Stretching our bodies (and our minds)

January 28, 2019
Katie James, dvm360 Associate Content Specialist
Katie James, dvm360 Associate Content Specialist

Katie James is an Associate Content Specialist for UBM Animal Care. She produces and edits content for dvm360.com and its associated print publications, dvm360 magazine, Vetted and Firstline. She has a passion for creating highly-engaging content through the use of new technology and storytelling platforms. In 2018, she was named a Folio: Rising Star Award Honoree, an award given to individuals who are making their mark and disrupting the status quo of magazine media, even in the early stages of their careers. She was also named an American Society of Business Publication Editors Young Leader Scholar in 2015. Katie grew up in the Kansas City area and graduated from the University of Kansas with a degree in journalism. Outside of the office her sidekick is an energetic Australian cattle dog mix named Blitz.

The dvm360 team decided to put our money where our mouth is and try out a 12-week yoga program.

The dvm360 staff during the first yoga class with teacher Kayla Mason. | Photo by Greg Kindred

If you've been to a Fetch dvm360 conference lately, you've likely noticed that there's a new element to our programming: a bigger push to care for the whole veterinary professional. Your mental and physical health is important to us, so we're weaving that in with the high-quality CE you need and love.

In fact, there's an entire track on the Fetch dvm360 program called “Wellness-(Yours!)” It's there because we truly believe that for you to care for patients in the best way possible, you have to care for yourself first. We hear you talk about how hard it is to ignore the 11 p.m. phone call or weekend Facebook message. And send in confessions about how much of a toll it's taking on you.

It's all well and good for us to say you need to take care of yourself-but do we as a team actually live that message? We're the people who passionately care about the people who take care of pets. Can we do that without caring for ourselves? No. No one can pour from an empty bucket.

Last October that changed. Led by Christie McFall, dvm360 vice president and managing director, our team embarked on a 12-week lunchtime yoga journey. Kayla Mason, a local workplace wellness and yoga instructor, started coming to our office twice a week to lead a 45-minute yoga flow. Everyone was invited to participate, regardless of previous experience or skill, and about half of our office joined the journey.

There are variations of almost every pose that can be modified for those who have less flexibility or need to protect a hip or neck, and Mason also encouraged us to simply sit in a comfortable position and breathe if we weren't able to do certain poses. After all, yoga isn't about competition against the others in the class. It's for us and our mind-body connection.

We recruited people from various departments who had different levels of buy-in on the yoga front to share their experience. We've got people who are decidedly skeptical, some who are neutral, and a couple who are wholeheartedly pro-yoga. Keep reading to see how they felt about this journey.

BEFORE THE FIRST SESSION

The skeptics

Christie McFall, dvm360 vice president and managing director. I travel a lot for my role in the company and am just as busy when I'm in the office. I carry all my tension in my lower back and was having terrible back pain from all the stress. I was thinking about it, and I thought there's something in what we're telling our Fetch dvm360 attendees about needing to take care of themselves. But we aren't doing it for ourselves. Nothing makes me crazier than brands not living up to what they're telling people they're all about, and over the last 18 months, we've been focusing on our core pillar strategy (Nurture, Inspire, Connect and Equip) in the conference but failing on the nurture for ourselves. I've always been skeptical of yoga because I feel like exercise has to be intense and high impact, but I'm ready to try it.

Hannah Wagle, assistant content specialist. I'm a vegan who recharges with the moon cycle. I have tarot cards I read from, a triple moon goddess symbol tattoo and crystals scattered throughout my apartment-rose quartz for love, orange calcite for creativity, red-orange carnelian for self-empowerment. And yet I've never been interested in yoga.

I'm not flexible. My joints creak and my left knee hurts when it rains. My ADHD-addled brain takes any peaceful opportunity to sling myself down rabbit holes of thought that, frankly, make those around me uncomfortable. “What if we rode cows around like we rode horses?” my mind will scream while I'm trying to meditate. That sort of thing.

I'm excited to see if my enthusiasm (or lack thereof) will change over the next 12 weeks, but I'm not very confident that it will.

Tom Brown, operations manager. I have always felt uncomfortable to try yoga. I typically don't see or hear of many guys doing it. Also, I am not very confident that I will be any good at it. When it comes to skill, I am at whatever level is before beginner. I hear terms like “lunging lizard” and “screaming squirrel” and wonder if they're band names or yoga positions. I guess I'll find out soon.

I'm hoping to feel better and gain some flexibility after doing yoga. I have felt really tight lately and have had some back pain along with it. Whenever I do work out, I just do strength training and maybe some walking or light jogging. However, that hasn't really helped with my flexibility, so I'm hoping yoga will help with that!

 

The neutrals

Greg Kindred, design director. I have never taken a yoga class. I like to be active-I bowl and play golf. It has been almost 35 years since I've had a gym membership, so I am not exactly the poster child for fitness. I signed up for our yoga class because I'd like to be more flexible and would love to hold on to my rapidly declining muscle tone. Having the class right in the office erases any possible inconveniences, so I'm all in!

I don't have full confidence that I'll look coordinated or capable, but I'm up for the challenge. And the fact that many of my coworkers probably share my minor apprehensions made it an easy choice for me to make. I look forward to seeing my progress and discovering if the touted benefits of yoga are real or imagined.

Katie James, associate content specialist. I consider myself to be fairly active. I like running and any kind of high-intensity cardio class that the local community center offers, but I've never been enough of a fan of yoga to spring for classes at a standalone yoga studio. About four years ago I went to a gym that offered yoga classes that I'd go to after working out if I felt like it-if I was already there-but I'd never been really enthusiastic about it.

Basically, I'll do it if it's an option, because I like variety and challenging myself (and someone else telling me what to do), but I haven't committed to a dedicated practice. I enjoyed it, but again, not enough to find a separate option once I stopped going to that gym. I love the idea of this offering because it takes 90 percent of the hassle out of it. The instructor is coming to us, and it's over lunch, so I don't miss work or any evening plans I may have. It's easier to fit into the day.

The true believers

Chris Holston, business manager. When I think about yoga, the two things that come to mind are peace of mind and flexibility. It's a physical exercise practice that helps alleviate stress and clear the mind at the end of the day. Equally important, a regular yoga practice helps with injury prevention for rigorous middle-aged volleyball matches, high-intensity pregame sprints leading up to Chiefs games and sitting at the desk in the office.

With my ever-changing schedule, it's become increasingly difficult to develop a routine practice schedule. I'm very much looking forward to being able to exercise during the lunch hour to help break up the day. I'm hoping it will build an extra level of camaraderie with coworkers, but most importantly I hope it will help stretch out the body and reset the mind.

Ericka Cherry, marketing copywriter. Flexibility-check. Toning-check. Meditation-check. I'm all in on everything yoga has to offer, but I haven't been able to establish a regular yoga practice. A YouTube video here, a random yoga-heavy barre class there, I've enjoyed every taste of yoga I've had, and I crave the long-term benefits yoga has to offer. Achieving a downward dog with my feet firmly planted on my mat would be huge!

I'm hoping that a twice-weekly, in-office yoga practice will jumpstart my own yoga practice. I'm not afraid to wobble through a few poses, but I need the enthusiasm of my coworkers to help me get moving on a weekly basis.

Click to the next page to see how these folks felt at the end of the 12 weeks.

 

Photo by Greg Kindred.

AFTER 12 WEEKS OF YOGA IN THE OFFICE

Christie. I've embraced yoga. I haven't been to the chiropractor once since we've started, and that's unbelievable. It's changed my mind about what a workout can be, and all you really need is your body to do it. Even with all the traveling, I can still practice by turning on a YouTube video and don't need a gym or equipment or an intense class to get a complete workout. And I've been doing it at home as well because I enjoy it so much.

Hannah. While the meditative aspect of yoga was amazing, my body quit before I could really give yoga the ol' collegiate try. Long story short, I don't have the joints to make it in the yoga world (for instance, my knees are double-jointed and don't bend properly). There were times where I'd be doing a simple position and feel my legs go numb-so I was tasked with the choice of regally bowing out or falling flat on my face and scaring the wits out of my yoga partners.

 

That all being said, I'd like the simple stretches to be a part of my daily routine, along with meditation. No destroyer of the universe pose for me!

Tom. After 12 weeks, I must say that I appreciate yoga and now look forward to the sessions. I feel much more flexible and my back feels tremendously better. My apprehension only lasted a few sessions and now I feel perfectly comfortable. I still haven't heard the terms lunging lizard or screaming squirrel (those may have been poses Chris Holston just made up) or perhaps they may be down the road for advanced yoga goers. I do, however, know what downward dog, goddess squat, warrior II and cobra poses are. And-I can even do them!

Greg. I like yoga. I felt it has pushed me-several times I thought about skipping the class, but if I was in the office, I attended. The flexibility in my knee has improved, and while I still don't have full range of motion, it went from 75 percent to over 90 percent. I am somewhat competitive in nature, so I spent a lot of time feeling like I was failing compared to fellow classmates, and yet each class ended with the instructor's words of encouragement and a reminder to thank ourselves for what we accomplished. I learned that it is only my path and my body that move me forward.

Katie. I started this journey with a pretty neutral stance on yoga, but I'm 1,000 percent on board now. I've been enjoying it so much that I've been practicing at home too, following along to videos on YouTube in addition to our twice-weekly sessions at work. The small reminders to focus on the breath and how your body feels in the moment and with each movement helps me focus and reset.

I'm guilty (as are most of us, I think) of wanting to do just one more thing, to keep trying to fix whatever the fire of the day is, or simply losing track of time and then realizing that I've worked through my lunch break. But I can tell on days when I do take the time to clear my mind that I'm more productive and less stressed. I've gone into the class totally stressed out, feeling like I should skip it in favor of finishing the thing that's on deadline and so tense I can't lower my shoulders down from around my ears. And I've walked out feeling totally zen and ready to go back to whatever it was that was worrying me.

Aside from the mental refresh I feel from it, I know that I've grown stronger over the last 12 weeks. The first few sessions we'd do a “Chaturanga” to downward dog transition, which is essentially a pushup with your elbows in close to your body. I struggled to do it without collapsing to the mat at the beginning, and now I can do the position fully without trouble. I've seen a definite improvement in my flexibility and overall stiffness as well. This makes me excited to try some of the more advanced positions that would have intimidated me in the past.

Chris. I couldn't be enjoying the yoga classes more. Having the class at noon really helps break up the day and give a mental break which generally doesn't happen without the class. Detaching from emails, meetings and phones is awesome and helps charge me up for the second half of the day. The classes are also good from a time management perspective-they allow me to focus on cardio and weights at the gym after work instead of flexibility.

Ericka. In the last part of our 12-week yoga journey, yoga became a habit for me. I only missed a class when I absolutely had to and I even started doing yoga at home (forcing my fiancé and dog to join me; our dog wasn't interested).

Our weekly yoga classes have taught me a lot about my own endurance. I was able to push through sweat and shakiness to discover that I might have some athletic ability, which is something I never thought I'd say. I was also excited to find that I was becoming more “yoga fluent” each week. Our teacher frequently calls out moves and I can flow through the practice without watching her.

The verdict. Our team overall loves the yoga classes and hopes to continue them. And we hope to see you on a mat in Baltimore, Kansas City or San Diego. You never know-you may end up loving it. Or yoga may not be your thing, and that's OK. We encourage you to find what brings you peace and joy in the day. Maybe that's spending time with family, or reading a book, or taking a walk. Make the space to give yourself some TLC and recharge your mental energy.

You. Can. Do. This!

At Fetch dvm360 conference, we're the support system you need. With every conference this year, we intend to nurture your mind (meaning quality CE for days) while also encouraging you to take stock of your physical and emotional health. Register now.