The best part? Nobody even needs to know you’re doing them.
When we’re feeling stressed, many of us turn to yoga. Yet we often forget that yoga doesn’t necessarily require a sticky mat or a softly-lit studio. Yoga, and its infinite practices, are available to us anywhere, anytime. Even at work.
Years ago, I had a boss who was a worrywart. She micromanaged, fretted, and hovered. Her nervous energy wove its tentacles into me, gripping my neck and shoulders, imprisoning my breath in my upper chest, and taking up residence in my low back.
Those days, I lived for my lunchtime yoga class—one hour when I could leave distractions at the door and slip into the still, clear lake of my inner sanctuary. I’d glide out of that class every day relaxed and restored, until my boss would unleash her panic and I was back to square one. That is, until one day when I realized that inner sanctuary my yoga class inspired was actually with me. Always. Instead of counting on yoga classes to sustain me, I began to subtly weave yoga into my workday. When I noticed my stress levels rising, I’d take a moment to simply breathe—and found I was able to feel instantly centered and calm, often without even leaving my desk.
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5 Practices to Do At Your Desk
We all face work-related stress. And, we all have an inner sanctuary. You may not be able to close a door, roll out a mat, and curl up in Balasana (Child’s Pose), but there are ways to experience yoga—discreetly—at your workplace.
Here are five practices to cultivate calm when you’re feeling overwhelmed on the job:
When we’re stressed, we hold it in our bodies. Gentle movement unwinds this physical discomfort, encouraging relaxation. A modified version of Cat-Cow can be done right at your desk to dissolve tension.
How-to: Shift to the front edge of your chair, feeling your body weight on your sit bones. Slip off your shoes if possible, to feel the soles of your feet on the ground, and rest your palms on your thighs. On an inhalation, reach your tailbone toward the back of your chair, lengthen your spine into a backbend, and lift your gaze upward. On an exhalation, round your tailbone toward the front of your chair, curve your spine forward, and lower your gaze. Let the rocking motion soothe you for several rounds.
It’s easy to underestimate the power of a slow, deep, conscious breath. Dirga Pranayama (Three-Part Breath) is a simple yet potent practice to shift yourself out of a state of stress. This breathing technique can be used as needed—at your desk or in a meeting—to call in tranquility.
How-to: Feel your breath softly move in through your nose, filling your belly, ribcage, and chest. Exhale slowly through your nose, feeling your breath leave your belly, ribcage, and chest. Imagine emptying your breath completely. At the end of your exhale, pause and sink into the stillness of that moment. Feel the natural initiation of your next inhalation into your belly, ribcage, and chest. Repeat several times.
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Repeating a mantra—a sound, word, or phrase—can regulate breathing patterns and quiet an overactive mind. Perhaps your office isn’t the best environment to chant Om out loud, but you can still experience the benefits of a silent mantra.
How-to: Practice a few rounds of Three-Part Breath, letting your breath move in and out of your belly, ribcage, and chest. Then, invite the following mantra to join your breath. On an inhalation, think “breath in,” and on an exhalation, think “let go.” Silently repeat “breath in” on your inhalations and “let go” on your exhalations, allowing the words to ride the length of your inhale and exhale. Practice for several rounds.
Mudras are hand gestures used to guide energy in the body. Dhyana Mudra (Meditation Seal) supports a calming energy. When you’re under pressure, lay your awareness on your hands. Softly bring them into this mudra to feel inner peace.
How-to: Sitting in a comfortable position, shape your hands to form a bowl in your lap with your palms facing upward. Rest your right hand on top of your left and allow the tips of your thumbs to touch. Notice how your body, mind, and energy feel, and enjoy this experience for any length of time.
Meditation is a practice of paying attention. Walking meditation involves paying attention to actions that you normally do automatically. When you consciously turn and return your attention to walking, you cultivate presence and drop into your calm center.
How-to: While you’re walking down the hall in your office building, notice one foot lifting, moving forward, and meeting the ground, heel first. Notice your body’s weight shifting onto your forward leg as your back heel lifts and your toes remain touching the ground. You might notice a coworker saying hello; perhaps make eye contact and smile. Then, return your attention to your feet moving, your weight shifting. Practice while walking to the bathroom or your favorite lunch spot.
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About the Author
Megan DeRosa, MA, C-IAYT, RYT 500 is a Colorado-based yoga therapist. Learn more at meganderosa.com.
This 5-Minute Meditation for Parents Will Save Your Sanity
Here’s how one woman bridges the sacred world of meditation with the reality of motherhood.
Meditation and parenthood: this may appear to be an oxymoron, as the words conjure up images that seem contradictory—the serene meditator enjoying the silence in their quiet mind, versus a frazzled, unkempt mother or father surrounded by chaos. But many years working in war zones has taught me something new: the power of meditative moments. Short, conscious moments of calm, infused throughout the day, can be your most useful tool against the confusion and disorder of parenting.
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“I Learned to Meditate in a War Zone”
One morning in the Democratic Republic of Congo, the air still ripe with the echoes of last night’s bullets, I sat at the foot of my hotel room bed and practiced listening meditation. It was all I could think to do to slow my terrified, rapid heartbeat. I quieted my mind, closed my eyes, and opened my ears.
At first, I only heard the sound of military-grade vehicles and sirens. Then, beneath, the wail of a baby, the beat of African drums pulsing through transistor radio static, and a woman laughing—reminders of humanity’s common desire for peace, a fresh moment to connect to something bigger and more sane than war. My heart slowed; I opened to the day ahead, whatever would come.
For me, motherhood has been a bit like working in a war zone. Not to diminish what living through war is like, but the constant vigilance, the drain on the adrenal system, the sustained lack of sleep, and the loss of regular bathing and meals, all felt very familiar with my firstborn. And, as such, some of the meditation practices I had adapted to my life as a human rights activist became applicable.
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This 5-Minute Meditation Can Save Your Sanity
Here’s a practice I call “Taking a Lap”: Both kids are screaming now, because it’s a cruel fact that when one child starts screeching, like macaws, the other will inevitably chime in. In the cacophony, it’s hard to distinguish one’s needs from the other’s, and, to be honest, I don’t really care. I’ve reached my edge. Every parent has one. This is the crucial moment I take my lap.
Whether they need to be in the car or not, I strap the kids into their five-point harnesses, roll up the windows, close the car doors, and exhale, knowing they are safe and immobilized. I drop into my listening mind. Taking a deep breath, I look to the sky and push all of my frustration out in one loud sigh. Then, placing my attention on my feet, I walk slowly, heel to toe, around the car. To an outsider, it may appear as though I’m simply taking the long way around to the driver’s seat, but in my mind I am a wandering ascetic, and to my nervous system each step is a healing balm.
Heel to toe . . . heel to toe . . . I listen.
At first, I hear the sounds of other cars in the parking lot, groceries being hauled into power-lifted cargo doors. Then, underneath, a teenager crying at the coffee shop next door, her heartache palpable in each sob. And there, way in the background, the birds singing loudly, while the air itself makes music through the trees, just as it always has; another fresh moment to reconnect.
No matter which shrieks come pouring through the door, whether laughter or tears, I know that it’s workable. In one three-minute, conscious lap around the car, that edge, so solid only moments before, softens. I am a warrior newly readied for battle.
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I married a man who was hit by his father for misbehaving. My own grandfather hit my dad and his brothers from pent-up frustration and anger. In fact, four out of five Americans believe it is “sometimes appropriate” to spank children. Part of the problem is that violence is learned and it is cyclical: Our children literally navigate the world by watching our every move, and that’s a lot of pressure. Add in sleep deprivation, financial stress, and a pace of life that could make Olympic athletes tire, and it’s not hard to see how we can fall into behaviors that allow our microaggressions to take center stage.
My antidote lies in practicing meditative moments.
“What were you looking for, Mommy?” my three-year-old asks after watching me stare at the asphalt as I slowly crept around the car.
“My sanity,” I reply.
“Oh. Did you find it?” she asks, hopefully.
“Yes I did,” I can honestly say. “It was somewhere between the back bumper and the rear right tire.”
And this is how I’ve come to bridge the sacred world of meditation with the profane reality of motherhood; by carving out short moments of “big mind,” I can better handle life’s “small mind” moments. Instead of recreating the painful patterns of our pasts, we have the unique opportunity to spin a different tale for our grandchildren.
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The other day, my now six-year-old daughter wandered into the forest, heel to toe . . . heel to toe. She said she was “looking for her calm.” I knew then, if nothing else, that my often desperate, sometimes ridiculous-looking moments of street-side walking meditation had provided her with the invisible tool my own mother gifted me decades before, a tool that’s saved me from coming unhinged time and again.
When it comes to meditation and motherhood, my only advice is to create your own meditative moments and practice them regularly, so when you come up against your edgier places you will know exactly what to do with them.
How Floating Down a River Helped Me Learn How to Go With the Flow
Here’s how one woman found lasting peace while floating on her belly down a wild river in Switzerland.
Thousands of bare feet march on the paved and dirt paths along the Aare riverbank every summer in search of the perfect entry point into bright turquoise waters. The Aare River cuts through the heart of Bern, the well-groomed Swiss capital an hour’s train ride from Zurich. Last summer, I joined the hordes for a refreshing dip in the glacial melt coming from the Alps, despite having many nail-biting reservations. As peaceful and calming as the water looks and sounds, there’s no question I was entering a wild, unpredictable, fast-moving river with the sole purpose of letting myself get swept away. And in the past, getting “swept away” for me meant having to get rescued.
During a trip to New Zealand’s South Island with my sister in 2013, I naively trusted my white-water rafting guide (who, in hindsight, I believe was high) when he said it was safe to swim the rapids. I was the only one brave—or dumb—enough to body surf class III waves. I ended underneath our vessel, getting tossed around like gym socks in a washing machine. The guide assured the other six concerned passengers that he could feel me thrashing under the belly of the raft, and therefore, I was fine. I resurfaced unwounded but pale as a ghost, gasping for air, and covered in snot from forcefully trying to breathe.
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On that same trip, there was a second incident that was just as dramatic. My sister and I capsized in three feet of freezing river water when our kayak hit a rock. Disoriented, frustrated, cold, and wet, I went after our runaway oar without thinking. My sister, Maria, yelled at me from shore, and by the time I turned to holler back, I realized I was chest-deep in a current so strong that I had no choice but to flip on my back (river safety rules 101) and helplessly float downriver until someone “saved” me. In this instance, I didn’t panic. Instead, I was so consumed with anger at both the river and my poor choices (ugh, not again) that I had a bitch face until I was fished out—maybe three minutes later—and for the rest of the day. Needless to say, in both instances, I walked away unhappy and slightly traumatized.
So, to just dive in to the Aare and intentionally get “taken” in the river—a mere five years after feeling so unsafe in wild waters—was terrifying. But I’m a Pisces, and I love being in water. So there was a big part of me ready to wash away my river angst for good.
Finding My Flow
Around noon, I met my guide, Neda, who seemed much more reliable—and sober—than the one I met in New Zealand. I ate my nerves, devouring a plate of fries and warm goat cheese salad while I interrogated Neda about how this was going to work.You just jump in? Then what? Does someone pluck you out (like they did for me in New Zealand)? What’s the exit strategy? How cold is it? How deep is it? Have people drowned?
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She laughed and offered some insights, but not a lot. She assured me it would be fine and fun (I’d heard this before) and distracted me with intriguing facts about nearby BearPark, where a real-life version of the Berenstain Bears (mom, Bjork, dad, Finn, and daughter, Ursina) live in the city center. After lunch, we fed the adorable furry family whole watermelons, tossing four big ones over a glass wall (squat and press) with the permission and supervision of a zookeeper. My form was so strong (my trainer would be proud) that I felt secure in my body and ready for whatever comes next. Bravo, Neda, for getting me out of my own head and reminding me that I’m tough.
At 3:30 p.m., we meandered a short distance from BearPark to the Marzili pool, which is actually a lush, green lawn with changing stations, bathrooms, and, yes, a pool on the river’s edge. Half-naked bodies sunbathing, socializing, or eating ice cream from Gelateria di Berna covered the promenade, making it a perfect pseudo-beach on this 87-degree afternoon.
Carrying our belongings in our individual dry bags, which also serve as a float or lifesaver, we joined the bathing-suit-clad procession along the river to find our entry point. The longer you walk, the longer you float, Neda told me. Walk 20 minutes, drift for 10. As we walked and watched people begin their swim, it still hadn’t sunk in what was about to happen. There were no clear rules, signs, flags, or safety whistles. When I saw people cannonballing from an iron footbridge up ahead and Neda finally piped up about some of the dangers of what we were about to do, my fight-or-flight response kicked in.
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Ready to take the plunge—literally
We found a short, unoccupied staircase with a red rail leading into the water and opted to take it. Neda sweetly held my hand as we began our total immersion into the 70-degree water. I wasn’t convinced I was making the right decision, especially since I still felt so uncertain about when and how I was going to get out. But the reason I was getting into this water was to change my negative narrative. So, into the water I went.
In seconds, the fast-flowing river had me in her grips, pushing me in the direction from whence I came. Neda instructed me to hug my float and frog-kick toward the middle of the river, where the water is deeper, so I’d be less likely to hit rocks. All of this was alarming, especially as the distance between Neda and I began to widen.
I found myself automatically reciting my Transcendental Meditation mantra. (And yes, I know I’m not supposed to use my sacred mantra in this way but I find this anchor helpful in grounding my thoughts in, well, ungrounding situations.)
Once Neda and I were side-by-side again, I noticed she was smiling and not moving much. She was just letting herself drift.
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I wanted to do this, too, but was still fighting to work with the current, kicking to keep my body steady, streamlined, afloat, and, most importantly, near Neda. I looked around and saw that others—there were literally hundreds of people in the water with us, either ahead or behind, and only a few adjacent—had given in to the river’s hold, like Neda. I don’t know how to do this, I thought. I have to stay alert to avoid rocks, people, and missing my exit, right? I mean, I’d like to relax. I know that’s the point. But I’m still so much in my head and so scared of the unknown.
Seriously, I say to myself, how are we gonna get out?
To stave off panic, I closed my eyes for a minute and slowed my breathing, this time implementing meditation techniques as they were taught to me—minus the sitting comfortably on a cushion part. As my mantra worked its magic in the back of my mind, at the front, I told myself to be present and experience the thrill of the moment, as it would be short-lived and may not happen again. When I accepted my mind’s proposal to simply be present, I opened my eyes to fully soak up this experience. That’s when I saw what was really happening: We were all just bobbing ice cubes in this refreshing drink, melting away our stress on a stunning summer day.
Finally, I stopped trying to control my movements and let the river’s current take control.
Feeling weightless and free, I started smiling. I had no idea what would happen next, and yet, I felt calmer than ever. I flipped on my back to change perspectives and watched a few clouds moving faster than usual in the sky. I noticed some people riding inflatable tubes downriver, and others playing volleyball. I looked at my unmoving feet and wiggled my purple-painted toes like a curious baby. Last time I floated on my back like this I was waiting to be rescued in New Zealand. Now, I don’t want to be plucked out, I mused. I never want this to end.
See also Yoga for Inner Peace: A Stress-Relieving Sequence + Daily Practice Challenge
Neda entered my gaze, crossing behind me and making her way toward to the shoreline. She told me to follow, stay close, and keep my legs up, as the river gets shallower by the banks. I followed without thinking too much. The transition was so smooth: Neda extended her hand toward an upcoming red railing and effortlessly latch on. She pulled herself out of the way in time for me to latch on right after with total ease.
The Aare fought to hold onto me a little longer and I was sad to get out. Then, I banged my knee on an underwater rock, expedited my exit, and we were back at Marzili “beach.”
I immediately begged Neda to float again. This time, we walked farther to gain a few extra minutes of floating. The second time is heavenly. I let myself completely go with no reservations. I kept my eyes wide open and needed no breathing exercise or mantra to channel my inner zen. I felt like I could do this for days. But with the sunset chasing us (maybe an hour and a half away), this would be our last swim, and I’d learned a sweet lesson I didn’t realize this river held for me.
Fact is, life will always force me to relinquish control here and there, and in these moments, I have to learn to wait—as calmly as possible—and see what happens. Sometimes, there’s literally nothing to do but just be. My only option in these instances is to not make the wait feel like purgatory. I have the tools to take care of myself so that I can face the wait with grace, and maybe even enjoy uncertainty just a little bit. And I can’t think of a more fitting, and even poetic, place to learn more about who I am than in a river called Aare.
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5 Poses to Help You Unwind After Flying
Whether you’re antsy after being cooped up for a while, jet-lagged, or seriously stiff, here’s your new post-flight go-to.
You made it—the end of your air travel. Despite long lines, annoying baggage fees, not-so-tasty airport food, and dueling wailing infants on either side of the aisle, you have arrived.
Once the aircraft has landed and the fasten seatbelt sign dings off, you stand up to prepare to disembark and notice how stiff your body is from the flight. Your upper back and neck are tight from carrying all of your bags. Your legs feel double their size and sore, despite so many hours of not moving. Your tummy hurts from not being able to stand up after your meal, and your bum feels numb from sitting for so long. Then, there’s possible jet-lag and pent-up stress to contend with.
Being sedentary under any circumstance isn’t great for your body, and being still while cramped on an airplane is even worse. After all, you’re breathing recirculated air and dealing with dehydration at 30,000-plus feet above sea level. Plus, the effects of stress (read: decreased immunity and digestive issues) make matters worse.
See also 5 Poses to Calm Your Pre-Flight Jitters
While there are some movements you can do in your seat to combat all of this, getting on the ground and moving wisely can make a big difference when it comes to countering the toll travel can take. Just as you unroll your yoga mat to open it up, this sequence will help you unravel your body to open yourself back up after flying. You can practice these poses while you are waiting for your luggage at baggage claim or looking for your Uber at the pick-up curb. Because each pose is a standing pose, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have much space or if your travel mat is still in your suitcase.
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