Happy Mother’s Day to all the Moms out there!
Yoga at Your Desk by Nancy “Kamala” Bonta Voitko
If you currently work at a desk job, you may find yourself not moving for hours at a time. You begin a job at 9 am and become so involved typing and answering phone calls and emails that you look up and boom! It’s lunch time! But wait, you just have to finish this job! So you crack open your container of healthy green salad, chased with a fruit yogurt, and carry on what you were doing. What’s wrong with this picture?
You may have had a productive day, your boss is pleased, and YOU are pleased that you accomplished so much. But you DID NOT MOVE ALL DAY. That’s okay, you think, I am going to the gym after work and that will counteract the sitting. Au contraire, my hard-working friend, it doesn’t work that way. Many studies are showing that prolonged sitting is what is detrimental to our health.
So what can we do? Well, first of all, we need to keep visiting the gym, or attending that yoga class! But during the work day, there are some good habits we can develop for ourselves to remain active. And I write this from the experience of having lived on the other side of self-care (the non-stop-workaholic side that can be chained to her computer all day). We can get the job done, and in fact, do it better, while practicing good self-care habits. Here are some practices I have implemented in my own work space:
[Please be aware: most of us can perform these simple practices and movements, but always speak to your doctor before undertaking any exercise regimen, even simple ones, especially if you have been sedentary. We all need to know our bodies and what they can, and cannot, do.]
1. Find an alternative to your desk chair – I have a colleague that now works at a standing desk and loves it! I brought my purple exercise ball to work – it is now my chair. $20 to better health! As I sit, I am constantly engaging my core without noticing, and keeping my lower back more fluid. And if I want to grab a file from across the room I have to get up and WALK over to retrieve it! No more doing a lazy push-and-slide-across-the-room on my chair to grab a file in my credenza!
2. Take a walk. Everyone is allowed breaks but I often see people go from sitting at a desk to sitting at a cafeteria or restaurant table. Checking emails, gossiping, and making phone calls are not the best way to re-fuel the brain and body when taking a break. Unless you have something urgent to attend to, let self-care be your urgent task. If the location of your job allows, take a walk, or do a walking meditation – these types of practices can be most reinvigorating because they are truly a “break” from what you had been doing.
3. Do yoga. You can keep a mat in your office as I do, but if that is not possible in your work space, try these simple exercises in a chair at your desk:
a. Seated Cow/Cat pose: To begin, sit forward in a chair, away from the backrest of the chair. Sit up, keeping your spine tall, shoulders over your hips, feet flat on the floor and hip’s distance apart, with ankles directly under the knees. Your hands can rest gently on your thighs. Inhale, and beginning with the sacrum at the base of the spine, begin to arch your back, bringing your belly and chest forward, opening the chest, chin reaching upward toward the ceiling with shoulder blades down and back. Then exhale, again beginning with the base of the spine, rounding your back toward the back of the chair, rounding the shoulders forward, drawing the belly in, and your chin lowering down to the chest. Inhale again and repeat cow/cat at least 5 sets to start, but if you feel the need for more movement, you don’t have to stop there!)
b. Forward fold (do not do if you have high blood pressure, glaucoma or any other condition in which bending forward is not recommended) : Stand up tall next to your desk. Pull the belly button toward the spine to engage the core muscles and support the spine. Slowly, hinging at the hips, bend forward, leading with the chest. Hands can rest on thighs and slide down your legs as you bend forward. If hamstrings are tight, keep the knees bent to take pressure off of your spine. Let the head and neck relax. Only hold for 4 breaths to start as you dangle there, especially if you are not used to this movement. This totally releases the spine, and reverses the flow of blood. To come up, do not roll – engage your abdominals, and, hinging at the hips, lift the upper body as you return to a standing position.
c. Chest and arm stretch: come to the edge of your chair, or stand. Clasp hands behind your back, palms facing the floor. Stretch your hands towards the floor, bringing the shoulder blades together behind you (and do not raise them). Stretch your chin toward the ceiling. This movement opens and stretches the chest and shoulders.
d. Seated half moon: clasp the hands together, inhale and exhale them as you stretch the hands towards the ceiling, keeping the shoulders relaxed, arms on either side of your ears. Keeping the chest open, slowly bend to the right, keeping both buttocks on the chair seat. Breathe and feel the left side of the body being stretched. Come back to center, inhale and exhale to the left, stretching the right side now.
e. Seated chair twist: turn and sit at the edge of your chair with your right side against the chair back. Legs are hip’s distance apart, ankles under the knees and feet parallel. If your feet do not reach the floor, find books to place under them so that the top of your thighs are parallel to the floor. Sit up tall, lengthening the spine, relaxing the shoulders. Inhale, drawing belly button towards the spine. As you exhale, turn towards the right (the back of the chair) beginning to turn at the waist, then turn the ribcage, the shoulders, the neck and head last of all. Hands can hold the back of the chair as you twist. Go as far as you can while still being able to breathe comfortably. Keep the shoulders level and spine tall. Breathe and enjoy this gentle twist of your spine, Hold pose as you inhale and exhale three times, then inhale, and slowly come out by turning the head back to center, then the shoulders, rib cage, and waist. Repeat on the other side.
Do these simple stretches at your desk, and you will have moved your spine in all directions, keeping it fluid and healthy, giving it a delicious break from the usual static work posture. If we work a sedentary job, we need to be diligent in moving our bodies periodically throughout the day, and take breaks that are truly self-caring. Namaste.
Nancy Bonta Voitko is the branch manager of the Lacey Branch of the Ocean County Library. Her office contains yoga mats, an exercise ball, stress relieving toys, and a cache of healthy snacks available for any one who visits. She is also a working portrait artist and art teacher, as well as a certified yoga instructor at Breathe Life Sangha in Toms River. Nancy is currently working toward her certification in becoming a yoga therapist at the Kula Kamala Ashram.
Asian Pasta Salad with Veggies
1 lb. LINGUINI, UDON, or SOBA NOODLES, (or any GF pasta) cooked and drained, and rinsed in cold water to stop cooking
2 CARROTS, shredded
1 SMALL BUNCH SCALLIONS, sliced
1 CUP SNOW PEAS, or 1 cup BROCCOLI FLORETS*
3 t SESAME OIL
¼ CUP SESAME OR VEGETABLE OIL
1/2 CUP TAMARI or GF SOY SAUCE
JUICE OF 2 LEMONS
2 or more CLOVES OF GARLIC, crushed
4 T SESAME SEEDS, toasted (this is done very quickly by putting seeds in a hot skillet, stirring quickly till they start to toast – you can smell them. Remove immediately).
This is easy-breezy as we head in to the warmer months and you need a quick and easy dish. Basically, all you do is toss everything into a large mixing bowl. This is one of my favorite go-to recipes because you can experiment with different vegetables – you can julienne a red pepper for color, or use bean sprouts. I have always taken recipes as a suggestion and change it up as needed.
Let this sit overnight in the refrigerator so that the flavors really soak in. This is quick and easy and delicious!
* If you use broccoli florets, or any crunchy vegetable, I would blanch them first to soften them up, but that is me. If you like crunchy – skip this asterisk! If you like to brighten the color and soften up your veggies: boil water, drop in the florets till they turn a beautiful bright green, drain and rinse in cold water immediately. Then add to salad.
Employee Spotlight on Melissa MacDonald
Melissa teaches a Slow Flow on Mondays at 7:00-8:15 PM and will also be one of the instructors for Breathe Life Sangha’s Beach Yoga to be offered in Lavallette over the summer. Melissa became curious about yoga in 2004 as a way to cope with chronic pain from an old spinal injury. Having no expectations, she was truly blown away by the profound effect that first class had on her body & mind. She became a regular student and was drawn to the incredible sense of peace she felt at the end of each class. She discovered ways to focus her mind, which helped her life off the mat too.
She fell in love with yoga’s transformative power and in 2011 became a certified 200 hour RYT so she could share that amazing experience she had (and continues to have!) with others. Her goal is to create a safe and supportive environment where students can come to reconnect with themselves and their community. She enjoys teaching a variety of classes – all with a focus on the breath and proper physical alignment.
Melissa has enjoyed practicing Reiki and meditation for some time now as well. She is also a former massage therapist and healthcare worker with a strong understanding of anatomy & physiology. These experiences have helped her as a yoga teacher/student by giving her a greater sense of awareness about our physical and energetic bodies. Make your Monday night Marvelous with Melissa’s Scintillating Slow Flow!!
BEACH YOGA IS COMING!!!
*memberships and packages do not apply. Please pay in cash at the beach. No sign up necessary
Musings by Abby Sly
Yoga is largely viewed as one’s ability to contort the body into the shape of a pretzel, but the word yoga literally means to unite, or to yoke together. So what, exactly, are we uniting when we come to the mat? In a perfect world, we’re working to marry the breath, the mind, and the body to each other to allow them to work in synchronicity. And perhaps we achieve that in our 75 minute classes, feeling that Yoga-high when we leave, floating out to the parking lot. But as the mind wanders, the body falters and the breath labors, we find ourselves unfocused and out-of-synch. We critique ourselves and wonder where we “went wrong” or why we’re not “better” or “as good as”? And that is the UNyoga, the disunity, the separation of the triad of body, mind, and breath. That is where so many of us spend our days, forgetting the lessons we learn on the mat, suffering in the human condition. If we can draw our focus back to Yoga during the course of our days outside the studio, we will, indeed, be more content. Waiting in line at the grocery store, take time to breathe evenly, feel the breath circulate, allow the refreshing of the mind… When persistent thoughts rent space in your head, detach from them by bringing your awareness to the present moment, maybe engaging the hands in a mudra while practicing a mental breathing technique. Allow Yoga to move through you and find bliss in the moment. We are one with oursleves. Allow that to happen.