[nggallery id=3 images=1] Stuck behind the desk with work piled high and the boss breathing down your back? Take a 10-minute break, kick off your shoes and use some basic yoga poses to melt away stress and rejuvenate your senses. "It's mind over matter," says yoga instructor Rhonda Bell. "Yoga has been used to treat ailments from cancer to depression. It changes your body's response to life's stressors. It balances the endocrine system, helping thyroid issues and improving circulation." Bell, who teaches at Lotus Yoga, created a simple sequence aimed at relieving neck and shoulder tension commonly experienced by desk dwellers.
1. Seated Mountain Pose
Why: Start and end here to calm the mind, lengthen the spine and strengthen core abdominal muscles. Shoulder shrugs alleviate headaches and shoulder tension.
How: Sit up straight in a chair with both feet firmly planted on the floor hip-distance apart, shoulders aligned directly above the hips. Lengthening through the crown of the head, rest your arms on your knees, palms facing up. Close your eyes and take three deep breaths, inhaling and exhaling through the nose. For a deeper stretch (pictured), raise arms overhead with fingers extended and look up. Hold for five breaths. If uncomfortable, keep arms relaxed at your side and breathe through the nose. Lower arms and squeeze shoulders up toward the ears. Hold then release. Repeat shoulder tense and release five times. Pause and take notice of your body.
2. Cats and Dogs
Why: The curling and uncurling keep the spine supple, freeing tension held in the back. The lifting and lowering of the head help clear the sinuses.
How: If your chair has arms, rest your hands on them; if not, rest hands on your knees. Sit up straight and inhale. Slowly curve your back and exhale, tucking the chin into your chest. Inhale, lift the heart up, roll the shoulders back and squeeze the shoulder blades together (if possible, lift your chin and gaze to the ceiling). Repeat slowly and gently five times. Pause and take notice of your body.
3. Modified Eagle Pose
Why: Opens the shoulders and releases tension that builds when seated at a desk for long periods of time. It also stimulates the lymphatic system.
How: Sit up straight, lift elbows to shoulder height, spread fingers and try to place one elbow on top of the other, bringing the palms to touch. With each inhale, sit taller with eyes steady. With each exhale, relax. If uncomfortable, grab shoulders with opposite hands and squeeze yourself tight. Hold for three deep breaths, then relax. Return to Seated Mountain Pose. Repeat Modified Eagle Pose with opposite elbow on top of the other. Return to Seated Mountain Pose, relax and breathe.
4. Spinal Twist
Why: Energizes the spine, stretching the shoulders, hips and neck. Tones organs, reduces fat and eliminates waste. By focusing on breathing while in the pose, you increase lung capacity (which is good for everyone but especially asthmatics).
How: Starting from Mountain Pose, place left hand on left knee (for a deeper twist, rest it on the right knee) and right hand next to right hip. Sit tall and inhale deeply. As you exhale, gently twist the torso toward the right side, starting from the lower back, middle back and then upper back. If possible, reach the right arm behind you, palm facing to the right and look toward the right thumb. Hold for five deep breaths. With every inhale, sit taller; with every exhale, twist a little more. Come back to center, close your eyes and take notice of your body. Repeat other side.
5. Seated Mountain Pose
Why: Rest the mind and body, welcome in peace and calm.
How: Sit up tall, close your eyes and rest palms comfortably in your lap. Breathe. Sit for two minutes.