Yes, you can do yoga right at the office — and it doesn’t have to mean contorting on your desk or drawing attention to yourself like a circus act. Yoga is an age-old tradition for a healthy mind-body connection that can certainly be updated to fit today’s multi-tasking lifestyle. With a handful of easy-to-apply yoga tricks, you can emerge from your cubicle at the end of the day with a clear head, supple spine, and positive outlook. Here's how to get started:
Begin with your attitude.
Yoga classes often start with deep breathing and intention-setting to prepare the mind first, before the physical movement begins. Intention-setting focuses the mind onto the task at hand. If one part of your day was particularly stressful, creating this deliberate space before the next interaction will help prevent you from carrying unwanted feelings and distractions into the next project. And feelings are contagious; when you enter a meeting with a clean slate and a good vibe, your co-workers and employees will notice. You can help uplift the entire mood of the office and improve productivity. Either from your desk, in the elevator, or at the water cooler, take a few deep breathes and define a positive thought for everyone — before you step into the conference or write that next email.
Improve your posture.
When I began my personal yoga practice, I worked a 40-hour desk job that was primarily computer data entry. I remember the day I realized that typing on the computer did not require hunching over, tensing my shoulders up to my ears, or furrowing my brow while crouching towards the screen. I could just as effectively tap away at the keyboard with a straight spine, my shoulders and face perfectly relaxed. This realization changed my office comfort forever. My eyes tired less and I suffered fewer tension headaches.
Good posture has noticeable and tangible benefits. Sitting up straighter not only eases back pain, it allows for deeper and more efficient breathing. Slouching in your chair impedes the full movement of the diaphragm and restricts the movement of the rib cage, resulting in potentially labored and shallow breathes. Since about 20 percent of each breath nourishes the brain, an absence of deep breathing can affect your thinking and productivity throughout the workday.
Keep your mind on your spine.
Early on in my yoga practice, a teacher recommended 20 percent of the mind on the spine at all times. While this is effortlessly achieved during yoga class with full attention on the body, it takes a little more practice to implement during the workday. A well-designed yoga sequence moves the spine in every direction: Flexion, or forward bending; extension, or backward bending; lateral flexion, or side bending; and rotation, or twisting. Luckily, these movements are easily accomplished sitting in a desk chair.
From the edge of your chair, sit with a straight spine, your feet on the floor, and bring your arms overhead. If flexibility allows, interlace your fingers and reach your palms up the ceiling. If your shoulders are too tight for this to be possible, simply reach both arms overhead and interlace the fingers as much as possible. Inhale first, and as you exhale, keep your tailbone and feet grounded down and stretch up from the lower spine towards the ceiling. On the next inhale return to the neutral position with your arms still overhead, and with the exhale, stretch to one side. On the inhale return to center and with the exhale stretch to the opposite side. On the last inhale return to center and on the exhale drop your head back, stretch your arms back and allow your whole spine to enjoy the backward bend. Return to center with an inhale and relax your arms down with a final deliberate exhale. Do this several times throughout the day to counteract the overabundance of forward bending that comes with desk work.
Focus on isolation.
While yoga gets a lot of hype about forging a mind-body connection, isolation is actually a large part of the practice. Since different postures target specific areas of the spine and particular muscle groups, you must learn to engage only what is necessary to hold the pose. Using every muscle group for every pose is unnecessarily exhausting, while not engaging the right muscles at the right times leads to poor form and injury.
Apply this same principle to your workday. Declutter your desk so you are not pulled away from one project because your eye catches the memo of another project. Organize your computer and laptop desktops to make the files you need easily accessible and waste less time searching. Leading a staff meeting? Stay on topic only with agenda items that move the project forward. Setting an intention before the staff meeting will help with this. Simplify, both inside and outside the yoga room, for improved efficiency and reduced waste of time, effort, and energy.
Ditch the multitasking.
Yoga demands a singularity of focus. Standing on one leg without toppling over takes full attention. Multitasking disperses focus and requires you to hold many thoughts at once inside your head, instead of allowing full attention on one thing at a time. This quickly leads to feeling overwhelmed, which compounds daily stress. Make a list and work off the list to build up your ability to focus and follow through. Target your full attention on completing one task at a time. Remember, 20 percent of every breath feeds the brain. Would you rather have this energy focused on completing one project with care and timeliness, or allow it to dissipate, wasted amongst many thoughts with no clear action taking shape?
Yoga is not just about the body, but how the mind and body interrelate moment to moment. Embedding both physical and mental yoga lessons into your office culture can transform how you think, how you move, and how you feel. Start today, right at your desk, and uncover a healthier, more productive and less stressed version of yourself tomorrow.
This article was written by Lara Alexiou, the author of Become the Architect of Your Body, Mind, and Soul ($13.95, Amazon) and owner of Steamtown Yoga. She has been helping people transform their lives through the Eastern Healing Arts for nearly two decades. For more information and to read Alexiou’s yoga and wellness blog, visit her online at Steamtown Yoga.
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