poured just before your own bedtime.
A research article (Medical yoga therapy) stated many beneficial effects of Yoga. If we look back at how the nervous system (sympathetic or parasympathetic) affects the release of cortisol and the affects that has on the body, we can then understand how reducing the body’s stress, reduces the level of cortisol and therefore prevents the risk of the adverse bodily reactions.
Yoga through its heart rate and breathing rate regulation, strength and endurance of certain poses and with the endorphins (feel good hormone) released all help in the management and prevention of ‘stress’ and its consequences. There have been many psychological benefits, such as an increase in mental energy, positive feelings, with a decrease in negative feelings of aggressiveness.
Yoga also shows to aid in depression and anxiety. The same review article (a piece of research that reviews and compiles lots of articles into one article) described how Yoga also has beneficial effects on the heart, cardiovascular disease, blood pressure weight loss, lung capacity and muscle tone to name a few.
Here are a few profound benefits of enjoying yoga at work:
- Do not have to leave the office
- Relieves work and home stress
- Reduction in anxiety and depression
- Taking ownership of your own health
- Feeling good for taking responsibility
- Increase in productivity
- Increase in focus
- Improve employee relationships
- Displays excellent company leadership in health and wellbeing
Yoga’s place in the work place
So, we have learnt how stresses can adversely impact our lives at home and at work, and how the body’s internal reactions can lead to further detrimental side effects. We have discussed how Yoga can help prevent or relive such work and body stresses. So, where is Yoga’s place in the work place? How does Yoga help the employee in this repetitive, stressful daily struggle?
Employee benefits, such as Yoga, show the employee that they are at the forefront of the companies’ mind. Providing such a service shows how valuable the staff are to your company. Employee benefits have a positive correlation between staff attraction and staff retention. So not only does it look good on the company it keeps costs down on advertising and retraining staff whilst also improving the productivity of the employees you already have.
Having Yoga at work (or now with the working from home with the pandemic) allows the employee to take ownership over their own physical and mental health. The sense of accomplishment and achievement is one of the first stages in overcoming the barriers to exercise. Another barrier which we hear a lot is ‘I’m too tired’, ‘I have no energy’, ‘I am too busy with work’ etc. are frequent excuses to why people don’t take up beneficial regimes, even if it is a health benefit such as Yoga. Therefore, providing Yoga at work/remotely allows employees to attend classes whilst they have the energy, the time and ultimately it allows the employee to be more productive when they get back to their desks!
Having weekly/daily Yoga slot (dependent on the uptake) will allow employees to escape from the tense, stressful and ultimately unhealthy setting where cortisol levels are very high. Once a week, the employees can take themselves away from the desk and attend a class at work or remotely log in from home. This allows them to decrease the risk of stress, aches and pains from sitting at the office desk all day. Employees will return to the desk after the Yoga session in a relaxed, low cortisol state, low heart rate and a sense of achievement. This state of mind and body will allow the employee to be able to have a great cognitive thought processes whilst also reducing the risk of musculoskeletal injuries.
Instead of indulging in all the simple sugars and complex carbs at lunch time (A blog on nutrition is coming soon); employees can partake in a 40-minute yoga session at work or from the comfort of their home. No need to rush off out the building or home. The Yoga session is entered in the employees’ work diary over an 8-week period. All employees go through the program together building cohesion and team bonding throughout (this can be tailored to suit the company).
The 8-week program takes employees through a range of Yoga poses incorporating different breathing techniques, muscle stretching positions and strengthening structures, whilst teaching them certain routines should the employee wish to put in extra hours themselves.
- Stepens, I. (2017). Medical Yoga Therapy. Children, 4(2)
- Liu, y.-Z, Wang, Y.-X. and Jian, C.-L (2017) Inflammation: The common Pathways of Stress-Related Diseases. Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, [online] 11.
- www.arthritis.org. (n.d.). How Stress Affects Arthritis | Arthritis Foundation. [online] Available at https://www.arthritis.org/health-wellness/healthy-living/emotional-well-being/stressmanagement/how-stress-affects-arthritis#:~:text=The%20longer%20you.