Creating Yoga Classes for a Healthier Workforce

In these times of uncertainty, managing stress has become more challenging than ever. Workplace stress, in particular, seems to only escalate. Between fearing that your position may be eliminated or managing the increased responsibilities on your plate due to downsizing, going to work in the morning seems more and more like an episode of "Survivor." The good news is that there are tools that address this growing level of workplace anxiety.


The benefits of these tools reach well beyond your office into every aspect of your life: family, friends and overall health and wellness.Workplace wellness programs - such as those focusing on yoga and stress management - can help not only individual employees but also the entire culture of an organization. According to the Kaiser Foundation, workplace wellness programs are offered by employers in an effort to combine educational, organizational and environmental activities and often "consist of health education, screening, and interventions designed to change employees' behavior in order to achieve better health and reduce the associated health risks."


In addition to improving employee health, these programs have an ancillary benefit of helping to manage the rising cost of employer-based health plans. It's a win-win for employer and employee. According to Dr. Michael Donovan, co-creator of NIH CORE Week, when employers initiate proactive health plans, "People lose weight, start - and stick to - group exercise programs and improve their eating habits. Once people notice their colleagues' health improving, there seems to be a domino effect and they want to get involved, too."


So, how can you develop yoga and stress-management programming for employees in your organization? It's not as hard as you might think to get started. When creating any type of new program, start small, evaluate how your program is being received, and build from there. Here are some steps to keep in mind:Make sure the boss agrees! There is no use starting up innovative programming for employees if your boss and upper management are NOT on board.


Get approval!Start small. In the case of a stress management program, why not start with a lecture once per month on various elements of combating stress? For instance, you can start off with a lecture on finding work/home balance; the second month might focus on dealing with negative thought patterns, and the third month on breathing and meditation techniques, and so on. There are plenty of free resources to use in your planning. Articles on the web from wellness companies like WELCOA can be shared with employees (with appropriate credit given, of course).


They are short and have manageable strategies that are easy to implement. Yoga classes are a great way to create mind-body awareness and distress. Often companies become frustrated if they don't have a dedicated fitness space or gym. Luckily, yoga can be practiced just about anywhere. All you need is a conference room where you can move the furniture completely out of the way (no tables, no chairs), and you can fit as many as a dozen yoga mats. In the event that you have a conference room where you can't move the furniture, you can have a class that offer yoga stretches "for the desk and office."


If you start with a yoga program, create a three to six week session to allow employees to try it out. Let people try yoga classes so that they can experience benefits first hand. Make the classes accessible, low-cost, and at the beginner or even intro level. Encourage your company to subsidize the classes, and if that isn't a possibility, see if a group rate can be worked out with a potential instructor. Emphasize the benefits of yoga and stress management. Yoga and other forms of stress management can improve morale, improve mood (almost immediately), increase productivity, and help muscular pain. The benefits go on and on.


Many employees are self conscious about being labeled as "stressed out." Promoting yoga programs as those that can increase energy and improve mood - and reduce that stressed out feeling - everyone wins. Create some buzz. For employees to reap the benefits of your program, they have to know about it! Put up posters on company bulletin boards and in the restrooms, create targeted emails, post information on your intranet and advertise in your cafeterias.


Do whatever you can to make sure the message gets out. You may also wish to offer a health-related raffle prize or give-away at your seminars, such as a backpack filled with health magazines or products. If you need to look outside your organization for a yoga instructor, a good place to begin your research would be calling around to your local studios or through Yoga Alliance, who may also be able to provide guidance on appropriate rate structures. For more information: www.yogaalliance.org or www.nih.gov

About the Author

Rachel Permuth-Levine, PhD, MSPH, is a public health practitioner and an expert in worksite health promotion. As a health behavior theorist, she strives to use evidence-based programs that produce the best results for her employees. Rachel is also a yoga and fitness instructor.