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  • Alja Janc

How emotional and social wellness can be obtained through yoga practice

In this blog we are going to focus on the practice of yoga and how the practice can have a positive effect on our daily lives, focusing not only on physical benefits of practice but also on its transformative influence on our emotional and social wellness.


Often when we think of yoga we think of calmness, sitting on the floor and meditating, stretching, or doing weird poses on our heads. In the past there were also some common misconceptions that yoga is mainly a feminine practice and it mainly focused on physical benefits of the practice.

Nevertheless, things have started changing in the Western culture. The practice has started gaining popularity across different generations among women and men. Since we are focusing on holistic wellness, we are going to dig deeper into how yoga’s outcomes can also influence our emotional domain such as compassion to oneself and others (Ross et al., 2014), and how this can consequently benefit our social wellness by improving relationships with ourselves and others. Compassion can also be an important asset in a working environment; therefore, the outcomes can be taken off the mat and into a working day. Another positive side of yoga is that it can be practised anywhere and anytime!


What is yoga?


Yoga is a 5,000-year-old philosophy and practice originating from India. The focus of the modern western practice typically consists of three limbs: physical movements (asanas), breathing techniques (pranayama), and meditation (dhyana) (Estevao, 2022). Yoga postures and breathing techniques are the basis for yoga because they enhance the capacity of the physical body through breathing techniques by focusing on the conscious prolongation of inhalation, breath retention, and exhalation (Woodyard, 2011). This helps unite the physical body, breath, and concentration by bringing the body to a more balanced state (Woodyard, 2011). Furthermore, yoga also consists of ethical guidelines such as yamas and niyamas, which are incorporated in the yoga philosophy. Therefore, yoga’s outcomes extend beyond the mat, influencing one’s personal life. For instance, changes in life perspective, self-awareness, and improved sense of energy to live life fully and with genuine enjoyment (Woodyard, 2011).

The closest theory at understanding how yoga might affect our daily lives is the Developmental Theory of Embodiment (DTE). The model consists of experiences of embodiment which include body connection and comfort, agency and functionality, attuned self-care, inhabiting the body as a subjective site and experiences and expressions of bodily desires. Furthermore, it also consists of risk and protective aspects that influence one's feeling of embodiment in the physical, mental, and social power domains (Piran & Neumark-Sztainer, 2020). As mentioned earlier yoga is a physical practice that can enhance one’s flexibility, strength, and endurance, while cultivating a sense of calmness and well-being (McCall, 2007).


Quite often working professionals might experience stress, an emotional consequence occurring when the workplace demand exceeds the worker’s ability to cope with it, causing potential detrimental physical effects, such as cardiovascular, musculoskeletal, and mental health disorders (Valle et al., 2020). Research reports a total of 12.8 million working days are lost due to work-related stress, depression, or anxiety, with a mean value of 21.2 days lost per case (Hassard et al., 2014). Digital nomads have also been found to struggle with social isolation, stress, disorientation, and loneliness (Caligiuri & Lazarova, 2002) which can have evident consequences on their well-being and their work productivity. Since yoga has been found to bring people closer to themselves on a mental and physical basis, and strengthen their social relationships, the practice has many necessary benefits that digital nomads can use daily to enhance their overall well-being.


Emotional domain and social domain

Combination of physical movements (asanas), meditation (dhyana), and breathing techniques (pranayama) can lead to enhanced emotional well-being, more specifically to cultivating self-compassion. Self-compassion might seem a basic and ordinary trait that all humans are able to cultivate. It is quite often portrayed and promoted via social media. For instance, by pampering oneself, practicing words of affirmation, learning to say no and establish personal boundaries, etc. However, being self-compassionate might be much harder than it seems. On one hand our society promotes self-care, and self-compassion. However, on the other hand this behaviour can also be interpreted as selfish and self-obsessive behaviour (Campion & Glover, 2017).


Nevertheless, the first step towards self-compassion should be directed into understanding what self-compassion even is.

Self-compassion is a positive self-attitude that allows an individual to experience feelings of caring and kindness towards oneself, whilst having a non-judgemental attitude towards one’s inadequacies and acknowledging this as a human experience (Neff, 2003). Self-compassionate mindset consists of three elements; self-kindness (showing care and concern for oneself), common humanity (suffering is a part of human experience), and mindfulness (awareness and acceptance towards oneself without self-judgement) (Neff, 2003).


I also took an interested in this topic by doing qualitative research where I found the following findings among yoga practitioners who gained self-compassion as a by-product of yoga:

  • Gaining more insightful connection to their body

  • Lower body dissatisfaction which is closely linked to self-compassion (Albertson, Neff, & Dill-Shackleford, 2015) since self-compassion helps to see a negative situation from a positive perspective by generating more kindness towards oneself and having a non-judgmental understanding, which regulates negative emotions (Leary et al., 2007). During yoga practice students are often encouraged to pause and listen to their bodies and adapt the practice to their needs (Neumark-Sztainer, et al., 2018). Therefore, tuning into our physical body and accepting it, can help in appreciating ourselves more by being kinder to ourselves.

  • Another component of DTE’s model is attuned self-care ranging from awareness and responsiveness to internal cues (Piran &Neumark-Sztainer, 2020). By paying more attention to our physical body, noticing how our body feels in different poses, and not ignoring the cues, helps us understand ourselves better by acknowledging what are our desires. In other words, it enables self-exploration through body-mind connection. Yoga is a great tool for self-prioritization since it is an individual focused practice, which allows an individual to focus on themselves and practice self-prioritization (Piran & Neumark-Sztainer, 2020). In addition, yoga as a mindful intervention enhances decision-making quality, rational judgments, and clear thinking through awareness of attention and emotions (Panno et al., 2018)

  • Reducing strict talk and being kinder to ourselves. In my research one participant started practice in a very competitive way, without any joy or pleasure. Her practice was mainly focused on achieving perfect poses and doing the practice “correctly”. However, after a serious back injury, she started seeing the practice from a different perspective. Her motivation became more aligned with DTE’s dimension called joyful immersion and flow. Afterwards, established mind-body connection, she started moving with greater joy and self-kindness, initiating acts of self-compassion. This also correlates with Cox et al., (2019) where an increase in self-compassion correlates positively with body appreciation and increase in intrinsic motivation among female university students who took part in a yoga practice.


A common factor in the mentioned changes among yoga practitioners is mind-body connection as an indicator of increased self-compassion. In other words, once we start moving our bodies with greater joy, when we accept our bodies as they are, and when we become more connected to inner cues, this reflection is linked to experiencing self-compassion by being kinder to ourselves and accepting ourselves with our positives and negatives.


However, how exactly can self-compassion and yoga can be beneficial for digital nomads?

Burnout and stress are detrimental factors to the functioning of individuals, teams, and organizations. Mental health problems are increasingly frequent, impact work absences and have negative effects on productivity (D’Souza et al., 2006). Self-compassion is an invaluable resource for individuals to bolster their resilience. By fostering self-compassion, we can lay the foundation for a heightened ability among employers and managers to not only endure but flourish amidst the demanding and stressful dynamics of the workplace. Therefore, in turn, this would kindle a positive transformation in both individual and organizational performance.


Overall, this suggests that work overall can lead to various mental health issues which can deteriorate a person’s overall well-being, therefore leading to lose of work productivity.

Secondly, once a person starts becoming more self-compassionate, results are also observable in their interpersonal relationships, a social connection or affiliation between two or more people. As mentioned, by Neff (2003), compassion should be directed first to oneself to achieve compassion for others, because a non-judgmental attitude towards oneself reduces judgement of others. How exactly does this work with yoga practice?

  • In my research, participants reported intrapersonal change after starting yoga. Some attributed the change to the overall yoga practice and yogic philosophy, and some indicated change due to being a part of a yogic community.

  • Changes in interpersonal relationship were seen in:

    • Being more accepting of people’s differences by indicating common humanity as understanding of human imperfections

    • Being more selective of relationships. In other words, being more selective in choosing connections that are beneficial for our well-being.

    • Being exposed to the yogic environment immediately had a positive effect on being more appreciative of diversity among yoga practitioners.

    • Being more mindful and aware of people’s differences. Mindfulness can be present in yoga’s overall practice, such as in movements, breathing and meditation. This aspect of yoga refers to mindfulness, which reduces explicit bias (Salvati et al., 2019) and discriminatory behaviour (Cox, 2018) by increasing open-mindedness and acceptance (Kishida et al., 2018). Overall, yoga facilitates intrapersonal change which does not only impact the practitioner but also people around them. In other words, compassionate attitude towards oneself is bidirectional.


The next step into understanding the combination of emotional wellness and social wellness is to address how these two factors contribute to worker’s well-being and how can they influence work. Life of digital nomads can be quite unpredictable while travelling on the move. They might experience home sickness, loneliness, or they might even get affected by a sick family member and feeling helpless to do anything when they are miles away from. As a result, this could have an impact on their job performance. If the workplace lacks compassion or the person going through a tough time is unable to express their need to prioritize their well-being, it might influence their productivity and interactions with colleagues. Harvey (2001) stated that illness, injury, or death of a loved ones can cause pain that spills into the workplace. Moreover, this can lead to toxic interactions with bosses, colleagues, or customers (Maitlis & Ozcelik, 2004). However, if compassion is present by work colleagues, this can strengthen emotional connections at work and boost people’s ability to function as productive employees (Dutton et al., 2002). Finally, compassion can be conceived as one form of caregiving among co-workers (Kahn, 1993), but one that it is also found outside organizations designed explicitly for caregiving purposes (Kahn, 1993). Therefore, compassion can be prevalent in a variety of organizations, precisely because it is a response to the inevitable pain of human existence (Frost, 2003).


Nevertheless, compassion at work should also be given when an individual is not going through a difficult period but should also be cultivated on a daily basis to sustain a healthy and supporting environment for workers.


As suggested by Benevene, Buonomo, & West (2022):

  • Being effective in pursuing a commitment to embodying our values in our work, which requires shared direction, alignment, and commitment.

  • Working together by including everyone, regardless of professional background, skin, sexuality, gender, or religion.

  • Sharing power by encouraging collective leadership, where all feel they have some leadership influence.

This suggest that compassion can arise from an individual which can help in maintaining a more compassionate atmosphere for other co-workers, however compassion should also be cultivated by the organisation/business to create an open space for workers to feel comfortable and supportive.


For digital nomads working from abroad might bring certain challenges people in a home-based job might not get to experience. Therefore, practicing yoga for not only physical purposes, but also for practicing self-compassion to get to know oneself better, to be more intune with our desires, acknowledging self-kindness, and accepting the low as well as the good moments as something humane, can bring us closer to our inner self. Therefore, this can create a more pleasant atmosphere to connect with others without feeling pressure to hide things from others and not be us. Emotional wellness such as compassion can create a better working environment since social wellness can also be seen as social support when workers are going through difficult times. Nevertheless, being more connected to ourselves can also bring us closer to knowing what works for us, with whom do we feel happy, etc. Therefore, organisations or business should also take into consideration the wellbeing of their employees by addressing the importance of compassion since it can be a vital for a good working environment.


Tips for practicing yoga when on the go

  • Getting a travel mat to fit it in the luggage.

  • For beginners YouTube channels are recommended. For instance, Yoga with Adrian offers 30-day challenge for yoga beginners. Its free and it only takes max 40min!

  • Finding a yoga study to also meet other fellow yogis and joining the yogic community.


These are 6 tips for a consistent practice suggested by a yoga teacher Jessica Richburg: (she also has a yoga app and YouTube channel for yoga)

  • Find your intention. E.g., What does yoga provide for you? How do you feel after practicing?

  • Keep it short and sweet – you do not need to start with an hour-long practice. Taking 10-20 minutes is all you need to get the full effects of a session.

  • Stick to a schedule – set aside time each day for when you can dedicate to your practice

  • Find inspiration. E.g., find a yoga buddy to help you stick to a practice, online community by speaking with other yogis online, taking photos to keep track of your progress.

  • Try a new style – yoga has many different styles, so you might need to try a few different types to find the one right for you, or depending on your mood you might crave good power vinyasa class and on some days, you might need a restorative class, just make the practice enjoyable for yourself.

  • Take yoga off the mat – exploring the deeper philosophy of yoga (gratitude, non-attachment, compassion) and try to apply it to your daily life. Yoga is so much more than just a physical practice, and try to pause for a moment, breathe and calm down your nervous system, and connect with yourself.



References

Albertson, E. R., Neff, K. D., & Dill-Shackleford, K. E. (2015). Self-Compassion and Body Dissatisfaction in Women: A Randomized Controlled Trial of a Brief Meditation Intervention. Mindfulness, 6(3), 444–454. https://doi.org/10.1007/s12671-014-0277-3


Benevene P, Buonomo I, West M. Editorial: Compassion and compassionate leadership in the workplace. Front Psychol. 2022 Dec 9;13:1074068. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.1074068. PMID: 36571014; PMCID: PMC9784919


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Cox, H. C. (2018). The effects of mindfulness and relaxation on social bias and prejudicial behaviour [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Long Island University.


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