Yoga doesn’t have to be complicated, or mean you have to twist yourself into a pretzel and balance on one arm. Yoga can be very subtle, and done anywhere, anytime – no fancy clothes or spa-like environment needed. Yoga isn’t just the physical postures (asanas), it also includes breath work (pranayama), focused efforts to still the mind (such as meditation), and much more. Even with no previous yoga experience, there are techniques and skills from yoga that you can integrate into your daily life to help reduce stress, release tension from your body, keep you energized and your mind focused and aware, and bring a general sense of calm and peace into your life.
Conscious breathing: There are many different techniques and types of pranayama that help to affect the mind and body in different ways. If you do nothing else in your day, take just 1 minute to focus on slowing down your breath: take a deep inhale, and a full exhale, then repeat 5-10 times. To add onto this, begin to regulate your breath to be equal length inhales and exhales (ujayi pranayama), counting to 3 or 4 for each breath, and breathing through the nostrils if possible. One other breathing technique that can be effective for calming and reducing stress is the three part breath: inhale 1/3 of your full breath into your belly (then pause) inhale second third of your breath into ribs (then pause) inhale last third of your breath into your collar bones, then hold as long as you comfortably can. Release the breath fully and let your breath regulate. Repeat 2-4 more times allowing the breath to settle in between. These 3 different breathing techniques can be done anywhere anytime, to bring a sense of calm and focus. If holding your breath and extending your breath brings anxiety, focus on the first option of just slowing down the breath.
Shoulder Rolls: inhale shrugging your shoulders up to your ears, then exhale settling them down the back of your body. Create circles in this way and move in both directions (forward and back).
Gentle spinal twists: sitting in your chair, take a deep exhale as you look over your right shoulder and place your right hand on the back of the chair or table beside you, left hand to your right thigh, use the strength of your arms and your core to twist through your whole spine (navel, ribs, shoulders) over to the right. Hold for a few breaths, focusing on growing taller through the crown of your head on the inhales, and deepening the twist on the exhales. Repeat on the left side.
Seated figure-four: sitting straight up in your chair, cross your right ankle over your left knee, and use your hand to press your right knee down away from you (just enough pressure to add resistance). If you’re more open in your hips, you might start to lean forwards, ensuring not to round your back, but instead focus on tilting your pelvis forward (as if you had a “tail” and were sticking it up behind). Use your inhales to find space and lengthen your spine, and your exhales to lean a little more into the crossed leg. Come back up with an inhale, release the leg, and repeat on the left side.
Seated or standing hamstring stretch: sitting in your chair, or standing, straighten your right leg out, keeping the heel on the floor, and flexing your toes up towards the ceiling (if you’re seated – keep the left knee bent and foot on the floor, and if you’re standing -bend the left knee and use your hands on that thigh for support). Lean forward, keeping the back long and straight without rounding. Finding a forward pelvic tilt (sticking your “tail” up behind you) will help keep your spine in alignment.
Integrating some conscious breathing, a few movements and stretches into your daily routine, and general mindfulness about how you’re sitting, moving, and breathing, will greatly increase your energy levels and ability to handle stress. This will leave you more relaxed, less tense, and happier over all. If you’re able, attending a few yoga classes each week with a knowledgeable and well trained instructor, will continue to build awareness of your body, breath, and mental state; giving you more tools to help combat the effects of a busy and sedentary lifestyle.