The restorative effects of yoga aren’t usually associated with corporate profits, but McKenna Rowe, 44, sees more than just a casual connection. As the founder of Los Angeles-based Chakra 5 Yoga, a company that specializes in teaching on-demand yoga classes in busy corporate offices, Rowe firmly believes that yoga in the workplace is just smart business.
Chakra 5 yoga
McKenna Rowe, founder of Chakra 5 Yoga
Yes, it is good for the soul and “sure, it contributes to the well-being of the employees, no question about it,” she says. “But yoga in the workplace has been shown to increase productivity, which can also lead to a healthy end result.”
The practice, which gives employees a much-needed break from pausing at computer screens, also improves blood flow to the brain and sharpens mental focus. And aside from being a wellness program tax write-off, saying Om in the office builds employee morale and connection, and encourages positive, fun team spirit.
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“In fact, if you improve overall health, you’ll have fewer sick days and fewer insurance claims,” says Rowe, drawing on data from customer surveys she’s gathered over the years.
More and more companies are seeing the light. Chakra 5 Yoga clients span a wide range of sectors including local entertainment companies like Paramount Studios, ABC and Disney, several large hospitals, some children’s schools, a few luxury boutique hotels and corporate companies like Enterprise Rent-A-Car, New Balance and Pinkberry Frozen Yogurt.
That’s good, Tadasana, ladies! #NBGNO pic.twitter.com/ddQOjcONhi
– Chakra 5 Mobile Yoga (@ chakra5la) May 9, 2015
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Tonia Douglas, 45, is the Human Resources and Wellness Director at Hankey Investment Company, a Los Angeles-based real estate lending company and one of the clients of Chakra 5 Yoga. As opposed to taking a brief “break” at her desk to prepare lunch or search email, Douglas finds that sun salutations with coworkers are a legitimate refreshing way to unwind and refresh in the middle of the work day. “Taking the time to really relax and maybe even fall asleep for a minute in a corpse pose recharges the battery,” she says. “You will work happier – and probably harder – because you will have more energy when you return to your desk. I’ve seen it. It is powerful. ”
Today’s boom in yoga in the workplace goes back about 25 years when companies first introduced wellness initiatives to cut healthcare costs, Edie Weiner, president of New York trend analysis company Weiner, Edrich, Brown, Inc., told Yoga Journal .
Since then, corporate yoga has grown steadily and spread across the United States. Today, major American companies like Aetna, Apple (whose legendary co-founder Steve Jobs was a longtime yogi), AT&T, Citibank, HBO, IBM, Nike and Oracle, to name a few, all have the ancient Indian practice in their employee wellness offerings integrated.
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At Aetna, more than a quarter of the health insurance company’s 50,000 employees have taken at least one yoga class, reports the New York Times. Many of them say they have experienced significant reductions in stress and pain levels, improved quality of sleep, and increased productivity. Overall, Aetna, struggling to keep pace with employee demand for on-site yoga classes, estimates the value of its yoga program at “$ 3,000 per employee per year”.
The way to Om
Rowe was infected with the yoga virus as a little girl and watched reruns of American yoga pioneer Lilias Folan, “the Julia child of yoga,” while gracefully twisting and changing into bright outfits on PBS. Even after years working in the digital marketing industry for entertainment, publishing, and fashion clients, her passion for yoga has never faded. “I’ve been working harder and longer and I wasn’t sure if it was worth it,” says Rowe. And so, in 2009, Rowe took a sabbatical to get her Hatha / Kundalini yoga teacher certification. To use her education to help people recover from physical and emotional trauma through restorative yoga, she created a business plan and secured a small business loan that she supplemented with a portion of her own savings and retirement plans.
Rowe initially held onto her job as director of digital marketing at the Fashion Institute in Downtown Los Angeles, teaching yoga classes in empty classrooms, conference rooms, and outdoors before, after, and between work. Eager to grow quickly, she began offering classes to residents in loft developments that were popping up in the city center. “I had the idea ‘I bring yoga to you’ early on,” she says, “‘on your schedule, your way’. There was a need in the market and I chose it. ”
Photo credit: Chakra 5 Yoga
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In 2011 she left the yoga-on-demand path at the grassroots level and opened her own studio. In business for less than a year, the decision didn’t work. “In the end it was a huge cost, a huge burden,” she says, but nonetheless it was a learning opportunity. The studio gave Rowe the opportunity to closely observe the teaching style of the yoga teachers she still employs today and how they interact with the students. “In terms of quality control of the experiences we provided, I feel like I can trust them better if I send them out into the field now,” she says.
After the studio closed, Rowe switched back to a business-to-business mobile enterprise model that she says is alive, healthy, and thriving. She declined to provide figures on revenue, but said she has roughly doubled her customer base and sales since she was only mobile. At this point, she says, “almost all” of her new customers turn to her, not the other way around.
While developing Chakra 5 Yoga, Rowe continued to do a normal job. She is currently working as Lead User Experience Designer at Fender Musical Instruments, the maker of the rock-n-roll classic Fender Stratocaster electric guitar. She previously held similar positions at Nasty Gal, the Walt Disney Company, and several other premium brands.
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While working 9 through 5 may not sound modern or romantic, she says it makes financial sense to transfer her travel yoga business to her 17-year career in Hollywood’s fashion and entertainment industries. The steady cash flow allows her to invest money in marketing and pay her yoga teachers on time, regardless of whether customers do the same or not. “I can grow my company organically without having to worry about making ends meet,” she says. The savings on her day jobs also allow her to be more choosy about the clients she works with.
Today, her team of seven certified and insured yoga teachers – and occasionally Rowe herself – rave about the densely populated hills and valleys of 4,752 square miles of Los Angeles County. They offer soulful, therapeutic group yoga sessions on site and by appointment in around 15 companies, schools and organizations. Chakra 5 Yoga also employs a Pilates instructor, a raw food cook who occasionally serves healthy food for his clients, and a DJ who puts on chill music during the class if necessary.
# Raw food chef Garland Whitt gives a demo at one of our employee wellness events. pic.twitter.com/h2JBDgmPK8
– Chakra 5 Mobile Yoga (@ chakra5la) December 18, 2013
Most days, Rowe’s team members work individually with dedicated clients, but sometimes they work together to run larger yoga and meditation classes and corporate wellness events. A typical Chakra 5 Yoga employee wellness program might begin with a meditation, followed by a yoga class, then a cooking demo with live DJ songs playing all the time. It all depends on what the customer is asking for.
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Typical on-site courses cost businesses $ 120 per weekly, one-hour session with unlimited students. People can bring their own yoga mats or rent mats from Chakra 5 Yoga for a small fee. Classes take place in private rooms such as conference rooms at work and fitness studios or in open spaces such as mezzanine floors in office buildings and courtyards. Customers are free to choose where the lessons take place and how intense they are. In general, the company caters to those new to yoga. “We don’t do power yoga or vinyasa-style hot level 3 yoga with our clients,” says Rowe. “We work with people who are usually not very athletic and a little bit anxious or confident about yoga, so we tailor our classes to their specific needs.”
Meet Lewis, one of the Chakra 5 Mobile Yoga Teachers. Hire us for Office Yoga! http://t.co/iPyfClryma pic.twitter.com/umy3Ebwzyw
– Chakra 5 Mobile Yoga (@ chakra5la) March 1, 2014
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Back at Hankey Investment Company, Douglas believes that Chakra 5 Yoga’s frequent yoga sessions give the company a distinct advantage in attracting high quality talent. “It really changed our corporate culture and our attitude towards recruiting and retaining employees,” she says. “It means that we take it seriously, to make our employees happy and healthy, that we want this to be the best possible place to work for them.”
At the risk of sounding a bit trite New Age here, one could say that taking care of employees through yoga in the workplace embodies the karmic spirit of Namaste. Employers who offer the discipline in the office honor the spirit and light of those who work for them.
Namaste or no namaste, it doesn’t hurt that this often leads to increased productivity and lower sales. “When you finish a yoga class at work, you feel great,” says Rowe. “Your energy is at the end. Your body and mind are at peace and this feeling of calm and clarity carries over into everything you do during the rest of the work day. “
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