While I was living and working under what felt like constant stress in a job I didn’t like, my good friend suggested that I take a vinyasa yoga class. In ancient Sanskrit, vinyasa means “to place in a special way.” In modern yoga, vinyasa has come to mean “flow,” a practice of poses running together smoothly involving body movement aligned with breathing. I never subscribed to spiritual, mystical, or metaphysical solutions for problems. But my stress seemed unbearable, and I reasoned that yoga also has a physical fitness element, so I agreed to try a class.
The first class began with a Sanskrit purification mantra. The instructor encouraged everyone to become conscious of their breathing. I had no idea how to do this. Everyone in class quietly sat in the lotus pose with their hands resting on their knees, palms open, sitting cross-legged with each foot on the opposite thigh, and eyes closed. Panicked thoughts ran through my mind. “I’m doing this wrong, and everyone knows” drowned out the mantra on which I was supposed to be meditating.
Then we began moving and doing poses. This was more to my liking. I could imitate the poses, even though some of my joints creaked and I still couldn’t figure out if I was breathing correctly. The people around me seemed focused and at ease in their movements. A couple of times, the instructor came over to me to correct some of my poses and to give me a smile of encouragement. After class, I felt satisfied with myself for giving yoga a try, even if there seemed to be a long way to go before inner peace and calmness would come my way.
Prioritizing Wellness Reaps Benefits
The next Monday at work, I felt a little different. When an email popped into my inbox outlining a huge project that would take considerable time and resources on my part, I read it and sat with it for a minute. “Breathe,” I said quietly to myself. Negative thoughts about how I couldn’t possibly do this project by the deadline entered my head. I started typing a reply. “Stop typing until you clear the negativity from your mind,” my quiet voice said. That was shockingly good advice. “Why don’t you talk to your manager about the request and see if there’s a way to get some help or at least revise the project plan to push back the due date so you can get it done on time?” also popped into my head, and I decided that was a good plan of action. The project got done by the due date, and I received a nice thank-you email from the client.
The next weekend, I went back to the yoga class and sat in the lotus position watching everybody else. Then the movements began. I did a sun salutation (a sequence of poses called Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit), then went from downward-facing dog into plank pose. I learned the half-moon pose and the sequence of warrior poses (humble warrior is my favorite). I started breathing in a conscious way. Stress and tension seemed to be lifting off me. After class, I felt a lightness that reminded me of being a kid lost in some activity that I really liked.
I slept well that Sunday night (which I never did before) and walked into work on Monday feeling more cheerful than I usually did at the beginning of a workweek. At our team meeting that morning, I found myself volunteering to help on a project that one of my teammates was struggling to complete. Emails arrived in my inbox without eliciting any strong reactions from me. I went about my work calmer than I’d ever felt before.
I kept going to that weekend yoga class. I even signed up for an additional class in the middle of the week. I started working on my résumé and looking for a job that involved more of what I liked to do. I stayed calm at work and coached myself through difficult situations. Yoga provided me with an impenetrable calmness that I could take with me to work and to other situations that I found difficult to manage.
Now I’ve been practicing yoga for more than a decade and I’m working in a job I really like that’s much better suited to my professional strengths than the one I had previously. I credit yoga with providing the resiliency that I needed to manage a stressful job and the energy and perspective that I needed to search for a new one that’s a better fit for me.