It’s easy to feel relaxed and balanced whilst in a yoga class or on a yoga retreat, but what about when we are at work, with tight deadlines and too much to do? That’s when we really need access to our yoga calm. 

A combination of work stress, long periods sitting and poor posture constricts our muscles and our breath and can result in aches, pain, fatigue and a loss of energy that makes it harder to get our work done.

With stretches to relax the body, deep breathing to calm the nervous system and a steady focus to calm the mind, yoga is an effective way to counteract this. Attending yoga classes is now in the mainstream and scientists are increasingly interested in measuring the effects of yoga and the implications for the workplace.

For example, Hartfiel et al. (2011) studied the effects of a six-week yoga course on a group of university staff. They found that the participants experienced increased emotional wellbeing and resilience to stress, and reduced feelings of anxiety and fatigue. The participants also reported feelings of increased clear-mindedness, composure, elation, energy and confidence.

In a study of employees in a large Swedish company, Granath et al. (2006) compared the stress-relieving effects of yoga with those of Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT). Half of the group received CBT and the other half attended a yoga course. Using psychological and physiological measurements, the researchers found that the two approaches were equally beneficial with the important difference being that yoga is an inexpensive approach that people can easily continue with themselves.

If attending yoga classes can be so beneficial, it follows that by bringing some yoga practices and attitudes to the workplace we can avoid some of the negative effects of workplace stress and a sedentary lifestyle in the first place.

As beneficial as a 60-minute lunchtime shavasana, or pre-meeting headstand might be, it’s best to start out small and subtle. Small and subtle might not sound like it is going to do much but it can be surprisingly effective.

A recent study by Merville et al. (2012) found that a 15-minute burst of yoga or meditation, practised whilst employees were at their desk, reduced physical and physiological stress.

This is perhaps not so surprising when we consider the psychological benefits of valuing and taking responsibility for our health and taking positive action to nurture it. This change in attitude and behaviour can be far more powerful than the act itself.

Even if you make a slight change in your behaviour, practising some simple breathing exercises or a few stretches whilst at your desk, the benefits will likely surpass the effort.

Below are some of our favourite ways to stretch, release, relax and refresh during desk time.

Head roll

  • Drop the left ear towards the left shoulder.
  • Inhale and roll the head all the way back and round to the right side.
  • Exhale and drop the head forward and back round to the left side.
  • Circle the head several times before circling it in the other direction.
  • Keep the movement fluid, the breath slow and steady and the shoulders down.

Side stretch

  • Sit with your back straight and your feet on the floor.
  • Inhale and raise both arms out to the side and up above your head.
  • Interlock your thumbs and reach your arms up to the ceiling as you exhale.
  • Continue to stretch up as you inhale.
  • Exhale and stretch over to your left side.
  • Inhale back to centre.
  • Exhale to stretch over to the right side.
  • Inhale back to centre.
  • Exhale your arms down to your sides.
  • Repeat three times.

Chair twist

  • Sit straight with your feet firmly planted on the floor
  • Place your right hand on your left knee.
  • Inhale and lengthen your spine.
  • Exhale and twist your torso to the left, looking over your left shoulder.
  • Hold for a few breaths, moving deeper into the twist on each out breath.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Seated forward bend

  • Sit straight with your feet firmly planted on the floor
  • Inhale and raise both arms over your head.
  • Exhale and fold forward from the hip, keeping your back straight.
  • Bring your head down towards your feet, relaxing your head, neck and shoulders.
  • Inhale to come back up with straight back, raising your arms above your head.
  • Exhale to lower your arms by your sides.

Leg lifts

  • Inhale and lift your leg up straight and flex your foot.
  • Hold for a few seconds and then slowly breathe out while lowering your leg.
  • Repeat with the other leg.

Knee squeeze

  • Put both hands around the front of your knee
  • Inhale and pull your knee to your chest, lowering your head to your knee.
  • Exhale and release slowly.
  • Repeat on the other side.

Do you have a favourite way to stretch or relax during office time? Share your little slice of office calm with us in the comments section below.

References

Hartfiel et al. (2011) The effectiveness of yoga for the improvement of well-being and resilience to stress in the workplace.

Granath et al (2006) Stress management: a randomized study of cognitive behavioural therapy and yoga.

Merville et al (2012) Fifteen minutes of chair-based yoga postures or guided meditation performed in the office can elicit a relaxation response.

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