The Office Worker's Guide to Subtle Yoga

Technology is a pretty good thing. On a global scale it benchmarks the forward progress of our entire civilization and, on a more personal level, allows us to more easily achieve a higher standard of living than at nearly any other time in history. Without technology, well, we'd all be picking berries and wondering if the tiger flocks migrate this time of year.

But, being a paranoid health nut, it's hard for me to talk about widely accepted improvements without touching on the underlying risks that go with them. For example, I, along with 68 million other Americans, use a computer every day for my job. I spend about 12 hours a day here. Most people probably clock in between 6 and 8 hours of computer time each work day. And it's tough, not just physically but mentally and emotionally as well.

It's no secret that prolonged periods of time spent in front of a computer have certain adverse health effects. I'm talking about back pain, stiff necks, headaches, fatigue, sore eyes, blurry vision, a lower resistance to seasonal allergies, and most likely dozens of other ailments that you probably don't even notice any more. It's been documented countless times, and back pain is one of the leading causes of missed work among computer users.

Quickly now, raise your hand if you've experienced anything like that after using the computer for a few hours. Now raise your other hand. Take a deep breath, stretch your fingertips up towards the ceiling, and slowly exhale.

Congratulations! You just performed your first office yoga pose, what I'm going to just now start calling the Swivel Chair Asana. Do it again if you want; it feels great. Close your eyes and focus on stretching your spine straight up. Don't think about work, just clear your mind and take deep, relaxing breaths.

Let's be brutally honest – how many of you would take yoga breaks in your office if it was socially acceptable? No, no, don't raise your hands; I can't see you. Just think about it. A 15 minute yoga break is refreshing, relaxing, and a perfect way to clear your mind – a sort of recharge for your mental batteries. Unfortunately, it's not really acceptable unless you work in a very progressively minded office.

So let's talk about subtle yoga. Purists are going to say that this isn't "real" yoga, and they're right, it's not real yoga in the sense that it doesn't follow the orthodox school. But let's look at the core principles and benefits of yoga and try to get a fix on why we do yoga:

Mental clarity – Yoga is renowned for its revitalizing aspects that reach above and beyond the physical. Mental stress, anxiety, and even just general absentmindedness are cleared away by the combination of low impact physical movement and breathing exercises.

Physical growth – No matter what your reasons for getting started in yoga, increased flexibility and muscle tone is always going to be one of the side effects.

Spiritual clarity – With the calming of our central selves, yoga has a way of putting us more in touch with us. No matter what your religious beliefs may be, there will always be a subtle spiritual/ego aware aspect to yoga.

There are ways to achieve those benefits in small, single-serving doses throughout the day that can minimize – even reverse – the negative effects of prolonged computer use. Always remember: The core benefits of yoga don't have to be tied down to a rubber mat and stretchy pants.

With that in mind, you can do a simplified version of yoga right at your computer desk and get those same benefits. Just focus on the three main elements that yoga utilizes:

Deep breathing – Deep, focused breathing has a calming effect due to the introduction of more oxygen into your bloodstream, which improves brain function and increases energy at the cellular level.

Stretching – Low impact, physical movement massages muscle tissue and increases the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the extremities. This improves circulation and allows the organs to function more efficiently.

Meditation – Through yoga, we clean the clutter from our minds, focusing exclusively on our form, eliminating outside distractions.

So with periodic breaks to just stop, take a few deep breaths, look away from the glowing computer screen, stretch your body in new directions, and refocus your mind, you can give yourself a "mini yoga" break, all without any sidelong glances from your coworkers. 

And guess what? Studies show that taking short breaks throughout the day increases productivity, which could lead to a promotion and a raise.

Quick, show of hands, who wants a promotion? Now raise your other hand. Breathe....

Andrew Handley is a freelance writer, owner of HandleyNation Content Services, and your best friend. You can take this relationship to the next level by writing on his Facebook, Handley Nation.

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