What do you do if you have the body and mind of a yogi, but are trapped in the career of a corporate lawyer?
If you're Laura Baron, you turn all those problem-solving skills you've learned from helping clients to help heal people just like you. Oh, and leave the law profession in the process.
For Baron, 32, the switch from her fast-paced twelve-plus hour workdays to teaching yoga classes was a gradual one.
"There was the first yoga retreat I went to following a very busy, high intensity period at work when my yoga practice had dropped off," she recalls. "The change I saw in my stress level from just a few days at the retreat was so dramatic that I reconciled with a few days of my return to make the practice and study of yoga a priority in my life."
Friends who had left traditional professional careers to start their own businesses were also an inspiration.
"I think watching them gave me confidence that I too could turn my dream and the opportunity I saw into reality," Baron says.
But it was an extended trip to India in the winter of 2013 to focus on yoga, meditation and volunteering that really helped solidify the idea of a studio that was geared toward people who work long, stressful hours in offices and need the kind of break yoga offers more than anyone. When Baron returned home, she left her job and started working on her studio, the newly opened Yoga Be.
Located in Toronto's PATH system, which connects more than 200,000 workers in downtown skyscrapers, the studio takes into account the varying needs of its clients.
"Traditional ashtanga and hatha classes are complemented by fitness-focused classes, like Michael DeCorte's popular Jock Yoga," Baron explains. "We decided to include a pre-natal drop-in class right out of the gate because there's absolutely no prenatal yoga offerings for expecting mums in the downtown core."
She's also offering 20-minute "Better Than Coffee Yoga Breaks," drop-in classes that allow people to do yoga in their work clothes.
"The idea behind the Yoga Break is that everyone can find 20 minutes, so you can fit yoga into your day even if they don't have a full hour to be on your mat," she says. "Of course the physical benefits of a 20-minute practice designed to be done in your work clothes are very different from a 60-minute practice that leaves you sweaty. However, there is well-documented research now that even 20 minutes a day of a mindful practice like yoga has significant health benefits, dramatically reduces stress and improves emotional resilience."
Below, find Laura's tips for on-the-go relaxation, as well as three yoga moves you can do in the comfort of your office:
Take A Mindful Mini-Break
Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present moment, and has the profound effect of clearing and calming the mind. Whether you're standing in line to order your lunch, sitting on the train as you commute to work, or taking the elevator, take that time to bring as much awareness as possible to the physical reality of that moment. How your feet feel in your shoes, how the air feels on your face, the sounds, smells and colours around you. In doing so you'll clear away your mental chatter and create a mental state of relaxed awareness.
When I was a lawyer, I would often buy myself a little bouquet of fresh flowers to keep on my desk. The vibrant colour and lovely scent made me happy every time I looked at them. Think about what makes you happy — maybe a great coffee, a particular song, or a funny blog, and then give yourself that gift.
Remember To Breathe
Try this simple breathing exercise for a quick dose of relaxation. Sitting comfortably, take long deep breaths for a count of 5 on each inhalation and 5 on each exhalation. On your inhalation, visualize your breath filling your body from the bottom of your abdomen to the top of your sternum. On your exhalation, visualize the breath leaving your body in reverse, from the top down. Balancing your inhalations and exhalations will instantly reduce stress and anxiety, and create a sensation of calm.
A Twist a Day...
Over time, our spines gradually lose their flexibility and mobility. Taking a minute or two every day at your desk to do this simple twist will help to maintain and improve the flexibility in your spine. Plus, when you release a twist there is an instant boost to your circulation, which will brighten your mood and energy level.
1. Sitting on the edge of your chair, bring your right hand to the outer edge of your left knee. Ensure your feet are aligned under your knees, parallel to each other.
2. Lift through your sternum, elongate your spine, and resist your left knee against your right hand as you twist your torso to the right. Let your left knee slide slightly forward to protect your lumbar spine.
3. Hold the pose for five deep breaths. On your inhalations visualize your spine getting longer and taller, and on your exhalations visualize opening up your chest further to the right. Repeat, twisting to the left.
Modified Desk Dog
"This is my go-to pose for a long day at my desk," says Baron. The desk dog stretches out the hamstrings (especially great for high heel-wearers), the glutes, and the entire spine. As an inversion (i.e. any pose where your head is lower than your hips), the pose also encourages circulation, improving digestion and mental clarity. If you're feeling mentally scattered with a ton on your plate for the day, take a few minutes for this pose and you'll calm and focus the mind.
1. Moving aside your chair, take the edge of your desk with your hands, shoulder-width apart, and stretch your arms straight so your body, back and arms form a right angle with your legs. Keep your head and neck in-line with your arms, and your gaze towards your feet.
2. Place your feet hip-distance apart. Bend your legs as much as needed so there’s no discomfort in your hamstrings.
3. Using your grip on your desk to feel anchored through your shoulders and back, activate your core muscles by drawing your navel in towards your spine.
4. Take five deep breaths. On each inhalation, visualize drawing up and back through your hips, to create more length in your spine from the crown of your head all the way to your sit bones. On each exhalation, visualize the weight of your head bringing your back and arms into a perpendicular line with the floor.
The full expression of eagle pose is a balancing posture done on one foot. In this version, we'll stay seated and focus on the benefits in the shoulders, back and arms. The compression in legs and arms in this pose, created by the twisting action, is also awesome for waking up the body — try it if you've hit a mid-afternoon slump.
1. Sitting on the edge of your chair, cross your right leg over your left, allowing it to wrap around your left calf as far as is comfortable for you.
2. Holding your right arm in a 90-degree angle in front of you, now take your left arm and swing it under your right, twisting your left forearm around your right so your hands align in a prayer position.
3. Pressing down through your left heel, lift your gaze towards the ceiling, lengthen through your spine, and raise your arms up and away from your torso any amount, feeling the stretch across the back of your shoulders and a gentle opening across the chest and front body.
4. Hold the pose for five deep breaths. On your inhalations lift your arms further away from the body and visualize the spine getting longer. On your exhalations, allow the compression in your arms and legs to deepen and visualize your right leg and left arm wrapping further around the opposite limb. Release slowly and repeat with your left leg and right arm.