Holistic Wellness Blog with Wellness Expert Richard Brook
Richard Brook Corporate Yoga London and Bespoke Retreats and Events

Challenges and Benefits of Workplace Wellness 


A modern urban corporate working environment can be a nightmare for the subtle physiology of the body, and equally, in turn, your mind, emotions and lifestyle. Here we look at some of the challenges, and how our wellness services can help.

The Impact On Your State Of Mind

Challenge

Highly stressed workplace environments take their toll. Whether fast-paced and over-adrenalising or relatively sedentary and desk-oriented, the circumstances combine to create a great deal of stress particularly when combined with long hours in front of a screen (which irritates the hypothalamus of the brain).

This strain is further amplified by a 24/7 communication culture, with texts, emails, and calls arriving at all times making it easy to lose perspective of a healthy work-life balance and to lose connection with natural rhythms of activity and rest.

All this imbalanced activity lends itself to an over-busy mind, due to the over-activity of the nervous system, often still processing information long after work has finished, a sense of inner frustration and feeling of being locked into a Mental Hamster wheel that it’s very difficult to climb out of.

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As the body and mind enter fight or flight, it becomes excessively focused on one task in hand (as you are hard-wired in this stress state to think that you must complete this task in order to ‘survive’) and you become outcome driven. The problem with being in this state and outcome driven, is that the mind actually becomes logjammed and can’t process any further information which actually makes you much less efficient in the broad sense, micro-managing and losing connection with the present moment and bigger picture. You also lose perspective and creative potential, as balanced thought and the more subtle creative elements of the mind are locked out!

Essentially what we would think of as ‘left brain’ function becomes overstimulated, so you become ‘lost in conceptual thought’. And you know what happens when you are stuck in your mind? You lose track of all the good bits of life that are actually going on around you, which, of course, you need to experience through your senses, which is connected to ‘right brain’ function. So going home after work in this state is also no good (as it takes a while to unwind) as then you want to be as present as possible to enjoy your time with family and friends! It can also lend itself to excessive alcohol consumption in an effort to try and ‘decelerate’ (unwind) as quickly as possible, causing longer term problems!

Benefits

The good news is that practices like yoga, meditation, mindfulness and pranayama (yogic breathing exercises) help to correct this left and right brain imbalance. Basically, the exercises help you to come back to your senses! Exercises that calm the nervous system help to correct this imbalance, and balance the unhealthy hormonal side effects of stress – i.e excessive cortisol production. Also, as you spend so much time with your awareness in your body during yoga or body-centred meditations, it starts to enable you to keep perspective on your current state.

If you start to regularly experience a state of embodied calm, where you are alert and present in the moment in a relaxed way, you can start to change your perspective on when you are beginning to become excessively stressed and use the tools you are learning in class to change your state.

Richard Brook Corporate Yoga London

As the body and mind enter fight or flight, it becomes excessively focused on one task (as you are hard-wired in this state to think that you must complete this task in order to ‘survive’) and you become outcome driven. The problem is that you can’t process any further information making you much less efficient, losing connection with the present moment and bigger picture.

The Impact On Your Posture

Challenge

The office environment by its very nature isn’t ideal for a human being. Often sedentary, it can contribute to musculoskeletal imbalances where some muscle groups tend to become redundant, while others over-work to compensate. Musculoskeletal issues like this bed into the body over a long period of time and can create chronic problems ranging from back and neck pain to muscle strains.

The sedentary nature of office work also compromises the function of particular organs which need movement to function at maximum efficiency. On an emotional level, this can create frustration (see emotional tension below) but also can particularly afflict the digestive system.

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Benefits

Different types of yoga act on the body in different ways (hence we discuss the specific needs of your workplace) but a feature of virtually every style is the ability to redistribute and realign the bodies habitual movement and muscle usage patterns. Generally speaking, too much sedentary seated work debilitates the core muscles in particular and yoga helps to address this, taking the pressure off the peripheral muscles which have been over-working to compensate. The realignment of muscle usage of course in turn affects the skeletal system, with an improvement in posture leading to less significant spinal misalignment in particular.

The stimulation of connective tissue during yoga asana (posture work) also, in turn, positively stimulates corresponding organs which also affect posture. For example, excessive tension in the Liver leads to generalised tension in the body’s ligaments and tendons, so yoga asanas which stimulate the Liver to relax will also help to disperse tension throughout the entire body.

Generally speaking, too much sedentary seated work debilitates the core muscles in particular and yoga helps to address this, taking the pressure off the peripheral muscles which have been over-working to compensate.

The Accumulation of Emotional Tension

Challenge

The office environment is also not generally ideal for giving time and space to disperse negativity and pent-up emotions as it doesn’t allow the time and space to do so as both the ability to move and deeply relax are inhibited, both key factors in dispersing emotional tension.

In addition, an unfortunate consequence of long hours, and often a lengthy commute, is that the time for replenishment and rejuvenation is then also naturally curtailed.

Work stress wouldn’t be so bad if we then had the outlets of expression and support built into the rest of our lives to compensate. But often there aren’t enough hours in the day, week or month for that which means we carry on with an internal powder-keg of unexpressed emotions inside of us.

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Benefit

On a simplistic physical level, as mentioned earlier, different organs in the body actually relate to different emotions (more on the specifics of this via my free ebook on wellbeing fundamentals here) and yoga asana helps to stimulate and relax organs via the connective tissue, dispersing emotional tensions.

The deep relaxation at the end of a yoga class also gives the body a chance to release tension which makes a huge difference to emotional strain. Research suggests that just 20 minutes of deep relaxation is the equivalent of 2 hours sleep (although deep relaxation also has numerous other benefits!) and during this time the body can do some deep rebalancing and ‘letting go’.  In addition to this, the uplifting nature of yoga practice in itself means that ‘feel good’ hormones are generated that change the emotional state of the participant.

On the macro level, it also, of course, helps to lift the entire office environment when participants are uplifted and relaxed! Clashes that may have otherwise occurred can be alleviated, avoided and diffused when one of more of the parties involved is in a much more balanced state.

taking the pressure off the peripheral muscles which have been over-working to compensate. The realignment of muscle usage of course, in turn, affects the skeletal system, with an improvement in posture leading to less significant spinal misalignment in particular.

The stimulation of connective tissue during yoga asana (posture work) also, in turn, positively stimulates corresponding organs which also affect posture. For example, excessive tension in the Liver leads to generalised tension in the body’s ligaments and tendons, so yoga asanas which stimulate the Liver to relax will also help to disperse tension throughout the entire body.

On a simplistic physical level, different organs in the body relate to different emotions and yoga helps to stimulate and relax organs via the connective tissue, dispersing emotional tensions.

Accelerated Learning and Work Efficiency

Challenge

This subject overlaps slightly with our first point on the effect on your general state of mind of being stressed. Essentially when you are too busy, with too much stimulation and information, you struggle to absorb and integrate new information, becoming a little blinkered and fixated on a task in hand. This is a useful capacity of our human nature if we are genuinely in danger and wish to escape it, but not so great if you are in a fast moving information dense environment where you need to hold awareness of a bigger picture.

And of course this degree of strain and overload is on a spectrum – we may be almost completely relaxed and open to new information, or almost completely closed, but we are usually somewhere inbetween. So any supportive activity that enables us to be more relaxed and receptive, and access your inner creative voice is evidently a bonus for improving further your level of efficiency.

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Benefits

Exercises, such as yoga which co-ordinate both sides of your brain and activate a relaxation response make the body and mind much more receptive to new input. Please note the reference to making the Body AND Mind more receptive — we learn a great deal through the transmission of ‘energy’ in the form of vibration as it hits our body and is absorbed into our nervous system — and if you are tense or stressed, this is significantly compromised. For example as you get older, you may learn through using the intellect itself to ‘make sense’ of the information you are being given, say in the example of learning a new language, you may translate in your mind the new word into the word you already know in your own language. However, when you originally learnt language, it was through directly receiving the communication straight into your nervous system, hearing the word, feeling it’s essence and it’s implied meaning from the communicator.

When you are stressed and overloaded this is seriously compromised, not least because your body is also more tense so can’t absorb the information, but also because when you are tense you are also less ‘present’ in the body and senses to actually perceive the information.

Yoga, mindfulness and relaxation practices significantly help to correct this state of being, so much so that yoga is identified as an integral part of ‘Superlearning’ as defined by education expert Ostrander.

Superlearning is a form of holistic education; it involves body and mind working in harmony. It’s based on the idea that the mind is able to learn faster and more easily when the body is running at a more efficient level. Ostrander, 1971

Richard has first hand experience of teaching yoga within this context as he has partnered with holistic education Tanya Moore on her accelerated learning language programmes.

We learn a great deal through the transmission of ‘energy’ in the form of vibration as it hits our body and is absorbed into our nervous system — and if you are tense or stressed, this is significantly compromised.

Team Building

Challenge

A big chunk of our early education is about respecting the authority figures around us, and ascribing a particular value judgement on those who are seemingly in higher positions than ourselves. Indeed, this perception of increased power of our senior colleagues, or lessened power of our junior colleagues can sometimes be our main framework for relating to those people around us at work.

This dynamic can also come with some sense of subtle (or exaggerated) anxiety as these colleagues may be the ones who hold our future in their hands – if we don’t create a good impression on them, our position and sense or stability in life could be under threat. Basically we enter a state – to varying degrees of ‘survival mode’.

This anxiety can create – again to varying degrees – jarring and uncomfortable relationships, with our sense of common humanity lost under role dynamics, self-preservation, pressure and fear.

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Benefit

Shared activities which transcend and break the workplace hierarchy and roles are priceless! Being in a shared activity harmonises you with those around you – but the choice of activity is paramount. An activity such as yoga harmonises you together while you are in a sense of peace and relaxation – so you engender a deep sense of sensitivity and comfort with your colleagues.

You are not having to amplify or desensitize your state in order to share a sense of connection (such as with alcohol-fueled shared activities) and this enables you to relax on a profound level with a common thread of shared enriching experience.

On a very practical level, we can also hold specialist team building classes, where the partner and group techniques we can integrate are great at connecting people above and beyond their ‘role’ and place in the hierarchy.

At the end of the day, we are all human beings and recognition and mutual respect of that creates a feel-good factor. We often forget this within the office hierarchy.

Sometimes, you do need to break the mould a little and let people be seen, if only for an hour a week or so!

Workplace & Office Yoga London with Corporate Yoga London

Shared activities which transcend and break the workplace hierarchy and roles are priceless! Being in a shared activity harmonises you with those around you – but the choice of activity is paramount. An activity such as yoga harmonises you while you are in a sense of peace and relaxation – so you engender a deep sense of sensitivity and comfort with your colleagues.

Diet And Nutrition

Challenge

A common urban scenario is that you are always busy and ‘chasing time’ allowing you little time to digest (both things going on around you and your actual food.)

So if you are in a rush to get to work (sometimes also because you are still tired and chasing time to rest from yesterday) what happens is your adrenals activate in the morning to get you moving, which naturally decreases your digestive deficiency – when the body enters fight or flight one of the first things that happens is that the less essential systems at that moment start to shut down.

So you will keep breathing, but your digestive secretions decrease, affecting the bodies ability to digest food and appetite decreases. Your diaphragm also contracts in the overstimulated state, fear driven state which also contracts the intestines in the abdomen. All this isn’t a good scene for your digestion or indeed your food choices!

Relating to the impact on food choices, it’s because this state also lends itself to the stimulant culture – you don’t really feel like you can ‘stomach’ a decent breakfast so instead grab a coffee and often a sugary snack. The result is peaks and troughs of alertness, mood and blood sugar as the body tries to balance back out. What then tends to happen when the body does tend to have a greater sense of space in the evening is comfort eating and over eating, in the desire to nourish one self or give one self a ‘treat’ after the stressful day.

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Also we shouldn’t forget the following; the resulting proliferation of bad bacteria in the digestive tract which can promote candida and halitosis; the lack of micro-nutrients in your body; and weight gain as the cortisol receptors in the gut are absorb a greater amount of fatty acids!

Then we can also consider the impact of eating lunch at your desk, another common situation nowadays! Not only is this generally really bad for your posture, but we don’t even really pay attention to what we are eating, let alone chew and digest our food efficiently. But also, where are you sitting? In amongst the humdrum of photocopiers, the electromagnetic static of PC’s, lack of natural light and perhaps even worse, the absence of human interaction. Sitting and eating together and spending time with our fellow beings is often cultivated with much greater ease centred around eating together. But since you are overstimulated from work then you are also often hit with the double whammy that even if you do escape the office, you feel like being alone. Denying you precious social time.

Benefit

Yoga, mindfulness and relaxation practices have many benefits in this regard! Not only do they help to relax the nervous system and alleviate, counteract and prevent over adrenalised states (which is a chief causative factor in many of the food patterns outlined above) but the physical movements in the practices themselves actually helps to tonify (support) the internal organs too.

We don’t often appreciate, but in the same way that your external fascia (muscles, ligaments and tendons) gets stressed and tense, so do your internal organs! Think of how tight your abdomen gets when you feel tense, and various postures help to manipulate and ease the organs in your body, alleviating tension and increasing peristalsis (rhythmical contractions within the digestive system) which counteracts stress induced constipation.

The practices also of course increase your body awareness, so you are more in tune with your body’s needs, and become much more aware of the the toxic nature of stress and thus by instinct make changes to keep yourself feeling good!

The feel good hormones help to keep at bay a downward spiral of strain and often foster further investigation into health and longevity practices, again once you have found a practice that helps you, you tend to explore it, and it’s relative practices and philosophies, again by instinct!

We don’t often appreciate, but in the same way that your external fascia (muscles, ligaments and tendons) gets stressed and tense, so do your internal organs! Think of how tight your abdomen gets when you feel tense, and various postures help to manipulate and ease the organs in your body, alleviating tension and increasing peristalsis (rhythmical contractions within the digestive system) which counteracts stress induced constipation.

Family, Relationships & Intimacy

Challenge

Our priceless relationships become compromised in many ways through work related stress. On a purely physical level, when stress increases libido decreases as our life force is spent out dealing with other matters.

But work related time compression is also a killer! Often our work time practically eats into our family time but even if it doesn’t literally impinge into your time at home, then the tiredness you carry with you often does – making you sharp with partners and children, or if you are single, compromising the time available to find a partner!

And it’s a bit of a mood killer when you fall asleep exhausted when your partner wishes to connect.

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Benefit

As we’ve discussed throughout this section, the stress relieving impact of the practices we offer make a huge difference to your quality of life, which is once more abundantly apparent in our relationships. Regular practice means your mood is better, you have more energy, sleep better, are more relaxed, are more body-aware and have more empathy, and all these factors mean your relationships are better!

As regards the time issue, the more energy you have, the less rest – or passive rest (when you are vegging or trancing out) you need. Increased body awareness and sensitivity means you also become more discerning about how you spend your time, making more choices which tend to improve the quality of your life and relationships.

Partner Yoga London with Richard Brook

Regular practice means your mood is better, you have more energy, sleep better, are more relaxed, are more body-aware and have more empathy, and all these factors mean your relationships are better!

Your Inner ‘Creative’ Voice & Passions

Challenge

‘Busy’. You are often busy all the way through University and into your job, following the well-trodden path into adult life. But is this the life you are meant to lead? Maybe it is, but sometimes it’s nagging at the back of the mind that there is something else out there for you, but you’ve never had the space to engage with those thoughts, that part of you seeking answers. This can be a subtle degree of stress, but stress nonetheless!

Benefit

Embodied practices bring you closer to your inherent passions and your authentic individuality. As we discussed earlier they draw you out of your ‘left brain’ intellect (and your intellect can make a case for pretty much any decision most of the time) and into your ‘right brain’ creative capacity where you connect to what’s important to you, deep inside. The feelings in your Heart, passions.

The precious few minutes of relaxation at the end of a class where you hear your mind clearly is a fantastic opportunity to keep coming back to yourself to check you are on track in your life as you hear your deeper intelligence talking to you, rather than the more superficial intellect, which can be partly developed just to help you survive, rather than thrive!

Corporate Wellness, Yoga London with Richard Brook

Embodied practices bring you closer to your inherent passions and your authentic individuality. As we discussed earlier they draw you out of your ‘left brain’ intellect and into your ‘right brain’ creative capacity where you connect to what’s important to you, deep inside. The feelings in your Heart, passions.

Natural Balance & Perspective

Challenge

Nature is designed to maintain balance. Business is designed to get you ahead – particularly in the Western business climite – and this is inherently stressful! Generally speaking, the planet has been doing fine in maintaining equilibrium and homeostasis in the growth and decay cycle.

Nature pushes into growth, matures and then recycles into decay to recreate again. As part of this cycle, it creates food and resources for its inhabitants. Fast forward to a city, your currency of survival isn’t the Vegetation outside your door, it’s money. Without it, your chances of survival are compromised, so there is a subtle stress factor about your own survival at play that you need a job. And of course there can also be the situation that should you not be making enough money for your employer then you can then your work position itself can also be under threat, so there is a lot of strain!

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Benefit

Yoga helps you keep perspective and balance, it’s a practice that transcends your cultural circumstances and enables you to feel good without needing to prove anything to anyone or achieve a certain ‘grade’. This is immensely refreshing for the Soul – we are taught all our life we have to earn our enjoyment and can tie a lot of our self worth to our work status, but yoga knows none of that! It’s about you getting comfortable with yourself and giving yourself quality attention, regardless of how much money you may, or may not be currently earning!

Creative Yoga with Richard Brook at Camden Roundhouse Beach London

Yoga helps you keep perspective and balance, it’s a practice that transcends your cultural circumstances and enables you to feel good without needing to prove anything to anyone or achieve a certain ‘grade’.

Other Helpful Tips!

Air Conditioning and Electro-magnetic Stagnation

Natural, ‘Fresh’ Air contains within it a proliferation of negative ion particles, which despite their names are actually good for us. As soon as these negatively charged ions come into contact with pollutants, or air conditioning their healthy fresh ‘negative’ charge turns positive, reducing our sense of vitality. Electrical devices also contribute to this phenomena, so being in an office is bad news in this respect!

On a subtle level, our body also is at home in a natural environment. There is a micro-vibration inherent in all living matter – so it’s in plants and animals as well as humans – so when we are out in nature we feel at home and can relax. Fast forward to an office full of electrical equipment and it has a very discordant feel to the body, makes us sluggish and irritable.

Natural Light

You might work in a lovely glass office block, but the bad news is that the spectral rays of light you need in order to balance brain chemistry, unfortunately, don’t pass through glass, and thus never reach the retina to positively influence our brain chemistry and notify the brain that it’s daytime! This affects our circadian rhythm. It also makes it even more important to get yourself outside at lunchtime and get some light, particularly in the winter!

Outdoor Yoga in London with Richard Brook of Creative Wellness

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