Get full access to Outside Learn, our online education hub featuring in-depth yoga, fitness, & nutrition courses, when you sign up for Outside+.
Do you slip away to yoga class as often as you can when you’re feeling overwhelmed and stressed? Chances are you walk out afterward feeling restored and more like yourself…but as the stress begins to accumulates, you start to frantically count the hours until you can make it back to yoga. (Sound familiar?)
The truth is—and not all yoga teachers will tell you this—that feeling of ease and calm doesn’t necessarily require a mat, a dimly lit studio, or even a teacher. I learned this years ago when I had a manager at work who micromanaged, fretted, and all manner of other stress-inducing things. 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.
I lived for my noon yoga class—one hour when I could leave distractions at the door and slip into inner stillness. I’d walk out that class every day relaxed…until my boss would unleash her panic and I was back where I had started. One day, probably when I couldn’t escape to class, I began to understand that the inner quiet I experienced in yoga class was actually already within me. Always.
Instead of counting on yoga class to sustain me, I began to subtly weave my yoga into my workday. Not the physical postures but the awareness, the slow, measured breath, the inner quiet that I also experienced when I practiced the poses. It didn’t take long for me to learn that when I felt my stress levels leaping, I simply had to take a moment to breathe. No matter what was happening around me, I instantly felt more calmer, more centered, and better able to handle anything, without even stepping away from my desk.
You may not be able to hop off a Zoom meeting, roll out a mat, and retreat to Balasana (Child’s Pose), but there are ways to discreetly experience yoga, in all its varied and infinite practices, while you’re at work.
5 ways to calm down when work is stressful
These simple practices can help you come back to calm when you’re feeling overwhelmed at work or in any situation.
When we’re stressed, we hold it in our bodies. Gentle movement can unwind this physical discomfort and encourage mental relaxation as well. Even something as simple as this 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. Repeat several times. In addition to helping you slow down and concentrate on your breath, the rocking motion brings an innately stress-reducing vibe to your physiology.
It’s easy to underestimate the profound 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—even 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.
Repeating a mantra—a sound, word, or phrase—can regulate breathing patterns and quiet an overactive mind. Your office probably isn’t the best environment to chant om out loud, but you can still experience benefits from a silent mantra. You can use any word that you like for your mantra—it can om or it can be something as simple as whatever you need in the moment, whether that’s calm, ease, trust, patience, confidence, or fill-in-the-blank.
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 direct subtle energy in the body. Dhyana mudra (Meditation Seal) in particular supports a calming energy. When you’re under pressure, lay your awareness on your hands and bring them into this mudra.
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. This includes bringing awareness to actions that you normally do automatically, which can even be done amid the din of chatting coworkers and the pressure of deadlines. It takes countless forms, including the above practices. Walking meditation is another form. When you consciously turn and return your attention to walking, you cultivate presence and mindfulness and are better able to drop into calm.
How-to: Step away from your computer. Notice one foot lifting, moving forward, and meeting the ground heel first. Notice your weight shifting onto your forward leg as your back heel lifts and your toes remain touching the ground. You can glance up at a co-worker or, if you’re outside, take in what’s around you. Then return your attention to your feet moving, your weight shifting. Practice this often.
About our contributor
Megan DeRosa, MA, C-IAYT, RYT 500 is a Colorado-based yoga therapist. Learn more at meganderosa.com.