What is Yoga?
While it is believed that the practice of yoga has been an integral part of Eastern culture since it began in India approximately 5000 years ago, the practice was only introduced to North Americans in the 19th Century. And the Western population only began truly embracing the practice in the 1930s and 40s. Today, yoga continues to evolve and increase in popularity around the world.
The word yoga is translated as ‘union’ in Sanskrit, the language of ancient India. It is the union of mind, body and spirit to create balance. Yoga actually began as a meditation practice to help balance the mind and to improve health in the mind and body. The asanas, or yoga postures, were developed and introduced later to prepare the physical body to sit for long periods of meditation. Today, in North America, we strive for union through a combination the postures, breathing and meditation. The actual postures (asanas) are actually only one component of yoga but in the West, we often refer to asanas as simply our yoga practice.
Many people begin yoga practice for the physical benefits only to realize that the restorative value touches all aspects of their lives. In this fast-paced and chaotic world, yoga has become necessary practice so that we can renew our energy to find tranquility and balance in our lives.
Yoga for Life
Yoga is available to anyone – all ages and all levels. It does not discriminate. It is a practice, so no one is expected to be perfect. While some people have practiced yoga for many years, people new to the experience will quickly find enjoyment so that their practice serves their individual needs. There are many ways to start the practice – you might want to look at books and magazines for guidance, search the internet for interactive video clips, pick up a DVD or try out a class at a local studio, gym or community center.
Benefits of Yoga
The benefits of yoga to the mind, body and spirit are so extensive, it is tough to chronicle all of them. Here are some of the key benefits of incorporating a personal yoga practice into your daily life:
- Improves strength and flexibility – practicing the poses will help carve a long, lean, strong and confident body.
- Reduces stress and helps calm the mind – by focusing inward, we illuminate our behaviours and tendencies. It is said that the habits we have on the mat are the ones we have in our lives. When we recognize this, we can decide who we want to be.
- Encourages a healthy lifestyle – by balancing our mind and body, we encourage a healthy, balanced approach in our day-to-day life so that our bodies crave healthy foods and habits.
- Improves breathing, cardiovascular health and circulation – According to the American Heart Association, the breathing and movement of yoga can help lower blood pressure, increase lung capacity, improve respiratory function and heart rate, as well as boost circulation.
- Increases energy - the movement and flow of the poses releases blocks to our energy flow, realigning our bodies as well as our spirit.
- Improves sleep – because yoga calms the mind and soothes the nervous system, it is only natural that it prepares both mind and body for a more restful sleep.
- Heightens creativity and intuition – by calming the mind and moving the body through yoga, we eliminate stresses which can block our creativity. By allowing our minds to reopen, creative juices begin to flow and we can once again hear the guidance of our intuition
- Redirects focus to the present – by focusing on breathing and performing the asanas, yoga helps us shut out the chatter in our heads so we can leave the past in the past and worries about the future in the future, so our mind is focused on the present.
Sitting for many hours at a desk, working on the computer or talking on the phone, can cause all kinds of muscle strain and stiffness to our neck and shoulders, our hands and wrists, and our backs and legs. Overtime, the strain and tension can wear you down. It’s important to get up and move to release some of the tension, but sometimes this isn’t enough. Office yoga is an effective way of releasing stress, tension and fatigue in our bodies while improving muscle strength and flexibility. Make office yoga a part of your daily routine by practicing a series of simple yoga poses at your desk. Your body will begin to feel the benefits of your daily practice.
Here are some simple Office Yoga Chair Exercises for Stress Relief:
The following exercises can be done seated in a chair. Please do not continue if feeling any discomfort or pain.
- Forward Bend – eases tension in upper back and neck. Breathe in and as you bend forward breathe out and let your head and arms hang over your knees. Relax into the position and hold for a few seconds while breathing normally. Breathe in as you slowly come back up to seated position.
- Spinal Twist – increases circulation and flexibility in the spine. Sit tall facing forward. Align your back so it is over your hips. Place your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Place your right arm over the back of the chair. Breathe in and breathe out as you gently twist to the right. Turn your head as well. Push against your right knee to create more leverage. Stop the twist if it begins to feel uncomfortable. Breathe normally and hold the position. Release slowly and turn your body to face forward. Repeat on the opposite side.
- Side Stretch – increases flexibility of the spinal column, improves respiration, and reduces waistline. Sit facing forward with soles of feet flat on the floor and slightly apart. Breathe in, and raise your arms out to the sides, so they are aligned with your shoulders and parallel to the floor. Breathe out and slowly bend to the left, reaching toward the floor with your left hand and your right hand pointing toward the ceiling. (Only go as far as your body will allow. Stop if feeling any discomfort.) Breathe in come back to starting position. Repeat with your right side.
- Knee Squeeze – relaxes lower back, improves digestion and respiration. Breathe out completely. Clasp both hands around the front of your knee, as you breathe in pull your knee to your chest. Hold in your breath and lower your head to your knee. Hold for a few seconds. Release slowly while breathing out. Repeat with your right side.
- Leg Lifts – strengthen legs and lower back, and improves circulation to your legs and feet. Sit tall, with spine in alignment with hips. Hold each side of the chair for balance. Breathe out.Lift and straighten your left leg, flex your foot, breathe in. Hold for a few seconds and then slowly breathe out while lowering your leg. Repeat the same for your right leg.
- Sun Pose – improves circulation to your head, massages internal organs, and limbers your spine and hips. Sit back in the chair with legs apart and arms by your side. Breathe out completely then breathe in and with a sweeping motion bring your arms up over your head. Look up to your hands and stretch. Breathe out while slowly bending forward between your legs and, if you can, put your palms on the floor. Slowly breathe in while raising back up with arms over head again, then lower your arms to the side.