One of the most attractive attributes of yoga is that it can literally be practiced anywhere.
This ancient mind-body exercise is an approachable outlet for those who are seeking stress release, mind clarity, and liberation from their achy bones. Most practitioners typically carve out 60–90 minutes in an actual yoga studio, but I promise you that yoga doesn’t discriminate.
Instead, it warmly invites those who are strapped to their desks during the 9–5 grind to stretch and breathe in any space, even the most unpopular spaces of all (looking at you, cubicles).
Tech Neck and Desk Mess are just two ways to describe the negative effects one can receive from crouching, slouching, and pounding away endlessly at a keyboard in the corporate environment.
And guess what? All this desk work is wreaking havoc on our bodies. Luckily, a lot of the pains and risks can be mitigated with some light yoga at the office.
And if you haven’t ever done yoga before, no worries. For those who are virgins to the practice, your cubicle might actually be the perfect (and private) space to try out a little stretch and release.
Read below to learn some basic poses that can be done in between those important meetings and phone calls. Your body, boss, and creative mind will all thank you after you take a few minutes to focus on yourself.
1. Standing Backbend
Everyone knows that if you’re feeling groggy or low on energy standing up and taking a deep stretch is easy medicine. A standing backbend, however, takes the release a bit further, offering the student a way to release tension in the shoulders and back.
It is also considered a heart-opening pose, which gives an extra burst of loving energy and kindness. Perfect for a tense workplace!
How to do it: Press down into the feet while pulling up in the kneecaps. Draw the hips forward and begin to arch the torso backwards. Lift the arms while squeezing the biceps towards the ears. Continue to look forward and if it feels safe to do so, let your head slowly drop back. Let your arms support your weight and keep both your bum and legs engaged throughout the pose. Breathe and hold for 3–5 breaths.
2. Dancer Prep
This is a modified balance pose that is suitable for those who are especially seeking work-life balance!
When we are seated all day, the larger muscles in the lower half of our bodies start to lose motivation to get us back up. Basically, they get cranky!
This posture is good for awakening those leg muscles with fresh blood flow, as well as for strengthening the abdomen and building up focus and coordination.
How to do it: Dancer prep can be done easily by getting out of your chair and standing nice and tall on one leg. If you need support, you can also hold onto something solid, such as a wall or chair. Bend your left knee and bring your heel toward your buttock. Reach for the foot with your thumb resting in the middle of the bottom of the foot. Stand up straight and pull in your abdominal muscles. Breathe and hold for 5–10 breaths before you repeat sides.
3. Cow Face
Without even realizing it, our posture can be extremely compromised when working a desk job. We slouch our shoulders and create a surplus of lumpy and painful knots. Luckily, an asana like cow face pose can help liberate these uncomfortable lumps.
Beginners usually find this pose a bit tricky, as it is a deep shoulder opener. If this is difficult for you, then you can use a towel or shirt to connect the two hands rather than hurting yourself as you attempt to make the reach.
How to do it: Bring your left hand up and reach it behind you as if you were patting yourself on the back. Next, reach your right hand toward your lower back. By bending both elbows, try and bring your fingertips together at this point (or, if you’re using a towel, you will slowly inch your hands along the material, bringing them as close as possible).
Puff your chest slightly while drawing your left elbow in towards your ear. Relax and breathe deeply in the shoulder. Allow the space to open for at least 5 breaths. Gently release and do the same on the opposite side.
4. Easy Seat
Easy seat may not be very active in the body, but it’s a super power for the mind. It’s true that we spend most of our days sitting in a seat, but easy seat pose is exactly as the name implies: easier.
It is where you shut down the blinders on your eyes, close those open tabs in your brain, and connect to your highest self. This posture best supports your mental state while paying close attention to prana, the breath or life force.
How to do it: Find a spot on the floor in a conference room, or close the door to your office and sit in a comfortable location. Draw the shoulders towards the ears, then gently slide them down the back. Soften the belly and relax the heart space. Hands and feet should be released of all tension as you start to close off the eyes and breathe. Take a moment to notice all of the sounds around you, whether it’s your coworker tapping noisily at her keyboard or the echo of a colleague’s footsteps down the hall.
Try to see how many different sounds you can identify for a full five minutes (you might want to set a timer). And if you get distracted along the way, simply go back to the sounds each time you notice that you’re distracted. Just five minutes a day will help you increase your focus, decrease your stress levels, and reset your brain for the rest of the work day.
5. Forward Fold
In the midst of the chaos in a corporate environment, sometimes we just want to escape. Work colleagues, never ending meetings, and those incessant email notifications can make even the most extroverted individual want to seek solitude.
The best solution for this is to hop into a forward fold. Seriously, try it!
Within this posture you literally lose your sense of sight, allowing you to step away into an imaginary space…
… which is almost as good as a tropical paradise. Beyond delivering mental clarity, forward folds are successful at releasing tension in the neck, upper, and lower back and delivering fresh blood to the brain.
How to do it: Begin by lifting the arms up over your head. While drawing the belly in begin to slowly fold the body in half. Connect the arms by grabbing opposite elbows. Unclench the jaw and muscles around the face. Bend the knees as much as possible and gently (if comfortable), swing the body like a pendulum before hanging heavy.
Allot yourself just 10 minutes or less to achieve all poses for a much better version of yourself in the workplace.
These poses are simple, but they will help bring fresh blood to your muscles, brain, and joints, making all that time at the desk much more bearable. They’re the very same poses I do all throughout my day as I tackle a never-ending email queue and edit my videos (so I can confirm that they really do the trick!). These poses, paired with a little bit of moving and grooving outside of the office, will work wonders on your body.
Brett is the founder of Uplifted Yoga, an online yoga and meditation community empowering students to personalize their practice and ignite their best life — on and off the mat. She’s instructed at top studios, companies like Google and Pinterest, and leads the world’s most interactive Online Yoga Teacher Training program. She teaches to a social media following of over 300K people. Her content on Youtube is streamed for 3 million minutes each month. Learn more at BrettLarkin.com