Recently one of my online students wrote a post explaining why she was signing up for my course again. She wrote:
I need this right now. Because I don’t have time. Because I’m too tired to make the effort on my own. Because I feel weak and I know it’ll hurt. These aren’t excuses not to take care of myself, these are reasons I need to.
Which is exactly how I felt about going to yoga class recently. I was in San Francisco at the time, spending a couple of days in a city I think of as my second home on my way back to New Zealand from New York.
This particular afternoon for various reasons (including a lot of travel in the previous week, an unrealistic work plan for the morning, sleep deprivation and forgetting to eat breakfast) I felt overwhelmed. Despite a rising sense of panic at my lack of progress on the to-do list, I rushed into the city for a meeting. As I left the meeting, I noticed there was a yoga class about to start right at the bottom of the building.
And because I felt sure I didn’t have time for the class, I decided to stay. I borrowed a mat and slipped into the back of the class just a few moments before the opening OM.
I knew I needed it because I didn’t have time for it.
A sure sign that I really need a walk is when I feel way too busy to go for a walk. And when I’m too busy to do yoga, well – that’s when I need it the most.
So for the next hour I forgot about my to-do list. And when I left I felt renewed, reminded why I do yoga – and why I teach it. I was also reminded that the times when we are convinced we are too busy to take care of ourselves are the times we need it the most.
I know that sometimes you really don’t have the time (or the money) to go to a yoga class.
But even then, I know you can learn to do your own simple, short but powerful yoga practices at home. Ten minutes of energizing poses in the morning. Five minutes of grounding practice in the middle of a crazy day. Fifteen minutes of relaxing yoga before bed.
My own experience has taught me, and now research is emerging to confirm that experience, that a small amount of yoga done daily will have more positive impact on your physical and mental health than a longer class or practice once a week. One UCLA study found that 12 minutes of yoga meditation per day decreased depression in participants. And I’m convinced that anyone can find 12 minutes a day for a little bit of yoga, even if it means waking up 12 minutes earlier than usual.
Since so many people don’t have time for yoga, I’ve made it my mission find an approach to yoga that would fit into their busy life. I created a course just for people who are “Too Busy To Do Yoga,” with yoga practices you can do anywhere, even practices you can do at your computer (although I do encourage leaving the computer if possible).
So here are four ways to fit in some yoga when you really need it but don’t have any time for it:
1. Lie down and do nothing for five minutes
In yoga this is called savasana, or corpse pose and for a lot of people it’s the hardest pose of all. One of my students told me that first time she tried a five minute savasana she caught herself getting up to send an email in the middle of the pose three times in a row, and each time had to talk herself into lying back down by promising herself she’d write the email as soon as she was done. It’s not easy, but it is powerful. Give your body a five minute rest and see how much more energy you have in your day. My tip: set an alarm for five minutes so that you don’t have to check your phone every minute to see how much longer you have to go!
2. Breathe deeply
It’s the oldest stress-beating advice in the book, and it still works. Take five minutes to slow and deepen your breath. The best way to get a deeper, fuller breath is by extending your breath beyond the chest into the full diaphragm – so that you feel the breath filling your belly, and then your ribcage (back and sides as well as the front) and then your chest. Important tip: don’t force this, you don’t want to feel any strain or constriction in the breath. Deepen your breath as much as you can while still feeling soft.
3. Sun salutes
This one requires a little bit more yoga knowledge, but most people who have been to a few yoga classes will have learned this basic series of poses. The beauty of the sun salute is that it uses your whole body, strengthening, opening and releasing tension in your arms, shoulders, back and legs. Three to six sun salutes every day will make a difference to your body and your mood, guaranteed.
4. Yoga at the computer
You can do a few simple poses to relax your shoulders, wrist and neck at the computer. Add in some deep breathing and you’ll be calming your mind as well. I put together a simple ten minute yoga routine for people who spend most of their day at the computer.
When you are most convinced you don’t have time for yoga, try one of these ultra-quick yoga fixes and notice the difference it makes to your day!
Marianne Elliott is an acclaimed author, human rights advocate and yoga teacher who writes and teaches on creating, developing and sustaining real change in personal life, work and the world. She is the creator of the popular “30 Days of Yoga“ courses and author of Zen Under Fire, a memoir about doing good and being well in war-torn Afghanistan.