Yoga at Work: Zap Employee Stress, Cheap


Esther Brumberg doesn’t have far to go for her weekly “let it all go” workout.

For the past two years, her employer, the Museum of Jewish Heritage in lower Manhattan, has made it possible for Brumberg and her colleagues to take a regular on-site yoga class where they can look out over New York Harbor while bending, stretching and rhythmically breathing.

The policy makes good sense, cost-wise, health-wise, and from a logistical perspective as well. Most business owners know a regular fitness routine can do wonders for employee health, morale and productivity, and employers across the country are working harder than ever to implement wellness programs focused on healthy-lifestyle incentives. But with new economic pressures on companies and their employees, physical activity often takes a back seat—or no seat at all.

Why On-Site Yoga?
The good news is that on-site yoga classes can be easily implemented by employers of all shapes and sizes that seek a healthier, less stressed workforce without spending a whole lot of money.

Consider that:

  • There’s no need for expensive workout equipment;
  • Classes can often take place in the conference room; and
  • Once you’ve located a good teacher and a bunch of mats, employees may be glad to fork out the $8 to $10 per person it’s likely to cost for a class of a dozen people.

For the Museum of Jewish Heritage, location is another plus.

“We have a very beautiful space overlooking Ellis Island and the Statue of Liberty, and floor-to-ceiling windows looking right out over the water so we can see sailboats and ferries go by. It’s a fabulous yoga space,” says Brumberg.

“We do a lot of Holocaust history,” the curator explains, “so a lot of it is sad,” which is why Brumberg relishes the chance to re-channel her energies into moving and breathing once a week at lunch hour. “This is the main exercise opportunity I can count on once a week. At home I turn into the mom and cook and homework helper for my 13-year-old daughter.”

At advertising mogul Young and Rubicam, meanwhile, Macintosh deskside support engineer Vivien Eng spends much or her time putting out fires and seeing to it that artwork software systems don’t crash.

“We have to be constantly on the run,” says the IT exec, who began a regime of yoga and pilates for pain relief after doctors had trouble diagnosing a problem with her upper back. Eventually, she began going to school at night. That’s when she joined Y&R’s corporate yoga class, lead by Reflections Yoga director Paula Tursi.

“Sitting a lot tightens the hips and I get lopsided,” says Eng. After practicing Pigeon, “I stand straighter.

Eng’s hourly classes each week have between 10 and 15 people a week, with a cost of $8 to $10 a class, depending on how many sign up for each seven-class series. Though Eng’s company used to pay for the classes until a little over a year ago, she says, her colleagues “are happy” to pay the little it costs for the class.

Rachel Permuth-Levine, deputy director for the Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute’s Office of Strategic and Innovative Programs at the National Institutes of Health (NIH), knows better than most how yoga can benefit the workplace, having helped to coordinate three of the on-site yoga programs now available to NIH employees in Washington, DC.

Permuth-Levine, also co-creator of National Yoga Month—which takes place this year in September—offers these tips for small businesses interested in beginning a yoga class for workers:

1.  If you can’t move business furniture completely out of the way to make space for yoga mats, create a class that offers desk-yoga stretches.
2.  Offer a three-to-six week session to allow employees to try the class out.
3. Create a buzz about yoga’s ability to reduce stress. “Yoga and other forms of stress management can improve morale, improve mood almost immediately, increase productivity, reduce insomnia, and help muscular pain,” says the NIH executive. Get the word out with posters in the cafeteria and restrooms, targeted emails, and intranet bulletins.
4. Offer beginner’s level classes, which are accessible and less likely to cause injury. Ask the instructor to stay away from poses that put pressure on the neck and shoulders.
5. Make sure your teacher has proof of liability insurance that covers them on someone else’s property.
6. Look for experienced teachers listed by the Yoga Alliance or recommended by the International Association of Yoga Therapists. “Find folks credentialed and have a lot of teaching hours in…Check references from the studio and request a student reference or two also,” says Permuth-Levine.

Janet Aschkenasy is a MainStreet writer and a registered yoga teacher who directs the volunteer teaching program at Callen Lorde Community Health Center in New York City.


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