Yoga sessions in boardroom 'help transform lives'

It may seem like a contradiction, but sitting down all day can have a vicious effect on physical, mental and emotional health.

Most people who log in long hours at desk jobs day after day will attest to detrimental effects such as back pain, low energy and low spirits.

Add to that the tendency to sit in vehicles, at video-game consoles, to eat and to watch TV and the repercussions can be deadly.

In fact, studies on the impacts of a sedentary lifestyle have led some medical journals to announce that "sitting is the new smoking."

A paper published last year by Dr. Emma Wilmot of the diabetes research group at the University of Leicester in Britain showed that those who sit all day have a 147 per
cent increased risk of heart attack or stroke, a 90 per cent greater risk of dying from a cardiac event and a 49 per cent greater risk of dying prematurely.

It can also lead to depression, deep-vein thrombosis, obesity, osteoporosis and kidney stones, among other issues.

All that illness can also have a tremendous impact on a business's bottom line - not only in sick time, but also in reduced productivity.

So how does a company encourage its workers to get moving?

A simple and cost-effective answer occurring in office buildings throughout Kamloops is lunchtime yoga.

KPMG's Kamloops office has been hosting noontime yoga classes provided by Innergy Yoga for the past three years.

Individuals pay to participate, but KPMG offers the space for free as well as fitness reimbursements for employees.

Manager Melissa Arkinstall said the convenience has increased her yoga routine and it has led co-workers to try it out for the first time.

"The best part is that we don't have to leave. It's not another scheduled event outside of work," she said. "I've heard positive comments from everyone on having the sessions in our office."

The physical activity is one positive aspect, but yoga is unique in that it also offers huge value for mental health.

"It's an opportunity to step outside of work," said Arkinstall. "Just to quiet your mind and get away from the hustle and bustle."

The Ministry of Forests office in Kamloops also holds lunchtime sessions, although the province has yet to embrace the notion of paying for workers' physical fitness routines.

Nonetheless, uptake is high and participants report that the payoffs have far surpassed their expectations.

"I just look at the people doing this . . . they're the ones that seem to be sick less, more productive, happier, better to be around," said Doug Krogel, a member of the local Ministry of Forests office health and wellness committee. "I think it pays huge dividends."

Krogel and about a dozen co-workers attend a weekly lunchtime yoga class in an office meeting room with instructor Carrie Few, principal owner of Innergy Yoga.

The committee brought Few in and the participants pay $10 a session.

Krogel decided to attend the classes 18 months ago in order to cope with the emotional strain of his father's fatal illness.

The difference it has made is unquantifiable, yet obvious, said Krogel.

"Everyone comes back from after class and they go, 'Oh, I feel so much better.' The change in people's demeanor - they're happier, they're healthier and I would expect that would correspond to reduced sick time."

Krogel's co-worker, Trudy Goold, said it has also been an effective way to get to know some of the 200 staff members in the Ministry of Forest offices.

"There is always lots of laughter with my co-workers. I never worry if my (balancing) tree pose is a bit shaky or if I fall over," said Goold. "Classes are fun and non-intimidating."

Few, herself a former "stressed out government worker" with health problems, is a walking example of the life transforming impact of a regular yoga.

"Yoga has been a lifeline for my health," she said.

She decided to make yoga her life a few years ago when disastrous life events pushed her physical and emotional health near the breaking point.

Within a matter of months, a house fire took all her possessions, her relationship ended badly, work pressure kept building and her body responded with a debilitating arthritic flare-up.

That's when Few had an epiphany while lying on the yoga mat at the end of class.

"Lying in savasana (a relaxation pose) one day I thought, 'I can do this'," she said. "So I approached Lynn, my teacher, and asked what it took to do her job."

Her transformation - out of the ashes of the devastating fire - led her to launch her instructing business, Fenix Yoga.

Few said she's passionate about connecting others to the well-being that yoga brings.

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