When Emma Carbery, the founder of Workplace Yogi (WPY) tried her first yoga class 12 years ago, it was a life-changing moment.
“I was working in HR and on a fast-track leadership programme – and I was stressed out of my mind,” she says.
Ms Carbery, 44, spent the next decade working and training in yoga in her spare time.
“I knew I didn’t want to teach in a studio but in the workplace. There are these perceptions of yoga – that it’s fluffy, spiritual. Actually it’s a science, it’s technical and there’s nothing fluffy about it. So I took the language away, the props, to create office-friendly yoga.”
Ms Carbery’s WPY doesn’t need a yoga mat and it can be done by workers in their regular office clothes. Packages are for four, eight or 12 months and start with a programme of weekly 30-minute sessions using the office chair and desk.
A typical session, which costs Dh600 to Dh700 per class, starts with two minutes of breathing, followed by 20 minutes of stretches and five to 10 minutes of mindfulness meditation to end.
WPY has been running for just under two years and has worked with some 30 companies including the big multinationals adidas, Moneygram and Dell along with SMEs and local companies such as Majd Al Futtaim.
“MAF asked me to to do six three-and-a-half-hour workshops on yoga and mindfulness, but also one-to-ones with 80 staff at their desks,” says Ms Carbery. “Nearly all did no exercise outside work, not because they were lazy but because of their commute, kids – just being busy people with busy jobs.
“They all said they had no health problems but, 10 to 15 minutes into an assessment, headaches, lower back and wrist problems would emerge because they weren’t taking breaks. I taught them how to sit, using the strength of their own muscles to support their body weight, and breathing techniques and stretches they could do at their desk.”
Guillaume Mariole, managing director of Ignite Fitness & Wellness, which runs corporate wellness programmes and health screenings, says: “We work harder these days and move less, so many people have stressful jobs and lives. Yoga is a tool that can help you unwind. Just through breath techniques alone, the chemistry in your brain can be altered.”
Ms Carbery adds: “It’s better than 30 minutes having coffee and doughnuts.”