Stretch & strengthen

Stretch & strengthen

yoga at work

Stretch & strengthen

We live in an age of fast life-styles and modern gadgetry, where there’s no time or space for our health. At most workplaces, stress is considered a part and parcel of modern
living today. While we generally enjoy our jobs, other associated factors like long working hours, sedentary lifestyles, job security concerns, reduced incentives and greater demands of output  have started fuelling the downward spiral of our health.

Stress factor

The external event (that causes us stress) is simply a ‘trigger’ and it’s only the individual’s internal response to that event that becomes the stress. In other words, we are choosing (generally due to lack of awareness) to get stressed with changes in
our life. Stress is experienced when our body’s sympathetic nervous system gives a reaction of either ‘flight or fight’ to external events.

In ancient times, this reaction was our primary defense mechanism and served us well. For instance, when we would chance upon a dangerous wild animal in the forest, our sympathetic nervous system would send signals to our adrenal glands and they would enhance adrenaline secretion needed to defend ourselves — by fighting back or running away. However, when triggered in the office, we cannot fight or run away. Instead, our bodies become saturated with bio-chemicals like the steroid hormone, cortisol. Without the associated energy-expending response, our own bodies begin tearing themselves apart. Cortisol has been identified as a major contributor to ‘belly fat’, which can promote heart disease, diabetes and lowered self-image.

The human body is designed for movement and not to sit for long hours slumped in a chair. But doing just that has ensured that almost everyone experiences a backache sometime in their life. This coupled with the high levels of air conditioning in offices makes the body prone to joint pains while excessive and continuous use of the computer affects the wrists and eyes. Also, the fact that most of our work is mental and less physical makes us worry excessively. And without the adequate physical release, stress piles up.

What can we do to get rid of stress?  Here is where the ancient science of yoga can help. Developing a regular yoga practice for at least three hours a week can not only combat the effects of stress, but also reverse much of the damage already done.

Yogasanas (poses) stretch and strengthen the muscles, causing the secretion of beneficial hormones and also allowing the entire body to be replenished with a fresh supply of blood. Through breathing practices called pranayama, we draw in higher levels of prana (life force energy) and oxygen. This helps purify the subtle
channels and nervous system; it expands the lungs’ capacity, and bestows great
vitality and strength. By invoking the parasympathetic nervous system, we create a fertile ground for better rest, a stronger heart and a much calmer mind. 

But for time-pressed individuals, where is the time for yoga? It turns out there is, in fact, lots of time and space for it right at your desk. For your yoga routine to be
effective, you should be able to incorporate the practice in your daily life, especially at your office. Whilst it may seem a challenge at first, you will have to make a habit of
getting up from your workstation every two hours and stretching yourself.

Give your body a break

Here are some yoga exercises to help you get started:

Sitting tadasana: Interlock your fingers, turn your palms outwards and stretch your hands upwards while inhaling. Hold the posture for a few seconds with normal deep breathing.

Neck stretches: Cervical pain is experienced because of maintaining the neck in a static posture for unnaturally long periods of time. Too many office-goers are suffering from various stages of cervical spondylitis. Brahma Mudra helps alleviate these pains and enhances the flow of prana around the head area so that you feel refreshed.

From a straight position, exhale and turn your face to the side so that you are looking to the right for three breaths and then to the left. Inhale and look upwards while holding your breath, then exhale and return to the normal position. Now inhale and drop your chin to your chest, holding the breath. Exhale and return to the start position.

Sitting dwikonasana: Another common complaint of computer users is rounded shoulders, which leads to shoulder and upper back pains and causes low levels of energy because the breathing is always shallow.

Hold one wrist with the other hand behind your back; push your shoulders backwards and chest outwards. Inhale and look slightly upwards so that the focus of the stretch remains the shoulder area.

Sitting spinal twist: With your right hand hold your chair’s left armrest (or the left side of your seat). Twist your left shoulder and turn backwards and place your left hand on your chair’s backrest. Now you’re looking over your left shoulder; hold this posture for a few seconds. Then repeat on the other side.

Ardha chandrasana: Stand straight with your feet shoulder width apart. Raise your right hand up and as you exhale, take your hand and your entire torso to the left. Stretch as much as is comfortable and hold for a few seconds. Repeat on the
other side.

Hamstring stretch & padahastasana: Sedentary jobs cause hamstrings to tighten, which then leads your lower back to hurt as it has to compensate for tight hamstrings.

Stand straight with feet shoulder width apart. Place your palms on your desk and take your feet back till your back is flat and parallel to the floor. Hold for a few seconds allowing your back to stretch. Now take your palms off the table and stretch them towards the floor, allowing your hamstrings to stretch. Hold for a few seconds. Once you come up, do the reverse — a backward bend. Place your palms on your hip sand stretch your torso backwards.

Eye exercises: Most of our energy is drained through our eyes. Keep them closed for 30 seconds every once in a while. Practise blinking — make 20 rapid blinking movements of the eyes to exercise them. Rub your palms together and take the warmth to your eyes (palming).

Sahaj pranayama: People often start their day with a lot of focus but gradually their energy and focus dissipates. Take the time to gather yourself. This is easily done by closing your eyes and taking 11 deep abdominal breaths — your stomach
expands when you breathe in and returns to the normal position when you exhale. You may internally chant ‘So’ as you inhale and ‘Hum’ as you exhale while counting down breaths from 11 to 0. The slower and deeper you breathe, the calmer you will feel.
So, what are you waiting for? Blink your eyes, twist your torso and take in some deep breaths. Your body needs it.

(The author is co-founder & director, Total Yoga, Bengaluru)

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