One of yoga’s signature powers is its ability to de-stress. That makes the workday a great time for it – including when you’re at your desk.
Yoga’s magic comes especially through breathing techniques. Most relax you. Add some accessible movement, and you’ve got a formula for getting down to business in comfort and with a clear head.
You don’t need stretchy clothes to try this series, though a constricting suit jacket could make things tough.
1. Neck and shoulders
Tip: You can do all or some of the exercises, seated or standing.
2. Chest and back
Seated cat-cow (marjaryasana-bitilasana) is a simple way to open your front and back torso. Sit toward the front of your chair on your sitting bones, with your feet flat, and find the natural curve of your spine. Place your hands on your desk. As you inhale, lift your crown then slightly tilt your head back, drawing your outer shoulders back, and leaning toward the front of your sitting bones, in order to press the center of your chest forward. As you exhale, gently pull your navel toward your spine, dropping your chin, and leaning toward the back of your sitting bones, in order to open the space between your shoulder blades. Do 4-8 rounds.
Tip: Focus on opening your chest (spinal extension) more than rounding your back (spinal flexion). That means you could just come to upright on some exhales. Odds are you’re usually slumped over a keyboard, so your front side needs more opening.
3. Side torso
You can do this version of upward salute (urdhva hastasana) sitting or standing. If you’re sitting, find the same alignment you did for seated cat-cow. If you’re standing, place your feet hip-distance apart, and maintain the natural curve of your spine. As you inhale, lift both arms overhead, and interlace all fingers except your index fingers. As you exhale lean to the right. As you inhale, rise back up. As you exhale, lean to your left. Do 4-8 rounds.
Tip: If you do these moves standing you’ll incorporate other health benefits.
Find the same seated alignment you did for cat-cow. Grip the sides of your chair or firmly hold your chair’s arm rests. Reach your legs ahead of you, slightly off the ground. Scissor your legs up and down. For more challenge, scissor them back and forth, parallel to the ground. Create a cadence to your breath, matching several scissors with inhales then the next few with exhales. Repeat for as long as you feel moderate abdominal engagement.
Tip: If you have lower-back issues you might want to skip this exercise. If you don’t, protect your lower back: Don’t round your lumbar. That happens if you tilt your pelvis backward or lean toward the back of your pelvis.
Breath retention, coupled with exhaling for longer than you inhale, induces tranquility. If you’re new to this, inhale to the count of 3, hold for the count of 3, and exhale to the count of 5. If and when you’re ready (it might not be today), inhale to the count of 5, hold for the count of 5, and exhale to the count of 8. Repeat for at least 2 minutes.
Tip: Inhale by expanding your abdomen and lower ribs, then letting the breath lift your chest. Exhale by letting your whole torso deflate.
Mitra Malek, a former Yoga Journal editor, has taught yoga regularly since 2006. Connect with her at mitramalek.com.