Yoga and the Workplace

Reproduced below is a post written by Chad Balch, an instructor at Yoga Garden SF. It specifically involves a recent incident at Facebook’s offices related to a yoga class, but more generally deals with yoga in the workplace and in one’s own life. Please read on…

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Dear Yoga Friends,

Perhaps you are aware of the recent incident involving a yoga instructor who was teaching a class at Facebook’s Menlo Park office and was later fired for expressing disapproval of cell phone use in class. The July 10th San Francisco Chronicle reported: “The class at Facebook was just beginning when the instructor noticed a student in the front row using a cell phone. The instructor asked the entire class to shut the devices off. Halfway into their routine, just as they began the pose known as Ardha Chandrasana, the same student picked up her phone again. The instructor said nothing, but shot the student a look.” The student complained to the managers of the fitness center, and the instructor was later fired by the fitness contractor on the grounds that they are “in the business of providing great customer service … and prefer to say yes whenever possible.”

If this weren’t something that really happened, you might think that this was some scene written by a Hollywood screeenwriter for a bad sitcom. This anecdote reveals quite a bit about the culture evolving around us. First, we can see that yoga is terribly misunderstood, that there are people out there who think that yoga can be picked up and put down like some kind of device. Second, we can see the strength of our addiction to phones and informational devices.

I applaud this teacher for standing up for her principles as a yoga practitioner and teacher. She later said “I understand the world still happens and there might be emergencies, but it’s like, can we have some sort of boundary, a line of what we’re not going to accept bringing into this class?” She is talking about a class here, but what she is really talking about is a practice. Can we have boundaries that help us achieve separation from our interrupt-driven lives, for periods of time that are long enough to let us get back in touch with who we really are? Or do we prefer to define ourselves as entities that respond as quickly as possible to any request for information and seek to answer questions as fast as possible by searching outward as opposed to inward?

My first experience teaching yoga was in the workplace. I worked for a company where there was interest in doing yoga during lunchtime as a way of relieving stress and giving a break to the mind and body, and I was asked to lead these sessions. One time there were about eight of us doing Prasarita Padottanasana in a large undeveloped space in our offices. The COO walked by to show someone the space, and their first sight was a line of rear-ends. He laughed nervously, made a comment about not taking it personally, and moved on. This situation is admittedly pretty funny, but still underscores the gulf that can exist between our subjective experience of yoga and how it is perceived by those who are not personally engaged with it.

I believe that if we can succeed in integrating yogic practice into the workplace, we will be immensely more productive as a culture. Productivity hinges on the ability to focus, not the ability to respond instantaneously to every slight disturbance or request. Productivity also hinges on physical and mental health, the ability to sit, stand, and move comfortably without pain, the ability to breath without restriction throughout the day, and the health of the organs of the body. Younger bodies have better endurance for long periods of sitting poorly with shallow breathing and repetitive motion combined with continual interruptions, euphemistically termed “multi-tasking”, but this ineffective style of work inevitably catches up with everyone.

We can find guidance here from Sutra II.16, heyam duhkham anagatam, which can be translated “the pains which are yet to come can be and are to be avoided.”

Namaste,

Chad

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I decided to post this because I’m a programmer, an avid user of Facebook and the web in general, an aspiring practicer of yoga (specifically Iyengar), a person who constantly thinks about how I live my life, and a person who has recently been dealing with a lot of stress-related physical problems. When I started taking yoga shortly after moving to San Francisco in late 2009, I took to it immediately—suddenly I became much more aware of the habits that had hurt, and were still hurting, my body and mind, and how good it felt to correct them naturally and in a healthy manner. I do not want to get too preachy, only to help spread Chad’s words, my relation to those words, and what I have experienced. I hope to continue my practice of yoga, study it more deeply, and be aware of the boundaries and focus needed to accomplish what I want to accomplish.

[Link to Chad’s original post]