We’ve all felt our brains shrivel up like raisins and our thoughts become as pointless as used pencils. Work can be hard, there’s no doubt about it. Here at Pivot, we’ve been trying to encourage more physical activity to combat that pesky feeling, like yoga, kickboxing, and boot camp classes after a long day.
For some of us, it’s been an intense, yet satisfying work out; for others, it’s been a looming cloud yielding some sore muscles. And for others still, it sounds like a great idea, but the couch sounds better. (Ahem . . . me.)
While after hours exercise is obviously a great way to release all those difficult meetings or strenuous phone calls, the main point here is the word after. What about during? How can we keep ourselves from taking to the streets screaming when stress piles up?
Many believe yoga is an unbeatable way to keep your inner stress demons dormant. According to Alyssa Pfenning, owner of YogaExec, Executive Director of Mighty Lotus, co-owner of Embarque, teacher at CITYOGA and Body Mind & Core, it’s a must-try before, during, or after work.
Yoga seems to be the word on everyone’s tongue these days. How did you get started practicing?
I’ve been doing yoga for about 14 years now. I got deeper into it once my niece was born around 10 years ago. I’ve been teaching her yoga since she was three and it felt natural, so I thought maybe I’d become a teacher. I started studying alignment-based Vinyasa in 2011 and moved up to advanced styles.
I worked for the National Dart Association for seven and a half years, then became the COO for the Real Estate Investment Securities Association. At that time I became a yoga teacher and knew my passion was sharing yoga. So I was able to make that transition.
Energy seems to be one thing that gets depleted quickly at work, but not everyone has time to exercise or do yoga during the day. What are some less time consuming tactics for when stress levels start climbing to scary levels?
Breathing exercises. The simplest of all is bringing your attention to your breath and following your inhales and exhales through your nose. It’s not the easiest, but it’s that mindfulness that breath is always present, not the past or the future, that helps bring you back when stressed.
Also, be mindful of how long you’re sitting. Sitting is kind of the new smoking. It’s easy to work through lunch, but instead, get up and take a short walk, either to the bathroom or somewhere close.
How did you learn to balance the stresses of work and life through yoga?
While I was building all this [YogaExec and Mighty Lotus], I did get out of balance. I struggle when I’m in transitional phases and I have to reestablish my rhythm and make time for yoga. It’s a constant reworking, and having practiced yoga for so long, I’m aware of these things. If you get out of habit, it’s okay because we’re human and we don’t do things perfectly. That helps me feel less chaotic.
So, you’re familiar with the stresses of being in the business world, how do you use those experiences to help your YogaExec clients?
I bring simple exercises and the introduction of mindfulness to the workplace. It’s really about going through the exercises and talking about how people feel and how they can keep that mindfulness at work when things are stressful. I like to share, especially for people who travel, how to do five-minute yoga or breathing techniques that help anxiety and give you energy when feeling sluggish.
You’re also the Executive Director of Mighty Lotus, which brings yoga into schools. That’s a great idea, how are things going?
The principal at one of the schools we teach at participates with the 6th grade girls and has said she’s amazed at the levels of confidence they’ve gained from just doing yoga during the fall semester. They’ve learned tools they can take home with them and that’s been incredible. We’re currently in nine schools, working on getting into more.
Whether it’s work, school or maybe just life in general, what is the one piece of advice you would give someone who is plagued by stress or anxiety?
Just try it [yoga]. If you take a class and you don’t like it, try again. The styles and teachers are a huge factor; you’ll find something you like that fits your needs. Don’t give up.