In last month’s It Starts With Me spotlight we focused on Ning and the efforts she has made to foster collaboration in the many teams she works with.
This month, our spotlight links to our Diversity and Inclusion theme for May: Wellbeing. We are highlighting Seda Akgun, who sits in our Turkey office as a Senior Merchandiser but is known throughout OI for her daily virtual yoga sessions.
At OI, we care for each other, and Seda exemplifies this fully through her commitment to helping her colleagues as she helped herself. By choosing to share her expertise she engages with her passion at work and at the same time gives everyone in the organisation a space where they can relax, refresh, and re-focus. This is why she also represents the spirit of It Starts With Me.
Seda has been working in OI for 11 years and is now a Senior Merchandiser responsible for woven blouses and the men’s department for one of our most important customers. According to her nominators she has a positive and proactive attitude towards her work. However, for Seda, yoga is the main topic of conversation. She has been practicing yoga for five years, but her first experience with it came from participating in sessions in the showroom of OI’s old Turkey office run by a former colleague. Since starting she has completed three trainings relating yoga and spirituality: Hatha Yoga, Yoga Therapy and Taoism’s Five Meridians (which concerns energy flows in the body).
How the Yoga Sessions Began
In the new Turkey office there is no showroom, that along with the COVID-19 pandemic meant that Seda had to continue with yoga at home. “I have back pains,” she explains, “some of which is chronic: So, I tried to find something simple for myself that I could do every day, just some stretching and breath exercises.”
These solo sessions eventually became the “Office Yoga” group chat that reaches across all of OI. “Someone at work began asking me: “Seda, please show us what are you doing at home?” she recounts. “We became a group of three, then four, then five doing regular sessions together. From that I made a chat on Microsoft Teams.” Now, the group has close to 80 participants who join from offices like China, Bangladesh, Bulgaria, and Italy to name a few.
A major motivating factor for Seda setting up “Office Yoga” was the effects of the COVID-19 lockdowns on people’s mental health. She remembers that during the early lockdowns “we realised that something was wrong with our lives. For me I spent less time on myself and everyone was preoccupied with what was going to happen: we lost our minds and our selves, spiritually. We were just trying to survive but we need more than that. We are human: our job is socialising. If there is no socialising, then we cannot even survive.
“That was what motivated me to do something with a group for all our minds, bodies, and spirits. I want to show them how they can overcome stressful situations. I have learned a lot, so I want to teach them a lot.”
Physical and Mental Benefits
Seda ensures that her colleagues are learning in her sessions by making them accessible to anyone who joins. “The poses we do are very easy which means that no one has to change their clothes, and that each type of body can do them.” Seda also considers her colleagues’ surroundings by incorporating items like desks and chairs. “It’s a mix of traditional yoga and using things that can be found in the office. I will try a new pose on my own; I think about how I can demonstrate it and if it will be useful for everyone.
With this attitude, and by including meditation and breath exercises, Seda has created a simple set of yoga-based activities that can be practiced in multiple environments, and which have improved her participants’ physical and mental wellbeing.
For Seda the benefits of these exercises in the professional context are obvious. “Of course it helps us to calm down,” she says, “but it is also about being in the present moment in our office lives so that we can concentrate on our work.” Colleagues have told her that participating helps them feel fresh, focused, and enables them to prioritise. Seda has even noticed her colleagues in Turkey doing yoga poses or meditating after long VCs. As she says: “[Yoga] cleans the mind.”
The meditation and breath exercises can also directly help with addressing the stress we place on ourselves due to the actions of others. Seda describes that when meditating, you can “observe and reflect on your own attitudes and try to change them.” She mentions that 10-15 minutes of daily meditation allows you to be more empathetic as “it calms your nervous system and therefore your reactions [to others] change.” The physical poses simply allow colleagues to stretch out the parts of their body that are sore. “Everybody’s feedback is the same,” she states, “their pain is reduced.” By fostering focus, managing stress and reducing pain, Seda’s sessions contribute to a happier, more productive workplace.
Mindfulness and Self-Growth
Ultimately Seda wants her colleagues to use the exercises to help themselves, which in turn reflects her keen interest in her own self-growth and wellbeing. “We are always waiting for outside support, but the support really comes from our selves: our body and mind and breath.” By being mindful through using these techniques, Seda believes can give yourself direction. “There is no good or bad, there is just what has happened, without any judgement. I see my truth then I take action to serve my purpose. If I attach judgements to events, then I cannot go forward.”
Seda lives this mentality herself by actively continuing to explore her passions and interests. “In the last year I decided to join improv theatre classes. It helps me to stay motivated and engaged at work, but it is something that I do just for the kid inside of me.”
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