I began practicing yoga during my first few years working in a high-pressure job at large law firm. I found it to be the only time of the day that felt like it was truly mine. I would leave work around 4 p.m., practice for an hour, and then head back to the office, staying until midnight almost every night. It really saved me those first few years as I learned how to deal with the stress of being a young associate.
As I grew in my professional career, yoga became a cornerstone of my life. I practiced five to seven times a week and began to see improvements in my physical strength and stamina. Perhaps the greatest impact was the difference that I saw in my mental health, creativity and connection with the world around me.
My best ideas always came to me during or after a yoga practice. Today, it is still the best way for me to solve hard problems. Life just gets harder almost instantly whenever I let my routine slide. Yoga was (and continues to be) my secret weapon. It keeps me grounded, level-headed, and I truly believe it’s a big reason why I didn’t burn out early in my career.
After working more than 15 years in corporate law, I accepted a unique role at a health company that designs technology specifically for older adults. Part of my role was focused on much of the same work that I’d been doing for the past decade. In addition to my corporate counsel responsibilities, I was appointed chief human resources officer, the first role of its kind at the company. Because the role was so new, I was able to build a program from scratch. I knew that I wanted to implement a highly relevant and effective HR department that focused on meaningful work as the foundation of the corporate culture, and in the back of my mind, I always felt that yoga had to be a part of it.
I wanted our employees to live meaningful lives, both in and out of the workplace, and I knew from personal experience the impact that yoga had in helping me live my most fulfilling life. I was eager to share my practice with our employees and excited to see firsthand the benefits that my colleagues – and our company – could experience as a result of implementing it.
The idea quickly caught on, especially because of how accessible it is. You don’t have to be a great athlete, a certain age or body type to practice yoga.
What started out as a small addition to our company’s wellness benefits quickly blossomed into a defining element of our corporate culture. The classes became so popular that we began offering two to three sessions a week. To this day, I’m still amazed at how many employees participate in each class. There are days when it is almost 30 people (most yoga studios in town would kill for those numbers), and it is such a diverse crowd. Often there are more men than women, and all shapes and sizes gather to practice. The classes attract competitive athletes as well as people who have not exercised in years. All are welcome and rarely does an employee not return after trying their first class.
One of our employees even told me that she felt like she got her life back because the classes allowed her to work out during the day and still have time to herself in the evenings. Other employees report fewer injuries from their other sports because of the strength and stamina they’ve built in their practice of yoga. Often, in the afternoon after a great class, employees mention how they feel calm or that they feel like they were given a gift by practicing together that day.
Beyond the physical benefits, we’ve witnessed a change in the day-to-day interactions around our offices. Collaboration has increased as listening skills and emotional intelligence play a more significant role. Company events often focus around fitness and competition rather than food. Employees are happier, office morale is consistently positive and retention rates have grown.
The program works because we know our employees will better support our customers if they believe they are supported by the company. We pay employees to take care of themselves by providing them the opportunity to attend yoga. It’s not fancy, and it’s not complicated – a yoga mat, breathing, an inspiring teacher and some essential oils is all it takes. Yoga has proven to be a meaningful part of our workplace.