Have you ever considered mindfulness? This month, BrainLit have met with Bethany Kokaia, founder and co-owner of Yoga Roots Studio in Malmö, Sweden. With experience from both the finance and well-being industries, Bethany Kokaia has led several corporate wellness projects focused on mindfulness at work – which is called the mindfulness@work series. Read the interview for some truly great advice on how we may benefit from incorporating mindfulness in our daily lives!
Hi, Bethany! Tell us a little bit about yourself, and how you first heard about BrainLit?
I’m originally from the US and grew up in Florida. Growing up I competed in water-sports and discovered yoga as a cross training for my sport. After University I transitioned to working full time for one of the largest accounting & consultancy firms. With such intense work hours – yoga became a huge part of maintaining mental and physical balance in my life. I moved to Sweden in 2013 with my now husband, and was working in Copenhagen when I decided to study my Masters in Lund. While studying I started teaching yoga in a basement space at the University and really saw how useful the practice can be – the glow in my students eyes was nothing like what I had experienced while working in the corporate world. From that point I knew I wanted to work with health and wellness to help people to find this inner spark you can attain from a yoga and mindfulness practice. To say the least – I was hooked.
I heard about Brainlit from my husband actually, and have seen the Alven lamp at Grand Hotel in Lund. When you reached out after joining my Mindfulness @Work lecture – I thought it would be really interesting to talk more about how the wellness benefits of mindfulness, yoga and light can align.
You’ve had a really amazing journey, starting from professional water sports in Florida, to working full time in accounting, to moving to Sweden and running your very own yoga studio. What’s been some of your key takeaways from these different industries and how do you think well-being has played a part in these chapters of your life?
Well, it turns out that working in the business world and running your own business – yes, a yoga studio is a business 🙂 – aren’t that different. A key takeaway from working in the corporate world is the importance of well-being at work. Of course many things have changed in the last 10 years, but many companies still don’t have a very hands-on approach to work-life balance and well-being. There are so many simple ways to incorporate well-being into the workday – and it doesn’t cost much time at all – but instead can add so much value to both the employee and the employer. Think increased focus and efficiency in the work place, plus mindfulness has incredible benefits for an individual’s overall health. Did you know that we spend about 47% of our time thinking about something else we are already doing? And mindfulness can help with that!
Training and competing with sports greatly influenced my determination and focus and my mental calm under pressure – and of course yoga was a big part of that cross training and mental “game” for competitions.
In this post-pandemic period there is a big interest for learning more about mindfulness and how to incorporate this both into the workplace and our everyday lives.
We’d love to hear more about your Well-being @ Work projects!
This is my favorite topic to talk about at the moment – I’d love to share more! Right now I am working quite frequently with the topic of mindfulness in the workplace – I call this Mindfulness @ Work. Currently I am working with different companies, leading workshops for teams, leadership groups and wellness initiatives at work. In the upcoming months, I am also lecturing for different private organizations, entrepreneurial and leadership groups, and for a yoga conference in Sweden. I also am building a collaboration with a research team at Lund University around this topic. Needless to say, in this post-pandemic period there is a big interest for learning more about mindfulness and how to incorporate this both into the workplace and our everyday lives.
The projects are generally structured around giving an introduction to mindfulness, and breaking down the stereotypes on what many people expect mindfulness to be. From this starting point, we explore how to incorporate this practice into our everyday routine with ease through a framework for a mindful workday. And ease is the key word here – many people expect it to be very difficult to practice mindfulness – but after one of my workshops a key takeaway is that there are very simple ways we can start tomorrow to build a habit for mindfulness in our days. And there may be ways that you are already mindful, and didn’t even realize it!
What is a common misconception people have about mindfulness?
That to practice mindfulness we need to sit for hours on end! Mindfulness is about paying attention on purpose – in the moment – and that can be while you are doing basically anything. Not just while sitting still and meditating (but this is a great way to practice too).
Can you mention some benefits that can come from practicing mindfulness?
On an individual level, a mindfulness practice can help increase our energy levels, concentration and focus, reduce anxiety and stress, boost memory and awareness, break out of habitual reactions and patterns, and improve our overall health and well-being – just to name a few.
For work-related effects, we can see improved decision making and communication, better coping with stressful events, increased confidence, better problem solving, increased concentration, positive leadership behaviors – all of these are huge benefits from an organisational perspective. And these are just a few of the benefits that have been seen from the limited research on mindfulness in a work setting.
How is yoga and mindfulness connected to each other?
To explain this, I have to define mindfulness for the reader. Mindfulness can be thought of as paying attention on purpose. It’s about being fully present wherever we are and whatever is happening around us. When I talk about mindfulness, I speak about mindfulness in two categories of practice – 1. on an informal level and 2. on a formal level – both methods are just as important to train our “mindfulness muscles”. First, we can practice mindfulness informally in many ways – just by paying attention on purpose. For example, with mindful eating, when brushing your teeth, while washing the dishes and when we communicate with others. Second, a yoga practice is an example of a formal way to practice mindfulness. With a yoga practice we are setting aside a specific time to pause and focus on the practice. To move, breathe and focus with intention.
Managing stress and having a good work-life balance plays a big part in our overall well-being. Yoga Roots offers corporate yoga, how can these classes help your clients?
At Yoga Roots we offer corporate yoga classes for companies on a weekly, or bi-weekly, basis for companies who are really committed to incorporating wellness into their work environment. We often lead yoga classes as part of company team building events and wellness initiatives, and a yoga class adds a big dose of mindfulness to these events. The employees who join these classes leave feeling refreshed, with new energy and focus for the rest of the workday. It is truly incredible to see the change in people before and after a class – almost everyone leaves feeling “lighter” or standing taller after the classes. I like to refer to these classes as a “reset button” for the workday.
My best tip is remove the pressure to make a change overnight. Start with something small – something that is easy for you to do.
Prioritizing sleep, eating well and staying physically active are key contributors to maintaining health and well-being. What advice do you have for those who feel overwhelmed trying to fit everything into their daily schedules?
First, I want to say that I personally understand how overwhelming it can be. I’m a working mom, and just finding time to sleep properly and eat regular meals can be really challenging. I am fully immersed in the wellness world on a daily basis and it’s still hard for me!
My best tip is remove the pressure to make a change overnight. Start with something small – something that is easy for you to do. If it feels challenging – most likely we won’t keep up with the habit. But if it feels natural, then maybe we can incorporate that healthy habit with more ease. For example, one of the tips I share in my framework for a mindful workday is to practice “mindful performance breaks” in the afternoon. These breaks are just for one minute – you stop what you are doing and practice, for example, breath work or basic stretches. We take these pauses often in the afternoon to help re-focus on the task at hand. If you start here – it might make it easier to transition to a morning yoga class, or an afternoon run. Maybe walking, biking, running to the office instead of your normal commute. These are all ways to incorporate mindfulness into your day. Small steps to start to feel healthier in the day to day. It makes a big difference!
Do you have any “life hacks” to share with our readers?
Yes! Start your day with three breaths. If you can only choose one takeaway from mindfulness, let it be to start your day the right way. It only takes three deep breaths. Try this next time you wake up – before you pick up your phone, scroll, text, etc., even before you get out of bed – pause, close your eyes (don’t fall asleep), and take three deep breaths in through your nose and out through your nose. That’s it. Then get up and start your day as you would – but maybe you notice that you feel just a little different. Maybe a clearer mind? Give it a try!
Thanks so much, Bethany! Last but not least, what does the future have in store – any up and coming events you’d like to share with us? Where can our readers connect with you?
It’s an exciting spring ahead for myself and Yoga Roots – we are planning mindfulness talks, yoga events, and of course all of our weekly classes are open to join on the schedule. You can connect with us on Instagram: @bethanyyoga and @yogarootsmalmo and on LinkedIn.
And if you’re curious to learn more about mindfulness, you can register to join one of my free 30 minute digital seminars about mindfulness@work here.