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This article by Kathleen McGinn Spring was prepared for the November 13, 2002 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

How to Relax at Work

The stress of work begins at home. "You get in your

car, and you think `oh no, another day,’" says Lauri Cahn,

a certified classical yoga teacher with a practice in Princeton. "You

feel burdened already. Already you have visualized the entire day."

Cahn demonstrates techniques to turn that stress around — before

work, during work, and on the drive home — when she heads up a

meeting of the YWCA Princeton Business Women on Wednesday, November

20, at 7 a.m. Cost: $15. Call 609-497-2100.

Cahn grew up on the Main Line of Philadelphia and studied philosophy

and religion at the University of Colorado at Boulder before beginning

a career as a commercial photographer. But she is impatient with that

history. "My real life began with yoga," she insists. Suffering

from a serious illness, she was faced with an operation and decided

to seek an alternative. The search led her to yoga. She first studied

in India, making eight trips over 20 years, and then obtained certification

in Integrative Yoga Therapy in the United States.

In addition to holding presentations like the upcoming YWCA Business

Women’s breakfast, Cahn (609-452-1966) has a full schedule of private

and semi-private classes. A fair amount of her yoga instruction focuses

on coping with illness — and even on preparing for death. She

teaches classes for those suffering from asthma, arthritis, cancer,

and other illness, and also holds classes for healthy individuals,

including high school students.

There are any number of misconceptions about yoga, she says. It is

not necessary to twist up like a pretzel or even to get down on the

ground. "I’ve taught yoga to people in wheelchairs," she says.

The opposite of a doctrinaire fanatic, Cahn says she sometimes is

called by potential clients who want yoga, but really need strength

training. She often offers yoga as a warm up and cool down, spending

most of the session on building the strength of the client — often

an elderly person.

She also admits that not every yoga technique is for everyone. She

has learned, for example, that some people just can not visualize.

Other people are uncomfortable with chanting. And some people promptly

fall asleep doing meditation or relaxation exercises.

At its core yoga is a serious discipline with proper breathing techniques

at its core. It takes time to learn yoga, and no two people will approach

it in the same way. Yet, there are stress-reducing strategies that

will make every office worker’s life more pleasant — and more

healthy. Here are a few:

Start out relaxed. After feeding the cats, rounding up

lunch money, and putting out the garbage, and before joining the queue

of cars heading to work, take a minute to relax. A good technique

is to take a quick breath through the nose, open the mouth wide, and

let out a long "aahhh" breath. Doing this just three times

will relax the body, and it is somewhere between very hard and impossible

for tension to camp out in a relaxed body.

Stay limber. "It is imperative," says Cahn, "to

get up once an hour." Sitting immobile in front of a computer

screen is the easy route to a stiff neck, headaches, carpal tunnel

syndrome, and, yes, stress.

Cahn suggests a five-minute break every hour. Use the time to blink

— extremely important for anyone with a monitor in her life —

do shoulder shrugs, clench and unclench feet and fingers, and do chair

twists. If time and space allow, stretch, perhaps by clasping hands,

raising them — palm upward — to the ceiling, and then unclasping

and lowering arms to sides.

Prepare for combat. If your boss’s demands are stressing

you out or your employees’ foot-dragging is raising your blood pressure,

use visualization to cope.

One of Cahn’s clients was stressed by an ogre of a boss. After working

with Cahn to come up with a visualization that would neutralize her

reaction to his bombast, she took to picturing herself surrounded

by supportive friends whenever the boss let loose with a tirade. "She

had a need to picture herself in a loving setting," says Cahn.

Another client, himself a bombastic boss, was in danger of ruining

his health because of his hostility toward his employees. "He

was very aggressive," Cahn says of this businessman. "He scared

me." Nevertheless, she worked with him on a visualization. The

great love of his life was his boat. When confronted with employee

intransigence, he took to picturing himself on his boat out in the

ocean — with his employees at his side. Including them in the

happy scene allowed him to feel more beneficent toward them.

Cahn believes this client’s new calmness is saving him from illness,

and reducing the chances that his employees will succumb, too. The

greatest danger from stress, she says, is a weakened immune system.

Sing during drive time. Work can be stressful, but sometimes

it is nothing compared with what awaits at home. A colicky baby, a

10-year-old with an overdue science project, a teen who has had more

accidents than your average Nascar driver, all of them eager for your

attention — and for dinner to be served pronto — can make

office politics look positively restful.

Before moving from work to home, prepare. Cahn suggests singing or

humming in the car as a good after-work relaxer. She admits that some

feel foolish, but says the calming effect makes the technique well

worth trying.

Cahn is convinced that yoga creates calm, and staves off illness.

She offers herself as proof. Diagnosed with a serious illness, she

turned to yoga, and, she says, "30 years later, I’m feeling wonderful."


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