Yoga At Work: Fighting Workplace Stress

Americans are more stressed than ever, research studies find, and overwhelmingly, it’s the pressure of workplace stress that has escalated over the past few decades.

In one survey, seventy-two percent of Americans identified their jobs as the major source of stress in their life, citing heavy workloads, lack of job security, and difficulty striking a work/life balance as taking a serious toll. Sixty-two percent of respondents reported that they regularly experience stress-related neck pain, and 34 percent suffered from insomnia. Long-term stress, of course, is known to create a wide range of additional health problems, including high blood pressure, weight gain, and even cancer.

But it turns out that stress isn’t just bad for your health, it can also affect your job performance. Chronically stressed employees are less friendly, make worse decisions, and are more susceptible to “burnout,” a type of psychological exhaustion that leads to decreased productivity and a reduced interest in work.

In this environment, employers, not surprisingly, are looking for ways to help reduce workplace stress, and with a growing body of evidence supporting yoga’s stress-relieving benefits, employers are taking notice. More and more companies are offering yoga programs for their employees, ranging from huge Fortune 500 companies like Nike, Forbes, and Apple to small-and-trendy tech companies.

This is turning out to be a win-win for employers and employees alike: Not only are happier, more relaxed employees more productive, paying for yoga now can save employers a considerable amount of money in reduced medical costs. Case in point? After determining that its most stressed-out employees had higher medical bills, insurance giant Aetna began offering a corporate “wellness program” that included yoga and meditation. The result? The company slashed its health care costs by 7 percent

Yoga in the workplace takes many forms, depending on who’s offering the program. Some big companies sponsor free employee gyms with yoga and meditation classes, while other, smaller companies may whisk employees away for a subsidized early morning class or weekend retreat. The classes may be available to everyone in the company or only the employees who demonstrate interest or need.

Not only can the meditative effects of yoga help you manage stress and sleep better, but yoga has a slew of other cognitive and social benefits, too. Cultivating a yoga practice can improve your memory and focus, as well as giving you the peace of mind needed to face imminent deadlines and difficult coworkers with grace. 

Most likely, your employer doesn’t offer a workplace yoga problem, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t incorporate yoga into your daily life and use it to battle workplace stress. There are plenty of yoga poses you can do right at your desk or in your office.

Yoga for the Office – A Simple Routine

The most simple way to practice yoga for workplace stress is to practice deep yogic breathing. When things get stressful, sit up straight, place your feet on the floor, and inhale deeply through your nose. Allow your lungs to fill completely–you should feel your ribcage expanding–and then exhale through your nose. Repeat five times.

You can also try poses like the spinal twist, neck stretch, forward bend, or cat and cow stretches. All of these could be practiced (relatively) discretely and offer relief from some of the most common complaints from stressed-out employees: insomnia, neck and back pain, and poor posture caused by sitting at a desk all day.

For a simple office yoga routine, try the routine below, excerpted from our article on Chair Yoga at Your Desk. If you do this 3-4 times a day for five minutes, you will feel a big difference at the end of the day. Remember, the easiest way to fight stress is to develop coping strategies to prevent stress before it arises.

Deep breathing  

Deep yogic breathing centers mind and body and helps you get present and ready for your yoga practice. Deep breathing while seated is quite simple. Sit with your spine straight without using the back rest, feet on the floor (you can use a yoga block or book for your feet if they don’t reach the floor). 

The trick to encourage deep breathing, is to exhale more fully: While holding the hands over your ribs, take a deep breath in through the nose, then exhale slowly, focusing on drawing the navel to the spine as you expel the air completely. Then allow your lungs to fill completely from the bottom to the top. Repeat for five breaths or for as long as is comfortable.

Core Breath 

Core breath is a variation of deep breathing. Again, sitting with your spine straight, inhale and raise the arms straight out in front of you. Be sure to keep the spine upright and only allow the arms to move—this will cause your core muscles to engage, and offer gentle core strengthening. Exhale, and lower the arms back down. Repeat for five to eight breaths. 

Neck Stretch

During an exhalation, slowly tilt the head towards your right shoulder. Rest for two to three breaths, allowing the neck muscles to slowly relax. Repeat to the other side. Come back to center, turn your head to look out over your right shoulder. Hold for two to three breaths, allowing the head to slowly deepen into the stretch. Repeat other side. Neck stretches should not cause pain.

Cat and Cow Stretches

This stretch can be especially relaxing for those who spend a great amount of each day in an office chair. With both feet flat on the floor, round the back during an inhalation, dropping the shoulders and the head towards the chest. Keep both hands resting on the thighs. This is the cow stretch. On the exhalation, arch the back, pulling the shoulders as far back as possible. This is the cat stretch. Do this four more times.

Forward Bend

The forward bend, or Uttanasana, helps to relax the lower back muscles. As you exhale, move your chest towards the thighs, bending down as far as possible with your spine straight. Keeping the spine straight is more important than how far down you bend. As you inhale, slowly stretch back up while reaching the hands as high as possible over the head. Repeat this pose four more times.

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