If you are like most Americans, chances are you spend a majority of your day stuck in a chair, hunched over a desk.  With the average work week ranging between 40-50 hours, that’s a lot of time spent sitting in a position of improper alignment.  With our minds always set on go, go, go, the overstimulation to our sympathetic nervous system, otherwise known as our fight-or-flight response to stress, can leave one feeling exhausted at the end of the work week.  Now who wants to start their weekend already tired, certainly not me!  For us to enjoy life, it is important we take care of our body so that our body can carry us through this crazy, stressful world.  I am a firm believer that Yoga can be done anywhere, anytime, and anyplace, especially in the workplace.  Listed below is a simple breathing practice, also known as pranayama, that you can begin before continuing into a few Yoga postures to help realign the body, increase circulation, and most importantly let go of some stress!  The amount of time you choose to take practice is entirely up to you, but ideally if you can allow yourself just 15-20 minutes for this practice your body will thank you.

To begin you will want to find some quite to help settle the mind.  If you work in a loud office than bring some headphones with you and some calming music to Zen out to.  If possible, slip off your shoes before allowing your feet to connect with the floor.  Sitting in your chair in an upright position, use your pointer finger to find the top of your hipbone and your thumb to find the base of your rib cage.  On an inhale feel the space between these two points lengthen.  There should be no tension in the neck or jaw.  Now that you are in proper alignment, let us begin with some simple Ujjayi breathing.

The inhalation and exhalation of the breath will be through the nose and should be of the same duration.  For example, when you inhale, inhale to the count of 5.  When you exhale, exhale to a count of 5.  By maintaining the count as you breathe, this will help to focus the mind on one thing, instead of letting the mind wander all over the place.  Placing a hand on the belly, as you inhale imagine that you are inhaling from your pelvic floor, feeling your belly rise on the inhale.  As you exhale, draw your navel in towards your spine, as if you’re sucking the bellybutton in.  This should not be a forced contraction, just a conscious effort to follow the breath.  Follow this breathing pattern for about 5 minutes to turn the body back towards the parasympathetic side of the nervous system, better known as rest-and-digest.

Continuing with the breath, now let’s add in some movement with the breath to help relieve some of the tension we tend to hold on to in our neck and shoulders.  On an inhale drop the chin towards the chest and then rotate the head towards the right shoulder.  Continuing with the rotation bring the head back so that the gaze is up towards the ceiling.  Now as you exhale bring the head down towards the left shoulder and then finish with the chin again towards the chest.  This is a simple rotation of the neck, using the breath to find where the tension tends to be held and using the exhale to let that tension go.   After a few rotations to the right side, repeat these steps to the left.  This time as you inhale bring the head towards the left shoulder, then back, and exhale the head to the right shoulder, then back to center.

Moving on to the shoulders.  As you inhale bring the shoulders forward and then up towards the ears.  As you exhale draw the shoulder blades down and in towards the center of the spine.  This is a simple shoulder rotation that you can use to just shake of some of the stressors of the day.  Now as you switch direction of the shoulder rotation you can add in some extension of the arms to really work the breath into the upper back for a deeper stretch.  This time as you inhale bring your shoulder blades back towards the centerline of the spine and then up towards the ears.  As you exhale extend the arms out in front of you, interlocking the fingers and allowing the palm of the hands to face out.  On an inhale really feel the breath work in between the shoulder blades, feeling the rib cage expand and then releasing the stretch on an exhale.

This next stretch is great to help relieve some of the discomfort that individuals tend experience in their back from sitting at a desk all day.  Making sure that you are sitting up nice and tall, as you exhale twist at the waist towards the right side of your chair.  With your right hand grab hold of the top portion of your chair.  With your left hand grab either onto the armrest, or if your chair lacks an armrest you can grab the outer side of your left hip.  With each inhale you will want to lift and lengthen the spine feeling yourself grow a little taller and each exhale twist just a little deeper till you find a nice comfortable stretch.  Come back to center on an inhale and then exhale towards your left side to repeat.  After you have finished both sides give yourself a nice forward fold allowing your chest to rest over the top of your thighs and allowing the arms to hang.  Using your breath here again to work into the upper back to locate any tension and using the exhale of your breath to just let the stress go.  When you want to return to an upright position, slowly roll up one vertebra at a time.

Last, but not least, how about we show some love for the feet?!  After all they do carry us around all day.  Extend the legs out in front of you so that the feet are off the floor.  As you inhale extend the feet back towards you and as you exhale point the toes.   Really use your toes here to lead your feet in the direction you want them to go. You can incorporate a few circular rotations here as well.

Now for some embarrassment may harbor some nerves about wanting to do these stretches in a public space.  Try not to worry about your coworker is thinking.  This is your time to nurture your body and who knows, maybe your coworkers will want to join in too!