Last August 18, 7000 practitioners gathered in Montreal dressed in white for a yoga practice dedicated to peace. What is often an emotionally moving experience, practicing for peace – in body and mind – does not need to begin and end with the Lolë White Tour yoga class. In fact, this practice is far more powerful when you move it off the mat and share it with your loved ones and colleagues.
To help you feel peaceful at work, here are five stretching exercises you can do without ever having to leave your chair:
Interlace your fingers and lift your arms. Bend your elbows until you are able to place your wrists at the back of your head. Keep your lower ribs in as you gently press your head into your wrists and your wrists into your head. Hold for 5-8 deep breaths.
This stretching exercise helps to release your upper back muscles (namely the trapezius) that work hard to keep your head in line with your spine. These muscles work especially hard when you spend hours leaning your head forward while working, texting, or driving, for example.
Seated Upward Salute
Reach your arms overhead, focusing on reaching out to the sides on your way up. Keeping your lower ribs down, turn your palms in to face one another when your arms are at their highest point. Widen your shoulder blades and keep your upper back muscles relaxed. Then, pretend that someone from the floor or roof above you is pulling on your wrists to help lengthen the sides of your body. Hold for 5 breaths.
Regularly stretching your arms upwards helps to stretch out your shoulders, which can get stiff from hours of rounding forward at your desk. Also, it creates space in your chest and abdomen, which help you breathe deeply.
Shoulder Blade Squeeze and Backbend
Lightly contract your lower abdomen and grab the back of the seat from your chair. With your lower ribs pulling in, pretend that someone has dropped a cube of ice down your back − squeeze your shoulder blades enthusiastically towards each other for 5 breaths.
If you want to take this exercise further, lift your chest up towards the ceiling on your inhale, squeezing your shoulder blades even more towards one another, and gently leaning your head back a in gaze. It is important that you keep your lower abdomen drawing in on this variation so that you do not compress your lower back. If this feels intense for the back of your neck, bring your chin towards your chest and look down at the tip of your nose. Hold for an additional 2-3 breaths.
The rhomboid muscles between your shoulder blades get locked in an elongated, or stretched, position from all of the rounding forward we do with our shoulders. Contracting these muscles on a regular basis helps to “remind” them that they can − and should − bring our shoulders back more often.
Bring your right arm over the back of your chair and hold the edge firmly. Place your left hand on the outside of your right knee. Inhale and lengthen your spine, exhale and begin to twist starting from the belly button and moving the twist up the spine. The last things to twist back are your shoulders, neck and head. If possible, look over your right shoulder. Hold this pose for 5 breaths before switching sides.
This simple seated twist helps to release any lower back tightness, energizes the spine, and stretches the shoulders, hips and neck.
Sitting at the edge of your seat, lengthen your legs forward, heels on the ground and ankles flexing. Grab the back of your thighs, knees or calves. Inhale to lengthen your spine, and when you exhale, keep lengthening your spine (i.e., do not round your back). As you fold forward, try and get your belly to touch your thighs. However, do not pull too hard on your legs; we want to see what is naturally available to us. Hold for 5 breaths.
When you spend most of the day seated, your hamstrings get tight. In some cases, tight hamstrings can even be the cause of lower back pain. This stretching exercise helps to lengthen the backs of your legs, releases your lower back, and adds a spring in your step!
Sit in a way that your spine can be lengthened without too much effort. Place your feet beneath your knees (take your shoes off if you can!) and rest your hands on your legs. Close your eyes if you feel comfortable, or keep them slightly opened and look down. Be still for 1-2 minutes, as best you can.
Meditation is one of the best ways for cultivating peace of mind. Countless studies have shown that meditation is effective at reducing stress, lack of focus, and anxiety. It also helps in cultivating creativity, concentration, and improving relationships. It is much easier than it looks; all it takes is a moment. If you do not know where to begin, try my short 2-minute meditation below.
Meditation by Dawn Mauricio (audio)
Dawn has been the official Lolë White Tour teacher for the Montreal event for the last three years and will lead yogis in an amusing, dynamic and centred yoga session. She’ll guide us through a series of postures and meditative movements designed to inspire peace in one’s body, spirit and heart. With 10 years’ experience as a full-time teacher and more than 1000 hours of yoga training, Dawn will bring her spirit of generosity and gratitude to this unique moment.