In the 12 years Virginia Hilton has been teaching yoga, she has heard from countless CPAs who are intrigued by the idea of practicing the ancient discipline, but think they're not flexible enough, or that yoga might be a little too "new-agey" for them. But their number one concern, most CPAs say, is the fact they are simply too busy, especially during tax season. However, the high-stress, highly sedentary nature of their work, Hilton says, is exactly what makes CPAs prime candidates to reap all the benefits of a regular yoga practice.
Hilton knows what she's talking about – she's a busy CPA herself.
"Like most CPAs, I've always been a goal-driven, high-achiever, but I have my creative side too. When I put yoga and accounting together it balances me out," Hilton said. "Yoga improves my physical health, calms my mind, and helps me to be more patient and focused. It's a balance I believe all CPAs can achieve through yoga."
This tax season, Hilton, a tax supervisor at Carney, Roy and Gerrol P.C. in Rocky Hill, Connecticut, is spreading that message to her fellow CPAs through a weekly yoga class sponsored by the Connecticut Society of CPAs' (CTCPA) "It's Just Life" program.
Melissa Thompson, CTCPA marketing manager, said the yoga class was suggested by members themselves and, judging by attendance, has obviously tapped into a need for more wellness initiatives in the CPA community.
"I think young people in the profession are driving the overall demand for wellness offerings like yoga. Corporate culture is changing, and people don't want to be chained to a desk all day staring into a computer," Thompson said. "They want an environment that takes the human into account."
Hilton, who has been studying yoga since she was a teenager, says scientific research has emerged to support the age-old belief that yoga improves practitioners' physical and emotional well-being.
Hilton says yoga can improve five areas of physical health, including:
- Joint flexibility
- Upper-body strength
- Relieving certain ailments like lower-back pain, wrist pain, neck and shoulder pain, sore feet, and poor circulation
Yoga also improves participants' emotional and spiritual health by shifting awareness away from everyday stressors and focusing on the breath, she said. During her class, for example, Hilton guides her students seamlessly through a smooth flow of breaths and asanas, or poses, in a room dappled with low light, helping them envision a natural world, far away from clocks and obligations.
This is perfect for overwhelmed CPAs whose job is rooted in left-brain thinking and linear productivity. "CPAs are taught to get from point A to B as quickly as possible. Yoga changes that frame of reference by focusing on each moment, rather than the past or present. It helps them improve clarity and concentration under pressure," Hilton said.
Thompson says yoga helped her turn off her everyday soundtrack of worry and appreciate the present moment. "Now I enjoy the beauty of a snowfall on my drive to work, instead of 'white-knuckling' it all the way to the office," she said.
Stephanie Barone, a CPA at ESPN, said she has felt more flexible and has been sleeping better since the very first class.
"As accountants we have high-stress jobs that force us to sit at a desk for at least nine hours a day, with additional immobile hours after work with CPA studying, graduate courses, or CPEs," Barone said. "With all of our daily responsibilities, knowing that I can look forward to a weekly yoga class to help relax my mind and my body has been priceless."
Ideally, Hilton said, she hopes her students will spread testimonies like these to their fellow CPAs across the country who will "nudge" their own state societies to offer some form of yoga, even if it's just a 10-minute yoga break during CPE.
Ultimately, Hilton believes, once even the most dubious CPAs make it to the mat they will understand the connection between the profession and yoga, and yoga and life.
"In the end, yoga and accounting are about integrity, and so in that manner, they are not that different. Whether you are being honest about whether or not you are ready for that handstand, or you are questioning a client's tax position, you have to start from a position of honesty and authenticity – and that is the essential link," she said. "You have to know where you stand."