Like most people, Angie Starz—who teaches at Village Yoga in Ukrainian Village—had a daily routine. Coffee, commute, a nine-to-five grind, commute, yoga, and whatever semblance of a social life she could squeeze in afterward. From the moment she woke up, she would feel her stress level steadily rising, and it wasn’t until she tiptoed into the yoga studio’s quiet sanctuary that she experienced calm. “Yoga was my secret indulgence,” she says. “It was the one thing that got me through the work week.
Angie lived a double life for years: mobile marketing manager by day, avid yogini by night. Until recently, she thought she was doomed to keep the two worlds separate and would forever be forced to rush through crowded commuter trains on her way to practice, working herself into such a harried state that she could barely relax during class.
And she lived that way, two halves of a disjointed whole, until it hit her.
In what she refers to as a slightly obvious “A-ha!” moment, Angie realized that yoga’s healing powers don’t need to shut off once you’ve rolled up your mat. “Just bringing awareness to our posture, to the way we position our keyboards and the frequency with which we move … has the potential to drastically change how we feel,” she says. Indeed, a few tweaks to your workday habits can keep the benefits of yoga alive and cause tension to melt, even after hours of consoling crabby clients or slumping over your desk. This is great news for both individuals and the companies they work for—a boost in physical fitness typically has a mirrored effect on mental focus and energy.
Enter Cube Yoga, a series of simple movements and adjustments that encourage calmness, composure, and wellness, no matter what the day throws at you. Each is adapted from a classical yoga asana, or pose. However, they’re also designed to look somewhat pedestrian so that you can perform them in a public setting, such as your office.
Below, we’ve outlined Cube Yoga’s core poses and techniques.
Before you begin: Proper posture is important in these poses (and in all of yoga). When practicing, make sure to keep your shoulders down and your shoulder blades drawn back, pulling your chest open. Keep your feet squarely on the floor whenever possible. If you’re wearing heels, feel free to kick ‘em off before beginning. These postures are best suited for a firm chair without wheels. If your chair is soft or on wheels, be mindful of your movements. If any pose causes pain, do not practice it again until consulting with a real, live, certified yoga teacher.
1. Tall Seated Chair Pose
(This is the foundation for all of the following Cube Yoga poses.)
The Benefit: This pose promotes proper posture and may relieve lower back pain by lengthening the spine.
The Movement: Scoot forward 3 to 5 inches away from your chair back. Place your feet hip-distance apart on the ground and your palms face-down on your thighs. Sit tall to lengthen the spine. Roll your shoulders back and down and press your chest forward. Lower your chin and take five to eight deep breaths through your nose. Focus on deepening your breath.
2. Neck Bends
The Benefit: These movements release neck and shoulder tension caused by typing or clutching a phone between your shoulder and ear on long conference calls.
The Movement: Start in the tall seated chair pose. Take a deep breath and exhale, bending your right ear down toward your right shoulder. Keep your shoulders relaxed and level. Take three full breaths. Inhale, and lift your head back to center. Repeat on the left side. Bring your head back to center and release your chin toward your chest. Avoid adding extra pressure to these stretches—instead, let gravity do the work.
3. Seated Forward Fold
The Benefit: This mild inversion will increase circulation and get the brain firing more rapidly to help you bust through mental blocks. It’s also a great way to relieve lower back pain by lengthening the spine.
The Movement: From tall seated chair, inhale and lengthen your spine. Exhale and fold forward at the hip crease, resting your torso between your thighs. Press your feet into the ground while pulling your rear end toward the back of the chair and your chest toward the floor. Release your head, neck, and shoulders. Let your hands touch the floor or grab their opposite elbows, then hang out for a moment. Take at least three to five deep breaths.
4. Seated Spinal Twist
The Benefit: Any twisting yoga pose stimulates the digestive system and promotes detoxification in the body. This is a great way to lift your energy levels.
The Movement: Begin in tall seated chair. Plant your left hand on the outside of your right thigh, and bring your right hand up to the back of the chair. Inhale and lengthen the spine. Exhale while gently twisting your chest open to the right side. Feel the twist start near your navel and extend all the way to the crown of the head. Gaze over your right shoulder. Take three to five breaths. Repeat on the other side.
5. Desk Down Dog
The Benefit: This modified downward-facing dog pose is a go-to when you’re feeling low on energy and high on stress. By creating a long back and lowering the head to the same plane as the heart, you’ll relieve compression in the back and increase circulation, which in turn improves memory, focus and concentration.
The Movement: Stand up and place your hands on the edge of your desk, shoulder-distance apart. Align the heel of each hand with the very edge of the desk. Walk your feet away from the desk until your torso is parallel with the floor and your hips are above your feet—your body should create an L-shape. Press the heels of your hands into the desk, pull your hips away from your torso, and flatten your back. Take three to five deep breaths and repeat as needed.
6. Seated Eagle Pose
The Benefit: This pose relieves the tight hips and shoulders that result from slumping over your desk all day. It also increases circulation for a natural energy boost.
The Movement: Start in tall seated chair. Cross your right ankle over your left thigh, just above the knee. Flex your foot and press your right knee toward the floor, using only the strength of your leg. Raise your arms to shoulder height. Cross the left arm over the right, bringing both arms to the center of the body and reaching for their opposite shoulder blades (just like giving yourself a hug). Release your hands from your shoulder blades and touch the backs of your hands in front of your face, or wrap your wrists so that your palms face each other. Lift your elbows and press your hands away from your face. Take three to five deep breaths and feel the space between your shoulder blades widen. Switch the cross of the legs and the cross of the arms. Repeat on the other side.
7. Power-Down Pose
The Benefit: This pose gives you the peace you need to prepare for a big presentation or dreaded meeting. By turning the senses inward and reconnecting with your breath, your body and mind get a much-needed moment to recover.
The Movement: From tall seated chair, bring your thumbs to your ears and close them, eliminating sound. Fold the other four fingers over your face to cover your eyes. Take five to eight deep breaths, in and out through the nose.
Angie’s advice to those who just can’t get into yoga? “Make your movement productive. … Take a walk to the other side of the office to ask a question of a coworker rather than instant-messaging them; take the stairs in lieu of the elevator. Bring awareness to your breathing—maybe even set an Outlook alert once a day to remind yourself to close your eyes and breathe deeply.” Or you can recite a mantra in your head to focus your thoughts. Any small change can make a big difference.
Consult your physician before beginning any new exercise regimen.
Photo: © Stephanie Bassos, Groupon