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Kripalu brings its RISE program to businesses near and far

The research is irrefutable: Of the 80 percent of all workers who report feeling stress on the job, half say they need help in learning how to manage it. The stress toll also hits businesses right where it hurts—with significant loss in productivity as a result of less-than-optimal teamwork, decision making, and focus. That said, “Stress is not inherently bad and can even spur creativity,” says Megan McDonough, general manager of RISE at Kripalu in Lenox. “It’s how we respond to stress, and whether we learn to cultivate the resources and skills within ourselves to cope with stress skillfully, that matters.”

Hence, RISE—the name is not an acronym but rather a positioning, as in do we allow stress to elevate (rise!) or exhaust us?—a groundbreaking, evidence-based program steeped in over four decades of teaching meditation- and yoga-based practices to over 40,000 visitors a year, making Kripalu the largest yoga retreat center in North America by a healthy margin. “We always knew anecdotally that the practices we teach make a difference in people’s lives,” explains McDonough, “and a decade ago we wanted to compare Kripalu’s methods to western approaches by putting rigorous scientific, academic studies behind them.”

That they did, partnering with Brigham and Women’s Hospital to begin quantifying what happens when they implement those practices—creating the underpinnings of RISE.

It is precisely this science-based approach—and the hands-on experience of the facilitators (currently 17) in target sectors—that resonates with businesses that might otherwise balk at bringing mindfulness into the boardroom. RISE also takes ideas that may be outside the purview of a yoga retreat center, such as developing the inner resources to deal with change management and leadership needs, to meet people where they need it. Or as McDonough likes to say, “you don’t need to twist into a yoga pose to benefit from RISE.”

In effect, RISE aims to empower high-stakes, high-stress industries in the Berkshires and beyond—banks, health care, tech, law firms—so they can strengthen the capacity of the workforce to be resilient to the pace of change. “We ask our corporate clients to identify the stressors in their work environment—whether a challenging relocation or reorganization or something more systemic—and the type of culture they want to create for their employees to be able to emotionally manage the demands of the day,” she adds.

 Since its inception in 2014, RISE has trained more than 4,300 people across 152 organizations, both in open-enrollment, industry-focused workshops at the Kripalu center (offered twice quarterly) and through transportable client-specific programs. Leaders often attend one of the workshops first to get a sense of the curriculum and determine how best to bring it to their own workforce.

 Case in point: Beth Monaghan, founder and CEO of InkHouse, a Waltham-based PR firm, sat in on a four-day workshop with Ursula Cassidy, VP of people and culture. “We thought the program would help us all be more centered, deal with the waves of stress we experience at work and at home, and find more meaning and connection in our day-to-day work,” says Monaghan. “It was the kick-off to an ongoing effort to make InkHouse a place that values the kind of presence, curiosity, and bravery that gets us to our most creative ideas.”

The two brought RISE to 60 employees over a two-hour program. “People were so thankful to have their feelings validated,” says Monaghan. “I was approached by employees as never before saying they felt it was a very doable and tangible way to improve their lives, even suggesting ways to integrate slow breathing into meetings.”

A follow-up is slated in June and a recap/refresh in December, plus sessions will be held at their New York City and San Francisco sites later this year because, as Cassidy states, “We want everyone at InkHouse to walk the walk and use the same language as within RISE. That way when someone says, ‘I’m just riding the wave,’ you know they are having a stressful day and need some extra breathing room.”

Facilitator Sam Chase holds a RISE session at Kripalu. The program has trained 4,300 people across 152 organizations

Together, they see value in stopping burnout before it happens—PR consistently tops the charts in “most stressful occupation” surveys—and view RISE as a way of giving people permission to take the space they need to come to work as their whole selves. “Our entire wellness program is designed to help people understand the impact of stress on the body and the physiological things that happen,” says Monaghan, “and what you can do to counteract them. That’s what really drew me to RISE. Slowing your breath down for two minutes is such a simple thing to do, why wouldn’t anyone just try it?”

 The concern over employee burnout is also what drew Chelsea Robert, human resources business partner for Berkshire Health Systems (BHS), to RISE. “Each physician we lose costs us a million dollars in revenue and recruitment costs. What’s more, happier people give better care—our patient outcome is directly related to employee engagement.”

Within a week of joining BHS (in June 2018), Robert mentioned RISE in a meeting with Doreen Hutchinson, VP of operations and patient care at Fairview Hospital, who was immediately on board—and after sitting in a four-day RISE workshop for healthcare workers, they launched RISE to 30-plus managers at Fairview through day-long retreats; all managers are also required to attend three “resilience builders,” such as on-site yoga classes or meditation workshops, throughout the year. Plans are underway to gradually roll out the program to frontline employees—300 at Fairview and 4,000 across other BHS sites—this year and next.

While the science is critical for winning over medical professionals, Robert points to having presenters “who are living and breathing the same challenges” as also being tremendously important. She plans to use the Connors Davidson Resilience Scale to measure the impact of RISE among the participants. For her part, she attributes RISE with giving her greater tolerance for things that would normally aggravate, not just at work but everywhere. “RISE has helped me increase my internal calmness and slow down my responses and reactions.”

Monaghan, who has practiced meditation for 15 years, credits RISE with “doing this wonderful service to humanity in allowing work and life to be more interconnected. If we can learn how to support each other in both then we will be better at both.” 




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