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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
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
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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