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Looking after yourself at work, from lunch breaks to desk yoga

Looking after yourself at work, from lunch breaks to desk yoga

Team ErbologyErbology

The work day is full of stresses and strains that can lead to exhaustion. Take our tips for looking after yourself at work to banish burnout for good. 

October 22, 2020 4:07 pm

Take a break

Is it us, or is the work day moving at a faster pace than ever before? We’re taking more calls, attending more meetings, and somehow having to fit all the tasks we need to do around them. Often, we’re skipping vital breaks during the day in order to cross off everything on our ‘to do’ lists.

The lunch break is often the first victim of having too much on your plate at work.

A recent survey found that almost a third of Americans aren’t taking their lunch breaks, as they struggle to fit eating around a packed schedule.(1) Meanwhile, in the UK, the average lunch break lasts about 40 minutes, but workers only take an average of 24 minutes of their allotted break time.(2)

While it can seem like sacrificing your breaks will allow you to get more done, the opposite is actually true. Several studies have found that taking a break boosts productivity. People who take a break from work come back more focused, more engaged, and less likely to make mistakes.(3)

Taking a break also boosts creativity. The time away allows your brain to think about the task you’re trying to complete and come up with new ideas.(3)

By now, we’ve hopefully convinced you to take full advantage of the lunch break you’re legally entitled to. But there are benefits for your employer as well. Not only will you likely perform better at your job, but employees who are able to take lunch breaks are happier and more loyal.

They feel more valued by the employer, report higher job satisfaction, and are more likely to stay at the company and recommend it to friends,(4)

What about microbreaks?

A microbreak is a very short break taken during tasks. It can be as simple as a quick stretch, or nipping away from your desk to make a cup of tea.

Microbreaks are also good for your productivity and have been shown to keep workers engaged.(5) They also make work more enjoyable.(6)

Like taking a lunchbreak, microbreaks are also beneficial for your mental health and helpful in reducing stress. Workers who don’t take breaks are at risk of burnout, or a feeling of exhaustion caused by overworking.

The benefits of microbreaks are especially noticeable if you spend those few moments of rest doing some stretches. Many of us spend hours at a time seated in the same position at our desks, while other jobs are physically demanding and can strain our muscles. Taking a moment to move in a different way can instantly relieve some of that strain.

A fascinating study examined the effects of microbreaks on the performance of surgeons. Needless to say, it’s very important for surgeons to be precise and accurate in their work, so stress and burnout is a real worry for many doctors and their patients.

After having completed their usual surgeries, the surgeons were asked to trace the outline of a star with their surgical scissors. This allowed researchers to see how accurate the surgeons were.

The surgeons who had been allowed to take microbreaks during their surgeries were an astounding seven times more accurate than those who had worked straight through. They also reported less muscle strain and fewer aches.(7)

Stretch out your microbreak

A great way to actively use your microbreak is to indulge in a spot of desk yoga.

For those not familiar with the term, desk yoga takes the idea of normal yoga – which uses stretches and breath techniques to help you relax – and adapts it to a workplace setting.

You can recreate many of your favorite yoga poses at your desk, and it’s great for your posture and stress levels.

If you’re concerned about looking a little odd as you perform a humble warrior pose from your swivel chair, fear not. Plenty of poses can also be performed very discreetly, and won’t attract any raised eyebrows.

Below you’ll find our top tips for squeezing some desk yoga stretches into your work day.

Our top desk yoga tips

1. Connect with the present moment.

Yes, desk yoga is partly about moving around and being physical after long hours holding the same position. But yoga, in all its forms, is also about promoting good mental health.

That means there’s little point taking the time to stretch your muscles if your mind is still buried in a spreadsheet. Take the moment for yourself and give it your full attention. Allow your mind to wander away from your task for a few moments and try to stay in the present moment.

An easy way to do this is to try and think consciously about what you can detect through all of your five senses. Really tune in to the smells around you, and how the material of your desk feels beneath your fingertips. What can you hear?

Engaging with our senses helps take us out of our minds and into the real world, and it’s very effective at breaking the cycle of stress.

So, when you take a microbreak, commit to it – you’ll feel the benefits.

2. Engage your core.

Some desk yoga poses are seated, and some are standing. Whichever pose you’re performing, you’ll gain greater stability and strength with an engaged core.

In yoga, activating our core muscles helps us to remain stable when holding challenging balance poses. But it can also help you at your desk. Sitting in the same position all day encourages us to slump into an unsupported position, giving us bad posture.

However, actively switching on our core muscles naturally causes us to sit up straighter. That’s good news for your spine, which is often put under pressure from poor seated posture.

To engage your core, think about scooping your lower belly back towards your spine and elongating the crown of your head towards the ceiling. When your muscles are engaged, you’ll feel a tightening and strengthening around your tummy.

3. Breathe consciously.

One of the key principles of yoga is the flow of breath which grounds and relaxes us, helping us connect to the world around us.

Taking a few deep, conscious breaths is one of the easiest yoga-inspired practices you can do at work.

It might be enough to simply take a few deep breaths, focusing on the sensations of inhaling and exhaling. Or, you might like to try some breathing techniques used in yoga.

Taking a big, deep breath and then exhaling it out completely in a loud sigh is a great, stress-releasing technique (although you may want to warn your colleagues first!).

Alternatively, try three-part breathing. This involves thinking of each breath in three stages: when the air reaches your upper chest, the bottom of your lungs, and your belly.

Breathing consciously, try to fill up each of these areas as much as possible, ending by expanding your belly out to take in as much air as possible. When it’s time to exhale, release the air from your belly first, followed by your lower chest, and then finally your upper chest. Repeat for a minute or two to feel the relaxing effect.

4. Set up your space

Have you ever heard the expression ‘tidy desk, tidy mind’?

While the more creative and spontaneous among us might disagree with that sentiment, there is something to be said for creating an environment of harmony around your practice.

Clear away any papers or debris you no longer need, and make sure there’s plenty of empty space on your desk. Organize any bits and pieces, like pens and sticky notes, and give your surface a quick wipe down to remove any dust or dirt.

If you’d like to take a couple of seconds to get into the right mindset before you begin your practice, try pouring a couple of tablespoons of Erbology Organic Rose Water into your desk water bottle. Not only will the gentle fragrance soothe your mind in preparation for your stretches, but it’s full of antioxidants to keep you feeling rested all afternoon.

Looking after yourself at work, from lunch breaks to desk yoga
Looking after yourself at work, from lunch breaks to desk yoga
Looking after yourself at work, from lunch breaks to desk yoga
Looking after yourself at work, from lunch breaks to desk yoga

"Desk yoga takes the idea of normal yoga - which uses stretches and breath techniques to help you relax - and adapts it to a workplace setting."

7 desk yoga poses that have been proven to relieve stress

1. Seated Crescent Moon Pose

A lot of the discomfort we feel while at work in our necks and shoulders comes from the sides of our bodies collapsing as we sit at a desk all day. Being hunched over your laptop all day isn’t great for your posture.

This pose can help your spine return to its natural length and straightness, as well as focusing your mind.

Raise your arms in the air and stretch your fingers as wide as you can. Lean to the right. Slowly breathe in, breathe out, and breathe in again as you lean to the left and repeat the pattern.

Take a five second pause in the middle before doing the move again another four times.

2. Wrist and Finger Stretches

Do you ever feel like your hands and wrists develop increased tension after a day of typing?

These stretches are great for increasing the blood flow to the muscles and tendons of your hands, and can help reduce the strain on your fingers.

Extend your arms either overhead or to the sides of your body and make five to ten circles inwards and outwards with the wrists. Then, quickly spread your fingers before clenching your hand into a wrist. Repeat this five to ten times before shaking out any excess tension.

Finally, place your hands palms facing up on the desk in front of you. Swivel your hands so that your fingers point towards your body and your wrists are the furthest from your chest/stomach. Apply a gentle pressure to the counter stretch. Hold for between five and ten seconds.

This move can be performed by both hands at the same time or hand by hand; just do what feels comfortable for you.

3. Chair Pigeon Pose

If you’re prone to crossing your legs while seated, especially if it’s one side more than the other, then this tends to create imbalances in the hips and spine. To neutralize this, try the chair pigeon pose.

While seated at your desk, place both feet hip-distance apart with the soles flat on the floor. Next, cross your right leg over the left at a right angle, with the foot flexed and the left foot still on the floor. Keep an equal weight distributed between the sitting bones. Remember to stay in an upright position.

This should create a moderate stretch on the outside part of your right thigh. Hold the pose for around seven or eight breaths before switching to the left side.

4. Sit and Stand Chair Pose

Ever wondered why it sometimes feels strangely difficult to get up from your seat after sitting down all day? Well, the answer is that our underused hamstrings and glutes seem to lose their motivation to help us get back up. To compensate, we rely largely on our upper back and neck to help hoist ourselves out of our seats and into standing. This pose, formed of two parts, helps to re-awaken the muscles that should be doing the work.

Begin in your chair, knees at a ninety-degree angle and feet flat on the floor. Press down, first from your heels. Try to avoid moving your feet closer to the chair and do not use your arms to help you stand up.

Once you’re standing, it’s time to sit back down. Think of this pose as a bit like a squat, but with a comfy chair to give you a midway rest. Ensure you don’t lean forward and try to stop your hips from moving either one way or the other. Repeat five to ten times.

5. Desk Chaturanga

If you do yoga in your downtime, you’ll be familiar with Chaturanga. If not, it’s helpful to think of it as similar to a slow push-up, done in reverse. It involves you lowering yourself to the ground using the strength of your arms, slowly and with control. For beginners, it’s one of the toughest poses to get used to, but it’s also incredibly beneficial.

Adapt it to your workspace by making use of your desk for a little extra support.

First of all, make sure your desk is strong and won’t move if you put your weight on it.

Place your hands on the edge of your desk, shoulder width apart from one another. Take a step back from your desk while keeping your hands firmly rooted on its edge and create a diagonal line to the floor with your torso and legs.

Inhale as you bend the elbows to ninety-degrees and hug your elbow inwards towards the ribs. As you exhale, press power into your arms and raise your chest away from the desk. Repeat roughly ten to twelve times.

6. Desk Upward Dog Pose

After performing your Chaturanga, balance out your pose by carrying on to open up your chest and shoulders. If you’ve spent the day huddled over a laptop, ironing out the upper back will feel wonderful.

Get into the same position as for Chaturanga above. Arms straight, hips lowered and facing towards the desk. Engage your legs to prevent your lower back from straining.

Really try to stretch your chest out between your shoulders while tilting, very gently, your chin upwards and rolling your shoulder blades downwards. Hold the position for between five and ten breaths.

7. Desk Plank Pose

This final yoga pose requires the use of your desk again. It works on the spine and hamstrings by lengthening and stretching them out.

Again, put your hands on the edge of the desk, shoulder width apart and step back with your feet so that they are right beneath your hips as you create that fuzzy, stretching sensation in your lower spine. Let this pose hold for five to ten breaths and allow it to undo the all that pent-up tension generated by sitting. Desk yoga done.

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