Whether you believe this or not, you don’t have to wait for the stars and moon to align to initiate your own changes, be they physical, intellectual or spiritual, but it’s a fab excuse.
What I love about a yoga practice is not only the physical body awareness lessons but also the intellectual and spiritual ones too. Admittedly, I started with a practice that was all physical. I had no interest in the intellectual or foundational components of yoga. However, when I started to include more mindfulness practices, I was surprised to mind that my physical practice improved exponentially.
What I’m currently loving is my beginner’s Iyengar Yoga Class with the venerable Patricia Walden. At the start of class, we spend 10-15 minutes discussing yoga philosophy before applying that principle to the upcoming physical practice. While giving up 15 minutes of sweat time for listening and internalizing time was originally not on my radar, I’ve found that it does make sense. Knowing a little bit more about myself on a mental level helps me understand more about myself on a physical level. However, as is often the case with yoga, doing instead of thinking is when the results occur! So in the rehashed words of many a powerful Pinterest Quote, “You Change, You Get The Lesson. If You Won’t Change, STFU…”
Wishing you a Spring full of powerful change and transformation, on and off the mat.
Father's Day is just around the corner on Sunday, June 15th!
Give Dad something that will empower him to feel strong, flexible and mentally clear year round…a Plank #Yoga Mat. There's nothing more life changing than a regular yoga practice so get him started now!
Happy Earth Day! We are honoring and celebrating Mother Earth with some grounding #Yoga poses, like this Lotus, as demonstrated here by the lovely Daniele Britt. Check out her stunning Plank Yoga Mat too, it's the perfect mat to help you connect to the earth and build strong foundations. How are you celebrating #EarthDay 2014?
1) Bikram in the Hot Seat (again and again)
Bikram Choudhury has faced a lot of controversy this past year. In May, he was accused of rape in two different law suits. Sadly, this has brought about a lot of negative attention to his studios and Bikram style of Yoga. If you missed this, make sure you read Yoga Dork's re-cap HERE.
2) Harvard Scientists find Proof that Yoga and Meditation can ward off Stress & Disease
Now for some positive news in the Yoga World… New studies by Harvard Medical School this year are proving that Yoga and Meditation can ward off stress and disease by switching on and off some genes linked to stress and immune function. Pretty cool stuff! Check out the full article HERE.
After an extended summer holiday weekend, most of us will be back at the grind, tackling what we didn’t complete earlier and stressing before lunch break just how to manage it all. In a recent Yoga Journal Magazine story, writer Nancy Wilson shares here insight on yoga in the workplace – downward dog at your desk may save you from burnout, and corporations are discovering adding yoga as a resource for employees to balance their lives is saving big business big money. Read on…
Just after sunrise, I am lying on the floor of Mohonk Mountain House in New Paltz, New York. Next to me are 14 other students from the Market Development department at MTV Networks, here on a two-day corporate team-building retreat. The program includes sports, hikes, a croquet tournament, and this yoga class for “active relaxation.” “Your hands are like cosmic conductor cables,” intones our instructor Sara Harris. “The hands bring energy into the body and they send healing energy out. Focus on your hands and the energy; then listen to your breathing and feel the echo of your heartbeat.” Harris, who has taught classes for NYNEX, IBM, and AT&T, uses business buzzwords like “systems” and “mind screen” to tap into the language of her students.
At the end of class, Harris has us lie on the floor and leads us in relaxation. She tiptoes around the room, placing an acorn at everyone’s side. “In this little acorn there’s a huge oak tree,” she says softly. “Let this acorn be a reminder of how powerful your energy is. All you have to do is channel and focus it.” Harris’s metaphor resonates with everyone in the room. Afterward, I talk to one of the MTV staffers who tells me, “Life at work is full of distractions. Yoga gives me an opportunity to focus, since it’s rare that everything is so serene.”
This attitude may explain why yoga is catching on at corporations. Nike, HBO, Forbes, and Apple all offer on-site yoga classes for their employees. These and scores more Fortune 500 companies consider yoga important enough to offer classes as a regular employee benefit.
“Yoga is very hot—we wouldn’t open a fitness center without it,” says Holly Byrne of Frontline Fitness, a Manhattan-based consulting company that manages corporate fitness centers for Wall Street brokerage houses, law firms, and publishing companies. It is the calming effect of yoga that appeals to many employees, says Byrne, who recognizes that the name of a class can have an impact on its popularity with members. “We’ve found that in Wall Street firms, a class in stress reduction doesn’t fly because people think, ‘I don’t want other people to think I can’t deal with the stress level of my job; and if I can’t, I shouldn’t be working here.’ If you call it yoga or meditation, it’s more positive and people come.”
Now they do, but 15 or 20 years ago they might have run the other way. “Today, yoga is pretty much standard equipment in corporate fitness centers,” says Beryl Bender Birch, author of Power Yoga (Simon and Schuster, 1995). Director of wellness at the New York Road Runners Club for the past 18 years, Birch has taught at Pepsico, General Electric, AT&T, and Chase Manhattan Bank, among other companies. When Birch first began teaching yoga in corporations, she kept it physical, not spiritual. She even avoided using Sanskrit terminology so her students wouldn’t be turned off. “Now it’s totally changing, and I’m doing things I wouldn’t have dreamed of doing 10 years ago,” Birch exclaims. “Last week we were chanting in our uptown Road Runners Club class!”
Yoga and the Bottom Line
The current boom in corporate yoga can be traced back 25 years to when companies began adopting wellness programs to lower health care costs, explains Edie Weiner, president of Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc., a New York-based trend analysis firm. At about that time, the Surgeon General issued a warning saying inactivity was as big a health risk as smoking cigarettes. Many companies jumped at the opportunity to establish fitness programs as part of a wellness initiative and began subsidizing gyms, which offered yoga as a “lite” exercise option.
“Whether or not studies have actually proven that productivity is up and health care costs are down, anecdotally, the evidence that it works is overwhelming,” says Weiner. “Companies understand you have to address employees’ health and well-being. Employees need time to relax, and a lot of people are gravitating towards yoga as a way to manage stress.”
According to researchers from the Stress Reduction Clinic at the University of Massachusetts Medical Center in Worcester, yoga in conjunction with meditation can indeed relieve stress and improve work performance. The Stress Reduction Clinic is the oldest and largest hospital-based mind/body center of its kind in the United States, treating more than 10,000 patients since opening in 1979.
The clinic delivers meditation and yoga-based classes to clients ranging from judges and correctional staff to the Chicago Bulls, and offers a five-day retreat for CEOs in the Arizona desert. A majority of the clinic’s patients report lasting decreases in both physical and psychological symptoms of stress. They also experience an increased ability to relax, greater energy and enthusiasm for life, improved self-esteem, and increased ability to cope more effectively with stressful situations. Recently, the clinic’s parent institute, The Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society, launched an eight-week mindfulness-based stress reduction program for corporations. Its goal is to teach
participants how to manage stress, enhance clarity and creative thinking, improve communication skills, cultivate leadership and teamwork, and increase overall effectiveness in the workplace. This is just what any human resource department with a conscience would order.
When Bill Moyers interviewed the Stress Reduction Clinic’s founder, Jon Kabat-Zinn, for the 1993 PBS series, “Healing and the Mind,” Moyers raised the possibility that a placebo effect may result from a person’s belief that the stress-reduction program will work for them. He asked whether they might feel better even though they’re not sure what’s happening. Kabat-Zinn replied, “Why not? I’ll take transformational change any way it comes.”
This attitude seems more and more common among human resources executives, who previously doubted the power of yoga and other mind-body exercise forms.
At HBO in New York, employee health and fitness director Bill Boyle can’t keep pace with the demand for yoga classes. He recently added a third class to the weekly schedule and would add more if he had room. Boyle attributes the boom in yoga at HBO to rising levels of workplace stress. “Everybody is under more stress now, and has to perform better, and work more hours per day. Yoga gives them a chance to take it all in stride.” Boyle is convinced that the investment HBO is making to subsidize yoga classes for employees is well worth it. “The deep breathing and relaxation employees get from yoga help them to be more focused and less anxious. When they go back to work, they’re in a position to make better decisions. You don’t want people making business decisions when they’re stressed.”
It’s not just large corporations with deep pockets like HBO that are bringing yoga into the workplace. Gelula & Co., a 55-employee Beverly Hills firm that creates subtitles in 28 languages for about 200 films per year, is introducing a 7 a.m. free yoga class for employees. Elio Zarmati, the company’s 53-year-old president, wanted to share yoga with his employees after going to Stewart Richlin’s class at Yoga On Melrose four mornings a week on his way to work. “I go to the office feeling a lot better on days when I go to yoga class, compared with days when I don’t,” says Zarmati.
Zarmati plans to hire Richlin to teach at Gelula. “I feel good doing yoga, and I’d like to give my staff that option. We’re in a high-stress business making deadlines, and I think anything people can do to help them cope is a benefit to them and to the company. I’d like to see more of that in the workplace, and I want to put my money where my mouth is.”
But in Birch’s experience, it’s the employees, those who experience the benefits of yoga directly, who are responsible for the corporate yoga boom. “What I’ve noticed since I started teaching yoga in corporations is that the demand for yoga classes is employee driven,” says Birch. “The management of corporations has been dragged kicking and screaming into the mind-body discipline.”
Christine Owens, a 45-year-old visual effects coordinator at George Lucas’s Industrial Light and Magic (ILM) in San Rafael, California, is responsible for initiating and organizing a lunch-hour yoga class that meets three times a week. While ILM offers aerobics classes at no cost to employees, there is a five-dollar charge for the yoga class, despite high interest and attendance. “It’s a place I can go and check out of work for a while and come back really renewed,” says Owens, an upbeat, energetic woman. “It switches systems in me: I totally lose a sense of myself, and afterwards I feel so much more able to cope.”
Nearly 3,000 miles away in New York City, these feelings are echoed by Doreen Sinski, a 37-year-old working mother. “Yoga has helped me look at things in a totally different way,” says Sinski, who’s been taking yoga classes at HBO for a year. “It has helped me tremendously in my personal life with my relationships; it’s calmed me down and taught me not to let little things bother me. I can clear my mind of things that are not important, and I think I’m a better person for that.” While people can be very demanding at work, she doesn’t let it upset her. Due to her busy schedule, Sinski is convinced that had yoga not been offered in the office at lunch hour, she never would have found it.
Yoga, Corporate Style
Employee demands for more balanced lives have been the focus of yoga teacher Jean Marie Hays’s work for the last four years. Before becoming a yoga instructor in the San Francisco Bay Area, she worked as an occupational health and safety engineer, helping private companies set themselves up as government-approved healthy workplaces. In scrutinizing work environments, she became aware of “a sort of draining of the spirit in the business world.” She noticed an imbalance between people’s business and personal lives.
It took her about 13 years to realize what the missing piece was, and when she did, she left her work and started a company that brings yoga into the workplace. Since 1995, she and her partner, Debra McKnight Higgins, have worked with more than 50 California companies, teaching yoga and stress management. This includes classes in breathing, effective communication, and Kripalu-style yoga.
Higgins and Hays teach Kripalu-style yoga because it’s gentle and internally based—a nice counter to the externally based values of the corporate world. “Since there’s less focus on exact alignment, it’s easier to get out of your head and focus on what’s happening inside your body, on what kind of posture you’re holding inside that might be creating the tension in the first place,” says Hays, whose only class requirement is that students turn off their cell phones.
Students who do yoga at the workplace often move swiftly in and out of a class scheduled between meetings and work commitments. But yoga helps them go back to work with a clearer head. It provides an opportunity to let everything go for one hour during the workday, to find quiet and stillness, focus on breathing, and allow for relaxation. “A freer body gives you a more open mind,” says Theresa McCullough, who teaches at HBO. “How you feel physically is going to affect how you function mentally,” she reasons.
Read more of this remarkable take on yoga in the workplace by writer Nancy Wilson for YOGA JOURNAL. Click here for conclusion…
To look at me you would never suspect that I live with a spinal cord injury. I contracted paralytic polio when I was 5 years old in one of the last polio epidemics in the United States. Polio was known as “the AIDS of its day”. I was shunned by classmates and grew to despise and disconnect from my body. Over four years ago now, at the age of 53, I was diagnosed with post polio syndrome, a ‘progressive neurological disease’ and I went back into a leg brace, used a cane and at times a wheelchair for mobility. I quit my full time job and went on a mission to heal my life. Through outpatient rehab and harnessing the best of Eastern and Western Medicine and my own inner resources with a deep faith in hope and possibility, I went on to run the 2009 Boston Marathon no longer needing a leg brace or a wheelchair. But something was missing ….
After a recurrence of symptoms and another course of outpatient rehab in October 2009, I was back on the roads running again in June 2010. On Facebook, my friend and neighbor Nicole Burrill aka The Sassy Yogini (www.sassyyogini.com) saw I was posting about my solo strength training work outs and my runs. She asked me if I did yoga. I gave an answer as terse as could be ‘No’. I looked at Nicole and thought, there is no way I’m ‘good’ enough to be in a yoga class with someone who looks like Nicole. If there were a picture next to the definition of yogini in the dictionary, it would be of Nicole. Nicole was unrelenting in her quest to get me to the mat and finally I said that my New Year’s Resolution for 2011 would be to try a yoga class.
Nicole talked with one of her yoga teachers, Pat Donaher (www.patdonaher.com) to ask him what would be a good class to bring me to given the diagnosis of post polio syndrome. He said, “If she can run a marathon, she can do anything.” I went to Pat’s class with Nicole and as she had predicted, I was hooked. I began to connect with my inner child before age 5 when I was a beautiful, flexible ballerina. I felt a sense of playfulness and a freedom in my body as I assumed various poses. I had a workout which I could never have experienced never mind how boring and tedious it is to do squats and lunges and single leg lifts at home. I loved the glow and cleansing that followed after having sweat for 90 minutes (and it wasn’t even a Bikram class) and I loved the energy of the yoga community who warmly embraced me.
I realized that, given my ‘special needs’ it would be prudent for me to supplement my practice with individual lessons. After that first class with Pat, I knew we would work well together. Initially, my goal was to to learn how I could move so that I could ‘fit in’ with the other yoginis. That goal was quickly relinquished and replaced with deepening my mind/body connection and learning how to (as one of my yoga teachers said) “love myself whole.” Through my yoga practice, I am moving away from a polio and post polio survivor who works to overcome my disability, to a woman who embraces my uniqueness, is learning how to love and accept my body wherever it is in the present moment, retraining neuromuscular pathways to give me greater freedom in movement and breath and having a lot of fun along the way. As a girl in a full leg brace and then as a teenager who had to wear special polio shoes, fashion never met function. I love the Plank yoga accessories for the fun and funky style they offer me while the high grade of Plank’s luxe mats provides me with extra support and comfort during my practice. As someone who has a difficult time knowing where my body is in space, I was forever hitting someone with my yoga mat while trying to juggle my bag and mat. With Plank’s Canvas Series, my bag and mat are compact and affords me the added advantage of taking the stress off of my neck and shoulders. The inner transformation I am experiencing on the mat is reflected in the sense of style that Plank offers me.
The benefits of yoga for the general population are well documented. Thanks to the pioneering work of Matthew Sanford, a paraplegic who is a revolutionary yoga teacher, (www.matthewsanford.com and www.mindbodysolutions.org) he is spearheading a movement to incorporate yoga into rehabilitation for those with spinal cord injury and other physical challenges and diseases. On his website, he cites the benefits of yoga for those with physical challenges as:
– Increased strength, balance and flexibility — both mental and physical
– Rhythm, an inward sense of direction and the ability to move through life in a more integrated way
– The capacity to live more fully within the body
– An enhanced ability to manage stress
– A deepened sense of connection with others
– Hope and a renewed sense of freedom
So if you don’t believe that yoga is for you because you are physically challenged, or even just don’t ‘look’ like a yogini, leave that belief at the door with your shoes. Discover the healing world that awaits you on the mat that will carry you to a life of greater joy, freedom, health and wholeness off of the mat.
Our Plank guest author this week, Mary McManus can be found writing and inspiring on her own thoughtful blog New World Greetingsand we Plankers are truly pleased to be sharing Mary’s story with you!
Our Guest Planker Angela author of Cloud of Chaos ~
I was sitting at a bar with a friend of mine, Manhattan in hand, and I commented that I would really love to have a yoga body. Pause to sip Manhattan. Then I said, “I guess that means I need to start doing yoga.”
Many years ago I did yoga on a pretty regular basis. I had a mat at home, which I used to replicate on my own what I’d learned in class, and I even could do some of the more difficult poses. I was young. I was bendy. But that was then and this is now. As much as I hate to admit it, I’m not as flexible as I used to be, and sometimes those punishing cardio sessions that feel great at the time later leave me feeling, well, punished. Yoga is the logical complement to my other workouts, as well as a much-needed stress release. To feel good and healthy – not to mention achieving the fashionably svelte physique that my favorite white jeans require – it was time to venture into a yoga class.
There are numerous other benefits to maintaining a regular yoga practice than those that are more obvious. The meditation, deep relaxation, gentle stretching and breathing that are integral to most forms of yoga are extremely helpful for people dealing with traumatic events. There is research that shows how yoga can help those who struggle with back pain, migraines, depression and eating disorders. Yoga can help cure a cold, can ease the anguish of grieving, and can significantly ease pain, improve sleep and even reduce anxiety in cancer patients.
Despite the fact that I belong to a gym that boasts some of the best yoga instructors in town, I hadn’t once availed myself of this privilege until today. Cardio sure, several sessions with a trainer doing weights and other things, Zumba as often as possible. No yoga. I have no good reason for this except force of habit and the fact that yoga classes are held on the mysterious second floor where I’m quite sure the atmosphere is different – and by this I don’t mean ambiance. But I finally worked up the nerve to dip my toe back in the yoga pool. Yin Yoga seemed like a good place to start since the class is mostly about increasing flexibility through holding passive poses. The class was exactly what I needed – relief for sore muscles and a gentle entry into what I hope will become a regular yoga practice. The instructor was good, I found I could do most of the poses without any problem (although from now on any tv watching I do will include sitting on my feet to stretch out the front of my ankles), and I left class feeling not only energized but inspired to come back. A yogini is born.
Now, to look the part.
It has been a longstanding habit of mine to treat myself to nice workout gear to keep me motivated to go to the gym. The first thing I did when I got home after class was pull up yoga sites to start planning my new wardrobe. Pants to turn down when I have a ripped belly to show off. Cocoon sweaters to keep warm while swanning about on the still-mysterious second floor.
One of my favorite sources for yoga clothes is Prancing Leopard Organics. As the name suggests, everything at Prancing Leopard is made of the most wonderful organic fabrics. They have a few different knits that bring varying textures and drape to the amazing pants, tops and cover-ups. Their Tunic Antibes is designed to flatter any body type and smooth out all the edges. Several pieces are work-worthy. I absolutely adore the Aix-en-Provence Jumpsuit. This is a piece that can take you straight from the yoga studio to a night out on the town – throw on a leather jacket and a great pair of shoes and you’re good to go.
Then, of course, I’ll need a terrific new yoga mat. For fun yoga mats, there is nowhere else to turn but Plank. I’ve known about Plank for a while; I picked up one of their bags at a resort where I stayed in Hawaii and they sponsored a series of roof-top yoga classes in Boston’s too-cool-for-school Fort Point neighborhood that had friends who attended raving for months. More than anything though, I knew of Plank as the company that specializes in whimsical mats featuring funky designs. They’re just perfect for the fashionable yogini who wants a bit of cheek with her chic. And anyone who knows me will happily volunteer that cheeky is one of my most admirable qualities!
My favorite Plank mat is the Pill Print from their photo series. The irony of it cracks me up absolutely every time. Let’s just hope the hilarity wears off before I start doing headstands. Since the reason I’m doing yoga in the first place is to be healthy, it would be a shame if I broke my neck because my mat made me giggle! In the same vein is the Wood Style Signature Plank. You can just imagine someone dropping her cupcake in the middle of sun salutation. There are other designs, like the Cobra Mat (which freaks me out) and the Shag Mat which looks like I could actually nuzzle up to the retro carpet image, as well as great accessories. With Plank’s new launch this month, I can’t wait to see what they come up with next!
Here’s to my new yoga practice. When I can do the Scorpion Pose, I’ll let you know!
You can find this guest post also featured on Angela’s blog Cloud of Chaos, where she writes about fashion, culture and urban life.
Our premier, luxe yoga mats are without question (lofty to say but we hear it all the time) the best damn mats on the market. We don’t display them gallery style because we’re pretentious, but because they are really that GOOD. Now suffice it to say it would be absurd if we were to suggest you do that with your Plank mat, oh no, we want you to sweat, move, groove and flow beautifully every time you slap your mat on the class floor – these are irreverent styles to be LIVED and LOVED without feeling like you a cog in the wheel of traditional yogis (no offense, we really do respect all yogis – bawdy, conservative, granola, urbane… we just want you to embrace our broader perspective… yoga + design. It works.
Here’s a brief, cheeky description of each of our signature styles – more info and pricing on the Plank website. As always… Live it. Love it. Plank it.
Here’s a bit about the creator and founder of Plank, Doreen Hing… you can also follow Doreen’s passion, initiative, projects and audacious writing on her own blog, “The Well Heeled Guru” and on her Facebook and Twitter pages.
An exerpt taken from Doreen’s own blog…”The Well-Heeled Guru is seen as the go-to person for getting people into yoga, however, this is not how she prefers to acknowledged. The Well-Heeled Guru’s mission is for people to Get Yoga, to really incorporate its health & mental benefits into every area of life and not solely, in the yoga studio. Originally poo-pooed by the hardcore yoga community, if you shift your perspective now, ask yourself, “Look who’s the Poser now…” but I digress again, who is The Well-Heeled Guru? C’est moi… Doreen Hing, Creative Brit, Mother, Wife, Entrepreneur & a Very Ordinary Rebel…
So you see what we mean? This one has a lot going on. More to come from this intensely driven, wildly energetic and deeply convicted designer + entrepreneur extraordinaire.