This week, we’ll be posting a few articles focused on health in the workplace. In this piece, Leslie Campisi of Anthemis Group, a professional yogi, certified boss-lady, and host of our bi-weekly Finyasa classes at the Vested NYC office, recounts her experience with yoga and working in New York. She asks: Why do we feel like we operate at our best under stressful conditions?
If Yoga Journal ever comes calling – hey y’all! – I’ll be sure to mention my first yoga instructor was Ms. Sally, the proprietor of Hebert’s Thinking School, a Montessori pre-k in Abbeville, Louisiana.
Now by best estimates in her late 70s, Sally still teaches. Still! (She also dances the zydeco brunch at Café Des Amis in Breaux Bridge almost every Sunday…or so my sources tell me.)
My mom helped unearth this memory not too long ago. Me? Learning yoga? In preschool? In 80s Louisiana? What parallel universe is this?
Dad couldn’t help overhear our conversation. “Oh, I took classes, too,” he said, “Before work.” What? But then he stopped because, “You know, it just made me too damn relaxed. I couldn’t do my work. I just felt so…calm. So I stopped.”
Forty years and a quadruple bypass later, something tells me Dad may be regretting this decision.
Why do we feel like we operate at our best under stressful conditions?
I was my Dad’s daughter for way too long. When I moved to New York, I immediately poured all of my time and attention into my career. Exercise? Sure, I “joined Crunch,” as one does, and promptly waited in line a few months later to send my break-up letter via certified mail.
For years, I couldn’t figure out how to excel at work; be a good friend, daughter, sister, and girlfriend; do non-worky things I loved; and, oh yeah, take care of myself.
My body, I decided, was just a fleshy bucket that kept my brain functioning. What else do you need besides a brain to succeed? The brain was the money maker. The body just had to keep up and not get in the way.
While I was vain enough to make sure I never looked out of shape, I was. I slept poorly, drank too much Diet Coke (seriously, if you are reading this, give up the Diet Coke RIGHT NOW), ate whatever I wanted, and, exercise? Yeah, no.
Occasionally, I’d take a yoga class. And I enjoyed them because there was a mental element – perfect for a brain in a bucket. It was a little game. I realized that I could stretch into a pose juuuust as far as I liked, and no more, which felt a bit like self-care? Like the instructor wasn’t daring me to do more, which at first seemed like a trick?
“Just sit and be still.” “Play the middle.” “Don’t overdo it, maintain the integrity of the pose.”
I quietly explored doing less, caring less, not trying to “win” yoga, and looked around to see if anyone noticed. No one did. Wow. What the hell kind of exercise was this?
I also liked that I was trapped on the mat for an hour, just following someone else’s instructions. All I had to do was pay attention and move my body the way I was told. I didn’t have to be in charge or make any decisions. Just listen. What a relief.
In that way, yoga – along with getting a manicure – is one of the few remaining ways to disconnect from your phone for an extended stretch and not feel like a guilty jerk about it.
But then why do we feel like guilty jerks about it in the first place?
A few years ago, when I was running a tech PR agency, many hard-won management lessons finally came into focus. (Apologies to all of those I managed before such focus was achieved.)
One day, it hit me: this place was a greenhouse. And keeping a happy, well-functioning team required the right temperature.
In a greenhouse, you need just enough motivation, heat, to keep seedlings sprouting, but not enough to scorch them. And you must protect your beloved plants against a deep freeze at all costs – they may never recover.
What goes for teams, it follows, also goes for people. And so I looked at myself. Why did I sometimes think team members needed stress in order to do their best work?
Because, my friends, I did.
I assumed that was the “right way” to work, and therefore, the right standard to manage people to.
So I took a lesson from the yoga mat. I backed off. “What if I didn’t try to do a PERFECT warrior two? What if I just…”
…and this is where teams and yoga and stress all tie together. Cause when you find the right temperature – to work, to manage others, to do yoga. When you are not focused on “winning,” when you are just committed to being on the mat and not “performing” work, or performing Young Fit Yoga Lady in Leggings…
The pose just comes. It finds you as soon as you surrender the idea of achieving it.
If you work in tech, in finance, fintech, the agency world, PR… Screw it, if you just live in New York City (the ultimate capitalist gladiator course)… If you’ve had poor work role models, if you have a hunch that grinding your way through life is not the only way, but you can’t quite decipher what comes next, if you’ve had a change of heart and just want to get back into your body.
I see you, I was you. Let’s do yoga together.