Updated: Jun 20
Community. Where would you be without it? This year, June is filled with meaningful days dedicated to fostering strong communities, ranging from:
LGBTQ+ and Diversity days to celebrate and promote inclusivity, including Pride Month and Autistic Pride Day
Environmental and Social days that inspire communities to come together to address environmental challenges, support volunteering efforts, and improve the overall well-being of the community, such as National Clean Air Day and World Environment Day
Health and Well-being days to encourage individuals to take care of their well-being and create supportive communities, ranging from Men's Health Week to World Blood Donor Day
International Yoga Day is our topic for this month and has been celebrated worldwide annually on June 21st since 2015. It may seem like a peculiar choice, but we will explain the significance and benefits related to yoga and how you can incorporate a routine at your desk. Please keep reading to learn more about this tradition and to discover how its ancient practices might benefit you.
From Ancient Asanas to Modern Mindfulness - The Origins and Evolution of Yoga
The word "yoga" itself means "union", emphasising the goal of combining different elements such as physical postures, breathing techniques, meditation, and ethical principles.
The origins of yoga can be traced back over 5,000 years to the ancient Indus Valley Civilisation, located in present-day India. The foundational principles of yoga were documented in the Vedas, the oldest sacred texts of Hinduism, where Shiva (the Hindu deity Of Destruction) was recognised as "The Great Yogi". As such, yoga started as a spiritual and physiological practice focusing on meditation, ethical living and self-realisation.
Traditional yogis held the belief that the universe exists within oneself, and they pursued spiritual growth through one of the five paths of yoga: Karma for selfless service, Bhakti for devotion, Jnana for wisdom, Raja for meditation, and Hatha for physical and mental balance.
However, it was not until the 19th century that yoga began to capture attention beyond India's borders. Influential monks and spiritual leaders played a significant role in introducing yoga to Western countries. The 20th century became more physical by emphasising asanas (postures) and pranayama (breath control) to improve health and well-being.
Many asanas in yoga are believed to target specific chakras. In yoga philosophy, chakras are considered spiritual energy centres within the body, each associated with distinct physical, emotional, and spiritual aspects of a person's well-being. There are seven chakras which when in line, create a thousand-petalled lotus flower:
the base of your spine
the will, thoughts and instincts of the physical body. It is the chakra that helps you feel grounded
below your belly button
pleasure, joy and polarity.
Manipura (Solar Plexus)
in your navel area
confidence, identity and willpower.
centre of your chest
spirit, matter and consciousness of the physical body. It can also mean being open to change.
in your throat
communication, speech and vibrations. This chakra is arguably one of the easiest to practice, as all you need to do is speak or sing.
Ajna (Third Eye)
between your eyes
extrasensory perception, vision and intuition.
top of your head
unity, concentration and enlightenment.
In recent years, yoga has significantly transformed, becoming more accessible to individuals from all walks of life, not just for sages. This accessibility has been achieved through various means, including adaptations in teaching styles, the proliferation of yoga studios, technological advancements, and the recognition of inclusivity and diversity within the yoga community.
As mentioned previously, yoga means "unity". Yoga teachers strive to create safe and welcoming backgrounds, with some classes being adapted for individuals. For example, standing poses can be adapted to be practised with the support of a wall, chair, or balance aids and one-legged balances can be modified to include the use of crutches or prosthetic limbs. Each variation is perfectly acceptable to anyone.
Whereas more peculiar classes might involve a new take on the tradition... Imagine performing a downward dog with roaming puppies looking for a home or a rabbit pose beside a bunny. This sounds like a joyful time to some as this activity allows for bonding and socialisation between participants and playmates, but you also need to be mindful of those around you.
Yoga's Scientific Secrets
In recent decades, extensive research has also explored yoga's impact on physical and mental well-being, uncovering its potential benefits.
However, it is crucial to note that while yoga has been found to offer various health advantages, it is not intended to be a standalone remedy or a substitute for appropriate medical care.
Here are the key findings of health benefits and yoga:
Physical Fitness and Flexibility
Regular yoga practice has been scientifically demonstrated to improve flexibility, endurance, balance, and muscular strength.
Research has demonstrated the effectiveness of yoga in reducing chronic pain associated with conditions such as lower back pain, arthritis, and migraines.
Stress Reduction, Mental Well-being and Emotional Well-Being
Scientific research has shown that yoga can effectively reduce cortisol levels in the body, which is the primary stress hormone. Moreover, it stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system, which activates the body's relaxation response following periods of danger or stress.
This relaxation response has been associated with potential benefits in easing symptoms of anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In addition, practising yoga has been found to improve mood, promote a sense of overall well-being, and enhance resilience to stress.
Better Cardiovascular Health
Some yoga flows incorporate dynamic movements that can elevate heart rate, providing a cardiovascular workout comparable to aerobic exercise.
Consistent practice of these flows can yield benefits such as lowered blood pressure and reduced risk of cardiovascular diseases, including cardiac arrhythmia, heart failure, and aneurysms.
Enhanced Respiratory Function
Breathing exercises in yoga involve conscious manipulation of breath patterns, which can enhance lung capacity, strengthen respiratory muscles, and increase air intake.
As a result, yoga has shown promise in providing benefits for individuals with respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).
In today's culture, spending long hours at a desk can affect physical and mental well-being. Desk yoga offers a simple and effective way to incorporate movement, stretching, and relaxation into your day, proving you do not need a mat or enough space to bend over backwards.
As promised, one such exercise can be performed from the comfort of your desk: the "Chaturanga" (or Four-Limbed Staff Pose) pose. This pose is similar to a push-up, but this desk variation has your desk supporting your weight.
How to perform this pose:
Rest your hands on your desk approximately shoulder-width apart. If you use a chair, move it off to the side to provide more space.
Step your feet back slightly until your arms and body are straight. At this point, you will be in a Tadasana (Mountain) pose.
Lower yourself towards the desk slowly, pulling your elbows towards your ribs. Inhale as you do this.
Exhale as you press up to return to the starting position. Repeat this 10-15 times. You may perform as many sets as you would like throughout the day.
Discussion Points for Mental Health, Well-being & Equality and Diversity
Is yoga a spiritual practice, or can it be approached purely as a physical exercise?
Is yoga accessible and inclusive to people of all backgrounds and abilities, or are there barriers that prevent certain groups from fully engaging with it?
Can yoga be considered a form of cultural appropriation when practised by individuals that are not of South Asian or Hindu descent, or is it an inclusive practice open to everyone?
What is the main goal or purpose of practising yoga?
Is yoga similar to other forms of physical/mental exercises?