Yogi Tech: From Saving Dogs to Downward Dog

Posted: Nov 24, 2014
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I started working at DoveLewis Emergency Animal Hospital over five years ago. Before that time I practiced yoga and did some light exercise but it was sporadic and sparse. I drank a lot, ate like a little kid (lots of pizza and junk food), and really didn’t think all too much about my lifestyle.

I was working for a concert promoter, and even though it was stressful, I never really felt the effects at home (or I had just always been so unhealthy that I didn’t notice).

Then, just over 3 years ago I made a personal decision to quit drinking and a year after that I quit smoking. To help take my mind off these habits I started hitting the gym daily. Two years into my career in emergency animal medicine, I graduated from tech school and began working overnights full time at the hospital. Not only were the hours hard but the job itself was rather traumatic, physically draining, and emotionally demanding... I was surrounded by death, by emotionally disturbed clients, by stressed coworkers, and by sick patients. On my days off I felt totally run down. So I turned to self-care in order to feel better, and get up and go to work again once more.

I started juicing, getting massages, going to therapy, taking vitamins, journaling, working out, and of course, practicing  yoga and meditation. Although I am no longer on the overnight shift, I still find that self-care is very important when working in a high stress environment. I was asked to write for atdove.org and soon noticed that all of my blogs were about self-care. I was inspired!

I had initially turned to yoga for exercise, like a lot of people, but found that it offered much more. Not only did it remove a lot of the tension in my body, but I was turning to yoga to relieve tension in my mind as well. Yoga helped me let go of work while not at work and to be more present while there. Like I said earlier, when I began doing yoga over 10 years ago, I did it sporadically. But through all of the stress of working in a veterinary ER/ICU I found I was turning to yoga more and more. I practiced multiple times a week and sometimes daily. This is what began my journey to becoming a yoga teacher. I thought “If this is working for me then maybe it will work for others. I can help bring it to them.”

Compassion fatigue is a common topic at Dove and in the veterinary medicine field, and probably in human medicine as well. But I noticed what is not really talked about is a solution to it: wellness and self-care. I had an idea. My work employs a staff grief counselor (Enid Traisman) who not only holds counseling sessions but workshops on compassion fatigue and monthly art therapy for employees to participate in. I began a dialogue with her about yoga and bringing it to the our place of work. Enid was on board!

We talked about the many benefits that yoga had brought to me, not only the practice but also yoga as a way of life. The Bhagavad Gita talks about bringing yoga (the journey of the self through the self, to the self) off the mat and into every aspect of our lives. Being present, calm and detached are just a few of the principals I felt could really impact not only my working self but my coworkers as well. It might even improve staff morale. I knew that this was by no means an innovative idea and that progressive companies all over the US were starting to provide yoga and meditation for their workers. Not only have studies shown that yoga helps employees perform better and stay focused but a study recently published in the journal Occupational Medicine found that yoga in the workplace reduced employee stress and eases back pain. In the veterinary industry these are huge and expensive problems. “The findings suggest that practicing yoga — even for the very first time — can normalize cortisol levels that are either too high or too low, according to  Vijayendra Pratap, Ph.D., president of the Yoga Research Society in Philadelphia. "My hypothesis," he adds, "is that yoga brings the body to balance."

If yoga can bring balance to the body then that surely means it can bring balance to the workplace, and not just on the mat! Employees that are less stressed are capable of giving better care to patients, of being nicer to each other, of working harder, and of making fewer mistakes. Employees can also take the stretches they learn in classes and practice them at home, at a desk, on a break or while on the floor to self-align posture or release tension. This also leads to fewer workplace injuries! With Dove on board, we now have regular yoga practice at irregular times during the week and a Self-Care Month in the works (we even have a committee!). Namaste.