Movement, Mindset and Mindfulness
Ideas and tips
A confession: I should really be at a yoga class right now. But I’m so passionate about how yoga can help mental health, I need to write this blog for World Mental Health Day.
You’ve probably seen loads of articles discussing the millions of work days that are lost to mental health issues each year and the billions of pounds this costs the economy. This is big.
Now, if, when you think of yoga, you are making images of someone mega-flexible bending into all sorts of contortions on the beach (which are the images so often presented in the media), you might be wondering how yoga is related to workplace mental health.
This is a good thing to wonder about.
Whilst yoga can help you be more flexible (if that’s what you want), it also makes a huge difference to mental health.
Indeed, Office Om was inspired by my yoga teacher training combined with my experience as a counsellor. I was fascinated by the mental health aspects linking the two.
But how does it help?
If you’re interested in improving mental health, or just want more reasons to practice yoga, then read on.
Here are 10 ways that yoga can improve mental health at work:-
1. Increasing Resilience
Resilience is such a buzz word in wellbeing right now. How can we be more resilient to the stresses that life throws our way? Well, according to research, yoga can help us be more resilient. A group in a randomised control trial who attended just six weeks of yoga classes showed enhanced emotional well-being and resilience to stress in the workplace compared to a control group . Yoga improves resilience to stress, which improves mental health.
2. Decreasing Stress
Indeed, yoga is a great antidote to the stresses of work. Stress is well known to activate our sympathetic nervous system releasing the stress hormone cortisol into our bodies. Conversely, yoga activates the parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ nervous system. Although yoga won’t get rid of every stress in life, it does help our bodies and minds have a rest from cortisol production. This calms anxiety and reduces stress, which benefits our mental health. Yoga can teach people skills, such as breathing exercises, which can reduce their stress levels when needed whilst they are working. Yoga reduces stress levels, which improves mental health.
3. Increasing Cardio-health
Yoga can help your mental health by helping your heart be healthy. Studies have shown yoga to help cardio-vascular health by reducing blood pressure, body mass and cholesterol levels. Heart conditions have a huge impact on mental health. In a study by the British Heart Foundation, 68% of respondents said their heart conditions affected them mentally, emotionally or psychologically So by practicing yoga, we can improve the health of our heart, which can help us to be mentally healthy. Happy heart, happy mind.
4. Improving Muscular-skeletal disorders
Did you know that Muscular-skeletal disorders (MSDs) are one of the biggest causes of workplace absence? The HSE estimates just over a third of days lost are due to MSDs. However, practicing yoga has been shown to have positive benefits with MSDs. For example, on a study of dentists, the prevalence of MSDs was shown to be around half of those practicing other forms of exercise . Anyone who has experienced a back issue will tell you the effect it can have on mental health, as evidenced by research. So improving your back health can help protect your mental health too. Healthy backs, healthy minds.
5. Increasing Confidence
Yoga can help improve your posture. Have you noticed that when you stand taller and bring your shoulders back and down you feel more confident? Amy Cuddy's famous and much debated TED talk  discussed the difference changing our posture makes to our emotional state. And this is what yoga is all about:- bringing awareness to our bodies and making changes to the way we move and hold ourselves, which changes the way we feel. By educating us about the physicality of our bodies, yoga can improve our confidence which improves our mental health.
6. Increasing Mindfulness
As a wise teacher once said to me, if you’re not being mindful when you practice, you’re not practicing yoga. Mindfulness is increasingly growing in popularity in the workplace. Working by focusing our minds on the present moment, it has been shown to have positive benefits for anxiety, stress and depression amongst other things. Whilst for some people, a traditional mindfulness programme such as MBSR works well, for others, the thought of sitting for ages just doesn’t work and a more physical mindful yoga class can help form a mindfulness practice. Practicing yoga can increase your ability to be mindful at work. Practice mindful yoga, improve mental health.
7. Increasing Self-awareness
Yoga is all about self awareness. I’ve been training as a Mental Health First Aid Instructor recently and one of the key messages of the course is that early intervention can make a huge difference to mental health issues should they occur. Yoga can give you a space to notice how you are feeling. You can notice the difference in how you feel from practice to practice. This self-awareness can help you give yourself the first aid you need should you notice any changes that don’t feel so good. Perhaps someone might notice feelings of sadness one week and these could be spoken about before they grow to anything more. By learning about ourselves in this way, we can put things in place to help our mental health when needed.
8. Increasing our self-care
All work and no play makes Jack…. Well, I guess that depends on what Jack does for a living. But generally, for good mental health, we need space for ourselves outside of our work. Increasing our self-care is also linked to increasing our resilience to stress. Yoga can help give us the space we need and also increase our resilience.
9. Coping tools
Yoga gives us ideas and practices that can help us manage how we feel. To reduce the how stressful a situation is, we can't always change the situation, but we increase our perception of our ability to cope. Yoga classes can put our bodies in stressful positions whilst we focus on our breathing and being in the present. By learning to cope with stress in this way, yoga can give us confidence to deal with stressful situations. Ability to cope with stressful situations is an important part of being mentally healthy.
10. It just makes you feel good
There’s nothing I love more than someone coming to speak to me at the end of an Office Om workshop and saying how they’d never tried yoga before and how much better it has made them feel. We don't need a beach or to be really flexible, just having a stretch and taking some deep mindful breaths can simply feel great. Yoga can just make you feel really good, and what can be better for mental health than that?
My mission is to help millions of people experience the mental and physical benefits of yoga through Office Om.
How has yoga helped improve your mental health? Would love to hear your experiences in the comments below.
And drop Office Om a line to find out how we can help you improve mental health where you work: email firstname.lastname@example.org
Hartfiel N, Havenhand J, Khalsa SB, Clarke G, Krayer A (2011) The effectiveness of yoga for the improvement of well-being and resilience to stress in the workplace. Scand J Work Environ Health. Jan;37(1):70-6. Epub 2010 Apr 6.
In Office Om this month, we’re focussing on self-care. There is a buzz around being resilient at the moment, which is all about our ability to cope with the challenges life throws our way. The good news is that resilience can be learnt. Indeed, self-care is an important part of being resilient and increasing our self-care is said to increase our resilience. So how resilient are you feeling right now? How would you feel if you increased your self-care? We’ll look at some strategies that might help.
First, let’s become aware of our self-care blocks. We all have mind-blocks that prevent us looking after ourselves as much as we perhaps need. For example, ‘I don’t have time to exercise’, ‘I need to devote all my energy to my work/family/other important thing’, ‘Self-Care sounds so selfish’, ‘I’ll eat less chocolate just after I finish this massive bar of….’ etc. Well, there could be some truth in these things. However, sometimes we need to move past these thoughts to prioritise our wellbeing. To do this, we first need to notice our own blocks before employing more helpful thinking when needed. For example, "I haven't got time to exercise" could become "I am really busy but I could go for a walk at lunchtime". If this feels difficult, you might like to talk to someone and ask them to challenge you. If we don’t employ enough self-care, we are not working/caring/creating/coping as well as we might. Only when we feel at our best can we work/care/create/cope at our best.
So, what can we do to boost our self-care and therefore our resilience? Everyone has different things that work for them. You can break these down into mind, body and spirit:
Every-body is different and we all need and enjoy different amounts and types of exercise and food. What exercise helps your body feel fantastic? What foods nourish and keep you at your healthiest? What drinks do your body need to be at its best? Are you giving your body enough time to relax? Keeping our bodies in the best health is the foundation of good self-care.
What do you do that stimulates your mind? We can look after our minds by having an amount of stimulation that is right for us. How happy is your mind right now? What do you think about that helps your mind feel good? Practicing the ability to steer our mind towards thinking helpful thoughts can also increase our self-care.
Spirit means different things to different people and needn’t be anything too weird or ‘woo woo’. For some, it is a religious concept, but it doesn’t have to be. This is about having a connection to a purpose or living in accordance with our values. This also might be about self-love. And I’m not talking about looking in a mirror and getting all narcissistic. Just by showing ourselves that we care about ourselves we can improve our sense of self-care.
So what can you do to increase your self-care this week? Think of three things that would can you do to help yourself feel great.
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Well, my last post about looking after your wellbeing in winter was going to be my last one before Christmas. Then after being struck by a flash of seasonal inspiration, I couldn’t help but post a blog with some yoga poses to help Christmas be even more brilliant.
Please also note that usual yoga rules apply at Christmas – warm up first, consult a professional if you have any medical issues, don't do a physical yoga practice if you’ve just eaten a load of mince pies (or other food) and it’s not clever to do yoga after drinking sherry and other alcoholic beverages.
Moments of mindfulness will also help this Christmas. Bring your mind to your body and notice how you are feeling, observe your breath for a few breaths or just bring your attention to whatever is going on in front of you. Practicing mindfulness can help you really be present, which can have more benefits than even the biggest presents.
Here, then, are some suggestions for festive yoga poses:-
Thanks to Liz Childerley (The Salemaker) for the photos.
Would love to know what you think - please comment below. Wishing you health and happiness this Christmas and throughout the New Year.
Follow Office Om on any of these social media channels for more office yoga, mindfulness and wellbeing in 2017, to help you feel at your best.
How is your wellbeing this winter? Whilst some people flourish, many of us find this time of year stressful. It’s colder, darker and often we feel less energetic. Life can get busier with extra family obligations or social commitments. For others, it can be a lonely time of year. Either way, this can be a challenging few weeks.
What can help us if we’re feeling stressed? In nature, the winter is about resting. Just look at deciduous trees who lose their leaves in Autumn and rest through the darker months ready to bud again in Spring. The break allows them to protect themselves in winter in preparation to thrive throughout the rest of the year. So what can we do to help us get through this time of year? Here are six ideas to help us rest and revive throughout winter.
When life gets stressful, it is really important we look after ourselves physically. Making sure we eat a healthy diet (in between mince pies) can make sure we are as healthy as possible. There are lots of different ideas around on what sorts of food are best for us, but lots of people suggest more vitamin C can to help boost our immune systems when we’re stressed and in winter. Some ideas on boosting your vitamin C intake can be found from Claire Stone Nutrition here. What foods would be most nourishing for you in the winter months?
Winter can be a great time to practice mindfulness meditation. Research has shown that even practicing for ten minutes a day can help us concentrate better, assist our emotional reactions to situations and improve our relationship skills, which can all be helpful at this time of year. Whilst mindfulness can be practiced in many ways, you might like to find a comfy place to sit, wrap a blanket around you and try a guided meditation. Apps such as Headspace, Sit Breathe Think and Calm are one way to try a guided mindfulness meditation. Or you might like to try free audio practices from websites such as www.calm.com or www.franticworld.com. Find a way of spending a few minutes to focus on the 'here and now' and notice how it makes you feel.
In winter, it can be tempting to snuggle into the sofa, watch loads of TV and not leave the house. Whilst this can be lovely at times, making sure we exercise too can be of great benefit. Whether this is going for a wintery walk, doing an exercise video from YouTube or doing some yoga stretches in between Netflix episodes, moving our bodies can help us boost our feel good hormones and keep us in good shape ready for next year.
4. Be kind
Whatever your views on the politics this year, you might have noticed that some commentators have noticed a decrease in compassion. Conversely, being more compassionate has been linked to better mental wellbeing. Try a random act of kindness over Christmas, for example, donating some toys to a local hospital, giving coffee to a cold person or looking after a parcel for a neighbour. Notice how this makes you feel. Likewise, it’s important to be kind to ourselves. Try noticing when you say something unkind to yourself and gently challenge these thoughts. Say something kind to yourself instead and notice what happens to your mood.
Take a break. Rest. Stop everything for a bit and just rest. Find a way of doing this that feels good to you. Perhaps putting your feet up and having a cup of tea, disconnecting from technology and reading a book or just lying like a starfish on your bed for a few minutes. This may feel strange or it may feel great, but actually stopping everything and pausing for a few moments, minutes or hours can help us revive. Notice how you feel once you start ‘doing’ again.
Winter can be a good time to reflect on the past year. What are you grateful for? What would you like to be different next year? Take time out to appreciate how far you’ve come and how you would like next year to feel.
Taking some time out in winter to recharge, refresh and revive can stand us in good stead for next year. What can you do to help you revitalise yourself this winter? Pause for a moment and plan some ways to boost your own wellbeing in the next few weeks.
Do you find January difficult or would you like some wellbeing stratgeies to help you boost your wellbeing in 2017? Try Office Om's January Wellbeing Workshop in Cardiff, details here .
Wishing you health and happiness this Christmas.
Look out for more ideas to improve your wellbeing in 2017 with Office Om. To find out more, follow Office Om on social media here:
Have you been seeing loads of photos of people recently looking something like a right angle? Well, that could be the Martha's Dancing Heart Downward Dog challenge (as well as loads of other yogis who just love posting photos of the pose!). How can downdog help you?
Downdog or Downward Dog, or Adho Mukha Svanasana (to give it its Sanskrit name), is the name of an inverted yoga pose. This blog will tell you why you might like to get down with some downdogs too. Here are five benefits:
Other benefits have been written about, for example, relieving the symptoms of depression, (see here).
Can you join in the challenge too? If so, you just need to post a picture of yourself doing downdog for 30 days and post your pictures online using the hashtag #mdhdownwarddog. To squeeze in some health and safety, really you should only attempt this if you have already got yoga experience. You should also avoid it if you have wrist problems or high blood pressure and a yoga teacher can give you modifications if these are the case. Ideally you’d prepare by warming up your ankles, legs and stretch your shoulders first too.
Thanks to Michelle Graham for nominating me for the pose, it's been a great incentive to post photos every day, and thanks to everyone else who's got involved too, you rock.
If you'd like to donate to Martha’s Dancing Heart appeal, please text MDHT99 £1 to 70070 to donate £1 (Or change it to any other amount too).
Or how I went from shy kid to running workshops for a living
Your stomach is churning, your knees are trembling, your palms are sweaty. Familiar feelings before speaking in front of people? So many of us are or have been scared of public speaking, even just thinking about it can fill us with fear. How many of us have felt these feelings and thought ‘I wish I was more confident’, ‘I’m so nervous, ‘I can’t do this’ or ‘why am I so rubbish’? In this article, I’m going to share 15 things I have discovered to help with these feelings and thoughts and, if you don’t already, to help you even enjoy public speaking. Yes, really.
Recently, I won a pitching competition at Entrepreneurial Spark. Well, when I say won, I was put through to the finals with 7 other businesses. But it felt like winning, especially when I look back at how far I’ve come with speaking in public. Through most of school, I was the shy quiet kid who avoided speaking in class at all costs. I believed I couldn’t do it and if asked to read a book out aloud, I descended into a red, hot shaky mess of embarrassment and fear. This continued into adulthood, where being made to do presentations at work was plain awful. I blushed, shook, put my head down and got through it as quietly and quickly as possible. Public speaking was just bad and I couldn’t do it.
So how did it change? How is it that I strangely enjoy speaking in front of people now? In short, I’ve learnt from others, experimented and tried different strategies. I haven’t got it entirely nailed. Indeed, I’ve got much more to learn, and yet I am a long way from where I used to be. Here are 15 things that have helped me and people I have worked with:
1. What are your worst fears?
What is it about public speaking that really scares you? Find a way to talk about this that feels safe, e.g. speaking to someone in a supportive environment. What are you frightened of? How likely is this to happen? How would you cope if it does happen? For some, acknowledging our fears, giving them a reality check and building up our coping skills can help us let them go.
2. Make friends with your fear
Changing your relationship with fear can have a huge effect. How many of us have felt our fear, then decided that means we can’t do something? A game-changer for me was hearing about how many huge celebrities feel incredibly scared before performing, but go on stage and do amazing performances anyway. In fact, the fear we feel before we speak in public situations can feel very similar to then feeling of excitement and can actually help us perform better.
Using the helpful words of Susan Jefferies brilliant book title, can you ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’?
3. Prepare Prepare Prepare
My first reaction to doing a pitch was ‘I’ll wing it, it’ll be fine’. And it might have been, but luckily I was encouraged to prepare. This has been a revelation for me. Even though I instinctively don’t want to practice, the more I practice, the more confident I am. And the more confident I am, the more I can focus on the elements below, which make my speaking stronger and better. Although, I’ve heard people say if we prepare too much, we can become too wooden (I don’t think I’ve reached the point of over-preparation). Experiment – work out what level of preparation works best for you to give you the optimum level of confidence. And whilst you’re practicing, use the mindset of imagining yourself being the best you possibly can be.
4. Wear your best underwear
Wear an outfit that makes you feel really good. Whether this is your lucky watch, your favourite shirt or your best underwear, something you associate with feeling great. Wearing something you associate with good feelings on the outside can help you feel good on the inside.
Lift your energy before you start – can you listen to something that makes you feel really good? Whether through earphones or just in your head? Eye of the Tiger? Starship, Nothing’s Going Stop Us Now? Choose something that fits your music taste and makes you feel amazing.
You’ll hear this a lot with Office Om, but breathing is amazing. Not only does it keep you alive, we can use it to change how we feel, for example, before and during speaking to others. Try taking a few deep breaths into your belly before you speak to calm your biological stress-response system. Take intermittent slow deep breaths throughout your performance to keep the oxygen flowing and for dramatic effect. Focussing on your breath can help refocus your mind.
7. Ground yourself in your senses
Before it’s your turn to speak, ground yourself physically – e.g. spending a moment to feel your connection to the floor or chair. Notice what you can see, feel or hear to ground your mind in the here and now. If you find your mind scattering to unhelpful places, bring it back to something that is happening right now. I find looking at the sky before I speak really helpful – taking my mind to an open space helps me let go of any worries I have. What can you connect to in the present moment that helps you feel grounded?
8. Speak from the heart
************WARNING - SKIP THIS POINT IF YOU DON’T LIKE THE FLUFFY STUFF************
As you speak, imagine radiating energy outwards from your heart or your ‘heart chakra’ if you so desire. This can help open your chest physically (see the next point), but can also make you sound more passionate, if that is a desirable outcome. Sounds strange? Give it a go and see if it works for you.
Have you noticed how confident people stand? Shoulders are back and down opening up the chest. Not only do confident people stand like that, but if you stand like that, you feel and look more confident. If you haven’t watched it yet, watch the brilliant TED talk by Amy Cuddy which explains some research to back this up. For any yogis out there, think Tadasana – feet are grounded, legs are strong yet soft, chest is open and the crown of the head is ascending to the sky. Improve the way you stand and you will improve the way you speak.
10. Being self-conscious
I remember when ‘self-conscious’ seemed like a criticism, until I deconstructed the words. Self-Conscious; being conscious of the self. Often if I have lost the plot when speaking, it is when I have been over-conscious of myself e.g. worrying about my cheeks going red and criticising what I’m saying. Whilst we do need to think about what we’re saying when we’re speaking, being overly self-conscious can be shifted to being conscious of what is going on around you. Try shifting your consciousness outwards and see if it helps.
11. Going gently on yourself
Noticing what you are saying can slip into unhelpful self-criticism. When I have noticed myself blushing slightly and thought about it so much that I’ve gone really red. The inner bully can then come out ‘look at you going red, you’re rubbish’. Those thoughts aren’t helpful are they? Try going easier on yourself. I find that it helps to tell myself ‘whatever happens it will be ok’. Developing that inner-compassion towards ourselves, which is a key part of disciplines such as yoga, types of counselling and mindfulness, can be really helpful whilst speaking publically. What thoughts are helpful for you?
12. Notice things you enjoy as you’re speaking
Notice moments, however big or small, where you’re feeling good. Moments, however short or long, where you’re really in the zone. Moments, where you feel connected with your audience. Is someone nodding as you speak? Can you see some smiles out there? Focus on these good feelings.
13. Come back to the here and now
If you find yourself criticising yourself or noticing ‘bad’ things as you're speaking? Can you see people sitting looking grumpy with their arms folded? Maybe they’ve had a bad day. Maybe they’re actually really interested and that’s their interested face? If you notice any unhelpful thoughts whilst you’re speaking, try to mentally put them on one side and bring your mind to the present moment,
14. If it bombs
Great, you gave it a go. Well done to you for trying. And it bombed? So what did you learn from this? What can you do differently next time? Is thinking about it helpful? Can you get feedback from anyone who could help things go better next time? Doing presentations, pitching, public speaking can be like going on a date:- you’ll either have a good experience, or a good story and an opportunity to learn for next time.
15. So you’ve done it, yay!
Notice the good feelings of having done it. How about giving yourself a reward. Whether you thought it was amazing or terrible, what would you like to happen now? Whether it’s a cup of tea, night off presentations or a Ferrari, choose according to your budget, needs and what would make you feel good.
What will work for you? We are all individuals and different things work for different people. You can experiment with these points and see which ones help the most. Have you got anything to add? Please add to the comments below. And join Office Om’s mailing list to hear more tips including movement, mindfulness and mindset inspiration. Wishing you luck for whatever you’re saying.
I love stress. It’s brilliant. And not just because much of my work is based on stress. Let me explain.
Now first, I acknowledge that stress can be painful and toxic. And it can cause physical, mental and emotional problems. Just to clarify, I do not love that people are in pain and suffering due to stress.
I also recognise that life tends to chuck a load of stressful stuff at us and, sometimes, we just can’t change what’s going on. For example, bereavement, broken relationships, toxic work environments; I do not love the painful curveballs that life throws our way.
However, some stress can have benefits. Without any stress, life can get boring. Indeed, a lack of stress can be toxic. I’ve counselled people who are signed off work due to workplace stress only to find that being at home with nothing to do is more stressful. A certain amount of stress can keep life interesting. Useful stress, I do like.
However, the thing I really love about stress is it can help us to find treasure in life that we might have not found otherwise.
If my teenage years were less stressful, I may not have found the inner wealth of yoga. Had I not had an extremely stressful life event in my early 20s, I would not have found a career I love in counselling. If I had not had a stressful job, I would not have discovered the wonders of office yoga. Had I not found motherhood so stressful at first, I might not have appreciated the benefits of practicing mindfulness (sometimes) in every day moments and built up skills in asking for help and self-care. Not that I would have chosen for any of these painful things to happen. However, stress can have hidden benefits.
I see so often in stressful situations people find hidden coping skills in themselves and come out stronger. Indeed, what I often see in my clients, is that even when they can’t do anything to change stressful situations, they can change how they feel within them, and in doing so, they often find super-powers that they never knew existed. The super-powers of changing our inner state to change our outer state. Therein, lies the treasure of stress.
And for that reason, I have grown to love stress.
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Do you ever come home with tight shoulders, headaches or feel a bit grumpy? Well I’ve been there. I was working long hours, putting myself under huge pressure to exceed targets, then studying and extra voluntary work as well. I had pains in my neck, shoulders and wrists from sitting at the computer all day and was not in a good mood. Meanwhile, I was having one lovely calm hour a week in a yoga class which made me feel brilliant, but only for a little while. And I didn’t connect the two. Until, someone suggested to me moving more at work. Ding – an idea - I Googled ‘Office Yoga’ and found out it really was a thing.
This idea lived in my head for years before I began to manifest it into real life, putting it on pause whilst I became a mother. Then, after the birth of my third child, it seemed totally the right time to bring my fourth baby, Office Om, into the world too. I ran my first workshop this time last year and this blog post is to celebrate. Since then, I’ve run workshops for various organisations, such as The Intellectual Property Office, Cardiff University, Admiral and Natwest Bank. I’ve had loads of positive feedback with 100% of participants to date saying they’d recommend Office Om to colleagues.
It’s exciting to see the power of wellbeing interventions to reduce stress and help people thrive, particularly at a time when so many people and organisations are investing in their own wellbeing. I’ve got so many ideas of how I’d like Office Om to grow and I’m really excited for the next stage of the journey. And yes, I still get tight shoulders, headaches and get a bit grumpy sometimes, but now I have a whole toolkit of things that help.
If you’d like to see where Office Om goes next, please click on this link to join the mailing list and follow Office Om on Twitter (@OfficeOm) and Facebook (www.facebook.com/officeom). Thanks so much for being with me at this stage of the adventure.
Founder of Office Om, BACP registered counsellor, Yoga Alliance 200hr trained yoga teacher and promoter of making daily life just that little bit better.