April 25, 2011

Many workers spell stress relief with a word: Yoga

Yoga Practice
Stress: A well known issue
Experts have been studying the effects of stress for more than 20 years, and the findings aren’t pretty. For instance, a survey this year by the American Psychological Association found that 36 percent of workers reported experiencing work stress regularly. The survey was conducted online on behalf of the APA by Harris Interactive between Jan. 31 and Feb. 8. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health reports that health care expenditures are nearly 50 percent greater for workers who report high levels of stress. They also note that there is mounting evidence to suggest that stress plays an important role in chronic health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, musculoskeletal disorders and psychological disorders.

Kathleen Hall, an Atlanta stress and work-life expert who founded the Stress Institute and the Mindful Living Network, would add health issues ranging from cancer to infertility to migraines to the list, based on recent medical research. “Chronic Stress is poison to the rooting of your life,” Hall writes in her book “A Life in Balance: Nourishing the Four Roots of True Happiness" (AMACOM Books, 2006).

Cost Facts 
It’s poison to companies as well, and has been linked to lost productivity, increased absenteeism, poor performance and employee turnover. The American Psychological Association and the American Institute of Stress estimate that the cost to the nation in increased health care payments and lost productivity is about $300 billion annually. Stress management and wellness programs are helping in the corporate world, but for a growing number of workers, stress relief is spelled in a word: yoga.
"Yoga is what I most enjoy doing now,” said Chris O’Brien, an Atlanta freelance medical writer, who has worked as a cardiovascular and home health nurse.After a medical emergency in 2002, O’Brien’s doctor suggested she try yoga as a means of relieving stress. She began learning Iyengar yoga, a form of Hatha yoga that emphasizes precision of movement and proper body alignment.

“It’s the type of yoga that many researchers choose when studying the effects of yoga on people,” she said. Studies have shown that it reduces anxiety, increases flexibility, helps with weight loss and improves respiration and organ function. She now teaches classes at Decatur Healing Arts, the Shambhala Meditation Center and to the staff at Emory University. When she had taught clinical workers, she focused on poses that help reduce tension and muscle soreness in the feet, neck and lower back, which are common complaints of nurses and therapists. “Yoga helps people attain a state of equanimity, a steady, even state where people have energy for both work and life,” she said. “It’s like a vaccination against stress. My life hasn’t changed. I’m still working and raising two teenagers, but my perception is different.”

Meditation as a soultion
The practice of Isha yoga and the Inner Engineering program for well-being and personal growth, created by renowned yoga master Sadhguru Vasudev, has made a significant difference in the life of Ravi Naidu, an Atlanta business operations manager for IBM Tivoli Software. He practices poses and meditation 21 minutes in the morning and evening. Naidu spends workdays as a “problem solver” in the corporate world.
“People only call me when there’s an issue, yet I don’t get overwhelmed by the normal day-to-day job anymore,” said Naidu. “ ... When people ask me how I can remain so calm, I tell them I wasn’t born this way. I’ve worked at it." Naidu watched a video and then took a course with Vasudev. “I found him very approachable and in touch with the realities that stress people out in the world today,” said Naidu.
With his followers growing, Vasudev now teaches the basic concepts of Inner Engineering online and the meditation and breathing techniques in person at locations around the world.

He explained the purpose of Inner Engineering with an analogy. “We all have cellphones, and the better we understand them, the better we use them, right?” said Vasudev. “Yet researchers tell us that most people only use 7 percent of a phone’s capabilities. “A cellphone is just one tiny gadget. The human system is the best gadget on the planet, and the more profoundly you know it -- its body, mind, emotions and energy -- the better you can use it.” Through breathing and meditation, practitioners learn to put a distance between themselves and their physical body and thoughts. “All suffering is either physical or mental, so if you can distance yourself from your mind and body, then fear is removed and you can explore all your potential,” said Vasudev. Naidu has come to believe it is a powerful tool for transformation. Over time, he’s adopted a healthier diet, quit taking his asthma medication and discovered more energy. He’s also become a budding stand-up comic. "I’m not afraid of trying anything anymore. I took a course and the first time out I nailed it, but at an open mic, I totally bombed,” he said. “Before my practice of yoga, you couldn’t have paid me to go back up on a stage again, but I came home that night and started writing better material.”

Meditation at work

Personal Experience
Leslie Crespi, a social worker by training, was intrigued by the changes in a colleague, and attended an Inner Engineering program. Crespi moved to Atlanta a year ago, but still teleworks for St. John Providence Health System, in Michigan.A chief component of Isha yoga and Inner Engineering is the "kriya," which Crespi describes as a “process to energize and balance the human system using the breath.”
People hear yoga and think they have to twist themselves into a pretzel, she said. Crespi does some physical yoga to make her more flexible and prepare her body to sit for meditation, but no extraordinary physical ability is required. “We’ve taught the program to people in wheelchairs,” she said. She said she’s derived numerous positive physical, mental and emotional changes from her practice.

“I started to notice that I was more efficient, a lot more mentally focused, and that I rarely had a sick day. That makes me very productive. Most important I’ve noticed that my stress level is turned way down,” said Crespi. “We react to stress physically, and it takes a toll on us. I’m just much more relaxed. Now when my kid is having a bad moment or there’s chaos at work, I can say, ‘OK, what do we need to do?’ The kriya gives me a sense of balance and the ability to deal with life as it is. It’s not about what I do anymore. It’s about how I am, and that’s a beautiful way to live.”

Stress and yoga resources
-National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health Workplace Stress information:     www.cdc.gov/niosh/topics/stress 
-The Stress Institute: www.stressinstitute.com
-Stress-relief books by Kathleen Hall, “A Life in Balance: Nourishing the Four Roots of True Happiness” (AMACOM Books, 2006) and “Alter Your Life” (Oak Haven, 2005)
-Iyengar yoga: www.bksiyengar.com or “Light on Yoga” by B.K.S. Iyengar (Schocken, 1995)
-Isha yoga and Inner Engineering, www.innerengineering.com. Sadhguru Vasudev will be teaching his program in Atlanta on May 14-15. You can register on the Web site.

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