Yoga was among many unexpected gifts I got from my journalism career thanks to a yoga class sponsored by the Sun-Sentinel, a Florida newspaper where I worked for several years. On Tuesday nights, several coworkers and I would gather in an empty conference room and practice with a teacher who was paid by the paper. The class was simultaneously relaxing and energizing, and I’m convinced those classes helped me work better.

Employees at General Mills do yoga.

Employees at General Mills do yoga.

It’s heartening to hear about other companies that have discovered yoga’s workplace benefits. Free yoga and meditation classes are one of the perks Google offers to its employees, for example. Other large companies such as General Mills, Apple, Forbes, GE and Microsoft also have found ways to integrate yoga and meditation into the workplace.

Wish you had yoga at your workplace? Make a business case for it! Here are just a few selling points you could use to persuade your employer that it is a good investment to provide or subsidize yoga classes:

Yoga practices such as meditation enhance emotional intelligence. Chade Meng Tan, who developed a mindfulness meditation course at Google, says it has increased emotional intelligence in employees that practice. That helps people be more effective at work. After doing a story on meditation, Oprah Winfrey began practicing twice daily with a handful of colleagues, and soon everyone wanted in the action. In an interview with Dr. Mehmet Oz, she said the office benefited from improved relationships and more meaningful interactions.

Oprah Winfrey meditates at work

Oprah Winfrey meditates at work

The health benefits of yoga could lead to higher productivity and less absenteeism. Oprah also told Oz that after meditation, employees reported getting better sleep, making for more refreshed, alert employees. Some even said they stopped getting migraines. A study published in a 2008 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine showed that after taking up yoga, military veterans with chronic low back pain reported a significant reduction in pain, along with improvements in mood, energy, and quality of life. And the Mayo Clinic website recommends yoga as a method of stress release, physical fitness, weight management, and managing chronic conditions such as high blood pressure, cancer, depression, and insomnia.

Employees improve their ability to handle stress. In an interview we did for Yoga Wisdom at Work, the Human Resources director at an internationally known U.S. health resort said that a meditation practice become the deciding factor for hiring a Technology Director. Although three finalists for the job were equally qualified, decision makers believed that meditation practice would help him better handle the demanding, high-stress job. He proved them right. “He is always smiling and serene, and made a big impact in a short time,” the HR director told us.

Developing the ability to “be present” leads to better focus and happiness: One of the precepts of yoga is dharana, or focus, a practice of training the mind to stay full present. Instead of encouraging multi-tasking — which scientific research has shown to be impossible and counterproductive  — yoga practice can help people learn to focus and stay on task. Research highlighted in a Tedx talk by Matthew Killingsworth shows that learning to control mind wandering is a key factor in reported happiness.

Happy, healthy, focused employees will affect profitability: Numerous research studies have linked health and happiness in employees to improved customer service, greater productivity and loyalty to the enterprise, lower healthcare costs and lower staff turnover — all of which improve the bottom line.



Many people don’t realize that the familiar physical practice is just a fraction of what yoga offers. More than 2000 years ago, Indian sage Patanjali outlined Eight Limbs, which offer a moral framework, a code of conduct and physical and spiritual practices designed to help you develop your potential and keep you connected to something larger than yourself.

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The precepts from this ancient wisdom have much to offer in the modern workplace. Here are five pragmatic practices:  

1. Breathing — The Fourth Limb (pranayama) is breath control. Yogic breathing techniques help alter moods, increase energy, mitigate mental distress, foster patience, enhance focus, and heighten clarity. A medical executive we know practices pranayama by taking a deep breath before answering questions, creating space that allows for a thoughtful response.

2. Focus is the Sixth Limb (dharana). The practice trains your mind to filter productivity-killing distractions. Start by re-thinking your multitasking mindset, which brain research has shown that multi-tasking is impossible and counterproductive. Pay attention when your mind wanders or frets about things that are out of your control. Connect to your breath then return focus to the task at hand.

3. Meditation (dhyana) is the Seventh Limb, and research documents its myriad benefits. It increases the brain’s neural pathways that govern compassion, self-awareness, and memory. The practice can ease depression and help control anger. Many corporations, including Aetna, Apple, General Mills, Google, and Prentice Hall Publishing have integrated the practice into employees’ workdays. Even a small, daily time investment reaps big benefits.

4. Non-stealing (asteya) is among five moral precepts comprising yoga’s First Limb (yamas). It brings to mind pilfering money or “stuff.” But at work, many valuable intangibles are stolen, such as time, reputation,credit, and dignity. Tardiness or being unprepared for meetings, wordy emails, and general procrastination steals time. So does gossip, which also misappropriates people’s reputation and dignity.

5. Contentment (santosha) falls under the Second Limb, which also has five precepts called niyamas. They offer a framework for personal conduct and self-development. Practicing santosha is learning to cultivate contentment no matter what life hands you. Give work your best efforts, and then recognize you have a choice about how to respond if the outcome is disappointing. Non-attachment fosters contentment as well as encouraging openness to unconventional thinking, sparking creativity and innovation.