Many people miss out on the benefits of yoga because they think these benefits are only accessible to a few lucky people. If you think yoga is only for people who are younger than you, or to those lucky enough to have loads of free time, or only for individuals with naturally slender and flexible bodies, think again. Yoga offers de-stressing, healing benefits to everyone. If you can breath, you can do some form of yoga and you'll be surprised how easy it is, and how much it can minimize both mental and physical tension.
Many people move through their daily lives taking several short, quick breaths every minute. This type of breathing leaves you vulnerable to stress factors in your life and may cause chronic muscle pain, headaches, insomnia, depression and/or irritability. Learning to breathe better can dispel these symptoms.
Count the number of inhale-exhale cycles you take per minute. Then take some time to practice slowing your breath down. Slowly inhale, thinking of filling a three-quart container (the air capacity of the human lungs) from bottom to top. Then slowly exhale, emptying the lungs from top to bottom. As you practice breathing more slowly and deeply on a regular basis, you will become accustomed to using your full lung capacity. Gradually, you will find you take fewer breaths per minute. You will also find yourself becoming more resistant to the tension triggers in your life. Breathing practice is very healing on its own and it also forms the perfect foundation for the two suggestions below.
Mini-breaks of adapted stretching
Even if you are temporarily trapped in a seated position -- whether an airplane seat or an office chair in a cubicle -- you can still do some gentle stretching so that the time spent sitting does not leave you with muscle tension. Extend your left leg straight out in front of you, heel on the floor gently pointing your toes back toward your knee so that the back of your leg stretches. If there is space available, exhale and gently fold your upper body forward to increase the stretch, then inhale and slowly lift your upper body back to seated position and bend your knee, returning the sole of the foot to the floor. Perform this on each side.
To stretch your torso, keep your shoulders pressed to the chair back and your buttocks firmly in contact with the chair seat, then gently slide your upper body to the left until you feel a lengthening of the right side of your body. Only go as far as you comfortably can, then inhale and return to an upright position. Repeat to the opposite side. Simply taking five-minute stretch breaks a couple of times during a regular work day to do gentle stretches like these can ease the tight muscles and chronic back pain.
Practical meditation: re-setting your tension meter
Even if the demands of family and job mean you do not have time to sit in meditation for an hour, you can get some of the benefits of that practice by shifting your perspective. For example, traffic noises from the street or the sound of neighbors playing loud music can aggravate many people. Try combining some wisdom from the Serenity Prayer ("Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, Courage to change the things I can") along with a bit of imagination.
Most of us do not become angry when we hear noises we accept as natural -- birdsong, thunder, raindrops, etc. Practice reacting to traffic noises as if you were hearing the sound of waves rolling onto a beach. If you have to deal with situations or people you dislike, try suspending your judgment. Pretend that you are an anthropologist sent to observe another culture as objectively as possible. Try to take note of the situation with fresh eyes each time, observing new details, but letting go of any temptation to form opinions.
It will be easier to take this kind of flexible approach to daily life if you prepare yourself with at least 10 minutes of breathing practice each day, and use the breath throughout your day to help dispel any tendencies to waste emotional energy on situations you cannot alter. This kind of intelligent emotional economizing will also leave you with more energy to change the things on which you can improve.