In this interview, we talk with Chandra Jo Sgammato, the general manager of the Integral Yoga Institute of New York, which oversees the Yoga at Work™ program bringing Yoga into corporate settings. See more details at the end of this article on how you can have a Yoga at Work program at your location.
Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): What is Yoga at Work?
Chandra Jo Sgammato (CS): Yoga at Work is a program developed by the Integral Yoga Institute’s Jayadeva Mandelkorn (currently, director of the Princeton Integral Yoga Community Center) in the early 1990s as a way to bring Yoga and Swami Satchidananda’s teachings into the business community. Our strategy is simply to contact companies in Manhattan to let them know that this amazing form of stress relief is available for their employees. Now we have clients that range from banks to media companies to nonprofits; New York University is one of our big clients.
IYM: What inspires you to promote Yoga at Work?
CS: I saw what Integral Yoga had done for my life and the life of my fellow teachers and students. I think it’s wonderful to share something that you love so much. We have limited capacity in our building on 13th Street—we can only fit so many students into the rooms—so we needed to find ways to teach Yoga outside the Institute.
IYM: How do you introduce this program to a company?
CS: We hope to intrigue the human resources director with the idea but, just as often, it’s one employee in a company who has either taken Yoga at Integral Yoga or heard about it, and wants to have the benefits of Yoga right in the office. I tell potential clients that with the Integral Yoga class they don’t need to worry about somebody getting hurt. They don’t need to worry about somebody feeling embarrassed or intimidated; there’s no competitiveness or pushing. Each class is taught in a light-handed, lighthearted, but profound way.
IYM: Do you tailor each program to the specific company?
CS: We spend a lot of time on the phone giving information to the decision makers in the company and answering their questions, and we do it in the spirit of Swami Satchidananda. We explain that we will make the program as easeful, peaceful, and useful as we can. We also listen to the company’s concerns. We are flexible in every way to accommodate the company, and we let them know that we’ll teach classes any time of day they want. We’ll do any length of class they want, although we do recommend at least an hour because we want employees to experience all the benefits of the Integral Yoga class.
IYM: Do you have teachers specifically trained to work in this environment?
CS: Yes, our certified teachers receive additional training. The teacher is trained to really watch the students because many of them have never taken Yoga. They have worked at desks for so long and they’re very stiff. Some students may be a little bit frightened at first. They don’t quite know what to expect. We want teachers to teach the way Sri Gurudev trained us to: to adapt, adjust and accommodate wherever necessary to make the students happy and comfortable.
IYM: Is it really conducive to teach Yoga in the workplace?
CS: We meet the clients and explain the Integral Yoga approach. We’re careful to use language, as Gurudev taught us, that the customer can understand. We tell them right out that Yoga is not a religion; we explain the interfaith nature of Integral Yoga, and we invite them to take a class as a guest at the New York IYI. We always visit the company to look at the space they are considering for the classes. Most companies have a conference room, and they can push the tables away. Today’s young media companies and dot-coms have loft-like open space which makes it much easier for them to have Yoga classes. In some places, we teach Chair Yoga, because there’s no way to move the conference room tables.
IYM: Do you customize the classes in terms of what postures you teach?
CS: We always include the eye movements because people stare at computer screens all day. We do a lot of work with alignment so that people can learn to sit more comfortably in their chairs. We also do a lot of work with pranayama, explaining that the breath is the best stress reduction tool and that taking one moment to stop and breathe really makes a difference. Because I spent 20 years in the corporate world, I know how out of shape people can be because they just don’t have time for regular fitness. I know how reluctant people can be to try something new, but I feel that the IYI class can really reach people.
IYM: Are most companies open to chanting, meditation, and other aspects of Integral Yoga?
CS: All the classes incorporate asana, deep relaxation, pranayama and meditation. We explain that our classes begin and end with chanting but also that we don’t have to chant if they are uncomfortable. If the students are open to it, we’ll chant three “Om’s” at the end of the class. Many of the teachers will have the students repeat “May the entire universe be filled with peace and joy, love and light.” People respond to that, especially by the end of the class. We have one client that we’re talking to now about doing just a meditation class. We taught at a wonderful nonprofit company last year. They stop work every day—the whole company—at 3 o’clock to meditate together. That had been their practice for some time, but they wanted to add a Hatha Yoga component, so they called us in to do the Hatha classes.
IYM: What if the company is not really that sold on the idea even if some employees are?
CS: Well, you know, Yoga is very “cool” now and employers are realizing it is a good thing. We explain that if 10 of their employees go out together after work for drinks and present them with an expense account for that, it’s going to cost the company more money than a Yoga class, and the employees are going to be hung over the next day! So why not invest in a healthy, natural way to relieve stress?
IYM: How do the companies get their employees interested in the program?
CS: We provide printed material about the benefits of Yoga. We support the human resources department in spreading the word. Sometimes the companies will have a health day, and we participate on a complimentary basis. We’re there to try to interest more people in taking classes, and we’ll do five-minute demonstration classes and answer questions.
IYM: What kind of feedback have you gotten from the companies?
CS: The reports that we get back are wonderful. We hear that employees get along better with one another at work. People report they sleep better, they feel better— all the things we are not surprised to hear them say about the benefits of Integral Yoga!
IYM: Can any Integral Yoga teacher get involved in a Yoga at Work?
CS: We’re developing a program now—almost like franchising to other Integral Yoga teachers—So, if Integral Yoga teachers are interested in bringing Yoga at Work to Chicago, for example, we want to work with those teachers and make an arrangement to have them do the program where they live. We would provide materials to them, and work out a financial arrangement that makes sense. I think it’s a great opportunity for all Integral Yoga teachers.
IYM: Why do you love Integral Yoga?
CS: I had taken Yoga classes in many places over many years. Then it finally hit me how amazing this particular class was. It makes me feel great and I think it’s a complete experience. There’s wonderful Yoga everywhere, but what I like about Integral Yoga is the sequence of the class. It builds like a good book or like a symphony. You keep going higher and higher in the practice, and even the order of the asanas has a kind of dance to it that makes sense. I observe people of all ages, sizes, and physical ability enjoying the IYI class. It is so adaptable and that convinces me that this is the Yoga for the workplace.
IYM: Well, it seems you have proven that it does!
CS: Yes! I love to tell this story to potential clients: A man came into a class I was teaching at the Institute. He was in a three-piece suit with a tie. After removing his shoes at the door, he took his jacket off, folded it up, loosened his tie and laid down on his back. He stayed still in that position on the floor through the entire class. After the class he got up, he took his jacket, got his shoes, and he left. I thought, “This guy was so smart. He didn’t have to do the asanas. He just had to be in that room picking up the peaceful vibration.” That proves that you don’t have to do anything—just be with yourself, relaxed. Integral Yoga is gentle and loving, and Integral Yoga teachers have that loving spirit to transmit to people in every kind of setting.
Chandra Sgammato is the administrative manager of the New York Integral Yoga Institute and a certified Integral Yoga teacher. Before joining the IYI, she worked for 20 years in the book publishing business in New York. The Integral Yoga Institute of New York has developed a program to bring Yoga right into the offices of companies who contract with IYI for this program. They offer Yoga classes, workshops, meditation and stress management programs. For more information about Yoga At Work, contact Chandra by email at: chandra[at]iyiny.org or call: 212-929-0586.