Yoga – My Corporate Cure All

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Guest Post By Leann Donovan, Marketing Manager & Moderator KNow Research

“Yoga is meant to meet you where you are, it’s not a one size fits all practice.” Sage advice from one of our KNow Research Yogis. It’s pretty amazing odds that a quarter of our team members are yoga instructors. Is there a correlation between market research and a passion for this ancient Hindu spiritual and ascetic discipline? I say yes. It’s all about gathering insights; be it for our clients or within ourselves. I’ve been enlightened and hope to enlighten you.

KNow Research is a full-service, female-forward qualitative insights consultancy with boots-on-the-ground investigators started by Katrina Noelle, in 2003. We are an eclectic, small-but-mighty group of experienced researchers, who occasionally need a reminder in self-care. Was it luck that brought us all together? I call it Karma.

Molly Stafford-Mastey, Shira Glickman & Sonya Shen are our KNow resident Yogis and I was lucky enough to spend some quality time with them at our most recent off-site retreat to sit down and talk about their practices and how yoga has shaped their lives both in and out of the office. Sonya had an injury. Shira was a competitive athlete and Molly was in a high-stress corporate job. All three have come to their practices in completely different ways and for completely different reasons but have one commonality; their deep devotion to the practice.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of yoga is 1. a Hindu theistic philosophy teaching the suppression of all activity of body, mind, and will in order that the self may realize its distinction from them and attain liberation 2. a system of physical postures, breathing techniques, and sometimes meditation derived from Yoga but often practiced independently especially in Western cultures to promote physical and emotional well-being. My definition has always been a little different. 1.Awkward poses, uncomfortable stances and a lot of falling over 2. “What-am-I-doing-in-here-with-all-these-really-flexible-people?” After spending some time with them, I’ve shifted my mindset.

Shira was just beginning her career in advertising in NYC when she first got into yoga. Prior to that, in high school and college she was a competitive athlete, from rugby to basketball to wrestling, and was looking for something to challenge her and keep in shape. She decided to jump into the deep end of the pool without really even realizing it by starting with Power Yoga. “It was intense. Really hard. There were crazy poses. I thought, I can do that! I wanted to be as good or better than other people. It was a challenge.” She then changed studios and met Juliana. She was the first to introduce her to the more holistic picture of yoga. Specifically, anatomy and spirituality. “It was no longer just about doing the poses but doing them mindfully and without being so ego-driven.” I fell in love with the practice, so I worked for them in exchange for free yoga.” In 2013, she was working in media and thought she needed something different to add to her skillset. “I needed something to inspire me to help me up my game. Grad school? Or teacher training? Grad school just didn’t make sense for me.” Teacher training worked with her corporate schedule and took her mind to two places. “I felt like a machine. I had purpose all around. Physically & mentally like a machine.” After she completed training, she landed her first job at a gym teaching Vinyasa Flow, which is all about movement and breath, linking poses together in smooth fluid transitions. “It’s very dynamic and methodical. It’s structured. Vinyasa is a moving meditation. It must be done faithfully and obsessively. It brought a different mindfulness to me.”

Sonya started practicing yoga regularly for exercise. She was injured while running and thought it would be a great substitute. Power Vinyasa, a flowy type of yoga with a lot of movement was her choice. “You’re in a heated room and you sweat a lot. I got into it for the physical benefits but discovered the mental benefits. You feel lighter & better afterward.” She laughed, “You can really see the difference between a noon class and a 6pm class. That’s when people come in stressed out after being in the office all day.” Sonya got into teaching last year when she was trying to decide where to go take her career and had some extra time on her hands to do a training. “I’d been trying to take a Yoga Teacher’s Training for a couple of years, but I never had the time to do it. Finally, an opportunity came up, so I signed on and it was great! You reap all these great benefits. It helped me to understand what I was doing at a deeper level and the reasons why we do them.” More importantly, it helped her learn to deal with the stress of daily life. “You get to let go then when you’re stressed out. You pay closer attention to the movement. You bring your focus to your movement and to what you’re actually doing. You have to concentrate and that helps with the stress level. I may be pre-occupied when I begin, so I have to pay extra attention to what I’m doing and the process, not the stressors.” She’s since completed her training at the yoga studio where she completed her training, and just recently began working for a company that teaches corporate yoga. “Accessibility is what I like most about corporate teaching. It’s great to present yoga to new audiences. I just love introducing it to people who haven’t done it before”.

In 2006, Molly needed to find some useful strategies to manage her stress while doing some intense strategic Consulting work. A friend invited her to come to a class and the rest is history. She was hooked. She could move around and breathe, and it felt good so, she kept going back. By 2015 she left her corporate job which allowed more time to practice and dedicate herself to yoga and in 2017 Molly completed her first 235-hour YTT (yoga teacher training) to delve deeper into the practice that she loves. But she didn’t stop there. She’s currently completing an Adaptive “Yoga for All” teacher training, under the guidance of Dianne Bondy and Amber Karnes. “I find teaching helps me to maintain a student mindset of constantly learning and keeps me accountable to myself and to the students I teach.” Actively teaching multiple classes a week at Rise Yoga in NE Minneapolis for just over 2 years, Molly still considers herself relatively new, but is dedicated to continuous learning and growth as a teacher. “I currently teach Vinyasa Flow, Slow Flow, and Restorative Yoga to adults of all ages, sizes, ranges of mobility, and experience. Yoga is meant to meet you where you are, it’s not a one size fits all practice.” She’s taught in non-traditional and professional workplace settings as well, i.e., outdoors, at schools, streaming online, etc., and is certified as a chair yoga teacher.

In recent years, the corporate mindset has become much more focused on deadlines, rules and the need to produce at a faster rate. Everyday life seems to take on some of these same attributes and can ultimately result in stress. How can yoga make a difference?  Molly’s take, “We can lose ourselves and become disconnected from what really matters. Yoga allows for a return to the roots of what matters to us, and to discover and connect to our values. It helps us to live in our whole bodies, and tap into our full capacity, rather than just getting ensnared in our habitual thought patterns, which don’t always serve us. It also is a helpful practice to ‘practice the pause’ — taking a second to breathe, reflect, process and taking a beat is useful — we don’t always need to race to an immediate reaction.” Sonya had this to offer,” Everyone’s got a million things going on and yoga has taught me how to focus on one thing at a time and shows me that I don’t have to have my hands in everything all at once. It helps me to prioritize certain things. I’m better at time management. Yoga helps me to understand what’s important and to understand how I work best.” Shira added this into the mix, “Focus on things that cause you more joy and less pain. Listen to yourself and don’t feel like a failure if you need help. I use blocks in my practice. Blocks are not considered a crutch. It’s encouraged. It helps me to be the most effective. The same goes for the workplace. Ask for assistance. Reach out to your team if you need help. True yoga is when you don’t care, you accept and listen to your limitations.”

I had one last question for the group, “What advice do you have for someone like me?” (A semi-beginner who wants to take in all the benefits that yoga has to offer, but feels awkward, wobbly and about as flexible as a tree stump). Sonya jumped in with, “Yoga is a great exercise for anyone. It’s very accessible. I don’t consider myself flexible, but it doesn’t matter and that shouldn’t be an inhibitor. You don’t have to be flexible. You can find a type of yoga for you.  Just showing up is the pre-requisite.” Shira offered this, “Find a beginning level class. Don’t be intimidated. You say, ‘I’m not flexible’, it’s because you haven’t been practicing. You need a starting point. And everyone’s style is different. Try different classes to find the person you connect with.” Finally, Molly summed it up like this, “Everyone can benefit from yoga! There are lots of great resources are available online if a studio space or practicing alongside others feels intimidating. Instagram is a great resource for yoga. There are great practitioners there. It doesn’t have to be an hour class. It can be a simple few minutes in a chair where you take a breath in and out. Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated, and it’s not just fancy poses. But also, it’s ok to struggle a bit. It’s ok to not have it all figured out.  Yoga has taught me that. Yoga is a great way to practice self-generating some ease, calm and focus, even during times of uncertainty, challenge and discomfort. That’s a skill we can all use off the mat, be it at work or at home in our daily lives.”

Sage advice. I’m off to class. Namaste.

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