A few years ago, Stefanie Monge sold everything she owned and boarded a plane to Australia without a return ticket.
Now, after spending 21 months abroad chasing her dreams, she's back in Omaha making them a reality.
Monge, 30, founded Welcor Enterprise Yoga in July to bring yoga into the workplace. She teaches classes at local businesses, hoping to give the employees she instructs an opportunity to escape corporate chaos and embrace a healthier lifestyle.
The road that led her there was long.
Monge quit her job as a marketing specialist for a technology company, sold her car and everything in her apartment, and left Omaha in December 2010.
“Having no material things to come back to freed me to be thoughtful about what I wanted to do next,” Monge said.
She spent a year traveling across Australia — where she met the man she would marry — working seasonal odd jobs and exploring the country. Then she made her way to Nepal, Thailand and India. She spent six weeks in India on the banks of the Ganges River, learning to teach yoga.
The experience breathed new life into her passion for yoga, which has grown significantly since she took her first class in the United States in 2006. She knew she wanted to inspire others the way her time in India inspired her.
“The more I did it, the more I realized (yoga) helped me relax, slow down, refocus and bring my attention into the present moment,” she said. “All these things I had struggled to do my whole life were naturally coming as a result of this physical activity I was doing.”
“I got really excited about sharing that experience with other people.”
She moved back to Nebraska, craving a more predictable life, after a four-month stint in England teaching yoga.
After she returned to Omaha in January, she started teaching yoga at studios in the Old Market and Benson, ignoring the temptation to return to a steady job that she didn't love.
“After selling everything I had, after getting rid of all of my things and having this incredible experience traveling around the world, I couldn't come back and go back to doing what I was doing before,” she said.
“The best opportunity for me was going to be the one I created.”
She returned to the corporate world on her own terms, as her own boss at Welcor. Monge says incorporating yoga into workplace wellness programs is the “missing peace” business owners are looking for.
“The opportunity to help give your workforce easy tools to increase their productivity, to reduce their stress, to build a more team-oriented environment, that's something that's been really attractive to businesses,” Monge said.
Some studies suggest that workplace wellness programs also reduce health care costs and absenteeism.
Monge said tension in people's shoulders, neck and back can lead to migraines and back pain, sometimes causing people to miss work. Yoga helps relieve that tension and also strengthens the core so employees maintain proper posture at work.
Michael Hennings, a videographer at Omaha Video Solutions, recently attended one of Monge's after-work classes in the Mastercraft building in downtown Omaha. The building is home to more than 25 small businesses, all of which were invited to take advantage of Monge's class.
Hennings' job requires him to haul around heavy equipment, which “takes a toll on my body,” he said. Her class helped him “relax and refresh” himself.
“It's a great opportunity and really convenient,” Hennings said.
Kristin DeKay, who co-owns Grain & Mortar, a strategy, branding and design company in the Mastercraft building, asked Monge to teach the class.
“It just makes sense,” DeKay said. “It helps (employees) be more healthy and active.”
Plus, it's relaxing, she said.
Monge's classes can be scheduled before or after work, or during the lunch hour. She also offers one-on-one sessions with executives and is available for business workshops and retreats.
She speaks with business owners about five times a week about tailoring classes to their employees' needs.
Some are looking for a more physically demanding practice. Others are looking for stress relief that comes with guided meditation and breathing exercises.
You don't have to be “super strong, thin and flexible” to participate, Monge said. Her classes welcome everyone, from beginners to experienced yogis.
“When I came back, my mission was about making yoga accessible, and I recognized that opportunity in Omaha,” she said.
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