Quick Yoga Breaks at Work!
Lots of us work very sedentary office jobs. It’s pretty standard these days: arrive early in the morning, turn on the computer and stare at it for about eight hours, then drive home. Yes! Finally, we can do some yoga (or other exercise, preferably outdoors) to reverse the long day of sitting. Lots of us don’t do that, though. For various reasons we don’t make time for exercise. We may not get outside for fresh air after a long day in the office. Instead of going out for a bike ride or a hike, we make dinner and turn on the TV, only to sit on our butts for a few more hours before going to bed. We feel so much better (physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually) when we move! Luckily, it’s easier than we sometimes think. We don’t need to get to the gym every day in order to be in good health. We can find many excuses to move throughout the day. We can even take quick yoga breaks at work!
Yoga asana practice is not only the 60- or 90-minute class you encounter at a studio. It is most effective as an every day pursuit, even if it’s only a few minutes at a time. It’s great to dedicate an hour or two to a full practice, but yoga can be incorporated into your day any day, no excuses. Here are a few great stretches to try throughout the day. Have fun with it, be creative, and share! Others can benefit as well — and then they won’t be wondering what the heck you are doing if they see you sitting there with your arms over your head.
Seated Twist. Sitting with both feet firmly on the ground, place your left hand on the outside of your right knee. The right hand can rest beside you on the armrest or seat of the chair. Inhale and lift your spine while relaxing your shoulders down your back. Exhale and turn to the right, looking over your right shoulder. Breathe, and with each inhale feel yourself lifting through the spine from the tailbone to the crown of your head. With each exhale twist a bit deeper (these can be micro-movements). Let the breath create space between your ribs, between your vertebrae. Feel the inhale expand your lungs completely. Let the exhale release any tension. Come back to center when you are ready. Switch sides and repeat.
Eagle Arms. Again with both feet planted firmly on the ground, inhale and feel the spine lifting. Exhale and feel the tailbone drop down. Lift both arms in front of you, with elbows bent, hands facing one another (like you’re about to clap). Now bring the right elbow on top of the left, and snake your right hand around so palms connect (wrists are crossed). Next, lift your arms upward while simultaneously relaxing the shoulders. Breathe into your upper back. This feels great! After a few breaths, release the arms down to the original position and repeat on the opposite side (left arm over right).
Seated Pigeon. Here’s a seated version of the great hip opener, pigeon. Start out as in the previous poses, feet planted. Then, lift the right leg with the knee bent, bringing the ankle to rest on the left knee. If you look down, you’ll see a triangle between your legs. Flex the lifted foot. Inhale and feel the spine rise, exhale and fold forward over your right leg. Just let the arms hang in front of you. After a few breaths return to the original seated position and switch sides.
Tadasana – Uttanasana. Begin in Tadasana, Mountain Pose, by standing up straight, feet hip-width distance apart, shoulders rolled back, palms facing out in front of you. Your chin is level with the floor; imagine your head balancing effortlessly at the top of your spine. Release the jaw, relax the eyes, gaze softly at a point in front of you. [Rather than staring sharply, which could increase tension, this soft gaze (dristi) allows you to be steady and balanced while also relaxed.] Pull the belly in and lengthen the tailbone toward the floor. Breathe. Feel for any tension and see if you can release it with the breath.
From Tadasana, move into Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend). On an exhale, hinge at the hips (not at the waist) and fold forward, bending the knees as deeply as necessary to let the entire upper body drape over the lower body. The lower body is doing all the work in this pose. The upper body effortlessly cascades over the lower body. You can imagine it as a waterfall’s downward flow if imagery works for you. Either be still in this forward bend or sway gently from side to side. You can grab a hold of opposite elbows with opposite hands. You can gently shake the head as if you’re saying “yes” and “no.” When ready, come back up into Tadasana with a long spine. Bring your palms to your shins and, extending the spine tailbone to crown, slowly come up on an inhale. Keep the hands connected to the legs to increase body awareness/connection. You can repeat these two poses a few times, running the hands down the backs of the legs as you come into Uttanasana.
Tree (Vrksasana). Tree is a great pose for balance and focus. It strengthens the entire body, particularly the core. Start by standing in Tadasana. Next, bending the right knee, bring the right foot to rest on the inside of the left leg. It can press against the leg anywhere from ankle to inner thigh, except for the knee. Place your hands on your hips, or in prayer pose at your heart center. Breathe deeply and set your dristi (softly focus on a point in front of you). When you feel balanced, you can lift your arms up and outward like the branches of a tree. You can even play around with lifting your gaze or closing your eyes! Come back to center after a few breaths and change sides.
There you have it, a few poses to get started. I’ll write about more in the future. I’d love to hear your suggestions as well!
Some final thoughts if you do work in an office…
Get up as often as you can at work, even if it’s just to quickly stretch every half-hour or so. Walk over to talk with someone rather than emailing, take the mail to the mailbox, take a lunch walk outside (whether it’s for five or 50 minutes). Some offices have the “eat lunch at your desk” culture. You don’t need to fall into that! By making your health a priority, you will be a more productive and happier employee. Don’t worry about the eat at your desk culture. Set boundaries, do what you need to do for you, and you will be more focused and set a great example for your co-workers. In my experience working for a few different companies with this culture, no one has ever questioned my lunch break. I’ve been happy and employers have been pleased with my work. I’ve seen lots of other people exhausted and ornery by 2:00 pm (usually before then, actually) because they feel they cannot take a break. It’s up to you to look out for yourself, and it’s so important to do so! If you’re in this type of culture and feel you can’t take a break, I’d encourage you to try some of these poses to help with the stress on your body and mind. Try taking a lunch break and see what happens. I can almost guarantee it will be your increased productivity and happiness, not anything punitive! We all deserve a break.