Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Bring health to your conference

It's well known that there is a growing surge of interest in alternative health, not only in private life but also in the business world. Activities such as yoga, tai chi, meditation and play are making inroads into the most conservative of businesses as more people realize that these activities pay dividends in energizing employees, reducing stress and maintaining health.

Adding healthy activities to your business meeting, conference or reunion will pay similar benefits.

There are lots of reasons to include these activities in your meeting. Attendees who are arriving weary and disoriented with jet lag, for instance, will appreciate activities that provide a little nurturing and the opportunity to truly "arrive," not only in body but in spirit.

Activities such as yoga, keep people awake and engaged. The breathing and stretching that is part of many styles of yoga provide energy and improve concentration and focus. Tai chi, the Asian art of moving meditation, provides similar benefits. Chair massage will help loosen muscles that have been crunched into a tight plane seat with little leg room. And modalities such as craniosacral therapy, which involves a very gentle manipulation of the head and neck, gives a refreshing and rejuvenating experience.

Other activities that are suitable for meetings include meditation, dance, walking or hiking, drumming and music-making, Feldenkrais, and chi gong, Reiki and other energy work.

There is the added value -- another reason to make your meeting special and memorable, which is always the goal of meeting planners, Whether in the morning, after a large lunch or several hours of sitting, these healthy activities will reenergize you more easily than a gallon of coffee or a sugary soda -- and more healthful, too. In the evening, they will support you to calm and relax in such a way that you'll forget that you are sleeping in an unfamiliar place.

Finally, many attendees will enjoy the opportunity to get acquainted with others in less formal settings.

Taylor Rockwell, a psychodramatist and psychologist from Freeport, Ill., facilitates drumming circles for reunions, weddings and other gatherings. These drumming activities quickly build a community spirit while dissolving feelings of stress and disconnection.

The American Society of Group Psychotherapy and Psychodrama, my professional organization, has offered Zumba, Nia, yoga and other fun wake-up or cool-down activities thorough the years. At numerous conferences and gatherings, I’ve offered simple meditations, guided imageries, stretching and mirroring movement exercises which can be easily learned when you’re not a specialist in one of the fields.

If you're organizing, here are some tips to remember:

Check to learn if your conference venue has staff members or contractors who are available to facilitate or offer these activities.

If your conference venue does not offer such services, you will need to find your own. Ask for instructors who are experienced, educated and knowledgeable in their fields who are able to communicate their specialties easily. Chances are that your attendees will come from a variety of backgrounds, including ages, ability and level of knowledge. Your instructor should be able to professionally deal with these various types of people and be able to respond knowledgeably to various needs or concerns.

Offer a variety of activities. Not everyone enjoys the same activities or has the same level of physical ability; others may prefer to experiment with a new activity away from home.

In your registration literature, alert attendees to the opportunities that will be available at your meeting and inform them about any particular clothing or equipment they will need to bring to the conference. Usually comfortable and loose clothing is best, but sometimes sneakers or other warm weather clothing are required if you plan a nature activity such as hiking in the woods, for instance.

Work closely with the instructor or facilitator to learn what kinds of space will be most suitable for each activity. Check for areas that will offer adequate room to move comfortably if you are offering a class such as tai chi, yoga or dance. Other activities, such as chair massage, may benefit from spaces that are quiet and relaxing. Some attendees, particularly those who are a bit shy about trying these activities for the first time, may also enjoy some level of privacy from the bustling crowd. If you are offering more than one activity at the same time, be sure that they complement each other in terms of sound or schedule each one at a different location; for instance, you won't want to schedule a loud drumming circle next door to an hour of meditation.

Determine if you will have to supply any equipment -- such as a sound system or CD player, yoga mats or massage chair -- or if the instructor will provide his or her materials or equipment.

Have a back-up plan. Doing tai chi at sunrise at on the shores of Lake Michigan may sound like a wonderful idea, but it won't be so wonderful if it's raining like cats and dogs between strikes of thunder and brain-rattling bolts of lightning. Be sure to have alternate plans to account for inclement weather, insect infestations and other uncomfortable situations.