I began practicing yoga in 2008, in hopes of managing chronic neck and back issues, and fending off costly spinal surgery with uncertain odds. It’s been enormously beneficial for me, on multiple dimensions.
If my experience means anything, yoga can be effective at reducing or eliminating chronic pain — in my case, 20 years’ worth of back pain.
The more I practice yoga, the more I believe the larger business community should embrace yoga, its associated practices and belief systems. This goes well beyond Google’s early (and now much mocked) mantra, “Do no harm.”
I’ll share some ideas later in this blog. First, let’s start with the basic premise: yoga and mindful breathing reduce stress, increase strength and flexibility, improve moods and boost the immune system’s ability to ward off disease.
Reducing stress is a big deal for employers:
Stress harms human health, resulting in higher medical bills borne by employers. Stress interferes with sleep, yielding employees whose judgment may be impaired, making them prone to costly mistakes. Stress shuts down the sort of creative thinking that can generate profitable ideas.
The HuffingtonPost, 11/04/2014
Why? It’s Good for People, Not Just Athletes
I’m not alone in discovering the healthful benefits of yoga and meditation. NFL pros and Super Bowl contestants like the Seahawks are now known to rely on yoga to improve their performance. These practices help weekend warriors, too.
Senior executives at leading multinationals are starting to publicize their own experiences (see below), stepping up to become advocates for mindfulness practices in the workplace. They are trying to promote “a culture of wellness,” if for no other reason than to reduce the growing impact of healthcare costs and employee stress levels on their bottom line. There’s growing evidence that this is smart business.
Clinical Evidence for Healthier Outcomes
Respected researchers at leading academic and healthcare institutions are now conducting evidence-based research, using modern tools such as neuro-imaging and genomics testing. They study both healthy and unhealthy patient populations, including people confronting cancer.
They want to uncover and measure the impact of controlled breathing, yoga or other mindfulness practices on mind and body health, including stress reduction.
Multiple studies have now proven that these practices can help “ward off stress and disease,” or slow down the impact of aging. (See PubMed for some of the scientific sources of this research.) Here’s a sampler of some of the outcomes that have been reported.
Benefits of Yoga and Mindfulness Practices
|American Osteopathic Association||Increased flexibility. Increased muscle strength and tone. Improved respiration, energy and vitality. Weight reduction. Cardio and circulatory health. Better athletic performance. Reduced risk of injury.|
|WebMD||Improved flexibility, increased strength, better posture. Stress reduction, better heart health.|
|Yoga Health Foundation||Reduction in chronic back pain. Improved mood, reduced symptoms of depression and anxiety. Lower blood sugars in diabetics. Fewer hot flashes. Stress reduction. Weight reduction. Lower blood pressure, lower cholesterol levels, lower heart rate. Multiple benefits for cancer patients and cancer survivors.|
|HuffingtonPost||Boost immunity, ease migraines, boost sexual performance, sleep better, fight food cravings.|
|Dana Santas, yoga coach for NFL pros||Increased mobility in the mid back; increased stability in the core and shoulder girdle -- essential for athletes who have to face a lot of impact. Reduced risk of injury to knees, low-back or neck.|
Mindfulness in the Workplace
As clinical evidence of these healthful impacts mounts up, scientific and business journals are increasing their coverage on the benefits of yoga and meditation. Even the stodgy Wall Street Journal flirts with yoga topics, such as “breathing for your better health.”
The Financial Times reported on “the mind business” a couple of years ago, with inputs from some senior executives. As reported by FT, Goldman Sachs board member and former CEO of Medtronic, William George, asserts:
The main business case for meditation is that if you’re fully present on the job, you will be more effective as a leader, you will make better decisions and you will work better with other people… [It] keeps me focused on what’s important.
The deputy general counsel for General Mills, Janice Marturano, describes her employer’s mindfulness program:
It’s about training our minds to be more focused, to see with clarity, to have spaciousness for creativity and to feel connected… to have compassion for ourselves, for everyone around us — our colleagues, customers…
Although it’s harder to find evidence online of specific financial impacts on the bottom line, Aetna has publicized its experience. In 2013 Aetna reduced healthcare costs by 7%, a savings Aetna’s CEO attributes to investments in employee programs to limit stress through yoga and meditation.
If my 8-year journey is a guide, these savings will grow over time, thanks to the long-term benefits of yoga on the mind and body.