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Stretching in the courtyard, yoga in the restaurant: how colleagues keep fit together

It’s not healthy but we often do it anyway: sit hunched at our computer for hours on end. But exercising and relaxing at work doesn’t have to be complicated. These staff members have come up with fun and easy ways to help their colleagues stay fit and healthy. ‘You don’t need sportswear and won’t end up sweating at your desk afterwards.’

Nieske van der Voort is an editor and communications officer at the Real Estate department

Nieske gives a yoga class for staff in the Oude UB restaurant every Monday at 15.00

‘We’re all busy and tend to spend all day sitting at our desks. Then you might be tempted to think that a half-hour yoga class will take too much time. But by taking breaks for activities like these, you miraculously win time. You feel fitter, more connected with others and get to leave all that stress behind for a bit. That good feeling will ultimately only benefit your productivity. And I think it’s something we all deserve. My classes are very accessible and are fine for beginners too. You don’t need sportswear: I mainly focus on breathing and doing some light exercises to loosen up your neck and shoulders. So not too much woo and definitely not so intensive that you’ll rip your trousers or end up sweating at your desk afterwards.

‘Start with a small group, and then it will grow of its own accord’

‘It feels good when colleagues say they really benefit from my classes. And it takes very little effort on my part because I don’t have to do any admin. When I suggested the idea to colleagues, the University Services Department and the operational management department office, everyone was enthusiastic: ten yoga mats were ordered straight away. I think this shows that if you enjoy something and that is clear to see, starting such an activity doesn’t have to be difficult. My tip: ask people around you if they are interested and start with a small group, and then it will grow of its own accord.’

Want to join Nieske’s yoga classes? Come to the main stairs at the Oude UB on a Monday afternoon before 15.00 to pick up a mat. If there are no more mats, the class is full.

Karen de Beer is an immigration officer at the SEA Expertise Centre

Karen organises a twice-weekly 15-minute exercise session for colleagues in the Gravensteen courtyard

‘My colleagues now ask me on Tuesday and Thursday mornings without being prompted if we are going to exercise again that afternoon, so the reactions to this project are more positive than I had expected. You really notice how people enjoy getting out of their heads and into their bodies for a bit. And the best part is that it has really become a social occasion. When you exercise outside together, your contact is completely different: you giggle together, feel the wind in your hair. Anyone can do the exercises. We focus on joint flexibility and stretching the big and smaller muscle groups, do stability exercises and are regularly in for a squat or plank challenge. What also helps is that it is only 15 minutes and is at a set time, at 14.30. After their lunch break, people often have a post-lunch dip. I try to get them through this and give them an energy boost for the last part of the working day.

With the right expertise and experience, it doesn’t have to be difficult to organise a fun and healthy activity’

‘My background is in sports education, so it helps that I’ve got the knowledge needed for these sessions. With the right expertise and experience, it doesn’t have to be difficult to organise a fun and healthy activity. My advice is: go for it! Ask your team leader about the options, keep it simple and easy and above all: make sure that it is fun. And even if you do not have such experience, there are still options for you and your colleagues to get up out of your office chairs, for instance by standing during meetings, going to a different floor or building for coffee or walking to your colleagues’ office if you have a question instead of using the chat or emailing them.’

Petra Penning (middle) is a student psychologist

Petra hosts a lunchtime mindfulness session every two months for her colleagues at Plexus Student Centre

‘I have been giving mindfulness sessions for some time now to students who have difficulty dealing with tension and anxiety. We noticed that participants benefit greatly and some colleagues said they would also like to join the group. That’s how the idea was born. I do the organisation with two other colleagues. One creates the calendar invitations, the other takes care of the mats and I do the coaching. It hardly takes us any extra time. We plan the sessions for around noon. Then people can choose whether to go for a sandwich or devote half an hour to mindfulness.

‘It’s great fun to bring colleagues together like this, lying on our mats with our shoes off’

‘People sometimes think thatmindfulness is too woo but it’s not. It’s a moment for yourself where you become aware of your body in the here and now. It’s a real compliment to hear that people can let go of everything during these sessions. And obviously it’s great fun to bring colleagues together like this, lying on our mats with our shoes off. So if you too have a good idea for helping your colleagues relax, I would say: go for it! Trust that what you do will be fun and that people will want to try.’

Curious about mindfulness? Petra will open the Staff Symposium on Student Well-being at ECC Leiden on 2 April with a plenary session. The event will also be streamed live.

Would you like to exercise and relax with your colleagues?

Healthy University is here to help
Do you have a good idea for an activity to help your colleagues stay healthy and energised? Healthy University can help you work out how best to organise this. So if you need to kick around ideas, send us an email at healthyuniversity@bb.leidenuniv.nl. And if you’ve already started a fun initiative, let us know! We’d love to hear what you’re up to.

Or get the right expertise from the University Sports Centre (USC)
And if no one in your department has the expertise needed and you would like someone to come along to go take you through a regular workout or teach a regular class (for a small fee), contact Lonneke Derriks, USC sports manager.

Text: Evelien Flink
Photos: Robert Lagarde

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