An article I wrote a while back about the best places to do yoga in your office addressed the issue of space and office yoga. However, space issues continue to be the most common question people bring up about yoga and meditation in the workplace. What's become obvious is that the issue goes beyond the physical space available in the office: Is there space in the company culture for a practice like yoga or meditation in the physical space of the office?
While office yoga is in no way a new idea, research about the effectiveness of it, and the desire of working people to get a break, has increased demand for it. People used to categorize office yoga as a privilege given to the elite workers of fancy companies, but this just isn't true anymore. Recently, there has been a noticeable rise in the interest of office yoga and meditation. But "space" as an excuse against yoga or meditation in the office remains the same. The same company that has space for in-office manicures or hairstyling services may be ambivalent about bringing in yoga or meditation. Why would one be more acceptable than the other? Company culture.
A friend of mine works at an international auction company. He is the type of guy that wears a matching tie and pocket square to work. While he was in the depths of an intense project at the office, we met for a lunch break. When I suggested a short meditation and mudra (yogic hand gesture) to do at his desk to ease his mind, my friend simply could not fathom being seen at his office doing this practice. It wasn't that he didn't see the value of taking a set amount of time to practice being alone in his mind. Rather, he is part of a majority of people who work in more traditional work spaces, where meditation or yoga could be deemed inappropriate for the office environment. It simply doesn't fit into company culture.
This served as great inspiration to offer some sneaky yoga moves. The most important space for office yoga is in your own mind. When we approach yoga as moving meditation to assist us in quieting the noise in our mind that distracts us from being productive people, it can have an intensely positive effect on work-life balance. The true goal of yoga and meditation is to find union between mind, breath, and body. Are you working in an office whose culture doesn't have space for yoga? Below check out some sneaky ways to do yoga in your office.
The trick here is making it look like you are just taking a big stretch in your chair. Interlace all ten fingers, and inside out your hands, pushing your palms forward. Reach the arms all the way up, so your palms face the ceiling, as you inhale, and think of something that makes you happy. I recommend thinking of something or someone that you are grateful for. Feel your heart lifting as you stretch. With your exhale, release your hands, and feel lighter, both emotionally and physically.
Feel like the weight of the world is on your shoulders? An easy way to take tension off that space is by finding length in your spine. This one is easy to pull off--nobody will know that secretly, yoga is happening. Sit with your feet firmly on the floor, and imagine a string tied to the top of your head, pulling your spine longer. Slightly suck in your stomach to support your lower back, and allow your shoulders to melt down your back. Instant relief!
Working all the time without a break can be such a pain in the neck! Nobody will be the wiser as you try this yogic neck stretch. Remember, our goal here is to tune into the mind, breath, and body, and tune out what is causing you the stress. Reach your right hand above your left ear, and use the hand as a weight to stretch the neck (don't pull on your head). Move the hand around your head until you find the exact spot on your neck that needs a stretch. Spend a few moments focusing on releasing the tension in that spot. Then, move on to the other side.
There are many more yoga moves you can try at your desk. If you are looking for some more active desk yoga poses, check out this article.
Office yoga teachers take pride in being able to utilize any space to do yoga and meditation. Yoga at desks, in the conference room, kitchen, are spaces that have worked with my office yoga clients. However, there is very little an office yoga professional can do when the company culture itself won't allow yoga or meditation into the workplace. It is up to you and an individual to take the time to find your own yoga, often taking great care to do so with the utmost discretion.
Lauren Coles is the Founder and Lead Teacher of Daisy Office Yoga in New York City, where she brings yoga to people at work. She also teaches for youth programs at Lighthouse Guild for the Blind and Mentoring USA.
Art by Yael Palmon and James Kelley
Title image taken from a postcard from maxracks