Around seven months ago, I developed a particularly nasty neck spasm that left me unable to orient my head anywhere, except straight ahead. Between several painkillers and painful sessions of physiotherapy, it would take over a month before the symptoms began to subside, but the questions didn’t really stop.
How did a twenty-something with an active lifestyle develop this issue? Will this terrible affliction happen again?
The cause, at least, couldn’t be more obvious. As a career writer, I spend the vast majority of my workdays at a desk, and after two solid years of working from home, my upper spine simply decided to call it quits.
Fortunately, I seem to have discovered a solution — one that also saved me a ton of money and massively improved my mental health.
For most of my life, I’ve been the kind of guy who relied on protein powder and lifting to handle my health concerns, with admittedly decent results. When I realised that staying indoors and lugging around dumbbells was more morose than motivational, I resolved to change my workout routine right from the ground up.
Today is World Yoga Day, and I’d like to sincerely thank the practice as the world celebrates one of the oldest forms of exercise ever conceived. Giving up stuffy, loud gyms, I decided to instead perform yoga and calisthenics in local parks, and have gotten considerably toned and much more flexible in the process, and not to mention the various mental health benefits that came with it
For Tanvi Mehra — founder and teacher at Tangerine Yoga Studio in Bandra, Mumbai — this isn’t too surprising. “One thing I really love about our practice is that it isn’t just physical,” shares the 35-year-old yogini. “It’s mental and emotional too. Working from home through the pandemic has made many of us tense, anxious, and restless right at the level of our nervous system. I think that’s why a lot of people started coming in, and perhaps for the right reasons.”
Now two years in, it’s quite common to see people from all age groups suffer from impaired sleep habits, constant aches, and irritable dispositions. With work now seeping into bedrooms and living rooms across the world, these issues seem inescapable to many.
“Everyone loves being home, true, but adding in work actually made things worse by making it harder to distinguish between personal and professional time. It encroaches a lot on our ‘me time’ that we should be investing in self-care.
A lot of my students who never had neck or back pain suddenly ended up developing it, and I realised that the one hour they spend on a [yoga] mat each day became one of their daily highlights. They would just tear themselves away from their laptops and make it onto their mats, and this would instantly uplift their energy and release their tension — for most of us, not using our laptops and not working isn’t really an option.
Instead, it’s better to find simple solutions that we can adopt on our own. Quick yoga breaks can really help settle our joints and relieve fatigue. The whole point of yoga is that it shouldn’t depend on having a teacher – you should be able to just roll out your mat and do it at any point of the day.”
With that in mind, we got Mehra to share her key poses or asanas for all of us suffering from the work-from-home blues, along with extra tips to keep your body comfortable even as you work.
“Gomukhasana is a seated pose that works well on the arms, but you can even do it on a chair at your desk. You simply clasp your arms behind the back, and it’s really good to open up your chest, upper back, neck, and shoulders. It’s also very mentally relaxing.”
“Then comes the cat-and-cow or Chakravakasana pose. This one is so basic and foundational — it’s very accessible and anyone can do it to relax the spine. If you suffer from knee pain, you can even cushion your knees and go through the two positions back and forth.”
“I would also greatly recommend a gentle cobra pose, or Bhujangasana. You need to lie down on your belly, and just keep your hands beside your chest. You don’t even need to go all the way through – just a gentle liftoff and comedown. This alone can help weakened muscles such as your neck, shoulder, and upper back wake up and strengthen over time.”
“The downward dog or Adho Mukha Svanasana is another great position to try. It’s actually a full body stretch that’s still accessible to people with weaker hamstrings simply by letting them bend their knees. It’s almost like a ‘yawn’ for the whole body!”
“Finally, I’d incorporate the tri-pose or Utthita Trikonasana – just lean towards the edge of your mat, till the end of your heels, extend your arms out, forehead pointed to the floor. It generally loosens up the pelvis and hips, but also has a soothing effect – many poses that allow you to point your forehead downwards can help you slow down and calm yourself.
These focus on your brain’s cerebral cortex – the part of your brain that’s constantly busy in making decisions and processing information.”
Mehra also recommends incorporating regular mini-breaks into your daily workflow, designed to help relieve stress in your body and mind.
“While you’re at the desk, your chair happens to function as a handy prop,” she explains. ”In fact, in Iyengar yoga, chairs were used in order to help with support and balance for many different postures.
Now you don’t need a specific yoga chair as such, but you can always try twisting your spine while stabilising yourself by holding the sides of your seat; don’t forget to also use this position to stretch your neck towards the left and right. You can also open up your neck by putting your arms together behind your back, and pushing your head forwards while stretching it downwards.
For mental wellness, Mehra recommends first focusing on your eyes, which are subjected to several hours of strain on most workdays.
“Try rubbing your palms together, back straight, heat them up and apply them to your eyes for fifteen seconds to a minute — a technique called palming. You don’t need rose water or eye masks or anything — just heat up your palms, cover your eyes, and you’ll instantly feel better.
Also, remember to relax the muscles within your eyes by allowing them to defocus a bit. You can do this by standing at a window and looking far off at a specific object such as a tree outside your window.”
Mehra’s final piece of advice is to simply prioritise ourselves a little more. Working from home often leads to self-neglect, and it’s our job to stay ahead of the curve.
“It’s human mentality to wait for a problem to arise before taking action,” says Mehra. “I’d just advise everyone to get ahead and begin practising yoga like this before bigger issues arise. It won’t make you bulletproof, but it’ll certainly help you deal with issues from a much healthier perspective, mentally, emotionally, and physically as well.
Just take it up right away; it’s for everyone from kids to teenagers, adults, and senior citizens!”
(If you live in Mumbai and would like personal training to help with your fatigue issues, consider reaching out to Mehra’s team at Tangerine. They hold tri-weekly classes that are friendly to both beginners and experts alike as well as several unique and personalised sessions. Find out more here.)
(Featured Image Credits: Representational Image via Sidharth Malhotra’s Instagram)