Take a big breath, reach for the sky…and clear your mind of economic worry.
Practicing yoga at work has been known to reduce job-related injuries and absenteeism, increase flexibility and strength and minimize healthcare costs. Its latest claim to fame, however, is relieving anxiety caused by recessionary fears.
Precisely because of their economic problems, folks are starting to feel that a calming yoga session is a luxury they cannot afford to be without. The classes I teach at New York City health clinic Callen Lorde, where gentle movement and inner focus is emphasized, have also been packed to capacity over the last several months.
But you needn’t search for a group class in order to feel the benefits of yoga. The next time you need a break, skip the coffee and try one of these simple desk-yoga sequences. Each one should take only three minutes or so. Practice two or three at a time, taking your time and being as easeful as possible—without rushing. Remember, this is your time. The exercises below were developed with the help of Reflections Yoga director Paula Tursi, who provides weekly on-site yoga classes to businesses including the Jewish Heritage Museum, the Church Pension Group and Young & Rubicam.
Sequence 1: Breathe and open the chest. Sit tall in your chair and imagine your tailbone heavy and the center of your upper chest light and buoyant. Press down through the sitting bones. Allow the shoulders to relax down the back. Roll the shoulders back a few times to enhance that experience. Inhale imagining the breath moving from your tailbone to the crown of your head. Exhale from crown to tailbone. Breathe slowly without forcing. Let your exhalations be slower than your inhalations, and let your upper chest glide up. Feel the breath in the center of the upper chest. Foster the idea of an open heart, and silently say the word, “one,” to complete.
Sequence 2: Eye exercise. This is good for unlocking your gaze from the computer screen. Open your eyes, pick a spot on a nearby wall and imagine a clock there. Take the gaze in a slow circle, first in a clockwise direction, then counterclockwise, making sure to hit each number on the clock individually. Do this twice, slowly in both directions. Then, focus the gaze on a spot far away drawing your gaze out into the distance. Then come back to a point close by, like your telephone. Repeat this a few times to release the muscles of the eyes that tend to be locked at the distance of the computer screen. Think about clarity and open space as you practice.
Sequence 3: Wrist stretch. Place pinkies toward one other and flat down on the desk. Keep fingertips as straight as possible with the middle finger pointing straight back. Gently begin to sit back like you were going to sit back on your chair bringing your wrist closer to the chair. As you stretch through the fingertips and wrists, inhale. Exhale as you release the stretch. Release the pose with a soft sigh.
Sequence 4: Shoulder and hip opening. Sitting on your chair, bring your right heel over your left knee, making a triangle beneath your upper body. Inhale from tail to crown, exhale as you take the upper body in a long line, leaning over that triangle. Don’t overstretch: Come only half way down if need be. Come up, sigh and smile to complete.
Sequence 5: Ocean breathing. You know what your breath sounds like when you’re trying to fog glasses… kind of an audible whisper? Try making that sound with your mouth closed. Breathing in this fashion, inhale this time inhale from crown to tail, exhale from tail to crown. You want to build this practice so you are able to focus entirely on the breath. Early on, your mind will be busy, and it will take practice. Start with four breaths and build from there.
Janet Aschkenasy is a MainStreet writer and a registered yoga teacher who directs the volunteer teaching program at Callen Lorde Community Health Center in New York City. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.