How Yoga Can Bring Down Attrition and
Absenteeism Rates in the Workplace
By Paul Catiang
“In Germany, yoga is part of most insurance packages,” says Clé Souren, a veteran yoga practitioner and instructor in the Iyengar yoga approach. “It’s very cost-effective, since it doesn’t require a lot of equipment, and preventive medicine and therapy costs much less than an actual cure. All the national insurance companies have yoga in their package. They also offer therapeutic yoga. Companies made yoga mandatory. Absenteeism rates go down and there are huge savings. In Holland, there is a 7 to 10 percent absenteeism rates. There is a 50-percent absenteeism rate among emergency medical technicians, especially among ambulance crews.” In Mr. Souren’s experience, and judging from the opinions of the national insurance companies in Europe, yoga’s therapeutic value is held in high esteem when it comes to reducing absenteeism and attrition.
In the Philippines, high turnover, absenteeism and low productivity are all prevalent issues across industries. These are caused, for the most part, by health problems, but morale and interpersonal friction are also known causes. Many companies—particularly outsourcing firms, with their high-pressure environments and night shifts—have been exploring other strategies of reducing attrition and absenteeism.
One of these possible solutions is yoga. John Clements has tried out some yoga techniques in a class taught by Laura Naulty at the company’s May Sales and Production Conference.
Derived from the Sanskrit word yug, meaning to link or unify, yoga is a centuries-old practice that aims to yoke body and mind and spirit. While this ancient practice seems daunting, with its impossible-looking postures, or asanas, and obscure Sanskrit terminology, Clé Souren makes it more accessible to the layperson.
“Yoga is a physical thing,” he explains. “You start yoga from the gross physical body to the subtle, more refined spiritual body. How do you meditate without your body? Everything is physical. The mind is just as much matter as matter is as much mind.”
In addition, it is the nature of yoga practice and philosophy to keep its practices simple and uncomplicated by esoteric dogmas and over-intellectualization. “One has to understand that the essence of yoga never has changed and never will change,” says Mr. Souren. “What has evolved throughout the years is the approach to the subject.”
He continues with an explanation of his approach to yoga, one devised by his Guru, Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar. “Until the 1930s, yoga was always taught in a one-to-one situation: the Guru and his disciple. My Guru changed that pattern forever. His Guru, T.Krishnamacharya of Mysore in South India, sent him to Pune in 1936, where he soon started to teach groups of students—groups which included athletes and military men. Not everybody realizes the huge impact this had on the development and teaching of yoga.”
Yoga is more than poses, though, and there are several associated lifestyle preferences and philosophical practices associated with it. One of the easiest associations with yoga practice is a vegetarian diet. Other yoga practitioners are known to meditate regularly. When asked if he could give any advice on this kind of lifestyle and philosophy, Mr. Souren declines. “I’m not a psychologist, I’m not a philosopher, I’m not a dietitian. I am a yoga practitioner and teacher.”
“Our teaching focus is asanas (poses). If you want to practice asanas, is it necessary to know the philosophy of yoga? Not necessarily. Take for example the principle of ahimsa, or non-harming. If you are violent and forceful in your asana practice, this will result in injury to your physical body. Proper asana practice lets you learn and imbibe ahimsa on a physical level, and this will eventually spread into the other areas of your life.”
“Integration is meditation,” Mr. Souren explains. “By going into the asanas with full awareness, you learn to withdraw your senses from the outside world and still the fluctuations of your mind. I also find yoga a very subjective practice; we have different bodies, personalities and lives, and will therefore experience yoga differently. Still, by doing asanas, we become more aware of our inner selves and the act of integrating the poses with our mental state is, in itself, meditation.”
“The keyword in yoga practice is integration—this requires action that goes beyond merely stretching. When I stretch a leg in a yoga asana, I have to integrate the action in several parts of my leg by moving evenly the muscles in the outer leg, the inner leg, the front leg and the back of the leg. It starts with stretching the skin in all these parts to the flesh and fibers. Next I have to stretch skin, flesh and fibers to the bone. Only then my leg can fully extend. Guruji Iyengar says that you have to stretch from the skin to the bone or from the skin to the marrow. The marrow is a metaphor for the soul. Hence I stretch from the skin to the soul.”
In the corporate context, yoga fosters an environment of acceptance. Accepting one’s physical limitations spreads to accepting one’s mental limits as well, while gradually, gently pushing these limits towards greater development. This likewise spreads to an acceptance of one’s peers and colleagues, ideally resulting in improved morale. Mr. Souren himself has taught yoga workshops all over Europe with this approach in mind, and has seen the results first hand.
“Iyengar yoga is very good in bringing down absenteeism because it has a good eye for therapeutic and mental purposes,” explains Mr. Souren. He goes into detail, beginning with the social effects: “It pays so much attention to alignment that can help promote health. Taking classes in a group also promotes camaraderie among colleagues. It can bring down attrition because practicing yoga together makes employees more loyal to the company and also develops a strong bond among employees.”
Yoga, however, begins with the self, ultimately. ”Iyengar yoga also requires a lot of focus to go deeper into the poses and to stay longer in the poses.” Mr. Souren says. “This also requires a lot of commitment. The regular practice of yoga in the yoga studio could influence one's attitude towards life and work and subsequently develop more focus and commitment in one's job.”
”One of the things Mr. Iyengar said was that when the mind is stable, it is free and able to focus and take decisions. The regular practice of Iyengar yoga helps clear the mind and keeps the mind stable and become more decisive rather than constantly searching.”
In the Philippines, Mr. Souren has just finished a series of yoga workshops held at the Manila Polo Club. This is his third time to teach yoga workshops in the country.