21 June is the International Day of Yoga. To mark this special occasion, we’re discussing the role that yoga plays at InterNations and for our team.
Do you know how many people participated in the world’s largest-ever yoga class? Take a guess!
If you’ve just answered, “more than a hundred thousand”, then you got it right. According to Guinness World Records, 100,984 people gathered in the northern Indian city of Kota on 21 June 2018 to celebrate World Yoga Day together. Of course, the current coronavirus crisis has made similar mass events impossible this year. Therefore, the UN invites all practitioners to mark the International Day of Yoga 2020 by practicing at home, alone, or with their entire family. And who knows? Perhaps some InterNations team members will join them on Sunday!
Yoga: A Corporate Benefit for a Better Work-Life Balance
Not only do we have quite a few yoga enthusiasts among our employees, but free in-house yoga lessons are also among the benefits we offer to the InterNations Team in Munich. They have been a fixture for more than five years now, taking place on Wednesday night right after work. When Feel Good Manager Denise joined InterNations in her newly created role back in 2014, she wasn’t just put in charge of making sure that our local office ran smoothly. It also fell to her to conceptualize some perks that our team members would appreciate. Yoga was featured on this list from the very beginning.
Denise herself had been practicing yoga on and off since she was about 18, but it was more than her personal passion that prompted her to suggest it as a potential benefit to our founders and co-CEOs. Before her job at InterNations, she used to work at a social startup that ran a mentoring program for high-school students and that provided weekly yoga lessons in the office. Having a yoga teacher come to the office in the morning saved her and her colleagues a lot of time; the convenience made quite a difference to them.
“I think yoga is a great way of either starting your day off right or of relaxing after work,” Denise says. “In an office environment, we spend most of the day sitting in front of a computer screen, which is anything but healthy for our back and our posture. Yoga can help us remedy this. For me, it’s the ideal mixture of exercising your body and nourishing your soul. It can also help reduce stress and lead to a better work-life balance.”
Meet Our Teachers: Two Instructors, Two Kinds of Yoga
Christina from Yoga Hideaway, one of our current teachers, completely agrees with Denise on the impact that yoga might have on the well-being of corporate employees. In addition to giving lessons at several studios across Munich, she specializes in providing in-house yoga lessons for a number of local companies — a corporate benefit she describes as “a long-term investment in the health of your employees”. Like Denise, she stresses the importance of regular exercise for those leading a largely sedentary life; but, for Christina, yoga is so much more than just another workout. “It’s about learning to let go. You don’t only have to function in your role at your job or be a high performer all the time. Yes, yoga helps to keep your body healthy, but it’s also about healing on a more fundamental level.”
The healing aspects of yoga — both the physiological and the psychological ones — feel very personal to Christina. She became a certified yoga teacher about six years ago. After struggling with a serious illness at a relatively young age, she decided to radically upend her entire life, giving up her previous job as a consultant at a PR agency. “I had practiced yoga before,” she explains, “but on a rather superficial level. Now I wanted to gain a better understanding of myself and my emotions.”
Christina describes yoga as a way of gaining new strength through working with your body, becoming intimately aware of it and really getting to know it. Most important, yoga is for everyone. “You don’t have to be young and toned and athletic to get started. It’s not about aesthetics or about striking an impressive pose for a cool picture. A yoga class shouldn’t be just another gym workout. In brief, you don’t always have to be full of ambition. Sometimes, it’s just enough to be.”
This doesn’t mean that the team members attending her class won’t work up a sweat. At InterNations, Christina teaches vinyasa yoga, a fairly energetic style of yoga, which links individual asanas (yoga poses) with repetitive flowing movements and aligns this sequence of poses with your breath. Although introducing a new pose can sometimes be a physical challenge, Christina thinks it’s actually not the hardest part of her InterNations yoga class. “The most difficult bit is probably the final relaxation exercise,” she remarks. “Some people really struggle with lying still and doing absolutely nothing for five minutes!”
Our other instructor, Iason from Götteryoga, has a rather different approach. His classes are based on Iyengar yoga, a form that especially emphasizes detail, precision, and alignment in performing the various asanas. The practitioners of Iyengar yoga often use props — such as a chair, a strap, or a cushion — to assist them in achieving and sustaining poses.
“This helps you avoid pushing your body too much. It also makes learning a new or particularly difficult pose feel less intimidating,” says Community Engagement Specialist Melody, a regular participant in our yoga lessons since she joined the team in February 2018. Although she had practiced yoga since her college days, she wasn’t familiar before with Iyengar yoga. “I’m really grateful to have met Iason through InterNations and to have the opportunity to explore this kind of yoga.”
In-House Lessons: Convenient Freebie or a Gift to Yourself?
For team member Melody, yoga has been a great addition to her original passion for dancing. Since her mom was a dance teacher, she grew up doing various forms of dance, be it ballet, hip-hop, jazz, modern, tap, and, more recently, the Lindy Hop, a popular vintage dance from the 1930s’ swing era. At some point, however, she was no longer able to fit as much dancing into her life as she would have liked.
“So, I started looking for a way of moving and exercising where I’d stretch a lot and become more supple again,” she explains. “Dancing is also an activity that I find very relaxing and that lets me release pent-up stress. When I dance, I can focus solely on my emotions — or sometimes even on nothing at all. I don’t find this as much with other activities like running or going to the gym. Actually, I think a gym workout can be rather stressful. Yoga, on the other hand, really feels like what many yoga teachers describe it as — a gift to yourself.”
When Franziska, our Team Lead Product Content, attended her first yoga class at InterNations, her motivation for joining was similar to Melody’s. She was looking for a new form of exercise to gain more flexibility for figure skating, one of her main hobbies. Unlike Melody and Denise, however, she had never tried yoga at all. “To be quite frank, I mostly decided to give it a try because the in-house lessons were so convenient and because I didn’t have to pay for them. And who doesn’t love a freebie?” she jokes.
Unlike Denise and Melody, who are both very interested in the roots of yoga in classical Indian philosophy and its spiritual traditions, Franziska was even a bit wary of yoga’s more meditative aspects. “Again, to be quite honest, I initially didn’t think I would enjoy the part that focuses on mindfulness very much. It was a very pleasant surprise that I’ve come to like it as much as I do now. I find it very calming, though it’s definitely easier for me to relax while moving through a sequence of poses and focusing on my breathing rather than doing nothing at all!”
Contrary to her expectations, yoga has been working very well for Franziska as a mindfulness practice and relaxation technique. She remembers several occasions when she wasn’t quite sure whether to even come to class, for example, when she was tired after a stressful day at work or suffering from a tension headache. In the end, she was always glad that she went and left feeling more at ease with herself and her body.
And yoga has helped Franziska to become more flexible and limber as it is intended. Friends from her figure-skating club have complimented her on her improved posture and have even started asking her questions about yoga in general. She is also proud of finally having mastered a couple of rather challenging asanas, such as the bakasana (the crow) — a pose which requires you to balance on your hands, with your knees tucked into your armpits.
Just Join Us Next Time!
Aside from teaching the perfect balancing pose or the perfect backbend, our yoga classes are the perfect opportunity to get to know co-workers from other teams and departments a bit better. No matter whether they are new to the company or just new to yoga, all team members are welcome to drop in next Wednesday at 18:00. There are typically up to ten participants per class and plenty of room for more; and since we are currently streaming the yoga lessons on Zoom anyway, practitioners can simply turn their own living rooms into impromptu yoga studios, with space no longer being an issue at all. Anyone who doesn’t feel completely comfortable with signing up as an absolute beginner can at first just leave their web cam switched off.
“Don’t be afraid if you don’t have any previous experience with yoga,” Franziska says. “You wouldn’t be the first, and the teachers will take your skill level into consideration. I had no idea what I was doing during my first lesson, but now I enjoy it tremendously, and I keep telling everyone to give yoga a try!”
Image credit: Christina Hoffer (Yoga Hideaway) / iStockphoto / Pexels