Ayurveda in the Workplace

Typical offices with cubicled, air conditioned, artificially illuminated work desks, where you have to sit facing a glaring screen should have this sign at the entrance:

Most offices of today are a result of the boom in the knowledge era, We are now in the digital era, but the work environment just did not change. Just imagine a bunch of software developers working in a greasy shop floor filled with heavy machinery. Work hazards in the industrial age were swift and hard hitting, but pale away in comparison to lifestyle diseases that offices today help promote. These offices provide workers the most unhealthy environment in human history.

Sitting Position

In the first part of the movie “Mission Impossible”, Tom Cruise is suspended by cables and lowered into the CIA office.

Source: https://static.tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pub/images/mission_impossiblecabledrop.jpg
It’s work as usual for Tom Cruise

You will be surprised to know that even this is a better working position (for short duration) than sitting on a chair. You might argue that you have a state of the art ergonomic chair that supports your back and neck and costs a leg. You might also add that your sitting posture is upright and you don’t slouch or slide down even after working for 8 hours. Standing for a few hours in the morning, followed by sitting on the floor in sukhsana, vajrasana after lunch, padmasana in the evening, followed by standing is the best way to survive a work day. In each of the positions, ensure your computer screen is at eye level. In the famous Mahabharata serial by B.R. Chopra, we see Dhritarashtra sitting on his throne, with eminent members of his court sitting in a straight line on the left & right of the throne. In effect, they were sitting on chairs, sometimes for long hours. So what’s wrong with us doing it? No king ever sat on the throne with legs dangling down the whole day, they sat in any of the 84 asanas (sitting postures) they liked!

Artificial Lights

The concept of the knowledge era offices were derived from the East India Company’s office in London built in 1729 for the “person who works with his head” [1]. Electricity made its presence felt in early 1900s and bright lights replaced sunlight. In the last few years, there has been a growing demand for natural light in offices [2] The response to this demand has been to use transparent material like glass & plastic, both of which allow the “light” part to enter the offices, but strip it of its benefits (For example, light passing through these materials don’t stimulate the production of Vitamin D). Ayurveda recommends half an hour of direct sunlight exposure (one hour for Kapha). Till office designs change, try to get your daily dose of sun before you head for office. An easy way to do this is to ditch your gym (another place on the top of my unhealthy environment list) . Instead, head for a run in the morning sun (for kapha people), a stroll in the evening (for vata) or a walk in the park (for pitta). Modern science is yet to discover the full powers of the Sun God. His powers go far beyond helping synthesize Vitamin D in humans and carbohydrates in plants. Keeping humans away from His presence is a great way to find out the properties of sun rays!

Caffeine Culture

Most offices will have a catering service, feeding you tea/coffee with the frequency of a IV drip. My dad used to clock 20 cups in an average working day. I’m in client meetings the whole day and manage just 6 cups. Fortunately, some companies have undertaken austerity measures and have reduced the number of free tea/coffee in a day to just 2, giving your digestive system a much needed respite. I tried resisting the caffeine culture by telling my clients I don’t drink either tea or coffee. A chilled cola landed up on my table in all occasions. I chose the lesser of the vices and stuck to tea/coffee. Green tea, black tea, chaas (buttermilk), nimbu paani (lemonade) and lassi are finding their way into office canteens. These are much better choices than CCD Xpress vending machines. Milk tetra packs are co-existing with beer cans in office refrigerators worldwide. Most of these are processed and not freshly made, but is still a welcome change.

Long Meetings

While not unhealthy by themselves, corporate meetings, especially the ones that stretch further than Mr.Fantastic come with their own set of problems. Sitting for a long duration in the same posture (to refrain from looking uninterested in the proceedings), supressing nature’s call (if you leave, someone else will take the credit for your work) and a working lunch (usually pizza & sandwiches) are the byproducts that Ayurveda hates. Glaring at an extra bright OLED screen for hours at a stretch, sitting in a dark room is something that neither your eyes nor the television likes (the latter is none of Ayurveda’s concern). While your doctor will recommend an eye drop for your dry eyes, you may try an Ayurvedic eye drop or ask your Yoga teacher to teach you Trataka. Work under a boss who believes in standing meetings.

Air Conditioning

Most people working in offices know only one season; winter. Especially if you have air con at home because you can’t bear the high temperature outside. Your car has AC and the mall, the theater and the restaurant that you go on weekends has AC too. Science still thinks that the only problems with ACs is a dehydrated skin and accelerated global warming. Ayurveda paints a far grimmer picture. My blog on ritucharya deals extensively with foods to eat in each season. Seasonally available fruits and vegetables help the body cope with the vagaries of the weather. Winter fruits and veggies imported and sold in malls don’t serve the purpose. If you want to know the reason, read my blog on why to eat local. This situation can lead to serious diseases. It starts with weight gain, loss of immunity & lethargy & over time leads to rheumatoid arthritis, chronic allergy and asthma. The solution to this problem is not an easy one. Here’s a very good blog on what to do https://easyayurveda.com/2012/05/30/ayurveda-advice-for-people-living-in-cold-climate-countries/ Those are tips on how to live in a cold country, a lot of which applies to this situation. However, that’s giving in to the situation. Try to fight against it. Eat cooling food during summer. Get the AC out of your home.

The offices of today are changing rapidly. Wework is creating co-working spaces that look more and more like cosy homes. Companies will realize at some point that they don’t need the knowledge era offices anymore. People can work from wherever they want. All the information and tools they need is in the cloud. Co-workers do not need to be physically present at the same place. In the decentralized digital workplaces of the future, you will be inperfect control of your workplace. Hopefully, you will be the king of your workplace and sit on your throne in vajrasana!

  1. https://k2space.co.uk/knowledge/history-of-office-design/
  2. https://hbr.org/2018/09/the-1-office-perk-natural-light
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About aryap

Student of Ayurveda, Master of Raj Yoga, Reading Purnas & Upanishadas, Charaka Samhita & the History of Ancient & Medieval India to reconstruct the principles of Ayurveda. A big thanks to Dr. Manohar Gundeti for his guidance & support

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2 Comments on “Ayurveda in the Workplace”

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this article 🙂 The modern work places have always seemed torturous to me, to spend almost an entire lifetime working in them. You paint a great transition into the future workplaces that would be designed to be better in touch with the sun, seasons and a sensitivity to our body. The ability to work remotely from the office spaces is already a choice for some where they choose a more nourishing environment to spend the major chunk of their day working.

    1. Thanks Pragalbha! Till the time we remain stuck in legacy offices, Silicon valley will need your services to stay healthy 🙂

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