Illustration: Oscar Ramos Orozco

6 Simple Yoga Stretches for Daily De-Stressing

We have a tradition at the Behance office called the “four o’clock stretch,” where we step away from our desks to do a few simple stretches and recharge. When energy is waning mid-afternoon, it’s pretty incredible how a little deep breathing and muscle movement can completely re-invent your mood.

Below are a few of my favorite “office-friendly stretches.” They don’t require any special clothing, equipment, or training – just a willingness to take a break from hunching over your desk.

1. Square Breathing: Shake off anxiety and clear your head.

There is no aspect of relaxation more important than breathing. When I get particularly hyper-focused at work, my breathing becomes quite shallow. If you’re anything like me, deep breathing alone can have a huge impact on your state of mind. It’s like hitting restart to restore calm, clear thinking.

To begin square breathing, sit in a comfortable, upright position on the floor or in a chair. Inhale through your nose for four counts (1, 2, 3, 4). Hold that breath in for four counts. Exhale through your nose for four counts. Hold that breath out for four counts. That’s one cycle.

Repeat 10 times, going at your own pace: Inhale 2, 3, 4. Hold 2, 3, 4. Exhale, 2, 3 4. Hold, 2, 3, 4.

2. Shoulder stretch: Release neck and shoulder tension.

Interlace your fingers, and raise your arms above your head, with your palms facing upwards. Try to keep your arms in line with your ears, while you look straight ahead and relax your shoulder blades down your back (don’t shrug them up!) Hold for five full breaths in and out through your nose.Let your arms fall down to your sides, roll your shoulders backwards and forwards a few times, then repeat the stretch, holding for five full breaths.

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3. Eagle arms: Ease the deep-seated shoulder knots.

Stand with your feet hip-distance apart. Hold your arms straight out from your sides, parallel to the floor.  Swing your arms toward each other, bringing your left elbow over your right. Then bend your elbows, so the backs of your hands are touching. Now, hook one hand over the other so that your palms are facing each other. For a visual of this complicated explanation, watch this video.

Once you have the arm wrap going, look straight ahead and try to keep your elbows lifted. Press your palms into each other, while you try to pull your elbows apart. Keep your shoulders relaxed. You should feel a powerful stretch in your neck and between your shoulder blades. Hold for five breaths.

Unwrap your arms and hold them out to the side again. Swing them back toward each other, this time bringing the opposite elbow on top. Repeat the pose in the opposite position, holding for five breaths.

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4. Heart opener: Counteract the concave chest of computer hunching.

Still standing with your feet hip-distance apart, reach your hands behind you, clasping them together in a fist at the base of your back. Looking straight ahead, lift your clasped hands as high as you can behind you, pulling your shoulder blades together. (If you want more of a stretch, you can fold over your legs, and let gravity pull your clasped hands toward the floor.) Hold for five full breaths.

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5. Standing forward bend: Let back and neck tension melt away.

Keeping your feet hip-distance apart, fold over your legs. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees. Try to relax into the pose for five full breaths. (If you want a little help from gravity, grab opposite elbows and let your head hang down.)

Then stand up, take a few breaths, and fold over your legs again. This time shaking your head “no” and nodding your head “yes” as you hang over your legs for another breath cycle.

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6. IT Band Stretch: Loosen up after hours of monotonous chair-sitting.

OK, so this last stretch is not the most office-friendly. You have to lay down on the floor, and your jeans can’t be that tight. But if you meet these qualifications, I highly recommend it. You will probably discover some crazy hip tension you didn’t even know you had.

Lie down on your back. Bend your left leg, keeping your left foot flat on the ground. Now put your right ankle on top of your left knee. Then, reach down and clasp your hands around your left thigh, pulling it in towards you. Ultimately, your lower left leg will be parallel to the ground. Keep both feet flexed and breath there.

You should feel the stretch in your hip and buttocks on your right side. If you want a little more stretch, you can push your right elbow into your right knee.

After you’ve held for a few breaths, switch sides. Bend your right leg, and cross your left angle on to the right knee. Clasp your hands behind your right thigh and pull the leg in as before. Hold for five full breaths.

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The most important thing to keep in mind as you’re stretching is continual breathing, and not trying too hard. If something hurts, ease off the stretch a little bit, and keep breathing. You’ll get there eventually.

How Do You Stay Loose?

What stretches or meditation techniques do you use to release tension?

More insights on: Energy / Fatigue, Well-being

Jocelyn K. Glei

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As Editor-in-Chief and Director of 99U, Jocelyn K. Glei leads the 99U in its mission to provide the “missing curriculum” on making ideas happen. She oversees the Webby Award-winning 99u.com website, curates the popular 99U Conference, and is the editor of the 99U books, Manage Your Day-to-Day and Maximize Your Potential.
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