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As the focus on employee wellness increases, yoga at work is becoming a popular initiative across India Inc. American IT firm BMC Software was among the early starters. Yoga sessions at their Bengaluru office began in 2013 as part of a deal with an insurance company which organized the classes. A couple of years later, the insurance firm stopped its yoga programme but BMC Software’s head of human resources, Latha Devi, who works out of the Bengaluru campus, had noticed enough positive impact on the team to continue with the twice-a-week yoga sessions on their premises. The hour-long sessions are conducted by trainers from Total Yoga, a yoga centre run by the husband-wife duo of Manish Pole and Neetu Singh. The sessions are held at the company’s in-house cafeteria.

“We introduced the free yoga sessions for our employees back in 2013. Yoga has helped BMC Software employees increase their productivity as well as decrease stress and anxiety in the workplace," says Devi, explaining the reason behind running the Yoga at Work programme for five years till date without a break. “The programme has been pretty successful with up to 45-50 employees attending the yoga sessions at the peak of its popularity. Even I used to be a regular for the yoga sessions at our office. Whenever the attendance drops below 10, we send out an email reminder to the entire team and the attendance improves in the next class." Due to her extensive travel schedule and meetings, Devi makes up for the missed office yoga sessions by making time for asanas over the weekend.

The few people who tried out the initial in-office sessions found them so useful that they became regulars. The participants bring their own yoga mats for the sessions. Principal senior quality assurance engineer Murugappan Veerappan started coming for the yoga sessions that start at 6pm out of “self interest because it helps improve balance, strength, mobility, and even the mood". It is difficult for Veerappan to attend the yoga sessions regularly but, he adds, they have helped him feel energetic and keep cool in tough situations.

Web specialist Supraja Seshadri went for a yoga session because her co-workers were doing it and felt good, so she has continued with it. She has seen her favourite fitness routine’s benefits beyond the workplace. “Over time my stamina levels have increased and my hypothyroidism has gone down," she says. “If not for yoga, I might not have reduced weight in the right way. I might have missed the good feeling and other health benefits that have come along with the regular yoga training."

Photo:Jithendra M./Mint
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Photo:Jithendra M./Mint

The yoga sessions had such a good impact on the employee groups who had enrolled for it that BMC Software decided to conduct organization-wide programmes from time to time at the Bengaluru office. The Total Yoga team has been invited a few times to conduct special Desktop Yoga sessions which are held on the office floor with all employees at or near their workstations. During these special sessions, everyone is taught how to do a few yoga exercises at their desk that will help them stretch and shake off fatigue.

Devi says implementing yoga at work has had a positive impact on the employees at an individual level as well as on the team as a whole. “Apart from increasing productivity and staff retention, the programme has helped us build a reputation for being a desirable place to work," she says. “The feedback from everyone who participates in our Yoga at Work initiative is positive. Total Yoga instructors make everybody feel comfortable regardless of their skills and level of performance. They create an atmosphere that makes people want to continue to participate."

The biggest improvements that Devi has noticed are in the areas of employee alertness, ability to multitask and react calmly in demanding situations. “I feel energetic and it helps me keep my cool in tough situations," says Veerappan. “All in all, yoga helps one to make better choices."

Asana in the Office is a series on how employees practise, embrace and enjoy yoga in their workplaces. Shrenik Avlani is co-author of The Shivfit Way, a book on functional fitness.

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