By Deanna C. White
Like most CPA firm employees pressing through a grueling tax season, Jennifer Miller, administrative assistant for the tax team at Somerset CPAs in Indianapolis, Indiana, spends most of her day hunched over her desk, processing "needed-it-yesterday" e-mails, and shuffling back and forth between an endless sea of papers and her constantly ringing phone.
So when Miller gets the chance to do whatever she wants during her Friday lunch break, she knows exactly where she's headed, and it's not to the local latte shop or to run errands. Miller is headed straight for calmness and serenity – and thanks to Somerset CPAs, she doesn't even have to leave the office to find it.
That's because Miller is just one of the Somerset CPA employees who participates in the firm's on-site corporate yoga program. The program offers the firm's 150 employees the chance to untether themselves from their desks twice a month during tax season to participate in a forty-five-minute yoga session led by a registered yoga therapist hired by the firm.
Miller says in the two years she has participated in corporate yoga, her Friday practice has become much more than a mere series of glorified desk stretches or a coworker bonding experience. Yoga has become a vital part of her personal wellness; a way to recalibrate both her body and mind to face daily stressors with renewed purpose and energy.
"On-site yoga allows me to be in my own place for forty-five minutes," Miller said. "I can go to my own mental space, listen to calming music, practice my breathing exercises, and just focus on being in the moment. It's just a great way to relieve all my stress and physical tension."
Debbie Williams, Somerset's CFO, director of finance, and cochair of the firm's Wellness Committee, said corporate yoga is just one of the health and wellness benefits Somerset CPAs offers its employees throughout the year as part of its formal wellness program.
Somerset's wellness continuum also includes:
- On-site chair massage.
- A healthy-snack vending machine.
- Fresh fruit and vegetables in the break room.
- Brown-bag wellness lunches.
- A wellness reimbursement program.
- On-site wellness screenings.
- A "biggest loser" weight loss challenge (monitored by a personal trainer).
Williams said Somerset chooses to emphasize the carrot-over-the-stick approach to healthy living by fostering a culture that encourages employees to choose the individual wellness options best suited for them.
"Wellness means so many different things to so many different people. I might choose to walk 10,000 steps a day, while someone else might chose to snack on an apple instead of a bag of chips," Williams said. "People need to choose what feels right for them."
And lately, corporate yoga is what feels right for an increasing number of Somerset employees.
According to Mimi Dora, registered yoga instructor, corporate wellness director of Yoga Biz Wellness Programs, and Somerset's yoga provider, it's a wise choice.
Dora said research shows corporate yoga offers a windfall of benefits for both employers and employees (see sidebar). In fact, she said CPAs are simply the latest profession to join the growing demographic tapping into the timeless practice of yoga. Yoga Biz's clients range from IT firms to truck driver training schools.
Dora said she never let the stuffy, "flex-phobic" stereotype of the CPA give her pause when she pitched the idea of on-site yoga to Somerset. Quite the contrary, she believes the high-stress, deadline-driven nature of public accountancy lends itself perfectly to corporate yoga.
"Yoga makes perfect sense for the accounting profession, especially during tax season, because of the intense stress," Dora said. "When firms call us in during that time, the practice of yoga provides employees the tools they need to find better health and overall wellness."
Dora said Yoga Biz's solution for frazzled accountants includes basic stretching and breathing exercises, stress relief techniques, and postures that alleviate neck and shoulder pain. "We start with gentle, basic yoga postures geared toward the participants' level of experience then progress naturally from there," Dora said.
For corporate yoga programs to achieve the maximum buy-in, they must be office appropriate, and, most importantly, initiated and encouraged from leadership down, as it is at Somerset, Dora said. When that synergy occurs, yoga can help provide a simple yet timeless solution to workplace wellness: healthy employees equal healthy employers, which translates into a healthy business.
Somerset employees couldn't agree more.
Miller said yoga not only leaves her feeling calmer and more centered, it also provides a challenging workout that has improved her core strength, balance, and flexibility. "I was truly surprised how sore I was after the workouts," Miller said. "It's a lot harder than I imagined – in a good way."
Yoga also leaves Williams feeling invigorated. "I'm more energized and more productive," she said. "Yoga gives me the pick-me-up I need to take on that project I may have been putting off all week."
And even when they're not doing asanas in the conference room – although Miller does indulge in the occasional tree pose at the copy machine – Somerset employees agree that yoga's emphasis on mindfulness encourages them to make conscious, healthier choices in every aspect of their daily lives.
"Since I've started taking yoga, my posture has improved, my activity level has increased, and I'm making healthier eating choices. I'm not sure exactly how yoga has made this happen, but it has," Miller said. "And I know that everyone who takes the class says how much they've enjoyed it, and everyone says they'll be back."
To learn more about Somerset CPAs wellness efforts visit the firm's website