It’s Mental Health Awareness Week in the UK with this year’s theme being body image. My recent blog talked about the challenges we face to love our body’s, and my plans to raise awareness through teaching yoga. I love to teach yoga in unconventional places, and also challenge preconceptions about what yoga is and how it should be practiced.
I ran two lunchtime 30-minute desk based yoga classes for colleagues at my employers, the Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs. Not being afraid to shy away from a challenge, I also offered colleagues from across government and beyond to dial in by video or audio conference and participate from wherever they were seated.
The classes were in support of Bristol Mind who provide much needed local mental health services such as community outreach, helpline and wellbeing in the workplace training. They do not receive any direct funding from national Mind so rely heavily on fundraising activities. I have set up a Just Giving page and welcome any donations.
The aim of my sessions was to focus on yoga poses (aka stretches) that my desk yogis could do at their desks. Demonstrating to colleagues that you don’t necessarily need to go to a yoga studio dressed in luminous lycra pants for your yoga fix. It’s as much about prioritising wellbeing in the workplace, whether in the office, at home or on the road.
The classes took place in a meeting room, so I highlighted the importance of practicing safely by being aware of obstacles such as office furniture, cables and fellow desk yogis. I taught the class primarily seated, often cueing students to sit dynamically towards the front of the seat, lengthening and creating more space along and across the upper body.
Through a short meditation sequence at the start of the class, my desk yogis were invited to draw their senses to the physical space around them, before ‘tuning in’ to their body’s and commonly felt aches and tensions such as tight neck muscles and lower back pain. Having created more space in the body, we then brought attention to the length and depth of the breath, and how this could be used to bring calmness to body and mind.
The movement-based sequence that followed focused on areas of particular tension, working our way from the crown of the head towards the toes. Fundamental movements such as shoulder rolls and neck rotations, particularly when integrated with the breath, can have immediate impacts in reducing tension when sitting in a fixed position all day. Equally, seated poses such as a Cat Cow variation that flexes and extends the spine, not only provides much needed mobility, but also opens the chest and activates core muscles.
I ended the class with my desk yogis standing up from their seats in a Mountain pose. Being seated all day, and throughout my class, I find it helps to get up and move a bit. Closing the class with a short meditation, my students left the room full of gratitude, big smiles and very satisfied that they had taken time out of their busy days for themselves.
I will be recording the 30-minute sequence and posting to my YouTube channel very soon. Find yourself a comfortable seat, encourage others to join you and enjoy the class.