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Employing Yoga Principles to Support Flourishing at Mid-career: Strategies for Institutional Leaders

Faculty Development

Employing Yoga Principles to Support Flourishing at Mid-career: Strategies for Institutional Leaders

An eminent threat to the United States’ workforce is the culture of burnout, productivity challenges, and mental and physical stress. Bourgeoning empirical investigation and strong anecdotal evidence affirms that academia is not exempt (Barreto et al., 2022; Benge et al., 2015; Deligkaris et al., 2014; Eriksson et al., 2018). While burnout is a topic of critical import in the academy and is felt by students, faculty, and staff alike, it is most notably associated with the mid-career years (Baker & Manning, 2020). Many mid-career faculty find it particularly challenging to manage their own burnout despite seeking to help others (e.g., early career colleagues, students) manage theirs. Yet, faculty have the potential to mentor others in how to avoid burnout, and in fact, mentorship at mid-career is one of the most important resources in all of academia (Lunsford & Baker, 2023).

Recent investigations of workforce attrition predominantly focus on absenteeism, anthropometric measures (e.g., weight and blood pressure), and policy initiatives. Less is known, however, about outcomes people often value more, such as happiness and well-being. Flourishing has emerged as a novel public health target for its comprehensive domains, including meaning and purpose, close social relationships, and financial stability (VanderWeele et al., 2019). The Flourishing Network within the Human Flourishing Program at Harvard’s Institute for Quantitative Social Science Studies is one such group that seeks to support the integration of knowledge, via members’ (including the lead author’s) collective efforts to foster a deeper understanding of and capacity to promote human well-being. One approach to support flourishing is to apply the practices of movement, breath control, and moment-to-moment awareness—all of which speak to the influence yoga provides even “off the mat” for individual and societal health (Buffart et al., 2012; Chu et al., 2016; Cramer et al., 2018; Shaw & Kaytaz, 2021; Sivaramakrishnan et al., 2019; Smith et al., 2018).

We aim to equip innovative academic leaders with a novel lens for how they might use yoga principles to foster a culture of flourishing at their respective institutions. Such knowledge empowers mid-career faculty across appointment types and mid-career leaders (e.g., department chairs, deans) to focus on wellness and healthful professional and personal endeavors for themselves and the institutional stakeholders they are tasked with supporting. Examples of the most prominent issues that lead to burnout in academia include (1) financial and intellectual security in the corporatization of higher education, (2) a lack of time for creative pursuits and reflection (3) losing oneself in the drive to succeed, and (4) a culture of busyness that devalues rest and rejuvenation. Each of these issues corresponds to an energy center, called a chakra in the classical Indo-Aryan language of Sanskrit. While there are seven primary energy centers in many yoga lineages, Table 1 summarizes an example of four of these energy centers for application in academia and outlines critical strategies at the institutional, leadership, and faculty levels.

ChakraInstitutional-Level Strategy (President, Provost, Executive)Leadership-Level Strategy (Dean, Chair)Faculty-Level Strategy (Mid-career Faculty)
Root
Financial + Intellectual Security
Offer professional development workshops to support skill development navigating external funding opportunities. Assign divisional advancement and/or sponsored research staff representatives to answer questions and provide needed support on funding/grant opportunities.Ensure that divisional and/or departmental colleagues are aware of and know how to navigate internal and external granting opportunities; codify the knowledge.Provide friendly reviews on internal and external funding applications.In what ways do you feel unsafe in your job or career? What resources do you need from leadership to change that narrative?   Mantra* I am safe. I am secure. I am grounded on this earthly plane.  
Sacral
Creative Expression + Birth of Ideas
Create coworking and other support processes to help foster collaboration and knowledge-sharing.Incentivize interdisciplinary collaborations; connect efforts to strategic priorities.Provide opportunities for social support and connection (as simple as 15 min. coffee chat after divisional/departmental meetings). Create information sharing mechanisms by which faculty work is disseminated internally; create “faculty highlights.”What are you doing each day, week, semester, or year to generate space for combinatory play and creative thought?What practices can your unit (team, dept, lab) engage in to support creative pursuits?   Mantra* I am creative. I bring forth good ideas. I have healthy connections with people and projects.
Third Eye Intuition + Self-StudySupport or develop an institutional wellness program (e.g., yoga, meditation, lunch-and-learn sessions focused on nutrition).Sponsor wellness “competitions” and related programs that encourage daily activity (e.g., Walking Wednesdays).Incorporate wellness/nonwork goals as part of yearly evaluation or related conversations.In 1:1 meetings, review workflows and professional commitments to support time and work commitment management.Who are you beyond expertise, education, and labels? What are your innermost values and desires?How can you use these values and interests to communicate your value-add or service positions (committees, etc.) that most align with your goals?   Mantra* I already know. I let go of outcomes. I am connected to my highest self. I see my true self.
Crown Reverence, Rest, + SurrenderEncourage mid-career faculty to apply for and take supported leave (e.g., sabbatical, faculty leave).Offer workshops to facilitate proposal preparation for faculty pursuing sabbatical or other related leaves.Institute dashboards to track and identify workload inequities.Encourage calendar blocking that accounts for professional and personal responsibilities.What activities or practices give you true rest and recharge you? How can you find rest within each week, semester, and year and communicate those boundaries and needs to your team?   Mantra* I am already enough. Be here now. I am complete.  
* Mantras are short, repeatable phrases that may regulate breathing and therefore regulate the nervous system (stems from the Sanskrit manas + tra = mind + tool = “tools for the mind”).
Table 1. Example multilevel strategies that align with yoga principles to promote flourishing in academia

Our hope is that the new framework we put forth in this essay informs the study and practice of using the ancient practices set forth by yoga to cultivate a healthful mid-career experience. With the growing and nearly ubiquitous “industry” of yoga, showing accessible and adaptable practices may improve holistic well-being “off the mat” in a novel way. As the number of mid-career faculty across appointment types continues to expand, academic leaders need the language, tools, and resources to support this growing population of faculty. Such an investment in academic leaders and their mid-career faculty, as laid out in the table, provides what we believe to be a fruitful starting point for critical conversations and actions across the academy.

References

Baker, V., & Manning, C. (2020). A mid-career faculty agenda: A review of four decades of research and practice. In L. W. Perna (Ed.), Higher education: Handbook of theory and research (Vol. 36, pp. 1–66). https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-030-43030-6_10-1

Barreto, M. F. C., Galdino, M. J. Q., Fernandes, F. G., Martins, J. T., Marziale, M. H. P., & Haddad, M. do C. F. L. (2022). Workaholism and burnout among stricto sensu graduate professors. Revista De Saúde Pública, 56, Article 48. https://doi.org/10.11606/s1518-8787.2022056003883

Benge, M., Harder, A., & Goodwin, J. (2015). Solutions to burnout and retention as perceived by county extension agents of the Colorado State University Extension System. Journal of Human Sciences and Extension, 3(1), Article 1. https://doi.org/10.54718/NSXN7559

Buffart, L. M., van Uffelen, J. G., Riphagen, I. I., Brug, J., van Mechelen, W., Brown, W. J., & Chinapaw, M. J. (2012). Physical and psychosocial benefits of yoga in cancer patients and survivors, a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. BMC Cancer, 12(1), Article 559. https://doi.org/10.1186/1471-2407-12-559

Chu, P., Gotink, R. A., Yeh, G. Y., Goldie, S. J., & Hunink, M. G. M. (2016). The effectiveness of yoga in modifying risk factors for cardiovascular disease and metabolic syndrome: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology, 23(3), 291–307. https://doi.org/10.1177/2047487314562741

Cramer, H., Lauche, R., Anheyer, D., Pilkington, K., de Manincor, M., Dobos, G., & Ward, L. (2018). Yoga for anxiety: A systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Depression and Anxiety, 35(9), 830–843. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22762

Deligkaris, P., Panagopoulou, E., Montgomery, A. J., & Masoura, E. (2014). Job burnout and cognitive functioning: A systematic review. Work & Stress, 28(2), 107–123. https://doi.org/10.1080/02678373.2014.909545

Eriksson, T., Germundsjö, L., Åström, E., & Rönnlund, M. (2018). Mindful self-compassion training reduces stress and burnout symptoms among practicing psychologists: A randomized controlled trial of a brief web-based intervention. Frontiers in Psychology, 9, 2340. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2018.02340

Lunsford, L. G., & Baker, V. L. (2023, July 10). Mentoring future academic leaders. Academic Leader. https://www.academic-leader.com/topics/faculty-development/mentoring-at-mid-career-developing-academic-leaders

Shaw, A., & Kaytaz, E. S. (2021). Yoga bodies, yoga minds: Contextualising the health discourses and practices of modern postural yoga. Anthropology & Medicine, 28(3), 279–296. https://doi.org/10.1080/13648470.2021.1949943

Sivaramakrishnan, D., Fitzsimons, C., Kelly, P., Ludwig, K., Mutrie, N., Saunders, D. H., & Baker, G. (2019). The effects of yoga compared to active and inactive controls on physical function and health related quality of life in older adults—Systematic review and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials. The International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity, 16, Article 33. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12966-019-0789-2

Smith, B. H., Lyons, M. D., & Esat, G. (2018). Yoga kernels: A public health model for developing and disseminating evidence-based yoga practices. International Journal of Yoga Therapy, 29(1), 119–126. https://doi.org/10.17761/2019-00024

VanderWeele, T. J., McNeely, E., & Koh, H. K. (2019). Reimagining health—Flourishing. JAMA, 321(17), Article 17. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2019.3035


Samantha M. Harden, PhD, is a behavioral psychologist, dissemination and implementation scientist, and 500 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher. She has authored over 100 peer-reviewed journal articles and garnered $29 million in research funding. Her work centers on health promotion across the lifespan, specifically through the embodiment of yoga principles for public health.

Vicki L. Baker, PhD, is the E. Maynard Aris Endowed Professor in Economics and Management at Albion College. She has authored over 100 scholarly works on faculty and leadership development, mentoring, and liberal arts colleges. Her recent book is Managing Your Academic Career: A Guide to Re-envision Mid-career (Routledge). She is a cofounder of Lead Mentor Develop.

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