As outlined in Part 1 of the Desk Yoga Series, Spirit Bear Yoga recommended the following “ABC’s” for quick workplace yoga:
A – Activate areas of inactivity. (Part 1 discusses how to incorporate “A” in your workday)
B – Breathe! (the focus for this blog entry)
C – Choose the correct muscles to stretch.
The longer I teach yoga, the more I am convinced that the power of mindful breathing can be a game-changer when it comes to healthy bodily awareness. The UCLA Mindful Awareness Research Center defines mindful awareness as "paying attention to present moment experiences with openness, curiosity, and a willingness to be with what is."
The Research Center is interested in this concept because, as noted on their website:
In the last ten years, significant research has shown mindfulness to address health issues such as lower blood pressure and boost the immune system; increase attention and focus, including aid those suffering from ADHD; help with difficult mental states such as anxiety and depression, fostering well-being and less emotional reactivity; and thicken the brain in areas in charge of decision making, emotional flexibility, and empathy.
Considering the research-based claims made above, I think it also means YOU should be interested in this concept of mindfulness as well if you want to be more productive and less stressed at work.
Mindful breathing is a simple way to practice this strategy for better health. There’s no need for fancy equipment, you just need to focus on what you are doing anyway – breathing.
It really can be that simple, but it takes discipline to tune out the rest of the world for a few moments and just be aware of your inhales and exhales. And once you start to notice those inhales and exhales, you might even start to notice there is a space in between those parts of the breath. In yogic breathing practice, this pause is called the kumbhaka. Regardless of its moniker, recognizing the different stages in the breathing process means you are moving in the right direction towards being more mindful in your breathing. To keep up the mindfulness, here’s a few other ways to take a quick breathing break during your workday:
1. Place your hands on your belly with fingers curled lightly towards palms and the fingers facing up towards your sternum as they rest on your stomach. Notice the belly rise and expand as you inhale, and the belly button release towards your spine and you exhale. Don't exaggerate or force the breath, just notice it. Allow the breath to become smooth and even. Continue for at least a minute, but longer if the day allows.
2. Close your eyes and notice your breath. Begin to count your exhales. When you get to six, start back at one. This practice differs than "counting sheep" to fall asleep since the point is not to get lost in your counting, but to focus on counting to a certain number and then staring over. For this technique, closing your eyes should serve to give the eyes a break and help eliminate external distractions. (Continue for as long as you can get by with your eyes closed at your desk!)
3. Consciously relax the muscles of your neck and upper chest as you breathe. Allow the breath to rise and fall below the sternum. If you overuse the accessory breathing muscles of the neck to lift the ribs, you can end up with extra tension and stress in the upper torso. So soften and relax those shoulders away from your ears and release any tension in you jaw. Let the diaphragm do its job without the other muscles trying to take over.
And speaking of jobs, if you are reading this at work, then take a deep breath -- it’s time to get back to yours!