Yoga is not sunset asanas on Bali beaches, nor is it retired ballerinas in $100 leggings scratching their heads with their toes.
Yoga is a practical way to sharpen your mental health whilst building strength, flexibility and balance. You don’t have to be a yogi to reap the benefits either. Simple sequences can help us counteract the forces of modern life that pull our body and mind out of shape.
During the pandemic many of us have been desk-bound at home. We’ve been called on to improvise our working environment while juggling working with all the other stresses of isolation. Dining tables, coffee tables and even trays on laps have served as our desks, while sofas, kitchens and beds have served as workspaces.
This all takes its toll on the body and mind. We sit for hours in hunched positions, atrophying and contracting muscles, which is does our posture and longer term physical well-being no good at all.
Some simple yoga poses, easy to pick up for the beginner, can help you feel a bit more human after long sessions at the computer. You’ll feel refreshed, less stressed and more energized in just five or so minutes.
The beauty of yoga is that the core poses balance out opposing forces: as one muscle contracts, another stretches out; as one part of the body is released of tension, the other is strengthened.
By combining the three poses below for around five minutes, you will counteract the tensions of desk-working, especially if your working set up is less than ideal. There’s no need for a mat for this sequence if you have a clean floor with enough traction not to slip. And there’s certainly no need for $100 leggings, just some loose clothes are fine.
Each of these poses offer their own distinct mindful moments. As you hold them, focus on the little points of resistance and try to work into them. It could be tight hamstrings or a lack of strength in your core. As you work on these points you’ll feel the physical progress while at the same time the stresses of working life will at least momentarily fall away.
If you can imagine the posture opposite to being hunched over a keyboard, it would be the Downward Dog pose. This is a foundational pose in yoga that practitioners constantly come back to as they flow through a class.
The arms and shoulders are stretched back and strengthened, instead of caved in as they often are as we type. The calves and hamstrings are stretched and strong too, instead of flexed as they would be under a chair. The lower back is straight and released of tension, instead of curved and pressured as it would be in a desk slouch. This is a pose to reset yourself after hours at the desk.
1. To start, get on your hands and knees (table-top position) with your toes tucked under. Arms and legs should be at a ninety-degree angle with the floor and in line with shoulders and hips.
2. Now lift your hips up and back so you are now supporting yourself with your palms and the balls of your feet. You need to work to get your tail bone high up and your chest close to your legs while gently working your heels down. Tilt the pelvis up and try to distribute the weight of your body as much to the back as possible by keeping your arms strong.
3. Relax your neck and let your head hang. If your hamstrings are tight, like most people who work at a desk, you can bend your knees generously. The most important function of the pose is to get a shoulder stretch and release the lower back by tilting the pelvis up. If you are flexible enough, this pose should look like a tipped forward “L” shape. Hold for a minute or more.
The Camel pose is all about strengthening your back while stretching laterally through your chest.
Avoid collapsing into your lower back, you can do this by tightening your abdominals. This helps you get a broad stretch through the chest and a lengthening of the spine. Think about opening your heart to the sky and feeling an exhilarating stretch across the line between each shoulder while strengthening your upper and middle back.
Camel is an excellent anti-fatigue pose, useful for early in the day or if you feel drained in the afternoon. When you are done, try sitting back on your heels and closing your eyes with your palms on your thighs. You’ll feel a wave of energy moving around your body. Focus on that energy and let the mind-chatter fall away for a moment.
1. Kneel up straight and keep your feet flexed and your toes tucked under. Place your palms at the bottom flanks of your lower back.
2. Lift the chest up and back to form a backward “C” shape with your body, keep your head up with your chin to chest. If you have a flexible back and feel confident, try placing your hands on the heels of your feet to form a bow shape.
3. To hold the pose, imagine holding a table tennis ball between your shoulder blades while balancing a full martini glass on your upper chest. Hold this for a minute. If that’s a challenge, you can repeat the pose by gently working back down to a kneeling position and back up again.
Extended Child’s Pose
The Extended Child’s Pose is a great hip opener and a gentle stretch for your arms and lower back. It’s passive insomuch that you use the weight of your upper body to bear down on your hips to force a satisfyingly deep stretch. This is the most meditative of the three poses, a good way to end the sequence and quieten the mind.
1. Get on your hands and knees in a table-top position. Sit back on your heels with the tops of your feet flat on the ground. Part your knees a little – or a lot if you feel flexible (the more you part them, the deeper the stretch in your hips).
2. Now work your upper body down between your knees and stretch your arms out forward, pressing the ground with your palms. Your forehead and wrists should touch the ground to get relaxation in the arms and neck while your weight works down into the deep fascia of the hips and stretches out the lower back.
This pose will release the tension that builds up in your hips and help you feel grounded with its sinking force. Hold it for at least a minute, the longer you hold it the more relaxing it becomes. Close your eyes and feel a calm sensation come over you.
And that’s it. Just three poses in a matter of minutes can help you feel refreshed and energized. It’s a fast fix for the toll that working from home takes on the body.