The Joy of Being a Corporate Yogini

by Janet Arnold-Grych

None of us is one thing. We are a grab bag of different roles ever in motion: parent, friend, sibling, teacher, student, coach, dreamer, do-er. Sometimes those roles link in synergistic ways; other times they run in stark opposition. So when a young woman studying to become a yoga teacher asked if it was “weird” for me to teach yoga and have a corporate gig, I smiled and shook my head. In fact, it’s a wonderful synergy, as each role offers insights to the other, and each is part of the whole. 

Moving between the two venues doesn’t require me to duck into a phone booth for a change of identity. It’s true that I don’t go around talking about Ujjayi breathing and doing Sun Salutations at work, nor do I bring up team conference calls and brand plans during yoga class. My yogic grounding does encourage me to be a little less crazed and a little more patient in my corporate gig. In turn, my day job offers insight into what my students may bring with them, and I draw on some of the same skills I use at the office, like organization and public speaking, when assembling sequences and leading class.

Regardless of where I’m applying them, all these tools help me to advance my larger goal. That goal is to assist others in feeling more joyful, more present, and simply “more”—however they choose to define it. It’s getting to the same endpoint, just using different maps.

Curiously—and perhaps appropriately—the first yoga class I took was in a corporate setting. We moved the tables out of a conference room, and three of my colleagues led class. Though it might have felt awkward to do Down Dog next to a fellow employee, it also felt spacious, like walking down the hallway to look through another window.

Now, I particularly like offering that feeling to others in the corporate environment. Many people at work know that I also teach yoga, so I am sometimes asked to kick off meetings with stretching or breathing. At a recent business conference, before my talk on a communications plan (which was scheduled for just after lunch, always a down time), I had the group get on their feet and join me in a few breathing exercises. For those who are unsure about all this, I think it helps when the person leading shoulder rolls is wearing a blazer and there are no Headstands or Sanskrit chanting involved. I like to think that, for some who hold yoga at arm’s length, a sliver of light just might emerge through a crack in the door. 

While I seek to be a yogini (in the broadest sense of the word) in and out of the studio, there are plenty of misses. Our parking garage at work is a particularly insidious place where the frustrating moments of the day arise and echo. On one such occasion, I couldn’t let go of an interaction that left me feeling patronized. In the end, there was no reason to revisit it. I just wanted to let it go. So I brought the studio to the garage, so to speak. 

I thought about the way I sometimes end class—leading students in a personal request for happiness, health, safety, and peace; and then extending the same to all beings. I couldn’t offer that prayer for all beings with the caveat that I could leave out the person who was upsetting me. So I held on to that invocation, running it through my mind over and over again, not leaving anyone out. It took a while, but it did soften my distress and reframe my feelings. In applying these teachings, I more deeply understand them. I am afforded plenty of opportunities to do that in my day job.

I used to think that how I moved in my two environments should be identical, because the common denominator is me. Consequently, I felt that I was somehow failing if I couldn’t emit, at work, the peace I felt in the yoga studio, especially since I was a yoga teacher. Jack Kornfield offered me a pat on the shoulder via his book, After the Ecstasy, the Laundry (which truly is one of the best titles ever), in which he talks about the fact that it is difficult to walk unperturbed in a world that is both sublime and messy. It is hard, and it’s hard not to judge ourselves and others.

The corporate environment has an intensity level I just don’t experience in the studio, so it’s okay if the way I feel and act there isn’t quite the same as when I’m in the yoga space (though I'm working on it). The goal, however, as Jack explains, should be the same: to cultivate an awakened heart everywhere that embraces everything. I’m working on that, and it just might look a little different depending on where I’m standing.

There are days when I would gladly turn in my suit and laptop for yoga pants and a mat. But, for me, both pieces are part of the larger equation of who I am and what I can contribute. No, it’s not weird at all to be a yoga teacher and have a corporate gig. In fact, that interplay of roles gives me insight into each, and allows me to be better at both.

Janet Arnold-Grych is an internal communications manager, yoga teacher, and writer whose work has been published in Elephant Journal, Huffington Post, Third Coast Digest, and other outlets. 

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