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 Saturday, 18 January, 2003, 01:59 GMT
Yoga aids the hard sell
Yoga class
The aim is to make workers more effective at their jobs
For a few weeks there were sets of eyeballs peering through the windows and no doubt chuckles to be heard too.

After all, inside the presentation room of the central London publishing house, there were colleagues contorting themselves into improbable positions and breathing deeply with their eyes closed.

People feel better about themselves

Nick Courtney
This is what Nick Courtney, the deputy head of marketing at Northcliffe Newspapers, had expected but not feared.

In fact Nick's only fear when he had the idea of turning to yoga in an effort to help his department be more confident about making presentations was that the teachers would be offended that he was unconcerned about the spiritual side of the ancient art.

Yoga is - as the definition goes - the Hindu system of meditation and asceticism designed to affect reunion with the universal spirit.

Even the best teacher in the world would be hard pressed to get that message across in a weekly session lasting 1hr15mins.


But when Nick contacted Ailon Freedman, founder of the Lotus Exchange, which teaches yoga in the workplace, he met with nothing but enthusiasm.

The course has lofty aims
As Ailon puts it: "Though yoga is about finding inner peace and enlightenment, our company is aimed at people living with economic and material realities.

"Our logo - Refresh, Revitalise and Energise - is for everybody."

And so the weekly classes were arranged and eventually the onlookers disappeared.

Three months on the feedback is nothing but positive.

"Most people in our department do a lot of presenting to editors or advertising types, and we had done the usual rounds of methods to help," Nick said.

"But I still wasn't satisfied. When you stand up in a room to make a speech or presentation, the first 20 seconds makes or breaks whether you hold people's attention.

Positive impact

"I saw yoga as a way of controlling your breathing and showing confidence and control by not shuffling from one foot to the other.

"What I have found is that the benefits are harder to pin down than I had anticipated, but that they are undoubtedly there.

"It's not so much that people are better at giving presentations than they feel better about themselves and that can only help.

"It seems strange but a lot of people tell me that they sleep better. There was some scepticism to the idea, and not everyone in the department takes part, but of those who do the reaction has been very positive."

More positive, it has to be said, than reaction of colleagues who witnessed members of the marketing department attempting "power headstands" before meetings in an effort to send more blood to the brain.

Laid back

The thrust of the sessions, however, is not to take yourself too seriously and to relax.

Some of the positions - happy baby, warrior and dog, to give them their non-Sanskrit names - are met with amusement.

And as for the tree pose which involves attempting to balance while tucking one heel into the groin area of the opposing leg and stretching your arms to the ceiling ...well, the instructor, Clare Best, may as well have passed round a set of pogo sticks and told everyone to hop for Britain.

But then something interesting happened.

"Your mind has decided for your body that you can't do this one," Clare observed.

"Now try it again. Only this time breathe. And believe in yourselves."

And guess what? A class full of tree poses and immense satisfaction all round.

Physical challenge

Despite the image of stretching and humming meditation, yoga is more demanding physically than you might imagine.

Simon Judges, who recently joined the company, broke the ice with his new colleagues by developing cramp in his stomach in his first session.

But he later said: "It's worth going through the pain just to have the five minutes' relaxation session in the dark that you finish with."

As for Nick, he was probably taking it a bit far when he fell asleep but clearly the session had worked.

Big claims

If the advertising blurb of the Lotus Exchange is to be believed, it is hard to know who (or what business) would not benefit from yoga:

"Helping with stress, resolving back pain, strengthening the immune system of the major organs, squeezing out toxins, better problem-solving skills by harmonising the left and right side of the brain, a quicker response time, learning how to stay cool and feeling more energetic and alive," is no modest boast.

Or what about a little corporate bonding.

"They certainly ensure that you don't take yourself too seriously," Nick said.

"And they encourage you to laugh at some of the positions you get yourself into.

"But every now and then Clare comes round and adjusts your position.

"What you thought was the limit of your stretching is only a fraction of what you are capable."

See also:

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