Exploring the helpfulness of wellbeing-focused yoga for staff
Over the summer of 2022, I had the real privilege and joy of bringing yoga to businesses and workplaces to support staff wellbeing in their place of work. As a Clinical Psychologist working in busy mental health services in the NHS, I have witnessed the ways that increased pressure at work and emotionally demanding jobs can affect overall wellbeing, sickness and absence from work, and general functioning. These observations motivated me to explore the ways that I could offer something to staff working in busy and demanding environments to reduce the impact of workplace stress. I wanted to see if yoga focused on body and mind wellbeing might help with this. Here’s what I discovered…
Small groups of staff working at the University of Exeter and in NHS primary care services were offered yoga classes focused on physical wellbeing and psychological health. The integrative yoga classes included yoga moves and sequences as well as practices I was able to share from my experiences as a Clinical Psychologist. The wellbeing yoga classes were trauma-informed and centred upon working within a pain-free range of motion, learning to listen to the body, and experimenting the different techniques with a sense of playfulness and curiosity. The focus was always around practicing the yoga and psychological skills rather than being motivated to “perform”, and being guided by how things feel within rather than how the body looked externally.
Being a Psychologist and Yoga Teacher, the Psychologist part of me wanted to get some data and gather evidence to research whether the yoga was beneficial (Psychologists often love a questionnaire!). The yoga participants were thankfully very understanding of this and agreed to fill out surveys before they started the yoga classes and at the end of the course of yoga sessions. The surveys asked people to rate four experiences: level of depressed mood, level of anxiety, sense of positivity about work, and level of engagement at work.
The data showed really positive changes pre-yoga compared to post-yoga. Over the course of the yoga classes (which ranged from six to eight weeks), people reported a reduction in level of low mood and decreased feelings of anxiety. This suggests that something from the yoga classes might have helped people to feel less depressed and less anxious. Also the yoga participants reported increased levels of work positivity and better engagement at work, indicating that maybe the wellbeing yoga was supporting improved workplace attitude and functioning.
In addition to the numerical data, the yoga participants were asked some open-ended questions to provide an opportunity to feedback on helpful and less helpful experiences. The responses were overwhelmingly positive and there were no comments about things that were unhelpful. Also 100% of people said that they would participate in the wellbeing yoga classes if they were offered at work again. Some of themes from the feedback included:
Yoga as a new experience: some people in the groups tried yoga for the very first time and commented on positive experiences in a group setting
Yoga as a restful and peaceful space: people said that the classes provided quiet from a busy working day, and found that yoga classes being offered in the workplace were useful as it was more convenient to fit this alongside other routines and commitments
Yoga as re-energising: people found that the yoga classes helped re-charge energy levels and re-invigorate during the working day, and supported positive habits such as taking more regular breaks during the day
Yoga as enlightening: people said that they learned new approaches and practices of yoga which differed from past experiences of yoga
The qualitative data supports the quantitative data and provides further details on what it was that was so helpful from the yoga. The responses show that some people were completely new to yoga and found it positive to try something different and to practice in a group. For others, it was beneficial to be supported by managers and employers to attend the yoga classes within the working day. Others commented on the stillness and peace derived from the yoga, and a re-adjustment of perceptions of yoga. This data provides useful evidence on the value of yoga in different work settings.
It was wonderful for me to be a part of initiatives supporting better staff wellbeing in the workplace. It strikes me that bringing wellbeing yoga to businesses and staff helps teams better manage their psychological health and feel more positive towards their work. I wonder if this also helped people to feel valued and supported by their employer – having time in the working day to do something supportive to their wellbeing, and being able to do this without a personal financial cost to the individual.
Of course, there might be other factors that contribute to the correlational evidence obtained, and it is beyond the scope of this small-scale research project to measure and account for other variables. Of note, it is important to reflect on the progression of the global COVID-19 pandemic which worsened during the course of the staff wellbeing yoga classes: transmission rates increased, staff were personally affected by COVID-19, and there were stricter national guidelines. Even with (and maybe, especially given) these anxiety-provoking circumstances, the yoga classes were still beneficial and helped to lower psychological distress.
I’m truly humbled to say that both workplaces at the University of Exeter and the NHS primary care provider have both invited me back to bring more yoga to their staff later in the summer and autumn – thank you!
Are you interested in bringing psychological therapy enhanced wellbeing yoga to your staff or workplace? Contact Kayleigh to discuss availability and options.
Thank you for reading!