Stay zen while working at Penn

Grab your water bottle and sneakers and head to the Palestra on Friday, Jan. 22, during lunch for an hour-long walk inside the gym with your fellow Penn employees. The stroll is part of the Division of Human Resources’ (HR) and the Center for Public Health Initiatives’ (CPHI) monthly wellness walk series.

“In any workplace, it can be very demanding,” says Sara Solomon, deputy director of the CPHI, who partnered with HR wellness and work life specialists to bring the wellness walks to fruition. “The process of just physically moving away from your desk and doing something active can reduce stress, even on a small level.”

HR lists multiple options on its website for Penn employees to stay stress-free during the workday while boosting their health. Besides the wellness walks, there is guided meditation, chair yoga, and classes that encourage small, yet effective healthy changes in daily behavior. Most take place for an hour between noon and 2 p.m. during the workweek. Many of the stress management activities even count as “Be in the Know” wellness campaign bonus actions.

Sandi Herman, a health and wellness educator at Penn, began offering wellness workshops in stress reduction and smoking cessation for the Penn community in 2007. Since 2010, her work through Student Health Service and Campus Health has evolved to offer biweekly meditation sessions for students, which she recently began offering to Penn faculty and staff, too.

“During the fall of 2015, Human Resources offered a series of 10 ‘Take a Breath and Relax’ meditation sessions for faculty and staff,” Herman says. “We’ve had anywhere from about 15 to 48 people attend a session.”

Two times per month, at 3624 Market St. or other locations (check the HR calendar), Herman leads mindful breathing practices for employees during lunch hours that focus attention on the present moment with kindness, compassion, and awareness. Herman has a special interest and expertise in holistic approaches to stress reduction.

“I try to create a space that’s non-competitive and comfortable,” Herman says. “No one has to prepare anything. There’s so much preparation every time you are meeting with someone. During the meditation session, you come in and you can just be.”

Herman guides the session, giving instruction, and often reminds participants to come back to their breath. Herman says her goal is to help participants connect with themselves a little more, become aware of the present moment experience, without judgment, and to take some of the awareness with them when they leave the session.

“Practicing being alert, present, and relaxed at the same time is so simple and yet so challenging,” Herman says. “This awareness can be helpful in our everyday life. For instance, if you are experiencing pain or discomfort in your neck, jaw, or shoulders while you’re sitting at the computer, you might be able to alleviate some of the tension in your body if you’re mindful of what you are experiencing.”

Another lunchtime activity is led by John Wylie, a sergeant in the Penn Police Department. Wylie runs a chair yoga workshop, where participants practice yoga while sitting in a chair or using a chair for support.

“It is a great break away from the regular grind of your day,” Wylie says. “It is a great workout for an hour. It has also become a place where, for an hour, the focus collectively is on taking care of ourselves.”

Two of Wylie’s classes are on YouTube, “Chair Flow Yoga with John Wylie” and “Back to the Future of Chair Flow Yoga II with John Wylie.” His next chair yoga class is Wednesday, Jan. 27, at noon in the Ben Franklin Room at Houston Hall.

“Chair yoga is important because it is a practice in mindful movement that incorporates elements of exercise,” Wylie explains. “Being a mindful movement practice, it brings the participant to a state of body and mind awareness that allows states of physical relaxation and mental clarity to be attained.”

Employees can check out the Penn HR events calendar for more information on stress relief and wellness activities offered, and to register.

Chair Yoga