Category: Yoga Practice

We practise what we preach at Wildheart Media, and we’re all dedicated yoga practitioners. Our yoga practice category contains articles all about – you guessed it – yoga!

Top 5 yoga poses to practise at work

Let’s face it, yoga at work can seem like an awkward blend of our business and personal lives. We all want to be able to drop into Savasana whenever we feel our bodies need it. But to be fair, it is an unusual breach of business meeting etiquette.

Finding a way to stretch properly without breaking from the office status quo can pose a peculiar challenge, but there are many reasons to get this right. After all, your typical desk job is synonymous with bad backs, poor posture and a wide assortment of negative health outcomes.

Thankfully, the inherent disconnect between your job and your yoga practice doesn’t mean that yoga in the workplace is a bad idea, it just means we need the right poses for the job. Poses that we can do effectively – and somewhat discreetly – from our desks are the ideal solution.

Read on to find out the best yoga poses to practise at work (which won’t freak out your boss).

Why practise yoga at work?

More often than not, problems are best solved at their root.

Sure, you could wait to stretch out your sore back at an evening yoga class. Or, you could do it right there at your desk, and avoid the afternoon of discomfort.

If you had a minor itch on your back, you wouldn’t wait all day to scratch it. Why is soreness any different?

The nature of tension and discomfort in the body is to compound over time. What starts as a small niggle in the morning can become a serious pain if left unchecked, and that pain could be a signal of something more grievous.

More often than not it’s going to be a muscular knot or tendonitis, but part of taking responsibility for our health is listening closely to our bodily signals and acting on any potentially dangerous ones. Yoga is a tool for awareness after all.

So be kind to your body and stretch effectively when you need to. Here are five great poses you can do from your desk.

1. Seated Cat Cow

In the ongoing battle that is office life, it’s often the shoulders and necks that suffer the most casualties. Day-after-day these brave muscles fight to hold your position at the keyboard. It’s hard work, and understandably, it makes them tense.

Our bodies need movement to function properly.

Holding any position for 8 hours is a recipe for discomfort, let alone a position that keeps the shoulders raised and the neck craned over. What we need is a way of bringing gentle movement into the entire area. What we need are Cat Cows.

Cat Cows are the staple of any yoga warmup sequence. They’re perfect for releasing the neck, opening up the chest and shoulders, and resetting the spine. You can even do it from the comfort of your chair (and avoid looking like the office farmyard animal in the process). Here’s how:

  1. Take a comfortable upright seated position with your hands on your knees.
  2. On an inhale, pull your shoulders back, press your chest forward and look up towards the ceiling.
  3. On an exhale, round into the back, letting the head drop to the chest.
  4. Repeat in your own time for 5 breaths.

2. Seated Spinal Twist

Everybody needs more twists in their lives. Great for digestion, circulation and muscle relaxation, they’ll help you digest that heavy canteen lunch, but probably more importantly, they’ll help ease lower back pain too.

Let’s face it, the lower back may be out of sight but it’s never out of mind. Compressed and unsupported all day long, it’s a regular pain for people at work. Taking a walk every now and again will help, but to really work into the muscles you’ll need a lovely deep stretch.

The seated spinal twist is super easy to do, and has the added benefit of making you look interested in your co-worker neighbours. Win-win. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Inhale, and sit up straight with your shoulders back and down.
  2. Place your right hand on the outside of your left knee.
  3. Smile politely at your neighbour as you twist to the left, wrapping your left arm around the back of the chair.
  4. Hold this position for 5 breaths, trying to lengthen the spine on each inhale and twist a little further on each exhale.
  5. After your 5 breaths, gently return to centre and repeat on the other side.

3. Upward Bound Fingers

So, we know movement is good, and technically, your hands are moving all day if you’re working from a computer (and actually being productive). But hands, wrists and forearms all hurt after a long day at the keyboard. How come?

Well, they are moving, but they’re working from a single position. A position that’s isolated from the rest of the body. Which means the small muscles in your forearms are doing all the work, and the ligaments and tendons in your wrists and hands are taking all the strain.

Let’s give them a break with this easy stretch.

  1. Interlace your fingers (as snug as you can get them) on top of your head.
  2. Sit up tall, and pull your shoulders back and down. You should feel a nice stretch across the shoulders here.
  3. Flip your hands and press them skyward until your arms are straight up.
  4. Press into your fingers only as hard as you need to get a good stretch.
  5. Relax, unclasp your fingers, shake it out and get back to work.

4. Chair Pigeon

Your marketing plan may be rock solid, but so will your quads and hip flexors if you sit at a desk all day long.

Chairs may feel like they’re supporting you, but they’re actually removing your ability to support yourself with your legs and core. Spend too long this way and your body might forget how it’s supposed to sit naturally.

Sitting forward at your desk is a big cause of anterior pelvic tilt, and sitting with one leg up can build tension and imbalances in the glutes and lower back.

But fear not! Your favourite (often painful) Pigeon Pose is also available from your office chair.

  1. Whilst seated on your chair, rest your right ankle on your left knee at a 90 degree angle.
  2. Flex the right foot to protect the knee and sit upright.
  3. If you don’t feel the stretch, you can bring your right foot closer, reduce the height of your chair, or even pop a piece of clothing between your foot and leg. Anything that lifts the foot higher in relation to the knee will intensify the stretch.
  4. Relax, unravel, then repeat on the other side.

5. Child’s Pose

This oh-so lovely resting pose isn’t just for avoiding tough vinyasas, it’s a tool we can employ at any time in our lives when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

Child’s Pose at the desk is just as easy as on the mat, and comes with all the same variations.

Instead of folding over your legs, you’re folding onto the desk and having that support you. Having your head on the desk and arms out in front is a lovely and restorative option, or you could bring your hands into prayer above the back of your head for an added shoulder stretch.

The great thing about Child’s Pose is that it’s emotionally anchored to the relaxation phase of our yoga practice. Just taking the position will instantly trigger the same effect – activating the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing the heart rate and relaxing the body.

Just don’t spend all day there, it’s not good for productivity!

It’s always okay to take time for yoga

Though we often tend to dedicate a specific hour each day to yoga for our convenience, yoga is not a fixed practice – it’s a lifestyle.

If you understand your body and how to implement the tools that yoga provides, you’re free to practise yoga asana whenever, and wherever you like. Even at work. Arguably, especially at work. Whenever you need it most.

These five poses are all effective at combating desk-related injuries, and perhaps most importantly – they’re accessible to anyone with a workstation. Even if you’re desk-bound the entire day, there’s nothing to stop you whipping out some chair yoga.

By implementing these throughout your workday, you might just find that your yoga practice (and your general mobility) improves significantly.

To end, it’s worth mentioning that the outlook for yoga in the workplace is getting brighter every year. After all, mindfulness has been fully embraced by corporate culture as a means to reduce worker stress and increase productivity. Yoga is a little harder to implement, but probably won’t be far behind.

Further reading

You might also like to check out our related post How to be more mindful at work so you can really surprise your bosses when you keep your cool at the next team meeting!

6 principles for a lifetime of success on your yoga mat

A lifetime of success on the mat. It’s a noble goal we yogis can all aspire to, though it may look a little different for each of us. Your idea of success could be anything from mastering the Ashtanga primary series, to simply doing the best practice you can, each and every time. Whatever it may be, one thing is certain: we all want to be down-dogging for as long as our bodies and minds are able.

To last a lifetime, our practice must be nourishing for the body, engaging for the mind and fulfilling for the spirit. The beautiful thing about yoga is that it can supply all of these things and more – as long as certain fundamental principles are followed. They’re often quick to be disregarded by eager beginners, and sometimes neglected by more experienced yogis. To stay true to yourself and your practice, follow these core tenets for yoga success.

1. Practice with awareness

Usually, when we’re told to be aware of something, it’s because there’s construction work on the road ahead or we have food on our face. In these cases, our awareness is directed to things that are outside our normal perception. Things we cannot see.

Awareness in yoga is much the same, but it’s a self exploration. Centered at the core of any yoga practice, it’s all about what’s going on in the parts of your body and mind that you can’t see, but you can feel. Whether that’s the sensation of the breath, the tension in your muscles, or simply the raw emotions that those things bring up.

From the outside, yoga may look to be just a series of poses that we move through. And without awareness, it arguably is. First we bend this way, then we twist that way, but it’s never just about going through the motions. Everything you do in your yoga practice should be intentional. The physical postures are important tools in our yoga practice, but we must always keep in mind that they are just tools, they’re not the end result.

Beginner yogis can often get too wrapped up in trying to look like they’re in the right position, without stopping to feel if it’s right for them. At best, we can simply miss out on the benefits of the pose. At worst, we could really hurt ourselves. It’s vital that we always pay attention to the signals our bodies are giving us throughout our practice, both positive and negative.

On the other hand, experienced yogis have quite the opposite problem. Once we’ve done a particular flow or practice hundreds of times over – and we can do it with our eyes closed (literally) – then we can often find ourselves looking ahead to the next posture, and forgetting to experience the one we’re in.

Maintaining a “beginner’s mindset”, no matter how advanced you are, is one way to stay connected with your practice. If we always practice with awareness, we can stay curious and engaged, even in the familiar.

2. Control your breath

The breath. We can all agree that it’s important for, you know, life. What may not be so clear is just how much the quality of your breath matters, and how much it can positively influence our body and mind – both in the moment, and for years to come.

Consider the word pranayama. A word used to describe the various yogic breathing practices. The word prana translates to “life force” and yama means “control”. So, when we see controlling the breath as our means to control our life force, it’s clear just how powerful a practice yoga can be.

Swami Sivananda believed in the power of the breath and was once quoted as saying, “A yogi measures the span of life by the number of breaths, not by the number of years.”

When we’re in the thick of a difficult yoga practice, we can easily slip into a shallow breathing pattern. Particularly during poses that stretch or compress our lungs. In fact, inexperienced yoga practitioners can often forget to breath altogether. Which seems bizarre, given that it’s essential to life, but that’s often the nature of concentration.

Sometimes we can focus so hard on one aspect of our practice, to the detriment of others. But in yoga, your breath is your fuel. Deep, nourishing breaths are what’s going to get you through those tough poses and restore your burning muscles. So, always control your breath, regardless of what you’re doing in your practice. Whether you’re pushing through a tough vinyasa, or winding down in a quiet meditation – your breath is your greatest tool.

3. Maintain proper alignment

Some rules are meant to be broken, but when it comes to yoga, proper alignment isn’t one of them. Not if you want a lifetime of yoga practice, that is. The physical postures have been developed over many years to bring about maximum benefit, whilst also protecting the body throughout the practice.

Sacrificing alignment to get into a pose is all risk and no reward. It’s like ignoring the assembly guide and taking your own approach to building a model aeroplane. It’s never going to come together as you like, and there’s a good chance you’re going to hurt your fingers in the process.

That being said, there’s nothing wrong with personal exploration within your practice. There’s no dictatorship on the mat. If you want to experiment with a little extra movement or a change in tempo, then that’s most likely fine, as long as the protective aspects are still in place. After all, we already see different interpretations of poses across the various styles of yoga, but the fundamentals are always the same.

4. Engage your core

“Engage your core” is something we hear a lot from our yoga teachers. Mostly when you’re doing something difficult (hello Boat pose!) but it’ll help you find stability in almost every posture. Most importantly of all, it’ll protect your spine in the process.

After all, our spine gets a lot of action in a typical yoga practice, and yoga can be dangerous business if we don’t give it the respect it deserves. Twists and folds will gently manipulate the spine, and the likes of Wheel pose – well, not so gently. Even poses like Warrior II put a demand on the spine as we rise up and find stability.

You may be surprised to hear that your core is more than just the vanity muscles poking through your belly, making “engage your core” a more complex instruction than you might first think. It’s a collection of muscles and tissues from your abdomen, groin and lower back. Basically, all the stuff that’s used to manipulate your spine.

So, depending on the pose, you may need to engage different core muscles to effectively protect yourself. Though, as a general rule of thumb, pulling in your stomach throughout is a good practice. Over time, and with more experience, we can begin to isolate and engage muscles more efficiently.

5. Accept your body and its limits on the day

Every day you’re a different person. Your hair is a little longer, you have fresh new blood in your veins, and your body and mind can be in a completely different place (both physically and metaphorically).

Testing our body through yoga helps us get an idea of what we’re capable of, and where our limits lie. It’s vital that we do this in order to find growth in our practice, but we’re tracking a constantly changing beast here. You may have pinned it down yesterday, but you can’t guarantee it’ll be in the same place when you go back there.

You know your body better than anyone, but it’s important to always evaluate how your body feels on the day, before deciding how far to push it. 

One side may be tighter than the other, and you may not get as deep into the splits as you did yesterday, and that’s okay. Every day is a new opportunity to explore, and a reminder not to take anything for granted.

6. Have fun!

Yoga often comes across as serious business. It’s to be expected from classes with lots of deep breathing and even deeper squats. Try looking around the studio during a Warrior pose, and you’ll likely see an army of angry warriors looking back.

It doesn’t have to be this way. If we’re to keep up our yoga practice for a lifetime, we have to enjoy the process. Staying engaged can be a challenge in a practice that values repetition so highly, but a lifetime of yoga practice is a substantial amount of time spent on the mat. In the end, it’s your time and your practice. If you’re not enjoying it, then that’s a whole lot of self-inflicted misery.

Check in with yourself regularly to enjoy the experience and smile (the cue to raise the sides of your mouth towards your ears is always helpful), and be sure to make time for the kind of yoga that brings you the most joy. If that’s 30 minutes of rolling around on your mat in Happy Baby pose every Monday evening – go for it!

Putting it all together

There’s a lot going on during a yoga practice that we can’t see. It’s easy to think that the most challenging aspect of yoga is pulling ourselves into these complex positions. And it’s certainly a part of it. But when you consider how we’re maintaining awareness of our body position, alignment, muscular engagement, breath, emotions, and more, all the while trying to have some fun, it’s a lot to take on.

Which is precisely why we have a lifetime to practise. As you begin to master one aspect, you can give more attention to others. If you enjoy the process, it’ll come naturally. So practise often, practise intentionally, and practise safely, and you’ll enjoy a lifetime of success on the mat.

About the author

Dan Jones, Yogi Goals

Dan Jones is the digital marketing freelancer behind Black Lotus Marketing. He’s passionate about helping individuals and brands connect with their audience through authentic content and communications.

A committed Vinyasa Flow practitioner, when he’s not working on his yoga practice he’ll probably be working on his yoga website. Most likely from a coffee shop… or the beach.