When we’re feeling stressed, many of us turn to yoga. Yet we often forget that yoga doesn’t necessarily require a sticky mat or a softly-lit studio. Yoga, and its infinite practices, are available to us anywhere, anytime. Even at work.
Years ago, I had a boss who was a worrywart. She micromanaged, fretted, and hovered. Her nervous energy wove its tentacles into me, gripping my neck and shoulders, imprisoning my breath in my upper chest, and taking up residence in my low back.
Those days, I lived for my lunchtime yoga class—one hour when I could leave distractions at the door and slip into the still, clear lake of my inner sanctuary. I’d glide out of that class every day relaxed and restored, until my boss would unleash her panic and I was back to square one. That is, until one day when I realized that inner sanctuary my yoga class inspired was actually with me. Always. Instead of counting on yoga classes to sustain me, I began to subtly weave yoga into my workday. When I noticed my stress levels rising, I’d take a moment to simply breathe—and found I was able to feel instantly centered and calm, often without even leaving my desk.
5 Practices to Do At Your Desk
We all face work-related stress. And, we all have an inner sanctuary. You may not be able to close a door, roll out a mat, and curl up in Balasana (Child’s Pose), but there are ways to experience yoga—discreetly—at your workplace.
Here are five practices to cultivate calm when you’re feeling overwhelmed on the job:
When we’re stressed, we hold it in our bodies. Gentle movement unwinds this physical discomfort, encouraging relaxation. A modified version of Cat-Cow can be done right at your desk to dissolve tension.
How-to: Shift to the front edge of your chair, feeling your body weight on your sit bones. Slip off your shoes if possible, to feel the soles of your feet on the ground, and rest your palms on your thighs. On an inhalation, reach your tailbone toward the back of your chair, lengthen your spine into a backbend, and lift your gaze upward. On an exhalation, round your tailbone toward the front of your chair, curve your spine forward, and lower your gaze. Let the rocking motion soothe you for several rounds.
It’s easy to underestimate the power of a slow, deep, conscious breath. Dirga Pranayama (Three-Part Breath) is a simple yet potent practice to shift yourself out of a state of stress. This breathing technique can be used as needed—at your desk or in a meeting—to call in tranquility.
How-to: Feel your breath softly move in through your nose, filling your belly, ribcage, and chest. Exhale slowly through your nose, feeling your breath leave your belly, ribcage, and chest. Imagine emptying your breath completely. At the end of your exhale, pause and sink into the stillness of that moment. Feel the natural initiation of your next inhalation into your belly, ribcage, and chest. Repeat several times.
Repeating a mantra—a sound, word, or phrase—can regulate breathing patterns and quiet an overactive mind. Perhaps your office isn’t the best environment to chant Om out loud, but you can still experience the benefits of a silent mantra.
How-to: Practice a few rounds of Three-Part Breath, letting your breath move in and out of your belly, ribcage, and chest. Then, invite the following mantra to join your breath. On an inhalation, think “breath in,” and on an exhalation, think “let go.” Silently repeat “breath in” on your inhalations and “let go” on your exhalations, allowing the words to ride the length of your inhale and exhale. Practice for several rounds.
Mudras are hand gestures used to guide energy in the body. Dhyana Mudra (Meditation Seal) supports a calming energy. When you’re under pressure, lay your awareness on your hands. Softly bring them into this mudra to feel inner peace.
How-to: Sitting in a comfortable position, shape your hands to form a bowl in your lap with your palms facing upward. Rest your right hand on top of your left and allow the tips of your thumbs to touch. Notice how your body, mind, and energy feel, and enjoy this experience for any length of time.
Meditation is a practice of paying attention. Walking meditation involves paying attention to actions that you normally do automatically. When you consciously turn and return your attention to walking, you cultivate presence and drop into your calm center.
How-to: While you’re walking down the hall in your office building, notice one foot lifting, moving forward, and meeting the ground, heel first. Notice your body’s weight shifting onto your forward leg as your back heel lifts and your toes remain touching the ground. You might notice a coworker saying hello; perhaps make eye contact and smile. Then, return your attention to your feet moving, your weight shifting. Practice while walking to the bathroom or your favorite lunch spot.