Ayurveda, a system of holistic health that originated in India, has been around for thousands of years. Developed by ancient seers long before the advent of modern medicine, this “science of life” recognizes that health is much more than the absence of disease, it’s a way of living meant to help people reach their full potential and live a balanced life.
Many workplace wellness programs have a similar goal: employers want their employees to feel healthy, happy and engaged – in other words, reach their full potential – both at work and in their daily lives. Given these similarities, is there a role that the ancient wisdom of Ayurveda can play in improving wellness in the modern workplace?
The answer is yes, because the key tenets of Ayurveda apply as much at work as they do anywhere else. It’s all about striking the right balance between body, mind, and environment. Here’s how each of these critical components of Ayurveda can be prioritized and supported by organizations to help ensure that employees feel more focused, healthy, productive and inspired:
It is well known that diet and exercise are central to good health and there are several ways that Ayurvedic principles can be applied to ensure that people’s daily routines, as well as food and beverages services, are structured to support good habits. For example, according to Ayurveda, people are able to digest food more efficiently at the middle of the day, so if meals are provided as an employee benefit, that’s the best time for an organization to provide a bigger, catered selection of offerings. Later in the day, digestion slows, so snacks and beverages (like kombucha, fruits or ginger tea) that aid in digestion will combat sluggishness.
Science backs this up: according to a 2018 article on the timing of meals in The New York Times, “a growing body of research suggests that our bodies function optimally when we align our eating patterns with our circadian rhythms...” The article goes on to report that, “chronically disrupting this rhythm -- by eating late meals or nibbling midnight snacks, for example -- could be a recipe for weight gain and metabolic trouble.”
Another Ayurvedic principle is to eat with the seasons. So it’s especially beneficial to make seasonal, locally grown organic / non-GMO fruits, vegetables, and nuts available to employees on a regular basis. Having time to exercise and a healthy daily schedule that doesn’t deprive people of needed downtime and rest are also important. Employers that make it a priority to provide work-life balance will reap the rewards of a more rested and energetic workforce.
Maharishi Ayurveda is a specific type of Ayurveda that posits that the mind and body are deeply connected and that mental health is just as critical to well being as diet and exercise. In the practice of Maharishi Ayurveda, meditation is especially important (in particular an effortless, evidence-based transcending technique like Transcendental Meditation) and considered to have an extremely powerful impact on the mind. For example, research has shown meditation to be helpful for relieving anxiety, pain, and depression and that it can even prompt changes in the brain that improve a person’s overall health.
Providing instruction in meditation techniques and providing time for employees to practice is a great way to help people reduce stress and boost brain functioning. With profound rest from a brief period of deep meditation, stress is released and inner happiness and well-being are promoted.
Ayurveda also contends that each person has a unique mind-body composition – or dosha type – that helps determine everything from how much exercise is sufficient for them to what kinds of foods are best to eat and when. So rather than a one-size-fits-all approach to wellness, organizations can help employees by being flexible about the types of program benefits that they provide and the recommendations they make for individual employees.
Some employees might jump at the chance to get reimbursed for a gym membership while others might be more likely to take advantage of daily meditation practice, for example. The key is to offer options and then help steer employees towards wellness benefits that are the best fit and promote balance.
Ayurveda also recognizes the role that our surroundings play in how we feel. In the workplace, this can encompass everything from ergonomics and lighting, to air quality, office design and more. When choosing or upgrading office space, organizations should consider how much natural light is available, ensure good ventilation and design workspaces that are inviting and provide opportunities for collaboration as well as quiet and focused work.
In addition, connecting with nature is central to Ayurveda, so it is beneficial to give employees opportunities to get outside and away from their desks. Research has shown that walking in nature can have a positive impact on mental health. Managers can encourage employees to connect more with nature by leading walking meetings, organizing outdoor lunches or even doing something as simple as bringing more plants into the office. Finally, culture is as vital a part of the workplace environment as more tangible factors like design and light. Do employees feel supported by their employer and inspired by the mission and company leadership? Are they provided with the tools that they need to succeed? A positive culture driven by purpose and meaning is far more likely to engage employees and make them feel satisfied with their jobs.
When it comes to wellness, modern offices can learn quite a bit from the ancient wisdom that is practiced through Ayurveda. By focusing on the important connections between body, mind, and environment, and steering away from a “one-size-fits-all” approach, companies can better structure their wellness offerings to ensure that employees are happy, healthy, engaged and inspired at work.