Submitted by: Theresa Conroy, Yoga Therapist and Instructor, Yoga On The Ridge

One deep, long breath. That’s all it takes to begin building a roadblock to workplace stress.

A relaxing inhale and full exhale can soften tight shoulders, reduce pounding headaches, lower blood pressure, ease digestion and unclench teeth.

Yet having the ability—and time—to stop, sit back and enjoy that breath can seem as daunting as taking a month-long vacation in the midst of the company’s busiest season. Relaxation techniques, just like golf swings and foreign languages, must be learned and practiced to be effective.

A consistent yoga practice, combining stretching, strengthening and relaxation, can teach practitioners how to manage work stress and, as a result, reduce the accompanying health problems. With practice, employees are able to read the early signs of stress in their bodies and employ relaxation that can release muscle tension and calm the central nervous system.

When deadlines loom, sales fall, costs rise, and performance evaluations are on the horizon, the body goes into state of alert, fear, self-preservation. This turns on the natural, primitive “flight or fight” response: the sympathetic nervous system.  When activated, the sympathetic nervous system helps the body save itself from impending danger by raising the heart rate, moving blood to the limbs and tightening muscles to prepare to battle or flee from the dangerous predator about to pounce.

When the deadline is the predator, and we prepare for danger over and over and over without experiencing a release (the actual fight or flight), the body remains in that constant state of danger alertness.

That’s where the breath comes in. The slow, deep, steady way yoga practitioners breathe acts like a switch to flip on the opposite reaction: the body’s parasympathetic nervous system. That “rest and digest” imperative tells the body that it is safe. It allows the heart rate to slow, reduces blood pressure, signals the muscle spindles to relax and even returns blood to the gut, allowing the process of digestion to continue.

By introducing a yoga class or stress-reduction workshop into the workplace, business leaders help their employees manage stress more effectively. Employees who reduce the impact of stress on their bodies and psyches are healthier, happier and more productive. The methods they learn to relax and release muscle tension also help maintain focus and supply added energy.

And it all begins with one, long breath.