More and more evidence is proving a link between mental stress and physical unwellness. And professional life, with its unrelenting hours and demands, remains to be the top source of stress for most Americans. Yoga can provide some relief to the daily onslaught. But if you are unsure about trying a class, or just need some peacefulness in your hectic schedule, read on. Here are eight ways to get yoga in your workday.
Seated Pigeon: With all the stairs, chairs, and walking that modern life challenges us with, hips and glutes get tight. The thighs and buttocks are the largest muscle groups in the body, which means they need some TLC. To ease hip pain, try a seated pigeon pose by following these steps:
- Plant your feet flat on the floor and sit tall.
- Take your right ankle and gently plant it on top of your left thigh.
- Be sure to keep your right foot flexed, as to not add to torque to your right knee.
- Breathe deeply, and lean forward for added intensity.
- Release and repeat with the opposite leg.
Breathing: Most yoga purists agree that yoga is more about breathing than the poses. Breath sustains the body physically and allows an anxious mind to focus on the present. If your workday comes with some unplanned chaos, don’t flip. Instead, try this mindful breathing technique you can do anywhere:
- Close your eyes and relax your body. Especially release all the tension in your facial muscles, like the jaw and eyebrows.
- Inhale deeply through your nose, dragging the air along the back of your throat, (like you are snoring) while slowly counting to four.
- Hold the breath, focusing on taking in all the oxygen and count to three.
- Exhale through your mouth while opening your throat and counting to five, like you are fogging a pair of glasses.
- Repeat 5-10 times.
Seated Spinal Twist: Spinal twists are great for your health. They stretch your complex set of back muscles and improve your posture. They can also increase blood flow to vital organs like the liver, stomach, and intestines. To get a deep stretch while sitting in an office chair, follow these steps:
- Plant your feet flat on the floor and sit tall.
- Reach your left arm across your lap and grab the outer right edge of the chair.
- Allow your back to twist while looking over your right shoulder
- Hold for a few breaths. With each inhale, think of getting taller, and every exhale, deepening the twist.
- Release and then repeat by twisting the opposite direction.
Mindfulness: One of the biggest reasons people feel stress in their lives is because they can’t quiet the persistent and anxious mind, and work only amplifies the noise. With packed schedules, tight deadlines, and so much multi-tasking, our minds go haywire. Mindfulness can help. It basically means focusing wholly on one task at a time, and bringing your full awareness to the present moment. Here are some ways to do that at work:
- Turn off instant messages and put your phone away if you can. Texts and e-mail alerts just distract and derail mindfulness.
- Keep a beautiful painting or photograph at your desk and focus on it when you feel overwhelmed. Bring your full attention when looking at it.
- Scents are a perfect way to be mindful. Try essential oils, candles, or flowers to bring your attention fully into the present moment.
- Focus when someone is talking to you. Stay calm, don’t interrupt, and think before you craft a response.
Seated Eagle Pose: Another excellent yoga pose you can do in your office chair is garudasana or eagle pose. It’s a great way to stretch the muscles in the mid and upper back, which tend to tense from slouching over a computer keyboard. By squeezing the arms and legs, you will increase blood flow and refresh tired muscles. Try eagle pose by following these steps:
- While sitting tall, cross your right leg over your left as deeply as you can.
- Point your right toes downward and hook the top of your right foot behind your left calf, if your body allows.
- Take both arms out in front of you, parallel to the floor with your palms facing one another.
- Cross your arms like the letter X at the elbows
- Bend the arms 90 degrees, so the forearms are perpendicular to the floor and stack the elbows on top of each other.
- Either keep the back of the hands connected or twist the wrists and connect the palms
- Hold for a few breaths, then release and try with the opposite arms and legs.
Cat/Cow: Cat and cow pose are often used together in yoga to release the spine. Cat pose means the back is curved with the shoulders forward, and cow is its perfect counterpoise, with the back arched and the belly forward. While this is usually done on all fours for optimal articulation, it doesn’t have to be. Cat/cow can also be done seated or even standing. Follow these steps:
- Stabilize yourself by planting your arms on a table in front of you or on your knees.
- On an inhale, arch your back deeply and extend your chest forward, lift your chin.
- On the exhale, deflate your lungs, round your shoulders forward and take the chin to your chest.
- Repeat slowly, feeling each vertebra move in succession.
Down Dog Variation: If you have taken yoga, you probably heard the instructor cue downward-facing dog many times. It is an essential pose for any practice, as it simultaneously stretches the back, hamstrings, shoulders, wrists, and calves. But if your work environment is like most, popping into a downward dog at work might not be, well, appropriate behavior. Instead, I suggest a downward dog variation, so you can lose the stress but keep your job:
- Place your palms on a desk or countertop flat in front of you while standing. Spread your hands wide and press into your fingertips
- Keep your feet parallel and step them back, so your arms straighten, and your torso is parallel to the floor.
- Drop your shoulders away from your ears and press your heels into the ground
- Hold for a few deep breaths and release.
Savasana: The most blissful part of the yoga practice is savasana, which usually happens last in a traditional class. By laying on the back and letting the entire body relax, the true effects of yoga can absorb into the mind and body. While you probably can’t take a savasana in the middle of your crazy day, take use the ancient yogic concept to mellow out your routine: Give yourself time to truly relax. Letting go of all the tension in your mind and body will recharge you and allow you to perform optimally. Know that modern life puts such a demand for effort and performance, but balance also requires surrender and release.