Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Yoga Teaches Us to Meet Ourselves Where We Are

By Janine L. Agoglia

When I teach a yoga asana class, students show up with all different abilities, body types, learning styles, strengths and limitations. The challenge, as an instructor, is to build a class where everyone is challenged in the same way without feeling overwhelmed. As a student, the challenge is to only take on what is possible and not compare yourself to others in the room. Be in your body and keep your eyes on your own mat; the only person judging your limitations is you (and even you don't need to be doing that).

Step #1: Listen to your body and notice.
Are you panting or can you control your breathing while doing what you are doing? Are you holding your breath? Are you feeling pain or just the sensation of muscles working or stretching? Is your mind racing or are your thoughts more controlled and inquisitive? Your body holds all the answers, you just need to learn to speak its language. Ideally, no matter what your body is doing, your breath is controlled, moving smoothly and evenly, there is no sharp pain and you feel in control. For more on this, see How to Know Your Limits in a Yoga Class.

Step #2: Respond appropriately.
Once you've listened and your body has told you "you're fine, continue on," or "you can go deeper/farther," or "time to back off," respond to that message. Practice yoga with the body that you have today, not that of your neighbor or even your body yesterday. Every day, every moment is a new opportunity to check in with yourself and see if all is good. If your breath gets short, choppy and erratic, back off; rest, reset and come back to the practice in control. Injury happens when we push ourselves beyond our capabilities. If everyone in the class is standing on their hands and you don't feel ready, take Downward Dog. If everyone is side bending their Tree Pose and you are struggling to balance, just stay upright; fall if you need to. If everyone is doing bridge pose and you feel like going up into Wheel, go for it! The great thing about yoga is that it is a "non-competitive sport," where resting is okay, pushing yourself appropriately is okay, doing exactly what the teacher instructs is okay, modifying the practice to suit you is okay. You have permission to take make the practice more or less challenging according to how you feel on any given day. Today you might be raring to go, ready to sweat and work hard; tomorrow you might need to take things a little slower, drop into Child's Pose more often than is instructed. Both are completely fine and allowed. The key is to listen to what your body, not your mind/ego, is telling you. Unfortunately the ego is usually the louder voice in your mind telling you "I can't do this" or "she's doing it, I can too" or "when will this end?!" The body is sensation and when you tune into the sensation of your body, you get our of your mind and things get quiet. Calm. Still. Centered. Relaxed. Even in challenging poses. These are some of the other benefits of practicing yoga.

Step #3: Take your practice off the mat.
Why do we practice yoga? So that we can learn how to move through our lives more peacefully, more lovingly, more in control of our body and mind. The challenge is taking this knowledge off the mat and into our world. Once you can hold Warrior 2 without crying, maybe you can also tolerate your child having a tantrum at the supermarket, responding with compassion for your child rather than worrying about what everyone else may be thinking. Maybe you can tolerate the discomfort of your child falling apart because you learned how not to fall apart. Dealing with challenging clients or co-workers in your life might be like dealing with poses you don't like (the ones you hate are the ones you need the most...). If you can learn to accept that these people will be in your life in some capacity, find your breath and see if you can meet them with compassion. Their bad behavior is not about you, even if they take it out on you. Maybe you can respond, instead of react by taking a few breaths, accepting that this interaction is happening and then do something. Answer their question mindfully, tell them that you don't like being yelled at but that you would be happy to calmly discuss the problem, walk away, or maybe some other possibility. You might be having a bad day where everything goes wrong, you are stressed, exhausted, hungry, you know those days. Can you find compassion for yourself? You don't have to be perfect, you can ask for help, you can honor how you feel and do the best you can. Maybe you go to bed early with the house still a mess or the dishes or laundry undone or the assignment incomplete. Tomorrow will come when you can meet whatever is looming with a fresh body and mind. Take a do-over and let it be okay.

The point is, difficulty happens, stress happens, life happens. Yoga teaches us to honor where we are and meet ourselves at that point. By doing that we can respond to challenges in a way that feels authentic, and doesn't leave us feeling regret. How can you do that? Connect to the lessons you learned on your mat.

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life, on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

How to Have a Mindful Pilates Practice

By Kay Finn

We hear a lot about Mindfulness these days. What does this mean?

Mindfulness, as defined by Jon Kabat-Zinn (founder of the Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Program at UMASS Medical), is: Mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way; on purpuse, in the present moment and non-judgementally." If you can approach Pilates (and Yoga and Barre and everything you do!) in a mindful way, you will get so much more out of the exercise experience.

There are six common principles in Pilates: Concentration, Control, Flowing Natural Movement, Breath, Precision and Centering.

  • Concentration requires the ability to be in the moment, to "be present" and to coordinate the mind to what the body is doing.
  • Pilates was originally called Contrology by Joseph PIlates. Here, the mind controls the body.
  • In Pilates the flow has a specific beginning and ending, the Breath is important to oxygenate the muscles, nourish and cleanse the body's systems throughout.
  • We practice Pilates exercises in a specific order and very deliberately and purposefully (with Precision). It is important to learn and understand the essence, or reason, for each exercise.
  • Lastly, all of our energy comes from our center, sometimes referred to as the "powerhouse." This center includes our abdominals, lower back, hips and gluteals.
It is easy to see how all of this used together makes for a mindful experience. Although it is challenging to be mindful, the result is incredibly satisfying!

Let's take you through a mock class:

Show up for your favorite class and put your outside life on hold for the length of the class. Scan your body and relax any muscles that you can. Breathe in deeply through your nose and exhale all the air out through pursed lips. Feel how this expands your rib cage and helps you concentrate on contracting your deep abdominal muscles. Listen to the teacher's cues and follow the pattern of movement. Try to use the correct muscles necessary to complete the movement. Be deliberate about this; if you are using compensatory muscles, modify or complete fewer repetitions. Think about how each exercise makes YOU feel. When class is over, see how different you feel compared to how you felt at the beginning of the class. If you show up for class planning to focus on your movement, pay attention to how you feel and what you can do (without judgement). You will be completing a mindful Pilates practice!

Kay Finn is Director of the Stott Pilates Studio at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA. Kay is a longtime fitness enthusiast who began her Pilates experience in 2004 by taking a Pilates mat class. After several years of taking mat and equipment classes, Kay began her formal training at Northeast Pilates in 2006 and completed her training for certification with Stott Pilates in 2008. She is fully certified on the Mat, Reformer, Cadillac, Chair and Barrels through Stott Pilates. 
Kay has been teaching Pilates at Longfellow since 2007. She teaches group exercise classes, small group classes on the mixed equipment and private sessions with individuals on the equipment in the Pilates Studio.  In addition to teaching and spending time with her extended family, Kay enjoys biking, swimming, walking her dog and Yoga. 


Friday, January 6, 2017

Practicing Yoga and Finding the Pause

By Janine L. Agoglia

This morning I was poking around Facebook, as I often do, and came across a wonderful meme that was titled "Practice the Pause."

"Pause before judging.
Pause before assuming.
Pause before accusing.
Pause whenever you are about to react harshly and you will avoid doing and saying things that you will later regret."     ~Lori Deschene

The practice of yoga helps us find that pause. Just being present allows us to create space in ourselves to respond, rather than react. "React" involves impulse, no thinking or forethought, whereas "respond" implies thoughtfulness, acting with purpose and intention. When we practice yoga, using our breath to help us connect our mind to our body, we learn how to respond, rather than react.

The mind is constantly going from one thought to the next, whether we realize it or not. When practicing asana (the physical practice of yoga) we are giving the mind something to focus on: our breath, our alignment, sensation in the body. Your mind tends not to wander when you are holding Warrior 2 for awhile. Your mind is much more conscious of how much your legs (and hopefully your core and upper back) are working (sometimes screaming) which keeps you in the present. While feeling those "sensations" we have a few options:

1. You can move away from the sensations and come out of the pose.
2. You can brace against the sensations while screaming in your head wondering how much longer you need to stay in the pose.
3. You can breathe deeply and allow space for the sensations and thoughts to be there; simply notice.

#1 could be a reaction or a response. If at the first sign of "sensation" you come out of the pose, that is a reaction. However, if after a few breaths you decide that this pose is no longer serving your body and it would be better to come out of it, that is a response. The pause that happens when you take those few breaths gives you a chance to really assess what is happening: I feel like I am dying; am I really dying or is that just the story that I'm going with right now? Creating that space, or that pause, allows you time to check in to the true nature of what is happening in your body and mind. Usually we are stronger than we think but we lack faith in ourselves. Or we are overzealous, doing things our bodies really don't want us to do (this usually leads to injury). When we practice yoga using #3, we can really tune into what is happening now. Can I be in this moment and still be okay? Do I need to rest? Do I need to stay? Am I breathing? Creating a pause allows us to gather more information to make an informed decision about how to proceed.

We practice this in class so that we can use this skill in our daily lives. What if you could pause while you are interacting with your children, spouse or parents? What if you could pause when dealing with challenging occurrences in your life? Finding a way to respond, rather than react, can prevent escalation which can lead to regret.

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life, on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Gratitude as the Cure for Anxiety

By Janine L. Agoglia

The holiday season is a time of year when people tend to be in a better mood and are kinder to their fellow human. On the flip side of that, people also tend to be rushing around, preparing for the holidays, anxious that they won't get everything done. "I just need to make it to January" is often the mind set.

The problem with "just making it until..." is that you are not able to enjoy what is happening now. By constantly looking ahead, you are missing your current life. Anxiety lives in the future, so that type of thinking is often very stressful and uncomfortable. When you worry about things over which you have no control (like things that haven't happened yet and may or may not ever happen) it causes anxiety and stress. Focusing on something that you do have control over can help you feel more calm and in control of your body and mind.

Gratitude is a practice that can bring you into the present. There is a saying that says "Fear and Gratitude cannot occupy the same space." It is hard to be worried about all of the food you need to buy and prepare when you are grateful for the food that you have and the family members for whom you are preparing it.

If you find yourself getting stressed this holiday season (or at any time during the year), take a moment to close your eyes and breathe (please keep your eyes open if you are driving). Inhale through your nose filling the belly (not the chest) with air, and then exhale very slowly, allowing your belly to deflate again. Try to make the inhale and exhale of equal length, or the exhale slightly longer than the inahle. Repeat this 5 times. Then think of 3 things for which you are grateful. You can just think them to yourself, you can write them down, you can say them out loud, whatever works for you. Sit with those 3 things and really allow them into your heart and consciousness. You may also notice that your stress has dissipated.

Making Gratitude a daily practice can go a long way toward easing your anxiety and helping you enjoy the life you are living.

Happy Holidays!

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life, on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

T'ai Chi: Grasp The Sparrow's Tail and the 4 Primary Jins

This article was originally published by Jon Woodward on www.metrowesttaichi.com and was reposted here by permission.

By Jon Woodward

In many styles of T'ai Chi there is a fascinating movement often called "Grasp The Sparrow's Tail." It might also be called "Grasp The Swallow's Tail" or "Grasp The Peacock's Tail" or simply "Grasp The Bird's Tail." This move is different than many other movements in T'ai Chi as it has four distinct parts that relate to some deeper aspects of T'ai Chi. These four parts are:

  • Ward Off
  • Roll Back
  • Press
  • Push 
Grasp The Sparrow's Tail is very common throughout most styles of T'ai Chi and is a movement that holds a lot of significance within T'ai Chi. Keep that thought-- we'll come back to it in a moment.

T'ai Chi is an internal martial art, meaning that instead of using our muscles to generate force, the thought is that we use a relaxed structure and "internal energy" to generate force. In T'ai Chi, the expression of this energy is broken up into eight categories, often called the "8 Jin" (or "8 Jing"). Within these 8 Jin, the first four are considered the so-called "primary" ones. These 4 Jin are:

  • Peng (pronounced "Pung")
  • Lu (pronounced "Leeu")
  • Ji (pronounced "Jee")
  • An (pronounced "Ahn")

In English, these are typically translated into:

  • Peng-- Ward Off
  • Lu-- Roll Back
  • Ji-- Press
  • An-- Push

Maybe you have noticed that the English translations are also the four parts of Grasp The Sparrow's Tail (how very astute of you). As you may have guessed, the four parts of this movement exemplify the expressions of energy in those four primary Jin.

However, the translations and the movements can be a little deceiving. So let's take a moment and go through each of these four Jin and try to figure out what they actually are doing.

Peng-- Ward Off
You may have noticed that I bolded this first one (again, very astute of you). That is because Peng is the basis for all the other Jins. Everything else derives from, or grows out of Peng.

Peng is an outward and expanding energy. It has a somewhat elastic or bouncy feel to it but is very substantial at the same time. You can imagine a balloon as having Peng energy. If you imagine pushing on the balloon that is against a firm surface, such as a wall, it would give a bit. But however hard you push, it is as if your push is getting returned right back to you-- as if your energy is being redirected back to you. A better translation of Peng might be "Boing." This is the feel of Peng.

When performing "Ward Off" within Grasp The Sparrow's Tail, we ideally want the warding off arm to expand outward and upward with the use of Peng. We want to strive for a feel of this arm moving as if there is a balloon sitting between our arm and body that is being inflated. As the balloon inflates, the arm floats outward and upward.

Lu--Roll Back
Lu is a feel of opening up a space. If you imagine that you have expanded a bubble of Peng around you, and that someone is pushing on that bubble, Lu would be an opening of space that they would then fall into. Lu uses a state of Peng to create that opening. Without the Peng, we could not create the opening.

We can also create different expressions of Lu. For instance, as an alternative to simply creating a void for someone to fall into, if someone were to push on our arm when we are in the Ward Off position, we could open up space (Lu) while maintaining a small amount of Peng. If done well, they would feel as if they were pushing on a soft balloon and would simply roll off the balloon.

When we perform the Roll Back part of Grasp The Sparrow's Tail, we want to open up a space within our Peng. If we imagine an opponent coming at us, we open up the space and allow them to come at us and then just softly redirect or "re-guide" their energy so that it flows past us instead of directly at us. We want to do this in a relaxed state without using force to guide or pull them. If done well, your opponent will not notice the redirection. It will feel to them as if they are following their natural path right at you, but you simply just vaporized. To them it feels as if they are pushing into nothingness.

Ji-- Press
Ji is a compressing or squeezing type of energy. It takes the expansiveness of Peng and compresses it to focus it. It takes the opponent's energy and redirects it right back at them in a very channelled and penetrative manner.

You can imagine it as squeezing through a small space between your opponent's arms to deliver a penetrating blow.

When we perform Press in our Grasp The Sparrow's Tail move, it is as if we are gathering up a whole bunch of Peng that we have built up, and then compressed that Peng into a focused point at our wrists. We then express that focused energy forward. 

An-- Push
Push is much less about actually pushing and much more about rooting and sinking and bringing your opponent's energy down into your root. Push is like a downward expression of Peng with some qualities of Lu. The downward expression of Peng is done effortlessly, and to your opponent it can feel as if they are falling into a hole.

If an opponent is coming at you, then you simply redirect their energy downward. When done well, this will result in the opponent losing their root and becoming off balance. From there you could execute a roll back and let them fall on by you, or you could turn their energy around and expand your Peng energy, thus uprooting them and throwing them backward.

When we perform Push in the Grasp The Sparrow's Tail move, we want to be very aware of the sinking of the elbows and hands as we withdraw. This is the part of the movement (as opposed to the actual pushing forward) that expresses the An quality of the move.

When we are practicing Grasp The Sparrow's Tail, it is helpful to know how these energy expressions relate to the different part of the movement. This gives us an opportunity to experience the movements while directing our internal energy, rather than simply moving our limbs around our body.

So as we can see, the four parts of Grasp The Sparrow's Tail relate very closely to the 4 Primary Jins. It is also interesting to note that on a more subtle level these 4 Jins can exist in every movement of T'ai Chi--especially in the Traditional Form (it might be a bit more difficult to find each of these in every move of the T'ai Chi for Balance program since these moves have been modified to focus on balance). This gives us the opportunity to be aware of the expression of energy and to look for it as we are moving through our form.

If you have not yet done this, give it a try. Choose a movement (it might be helpful to start with Grasp The Sparrow's Tail) and explore that movement to see if you can find how the energy is being expressed in it. On a deeper level, once you become accustomed to the energy, see if you can have the energy generating the movement, rather than the movement generating the energy.

Have Fun!

Jon Woodward is a certified T'ai Chi instructor who has been practicing T'ai Chi for over 30 years. He has been teaching classes in Metrowest for over 5 years.

Friday, July 22, 2016

Improving Balance as we Age: Working from the Ground, Up

By Janine L. Agoglia

As we age, balance becomes a bigger issue. Many falls occur because people lose their balance. In an aging body, a fall can lead to broken bones which are often slow to heal. To avoid this, it is really important to work on your balance preventatively. This will strengthen your legs and ankles giving you a more solid, steady gait. If you can stand on one foot, standing on two feet becomes that much easier!

The key to balance of any kind (whether upside down or right side up) is adaptability. The more you can adapt to subtle shifts in your weight and breath, the easier it is to hold and maintain your balance. When you are rigid, and trying to "hold on for dear life," you are much more likely to fall over. Yoga Sutra 2.46, written by the ancient yogi Patanjali, is "Sthira Sukham Asanam" which translates to Steady, Comfortable Seat. Every yoga pose should feel strong and steady, while simultaneously feeling comfortable and relaxed. It is finding that equilibrium between stability and ease that creates balance.


Mountain Pose
Start with your foundation by finding stability on two feet. For more information about that, read about Mountain Pose (Tadasana) in Reducing Anxiety by Becoming a Mountain. Just practicing Tadasana/Mountain Pose daily can help you to develop your awareness of where you hold your weight on your feet. It builds your strength and stability from the ground, up. Start by holding the pose for 5-10 breaths, working your way up to 20 breaths. The goal is to be fully present on your feet, engaging the muscles to hold you up while also feeling a sense of relaxation and ease through the entire 5-20 breaths.

Once that is comfortable, you can begin practicing one-legged balance poses, such as Tree Pose (Vrksasana).

Variation #1
Variation #2
Start by standing in Mountain Pose and shift most of your weight onto your right foot so that you can raise your left heel off the floor (ball of the foot is still on the ground). Keep the basic alignment of Mountain (stacking the hip over the knee over the ankle), pressing the right foot strongly into the floor while engaging your right thigh and buttock and your lower abdominal muscles. Once that feels stable, try floating your left foot off the floor, raising your left knee toward your chest. Once that feels stable, place your left foot somewhere on the inner right leg (above or below the knee) and move your left knee as far to the left as you can while keeping the pelvis aiming forward. Your knee will end up on a diagonal, it will
Variation #3
never be flat to the side; if it is flat to the side that means you have shifted your pelvis which will throw off the alignment of your standing
leg. You can place your hands on your hips (Variation #1), you can bring your palms together in front of your heart (Variation #2, Anjali Mudra) or for more of a challenge you can raise your arms above your head, providing that you keep your
shoulders down (Variation #3). Hold Tree Pose as long as you can, remembering to stay relaxed, both in body and mind. Keep breathing in and out evenly through your nose. When one side is tired, try it on the other leg. You may notice that balance is much easier on one side that it is on the other; this is completely normal. We don't lead symmetrical lives so it is common for one side to be stronger than the other. Over time, with practice, this should even out.

Falling over is also normal. Balance is found by falling over a lot first. What is most important is how you relate to the falling over. If you are harsh or critical with yourself, you will create more tension in your body and make it that much harder to find your balance. If instead you say only kind and supportive things to yourself, it is much easier to maintain that sense of ease.

Try making balance part of your daily life, any time you find yourself standing. Try washing the dishes, talking on the phone or brushing your teeth while standing on one leg (it doesn't need to be Tree Pose, but it can be). The more you practice, the easier it gets and more quickly you will see improvement.

Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life, on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.


Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Office Yoga: 5 Yoga Stretches that Help You Feel Better at Your Desk

Technology. It is great for the mind, but horrible for the body. When you spend 8 hours (or more) at a desk, staring at and typing on a computer, your body starts to fall apart: Neck pain, back pain, jaw pain, wrist pain, they are all par for the course when you have a desk job.

Many people claim that they don't have time for yoga, even though they know that it will help their body and mind feel better. Luckily, yoga is very adaptable. There are many poses that can be done while sitting to stretch out the neck, shoulders and back so that your computer doesn't have to be your body's enemy.

As the saying goes, "An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure." Proper posture is essential to minimizing the effects of desk work on your body. Ideally your computer station should be set up with your screen at eye level and your keyboard at or slightly below elbow level. Your chair should encourage you to sit vertically, on your sit bones, with your feet comfortably on the floor, placing your knees slightly lower than your hips. Taking short breaks every hour can help you reconnect with your vertical posture while still allowing you to get work done. Those little breaks are a great time for some Office Yoga!

1. Half neck rolls: These are great for relieving neck and upper back tension that is common with
computer work. Simple neck rolls can be done in your chair with your feet on the floor. Sit up straight. Inhale, and while you exhale drop your chin toward your chest. Take 3-5 breaths letting your head and neck relax. Next, roll your head to the right until your right ear is aiming toward your right shoulder and your left ear is aiming toward the ceiling. Take 3-5 breaths here then roll back through center and repeat to the left. Once you've stayed on the left for 3-5 breaths, roll back and forth from side to side, letting your head swing like a pendulum. Never drop your head straight back which can cause compression in your cervical vertebrae.

 







 
  • Variation #1: While your head is to the right side, on an exhale, rotate your chin toward your right collar bone and then on your next exhale, up toward the ceiling. You can hold each position for about 3 breaths as well. Repeat to the left.
  • Variation #2: Before starting the half neck rolls, cross your right arm over your left arm as close to the elbows as you can get. Try to reach each hand to the opposite shoulder (right hand to left shoulder, left hand to right shoulder). Make sure to press your shoulders downward. Then do the half neck rolls as described above. Then cross your left arm over your right arm as close to the elbows as possible, grabbing your opposite shoulders and repeat the half neck rolls.

General Guidelines: Choose a different variation each time you stretch to change up the movements you offer your body. Be gentle with yourself. This should feel good, not strained. If your neck muscles start to feel strained, stop and do less the next time. Listen to your body, it will tell you when you've had enough.

2. Seated Twist: This pose can relieve your lower back tension. Sit toward the front of your chair so that your feet can be comfortably on the floor. Keeping your spine straight and vertical, turn your rib cage to the right so that your left ribs are moving forward and your right ribs are moving backward; your pelvis should stay facing forward. Gently turn your face and gaze to the right, keeping your head vertical as well. Feel free to rest your left arm on your right side arm-rest, if your chair has one. If not, you can rest your left hand on your right knee. Hold for 3-5 breaths, then repeat to the left.

General Guidelines: Make sure you are not pushing or forcing yourself into the twist using your arms, the movement comes from the core of your body (obliques, quadratus lumborum). This ensures safe twisting. If you have moderate to severe scoliosis or any disc problems, consult your doctor before twisting.

3. Hamstring Stretch: One problem with sitting for long periods is that your hamstrings (muscles behind your thighs) are in a constant state of contraction. Tight hamstrings can lead to lower back problems (read Common Causes of Lower Back Pain and their Yoga Solutions). By working to release the hamstrings it can relieve the tension in your lower back. Sit toward the front of your chair with your left foot flat on the floor. Extend your right leg forward with the heel resting on the floor (feel free to take your shoes off for this one if you like). Sitting vertically might already create a stretch in your right leg. If so, just stay and breathe, 3-5 breaths. If you don't yet feel a stretch, keeping your spine straight, tip your pelvis forward so that your navel is moving closer to your lap. Move until you feel a stretch then stay 3-5 breaths and repeat on the other side.

General Guidelines: Make sure you are not rounding your spine, the stretch comes from the movement of the pelvis, not from your head dropping forward. When you round your spine, you lose the connection to your hamstrings and you are only stretching your lower back.

4. Seated Pigeon pose: Sit with your left foot flat on the floor and cross your right ankle over your left knee. If you can't get the ankle on the knee, straighten your left leg until you can, then work toward bringing the left foot closer to you until the foot is under the knee (it may not get there right away). Sit up as straight as possible while letting your right knee drop toward the floor. If you are already feeling a stretch in the right hip/glutes, stay just as you are and take 3-5 slow breaths. If you are not yet feeling a stretch, keeping your spine straight, tip your pelvis forward, reaching your navel toward your right shin. Stop when if feels like a significant enough stretch. Hold 3-5 slow breaths then repeat to the other side.

General Guidelines: Make sure to keep the top ankle flexed (rather than relaxing the foot) so as to stabilize the ankle, thus putting all of the stretch into your hip where you need it. If you have had a hip replacement, keep the bottom leg a little straighter so there is less hip flexion; you may also need to keep your top knee slightly elevated by supporting it with your hands. Try not to force the stretch, move into it slowly and comfortably.

5. Upper back bend/chest opener: Make sure you are sitting in a
lower-backed chair. If you don't have one, go to Variation #1. Sit all the way back on your chair so that your back is pressed against the back of your chair. As you inhale, sit up even taller. As you exhale, lean back over the top of your chair back creating a small back bend over the back of your chair. The base of your skull should rest on the back of your chair. Reach your arms out to the sides with the palms facing the ceiling. Take 3-5 breaths, trying to expand your rib cage and chest with air, increasing your lung capacity with every inhale and emptying completely with every exhale.

  • Variation #1: Sit toward the front of your chair and interlace your fingers behind your lower back. Try to bring your palms together so they touch (you might need to bend your elbows). As you inhale, squeeze your shoulder blades together and imagine that your collar bones are spreading apart. As you exhale reach your knuckles away from your hips. Stay 3-5 breaths, then repeat with the other set of fingers on top (if your left thumb is on top, shift all of your fingers over by one until your right thumb is on top). Variation #1a: If you can't bring your hands together, grab either side of your chair back and press your chest forward while squeezing your shoulder blades together. 


       

  • Variation #2: Start with Variation # 1. Inhale, then as you exhale, fold forward over your lap, reaching your knuckles toward the ceiling. This will stretch the chest, shoulders and lower back. Hold 3-5 breaths, then repeat with the other fingers on top. Variation #2a: If you were grabbing the back of your chair, slide your hands down to the arms as you fold forward, still moving your shoulder blades toward each other. 
General Guidelines: Make sure not to let your wrists pop outward. Try to make a combined fist with your two hands. Squeeze from your Rhomboids (muscles between your shoulder blades) to get the most stretch and opening in your chest and shoulders.


Once you've finished your Office yoga practice, end with sitting upright in your chair, feet planted on the floor and close your eyes. Place your hands on your lower abdomen and take 5 slow belly breaths, expanding the belly as you inhale and letting it gently contract as you exhale. Breathe slowly and evenly, in and out. Open your eyes and go back to work feeling more energized and relaxed.


Janine L. Agoglia has been teaching Vinyasa yoga since 1998. Her yoga journey started in 1995 with Iyengar Yoga and she discovered Vinyasa yoga in 1997. The combination of breath with proper body alignment is what fuels Janine's practice and the classes that she teaches. She believes that yoga should be safe as well as challenging, creative and fun. She always emphasizes proper alignment within the flow, as well as focus, breath and humor to help students find the balance between strength and ease. Deepening one’s physical awareness helps one strengthen his/her spiritual awareness and mind-body connection. Janine loves being able to help people deepen their own practices, finding yoga in everyday life, on and off the mat. Her DVD, “Vinyasa Yoga for Regular People” is available for purchase at the front desk at Lumina Mind Body Studios in Wayland, MA.

In addition to being the Co-Director of Yoga and teaching yoga classes at Lumina Mind Body Studios, Janine is also a Licensed Acupuncturist and Chinese Herbalist who practices at Integrative Therapeutics in Natick, MA.

To contact Janine, please email acuyogamama@hotmail.com or visit her website, www.acuyogamama.com.