Office Zen: Yoga Strategies for Work

As a public affairs specialist in the federal government, I’ve had my share of tense moments on the job. As a yoga teacher, I know how I react in these moments is crucial not only for my own health and wellbeing, but for the professional environment I’m creating.

Regardless of what is thrown at us, our reactions to situations and to others’ actions are within our own control. Email system crashing? After-hours request from the boss? Tight deadline? These stress-inducing scenarios have the potential to bring anyone’s motivation and productivity to a grinding halt, but keeping a cool head and a balanced perspective can do wonders in the workplace and beyond.

Below are some basic principles of yoga that get me through the most hectic weeks. They’re easily applied to the workplace, and can help improve your wellbeing and your professional success.

1. Take deep breaths

Studies show that we use a small fraction of our lung capacity throughout the day, and that exposure to stressful situations and sitting in front of a computer can further restrict our breathing. We know that breathing deeply can improve oxygen flow and even increase creativity: breath awareness is the first step to using it to your advantage.

In yoga, consciously slowing down and deepening the breath is key to connecting our minds to the current moment. It aides in moving through challenging physical yoga postures, and can similarly guide you through difficult conundrums in the office, at school, or with your family.

In practice: The next time you feel your stress level rising, take a break to just breathe. Inhale into the lower belly and then allow the ribs to expand. On the exhalations, allow the shoulders to sink down away from the ears. Counting your breaths can help you focus,  and just ten cycles can be enough to refresh the mind and rejuvenate the body. This can be even more beneficial if you can close your eyes or move to a quiet place as you breathe deeply.

2. Reclaim the human connection

When we’re so busy keeping up with overflowing inboxes, it can be easy to forget there are human beings behind those messages. Our screens can prevent us from really listening to those around us and engaging appropriately.

In yoga, we try to eliminate distractions in the mind as we focus on the needs of the moment. By actively removing superfluous stimuli, our minds can more easily focus on the task at hand. Furthermore, research indicates that single-tasking may be more efficient than multitasking with respect to productivity and creativity.

In practice: Designate times of the day to genuinely connect with the people around you. Mealtimes, for example, are ideal to put away the phones and focus on the faces in front of you. Resist the urge to look at your screens by making them temporarily inaccessible in a pocket, backpack, or purse. You’ll make the person sitting across from you feel like a human being, and not a distraction from the alerts on your screens. With fewer distractions, you might even discover deeper connections with your companions.

3. Focus your priorities

When your to-do list is a mile long, just getting started is daunting. It can be difficult to determine how to weigh the tasks and projects against one another.

In yoga, we prioritize the most important things first. One example of this is emphasizing the breath practice over the physical postures: we ensure students are breathing mindfully before instructing them to move into yoga poses.

In practice: Reorganize your to-do list into what is “urgent” and what is actually important. Often, our days are overrun by what is seemingly “urgent,” and the more important tasks get pushed to the bottom of the list. Take control by spending a few minutes at the end of the day jotting down three to five of the most important things you’ll do the next day. Then, designate time (i.e. the first hour of your day) to tackle those important things, and those things only. Set up an appointment on your calendar, and respect it like you would a meeting with a colleague: no interruptions. Don’t let a glance at your inbox or a phone call derail your focus on your priorities.

Ready for more tangible steps you can take to manage your level of stress throughout the day? Learn more about breathing techniques you can do right now, reasons to implement meditation at work, and simple shoulder stretches you can do anywhere. There is a yoga for everyone, and inviting yoga’s principles into your daily routine can lead to better balance in your personal life and in your career. Om.

Jane Daly Danese