“Twelve years ago, I had a huge accident and nearly lost a leg.

During my rehabilitation I discovered yoga, and that’s when I discovered that health is central. Unfortunately, we forget about our health until we have a huge health problem. Only then we realize how important our bodies really are; that our brains can’t do everything.

And once I discovered yoga, I realized that all those therapeutic benefits should be brought to those who need it most. That’s you and me and all the people who are sitting at a desk, staring at screens.”

Anne-Charlotte Vuccino is the founder and CEO of Yogist, Well at Work, a startup she created four years ago in Paris. Yogist is aimed at improving health and lifestyles in the workplace in ways that combat the negative impacts of new technologies and new ways of working that make us sedentary and don’t give us the space or time to move.

Ahead of her appearance in Paris, we sat down with Charlotte to hear about her unique approach to innovating not just the workplace, but the workers themselves.

Help me understand: what do you mean when you say: corporate yoga?

Let me be clear upfront: for the type of yoga that we teach, there’s no need to change, no need for a mat, and no need to be embarrassed. There’s no chakras, chanting, or Sanskrit; nothing that a corporate worker would feel uncomfortable doing in their space.

Our method is based on traditional yoga, that we adapted and curated to fit the corporate mindset and needs. We created this yoga method with ten steps that focus on each body part and each need of a sedentary worker in the corporate world. As such, we created exercises that you do in your chair.

We focus on bodily fatigue and stress reduction as well as eye fatigue. We have exercises that help protect your eyes from the fluorescent lights and blue screens. We focus a lot on the neck and back, which are strained from slouching in a chair all day. We have exercises for carpal tunnel in the wrists as well as for sciatica, and other lower back and hip issues. We also have specific exercises for focus and attention within a team in order to reduce conflicts and improve team calibration.

Our focus is to work on the body, the brain, and all the habits that will keep you healthy. We work on sleep and sleep management because we’ve seen the growing toll that sleep deprivation takes in the corporate world. We also work on how to eat in a way that will make you full of energy instead of feeling pooped and needing a nap at 3pm.

The fact is, we aren’t meant to be sitting in front of a screen for eight hours a day, letting our brain do 100% of the work. All these actions are targeted using our methods to teach very concrete, tangible exercises that make a real difference. That’s our broad mission.

The things you mention seem so obvious. Why aren’t we already doing this?

You would guess, right? The reason we aren’t doing that is because we haven’t collectively realized that health should be a priority. We keep health in a corner, at the bottom of our priority list until we have a problem. It’s only when we start having back pains, migraines, or other health problems that threaten our performance that we start focusing on health.

So, what we’re doing is trying to bring prevention into the workplace so that we’re not just trying to cure the damage that’s already been done. All the formats and interventions we use are designed to bring people in a “push” mode. If you wait until someone has a complaint, no one will participate in this process; you’ll lose everyone because no one has the patience or the time. Instead, what we do is raise awareness in companies by coming into the open spaces and doing 15-minute sessions with people at their desks.

These are people who would never have come to a workshop on a voluntary basis; often men who think yoga is just for hippies and women… but when we ask if they have pain, the answer is always yes. We show them how to correct their posture and we show them exercises that they can repeat on their own.

Our goal is to educate in a meaningful way rather than bring people into sessions where they don’t really understand what’s going on and are dependent on the instructor. So, we raise awareness with a little ice breaker , then we teach these techniques on a regular basis with teachers coming into the workplace. We also developed digital tools to encourage people to practice every single day. Our chatbots will pop up every few hours with three questions. It asks you where you have pain, whether you feel stressed, and whether you are out in the open or in a more private space. Based on your answers, the bot uses an algorithm we developed to recommend a simple, two-minute exercise you can do right at your desk.

Why don’t we yet link high performance with physical health?

We opened offices in Brazil, Singapore, and the UK. What’s been interesting is that we’ve seen a real difference between the UK versus France, Brazil, and Singapore. In the Anglo-Saxon world, people have been taught from an early age how to eat properly and things like fitness and sports play a big role in your schedule. In France, Brazil, and Singapore, what I’ve seen is that we work very hard to be beautiful, but not necessarily to be healthy. On top of that, when we look at performance, we’re focusing on just brain performance; how to work more hours or learn more stuff. There’s very little link between our bodies and our brain’s performance.

It’s something that’s missing in both family and formal education for large parts of the world so you have millions of people who are only starting to realize this at age 40 and beyond, as they’re having back pain and trouble sleeping, when it should be something that’s taught from early childhood like brushing your teeth.

More and more we are called in by companies to work with leadership. We initially thought we would be called in by industrial companies to help with people who are dealing with back strain from standing all day in manufacturing. Instead, it’s more and more big corporates and big banks calling us in to train their leaders.

In so many places, it’s seen as laziness or lack of work ethic for a person to take time to work on themselves when, in fact, it should be recognized as an investment.

Making health a priority will help the entire workforce to tackle challenges, work better, and faster. The thing is, unless you have buy in and awareness from top management, it’s not going to diffuse into the rest of the organization.

Last year, I was invited to Medef which is the largest gathering of business leaders in France.  It was a planner session to talk about entrepreneurship and the theme was “Being an Entrepreneur or Business Leader in 20 Years.”  Everyone else around the table were huge business leaders who would be retired in 20 years, so they included me.

We did a surprise demo for the whole gathering, including the leaders who were with me on the stage. I could see the fear in their eyes when we announced the demo… and I could sense the relief after the 10-minute session because we only worked on eyes and breath, so they avoided anything potentially embarrassing. But there was also surprise. Many of them didn’t think it would work on them and many people told us they realized they were breathing the wrong way or realized how strained the muscles in their eyes had been. These are people who never thought they would do yoga in their lives, so it was a very interesting crash test.

The business world has been so focused on how digital is going to revolutionize the workplace and the way we work and how it’s going to kill some jobs and create others, but we haven’t recognized that the impact of the digital workplaces is already very tangible in how it affects our bodies.

Real health at work takes a lot of work. It doesn’t come just like that. You can’t achieve it simply by deciding or putting some money into massages or telling HR to set up a “Quality of Life” day once a year. It takes work and willingness to change. You need commitment and a budget and ambassadors.

When corporations start to see it as an investment that will keep people healthy, more creative, and more willing to stay at the organization, we’re going to see an enormous shift and I think it’s much closer than we think.

YOGIST – Well At Work  is the first corporate yoga start-up with an innovative chair-yoga method aiming to fight stress in the workplace, prevent tensions from screen work and intellectual fatigue. It is also used as a management tool to improve creativity, concentration and focus, team-work and performance. Suited to the corporate world and mindset, it can be used at your desk, in a meeting or a conference room. No change of clothes or mat required, and no chakras.