Every organization, no matter its size, faces challenges in people management. HR Executives are often bewildered by imperceptible causes of poor performance which might be a result of any or a combination of the following factors –
- Lower productivity and/or absenteeism
- Frequent interpersonal conflict between peers and team members
- Slow or uninspiring decisions
- Creative drought, lack of innovation
- Inability to step up to the situation by leaders
While there maybe numerous organizational and personal at work here, as a Psychologist/corporate trainer and yoga therapist, I am now convinced that Stress alone can cause poor mental and physical health. This in turn leads to frequent absences from work. Employees who have frequent altercations with others many be unable to control their emotions or are unaware of their own behavioral implications. Stress also shrinks the prefrontal cortex and enlarges the amygdala – the primary reason for emotional outbursts, a lack of creativity decisional short sightedness. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is sufficient to demonstrate that such problems can lead to higher attrition rates, spiraling recruitment and training costs, and receding profit margins. If left unattended, these problems can have a serious impact on the collective organizational health.
Progressive organizations are looking into the practice of yoga for improving the wellbeing of their employees which in turn will improve the bottom line. And why not! There is little investment required but the returns are invaluable. Besides improving the physical and mental health of the employees, the organizational gains long term.
Benefits of Yoga to the employee
Let us look at generic benefits first. Regular and correct practice of Yoga brings about –
- Better flexibility, Joint health, and mobility
- Improved structural integrity of fascia
- Increased immunity
- Lowered Blood pressure readings,
- Improved sleep patterns
- A well-balanced nervous system
- Hormonal regulation
- Lung efficiency
All of this will make the person experience better general health and a feeling of wellbeing. How does this translate to organizational success?
This long-term investment in health of the employees will reward the organization with benefits not just in terms of profits due to lowered overheads but will also result in good will, loyalty, and increased morale of the employees. In these uncertain times, mental health challenges are being faced by many since face to face interactions have reduced drastically. Moreover, the threat of being laid off or furloughed is playing on very employee’s mind.
Long term organization benefits
Having practiced yoga for 15 years, I am a firm believer of the holistic benefits of yoga. Of course, it improves flexibility and strength. Yoga with its twists and turns does provide a workout using body weights. It certainly nourishes and energizes all the physiological systems – respiratory, cardio – vascular, digestive, endocrine, nervous, muscular, skeletal, and more. Improvements can be seen in reduction of migraine episodes, rheumatoid arthritis, hypertension, asthma, back pain, colds to name a few. At the same time, having to focus on getting into a pose and maintaining it for a few breaths, promotes mindfulness. Being in the moment or “mindful “is known to reduce stress in the person. Overall health and wellness are maintained by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. This calms the body down to a “rest and digest” mode rather than a “flight and fight” mode. When the body is tuned to be in the fight and flight mode as a result of frequent stressful stimuli, the reactions are seen in all the systems – increased heartrate, body temperature, perspiration, nervous tension, hormonal imbalances and so on. The body turns on this mechanism automatically, without the person even being aware of these changes. The parasympathetic nervous system is suppressed. Auto immune diseases are a natural outcome.
I am not claiming that Yoga is the universal panacea. Neither is a substitute for medical treatment. However, it falls into the realm of “A stitch in time saves nine.” Many minor ailments be it mental or physical, which are caused by continued stress wearing the body and mind out can be managed with yoga. The Mindfulness that is set into motion by the yogic practices, will help reduce the impact of stressful situations on people. Awareness of one’s own thoughts, feelings and consequent behavior helps to manage situations constructively. I have written enough about the benefits of yoga in my other blogs. There is no doubt today about the far-reaching advantages of a consistent yoga practice.
An organization can see improvements in –
Appropriate and timely decisions, enhanced creativity, Shorter learning curves, increased attention span, improved focus, reduced anxiety, fewer absences resulting from better sleep patterns and happier employees. Meditation and breathing techniques are every effective in increasing the size of the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for higher cognitive functions and shrinks the amygdala, the seat of emotions. Meditation and Breathing practices result in neuroplasticity – changing the shape of the brain! In simple terms a person with a larger prefrontal cortex is seen to display more mature behavior than a person who has a large amygdala.
Creating an organizational practice:
How can an organization evolve a yoga practice that will integrate into the chaos that exists in the business world today? Here are a few suggestions
- A 45-minute yoga asana (poses) practice twice a week ending with relaxation pose or Savasana
- An in person/online meditation module for beginners that can be accessed by all at any time
- An in person/online class on various breathing techniques/ Pranayama such as Deep breathing, Ujjayi or Ocean breath and Anulom vilom/alternate nostril breathing.
I personally think that it might be worth the investment to hire an experienced Yoga teacher who can provide classes at regular intervals since many beginners do better with in person classes. The classes that were offered at an organization that I worked in in Minnesota, led to a lifetime yoga habit and Yoga teacher training eventually. I am certain this has had a beneficial impact on how I processed stress. It also led to a reduction of the number of migraine episodes..
To conclude, let me quote Emily Cary ‘s article in the Mindfulness journal –
“At the neural level, the nonreactivity component of acceptance is related to the way that we process mistakes. We found that participants who are more mindfully nonreactive at the trait level also have less neural activity after mistakes.” . This research indicated that there are differences in the brain’s signal of error processing. This means that people who have been practicing mindfulness regularly react less negatively to making errors and recover faster from this negative reaction to continue with the task at hand. The ultimate result is that the error and the experience of negativity have little impact on the ultimate outcome of the task. On the other hand people who do not practice mindfulness many exhibit highly negative reactions after committing an error – and maybe overcome by fear, remorse or judgement for self which can be very crippling and detrimental to the successful completion of the task. Practicing mindfulness through yoga makes a person less prone to emotional spikes and therefore more productive at work. Need I say more?
For more information on “Error processing reactivity” please follow the link below to the complete article
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