Syracuse Councilors to provide free yoga classes to city employees

Syracuse’s Common Council unanimously voted to provide City employees with free yoga classes from September 10 to November 5, in an attempt to promote healthy and fit lifestyles.

The program will be taught by Sophie Tashkovski and will last for nine weeks. This is her second time teaching yoga class with city employees, which was an eight-week program that took place last May.

“Mayor Miner and members of her staff had a New Year’s resolution to practice yoga together, and they regularly participated in my Sunday night Yang Yin Class,” Tashkovski said. “When they saw the benefits of regular yoga practice we began talking about how great it would be if more city employees had access to regular yoga classes.”

The class will be offered once a week and is part of a Wellness Program event. The city’s assistant director of Personnel and Labor Relations, Donna Briscoe, said she received encouragement to bring yoga to city employees.

“There was a lot of positive feedback and increased interest from employees. Our hope is that our employees will reap the benefits of yoga—relaxation, increased endurance, stress relief—and engage in other activities as a result,” Briscoe said.

Councilor Nader Maroun said the City Council’s health insurance carrier, ProAct, has funded this program with $1,000.

“This particular yoga offering is only part of a variety of efforts that have been offered in terms of exercise programs and access to diet information,” Maroun said. “So we’re trying to do our part.”

Although the City Hall has not specifically initiated yoga classes outside its own employees, Maroun said he hopes others in Syracuse are encouraged to initiate a similar program.

“The short-term and long-term benefits of it (yoga) are good and so the idea of being a catalyst for others to offer these types of programs is certainly something to be considered,” he said.

This could not only be beneficial to the Syracuse community, but specifically to students in schools, especially since nearly half of students in Onondaga public schools are either overweight or obese, according to a 19 Apr. 2015 article.

However, Maroun says some initiatives have already been made in the Syracuse school systems. “The city itself through the school district in one way is trying to offer a balanced and healthier diet in our school system,” Maroun said.

Tashkovski said yoga is suited for all levels and is specifically helpful for people working at an office all day.

“Yoga is for everybody and every body,” she said. “Many employees are sitting at desks all day, and yoga helps improve posture as well as calms the nervous system after stressful days at work.”

In addition to these yoga classes, Briscoe, the assistant director, said they have promoted other ways of healthy living by introducing employee sporting events like kickball and basketball, having workshops on disease and stress management, and interacting with the Syracuse community through the J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge, where approximately 278 companies compete against each other.

“Our goal is to help our employees find some form of activity that will enhance their and their loved ones’ lives. Everyone can benefit from healthy lifestyle changes and our goal is to make a difference,” Briscoe said.

But even with the focus on wellness, some say the City Hall program ignores the broader meaning of yoga. Yoga is not solely a physical activity or simply made for people to relax, according to director and instructor of Morningside Yoga Michael Smith. Smith has been a practicing yogi for more than 40 years.

“Yoga is originally the science of mind, really, the whole exercise component evolved much later,” he said. “Now it’s okay to go to yoga and be relaxed—don’t get me wrong—but it’s only a kind of starting place for yoga as far as where you go.” Instead, Smith added yoga is an activity that takes a lifetime to practice.

The idea of a nine-week yoga program is not something Smith appreciates, since he said it only begins to scratch the surface of yoga practice. Smith also expressed some criticism towards the Common Council’s initiative.

“The fact is, they don’t really respect yoga. They think of it as a second-rate fluff on the side and not a serious activity. So I’m not surprised that they’re going to do a 2-month program,” he said.

However, Tashkovski, the program’s instructor, still remains hopeful concerning the benefits of these classes and its impact on the city employees.

“I love leading the City employees through a yoga practice each week,” Tashkovski said. “It is very satisfying to see them grow in their practice and many have told me that they are sleeping better and feeling better with every yoga class they take.”


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