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Practical Stress Management: Office Yoga for Busy Professionals

As a stress management technique, yoga is hard to beat

woman doing yoga in office chair
Business woman wearing denim shirt stretching arms in the office

It’s well known yoga is great for the mind, body, and soul. As a stress management technique, it’s hard to beat. Yoga lowers cortisol levels, teaches you to control your stress response, and grounds you in the present moment. For your body, yoga increases strength, balance, coordination, awareness, and control. It can be intense, restorative, or anywhere in between. If you’re the spiritual type, yoga connects you to a 4,000-year-old tradition rich with practical wisdom and metaphysical insight.

One of the best things about yoga, though, is that once you learn it, it’s yours. You can take it anywhere you go, use it at any time you want, and adapt it to almost any situation or circumstance you find yourself in. All you need is a little time and space, and you’re good to go. You can apply yoga principles standing in line at the grocery store, at the gym doing resistance exercises on weight machines, or while you’re out for your morning walk.

That means yoga – because it’s portable and adaptable – is a perfect stress management technique for people in recovery from alcohol and/or substance use disorders. They’re the population I work with every day. My goal is to meet people where they are, give them the tools they need to heal and bring balance to their lives, and make sure they have a full toolbox of coping mechanisms and stress management techniques at their fingertips, ready to use at a moment’s notice – and yoga is one of those tools.

This short how-to article teaches you a quick and easy yoga routine you can do while sitting at your desk in the office. It’s the perfect way to take a physical, psychological, and emotional break from work – without even leaving your desk.

Ready?

Here we go.

3-Step Seated Office Yoga: Twist the Spine

Step 1: Ground and Center (about 1 minute).

Turn off your computer and phone. If you have a door, close it. Push your chair away from the desk a foot or so. Sit up on your sit-bones. Lengthen your spine. No slouching in the lower back. If you need to, reach down and manually pull your glutes back and out so your pelvis tilts ever-so-slightly forward. Place your feet hip-distance apart, flat on the floor. Aim for making three 90-degree angles: floor to shins, shins to thighs, thighs to torso. Close your eyes, connect with your breath, and completely relax your body. Imagine a string attached to the top of your head, pulling gently up, freeing the muscles of your back and neck. Visualize your spine as a string of pearls, shining from crown to sacrum. Take four deep, long breaths: expand your belly as you inhale, relax your belly as you exhale.

Step 2: Roll the shoulders and relax the neck (about 2 minutes).

Open your eyes. Roll your shoulders backwards 8-10 times. Use a full range of motion. Make the rolls as big and luxurious as you can without disturbing the centered feeling of your spine and lower body. Repeat the shoulder rolls in the opposite direction. Make them big and easy. They should feel good. Next, move on to your head and neck. With the spine long and loose (remember the string of pearls image), take a nice breath in, then exhale and look to your left until your neck muscles tell you to stop. Inhale back to center, then exhale and look to your right. Repeat at least five times in each direction. Now, repeat this process but instead move your head up and down. Exhale and let your chin fall to your chest (without collapsing your chest), inhale back to center, then exhale and look up. Repeat at least five times up and down. Finish by returning your head to center.

Step 3: Twist Left and Right (about 2-3 minutes).

Place your right hand on the outside of your left knee. Where you put your left hand depends on your specific situation. You can use the arm of the chair, the seat itself, or simply put it behind you and press it against the back of the chair. As you exhale, gently use your hands to twist your spine until you’re looking directly behind you. Keep your chin tucked, your spine long, and your shoulders relaxed and down. Keep your hips, legs, and feet facing straight ahead. Draw your belly button in. Think of folding the skin of your lower abdomen in toward your hip bone. Hold the twist for at least one breath. Exhale as you return to center, then repeat on the right side. Do this twist at least twice on each side. When you’re done twisting, return to center and do an abbreviated version of Step 1: Ground and Center.

Back to Your Best

After this routine, stand up, shake it out, then find an excuse to take a quick walk around the office or workplace. Go to the restroom, fill up your water bottle, or head to the break room and pour a cup of tea. Do this even if you don’t have to – it’s an excuse to move around, feel the difference in your body, and get some blood flowing in your legs and feet. When you get back to your desk, you’ll feel awake, alive, aware, and ready to take on whatever’s up next on your schedule.

If you used this quick office yoga routine as a trigger-management technique, then you can give yourself kudos for putting your recovery program into action. When you’re in recovery – with regards to triggers – half the battle is remembering you have a wide array of tools at your disposal, knowing which ones to use, and knowing when to use them. The other half is actually using them when you need them. While this routine may be short, it’s effective.

Remember: this is not simply sitting up straight and twisting your spine in one direction and then the other. What makes it yoga – and what makes it a mindfulness practice – is how you do it. When you unite your body, breath, and mind, good things happen.

If you get triggered, or feel stress coming on at work, give this routine an honest shot: I promise you’ll be amazed by the results.

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