Chris Roy: Bringing Yoga to America’s Workplace

This is an interview with Chris Roy, Co-Founder/CEO of Namaste Interactive and NamasteLight. I came across Chris’s work through his sponsorship of the Hanuman Festival. We talked about doing this interview while he was with his young son, Arjuna. Chris described himself as a “grateful dad,” “interactive strategist,” “brand builder” and “yogi.” He seems to be uniquely positioned for a fine vantage point on what’s possible for yoga in the corporate world.

      – Rob Schware, Give Back Yoga Foundation Executive Director

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Rob: What originally motivated you to do bring yoga into your corporation, and what continues to motivate you? How, if at all, has that motivation changed over time?

Chris: It began with my own yoga practice, starting around 2001.  At that time, I was working for an Internet start-up and feeling pretty disconnected from others and myself in that environment.  The corporate environments that I had been exposed to were mostly operating on the surface level.  It was almost like you left your heart at the door and picked it up on the way out. I was sharing my dissatisfaction with a friend, and the next day she handed me a yoga DVD. From there, I began an 20-minute beginner yoga practice every morning.  Within a very short period of time, I began feeling more centered, confident and generally more tuned in at my position with the start-up.  The regular practice of yoga genuinely began changing my life and how I felt in a start up work environment.  It was this experience that inspired me to bring yoga into my own company.

What specifically are you doing for your employees with regard to yoga? What do you see as outcomes?

We’ve made yoga completely available by setting up a company program with a national studio.  We also sponsor most of the major yoga and music festivals.  Our team gets the opportunity to participate in some of those events and be exposed to environments that promote yoga, self-growth, and healthy lifestyle.  Since we feel the practice of yoga is a holistic practice that continues off the mat, we also make sure healthy foods are available here in our HQ. The results are pretty dramatic.  The research clearly suggests that yoga and meditation not only increase creativity and intelligence, but also reduce anxiety, stress, and depression. All of these are great outcomes for any company culture.  However, we have also seen an increase in productivity and a decrease in drama.  Ultimately, yoga helps to develop what we are looking for in our team — to show up inspired with the right attitude, creative, and open to ideas and collaboration.

Why do you look for yoga practitioners as part of your hiring process?

Well, I should say that it’s not a prerequisite for working with us, but we do view it as a big bonus.  Yoga practice initiates a process of clearing our pain and trauma.  As a result, we begin to open up to our true nature, which is a more centered, joyful, creative and optimistic self.  We come into this world curious, open, and full of possibility, and somewhere along the way that light gradually fades.  Yoga begins to turn that light back on.  In our company, we strive to have a culture that embodies those childlike elements of fun, optimism, and receptivity.  If a potential candidate has been practicing yoga regularly, we know they’re already working on themselves, and that tells us a lot about who they are.

How do you maintain a “mindful corporation” and emphasize “compassionate support” in dealing with clients?

It’s built into our mission as a company and is part of our conversation.  Our support philosophy is built on the idea of “compassionate support.”  We all know the experience of being under-appreciated, or rushed during a support call.  We want our clients to have a different experience, whether they need technical support, or have billing questions.  We genuinely want them to be patiently heard and we want our team to respond to each situation with openness and equity.

We maintain this first by the founders leading by example; that’s most important.  If our team experiences us being mindful and compassionate in our interactions, then we set a standard.  But it also has to do with the way we interact specifically with our team.  We understand that they are going to treat our clients the way we treat them.  In other words, if we are kind and compassionate with our team, then this will ripple out to our clients and partners.

How are you giving back in your business? What have been the impacts?

We’ve incorporated socially responsible models into our product offerings.  For instance, we offer an email marketing solution called NamasteLight, and we plant a tree every time our clients send a campaign.  I am a big fan of the “one for one” business model that Toms Shoes has pioneered, so we look at how we can bring this model into what we do.  Through our “send emails, plant trees” program we have planted thousands of trees. When you consider that a single mature tree can absorb carbon dioxide at a rate of 48 lbs. per year and release enough oxygen back into the atmosphere to support 2 human beings, I feel proud that we are making an impact on the environment.  But also, giving is good business.  Our clients have shared with us on a number of occasions that our tree planting initiative is the reason they chose us over another company.

How do you model “yogic leadership” as a CEO?

Most important is that I have a regular practice.  I’ve learned that as a leader you have to have some kind of regular practice that renews your energy and keeps you centered.  For me, that is my yoga practice. Also, I have made it my personal mission to be more authentic and vulnerable as a leader.  I think somewhere along the way we were taught, or incorporated this belief, that as a company leader, we have to be serious and rigid.  I read a quote recently that said “vulnerability is our greatest measure of courage.”  This got me thinking about bringing the principles of yoga, such as self-awareness, integrity and authenticity, into my own leadership style.  Also, the word Namaste is in our company name, which literally means I bow to you or I see the light in you.  So, it’s important for my partner and I to continually recognize the unity we all share and allow that to guide all our interactions.

What advice would you give to other CEOs?

If you haven’t already, consider beginning a yoga or meditation practice.  Running a company is stressful and can be overwhelming, and it can be too easy to project or sabotage from that space.  So I have a non-negotiable practice of beginning every morning with yoga (either in a studio or on my own mat at home), and a 30-minute meditation.  This is by far the most important time of my day.  Moving through the asanas (yoga poses), breathing deeply, and creating silent time is where my clearest perspective, creative ideas, and inspiration emerge.  This is also a time when I renew the gratitude I feel for the gifts in my life.  This morning practice literally sets the stage for a grateful, connected and productive day.

What are some of your ideas about or hopes for the future of “yoga in corporations” in America in the next decade?

First is that I want to see the core belief systems around business shift.  The overwhelming belief of business is that it exists solely to make a profit.  While there are many companies that are operating from a more socially conscious place, this needs to become more of the norm.  In other words, I want to see profit and purpose merge.  We’re a small business, but I think businesses of all sizes should also consider bringing yoga into their workplace.  Company owners would discover that a yoga culture not only begins to cultivate a more healthy company, but they will also find that it cultivates a more motivated, happy, and productive team.

Editor: Alice Trembour

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Do you want to bring the transformational power of yoga and meditation to underserved populations? Join Give Back Yoga at the Sedona Yoga Festival in February for a two-day Mindful Therapeutic Yoga Practices for Veterans pre-conference training where teachers can learn clinically-proven techniques to help students recover from trauma and emotional stress.

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