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Why yoga should feature on EVERY workplace agenda – and how to get started

With workplace stress levels currently at an all-time high for many people in the UK, we encourage everyone to take a breather for this month’s guest blog as we hear from Sue Skelton. Having qualified as a nurse in 1983, she knows all too well about the physical and mental pressures that the human body is asked to cope with. And she’s also extremely interested in the therapeutic benefits of yoga, which now sees her work with people from all walks of life – including the Trenches team – via weekly online sessions.

Here, she shares how EVERYONE can get started with yoga to increase their strength and stamina – even if they don’t own a yoga mat!

When I returned to the UK after travelling globally, I went back into the world of nursing, having qualified when I was younger. Roles in oncology and palliative care were rewarding yet naturally difficult at times, and I found that yoga really helped me to ‘destress’. I began to feel ‘better’ in myself – calmer, almost, and more able to cope with everyday life.

Fast forward to 2021, and the ability for yoga to alleviate the effects of stress on the body, is something I encourage everyone to explore.

In the busy corporate world for example, it’s too easy for fast-paced, caffeine-fuelled, high-pressured environments to simply become a way of life. So much so, that stress-induced side effects such as tiredness, pain, nausea, anxiety, insomnia and depression feel like the norm for many people. In fact, our bodies can become so used to the feeling of stress that even when relaxing, we still remain in a stressed state.

But sitting down, doing nothing, and telling ourselves that it’s OK not to be going at 100mph, 24/7, is important. We shouldn’t feel guilty. Because not only do we forget to live ‘in the moment’ – we don’t activate our parasympathetic nervous system either.

The sympathetic nervous system initiates our fight-or-flight response mode and allows our bodies to react to danger. But the parasympathetic division allows us to rest and digest – recuperate and repair. It’s what helps boost our immunity and resilience to colds and flu. So, at a time when we’re all so acutely aware of both our physical and mental health, isn’t it time we all allowed ourselves the chance to breathe?

In terms of getting started, there are some simple steps that even the biggest ‘yoga-phobe’ could do, without even needing to buy a mat! And believe me it’s not about your age, weight or ability to touch your toes…

  1. Breathe from your diaphragm.

Place one hand on your chest and one hand on your stomach.  As you inhale feel your stomach rise, your ribs expand and your upper chest lift.  On the exhale feel your stomach soften and flatten back towards your spine, feel your ribs contract and your upper chest fall back.  By breathing this way you are using your diaphragm, which naturally slows your breathing and activates your parasympathetic nervous system, reducing your heart rate and blood pressure.

  1. Count your breaths

We sometimes playfully say – “And breeeeathe” – when we know we need to relax. Or even “count to 10”. So, this recommendation combines the two.

If you notice feelings of panic, stress or anxiety, take time out to count your breaths. Get into a comfortable position, standing, laying or sitting. If you’re sat, place your arms on the chair arms, with your feet roughly hip-width apart. Concentrate on deep-belly breathing, taking the air in and out through the nose.  Breathing in for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 8 (doubling the length of the exhale to inhale).  You may not be able to complete 4/8 breathing immediately, so try 3/6 or 2/4 and increase over time.  This can be done anywhere, and no one need ever know you are doing it! Repeat for 3-5 minutes, or as needed.

through your nose and out through your mouth. Breathe gently and regularly, counting from 1-5 as you go. You may not be able to reach 5 immediately, but with practice it will soon come. Repeat this for 3-5 minutes.

  1. Raise your hands

Staying seated, raise both arms together, towards the ceiling, as you inhale. Try to keep your shoulders relaxed, your rib cage in a natural position over your hips, and your sitting bone anchored in your chair, exhaling as you bring your arms wide back down to the chair arms.

  1. Twist

Sitting sideways on your chair, inhale and twist your torso as you exhale for five breaths, so that your upper body moves to hold the back of the chair. Repeat this five times then sit the opposite way, so that your spine has twisted to the left and right.

  1. Fold forward

While seated, with your hands on your thighs, inhale deeply. As you exhale, bend forwards at your hips and drape your body over your legs while sliding your hands to the floor. Relax as your body hangs heavily. Slowly roll back up to a normal seated position on the next inhale.

While these five simple tips centre on being sat down, I am of course trying to make the point that you don’t need to dedicate hours each day to yoga. These are simple techniques that can soon form part of everyday life, to release tension. They can even help the most active people to take time out.

However, thousands of yoga moves exist, so of course what works for one person won’t work for another – and we certainly don’t encourage being sedentary. Much depends on whether you want to practice yoga to destress, increase flexibility, build stamina or even lose weight.

But, now that you know even one or two benefits, why not take a closer look at how it could help you, both inside and outside of work.

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