After exploring the benefits yoga in the workplace has on a company’s employees (Yoga in the workplace, obviously there are benefits but what is the whole story) I wanted to hear firsthand what that experience is like on the receiving end. Would I hear it reduces stress and aggression towards others while increasing bonding?
Enter Alex, he works in the training department for one of the Patagonia distribution centers where they offer yoga to their employees and have done so for somewhere around 10-12 years. We had an informal interview where we discussed how he got into yoga, what the program is like at his company and what he thinks of it all. But before we get started, I found it pretty incredible that there was a company back in 2008 that gave their employees an opportunity to practice yoga at all. I suppose at the same time I should not be all that surprised either as Patagonia is known for their company culture and taking care of not only their employees but also the people within their global supply chain, after all the founder Yvon Chouinard wrote a book called “let my people go surfing”.
Alex meet yoga, yoga meet Alex.
I was curious about Alex’s relationship with yoga so I asked him to share his first and early experience. He explained the first class he took was in 2012 prior to him joining Patagonia. His employer at the time (Renown Hometown Health) offered a free yoga class to the community and at this point I am starting to think Alex is pretty lucky to have worked for 2 different forward thinking companies that cared about the wellness of their employees and community and saw the benefits of yoga early on. At first he believed yoga was intimidating but after attending more frequently his perception changed and he realized others in the class were just normal people exercising. Each class he attended only had about 5 other attendees so he felt it was a nice entry point for him. Around this time, he also started going to yoga at his gym, there he also tried Pilates, power yoga and kickboxing. These were all physical activities that were convenient to him at the time. At some point he began to travel and was unable to have a consistent practice for about 6 months. Fast forward to 2014 when he began working at Patagonia. Fortunately, they offered classes to their employees in the workplace and he was able to pick it back up again and explained to me that he fell right back into it. He started off attending 1 class per week and now attends on average 5-6 classes each week spread out between what is offered in his workplace and outside of his workplace such as community based classes.
What does your workplace yoga program look like?
I asked Alex to give me an overview of how their yoga program is set up and although he personally does not manage the program he was able to share with me that classes currently are offered 5 days a week and that was something they built up to over time as they attempted to meet demand and work with varying work schedules. To get a sense of what they have arranged he shared that there is a class on Wednesday from 7-8am, Thursday evening after working hours and Friday afternoon from 12:10-1pm.
They also have 4 different instructors between their workplace classes and the free community class the company offers each Sunday. He explained each instructor has their own style and personality which he said is nice to see. Being curious about these varying styles I asked him to elaborate and he shared, one is nurturing and very chill by teaching a class with more stretching and asks, “what do you want to do during the class” each time. This style can also be more of a challenge because you hold the poses longer. These classes also start with focus which gets people to get into the room, on the mat (be present) and has them think of an intention and nothing more than that and then will say feel the stress in the room or in your department and for the next hour it is all you, let it go. Another instructor is intense and builds heat with a more strenuous class but still caters to the group as well. Another is a mix, sometimes intense sometime chill but is very seasoned. Another starts class with quotes and things to read and teaches class at a faster pace with a vinyasa flow.
When I asked how curios people were about the class and inquired if the attendees were always the same people or new people each time he shared on average over the last 5 years 6 people attend each class and that it ranges from 3-10 and he recalled a recent Monday class having 10 people but most often there are 3 and they are usually the same faces. He also mentioned they use a sign up sheet for those that planned to attend each class. I am assuming this is simply to gauge interest for the designated times or gives them the ability to cancel if no on plans to attend.
Although Alex currently works in the training department and he interacts with everyone in the company because of it he advocates for the class and tried to recruit new attendees. Some people do reach out to him with questions. During their busy season he explained they can have over 1000 employees at any given time.
How does the class impact your work?
I specifically asked Alex if doing Yoga at work helps him with his work and his answer was yes. The sessions help him not to think about anything else. I asked for an example and he responded sometimes I find myself with a hard email and I go right into breathing almost like it is second nature and it helps me.
In the end Alex feels grateful to be able to do yoga at work. He explained he had recently been speaking to another employee and they discussed if you were to monitor the value he would have paid nearly $24,000 for the amount of classes he has taken if he had to take them outside of work and you add up the cost of each class. But that is not the most important aspect, he felt it is more a benefit for the person or employee giving them access to the experience than the monetary value it saves the employee. That was great to hear as it shows he has gratitude which is something that is often taught in yoga. It also means he is attending for all the right reasons.
When I asked if he had anything to add or to sum up what it means to him to have the opportunity to do yoga at work he said this, “It has taught me patience, that eventually my forehead will reach my kneecaps in a forward fold and I use this lesson and approach with employees I interacts with”. He also uses his best intentions to get done what he can. I found these comments inspiring and great proof that yoga needs to be taught in the workplace. These comments exemplify what a teacher hopes to teach through a physical practice even though we don’t explicitly say these things and moreover we often do not get to hear that a class has had that profound an impact on someone. The other benefit he mentioned was an intangible benefit as he explained it, it simply makes him feel better.
“It has taught me patience, that eventually my forehead will reach my kneecaps in a forward fold and I use this lesson and approach with employees I interacts with”.
I inquired about employee bonding through the yoga classes and he said it was hard to say if that was in fact happening and further explained he has not really seen a difference as all of these folks got along really well before they started taking classes together consistency. Because he considers himself a gregarious person and because his role interacts with everyone he felt he might not be the best person to answer that question. What stands out to me here is that you might not need workplace yoga to bring people together if there is a good culture already established.
What Does Yoga Mean to You?
When I asked how he would define yoga, he asked for more time to contemplate, off the cuff in a simplistic answer he says to him the goal is peace and tranquility, it is what you are looking for both physically and mentally. He followed up with me later after giving it more thought and when considering what yoga means or what he wants from it he really likes the sensation of release and being “tired” in a way after a good session. He had had a few classes like that after we spoke and he realized that he really liked that feeling A-LOT.
Does the research stack up and did I hear a compelling story that inspires other companies to join in? Yes, I think it is clear that Alex has a great yoga practice as he has been at it for 8 years and these days attends class more days out of the week than not. It was clear to me that Alex was picking up all of the good, life changing stuff that yoga can offer and because he was taking these classes with his coworkers and in the workplace as the setting it was most certainly influencing his behavior as the effects were fresh.
Clear examples of it reducing his stress were how he employed breathing automatically to deal with difficult emails. The most powerful thing that he shared was the metaphor for progress. We want people to take what they learn off the mat and for Alex slowly becoming more flexible was just that as he was able to apply it to situations that would need more effort over time. As Alex has started living his yoga regardless of where he is taking the classes they have helped shape who he is which was evident from the time we spent conversing. I thoroughly enjoyed speaking with Alex about his honest experience. I am thankful this blog gave me the opportunity to speak to him, I learned a lot about someone I might not have had the opportunity to otherwise. Alex, thank you!
If you would like to learn more about Patagonia and their corporate culture check out this article and this NPR series on the company. We can all learn from them and hearing directly from one of their employees how yoga is a benefit he enjoys and cherishes I think this is a powerful message for other companies to get on board.
If you have a workplace yoga program I would love to hear what it has done for you, please leave a comment. If you have questions about how you can get a program started at your company send me an email and I would be happy to help you put together a plan.