In addition to being a registered dietitian at San Francisco’s leading corporate catering company, I am also a certified yoga instructor. One of the most significant things I learned through my own yoga practice and becoming a yoga teacher was that the behaviors we practice on the mat can be applied directly to everyday life. When we exercise, we subject our bodies to a controlled form of stress. Yoga incorporates breathing and meditation with the physical practice to teach us to persevere. Whether you’re sweating it out on the mat, or sweating it out in the conference room, how you handle those situations is yoga. This means that not only can yoga improve your fitness, it can also help you frame the way you handle daily circumstances. By applying teachings from the mat to other parts of your life, you can be happier and more productive at work and beyond.
Yoga has many benefits. More studies are being published on yoga and meditation every year and they confirm what many practitioners have promoted all along – that yoga practice can reduce stress and help maintain mental wellbeing 1, 2, 3. Many forms of exercise make you physically stronger, but what is it about yoga that can have such a far reaching effect that it can improve stress and mental performance?
While many think of yoga as a fitness activity, physical movement is only a single piece of the puzzle. The incorporation of breathwork and meditation are large contributors to the benefits of yoga, too. Physical practice, breathwork, and meditation are part of the eight guiding principles of yoga, called sutras, which yogis rely on to inform their practice as well as guide their behavior in the world.
Here are four yogic concepts and ways to apply them to everyday work situations:
1. Get exercise (asana)
Yoga is moving meditation. This means that while practicing yoga, especially more aerobic kinds like vinyasa, you are working towards the 2.5 hours per week recommended by the US Department of Health and Human Services to prevent chronic disease 4. Asana practice builds strength and flexibility 5, 6, like many forms of exercise. Yoga is safe for most people to practice every day and you don’t even need to visit a studio to do it. All you need is a mat and a podcast. You can practice at any time of the day.
If you’re having a really crazy day or you just cannot focus, take a yoga break. Giving your mind a rest and giving your body a challenge is a great way to reset and shift your perspective. Grab an office snack and pick your to-do list back up after you have reframed, I promise you will feel more able to get things done.
2. Take a deep breath (pranayama)
Have you ever had one of those days where it seems the fires just keep coming? Did you ever notice your breath in those high stress moments? Did you ever notice your heartbeat or your blood pressure? When we are in high stress situations, our bodies are in fight-or-flight mode 7; the sympathetic nervous system is activated.
During a yoga session, you are highly encouraged to focus on your breathing, what is called pranayama. When you turn your attention to your breath you are actually doing a lot of work concentrating your mind on your physical presence. As your mind is concentrating on the position of your body and the rhythm of your breath, there are things it is not doing… like running through your never-ending to-do list or the awkward interaction you had with your roommate.
In moments of high stress outside of the yoga studio, I highly encourage you to take a moment to step back and breathe. When you feel on the spot, you don’t have to respond before the question mark has left someone’s lips. Take at least one deep breath, gather your thoughts, and then respond. Not only does taking a breath buy you time, slowing the rhythm of the breath actually calms your nervous system. Breathing deeply will switch on the parasympathetic nervous system 8, the opposite of the fight-or-flight system, and begin to alleviate the stress response, making you more clear headed.
3. Do your best work (niyama: tapas)
Ancient yogis loved Spanish appetizers. Yum! Not really. The word ‘tapas’ comes from the Sanskrit verb “tap” which means ‘to burn.’ The traditional interpretation of tapas is ‘fiery discipline’ 9. In yoga, this means pursuing your practice with passion. Have you ever worked really hard to reach a stretch goal? It probably took a little bit of tapas to achieve. While yoga does not advocate working to the point of burnout, approaching the activities that you care about and which you choose to spend your time on should be done with fire. Notice, too, we should pursue our endeavors in such a way that allows the fire to keep burning.
4. Be present (pratyahara)
Focus on breath and posture can lead you to the present moment, but how do you take that to the office?
Next time you are waiting for a meeting to start or you are having your office lunch with coworkers, put your phone and/or laptop away. Look around you. Take a moment to mentally acknowledge the people you spend a good chunk of your day with; if you are at your catered lunch, maybe the food in front of you, too. When you do this, you might be surprised at how much more you notice when you relieve yourself of distractions or your mind’s constant dialogue. Usually you’ll also feel a sensation of gratitude as you realize the complexity and beauty in your day to day.
Hopefully this post has opened your eyes to some ways the principles of yoga can apply both on and off the mat for a more successful practice and a more successful life!
What are your go-to tactics for managing stress?
Zesty is the leading office catering company in the San Francisco Bay Area. We strive to provide great tasting food with high nutrition value and optimal ingredient sourcing. Get Zesty meals for your team at zesty.com!
- Smith, Caroline, Heather Hancock, Jane Blake-Mortimer, and Kerena Eckert. “A randomised comparative trial of yoga and relaxation to reduce stress and anxiety.” Complementary Therapies in Medicine 15.2 (2007): 77-83. Web. 29 May 2017.
- Rama, Swami, Rudolph Ballentine, MD, and Alan Hymes, MD. Science of Breath. Honesdale, PA: Himalayan Institute, 1979. Print.