Desk asanas: Arm stretches for the office, by Karen Long

We talked recently about developing a yoga practice at home and, having had time to mull it over, I would go further than that. Liberate those postures from the confines of your preconceived ideas about where yoga should or should not be done. Take an asana to work!

I have, over the years, taught lunchtime and after work classes in various meeting rooms and offices and I’m sure it has resulted in a happier and, crucially, a healthier workforce. Often these classes were subsidised or paid for by the employer because they recognised that these positive benefits could translate into more productive employees.

You may not have the luxury of a class laid on at work, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t bring a tiny bit of yoga into your working day.

I don’t know where you work of course, and I'm not suggesting that you do Sirsana (Head Balance) by the water cooler in full view of your colleagues but that’s not to say that all stretching is out ...

When your time at work involves a lot of leaning forward at your desk, and concentrating, this results in feeling like you just need to stand up and do some arm stretches. Again, if you come to my classes you'll be familiar with some of the arm variations - we often do them right at the start of class because I imagine that a few of you have jobs that might involve repetitive actions, sitting at computers, that kind of thing.

So when you are at your desk, raise your arms to shoulder height, stretch them forward, parallel to the floor. Then turning your palms to face you, deeply interlock your fingers. Turn your palms away from you and stretch them up to face the ceiling. Breathing evenly and holding for a minute or so and then lowering and repeating with the opposite index finger on top.

Then you can do the Gomukhasana arm variation (literally 'cow face arms'?!!). Stretch your right arm out to the right at shoulder height, then reaching the arm around behind you, bring the back of the right hand up towards the nape of your neck. Stretch the left arm up toward the ceiling palm facing inward, and then bend the arm so that the elbow is stretching towards the ceiling and the hand reaches down to catch the fingers of your right hand. Again breathing evenly and holding for a minute or so and then repeating with the other arm uppermost.

Next Garudasana arm variations provide a nice stretch for a tight upper back. For this one stretch your arms wide to the sides at shoulder height and then draw them together in front of you. Cross the right arm over the left above the elbows. Then bend the elbows so that the finger tips point up towards the ceiling. See if you can bring the fingertips of the left hand to press against the palm of the right hand, so that your thumbs are towards your face and the little finger edge of your hands away from your face. With the arms thus entwined, forming a right angle, lift the elbows so that the upper arms are parallel to the floor and forearms perpendicular. Draw the shoulder blades down the back and breath into the space emerging between the shoulders. Then repeat with the left arm on top.

And so after little more than five minutes you can return to your tasks feeling hugely refreshed - it's that simple! If your boss or colleagues look at you askance just point out that there is clear evidence that these simple arm stretches can result in a happier and healthier workforce. But, be warned, they'll be asking you to show them how and you might even find that you're put in charge of organising a qualified teacher to come in and run a class!


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