What national yoga month should mean for your work life
September is National Yoga Month! But don’t worry. This doesn’t mean you have to spend the month trying to perfect your One-Handed Tree pose (seriously, don’t try this one alone!). However, it can mean intentionally doing a small behavior in your workday to make the rest of it better.
There are some aspects of yoga that you can fit into your work day that help relieve stress and counter the effects of so much time spent sitting at a desk. Here are just a few.
Breathing: Slow down stress and anxiety
Have you ever felt light-headed before a presentation or on edge trying to meet a deadline? During periods of stress or anxiety, we tend to feel short of breath or breathe quicker. Sometimes we may even feel like we might snap at any minute.
Focusing on targeted breathing exercises in yoga has been shown to alleviate anxiety and lower stress levels, among other health benefits.
Simply taking a minute or two to sit quietly and connect with your breath can help calm your body and focus your mind.
You can do this easily at your desk several times a day by closing your eyes and breathing in slowly through your nose, expanding your stomach, and then breathing out through your mouth, with your throat contracted as though you are saying the word, “Ha.”
Mindfulness: Focus on the present
Mindfulness is awareness of the present moment. It sounds simple but is difficult to maintain when our minds are often focused on the big picture and the future, all that needs to get done in a day, worrying about an upcoming meeting, or angrily anticipating the traffic on our commutes home.
By focusing on breathing and concentrating on how we feel physically and emotionally in a moment without judging those feelings, we can begin to be mindful.
Mindfulness not only helps calm the body and gives the mind a break, it can also bring a new perspective to the tasks at hand. We all get stressed about what needs to be done tomorrow. Instead, focus all your energy on what you are doing in the present moment.
Focused energy is infinitely more powerful than scattered energy.
Like the sun’s ability to light a piece of paper on fire when its energy is focused through a magnifying glass, your ability to succeed at each task is increasingly stronger the more focused you are on that task.
Asanas: Postures for a healthier workday
Is sitting the new smoking, as many articles have suggested?
When looking at research on the effects of a sedentary lifestyle, the answer might be yes. Sitting hunched over a keyboard for several hours a day has been connected with back pain, unhealthy posture, leg tightness, and more serious conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and a shorter life span.
Adding more movement to the work day helps both employees and employers by reducing health-related absences from the office, reducing health care costs, and improving employee morale and performance. Try standing while you talk on the phone or walking over to a co-worker’s desk to discuss an email.
You can also try these few yoga postures (asanas) in your office or at home to increase circulation, stretch your limbs, and create more energy in your body. Here are a few basic postures to try:
This pose stretches and strengthens many parts of the body, including those most affected by sitting at a desk. Bring life back to your shoulders, neck, legs, wrists, and brain by coming into an upside-down ‘V’ shape. With hands outstretched in front of you and feet grounded at about hips-width apart, heels on the floor, raise your hips into the air as though a string is lifting them straight up to the sky.
Ground all fingers into the floor and point them forward, making sure your weight is balanced equally between your hands and feet and pressing your chest back toward your legs. Hanging out in this position is a great place to practice focused breathing and mindfulness as you take note of how each part of your body is feeling.
To counteract the all the hours of desk-hunching, try stretching your back and opening your chest by standing with your feet hips-width apart. Raise your hands over your head with palms facing each other. Make sure your shoulders are not tensed up and bend backwards as far as is comfortable while pressing your chest forward.
This is a simple pose that can be done easily next to your desk and can help decompress your upper body. Stand up with your feet hips-width apart and bend forward from your hips, keeping your back straight as long as you can until you fold over with your head facing down. Let your arms and neck hang and sway gently from side to side.
Happy Baby Pose
This is a fun pose to help stretch your hip joints and roll out your back muscles. It also might make you laugh to be rolling around like a baby. Lie flat on your back and pull your knees into your chest. Grab the outside of your feet and pull them down toward you so that your knees fall to either side of your upper body. Gently roll from side to side and smile!
Feeling inspired? Visit the Yoga Health Foundation to see what events are in your area or to sign up for a free week of classes at a yoga studio near you.
Here’s to a happy and healthy workday!