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“It shouldn’t be weird that a colleague takes a moment to sit on the floor and do a breathing exercise”

“It shouldn’t be weird that a colleague takes a moment to sit on the floor and do a breathing exercise”

Photographer:Fotograaf: Flickr: Ängsbacka

Bringing together Eastern wisdom and Western science

He travelled the world, became a yoga teacher and now combines that with being a student. When he came to Maastricht University to study at the University College Venlo, Filippo Oglialoro hoped to find scientific evidence for what he experiences with yoga. Fast forward three years and Oglialoro is about to finish his bachelor’s thesis, for which he developed his own holistic yoga programme for the work environment.

Like most 18-year-olds, Oglialoro went off to college after finishing high school. “But it felt like I was just doing it because it was expected of me. Not because my parents really voiced that opinion, but because that’s how society works.” After a year, he quit his study and started travelling. “That led me to India where I followed the training to become a yoga teacher. When I came back, I wanted to do a study programme that would teach me more about how the body works and in which I could incorporate my lessons from yoga. I found that at University College Venlo.”  

For his thesis, Oglialoro started by looking for scientific evidence that yoga does indeed improve mental and physical health. “I wanted to have scientific validations. I know that it has worked for people for over five thousand years, but to make our Western minds– including my own! – believe, it needs to be scientifically proven first.”

He was particularly happy to come across a study in the literature that didn’t just work with a control group. “In most studies about yoga on the work floor, they compared yoga with doing nothing. They always saw improvement, but you can’t be certain if that wouldn’t have been the case with any intervention. In this one study, however, the other group did things very similar to yoga. Instead of a breathing exercise, they just lay on their backs. Instead of doing yoga exercises, they went for a jog. Still, there was a significant difference in how much the yoga group improved in health.”

Yoga is good for preventing stress and helping to deal with stress that’s already there, say various studies. “The benefits are mostly psychological, but it also helps with back pains, stomach aches and tightened muscles. And let’s not forget that having elevated stress levels for a prolonged time, also has its effect on our long-term physical health. It’s connected to cancer and heart failure.”

It’s important to note, emphasizes Oglialoro, that just going to a yoga class every now and then is not going to cut it. “There is formal and informal training. If you just go to class and leave it at that, you’re not getting all the benefits out of it. Especially when you do it in the work environment, you’re looking for a culture change. It shouldn’t be weird that a colleague takes a moment to sit on the floor and do a breathing exercise. That’s the informal training, then you incorporate it in your daily life.” 

That cultural change is what he aims for in his programme. It includes all aspects of yoga: the asanas (what most people associate yoga with: the well-known poses such as the downward-facing dog), breathing, relaxation and meditation. “Each aspect has their own effects and they enhance each other. For instance, if you get your heart rate up first by doing the yoga poses, it’s easier to relax better later.” 

Why did he decide to make it especially for the work environment?  “Work demands are high and how most work is set up is not healthy. There’s lots of sitting, very little time outside, which means less daylight and less fresh air. Life in general is more stressful than it used to be, but since people spend 40+ hours in their work environment, that’s where you have a great opportunity to make a real change.” 

Oglialoro is now working with partners to set up a business model and actually sell his programme. “We’re looking at Germany at the moment, where companies can get a subsidy for programmes like this.” But he doesn’t exclude going for a master’s either. “We’ll have to see how it goes. I’m debating between Work, Health and Career and a research master’s. Yes, the combination of my Western side and spiritual side again. There is no yin without yang.”

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