Here Catriona Smith, a registered yoga teacher and decade-long practitioner, explains the benefits of yoga and meditation – plus practical ways yoga can help if you’re struggling with stress at work.
Yoga is a practice that builds mind-body awareness through a combination of breathing exercises, physical poses and meditation. Often people think you need to be flexible and energetic – but there are many different elements of yoga that can be calming without the need to be bendy. It has physical benefits such as improved strength and flexibility but also supports mental wellbeing through balancing the nervous system.
With research showing the self-employed are feeling more stressed than usual, how can yoga help you? Whether you’ve tried a few classes before or are a complete beginner, here are three practical techniques you can try as you go through the day.
Ever noticed that you’re holding your breath while you’re doing something else? Or inhaling with a shallow breath rather than using your full lung capacity? It’s all too easy to form habits like this while we’re busy rushing around in our daily lives, but did you know this triggers a stress response in your body?
Research shows that breathing steadily for just a few minutes can slow down racing thoughts and your heart rate, helping to re-balance the nervous system.
Practice: Sit comfortably in a chair or lie down on your back. If you’re seated, make sure your feet are planted firmly on the floor and you’re sitting up straight. Try to breathe in and out through your nose for five minutes, with each inhale and exhale lasting for a count of five or six. Keep it as equal as you can, and close your eyes if that feels comfortable. When you're ready to go back into your day, pause and notice any difference in your body or mind first.
If running your business means you spend a lot of time working at a desk or in an office, it’s important to keep moving throughout the day. Hunching over computer screens and mobile phones isn’t great for our posture. So here are a few yoga poses you can try in between meetings or after your mid-morning coffee.
While seated in your chair, reach your arms up over your head and bring the palms together. Lengthen the spine as you inhale, then gently lean to one side so you're in a crescent shape with your upper body. Breathe here for three or four deep breaths. Inhale to come back up, and repeat on the other side.
Seated spinal twist
Sit tall in your chair with your feet hip distance apart. Your pelvis should be in a neutral position as you turn to the right. Hold on to the armrest or back of the chair with your right arm, and your left arm can hold the right knee or leg. Hold and breathe here for four or five breaths. Lengthen your spine with every inhale. Then repeat on the other side.
Seated cat cow pose
This pose explores forward bending (flexion) and back bending (extension) of your spine. Begin seated with your feet firmly on the floor and your back away from the chair. Inhale and arch your spine so your chest lifts and you gently look up. Then exhale to round the spine forward, bringing your chin towards your chest and release the muscles of the neck. Repeat this movement three or four times.
Wrist and finger stretches
The small muscles in our hands and wrists often get forgotten about, but typing away on phones and keyboards all day can build up tension and tightness. You can try these stretches at your desk:
You can also try these gentle seated exercises on the NHS website.
Yoga can help improve your focus, relax, and calm your thoughts through building awareness of what’s happening in your body. There are many types of yoga you can explore, but all have a focus of helping you get into the present moment.
Legs up the wall pose is a restorative pose that helps tell your body it’s time to relax, so it’s a great one to try before you go to sleep. And our article from the Chief Sleep Officer at Hilding Anders explores more tips for improving your sleep.
Practice: Legs up the wall pose. Place a folded blanket next to the wall and sit with your left hip against the wall and your knees bent. Swing your legs up the wall and lie down. Your bum should be flush with the wall as your legs rest straight up the wall (bend your knees slightly if you have tight hamstrings). Stay here for as long as is comfortable, up to 15 minutes.
If stress and anxiety is impacting your daily life, it’s important to speak to a doctor or mental health professional. Luckily, with a healthcare plan, you can get faster access to GP appointments and physiotherapy, as well as stress support and counselling.
Simply Business offers a choice of health insurance plans that can cover you and your family.
Catriona is a Vinyasa Yoga teacher based in Brighton. Her yoga teaching connects vinyasa flow and restorative yoga to create a balancing practice for body and mind. She's inspired by supporting busy people to explore how mindful breath and movement can help them beyond the yoga mat – a passion that stems from her career as a copywriter.
Have you tried yoga? Let us know your experience in the comments.
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