Yoga in the workplace helps relieve
stress and improves concentration

January 15, 2013 9:21 am Views: 343
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Helen Goldstein in seated yoga warrior posture.

There’s a growing body of research to substantiate how important it is for people working in high stress jobs to take a few moments each day to do some relaxation exercises which include meditation, yoga and deep breathing or breath awareness. Health care workers in particular spend most of their day on their feet dealing with high stress, busy, fast paced and generally unpredictable days. You tend to be affected physically, mentally and emotionally by the demands of your patients and must remember it’s important to take care of your own well being.

Standing on your feet as well as working in an office or at a computer for prolonged periods of time can put strain on the neck, shoulder, leg and back muscles which in turn can lead to tension and stiffness. This tension can cause headaches, as well as back, hip, neck and shoulder pain. If left unattended, it could also impact your ability to function effectively at work and your overall quality of life.  Not to mention the anxiety and stress you might feel dealing with patients, the system and co-workers.

It is possible to relieve so many of the physical as well as emotional issues we may experience with simple exercises that can be done while standing or  sitting at one’s desk.   I have found that in over 20yearsof teaching  Yoga based wellness in large and small corporations, the participants typically experience:  released tension, increased flexibility, stronger muscles, decreased stress and anxiety, a comfortable resting heart rate, decreased pain, improved immunity, better concentration and focus.

I have seen profound changes in the workplace as a result of wellness programs like seated yoga. Due to the need for trainers, I offer online certificate trainings for wellness professionals on how to deliver wellness in the workplace.

Employers and employees love these exercises for many reasons:  it’s time and cost efficient, you do these exercises in your work clothes, it builds a cohesive community in your organization, it takes up very little space, as you are standing, and a chair and or desk is all you need if you are desk prone.  These exercises are non-competitive and process oriented.

They can be done in a group or by yourself in less than three to five minutes each so you can take a break now and then as you need to take care of yourself.

So take a few minutes to experience this simple, easy to learn and very efficient sequence of breath and movement exercises which can help you deal with whatever life throws at you.

Before you begin:

  • Breathing is very important in the practice of Yoga. When doing the exercises you want to take deep, slow breaths in and out.
  • Exercises should be done slowly and with awareness of sensation and thoughts…this will give you the full benefit.  Take a few moments to close your eyes just be quiet before you start to gain concentration and focus.
  •  Be aware of your posture, your upper body should be straight and tall, yet relaxed, your feet firmly grounded on the floor

PLEASE NOTE: if you have any pre-existing health concerns relating to the neck, back, legs or shoulders it is recommended that you check with your doctor prior to initiating this type of activity. As with any physical activity, if you experience pain or discomfort from these exercises you should discontinue the activity.

GETTING STARTED

You do not need to do the whole yoga routine given her; pace yourself and add pieces as you feel more comfortable.   Become accustomed to the movements and breathing, they are different from what you may have experienced before.

Let’s start with breathing: centers mind and body

This breathing helps you get present and ready for your yoga practice.

Sit or stand with your spine straight, feet on the floor (if sitting put your feet on a cushion or a book if they don’t reach the floor).

The trick to encourage deep breathing is to exhale more fully. While holding the hands over your ribs, take a deep breath in through the nose, then exhale slowly, focusing on drawing the navel to the spine as you expel the air completely. Then allow your lungs to fill completely from the bottom to the top. Repeat for five breaths or for as long as is comfortable.

Sun Breath:  grounding and focusing

Sun breath is a variation of deep breathing. Again, with your spine straight, inhale and raise the arms horizontally to each side; then raise them straight up in the air until the palms touch. Exhale, and lower the arms to the side. Repeat for five to eight breaths.

Neck Stretch:   releases tension in neck and shoulders

During an exhalation, slowly tilt the head towards your right shoulder. Rest for two to three breaths, allowing the neck muscles to slowly relax. Repeat to the other side. To move a bit deeper into the neck stretch, place your opposite hand on your ear. For instance if your ear is resting towards your left shoulder, place your left hand on your right ear. Do not push or force, simply allow the weight of your hand and arm deepen the sensation of your stretch. Hold for about two to three deep breaths and bring the head back and repeat on the other side.   Notice how one side may be different from the other. Just be aware and breathe…

Come back to center, turn your head to look out over your right shoulder. Hold for two to three breaths, allowing the head to slowly deepen into the stretch. Repeat other side.  Then bring your chin down to your chest and just watch the sensation.   To enhance this sensation you may interlace your fingers and place your hands on the ridge of your head above your neck, please do not put them on your neck, bring your elbows together and without pushing or forcing allowing the weight of the arms to stretch your neck in a gentle way.Roll up slowly and gently back to centre.

Repeat these exercises two to three times. Neck stretches should not cause pain.

Cat and Dog Stretches:   creates flexibility in the spine and releases tension

With both feet flat on the floor and the knees slightly bent, round the back during an inhalation, dropping the shoulders and the head towards the chest.  Try to imagine that you are pressing deeply into something right behind you. Keep both hands resting on the thighs elbows bent slightly to the side. This is the dog stretch.

On the exhalation, arch the back, pulling the shoulders as far back as possible.    Lift your chin and bring your teeth together.   Eyes can gaze up or be closed.  This is the cat stretch. Do this four more times.

Forward Bend:   good for digestion and lowers anxiety

As you exhale, move your chest towards the thighs, bending down as far as possible with your spine straight. Keeping the spine straight is more important than how far down you bend.  Then totally release the spine and just hang out.  As you inhale, slowly stretch back up while reaching the hands as high as possible over the head.

You can also just bend over and dangle and keep your head really relaxed. To intensify this posture place your hands on the opposite elbows and press down to the ground –keep your knees soft.   You will feel this in your lower back, and legs. Repeat this pose four more times.

Warrior I:   an advanced posture great for stretching inner thighs and building confidence

This can be done standing by opening the legs wide and pointing the right foot to the right and twisting the left foot around so it points to the right as well.    In a chair you would sit sideways. The left legshould be stretched behind the chair while the right leg should be flat on the floor with the knee at a ninety degree angle over the ankle. With the torso straight, during an inhalation, raise the arms straight up above your head so the palms face each other.  Hold this pose for three breaths. For extra challenge if sitting, engage the legs to lift up from the chair. Repeat two more times; then, repeat on the other side.

Warrior II: This pose is similar to warrior 1. 

Bring yourself into the Warrior 1 position and instead of the arms coming above your head, bring them out to the side with the arms parallel to the floor while the torso faces forward. Look out over the front arm, and hold for three breaths.   You can also look over the back shoulder.   For extra challenge, engage the legs to lift up from the chair. Repeat two more times; then, repeat on the other side.

Spinal Twist:    this is great for the digestive system, the spine, the central nervous system and for toning the waist and hips…

The spinal twist is also done while standing or sitting.

While standing place your hands on the opposite elbows, ground your feet firmly and slowly twist your torso so you can see over one shoulder while keeping your hips and lower body facing forward….

Sitting with a straight spine, slowly turn your whole torso left, as if looking over the back of the chair. Put your hands in a comfortable position on the back of the chair and use this as a gentle lever.

During the inhalation, lengthen the spine as much as possible. During the exhalation, twist the spine as far as possible without causing pain. Do this for five breaths; repeat the pose on the other side.

Doing two or three of these poses a couple times each day as you sit at your desk or stand just about anywhere.is a great way to re-energize your body and mind. . You will feel the difference in your well-being and you will be more efficient, focused and relaxed.. Once you establish a routine of doing standing or chair yoga, and you begin to feel the benefits you will want to incorporate this into your daily life.

And remember the most important part…Breathe!

Article By:

Helen Goldstein

Helen Goldstein, certified by Dr.Deepak Chopra, owned The Yoga Studio Toronto. She hosts on line trainings, teaching wellness professionals how to deliver wellness in the workplace. www.theworkplacewellnessinstitute.com

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