WRJ's Open Door takes wellness into the workplace -- and beyond

Submitted 19 days ago
Created by
Rob @ Story Kitchen

Every Monday, Lisa Varno arrives at Health Care & Rehabilitation Services in Hartford laden with the tools of her trade. She lugs yoga mats, blocks, straps, and blankets in the door, then sets up in the facility's conference room. She moves tables out of the way, lays out the mats, and creates an orderly space where, for an hour, any HCRS staffer who wants can escape the stress of the workday and prepare for the week ahead.

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Varno is a yoga and mindfulness instructor at Open Door, the White River Junction-based health and wellness center. Her visits to HCRS are part of a novel program to carry into the community at large Open Door's belief that good health means taking care of the whole body before you get sick. In addition to HCRS, it's working in schools and with area employers like Kendal at Hanover. 

Lisa Varno

"A key motivation for doing this kind of outreach is making health care and preventative wellness accessible to all," says Kate Gamble, Open Door's founder. Too many people, she believes, lack access not just to medical care, but to the kinds of programs that can prevent the need for medical care. "Playing a role in improving this is key to our work."

For its part, HCRS is a community mental health agency that serves Windsor and Windham counties in Vermont. It works with people suffering from mental illness or substance abuse, as well as with people with developmental disabilities. It's hard, stressful, intense work.

"There's lots of working with individuals who are going through really tough times, and having to be there constantly with someone during those times can be especially wearing," says Megan Chapman, a recruiter with HCRS who works in its Hartford office. She is also a regular at Varno's Monday classes.

Megan Chapman, HCRS talent acquisition coordinator.

Each week, Varno asks her HCRS students what's bothering them or what they need, and then crafts a class. They might just need to center themselves, so they'll focus on guided meditation and what Varno calls "mindful movement." But often people come in with the usual body tensions produced by workplace stress: in their shoulders, head, neck, lower back, or hips. That'll produce a class with more movement. Still, says Varno, "There are no pretzel poses here! The idea is not about making some fancy pose or competing with oneself, but really meeting ourselves wherever we are. We want to offer a sense of reprieve, a bright light in the middle of the workday."

That's pretty much what HCRS had in mind when it began working with Open Door a few months ago. "It comes back to providing opportunities and encouragement to be healthy, to take moments to pause, and to have an active lifestyle that can really help overall wellness," says Kait Skogstad, HCRS's benefits and wellness coordinator. In December, Open Door will start working in the organization's Springfield, VT offices as well.

Do the classes make a difference? Megan Chapman sure thinks so. "I rave about the impact it has up here," she says. "People in the group email [Kait] saying, 'We need the yoga, we love it!' It’s loud and clear that it’s making a difference for people."


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