When experts tell you how to unwind, yoga exercises often come up.
Yoga is wonderful—don’t get me wrong. But what if you’re at work and you have only five minutes to do something relaxing and you have to do it within a confined space?
Getting onto the dirty office floor to do yoga poses without a mat while wearing nice slacks or a dress, sweating as you stretch your body to its limit and try not to bump into your desk doesn’t sound so enticing!
Well, I learned about two simple exercises that require little to no movement—and take less than five minutes to complete. You don’t have to get on the ground—you can do them while standing or sitting in a chair. The moves may sound simplistic (i.e., lift an imaginary ball), but let me tell you, I’ve been doing them all week in my office and I feel so much calmer!
RELEASE YOUR QI
I learned the moves by talking with Woodson C. Merrell, MD, who has expertise in mind-body therapies such as Qi Gong, which is where these moves come from. Qi Gong is an ancient Chinese practice (upon which Tai Chi is based) that combines rhythmic breathing with slow, gentle, meditative movements to promote mind-body wellness. The goal of Qi Gong, he explained, is to release any blocked energy or Qi (pronounced “chee”) so it can flow freely through the body, which unlocks tension and relieves aches and pains. Whatever your age or fitness level, he said, you can benefit from practicing it.
As you perform each of Dr. Merrell’s exercises, he told me, it’s important to maintain proper posture so that you don’t strain any muscles. If you perform them standing, keep your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart…bend your knees slightly…tuck your buttocks underneath your pelvis and keep your shoulders down and back. If you have arthritis or other health challenges that limit your mobility, do the exercises seated and keep your feet parallel and shoulder-width apart and keep your shoulders down and back. Try to do each of these exercises at least once a day—more often if you’re really on edge, he said.
EXERCISE ONE: DEEP BREATHING
When you perform the breathing in both exercises, breathe through your nose only—if possible. If you can’t (if you have a sinus infection and you’re all stuffed up, for example), then breathing through the mouth is fine, said Dr. Merrell.
This first exercise requires absolutely no movement at all…
• Inhale quietly and slowly to a count of four, allowing your abdomen (not your chest) to rise, as you focus on your breath and let all other thoughts go.
• Pause and hold air for one count.
• Exhale slowly, allowing your abdomen (not your chest) to contract to the count of five.
• Rest for one count.
• Repeat four times, for a total of five.
Slow, deep breathing brings more oxygen into the blood and relaxes your nervous system, said Dr. Merrell.
EXERCISE TWO: LIFT AN IMAGINARY ENERGY BALL
This exercise requires very minimal movement…
• Take a deep abdominal breath in and out, and continue to breathe slowly and deeply throughout this exercise. Again, focus on your breath and let all other thoughts go.
• Allow your arms to slowly float up parallel from your sides, your palms facing each other, as if you’re raising a giant ball of energy to your chest.
• Slowly rotate wrists so your palms face away from your body and push the ball away from your chest until your arms are straight. (If you perform this exercise standing, also step forward with your left foot as you release the ball.)
• Allow arms to float wide apart with your palms facing out, so that you make a T at your shoulders, and bring them gently down to your sides with your palms facing your body. (If standing, either bring your right foot forward or bring your left foot back to its original position.)
• Float arms upward again, parallel in front of you, palms facing each other, holding the ball of energy. When they reach face-level, turn your palms upward (keeping your shoulders relaxed, back and down) and allow them to float toward the ceiling, releasing the energy ball overhead.
• Allow your arms to float slowly back down to your sides, palms facing your body.
• Repeat this two-part movement once, this time stepping forward with your right foot (if you’re standing)
As you focus on the meditative movements and deep breathing, you’ll gain greater tranquility and concentration…and you will increase your flexibility and balance. So try these two quick and simple exercises on your lunch break today!