Looking to improve your concentration, work smarter not harder, be more creative and flow seamlessly through your work days with minimal stress, tension or creative blocks? Then it might be time to up your yoga game. If you aren’t already a yogi or dabbling in yoga, there’s a whole myriad of reasons why you should if you want to boost your workflow and productivity… and I’m not just preaching because I’m a yoga teacher.
Point in case—Google offers free yoga classes as part of their business ethos to give their employees the best tools possible to get the most out of their working day, and well, when Google clocks onto something, you listen. According to a study looking at over 85,000 people in the American workforce, the amount of employees practising yoga doubled from 2002 – 2012, with those who were previously disengaged, showing great improvements as a result of the mindfulness learned in yoga.
And mindfulness is just the tip of the iceberg! Incorporating yoga into your life, it encourages the binding or ‘yoking’ (the traditional meaning of the word yoga) of mind with body and soul, so not only will your bod cope better with sitting for long periods of time, but you will enjoy the complete experience of mental clarity and focus along with inner purpose too. Still holding some resistance to it? Worried it’s all spiritual chat and not proven? Well, to put your mind at ease and help you cultivate a new understanding of what yoga is and does so that you can breeze through your work days and ‘to do lists’, let me talk you through it, sharing a little personal insight and the science-backed benefits!
5 Ways Yoga Will Help You At Work
1. It sets your mood for the day
On a day that I manage to squeeze in a morning flow, I always leave feeling like I am floating or walking on soft, pillowy clouds (seriously!). My mind, body and spirit feel completely light and at ease. But after many years of practise, I’ve learned even on the days where time is short and I can’t get a full asana session in, my yoga practise still comes with me off the mat. How? In my experience, in two ways. When you practise yoga consistently, you begin to really understand the importance and transformative benefits of mindfulness and conscious breath flow (which can be done at any time) and you make it a priority. Outside of being conscious and aware, it also becomes a ritual you really love and look forward to, so on those days where you can’t stretch, you can still find ways to cultivate similar rituals that allow mindfulness, space and a chance to breathe and just ‘be’. Which for me, is often in the form of my morning coffee ritual. Even if I only have 5-10 minutes to spare, I will cosy up in a corner at my favourite cafe with my gratitude journal, write, sip, savour and breathe… cultivating that mind-body connection, and yes, it’s 100 per cent still an effective yogic ritual! I still float into work with the same sense of calm, ease and feeling conscious and connected and open to whatever the day may bring.But don’t just take my word for it, science confirms the effects of yoga on mood and mind too, with research finding yoga increases the levels of ‘GABA’ (gamma-aminobutyric acid) in the brain, a chemical that positively boosts your mood and decreases anxiety. Happy mind, happy life.
2. It boosts your self esteem
Yoga has this amazing way of making you leave a little taller, a little (or a lot) more grounded and a million miles away from the negative self talk that tends to bring us down. Between the physical invigoration, and the meditative savasana at the end, I never find I leave thinking about my size, appearance or anything negative. I just tend to feel empowered, and more myself. I feel more connected to the me within, not the external ‘me’ that is what the ego tends to focus on, judge or worry over. I also tend to feel more grateful, more loving and on an extra good day, I feel the embodiment of love. And it’s through this ‘feeling’ state (known as bhava) and through calming the incessant chatter (known as ‘chitta vrittis’) that the self love and self esteem blossoms. Science has proven this too. In a study published in the Journal Frontiers in Psychology, researchers found when people practised standing poses (with heart wide open) it was found to improve their self-esteem and leave them feeling in control, in their power and energetic and empowered. So that next boardroom meeting? Bust out a little mountain pose and be ready to stand in your power!
3. It reduces stress and anxiety
As a yoga teacher, by no means do I have my sh**t together (sorry for swearing), but it’s true. If you’ve ever scrolled Instagram for yoga memes, you may have seen the common quotes —‘I do yoga to burn off the crazy,’ or ‘When I hear someone say yoga people are supposed to be chill. No. We’re here because we’re all nuts.” And well, I don’t like the insinuation people are crazy and nuts because it pokes fun at mental health which is not cool, buuuut what I do like is that the quote aims to do is shed light on the fact that people who practise yoga know that showing up on their mat is a way of dealing and moving through things, when life gets a bit overwhelming. Throughout class, a few magical things tend to happen. The more you flow, combining breath with movement, the less ‘up in your head’ you are, if anything the thoughts dissipate. And then also, a good teacher will remind you to release and let go, whereby you actively practise the art of surrender. Each time a thought pops up, you just let it float away, and focus on the breath. This is mindfulness meditation and its proven by science to relax the body and reduce stress. A cumulative study published in the JAMA Internal Medicine that looked at nearly 19,000 meditation studies, mindful meditation was proven to help ease stress, anxiety, depression and pain. So next time stress begins to bubble up, repeat after me: ‘breathe in, breathe out, let it go.’
There’s nothing more distracting than a tight, achy body that’s just dying to wriggle around and relieve the tension or pain, am I right? In all honesty, my yoga journey only began as a result of a sore back and tight shoulders from sitting all day, five days a week in my first ever journo gig. The reality of being desk bound hit me hard, and within three months I began taking up yoga during my lunch breaks. And well, as they say, the rest is history! As a physical practise that works with the whole body, unlike other workouts that might have one central focus (i.e. a ‘booty’ or ‘core’ class etc), yoga is artfully sequenced to stretch, open, release and expand the whole body. A well rounded yoga class will open the heart, release tight shoulders, bring flexion to the spine (through backbends), twist and release the torso (aiding detoxification and increasing mobility of thoracic spine), stretch the hamstrings, strengthen the arms and tone the inner thighs. As a result of all this twisting, stretching and backbending, your lower back and tight shoulders release, and the pain (which is often as a result of stiffness or tension) dissipates. According to a study published in The Annals of Internal Medicine, when 320 people were prescribed yoga, physical therapy or books and info about managing back pain, those who did yoga was found to be as effective as physical therapy for treating mild to moderate chronic lower back pain. Think prehab over rehab…after all, yoga is so much cheaper!
5. It boosts concentration, clarity and creativity
You know that feeling when you’re ‘in the zone’ and you breeze through the day, fuelled by creativity, and completely immersed in what you’re doing? That my friends is known as ‘flow’—which is an official term coined by American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihaly defined as ‘a state of concentration or complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation.’ And interestingly, what is the word we use in yoga all the time? Flow. Vinyasa flow is the syncing of breath with movement to allow the total sense of immersion and just ‘being,’ and well, I can’t say I ever think much when I’m mid salutation. When I’m flowing in yoga, I’m ‘all in,’ total absorption and concentration. Then as I make my way out of savasana and into the world once more, it’s as if I’m seeing the world through fresh eyes, everything becomes razor sharp, I see clearly and I feel inspired. And it’s through the inspiration the creativity flows. Science has proven this too. In a study from the University of Waterloo, 25 minutes of hatha yoga was found to boost the brain’s executive functions, cognitive ability (that supports goal-directed behaviour) and help people focus on everyday situations while also supporting energy levels. Additionally, yoga encourages the practise of mindfulness, which as a form of meditation has been found to have an effect on thought processes, encouraging the creation of new, imaginative ideas, according to a study from Leiden University. So next time you’re in a creative rut, do a little vinyasa flow, to get in flow, it works, promise!